Lutherans and Catholics: "The Same, but Different"?

On his Extra Nos blog, LP Cruz has a post called “Same Same, but Different”. He is picking up on the posting of another Lutheran, one Steve Martin from the US, entitled “Too Religious?”. The question is: if Lutherans and Catholics both use the same or similar liturgical forms, doesn’t that mean that they are “the same”? Not so, counters LP Cruz, they are DIFFERENT because when Lutheran say the SAME things they MEAN different things from Catholics.

The problem with people observing Lutherans is that they hear the same words we speak and think we mean the same things as the RCs.


We sound and look the same as the RC but we do not mean the same things when we use the same words. We just look the same, but we are not the same.

We are not the same because we do not mean the same things when we use the words found in our liturgy. The words strike the Lutheran differently when they hit the Lutheran’s ears.

Well… From one perspective, he is most certainly right. Certainly Lutherans intend to do something quite different in their Eucharistic Liturgy than Catholics. After all, we intend to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which they certainly do not. But then, that really is made quite clear by the fact that they cut out the “sacrificial” bits of the liturgy, whereas we retain them in all their glory (the Traddies’ criticisms of the Novus Ordo notwithstanding).

However, there are great swathes of the Eucharistic Liturgy which have been completely retained by the Lutherans – and the Anglicans and even by those of other protestant traditions such as the Methodists (Uniting Church in Australia). The Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are unaltered. The shape of the Liturgy is unaltered. Many of the Collects and the Readings and the Propers share much in common.

Remember the old saying “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi”? I know that a lot of people (Lutherans and Catholics) have tried to turn that around to say that it equally means “Lex Credendi, Lex Orandi”, ie. that it is equally true to say that the Rule of Faith establishes the Rule of Prayer as it is to say that the Rule of Prayer establishes the Rule of Faith, but the original saying upon which this dictum is based does not allow us to be so careless about the order. “Lex supplicandi legem statuat credendi” means that the rule of prayer is what establishes the rule of belief.

The upshot of this is that when Lutherans and Catholics really mean different things by the words they use in the liturgy, they generally make pretty sure that they use different words. When they use the same words and do the same things, it must be concluded – at least on the level of phenomenology (for all I know about that subject, which is not much) – that they mean the same thing by what they do and say.

So it is fairly natural that, when a Lutheran finally wakes up and smells the incense (as they say), he (or she) often realises that the very words he (or she) has been using all the way along have meant exactly what Catholics mean when they use the same words.

It is all downhill to the Tiber after that…

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12 Responses to Lutherans and Catholics: "The Same, but Different"?

  1. Fr. Tim May says:

    Well put. There is some truth to the approach on “Extra Nos” but when the emphasis is on “the differences” as an avoidance of “the same”, as it is with some, this usually comes as a result of theological language blending or mixture of Lutheranism with other protestant sects, most notably reformed and evangelical, or simple and plain secularism. The sacramental nature of Lutheranism and the acceptance of lex orandi, lex credendi, when and where this happens, provides balance for Lutheranism and keeps open the substantial sameness that remains between Lutherans and Catholics (ie, catholicity, orthodoxy). In short, while “the differences” will always be highlighted among us this does not always have to be the case. I appreciate hearing what there is of “the same” because, in my vocation, I am inundated on a regular basis with hearing “the differences.” Thanks for broaching the subject.

  2. Weedon says:

    Lutheran bait! Lutheran bait! :)

    Okay, I’ll bite. I think, first of all, that LP overstates the point, but it is certainly the case that we do have certain words that we use in common with different definitions – grace being preeminently one.

    As for the liturgy, Lutherans and Roman Catholics differ on whether we gather to offer the sacrifice, but we most certainly do agree that we gather to receive THE Sacrifice once offered and to do so amid our sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise.

    As to downhill to the Tiber, I’m certainly glad you got the direction right. To head to the Tiber is to head downhill… ;)

    • Schütz says:

      Chortle, chortle! Someone pass Weedon the port bottle, eh?

      Thanks for the best laugh I have had for a long time, Pastor! That’s the sort of repartee we need more of in our conversation on SCE! I left myself wide open with that last remark, didn’t I?

      On a serious note, I fully acknowledge that there is a wide range of use of the same words to mean different things in dogmatics – I just wonder if when we place those words in the liturgy (and really, I don’t think the word “grace” appears too much – and “justification” not at all – in those parts of the Liturgy which we share – except perhaps in a few collects) whether they don’t end up functioning in a way that is actually more the “same” than “different”. In other words, we may make fine distinctions in the dogmatic text books, but these get lost in the performance of the ritual.

      The classic example is actually the word “catholic” in the Creed. When confessed, it needs something like an asterisk with a footnote saying “catholic here means universal” (as was done in the Lutheran liturgy in the Australian Lutheran Church when “Christian” was replaced with the original “catholic” in 1986). That all depends on the worshipper using the hymnal as a guide when they are confessing the creed. Otherwise, put a Catholic next to a Lutheran as they say the Nicene Creed, and they pretty much end up saying the same thing.

      • Schütz says:

        Another example, with reference to the Sacrifice of the Mass, is the way in which many Lutherans still say the Words of Consecration while facing “eastwards” – ie. in the direction that many Lutheran liturgical textbooks have usually described as the “sacrificial” direction (the “sacramental” direction, for those of you who are not used to this distinction, is “facing the people”). What do Lutherans mean by consecrating in this posture? In this respect, the way in which the Catholic liturgy is almost universally done is more Lutheran than the Lutherans!

        • Weedon says:

          Well, we’ve been down that road before. You will recall the domaticians I cited who spoke of the unbloody sacrifice accomplished through commemoration (Gerhard and Hollaz). Said most simply, we disagree on sacrifice (verb) and agree on sacrifice (noun). I’m glad you enjoyed the humor – and was happy you took it as such. It really wasn’t intended to be insulting. There’s a lot of downhill to the Elbe these days… God have mercy!

          In any case, I face the altar precisely to confess that the consecration is a prayer that God would grant exactly what these words declare. Benedict’s insights on facing toward the east together are simply marvelous – we pray toward the coming one!

          • Schütz says:

            I was at a Lutheran service yesterday in which there was practically no liturgy at all – no bible readings even – and when it came to the Eucharist, the “magic words” (the Verba) were said and the bread and wine handed out…

            What I found especially shocking was the way in which the pastor introduced the Verba. He said:

            “I am now going to say to you the Words of Institution and then you can come forward for the bread and wine.”

            Before I get accused of being “anti-Lutheran” let me make it quite clear that I know that this is against any form of authentic Lutheranism that I know of. It was partly because of such abuses that I am a Catholic today.

  3. Joshua says:

    What is meant by saying that Catholics and Lutherans disagree on grace – would, say, it be a common view that grace is, so to speak, a supernatural beautification of the soul, produced by the Holy Ghost, and enabling poor sinful man to do what he could not otherwise? “It is by grace that we are saved, through faith.”

    • Schütz says:

      Thanks, Josh, you perfectly well display the difference between Lutheran “grace” and Catholic “grace”.

      Catholic Grace is, as you say, ” supernatural beautification of the soul, produced by the Holy Ghost, and enabling poor sinful man to do what he could not otherwise”.

      Lutheran Grace is God’s undeserved favour and mercy.

      Hence, the very statement that we are “saved by grace” comes to mean different things.

      For Catholics, it means that we are saved by being enabled by God’s Holy Spirit to do what we could not otherwise do.

      For Lutherans, it means that we are saved by God simply changing his attitude towards us from one of condemnation to one of favour and acceptance.

      Hence the real debate is revealed once you get to the question of whether it is “faith alone” that saves. Of course, I have my own ideas on that these days, as if you do a simple concordance search of the scriptures, you won’t find anywhere that says that we are “saved by faith”, let alone “saved by faith alone”. Which then gets you to asking, what do we mean by “saved”, or by “justification”, or by “sanctification”, or by…

      See what fun this can be?

      • Weedon says:

        Not quite, old man. God forgives us in Christ, in His Son, and grace is the undeserved favor He showed us in giving us all the gifts that are in His Son without any merit or worthiness in us. So then, as Luther said, His grace, His forgiving mercy, never comes to us apart from the GIFT in grace, which is the Holy Spirit Himself. Nor is this insight limited to Luther, for Dr. Chemnitz writes in the famous Examen:

        “For Paul, in Romans 5, clearly distinguishes between ‘grace’ and ‘the gift of grace,’ as grace and truth are distinguished in John 1. Both are indeed the gift of the Son of God, the Mediator. However, when Paul says that we are justified and saved by grace, he understands that grace which the Scriptures distinguish from the gift of grace, that is, he understands not our newness but the mercy of God, or gratuitous acceptance.”

        So while we attribute our justification solely to God’s gracious acceptance of us in Christ, we confess that such acceptance always comes with the renewal wrought by the Spirit of Holiness. The reason that justification does not and cannot depend upon the newness is that it remains a work in progress throughout this life, but God’s gracious acceptance of us in Christ is not an uncertainty. “God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son; we write these things to you who believe in the Son of God that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.”

        • Schütz says:

          Thank you for that clarification from the “Second Martin”. Just goes to show how a renewal of classical Lutheranism could be of great assistance in the ecumenical dialogue today. Alas, many of those involved in our national and even international dialogues – both Catholic AND Lutheran – are quite ignorant of this classical heritage.

          Nevertheless, your reply highlights what is for me a growing concern. The dogmatic use of the biblical terms often obscures precisely what the biblical authors – Paul in particular – actually meant when they used these terms. For this reason, among others, I value the work of NT Wright.

  4. matthias says:

    One thing I have gained from reading this blog site is the incentive :
    -to acquaint myself more with the creeds, and the Catholic and Lutheran confessions and catechisms ,as well as the heidelberg catechism ,but i am a not a calvinist. (i was predistined to say that)
    – to value even more the church year
    -To acquaint my Bible study group with all of the above -slowly.

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