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)