Papal Ecclesiology

My one time friend and neighbour, Pastor Matt Harrison (now President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod), has a quotation from the great German Lutheran theologian (and one time resident of North Adelaide) Herman Sasse on his blog entitled “Church and Churches.” The Pope of Rome himself still knows this… “. The quotation dates from 1950, so is pre-Vatican II, and definitely pre-Communio-Ecclesiology, but here is some of it for what it is worth:

The use of the plural demonstrates that there is such a thing as the individual ecclesia. The New Testament speaks of ecclesia [church] and ecclesiai [churches]. Every one of the ecclesiai is ecclesia in the full sense of the term. There is an identity of essence between the one ecclesia and each of the many ecclesiai. Linguistic usage and theological thought of later Christianity never forgot that there is no ecclesia without ecclesiae, and no ecclesiae without ecclesia. The Pope of Rome himself still knows this, much as he otherwise seems to have forgotten what the church is. “I acknowledge the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church, Mother and Governess of all churches” [Sanctam catholicam et apostolicam Romanam ecclesiam omnium ecclesiarum matrem et magistram agnosco]. Every Catholic who bears an office in the church must ever and again swear to this in the Tridentine Profession of Faith [Professio fidei Tridentina]. Consequently, even for Rome there is not only one ecclesia, but ecclesiae, whose Mother and Governess (whereby the austerity of the infallible Governess defines the love of the Mother so ready to advise) is the Holy Roman Church. Since, according to the Vaticanum the Pope possesses the universal episcopate, which means direct and immediate episcopal authority over the universal church, not much room is left for the ecclesiae next to the ecclesia (The dear mother gobbled up her daughters!). A little room always remains. For instance, this was shown when the invitation to the Vatican Council of 1869 was issued. And doubtless at the next council invitations will likewise be issued also “to all the Bishops of the Churches of the Eastern Rite, not in communion with the Apostolic See” [ad omnes episcopos ecclesiarum ritus Orientalis communionem cum Apostolica Sede non habentes]. It is a good Catholic proposition that the Roman Church is Mother and Governess of all Churches, even of the schismatic Churches of the East. And this even if today it has a meaning other than what it had at the time when St. John’s Lateran, the Cathedral of the Pope yet today, bore the title: “Head and Mother of all Churches of the Earth” [Caput et mater omnium orbis ecclesiarum]. That the church does not consist OF churches, but much rather shall we say, IN churches, is a proposition no longer compatible with the concept of the church, based upon the presuppositions of the modern post-Vatican Council. This truth finally depends upon the New Testament, and not Catholic canon law or dogmatics. It is born of the unconscious theology of faith, which every church has parallel to its officially formulated dogmatics. In this sense the Roman bishoprics, archbishoprics, the provincial churches, national churches and patriarchates are, according to Roman linguistic usage, churches. No matter how far afoot we may otherwise get from the New Testament, in this terminology at least, the New Testament view that the church exists in Churches, lives on.

It is very interesting, that comment about the Pope almost having forgotten the ancient ecclesiology of “the Church and the Churches”, because Vatican II (that “next council” to which Sasse refers although he could not have known it in 1950) spawned, in dialogue with the Eastern Churches, exactly the kind of New Testament ecclesiology Sasse was calling for, in the so-called “Communio” or “Eucharistic” ecclesiology which has born so much fruit in the last 50 years. (You can read more about this here, from none other than our beloved BXVI Emeritus.)

And I wonder if Pastor Harrison might not have been inspired by the terminology used by our instantly-beloved Pope Francis himself? For, in his first words to the record crowds gathered in St Peter’s Square to greet him upon his election, he managed to use the word “Pope” exactly ZERO (get that: NIL, 0, nothing) times, but referred to his office as “Bishop of the Church of Rome” no less than nine times (if you include all variants, including his reference to his predecessor and his Cardinal Vicar):

1) “You know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome
2) “The diocesan community of Rome has a bishop.”
3) “I would like to say a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI”
4) “And now let us begin this journey, [together] as bishop and people. ”
5) “This journey of the Church of Rome, which is to preside over all the Churches in charity.”
6) “I hope that this journey of the Church, which we begin today and in which my Cardinal Vicar who is present here will assist me, will be fruitful for the Evangelization of this beautiful city.”
7) “before the bishop blesses the people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that He bless me”
8) “the prayer of the people for a blessing upon their bishop
9) “Tomorrow I want to go and pray to Our Lady, asking her to watch over Rome.”

Take good note: When he refers to “The Church of Rome”, he is referring to the Diocese of Rome, the city of Rome, not the entire Universal Catholic Church. All of the reports in the media will tell you that the Church (aka, “the Catholic Church”) elected a “new Pope” last night, when in fact it was the Cardinal priests of Rome who elected a new bishop of the local Church of Rome. It is this “local church” of which he has been made “bishop”, and it is this “local Church” which “preside[s] over all the Churches in charity.” Thus, since the office of the Bishop of Rome (as we have already discussed on this ‘ere blog) is also the office of the Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Catholic Church, Francis also occupies the office of “Pope”. But fundamentally, he is the Bishop of Rome. This is a real lesson in Vatican II ecclesiology here, my dear reader.

And thus, I do not, myself, belong to “the Church of Rome”. I belong to “the Church of Melbourne”, and, by virtue of the fact that my church and bishop are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, I belong to the Universal Catholic Church. As Dr Sasse points out, “the church does not consist OF churches, but much rather shall we say, IN churches”. I am, as I am wont to say, “a Lutheran in communion with the Bishop of Rome”, and proud of it, however paradoxical that might sound (hey, if the Anglicans can do it…).

There was some question, prior to the election of Francis, as to whether the new Pontiff would continue the practice instituted by Pope Benedict XVI in having only a simple bishop’s mitre on his crest rather than the traditional papal tiara. I think we can assume that that question has been definitively answered in the positive already, even before the new crest is unveiled. (Although, for the sake of ecumenical clarity, I do hope he restores the title “Patriarch of the West”.)

Still, in all this reflection, I do wonder if it was simply coincidence that Pastor Harrison posted that post about Sasse about “the Church and the Churches”.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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11 Responses to Papal Ecclesiology

  1. Adam says:

    Well David habemus papam finally. And after all the predictions and speculations in the media proved to be dead ends we saw the runner up from 2005 now become the bishop of Rome. And yes what an evening it was to see and be excited about. I was under the balcony on that balmy night John Paul II came out on the balcony and there was muted silence as his name was read out. A Pole!! Now a relatively unknown (to Europe) cardinal who asks the people to pray for him. And as he bowed in prayer (did you see the cardinals next to him were not sure what to do) the crowd became silent for 15 seconds. An amazing act of humility.
    The new pope did not refer to Bendict as Pope emeritus, but bishop emeritus and this ought to be the default title so as to no confusion. He is emeritus of Rome as former bishop.

    This morning at 8am Francesco drove out of the Vatican to MAry Major church in a private visit. No popemobile, no Mercedes Benz, but a smaller black VW.
    Watch for more such outings in a smaller car. And no SCV1 numberplate either.Small things, but its the style we are going to see more oI am sure.

    And what of the pundits on a Scola or an Austrian or a Ghanian or a Dolan. None became pope. The mass of media pundits were not even Christians and when the pre conclave discussion raged on and on, they had no clue as to who would come out as pope. God had confounded us all. And not a young man, not a man under 70.
    But John XXIII was late 70s, Benedict 70s and now another. Its not the quantity of years, but the quality of the pontificate. Look at the impact of the humble smiling John Paul I. I attended one of very few audiences in the vatican while he was pope for a month and he was loved by all as he smiled and spoke witha soft voice and did not make long speeches and spoke off the cuff so often. Powerful impact.

    So the Shoes of the Fisherman has passed to a new man in the mould of ST Francis. The man who washed the feet of HIV patients, went to work on the bus and lived in a small flat cooking and cleaning it by himself.

    We can expect loads of surprises and as one writer said this morning, probably most Curia officials are walking on egg shells this morning.

    • Schütz says:

      Wow, you go RIGHT back, Adam! Good observations.

      Yes, I just read about his outing to St Mary Major – he did say he was going to ask the Blessed Virgin’s intercession, but he could have done that from anywhere – instead – without any fanfare or announcement – he heads immediately out into his diocese! Wow. And more wow.

    • Schütz says:

      Actually, one is reminded of Pope Benedict’s first unscheduled outing. But his was a wander across St Peter’s Square to his old apartment to get a book from his library in his old digs. And there was a limo waiting for him at the door when he came back down stairs. Looks like Saint (sorry) Pope Francis will be a little firmer on that score and tell the limo drivers where to go. Or not.

      • Stephen K says:

        I applaud simplicity and walking on two legs. It’s healthy and better for the planet. But don’t be too dismissive of the limo drivers: they have their job, and depend on wages and a need to feel required, like you and me. I don’t want people to lose a wage out of the process, and any family to suffer. I would much rather see some of the money spent on jewellery etc retained to keep the limo drivers employed to be available, to cover contingencies,even if they don’t end up driving the new Roman bishop and the other cardinals and officials who – naturally – can be expected to follow his lead. The difficult thing here is, there’s a whole economy dependent on customary ways. The challenge is how to simplify without hurting the people who can afford to be hurt the least.

      • Adam says:

        AND on the way back from the church around 845am he went to the hostel he had been in before the conclave to collect his bags and pay the bill !!!! yes pay the bill, apparently as an example to other bishops. Try beating that for example.
        As to other comment on drivers and jobs etc, that is rather a spurious point. This bishop of Rome will go out far more often to parishes and he will not be going in any monarchical way. No its a new style and everyone around him will have to get used to it.
        Besides the Lord went around Gailiee by walking and boat.
        No drivers then and so this pope will show us how it is done, like he did in Argentina, by bus and train. He is going to be telling us all and especially bishops how to live by simple example, more powerful witness than words., Oh and check out the example of Blessed M Teresa as well. semper fidelis.
        PS a little rumour going around that he nipped out into Rome last night – so like the pope in Shoes of the Fisherman, expect the unexpected. Exciting times ahead.

        • Stephen K says:

          There’s nothing “spurious” about a concern for jobs, Adam. Have you ever been retrenched? I will applaud his use of the bus and train. But I was slightly alarmed at David’s exhortation to the new Pope to “tell the drivers where to go”. His admirable modesty or their own jobs are not their fault. My point is, everything has consequences. In the process we must make sure we don’t see battlers as ‘collateral damage’.

          • This is something I have been thinking about too – Cardinal Bergoglio’s simple lifestyle is commendable, but presumably he put put at least two people – a driver and a cook – out of work. All of our economic choices have consequences as they are also moral choices, as Benedict quite rightly pointed out in his last encyclical. The road to hell…

          • Schütz says:

            It was a joke, Stephen. “Where to go” – get it?

  2. Pingback: Pope Francis – did you notice? | Dominus mihi adjutor

  3. I would like to see more Sasse quoted here, David.

    • Schütz says:

      I leave that to Pastor Harrison. Problem with Sasse is that – while he is invariably insightful, he is almost always out-of-date today. In his time he was quite prophetic – but by now many of his issues have been overtaken by history, and often that history has taken a different turn to the one he envisaged.

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