"Communio Ecclesiology": Established by Word AND Sacrament

Some thoughts raised by a conversation last night with Fraser and this morning’s collect at the end of Morning Prayer:

Lord God, you have made one people out of many different races and nations, united through confessing the glory of your name. They were born to new life in baptism: let there be one faith in their hearts, one love in their Christian way of life. Per Christum…

For some time I have been complaining that Protestant ecclesiology suffers from a lack of engagement with the communio ecclesiology that emerged in our theological consciousness during the 20th Century. “Fellowship”, as they call it, is established largely on the basis of similarity of doctrine–splits therefore take place over disputed doctrine. For an example of a Lutheran ecclesiology that has not properly engaged with communio theology, see this paper by Dr Adam Cooper: “The Church and the Churches“. (I intend to engage with it in greater depth at another point). On the other hand, for a surprising awareness of the implications of communio theology, see this paper by an Australian Anglican committee on the effect of women bishops on the unity of the Church: “Draft Issues Paper Episcopal Ministry and Women“.

Over against this “dogmatic fellowship”, I have emphasised the personal communion established by bishops with one another and (in particular) with the Bishop of Rome. Last night Fraser pointed out to me that I have tended to make a false dichotomy between dogmatic and personal communion. In our conversation, I conceded he is right: in Catholic (and Orthodox) tradition, it is unity of faith which establishes communion, BUT this union of faith is expressed incarnationally through real human relationships. The real problem is the tendency to speak of fellowship in faith in “gnostic” terms (as Fraser put it)–that is, without concrete human relationships.

This morning’s collect, cited above, expresses this beautifully. It is Faith and Baptism which establish the oneness of the Church–that is, Word and Sacrament. The personal/incarnational aspect of communio is established by the shared Sacraments just as the doctrinal/dogmatic aspect is established by shared Faith in the Word. Nor is this limited to baptism (although that is fundamental). The Orthodox churches have taught us to value a “Eucharistic Ecclesiology”, where communio is expressed in the local celebration of the Eucharist. Classical Protestant theology is not unaware of this double aspect, as they often use the terminology of “altar and pulpit fellowship”.

Nevertheless, I would say that a difficulty does arise if you limit the sacraments to just baptism and eucharist. Two other sacraments “cement” the personal/incarnational communion of the Church.

The Sacrament of Confirmation concretely links the baptised faithful in any given diocese in communion with their bishops. The Sacrament of Holy Orders concretely links the priests and deacons with their bishops and the bishops with one another. The fact that both sacraments include anointing and laying on of hands means that this really is a physical/personal/incarnational fellowship, and has no smell of gnosticism attached to it.

Thus far my reflections. Any advances?

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8 Responses to "Communio Ecclesiology": Established by Word AND Sacrament

  1. Past Elder says:

    I’ll be the last to deny, especially with Houston coming up, that the “Lutheran church” has its share of ecclesiastical problems, nor am I anything but sympathetic with a desire to be rid of these problems acute enough to earn a place on one’s personal list of sorrows, but I suggest again, brother, that buying into New Rome’s latest bag of goods on this and buying into thinking it’s the same as Real Rome’s actual bag of goods is no answer.

    I haven’t heard appeals to “communio ecclesiology” or to an “incarnational” link of bishops and/or people since the last time a representative of the “Roman Catholic” church explained to me how the bishop of Rome is a first among equals and that when he takes a stand apart from that collegial communion — like, say, tells a professor with a licence to teach in the church’s name that he must teach what the church teaches or lose the licence — that he is acting invalidly as a bishop and fallen back into the trap of mediaeval monarchial triumphalism from which Vatican II had liberated us as the People of God.

    The “Lutheran Church” does indeed have serious problems, but at least they do not stem from making a number of church ceremonies and ordinances for good order in the church into sacraments equal to those given by Christ (which if one really has to bother about a systematic numbering I would say is three) to the church, and then on that basis imagining some sort of communion when the living fact is that in contrast to the Roman Catholic church in which I grew up in its last days, the word “Catholic” over the door now means absolutely nothing with regard to what one will find in liturgy or from the pulpit or podium on entering, making the communio nothing but gnosis which no amount of mitres and crosiers and impressive real estate can make otherwise.

  2. Schütz says:

    I think the time has come, Past Elder, for you to stop vaguely grizzling about how “New Rome” has become a “Religion of Man”, and actually list out what your real beef with the Catholic Church is. Mind you, I will not accept you listing the various sins and failings of particular Catholics. You must go on Publica Doctrina here–for though the Church is the Spotless Bride of Christ, she has many sinners amongst her (in fact, how or why should it be otherwise? Christ came to call sinners, not the righteous, to repentance!).

    You have inspired me to blog on the institution of the Sacraments.

  3. Past Elder says:

    I must bring out a love of the performing arts in you. Last time I attempted to set out my beef with the Catholic Church it brought on an analogy to the Mikado. Now a parody of Monty Python! Well, I’m not a bit fan of Monty Python, generally leave that to the potheads, but I’m more a Benny Hill type. Not to be confused with Benny Hinn, who is also pretty entertaining. So I have three beefs in general.

    First Beef. Let’s accept the post conciliar church. Then, what is one to make of the enormous chasm the church allows to exist between the actual documents of Vatican II and isolated instances like EWTN, broadcasts of big deals from Rome, and a parish here and there, and the post conciliar church as actually experienced in the ordinary lives of millions of souls, except that the church either doesn’t really believe what it says or doesn’t care.

    This cannot be chalked up to the sins or failings of particular Catholics. That would be, say, the paedophilia, alcoholism and drug abuse and homosexuality rampant among Catholic clergy, and hardly unkown among any church’s clergy. But look: I work for a financial institution. If you contact that institution and get me, and I give you false information about our products and services and/or false information about your account(s) with us, not a one time human error but consistently and knowing it is not the institution’s actual information about these things, how long do you think I would keep my job or not most likely face charges? And that’s just the things of this world! How much more in things with eternal consequences. So when a person in an official capacity represents as the church’s teaching or practice what is not, or presents as allowable within it what is not, this is not just a personal sin or failing. The near total lack of accountability of anyone to anyone for anything is simply appalling in any church, but intolerable in one which at the same time holds itself to be the unbroken community of faith from the Apostles guaranteeing therefore a participation in that community. What it says means nothing at all. That’s the Catholic Church taken on its own present official self understanding.

    Second Beef. Let’s accept the post conciliar church and completely disallow the First Beef. That authentic Vatican II as seen in big deals from Rome, EWTN and isolated parishes is based upon teachings which are un-Catholic, non-Catholic and at some points even anti-Catholic you may find demonstrated with much more ability and detail than I can muster let alone summarise on a blog posting in any number of papers on the SSPX website. With further documentation to be found on links to member institutions, such as the seminary located in Winona MN, about forty miles from where I grew up, at which time, before the Revolution, er, Vatican II, and the church got relevant and promptly emptied the pews, seminaries, convents and everything else was a Dominican novitiate until there were no novices. Now I differ with them. Not in their analysis, but in what to do about it. They attempt to remain in the church, and I cannot imagine what depth of Christian charity would inspire them to do so in the face of the jackbooted thuggery committed by the mitred apostates now running the Catholic Church to make sure that those who preach and practice what the Catholic Church preached and practiced before their ascendancy remain effectively contained. That is my take, not theirs, nor would they in any way condone my take on what to do about what has happened, which is, it could not have happened if what we once preached and practiced was true, therefore, it is false too.

    So far not a word about Lutheranism, I was an ex-Catholic, by my reckoning if not the church’s, for twenty three years before I saw Lutheranism as anything more than a sincere but misguided attempt to be Catholic without being Catholic, upper case intentional. I did not reject the Catholic Church pre or post council because of Lutheranism at all, but rather the former (pre) because it did not endure and is hounded mercilessly by the institution that claims to be the same thing therefore it cannot have been true to have been overcome by the gates of hell and the most vicious dogs released therefrom, and the latter (post) twice over, because it manifestly rejects at key points the prior teaching and practice of the church it claims to be, and because even if this were disproven it manifestly cares nothing whatever for either the teaching and practice it now espouses or for the millions of souls whose Catholic life is at best tangentially related to its official teaching and practice.

    This is not to hurl anything at you whatever; it is to describe my experience, which can be summed up as saying it’s rather like finding out your mother is a whore, and then not only that, she was all along.

    Twenty some years later (I’m tempted to pull a Sister Kane and frame this all in terms of “pain” but that is a tactic we’ll leave to them) the grace of God allowed me exposure to the Book of Concord, which from page to page showed me the real problem, and from page to page showed me the real catholic church, which on finishing I was able to join by public profession of faith in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. So that is now Beef Three, and it is again laid out with much more ability and detail than I can muster or certainly summarise in a blog post, this time in Scripture and its true statement in the Book of Concord, which perhaps is still to be found on your shelf!

    I do not engage Catholics is this type of discussion, because it is my experience that nothing is gained thereby, and I trust that the saving faith that is possible despite their environment will be theirs through the grace of God.

    But you, brother, were a Lutheran! And ordained to the Office of Holy Ministry! And I understand that your having arrrived where you are now must seem as much of a God given resolution to years of Sturm und Drang (let the the non Germans look it up, what, I forgot, I’m not German myself, I’m English by descent!) as where I have arrived seems to me. And, you seem like a right sort of fellow anyway. And, you’re an Aussie and in my experience Aussies are a riot!

    Which leads me to my final observation: I’ll leave a discussion of whether “vomit” is a good reaction to an Augustinian sacramental theology to another time, but here question the use of “vomit” when in my experience Aussieralian has more expressions for this function than any dialect on earth, my favourite being “Technicolour yawn”!

    Spaeter, Bruder!

  4. Schütz says:

    You are a queer fish, Past Elder. I have great difficulty in following the logic of your argument against the Catholic Church. Let me make an attempt to summarise your argument using your own analogy:

    1) The Catholic Church is my mother. I once loved her, thought she was beautiful and trusted her.
    2) Then one day as I am growing up I discovered my mother is whore.
    3) Some of my brothers and sisters had amassed a ton of evidence to prove that although my mother was once beautiful and trustworthy and lovable, she is now most definitely a whore. They have moved out of home, but wish that my mother would return to being the person she once was. I believe their evidence completely.
    4) Others of my brothers and sisters refuse to accept the evidence that my mother really is a whore and want to go on believing that she is beautiful and trustworthy etc. They still live with her and love her despite what appears to me to be her glaring faults.
    5) But I am really hurt. I figure that in fact my mother never was beautiful, or lovable or trustworthy. She is in fact ugly and untrustworthy, and I find that I can no longer love her. I am sorry I ever did.
    6) So, I reject my mother the whore entirely. I decide that she is not and never was the person I thought she was.
    7) One day I read about someone else’s mother. Although all my other brothers and sisters–both those who have left home and those who have stayed–say that this woman is not our mother, I think that that is her most attractive asset. She is nothing like my mother, neither as beautiful, nor as lovely, nor as trustworthy as I once imagined my mother to have been, nor anything like the whore I now know my mother really is. I decide to go and be a part of their family.

    I don’t think that is the end of the story (the fact that you have belonged to several different Lutheran Synods already says something, does it not, Past Elder, about your search for a replacement mother that will fill your mother-shaped hole-in-the-heart?) but we will leave it there for the time being.

    The real question you need to ask yourself, methinks, is: Is the woman you take for a whore really your mother or not, and if she is, isn’t that more important than anything else?

    You will in fact understand me much better, I think, if you use the same analogy for my journey of faith. Although I was raised in an admirable, well-to-do, respectable, and–yes–even loving home, one day a DNA test proved that I was in fact the child of (the one everyone called) the village whore. I decided to go and live with my real mother.

    In the end the question for me was the same as it is for you: Whore or not, is the Catholic Church your Mother?

  5. Schütz says:

    Oh, and by the way, the “Chuck, vomit” was not for Augustine’s theology, but for the touchy, feely sacramental anthropology Gleeson deduced from an over-reliance on Augustinian neoplatonism to the exclusion of broader Catholic teaching on the matter.

  6. Past Elder says:

    Mother? Who is my mother? Christ himself answered that question, and the answer is on the basis of who hears his word and keeps it, and nothing else, that is my mother and brother and sister.

    I’m adopted. No analogy or figure of speech, I’m adopted. I was adopted by people who did their level best to give me the best life possible even though at times growing up I thought their best should have been something else. I wondered too what my biological parents looked like, what was their ancestry (I have since learned that my original surname comes from Suffolk), what would my kids look like, etc. I married later in life (43) and had kids later yet. You know what I found out? What makes me their dad is not that I loved their mother (who has since been called to her place in the angelic choir) though it was my gift and privilege to have done so. Dad, or mom, is not the one who begat you, it’s the one who got up when everything in them wanted to stay asleep, and fed you, changed your diaper, sang to you, talked to you, held you, and went to work the next day dog tired. That’s who your “real” parents are. That’s what makes me my kids’ dad, the same thing that made my mom and dad my mom and dad, and not the begetting. And it was for that that those who begot me made a heartbreaking decision for them in love. So I add to the mother and family analogy that too.

    My mother, brother and sister are those who hear the word of the Lord and keep it. This is not the Roman Catholic Church past or present, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, nor the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, though my mother, brother and sister can be found in all of them — though best I would say in LCMS. And what is the word of the Lord? It is to be found right in the books the church said you could rely on, which it gathered into what we call the Bible, whose truths are accurately taught in the Book of Concord which is not another Bible but true because it teaches Scripture which is true (a quia subscription here, as you might remember). That is my mother, brother and sister, whether in the best available environment in LCMS, other synods, other church bodies, or even the Church of Rome.

    So you are right about a mother chaped hole in the heart, except for the tense, which is past. That is not there, not any more. I do not have a new mother. I have the same one I always had, the only one there is, not based on flesh and blood or “successions” thereof, but on the word of the Lord which endureth forever, as the motto of the Lutheran Reformation says. It is there that I am fed, my diaper changed, etc, instead of a corrupt nurse changing my formula and saying its the same and claiming she’s my mom.

    Now a PS. To answer your question in a more Saxon non allegorical non analogical fashion, is the Catholic Church my mother, no. But I am grateful to it, even in its present state of abomination, for what it taught me that helped me to recognise my real mother. And about point three in your analogy, those brothers and sisters did not leave “home”, they were forced out of it by guttersnipes without the least shred of spiritual or even human integrity who changed it in to someone else’s “home”, theirs, and yet said it was the same, except privately among themselves, which I overheard, and who attempt to maintain the “home” nonetheless.

  7. Schütz says:

    Ah well. I of course had no idea of your family history when I wrote that piece, so I am sorry if it struck below the belt. But your reply does demonstrate a fundamental difference in our point of view. I never did and could never share your point of view regarding Holy Mother Church.

    I believe you are misquoting our Lord with regard to “mother and brothers and sisters”. In his answer he said “MY Mother and MY brothers and MY sisters”. I do not believe he was teaching us who “OUR mother etc” is.

    For all that the fathers of the Church have always spoken of the Church of as the “Mother” through which the Father gives birth to children through water and the Word. Most famously, St Cyprian exclaimed that “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother” (St. Cyprian, De unit. 6: PL 4, 519).

    But lest you wish to say Cyprian was not a Lutheran, let me quote the most Lutheran of all Lutherans in one of his few writings which is accepted as a “Lutheran Confession”: Dr Martin Luther himself:

    In his Large Catechism, in the article on the Church, he says that God “has a peculiar congregation in the world, which is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God.”

    Therefore, though the Word of God be the means of this begetting (much as it was the means–although in a different fashion–of the begetting of the Incarnate Son of the Virgin Mary) yet there is indeed a “peculiar congregation in the world” who is truly “our Mother”.

    The Catholic Church, in its catechism, affirms this still today:

    n. 169 “Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: “We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation” [Faustus of Riez, De Spiritu Sancto 1, 2: PL 62, II].”

  8. Past Elder says:

    Catholics! As I say, I generally do not engage in these discussions with Catholics, not at all that as people they aren’t just fine, but because the Roman church seems to impart a cloud that is almost impregnable. But as I also said, you were a Lutheran, and ordained to the Office of Holy Ministry!

    Anyway, in no case do I reject St Cyprian or Dr Luther, or that there is a church, or that the church is properly called Mother, or that that church is in that sense my Mother.

    What I reject is that the Roman Catholic Church either is that church or the church in which that church fully subsists. Or in other words, the Roman Catholic Church is not my Mother, not because there is no Holy Mother Church and not because Holy Mother Church is not my Mother, but because the Roman Catholic Church is not Holy Mother Church!

    So Past Elder. But long before Past Elder, I would also reject the conciliar church. The catechism you quote is the 1992 catechism, which is no catechism at all let alone a catechism of the Catholic Faith, doing to catechesis what the novus ordo does to liturgy, replacing the Catholic Faith with modernism and phenomenology in surface garb borrowed from the Catholic Faith. Both of them worthless, faithless, miserable documents on either Catholic or Lutheran grounds whose only real value would be seen if one ran out of kitty litter.

    BTW, I did not feel at all struck below the belt or offended in any way by your earlier comments, nor would I any the less enjoy tea with you because of them! My only intent was to add that perspective of what constitutes being a “real” parent to the analogy, ie that parenting is not just biology even when biology is involved.

    And I agree in the verses I referenced Jesus is speaking of who his mother is. I had in mind also that later he gave his mother to be our mother too — before the Revolution “Woman, behold thy son” and “Son, behold thy mother” was the most cited reference for this — so that the description applies to us too, not only in Mary as the prototype for the Church but in Mary as a supreme example of faith whom we should follow “Be it done unto my according to thy word” and “Hear him”.

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