What would it take to restore Unity?

I boldly put this bald question to the President of the Victorian District of the Lutheran Church of Australia at a gathering yesterday. Not half an hour later, someone asked it of me. I wasn’t meaning the unity of all Christians, just the restoration of unity between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church of Australia.

It is a modest hope. Modest because the LCA is a tiny independant church, without any administrative connection to any overseas body, doctrinally conservative, proudly scriptural, liturgical etc.

From our point of view it would require the LCA to acknowledge the the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. I am not too sure to what extent the “jurisdiction” of the Bishop of Rome would apply – certainly no more than it does in the Eastern Rite Churches (I have a theory that since Vatican I was formulated in a context where there was no recognition of any “true local churches” outside the Catholic Church, “universal jurisdiction” meant something different then from what it means today).

Then there is the problem of invalid orders. It is possible that such recognition and desire to enter into communion with the Holy See would on its own have an automatic “validating” effect upon the orders of the LCA. If not, reordination may be required for Lutheran pastors.

Also, the LCA would need to decide upon and commit itself to a particular liturgical “rite”, which would be foundational to being approved by Rome. The current liturgical laissez-faire would have to go.

But most seriously, what would be required would be the will to enter in full communion. Here would be the real sticking point. For it is almost certain that were even a sizable proportion of the LCA open to entering into full communion with the Catholic Church, another sizable proportion would oppose it such that there would be a split among Lutherans in this country.

And that is a universal problem. It applies to any body that might want to restore the communion, especially the Orthodox. Were the Ecumenical Patriarch tomorrow to declare full communion with the Bishop of Rome, you can bet your bottom dollar that most Orthodox would instantly declare themselves out of communion with both.

One body to whom this does not apply is the Traditional Anglican Communion, a group united in its desire to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining its own identity and rites. And, according to this report on Marco’s blog, it looks very much like it is going to happen.

If it does, then we are indeed looking at an interesting situation. The first Western Rite/protestant background ecclesial communion received in this manner. It would surely pave the way for other groups, especially as the liberal/conservative split within confessional bodies becomes more and more a reality.

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0 Responses to What would it take to restore Unity?

  1. Joshua says:

    Good post – but remember, absolute ordination would be required; it’s not like an attempted marriage being retrospectively cleaned up (sanatio in radice).

  2. Peter says:

    Great post! A few quick comments.

    1. I agree with Joshua that the pastors would have to be ordained, there is no such thing as ‘re-ordained’. When discussiong this subject area it is better to be clear than vague (in an misguided effort to protect other’s feelings). I have tried but I cannot imagine why ‘desire to enter into communion with the Holy See would on its own have an automatic “validating” effect upon the orders of the LCA’. This presumes valid but illicit orders, not invalid.

    2. I have only limited experience in both communions, but Lutherans have no more problem with a ‘liturgical laissez-faire’ than Catholics do. I suspect the Lutherans would actually enjoy the greater freedom of the Catholic Rite, and stick to it more faithfully, than most Catholics have.

    Your latter paragraphs sum up the problem very well. The LCA could decide at leadership, seminary and synodical level that unity is a good idea, but a huge proportion of Lutheran worshipers will resist such a change. WHICH MAKES SENSE.

    When Protestantism is based on an emphasis on a personal faithfulness to the truth, only a personal conviction of the truth subsiding in the Catholic Church can draw them home. Catholics, who culturally accept a far greater connection between the Church visible and invisible, will react differently to leaders announcing unity.

  3. Mike says:

    Did the Lutheran President answer your question?

  4. Peregrinus says:

    I think you’re leaning towards optimism is saying that the CDF letter means that “it looks very much like” Catholic/TAC unity “is going to happen”. It’s a friendly letter, but the meat is simply that “as soon as the Congregation is in a position to respond more definitely concerning the proposals you have sent, we will inform you”. In other words, don’t call us, we’ll call you – but not until the wider Anglican Communion has either torn itself apart or pulled itself together, because we need to know how any corporate dealing that we might have with you will affect our relationship with it.

    On the ordination issue, I agree with Joshua and Peter. Corporate unity between Rome and Adelaide implies some movement or development both in Rome and in Adelaide, but the acceptance of LCA Eucharistic ministry as valid without the need for episcopal ordination implies a rather more radical development in Rome’s theology of priesthood, and indeed in Rome’s ecclesiology, than I think is likely.

    Your point about the significance of the liberal/conservative split in many confessional bodies is well made. The problem is, though, that the “conservative” side of that split tends to be the more Protestant, and therefore the less interested in unity with Rome. A church led by Peter Jensen, for example, will never enter into communion with Rome, not necessarily because of any hostility to Rome, but simply because he sees no value in any project of corporate unity, and would not be prepared to make any effort, or any compromise, to bring it about. I think he is entirely open about this, and I think this aspect of his Christianity is a fairly fundamental one. My sense is that many of the “liberals” are (relatively) better prospects for union with Rome. Although they have sharp differences with Rome on quite specific issues, such as homosexuality, in many cases their basic understanding of what it is to be a church is much more Roman.

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