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”.