A Lutheran in the Court of the Catholic Theological Society of America

Sounds like something from Mark Twain, but here it is, as reported by John L. Allen, Jnr. Apparently Lutheran theologican Michael Root, addressing the Catholic Theological Society of America, found “internal tension, incoherence or contradiction” in Catholic ecclesiology and ecumenism.

Michael Root of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, observed that post-Vatican II Catholicism teaches that the one church of Christ is “present and at work” in other Christian bodies such as the Anglican Communion and Lutheranism, that these “ecclesial communities” are instruments of salvation for their members, and that they have preserved the “basic truths” of the gospel. At the same time, Root observed, Catholicism also holds that these bodies lack valid ordained ministries, meaning, in effect, that they don’t have bishops.

Root said that logically speaking, the conclusion would follow that bishops are therefore not essential to ecclesial communion, to the presence of the church, to the means of grace that lead to salvation, or to the teaching office. Otherwise, he suggested, it would be impossible to explain the presence of those qualities in communities that don’t have bishops.

Ironically, Root argued, if one takes Catholic teaching at face value, it “would imply that ordained ministry and episcopacy are less significant for Catholics than they even are for Lutherans.”

If there is one thing I have discovered in the Catholic faith, it is a passion for inner coherance at every turn. Tension is okay, but if, in your reading, you find the articles of the Catholic faith “contradictory”, you can be assured that you don’t understand it rightly.

It is true that the Church acknowledges that it has a “real but imperfect” communion with all who are baptised and believe in Christ. But note two things:

1) This communion is based on faith in Christ and the sacrament of baptism. It is not based on the Eucharist, or on the validity of Holy Orders.

2) This communion is primarily with separated brothers and sisters, and therefore only secondarily with the ecclesial communions as such.

To put it another way, baptism and faith establish a relationship with individuals outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church, not with “churches” (eg. “the Anglican communion and Lutheranism”). There is a sense in which the Church has a deeper communion with those true local churches which have preserved valid orders (eg. the Orthodox churches), but baptism and faith always remain the basis for this communion.

The Church does not actually teach that the ecclesial communities are “instruments of salvation for their members” in themselves, as Root claims, but rather that in and among them are preserved some of those means of grace “which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church” (UR 3), and therefore which make salvation possible, most notably (according to Vatican II):

the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ [NOT, if I might add a word of clarification, to the ecclesial communions in which separated brothers and sisters encounter them].

However the real communion established by these means of grace are not sufficient for FULL communion, and it is this which Root seems to have failed to understand. FULL communion, according to the will of Christ, requires a shared Eucharist, and a shared Eucharist is impossible without a shared ministerial priesthood. Baptism and faith are the basis, but the Eucharist is the goal, of that communion to which Christ calls his church.

It is quite possible “to explain the presence of those qualities in communities that don’t have bishops”. The word of God can be proclaimed, baptism can be administered, prayers can be offered, the life of grace can be practiced, and the Holy Spirit can certainly be present without the sacramental charism of holy orders. But wherever this is the case, as the Council said, the impetus is toward full communion with the Catholic Church. For apart from valid ministerial orders, it is not possible to absolve sins, confirm, or consecrate the Eucharist.

The Catholic Church has, of course, a civil and even religious respect for the ordained ministers of the ecclesial communities, even though it does not recognise their validity. That is why we expect such clergy, when attending Catholic prayers and liturgies of the Word (eg. Vespers), to be vested according to their custom. We also show respect toward their Eucharistic celebrations, even though we do not recognise their validity. There have been occasions when this respect has been shown in very significant ways, for instance, when Paul VI gave his episcopal ring to the Archbishop of Canterbury and when John Paul II sent gifts of pectoral crosses to all English Anglican bishops. But in effect this was a way of saying: “You are so close to union with us: please come closer!” There are, however few indications that this invitation has been heeded (see the reaction of the English bishops to Cardinal Kasper’s plea for them not to go down the road of ordaining women bishops).

[As an aside here, I was with Lutheran clergy friends camping on the Queen’s Birthday weekend far out of reach of a Catholic mass. I encouraged them to celebrate their Eucharist since all the others present were Lutherans. Afterwards, I assisted in the cleansing of the glass and plate used for communion (the pastor had already consumed the remaining elements). I did so with the same respect that I would have done had it been the Catholic Eucharist–although without the adoration which which I would normally accompany such an action.]

I think if pushed, even Michael Root would agree that the ministry of Word and Sacrament does not establish communion. But equally, he must agree, that a shared ministry is necessary for full communion. Unfortunately there are many examples in the modern world where a level of shared communion is formally established between protestant bodies (eg. Episcopalians and ELCA Lutherans or between the English Anglican Church and the Scandinavian Lutheran Churches) including a shared Eucharist, but where this partial communion has completely defused any further action of seeking full visible unity between these bodies. The Catholic Church is aware of this, and therefore insists that true unity must be visible unity: visible in the whole community, including in its ministers and in its celebration of one Eucharist around one altar.

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17 Responses to A Lutheran in the Court of the Catholic Theological Society of America

  1. Christine says:

    Michael Root, if I remember correctly, is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Seeing as this particular Lutheran body has entered into “full communion” with several Reformed bodies, as well as the Episcopal Church, his positions are not surprising in the least.

  2. Past Elder says:

    Well, here’s a first — I agree with you, and I find Root’s argument without merit. Then again, noting Christine’s (Hi!) comment, anything about the EL?A is without merit.

    Interesting that last Sunday I was up a little earlier than usual, and did a little channel surfing. Besides the usual Sunday morning TV church — Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar — there was a service that looked just like what you find down the street at the RC parish I am “supposed” to belong to, except for the woman minister or priest. So I stayed tuned to see who are these guys — ELCA!

    So Lutherans who aren’t Lutheran ecumenise with Catholics who aren’t Catholic. One of these days ecumenism will be complete, there will be a unified false body teaching false doctrine, and I will have a third ecclesial entity I cannot join, and this time on BOTH Lutheran and Catholic grounds. Praise God!

  3. Christine says:

    Hi to you Past Elder !! (for whom I will always have great esteem because he recognized the beautiful Bavarian Abtei of Weltenburg :)

    Well, to give the ELCA folks somewhat of a break — there is the WordAlone network in the ELCA that is struggling mightily to return the ECLA to her confessional and biblical roots, especially in returning power to local pastors to ordain etc. (much as some in the LCMS are disturbed by the shift of power that seems to be accumulating in District Presidents) and never were comfortable with the idea of “bishops” in the ELCA. ELCA headquarters in Chicago will continue to get a scuffle from some of the old-time ELCA Lutherans in the midwest.

    As far as the ECLA service you saw, it ain’t the same animal, my brother. Even my ELCA sister doesn’t catch the nuances well enough to recognize that it is not the Mass in the Roman tradition. The ECLA hoped that by adopting as much of the Catholic liturgy as they felt comfortable with it would hasten the prospect of intercommunion. Not going to happen.

  4. Past Elder says:

    Well bully for WordAlone.

    You know what? They are to ELCA as SSPX is to RC.

    There’s no nuances about it: neither what I saw on TV from the ELCA church nor what I see at my local RC parish is in any way Mass in the Roman tradition.

    What’s more, speaking of nuances or lack thereof, for a Catholic who knows how the novus ordo is a denial of the Catholic faith and an offence to Christ, to participate in it anyway is at least a venial sin.

  5. Schütz says:

    Dear Past Elder,

    I am glad we found one point on which we agree, but I would also suggest that “a Catholic who knows how the novus ordo is a denial of the Catholic Faith and an offence to Christ” is not a Catholic.

  6. Past Elder says:

    Bless me! We agree again!! I’m really NOT a Catholic. And all I had to do to get that way was adhere to what the Catholic Church taught me! Unglaublich!

  7. Christine says:

    for a Catholic who knows how the novus ordo is a denial of the Catholic faith and an offence to Christ, to participate in it anyway is at least a venial sin.

    But I firmly believe that the novus ordo is the Catholic faith and thereby do not acknowledge that I am engaging in venial sin.

    The liturgy as used in the ELCA is *not* Roman Catholic. The presence of women clergy, the lack of the full Eucharistic canon, no mystical representation of the Holy Sacrifice — nope, it ain’t the Roman rite.

    As for all the other things that David is bringing up on the new posts, I too agree with his assessment of the development of doctrine.

    As for the SSPX? I attended one of their liturgies once. Ugh. It might as well have been a private Mass.

    I know you believe that those of us here who have chosen Rome have been spiritually blinded but golly, we really do see the Catholic Church as our Holy Mother !!

    But carry on.

    By the way Past Elder, belatedly, “ich wünsche Dir gesegnetes Geburtstag !!”

  8. Past Elder says:

    Jeez Christine am I glad I ran into you. Maybe it’s both of us being laymen. Maybe it’s neither of us being ex-clergy — too bad those guys couldn’t have converted to Orthodoxy. That would have been better twice over: they could have been priests married and all, and, Orthodoxy is still Orthodoxy so they’d actually be getting what they thought they got.

    Intersting your referring to “their” services. Prior to Vatican II, “their” services were the only services of the Roman Rite for hundreds of years, for which countless martyrs died rather than lose. Now it is lost without a drop of blood. Not even Cromwell could effect the suppression of Catholic worship as well as Vatican II.

    I’ll say one thing though. Contact with Lutheran converts to the post conciliar church has re-inforced to me like nothing has for years and years that the RC church is by no stretch of even the most active imagination the RC church and to belong to it I would have to abjure what I once believed and would still believe had this hideous vicious impostor not arisen not quite a half century ago claiming to be the same thing. Not surprising though — the Prince of Darkness loves to masquerade as the Light.

    Well, thank you for the birthday wishes! I suppose I’d better see how our host is coming with his “development of doctrine is a doctrine because the doctrine of development of doctrine developped” argument. Or I could just read some Huxley or Orwell — same sort of Vatican II newspeak.

  9. Christine says:

    Prior to Vatican II, “their” services were the only services of the Roman Rite for hundreds of years, for which countless martyrs died rather than lose.

    Oh? The Mass that the Roman Martyrs died for was celebrated ala SSPX? Ala Trent?

    Actually, looking back, I didn’t attend an SSPX liturgy, now that I think about it. It was a chapel of the SSPV (back in those days, before I became Catholic, I sometimes got confused which was which). Of course, THEY consider themselves the true bearers of *traditional* Catholicism, the SSPX isn’t orthodox enough for them.

    Aside from the priest coming in, rattling through the liturgy at the altar and the ladies in their mantillas (who totally ignored my presence) I wasn’t impressed. It certainly wasn’t the same as the Mass my Dad took me to in Europe (that would have been in the early 1950’s).

    Of course, when Benedict’s Motu Proprio comes down and if the Latin Mass is restored in its fullness hey, I’m pretty well versed in liturgical Latin — I’ll attend from time to time!

  10. Past Elder says:

    Generally traditionalists use the 1962 missal, the last plane out before the gates of hell and the screaming dogs released therefrom prevailed, however some use older revisions.

    Yes revisions. Jesus Christ himself wouldn’t have a clue how to vest or act in any of these rites, and he’s the one who said the first mass! St Peter too.

    So of course there is development. That was never the issue. But the development that resulted in the form of the Mass that expressed the Roman Faith, which was maliciously altered to suppress the Catholic Faith for a phenomenological Man centred faith.

    The motu proprio is completely meaningless. We need one pope’s permission to do what another pope says is the only thing that can be done?

    They have preserved the form of religion while denying it, just as Paul described, and speaking of Paul, since they have delivered a “Gospel” other than the one received, they are anathema too!!!

  11. Past Elder says:

    As a matter of fact, if for some reason I were to be taken with the notion that even if there is some truth to the Lutheran Confessions that truth cannot be taken out of a visible church context — in other words, I gotta go where there’s real bishops — I would in no wise look to Rome, whose present living reality is neither what it was before nor what it states now in books and telecasts from Rome but not in the parish down the street.

    I go on and on about this to Catholics, but an Eastern Orthodox in whose restaurant I used to dine often summed up Vatican II with much more clarity than I can muster, using only two words: very sad.

    Here in Omaha we have not one but two parishes of the Orthodox body to which Father Fenton converted. And I think a point he made on his blog recently about how liturgy itself functions as a confessional document, lex orandi lex credendi, is very much to the point.

    It is why there is and can be no such thing as evangelical (in the American Protestant sense) worship with Lutheran content; it is why Orthodoxy, whatever its internal problems, is still Orthodoxy; it is why Rome with its novus ordo is neither Roman nor Catholic nor catholic nor anything else worth a tinker’s dam, but a preposterous charade.

    So if you can’t be Lutheran, at least do it right and be Orthodox.

    As for me, I’ll be Lutheran, come Houston or high water, by the grace of God.

  12. Christine says:

    Past Elder,

    I really am amused! You go on and on the Roman Rite that Jesus wouldn’t recognize and then tell me that Orthodoxy, so much of whose ritual comes from the ancient Byzantine Imperial Court is superior?

    No thanks. I’ll remain in the Bark of Peter.

  13. Past Elder says:

    Christine, I didn’t say Orthodoxy was superior. If I believed that, I would be Orthodox. I’m not. I’m Lutheran.

    What I did say is that Orthodoxy is still Orthodoxy and by contrast Vatican II Roman Catholicism is neither Roman nor Catholicsm. And that therefore those who convert to the former have found what they think they have found, whereas those who convert to the latter have not.

    The comment about Jesus celebrating Mass applies to any rite. None of the vesting or ceremonial detail represents anything Jesus did or commanded to be done, except the Verba. I am not objecting to any rite on that basis at all, just using it as an example of legitimate development or not, to point out that I am not one of those who thinks the pre conciliar Mass existed for 1500 some years before Trent.

  14. Christine says:

    You know Past Elder, as I read some of your comments, especially about the “Verba” I am thinking back to one Sunday when I was visiting the LCMS congregation.

    This was maybe the first or Second Sunday after Easter. Pastor was preaching on creation versus evolution and insisted that the “Leviathan” mentioned in the Book of Job was dinosaurs. Job and dinosaurs existed side by side.

    A bit much for me and not exactly a sermon in keeping with the Season.

    The next Sunday at Mass I heard a beautiful homily on the Resurrection and what it means for us as Christians.

    I guess it’s hard for an ex-Catholic to hear an ex-Lutheran state unequivocally that the she doesn’t believe in sola scriptura anymore.

    Blessed Teresa of Calculatta lived through the pre and post-conciliar Church and did so with a smile on her face.

    I intend to do the same.

  15. Schütz says:

    Amen to that, Christine.

  16. Past Elder says:

    No, not Amen to that.

    I simply cannot fathom why one would, on the one hand rightly recoil from demoninations such as ELCA and forces within other denominations such as LCMS that call themselves Lutheran and see themselves as authentic developments of Lutheranism, and on the other embrace a Catholicism that is the result of counterpart forces in the Catholic Church.

    Or in other words, ELCA stands in exactly the same relationship to the Lutheran faith as the post conciliar Roman church does to the Catholic faith — a miserable falsifying sham travelling under the name and all the more contempible for their use of it.

    Save yourself from this faithless generation!

  17. Christine says:

    Well Past Elder, my friend, increasingly as I read your posts I see that it is YOU that have the problem, not us. That you cannot “fathom” our choices is not a burden that we need to carry nor the fact that we don’t see the postconciliar church as you do.

    I grew up Lutheran. I know the ethos. The ELCA that you continue to harangue against once contained many congregations that belonged to the LCMS (my sister’s is one).

    Don’t be too sure that you know now as a Lutheran will be the case twenty years down the road.

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