What happened to Bishops under "Pope Luther"–Proof of the Discontinuity

Regular readers will know that one of the three reasons I came to accept the Catholic faith was “Continuity” (the other two were “authenticity” and “authority”–you can see the relation). Of all the “discontinuities” in Lutheranism, the most obvious was the discontinuity in Episcopal Succession, resulting (for German Lutheranism at least, and probably also for Scandinavian Lutheranism–no official judgement has ever been passed on the latter as far as I know, although the negative is assumed) in a loss of apostolic succession.

Of course, as a Confessional Lutheran, I was aware that the Augsburg Confession supported the “right of bishops”. I was told by my seminary professors that the only reason Lutherans ended up not having bishops in Germany was because none of the Catholic Bishops in office at the time joined the new “Evangelical” movement.

A recent comment by Dr Tighe in response to my comment that Luther himself often acted as a defacto bishop (nay, pope even!) elicited this bit of history from the good professor:

On the two occasions when a semi-serious effort was made to get an “Evangelical Bishop” in Germany (i.e., not to have a neighbouring Lutheran ruler elected “Administrator” of an ecclesiastical territory ruled by a bishop after the bishop’s death, and then have him appoint a General Superintendent to lutheranize the clergy and supervise the new territorial church), in Naumburg in 1543 and Merseberg in 1545 — cases in which the Elector of Saxony (whose lands surrounded these small ecclesiastical territories) forced the cathedral chapter to elect a Lutheran as bishop (in the case of Naumburg forcing them to revoke their previpus election of the Catholic Johannes Pflug) — Luther in 1543 brushed aside suggestions that the Catholic-turned-Lutheran Bishop of Brandenburg, Matthias von Jagow (Bishop 1526-1544; he became Lutheran in 1539) be asked to perform the consecration of the Lutheran electus (Nicholas von Amsdorf), and instead acted as consecrator himself, later justfying his action in his tract “On the Installation or Consecration of a True Christian Bishop.” By 1545 von Jagow had died (but the two Lutheran bishops in East Prussia, one of them a Catholic bishop who had turned Lutheran in 1525, and the other a colleague whom the former had consecrated in 1528, were still alive and still in office), and so Luther again acted as consecrator of Georg von Anhalt as Bishop of Merseberg.

Come Muhlberg in 1547, the two Lutheran “bishops” were ejected from their sees, and Pflug installed in Naumburg and the 1545 Catholic candidate in Merseberg as well. When these two died in the 1560s, the cathedral chapters of these respective dioceses were forced to elect the Saxon Elector as Administrator, and he incorporated these terrotories into his duchy, and apponted a General Superintendent to lutheranize and superivise them. similar things happened in the 1560s as the last few Catholic bishops (or, rather, bishops-elect, since none of them had bothered to get themselves consecrated) in northern Germany died, and neighboring Lutheran princes took over their territories.

Isn’t that astounding? Even faced with the option of having a real bishop–albeit one of “Evangelical” persuasion–available to perform ordinations and consecrations, and regardless of what had been stated in the Augsburg Confession, nevertheless, Pope Martin directed the “Evangelicals” to dispense with such stuff. It makes doing a “Tract 90” on the Augsburg Confession–or holding the “Evangelical Catholic” view of Lutheranism–very difficult to sustain historically. Given this context, to interpret the Lutheran Confessions with anything other than an “Hermeneutic of Rupture” would be downright historically dishonest.

(A little known portrait of Luther by Lucus Cranach the Younger, found hidden away in his attic)

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8 Responses to What happened to Bishops under "Pope Luther"–Proof of the Discontinuity

  1. William Tighe says:

    I wrote this:


    on the Swedish episcopal succession in the 16th Century — and I also wrote a brief article in one of the 1999 issues of *Lutheran Forum* on the Catholic bishops in Germany who became Lutheran from the 1520s to the 1560s (who must have numbered about a dozen), in which I demonstrated that if there were even the slightest inclination to preserve the apostolic succession among the German Lutherans it could easily have been done. To this I might add the following:

    1. In East Prussia both of the Catholic bishops accepted Lutheranism in 1525, and when one of the two died in 1528 the other one consecrated a successor for him. When these two bishops died in 1550/51, it was years before successors were appointed, and so thereafter, while “bishops” continued for a time to exist there, they were not in the apostolic succession — and the episcopate itself was abolished in East Prussia in 1587.

    2. When, after a civil war, the winning Lutheran candidate made Denmark Lutheran in 1537, all of the Catholic bishops (most of whom were unconsecrated electi) were imprisoned, and Bugenhagen was summoned from Germany to organize the new Lutheran State Church. Bugenhagen also consecrated the new Danish Lutheran “superintendents” (who did not begin to be called “bishops” until several decades later) — and even though several of the deprived Catholic prelates conformed willingly to Lutheranism they were treated for the rest of their lives as laymen by the Danish Crown and Church. In Norway, the Catholic bishops were likewise deprived and replaced by “superintendents” consecrated by either Bugenhagen or the Danish superintendents — but in 1542 the deprived Catholic Bishop of Oslo, Hans Reff, was appointed as Lutheran “superintendent” of the same diocese. However, he was not allowed to participate in any Lutheran consecrations during the three years (ending with his death in 1545) that he served in that position.

    There was thus little or no effort made by the Lutherans to transform the “pious wishes” of Augustana about episcopal polity into reality.

  2. Christine says:

    and the episcopate itself was abolished in East Prussia in 1587.

    Thereby removing any defense against Kaiser Wilhelm Friedrich’s “Prussian Union.”

    I never realized how pietistic my East Prussian mother’s Lutheranism was until I was older and began to research family history, Catholic and Lutheran, for myself, not to mention numerous conversations we had about it.

  3. Schütz says:

    Good Old Kaiser Wilhelm Friedrich. If it hadn’t been for his religious ambitions, my ancestors would never have come to Australia, and I would have had to endure the Prussian wars, followed by the First and Second World Wars…

    Dr Bill, I am fascinated by this. Had I known it all earlier, my trip to Rome might not have come so late in life. As it is, it confirms my suspicions about the extent of the rupture in the 16th Century. Unfortunately we Anglophones are far more familiar with the English history in this regard than with our own Continental background.

  4. William Tighe says:

    Dr. Schutz,

    If you would be so kind as to e-mail me your postal address, I will send you a photocopy of the Rittgers article on Osiander etc., and of my own 1999 article on German Lutheran bishops. You have my e-mail address (tighe.at.muhlenberg.edu).

  5. Past Elder says:

    Proof of the discontinuity? Pig’s.

    Discontinuity with what? Why, the institution of the Roman Catholic Church, that’s what, which casts aside all objection to it for no other reason that it objects to it and therefore must be inadmissible.

    This is nothing more than “have you stopped beating your wife” with mitres and crosiers.

    The only “proof” here is that RC discourse is as laden with loaded terms and hidden assumptions as ever. “Discontinuity” assumes a) that an entity with which to be in discontinuity exists, and b) it is that entity. The hidden assumption being that continuity and discontinuity are defined by submission to itself. Consequently what is to be proven is “proven” by being assumed, and the real issues swept aside.

    Which are: a) does such and entity exist and if so what is its nature, and b) is the Roman Catholic Church that entity. It is only when one assumes prior to argument the Roman answers to a) and b) that discontinuity appears.

    However, if the answers are a) yes such an entity exists but is nothing like what is taught by the Roman Catholic Church, and b) the Roman Catholic Church is not that entity, then something rather different appears.

    Which is: the discontinuity is in the false teaching about the church added to the faith of Christ and Scripture by the Roman church, and discontinuity with THAT is simply fidelity to Christ who has no part in its falsity.

    There is no rupture. Or rather, the rupture was that of the Roman church centuries before. There is no rupture with “apostolic succession”; “apostolic succession” is itself part of the rupture.

    The Roman Rite and Eastern Orthodoxy are nothing more than the state religions of the Western and Eastern Roman Empire after the states which spawned them have long since passed into history.

    The one, holy, catholic and apostolic church has no greater enemy under the sun. Its faith is nothing but a faith in itself, which it equates to faith in Christ.

    It is they who have gone out from us, not we who have gone out from them, preserving the form of religion, a second beast worse than the first to which it bowed down. In a single hour her judgement will come, and the smoke will rise up from her forever.

  6. William Tighe says:

    Well, if wishes were horses then beggars would ride: a “Landnmarkian” Baptist or any other sectarian Protestant might attempt to claim the Fathers or the Early Church for their own, and then claim that it is the Catholics “who have gone out from us” — but in all of these cases such assertions evaporate into nothing in the light of history: there is no church from the Apostolic Fathers onwards that existed without the apostolic succession of its bishops, any more than there ever was one that rejected infant Baptism or (for that matter) espoused Sola Fide or Sola Scriptura; and to any “Lutheran” reading that sets the Bible against the Fathers, we may confidently reply (to adapt the words of Senator John Randolph of Virginia in the 1790s) “Sir, you pride yourself on a faculty in which the Calvinist is your equal and the Anabaptist infinitely your superior.”

  7. Christine says:

    Dr Bill, I am fascinated by this. Had I known it all earlier, my trip to Rome might not have come so late in life.

    David, the same thought occurred to me. I wish I had made the journey to Rome soooner.

  8. Past Elder says:

    Well, had you started out in Rome as I did, you would have had all this paraded before you long since and it would hardly be news, let alone “proof”.

    I remember the first volume of writings from the Fathers I ever bought, edited by a Protestant so of course promoted by the “Ecumenical Center” of my “Catholic” university, and wondering how any one could read this and possibly be a Protestant or anything else but Catholic.

    I remember thinking that it is more than co-incidence that Reformation Day is also Halloween, when Satan seduced well intended reformers into revolt against his church.

    As an Orthodox commenter on another blog recently stated — if you must have your assertions from within the context of “apostolic succession” or if a sola historia replaces the Word of God as the ground of faith — if you want to look for the first Protestant, one who took to himself powers and changes unsupported by Christ, Scripture or the Fathers against the Church, look to the pope of Rome.

    At one time, it may have been possible to maintain that the Church in its fulness fully subsists in the Roman Church — wrong, but possible to maintain.

    But after the “hermeneutic of rupture” that was Vatican II and the supplanting by violence of the Roman Church by a grotesque 1960s style cultism, to maintain this now is possible only through a sola ecclesia far beyond the worst excesses committed in the name of extra ecclesia nulla salus.

    And let us say I am wrong about that. Even then, if the Roman Church as it exists to-day is the true church of Jesus Christ, then he is not the Christ and we must look for another or conclude there is no-one to look for.

    I wish I had made the journey FROM Rome much sooner. And would have, except under the influence of its lies thought there was no place else to go. Which oddly enough makes me grateful for Vatican II. Without it, I might never have known the Roman Church for the Whore of Babylon it is, headed by an office with the marks of Antichrist.

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