Brother Roger: Revisiting the Conversion question

Yes, my namesake Frere Roger Schutz has been in the news again in the last couple of weeks with a French historian, Yves Chiron, claiming that the founder of Taize had indeed “converted” to the Catholic Church.

Actually, as it turns out, there is no fresh data other than that which we already knew, that (in his own words) Br Roger had reconciled in himself the faith of his origins with the mystery of the Catholic faith, “without any rupture whatsoever”. Perhaps the only new news is that this “reconciliation” took place around 1972.

There has been a lot of discussion on how it is possible to enter full communion with the Catholic Church without “rupture” of fellowship with other Christian communions. Normally, I would say that this is not possible. However, if the Catholic hierarchy–both at local level and at the highest level of the Pope–were willing to regard Br Roger as being “in communion” with themselves (and it seems that even Pope Ratzinger shared this view, as is evidenced by the fact that he personally gave him communion at JPII’s funeral and that, at his death, he made public the letter in which Br Roger professed his profound communion with the Pope) and if, at the same time, there were other ecclesial communities who regarded him in the same way, perhaps in Br Roger God showed us a glimpse of what the ecumenical goal may look like…

In any case, from my own humble perspective, I have come to regard myself not as o much as an “ex-Lutheran”, but rather as a Lutheran who has entered into full communion with the Bishop of Rome. There is room in the Catholic Church for many different spiritualities–Franciscan, Dominican, Ignatian–why not Lutheran? Why not Taize? There are the inevitable doctrinal questions of course. One cannot be in communion with the Pope and not accept the fullness of the Catholic faith. However, and this is something that non-Catholics often fail to appreciate, communion is not primarily a matter of an intellectual assent to a collection of doctrines but of a real and binding relationship with real human beings. In this sense, what finally keeps the (extremely) disparate members of the Catholic Church united (and with regard to our personal opinions, we are no more united than the Anglicans) is that we all cling to our relationship with the Bishop of Rome, and hence with one another.

In the end, as I have always maintained, the primary requirement for catholicity is communion with the Pope. (Take note, you Anglo-Papists!)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Brother Roger: Revisiting the Conversion question

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dear David,

    You wrote: However, and this is something that non-Catholics often fail to appreciate, communion is not primarily a matter of an intellectual assent to a collection of doctrines but of a real and binding relationship with real human beings.

    Isn’t that real and binding relationship only made possible by having the same confession of faith (which I assume at least involves the intellect in some way)? When you were received into communion, didn’t you publicly profess (with your whole being, including your intellect) fidelity to the whole catholic faith? Wasn’t this a sine qua non of being received into communion for you?
    And (one more) the communion between Peter and Paul certainly seemed to involve the right hand of fellowship being extended after the confession of doctrine. Any comment?

    In Christ,


  2. Schütz says:

    Hullo, ol’ boy, you old new father you. (For others reading, Fraser’s wife Margaret gave birth to a little girl last Sunday–their third!).

    Yes, I had you in mind when I was talking about non-catholics who failed to appreciate the intensely personal nature of ecclesiological communion. Lutheran ecclesiology is notable because of its emphasis on the unity that arises from sharing a common confession of faith.

    Fundamentally, communion is established through entering into a “personal” (and I use that word guardedly) relationship with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. This happens primarily through the sacraments of initiation, baptism, confirmation and the reception of the Eucharist. A confession of faith (usually either the Nicene or Apostolic Creed) is associated with each of these rites, but does not, on its own, establish this communion. It precedes (ie. it is a precondition) the sacramental acts of washing, anointing, laying on of hands, etc.

    I held and professed the full catholic faith long before my official reception into the Church. I was not however in “full communion” with the Church until my sacramental initiation was completed by the one personally representing the bishop.

    So the real sine qua non for communion is thus the sacramental act of initiation/reception and the maintenance of personal communion with the bishop and community of the local church thereafter. The Confession of faith alone would not create this fellowship, nor does a departure from this confession of faith always cause an immediate rupture in fellowship (or though often this will be the consequence after judgement has been passed on this departure.

    Nb. the number of offences which result in instant and immediate excommunication by the simple act of committing the offense are few and specific, eg. procuring or causing an abortion.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hello old bean,

    I still wonder that you can say that *full* communion is not primarily a matter of assent. (BTW in your original post you just said ‘communion’ -so I detect some helpful refinement happening in your reply). I appreciate that giving assent is not *how* you come into *full* communion. After all, *full* communion is a flesh and blood affair, with real, bodily, sacramental acts. But without assent, you won’t come into communion at all.

    For example, UR seems to suggest that assent is necessary (a primary step, a sine qua non, whatever) for a person outside the catholic church to be in a certain (though imperfect) communion.

    UR 3: ‘For men who believe in Christ [and thereby give assent to the truths of the faith] and have been properly baptized [presumably not by persons in *full* communion] are brought into a certain, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic church.’

    This seems to suggest that assent has a significant place in communion.

    If you mean that sacramental acts are the sine qua non of sacramental communion, well…that’s obvious, even tautological. But the reality seems to be that in magisterial Catholic teaching sacramental communion is the completion of (the perfection of/ the end point of) communion, and thus the fullness of communion (!) seems necessarily to involve (indeed at a primary level) assent.

    Any comments?

    In Christ,


  4. Schütz says:

    I did not say that it was not a matter of assent, but that it was a matter of assent not only to a doctrine, but to a person.

    Thinking about it over the last few days, I want to stress again that agreement in faith is a prerequisite for entering into full communion, but does not of itself create communion, which is created by a personal sacramental act. Whether you can say that one or the other is more or less a “sine qua non”, I don’t know. To use an allegory (I love a good allegory), flour, eggs, sugar, milk and butter are necessary for a cake, but it is the mixing and baking that makes it a cake.

    Even an “imperfect” communion cannot be established between Christians without the personal, sacramental act of baptism. [Nb. The minister of baptism does not signify in this situation, since even an non-Christian, with the right intent and observing the right form, can validly baptise]. The personal communion created is a personal communion with the personal, incarnate Christ in whom the believer is immersed in this sacramental act.

    I think the case of Cornelius in Acts 10 is a good example. They believed in the message, and they had even received the Holy Spirit, but in order that they be received into the communion of the Church, they needed to be baptised (Acts 10:47-48).

    Any individual may have the fullness of faith, even the gift of the Spirit, but without the sacramental act, real (“imperfect” or otherwise) communion does not exist.

    To be sure, there cannot be communion if either the confessed faith or the sacramental initiation is not involved. My point is that it is the personal fellowship which establishes communion, not simply agreement or assent to the doctrines of the faith.

  5. Fraser Pearce says:

    Dear David,

    You wrote: My point is that it is the personal fellowship which establishes communion, not simply agreement or assent to the doctrines of the faith.’

    Could you define for me what you mean by ‘communion’, and how, if at all, it differs from *ful* communion? I think that would clear things up for me.

    Nice plug for my lacklustre blog, by the way!

    In Christ,


  6. Schütz says:

    Briefly: Real Communion is established by baptism (which includes, of course, the confession of faith) which is personal communion with Christ and thus with the Triune God and with his church.

    But the sacraments of initiation are three, and include confirmation (which the Catholic and orthodox traditions is also a sacrament of communion with the bishop–but notably, in the Lutheran tradition the emphasis is on communion through the knowledge of doctrine).

    The final sacrament of initiation which completes and creates “full communion” is the Eucharist, which is both “personal” and “communal”. Like baptism, it is communion with Christ that establishes communion with the Church and with God.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *