Australian Lutherans praying an "Anglican" Rosary – What gives?

In the December edition of St Paul’s Lutheran Church’s superlative in-house magazine “Inside Story” (in which Cathy and I have our regular movie review column) there is this rather strange business about an “Anglican rosary”. As far as I know, this does not reflect an actual practice in the parish, but is a contribution of one of the congregation’s members.

There are, of course, many different versions of the prayer beads in many different religions, and so I guess this is as valid as any other version (and there are myriads of non-Catholic Christian prayer beads available, as the article says, on the internet – check this out), except that it is quite clearly recognisably based on an abbreviated form of the Catholic Rosary. Traditionally, Lutherans have had two objections to the Rosary, the major one being that it includes Marian prayers (which this one doesn’t), and the second being that it uses what is claimed to be the kind of repetitive prayer which Jesus condemns in the gospels in Matt 6:7 (which this still does).

I guess it is just another example of the blurred lines between religious devotional practices across the boundaries of the various traditions that is so prevelant these days. I don’t think this will catch on, for two reasons. The first is the lack of actual resources to go with this “rosary” – even the article is rather brief on the actual method of prayer to be used with these “Anglican” beads. Traditional Catholic practice includes not only the prayers said, but the meditations on the various mysteries, optional scriptural phrases, and specific intentions for prayer to accompany the recitations. The other is that the Catholic Rosary had a whole religious order (the Dominicans) enthusiastically behind it and promoting it and the endorsement of the whole Catholic hierarchy. There is very little chance of that same enthusiasm for this version of the prayer beads among Lutherans or Anglicans in the Church today.

If non-Catholics really want to adopt the Rosary, I suggest they go the whole hog and swallow the Marian tradition that is central to it. It might help them to realise, as Pope John Paul wrote in one of his last letters, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, that the Hail Mary, and thus the whole Rosary devotion, is intensely Christocentric.

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23 Responses to Australian Lutherans praying an "Anglican" Rosary – What gives?

  1. Lance Eccles says:

    I loved the link to

    Amongst the items on offer was a What Would Jesus Do bracelet.

    The perfect gift for those liberal Catholics who are always saying, “If Jesus were here now, he’d [do whatever it is that I want to do].”

  2. David, that is precisely what we cannot do, to quote an overdone Latin phrase – “lex orandi, lex credendi”, or rather, as a Lutheran would prefer to say, “lex credendi: lex orandi”, the law of belief is the law of prayer. A spiritual practice that has no dogmatic foundation is questionable at best, heretical at worst.
    Let’s set aside for the moment the question of the truth of the proposition that Mary can be prayed to, and work for the sake of argument with something like George lindbeck’s “internal grammar” of religious language, where a proposition can be logical within the bounds of a set of dogmatic beliefs. Then you can see Marian devotion of the sort you are advocating cannot be tacked on to Lutheran beliefs without bringing the former into question. Your suggestion is mischievous! For a Lutheran to accept the Rosary in good faith, one would have to become Roman Catholic, or at least choose a somewhat ambiguous in-between state where others might quite rightly question one’s integrity. This is about more than prayer, it is about dogma.

    • Schütz says:

      Then you can see Marian devotion of the sort you are advocating cannot be tacked on to Lutheran beliefs without bringing the former into question.

      I guess my question, Mark, is: Why is this necessarily so? Why are “Lutheran beliefs” opposed to Marian Devotion, IF the Marian Devotion in question is Christocentric?

  3. Dixie says:

    Just as an aside there was an awesome internet site…Orthodox Lutheran something or other…where the owner discussed the proper use of the rosary for Lutherans…saying the part of the Hail Mary which comes from Scripture but dropping the “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners…etc.” or using the Jesus Prayer…giving historical links to show the legitimacy of a Lutheran rosary. Lots of justification of a different kind goin’ on there. I loved that site so much when I was in my last Lutheran days. In the end the guy became Roman Catholic and the site was taken down. So I do think this specific example reflects Mark’s point.

    • Schütz says:

      Actually, it makes the point that the rule of prayer DOES determine the rule of belief: you pray it – you believe it. AND if you SING it, you will double believe it! (Good sense in the Orthodox sticking to sung Divine Liturgy, I reckon). I have related before the story told to me by a Methodist US liturgy scholar about the black woman who told him: “You might say it, but when Ah sings it, Ah believes it!”. And yes, I was being a bit mischevious. I know that in 10 cases out of 10, when a Lutheran starts praying the Rosary, he/she becomes a Catholic. But perhaps that is because Lutheranism has not generally been hospitable to Marian devotion and Lutherans who develop a devotion to Mary find a more hospitable home for their devotion in Catholicism or Orthodoxy?

  4. Tony Bartel says:


    Unfortunately, reversing the order to “lex credendi lex orandi” does not work, because you end up shifting the ultimate end of worship from God to doctrine.

    Which is why the fuller, and more accurate, statement of the maxim is that of Propser of Aquitaine: the law of prayer established the law of belief.

    (Sorry, I am away from home and do not have access to the latin words :-))

  5. Schütz says:

    Spot on, Tony. The phrase you are looking for is: legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi. Unlike the more commonly used phrase, it cannot be reversed. This is not to deny that there is a relationship which works both ways, but rather to say that this is not a chicken-or-the-egg question. It is so characteristic of Lutherans to put the matter the other way around with doctrine coming first. Remember that for them, there is another principle which precedes even the lex credendi, ie. the principle of sola scriptura. To acknowledge the lex orandi as primary would, in effect, require the acknowledgement of Sacred Tradition as a source of doctrine. I was once in conversation with a Lutheran pastor whop had immense difficulty acknowledging that the origins of the Eucharistic liturgy predated the New Testament and was not based upon it.

    • I am informed by a classicist that the reverse translation is possible, but that is really beside the point – it’s just a phrase that is probably being asked to carry more weight than it can bear.

      And to acknowledge that the rule of prayer determines faith would lead exactly to the deformed catholicity of present-day Romanism. Just have a look over at my site ‘Lutheran Catholicity’ to see what the Fathers of the Church really taught about scripture and tradition and try to reconcile it with the Marian dogmas or the epiety that flows from them – or should that be led to them??? ;0)

      And David, you are begging the question by suggesting that Marian devotion is Christocentric, but I seem to remember we’ve had that conversation before:the Roman “and”. We never really got around to resolving that one.

      • Tony Bartel says:


        In my opinion, the issue is not really that the Father’s accepted the authority of Scripture. Of course, they did, as do the Roman Catholic and Eastern orthodox Churches to this day.

        With respect, the issue is how do we read Scripture. I have found the approach of the Orthodox theologian, John Behr, in his book “The Mystery of Christ” to be particularly helpful.

        He uses the example of the Book of Acts, where the Ethiopian Eunuch asks Philip “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”
        Behr contrasts this with the question a modern would most likely ask, “What does this text mean?”

        In the early church, the meaning was found in Christ himself, the Scriptures being the authoritative witness to Christ. In our modern approach we tend to interpret the Scriptures to find out what the text meant, so that we can then translate it into the modern context.

        With the ancient approach, we read the Scriptures not to find out who Jesus was, but who he is and how he continues to act in his Church and in the world.

        This is most important when we consider the role of Mary within the Church. We do not merely discover that she was the mother of Jesus, but that she is still his mother, the mother of the one who was revealed on the cross to be truly the Son of God, and, therefore, she is truly the Mother of God. She is not only he one who said at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you” but she is the one who still directs us to obey her Son. She is not only the one given to the beloved disciple as a Mother, but she is given to all beloved disciples within the Church as a Mother.

        The same method of interpreting Scripture can be applied to the Liturgy and the maxim Lex orandi Lex credendi. The Lex orandi maxim does not mean that we find meaning in the liturgical texts or that we mine them as sources for dogmatic theology. Rather it means that in the normative forms of the liturgy, not as they are written on paper, but as they are lived in word and actions, we worship the Triune God and experience, to use the Orthodox term, his divine energies, those divine energies truly being God himself. In this sense, the liturgy is revelatory.

        It is also on this basis that the Scriptures have their authority, as those texts authorised to be read in liturgical services so that they may reveal who God is as he speaks to us through them.

        My thoughts do not do justice to the writing of Behr, or of David Fagerberg. Fagerberg is most insightful. His original work “What is Liturgical Theology?” was written when he was a Lutheran. He has since converted to Roman Catholicism, and reissued the book as “Theologia Prima: What is Liturgical Theology?” which is brilliant, but perhaps not as helpful to protestants as his original work.

        I apologise for the length of the post (I feel as if I have been hogging the port bottle) but as all will no doubt appreciate, this is not a simple matter.

        • Schütz says:

          Do not apologize, Tony, very useful – especially the recommendations of Behr and Fagerberg, which I will follow up.

          I was wondering at Mass this morning whether in fact one of the difficulties in the way we were taught to read Scripture as Lutherans is that we were primarily trained to read Scripture through exegesis rather than in the context of liturgy and prayer.

          • Thanks Tony, no need to apologise for the length.
            The funny thing is, I don’t actually disagree with anything you wrote, in fact much of it sounds downright Lutheran!
            So, perhaps you are attributing to me a position that I don’t actually hold, or that my position is more nuanced than you might think? [Then again, maybe not ;0)]

            Now, to the point, the matter of interpreting the Fathers is not simple, but let’s not make it overly complex either, they were basically ‘straight-talkers’, to cite a quality David admires in people.

            My basic point is that there is enough evidence in the Fathers to show that they worked not just with an assumption (no pun intended) of scripture’s authority, but of its unique authority, such that what was not taught in scripture could not be required to be believed de fide.

            Not co-incidentally, the framers of the 39 Articles summed up the Fathers’ position most succinctly, “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

            And some quotes from the Fathers themselves:
            We have received the disposition of our salvation by no others, but those by whom the Gospel came to us; which they then preached, and afterwards by God’s will delivered to us in the Scriptures, to be the pillar and ground of our faith.
            Irenaeus, Against Heretics, 3.1

            Let the school of Hermogenes prove that what it advances is written; or if it be not written, let it fear the malediction uttered against those who dare to add or to retrench.
            Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, exact reference needed

            There is one God, whom we do not otherwise acknowledge, brethren, but out of the Sacred Scriptures. For as he, who would profess the wisdom of this world cannot otherwise attain it, unless he read the doctrines of the philosophers; so whosoever will exercise piety towards God, can learn it no where but from the Holy Scriptures.
            Hippolytus, Against Noetus ch. 9 more exact reference needed

            They that are ready to spend their time in the best things will not give up seeking for the truth until they have found the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves.
            Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 7.16.3

            In which (the two Testaments) every word that appertains to God may be required and discussed; and all knowledge may be understood out of them. But if anything remain which the Holy Scripture does not determine, no other third Scripture ought to be received for authorizing any knowledge or doctrine; but that which remains we must commit to the fire, that is, we will reserve it for God. For in this present world God would not have us to know all things.
            Origen, Homilies on Leviticus, 5.9.6

            We are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.
            Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection NPNF II, V:439

            What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if ‘all that is not of faith is sin’ as the Apostle says, and ‘faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,’ everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin.
            Basil the Great, The Morals, p. 204, vol 9 TFOTC.

            We are not content simply because this is the tradition of the Fathers. What is important is that the Fathers followed the meaning of the Scripture.
            Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, Ch 7, par. 16.

            If the Lord is faithful in all he says, it is clearly a falling from faith and a sin of pride either to reject anything of the things that are written or to add anything unwritten.
            Basil the Great, cited in Chemnitz, ECT 1.224

            Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right.
            Basil the Great NPNFII, VIII, Letters and Select Works, Letter CCLXXXIII, p. 312

            Neither dare one agree with catholic bishops if by chance they err in anything, but the result that their opinion is against the canonical Scriptures of God.
            Augustine, De unitate ecclesiae, ch. 10,

            It is impossible either to say or fully to understand anything about God beyond what has been divinely proclaimed to us, whether told or revealed, by the sacred declarations of the Old and New Testaments.
            John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith, Book I, Chapter 2

            Not even the least of the divine and holy mysteries of the faith ought to be handed down without the divine Scriptures. Do not simply give faith to me speaking these things to you except you have the proof of what I say from the divine Scriptures. For the security and preservation of our faith are not supported by ingenuity of speech, but by the proofs of the divine Scriptures.
            Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 4.17

            (Permit me to use Tertullian and Origen as historical witnesses to what the Fathers taught, they were at least not unorthodox on this matter, as the other quotes show.)

            So, if someone chooses to believe in the immaculate conception of Mary or her bodily assumption into heaven, I might regard it as a somewhat harmless eccentricity, a mere theologoumenon which might hide some error in their understanding of the analogy of faith but does not necessarily effect that person’s salvation.
            But if he should elevate it to the status of an article of faith to be believed on pain of loss of salvation, and thus require me to believe it, I must ask, with the fathers cited above, ask Where is it written?
            And without scriptural authority, I must respond that not only is he deforming the catholic faith of the ancient church, but he is attempting to do violence to my conscience. Only the Word of God can establish an article of faith or bind my conscience.

            (Here I stand!)

          • David,

            I think I know what you’re getting at, and I must say I think there is a big difference here between us as you went to Luther at a different period.

            My first response is that exegesis is something taught to preachers of the word for a specific purpose, namely that the message proclaimed from the pulpit may be informed by scipture in the original languages. Lutheran laity normally hear the scriptures in the context of worship, and as you know our service order is replete with scripture itself.

            Secondly, expanding on the idea that exegesis is a tool that serves the proclamation of God’s Gospel, let’s remember that that is true worship, in the sense of Gottesdienst, what God does for us (here I note how close Tony seems to come to this understanding). In other words, preaching is sacramental. Presumably, even Roman Catholic seminarians learn exegesis(?), even if the Lutheran sacramental understanding of the preached word is not quite understood in your communion.

            Also, and this is also by way of response to Tony as I think he may have been moving in this direction, there is no need to oppose Dogma to Worship, the two are intimately intertwined, and in fact,as we were taught at Luther Seminary, the goal of Dogma (& Doctrine) is Doxology!
            I think you will find the same understanding among the better Orthodox theologians, Tony.

  6. Christine says:

    The ELCA Lutherans in the U.S. have become enthusiastic about “rosaries.” There is a very eclectic ELCA parish in San Francisco that has developed the “goddess rosary.”

    The rosary developed as the psalter of the illiterate laity who did not have access to the Bible.

    It is not true that Lutherans do not acknowledge Tradition. Our Lutheran fathers’ writings are full of references to the Church Fathers. See how many Baptists do that. Evangelicals have an entirely different understanding of sola scriptura than Lutherans do.

    We are fully aware that the church was praying before the entire canon of the New Testament was compiled. But we already had the Old Testament by which the teachings of the apostles could be ascertained as to whether the prophecies of the OT were being fulfilled in the NT.

    I might also, say, that although in theory the RC claims that she is the servant to and “under” the authority of Scripture in practice it certainly hasn’t worked out that way. The practices of the empire have prevailed.


    • Schütz says:

      It is not true that Lutherans do not acknowledge Tradition.

      I know that, Christine. But they do not acknowledge that Tradition has a decisive role in determining doctrine. They will allow it a voice up to the point that their own “inner voice” tells them that the Tradition is contrary to Scripture.

      And really, I never fully understood why being Lutheran meant not asking for Mary’s intercession. It was not a foregone conclusion of his doctrine of “justifiction by faith”. Luther did not see it as an automatic thing – he really gave up on the Hail Mary rather late in the piece. His early versions of the Catechism included it.

      I think we can understand how he got from “sola fide” to “sola scriptura” by remembering that he found himself at the Diet of Worms defending his “sola fide” doctrine on the basis of Scripture, and it sort of developed from there.

      • Well, I wouldn’t put it that way David, Lutherans are very suspicious of “inner voices”, you know.

        Now, tell me, where is the canon of Tradition recorded?

        • Schütz says:

          Now, tell me, where is the canon of Tradition recorded?

          Well, by its nature, “Tradition” is not recorded but lived in the Church.

          I think there is a bit of a tendancy to see “Tradition” to be enshrined in the writings of the Church Fathers and canons of the Councils.

          Far more accurate would be to see it as the Orthodox generally do: the Liturgy itself is the central “canon” of Tradition. Thus, the Eucharistic liturgy or the practice of infant baptism or the intercession of saints or the succession of Bishops are all matters of liturgical ritual, which have their origin and development quite apart from Scripture.

          And once again proves that it is the “lex supplicandi” which establishes the “lex credendi”.

          • How convenient, one can only say.

            • Tony Bartel says:

              How convenient, or perhaps, how catholic.

            • Tony, are you serious?

              Anyway, Tony & David, I have an infallible authority behind my contention that ‘lex orandi…’ can just as well be turned around, and indeed has to be turned around if it is to be of any service to the church in preserving the deposit of faith once handed down in the prophetic and apostolic scriptures, namely Pius XII.

              I submit this extract from his Encyclical, Mediator Dei, adding that in principle I agree with what he says here. The question is, David, why don’t you?

              46. On this subject We judge it Our duty to rectify an attitude with which you are doubtless familiar, Venerable Brethren. We refer to the error and fallacious reasoning of those who have claimed that the sacred liturgy is a kind of proving ground for the truths to be held of faith, meaning by this that the Church is obliged to declare such a doctrine sound when it is found to have produced fruits of piety and sanctity through the sacred rites of the liturgy, and to reject it otherwise. Hence the epigram, “Lex orandi, lex credendi” – the law for prayer is the law for faith.

              47. But this is not what the Church teaches and enjoins. The worship she offers to God, all good and great, is a continuous profession of Catholic faith and a continuous exercise of hope and charity, as Augustine puts it tersely. “God is to be worshipped,” he says, “by faith, hope and charity.”[44] In the sacred liturgy we profess the Catholic faith explicitly and openly, not only by the celebration of the mysteries, and by offering the holy sacrifice and administering the sacraments, but also by saying or singing the credo or Symbol of the faith – it is indeed the sign and badge, as it were, of the Christian – along with other texts, and likewise by the reading of holy scripture, written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The entire liturgy, therefore, has the Catholic faith for its content, inasmuch as it bears public witness to the faith of the Church.

              48. For this reason, whenever there was question of defining a truth revealed by God, the Sovereign Pontiff and the Councils in their recourse to the “theological sources,” as they are called, have not seldom drawn many an argument from this sacred science of the liturgy. For an example in point, Our predecessor of immortal memory, Pius IX, so argued when he proclaimed the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Similarly during the discussion of a doubtful or controversial truth, the Church and the Holy Fathers have not failed to look to the age-old and age-honored sacred rites for enlightenment. Hence the well-known and venerable maxim, “Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi” – let the rule for prayer determine the rule of belief.[45] The sacred liturgy, consequently, does not decide or determine independently and of itself what is of Catholic faith. More properly, since the liturgy is also a profession of eternal truths, and subject, as such, to the supreme teaching authority of the Church, it can supply proofs and testimony, quite clearly, of no little value, towards the determination of a particular point of Christian doctrine. But if one desires to differentiate and describe the relationship between faith and the sacred liturgy in absolute and general terms, it is perfectly correct to say, “Lex credendi legem statuat supplicandi” – let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer. The same holds true for the other theological virtues also, “In . . . fide, spe, caritate continuato desiderio semper oramus” – we pray always, with constant yearning in faith, hope and charity.[46]

  7. Christine says:

    But they do not acknowledge that Tradition has a decisive role in determining doctrine.

    When Tradition trumps the Holy Word of God, the choice is clear.

    As for Luther, it took some time for him to shrug of the last vestiges of medieval Catholicism.

    The only saints Scripture asks as to request prayer from is our fellow saints in the Church on earth.

    As for Blessed Mary, I will follow her own words in Scripture: “Do whatever he tells you.”

    Satis est.


  8. Kiran says:

    All of this tradition-Scripture debate leads me to ask one question. I can think of one case where tradition clearly has trumped scripture: Blood puddings. Now, how can you possibly defend that?

  9. Christine says:

    Far more accurate would be to see it as the Orthodox generally do: the Liturgy itself is the central “canon” of Tradition. Thus, the Eucharistic liturgy or the practice of infant baptism or the intercession of saints or the succession of Bishops are all matters of liturgical ritual, which have their origin and development quite apart from Scripture.

    Uh huh. And they still don’t accept the papal claims.

    • Kiran says:

      Well, depends on which of the Orthodox you mean, and what claims you mean. That said however, it is instructive, think you not, that on these matters, any body which with any reasonableness can claim to date back to Christ have Episcopal polity as a matter of faith?

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