Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Church, Her Authority, and My Conscience

Everyday I print off a raft of articles and blog entries to read. Sometimes it happens that these end up entering into a conversation with each other in my mind. Here are several that lead in an interesting direction.

First, Pastor Weedon blogged on a revered Lutheran contemporary and colleague of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Herman Sasse. Sasse pointed out (in a book called "Here we stand"--originally Was Heisst Lutherische--that:
Despite its decided rejection of false teachings which prevail in other churches, our church has never denied the presence of the church of Christ in the established churches of England and Scotland, in Holland and Switzerland, in Spain and Italy, in Greece and Russia. It has not tried, therefore, to conduct missions for the Lutheran confessional church in these countries, just as it has avoided the "evanglicalization" of Catholic territories in Germany. Let all those who accuse Lutheranism of intolerant confessionalism reflect on the fact that the Lutheran Church is one of the very few churches in Christendom which has never, under any circumstances, engaged in propaganda for itself or conducted missions among Christians of other persuasions. (Here We Stand, pp. 182, 183)
I remember reading the book twenty years ago and being impressed. I must pull it out again and read that last chapter, entitled "The Lutheran Church and the Una Sancta".

The precise issue is "What is the Church"? We as Catholics recognise the presence of Christ--and thus also "the presence of the church of Christ" (remembering Ireneaus' old statement that the Church is where Jesus Christ is)--in the ecclesial communities of the Protestant reformation. Like Sasses' pre-WWII Lutheran state churches, we do not proselytise our Christian brethren and sistern either (although I suspect that the motivating theologies and impulses behind this similarity were very different). But "the presence of the church of Christ" is not the same thing being the Church of Christ. Understanding herself to "be" the Church of Christ, the Catholic Church is impelled to seek the full visible unity of all who belong, even imperfectly, to her, both within and without her visible borders. What I find conspicuously absent in Sasse's praise of his Lutheran Church is any sense of the compulsion to seek ecumenical unity.

This issue comes up in a second piece I read today by Dr Jeff Mirus entitled "Conscience and Authority: the Protestant Dilema". This is a must read article, as is the article it is reacting too from the November issue of First Things by Lutheran theologian Gilbert Meilaender, "Conscience and Authority" (not yet available online).

Mirus praises Meilaender's work, pointing as it does to three essentials in the equation:
the need for the “Church” to speak with authority in order to preserve and transmit Christianity;
the need for the individual Christian to respect that authority;
and the need for the Christian to form his conscience ultimately through a direct personal relationship with God.
But he goes straight to the core again of what we mean when we say "Church". The Church, in Meilaender's Lutheran theology--similar to Sasse's own idea of "Church" in the quotation above--is ultimately a sociological phenomenon of like minded believers. What sort of "authority" does such a group ultimately have? To be sure, such a "Church" has public teaching, but I am free (if I disagree with that public teaching) to lobby within the church's structures to change that public teaching. As Mirus sums it up:
Whether we can ultimately claim the authority of that organization for our ideas depends solely on whether we win an internal battle for control. We ought not to dishonestly claim any organization’s authority to promote something contrary to its official position, but we are perfectly free to attempt to influence the organization to change its position. If we succeed, we can then claim its authority for promoting what we had all along asserted it should say.
He is quite right about this. I know it from experience. Going to Synod was like going to battle. Each opinion sought to garner support for its own ideas so that, through the democratic majority, the "Truth" would prevail. It was exactly this on the issue of women's ordination which I faced at the 2000 Synod of the LCA (read about my experience of that on my Year of Grace blog).

Mirus asserts that it is only if there is a living Magisterium of the Church which directly exercises the authority of Christ that I can truly (and must truly) give full submission of conscience to the Church's teaching. The only time when a personal "fight" of conscience against what a Church heirarch might teach is acceptable is when that heirarch is teaching against the Magisterium of the Church.

And that leads me to this rather strange interview that the Holy Father gave recently (reported here by John L. Allen Jnr.). The future pope candidly said that after the Council he was "too timid" in defending the teaching of the Church's magisterium against the false claims of some in authority. But how could this happen that there were such false ideas in the first place?
“At that time, the situation was extremely confused and restless, and the doctrinal position of the church was not always clear,” the pope said. “In fact, claims were circulated that seemed to have become suddenly possible, even though in reality they were not consistent with dogma. In that context, the discussions within the doctrinal commission were full of strong positions, and extremely difficult.”
In saying this, it becomes evident that for us to be able to hold, defend and live the true teachings of the Church, there must be CLARITY of teaching--which clarity can only come with a strong exercise of the Church's authority in her Magisterium. I believe that today we do have such clarity--the excellent teaching of Pope John Paul II (and now his successor, Pope Benedict XVI) and especially the gift of the Catechism of the Catholic Church has gone a long way to clearing up this confusion. You can add to that the instant and excellent access we have today to Church teaching through the internet--something undreamed of in the 1970s--and Catholics today cannot claim ignorance to support their free exercise of "conscience" against the teaching of the Church.

Finally I am left with Cardinal Scheffczyk's regret (referred to in Allen's article) that, in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,
Pope John Paul II had failed to pronounce the ban on women’s ordination as an infallible dogma in formal, ex cathedra fashion.
That indeed would have given clarity in the face of confusion.

All that brings me back to our discussions we have been having on this blog about papal authority. I have come to see that what Reader (not Father) Christopher Orr has called the "unfettered, unilateral power" of the Pope to pronounce infallibly on matters of faith and morals is a great gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, for it makes possible the clarity of teaching necessary for the true formation of the Christian conscience.


At Thursday, October 25, 2007 11:46:00 pm , Anonymous William Tighe said...

Dear David,

Have you rec'd the package that I sent you yet?

Also, would you kindly contact me at, as I wish to ask a question of you.

I was just reading the articles on the "Year of Grace" blog to which you link in this posting. Does the struggle over WO still continue in the LCA, or have the innovationists finally got their way?

Bill T.

At Friday, October 26, 2007 2:42:00 am , Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

<< the old Lutherans, who I believe were motivated rather by apathy than respect for religious freedom >>

You know, I was reading along til then, but got to that line and just stopped. Where do you get off smearing all of us like that? C'mon. Where's the respect? Are we brother and sister or not?

At Friday, October 26, 2007 8:50:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Fair enough, WF. I have removed the comment because it might be interpreted in the way you did.

However, please note that I did not intend to "smear all of [you Lutherans] like that". My comment was directed only at the pre-WWII European Lutheran State Churches. They really were very queer fish, and quite different from the Lutheran Churches that resulted from the 19th and early 20th Century Lutheran mission movements in Australia, America and else where.

What Sasse describes is true, in regard to the fact, but I think he is too eager to find a positive interpretation for the phenomena. Even the great Lutheran Missions movements were inspired by private pious societies and individual saintly gentlement (such as the great Wilhelm Loehe), rather than official organs of the State Kirche.

The historical fact is (and I don't think you can deny it) that, in the pre-WWII German Church at least, all was not well. Open public displays of faith were rare and frowned upon. Where the Lutheran faith was strong, it was usually a personal, pietistic faith that applied the 2 Kingdoms doctrine to the point that it was completely divorced from the public square. This is usually referred to as "Lutheran quietism".

It was this quietism that made it possible for the National Socialists to gain a foothold in the state church in Germany. It was this quietism that Bonhoeffer challenged (and which led to his death). It was this issue that resulted in a parting fo the ways for Sasse and Bonhoeffer.

I believe that it was this "Lutheran Quietism", this "I have my belief, and you have yours" approach that was still so strong in the Lutheran piety of my parents and grandparents, that I meant when I used the word "apathy". In short, I think Sasse attempts to put a gloss of virtue on something that was not a virtue at all.

At Friday, October 26, 2007 12:32:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

I do not intend to defend the staatskirchen of the old countries or to rehearse their history -- the irony is, they resulted in evils as great as the ones they replaced. Even in the old countries, the freie kirchen are generally the bearers of real confessional Lutheranism. And we here in the "colonies" to this day struggle with the remnants when not inviting newer forms of non Lutheranism in. All agreed.

But the post is an example of this: "magisterium" remains an inference rather than directly Scriptural -- there must be/ought to be one, therefore there is, and knowing it is, here is something Scriptural which points to it. Hardly any different that the Q we posited in historical-critical theology.

Then, having established a magisterium by inference, there is the conclusion We have it.

That then established, it's the Borg from Star Trek: resistance is futile, you will be assimilated. Not so starkly stated of course, but just as stark. With the addition: assimilation is good for you, it's what you really want, you just don't know it yet, hey, let's "dialogue" until you do.

There is a fundamental difference between saying there is a church and it is present in varying degrees in all churches, and saying this church IS the church which can also be found to varying degrees in other churches.

So as to the Church, her Authority and ones Conscience, one sees an organic visible unity in continuous development under the Apostles and their successors, the other sees archaic remnants of the state religions of the Western and Eastern Roman Empire laid over the real church, one sees a Petrine office to which in however much softer language one must still submit, the other sees an office with the marks of AntiChrist, one sees that in conscience one must therefore think and be with what he sees, the other must in good conscience reject that for what he sees.

Perhaps the difference in tenor might to some extent be explained by this: for the one engaging the other, it is not so much that he asks the other to reject anything but to accept the fulness of what he already accepts; for the other engaging the one, the acceptance of what he offers will involve a rejection of some of what is presently accepted.

Having been on both sides of the fence, at least so it seems to me, though I wish I weren't also doing laundry as I post this and had time to express it better.

At Friday, October 26, 2007 8:36:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

...the one engaging the other, it is not so much that he asks the other to reject anything but to accept the fulness of what he already accepts; for the other engaging the one, the acceptance of what he offers will involve a rejection of some of what is presently accepted.

Profoundly true and truly profound, PE.

though I wish I weren't also doing laundry as I post this and had time to express it better

Even more profoundly true, though in my case it is washing the dinner dishes...

But I will say this about your schema re the Magisterium. It is not that we have decided that there "magisterium" remains an inference rather than directly Scriptural -- there "must be/ought to be one, therefore there is", rather there IS a Magisterium which we have and daily experience. THEREFORE we look in the Scriptures to learn more about it.

The Scriptures do not establish the magisterium any more than they establish the Eucharist or Baptism or the forgiveness of sins. Christ established all these things, and he gave them to his Church. The Scriptures bear witness to these things--they do not "prove" them.

Another eg. is that I do not need the scriptures to prove Creation. I daily experience creation all around me. The Scriptures do not establish the Creation. However, the scriptures do bear witness to the Creator and teach me more about Creation.

At Friday, October 26, 2007 11:51:00 pm , Anonymous Christine said...

Open public displays of faith were rare and frowned upon. Where the Lutheran faith was strong, it was usually a personal, pietistic faith that applied the 2 Kingdoms doctrine to the point that it was completely divorced from the public square. This is usually referred to as "Lutheran quietism".

Yes, I think that was the experience of my Lutheran family in Europe also. For my very piously Lutheran mother (and I say this without any negative or critical inference whatsoever) her faith was something that was lived out in family, church and around those who one knew. One didn't make too much of a public fuss about it.

Bonhoeffer's arguments against "cheap grace" apply of course to all Christians and it's one reason he is so admired to this day even outside of Lutheran circles.

The Scriptures do not establish the magisterium any more than they establish the Eucharist or Baptism or the forgiveness of sins. Christ established all these things, and he gave them to his Church. The Scriptures bear witness to these things--they do not "prove" them.

This also became my view and was another factor in my conversion to Catholicism. Scripture truly is the "Cradle of Christ" but it is not the Eternal Word who alone saves us. As Jesus said to the Pharisees, "you search the Scriptures because you think you find life in them but you refuse to come to me." The word testifying to the Word.

Luther in his catholicity observed that "Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime" and "God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars."


At Saturday, October 27, 2007 12:52:00 am , Blogger Christopher Orr said...

it makes possible the clarity of teaching necessary for the true formation of the Christian conscience.

Speed is only a virtue when going in the right direction. Conciliarity is a process to ensure that well-meaning (perhaps) but erroneous innovations that are not recognized as apostolic by the apostolic churches and the Body of Christ as a whole (against which the gates of Hades will not overcome) are not mixed in with the true Faith. If we look at the Church schisms and heresies prior to the Great Schism between Orthodoxy and Rome we see minority groups that were usually geographically limited placing themselves over and above the Church as a whole, e.g., Monophysites in Egypt, Nestorians in Syria, etc. Even Athanasius had significant support from Rome and even scattered throughout the East and outside of the Empire. Dyotheletism had Rome or Jerusalem (depending), Cyprus, parts of N. Africa, etc. And thes majorities did not last. Similarly, the support for the Papacy was, until the discovery of the New World, limited to a single Apostolic church whereas the East had a multiplicity of Apostolic churches in an area of greater geographical diversity, i.e., it wasn't just the 'West' and the 'East, it was the apostolic church of Rome and the apostolic churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Thrace, Cappadocia, Armenia, Persia, Edessa, Cyprus, etc.

At Saturday, October 27, 2007 1:37:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Similarly, the support for the Papacy was, until the discovery of the New World, limited to a single Apostolic church

Oh, the Maronites (who reaffirmed their affiliation with the Holy See in Rome in 1182) might have a dispute with you on that, not to mention the 21 Eastern Rite Catholics of the Alexandrian, Armenian, Antiochene, Byzantine Churches and the Chaldean, Syro-Malabar Church and Syro-Malankara Churches of India. Some of these affirmed their allegiance to Rome at the time of the Schism, some afterward.

At Saturday, October 27, 2007 3:45:00 am , Blogger Christopher Orr said...

I actually also mentioned the Crusades, but didn't want to seem to be taking a pot shot. The Maronites joined during the Crusades, and I believe most of these groups all joined Rome at quite late dates; they weren't simply following their ancient tradition of deference to Rome as The Apostolic See, but coming to agree with that position, for various reasons.

besides, 21 Eastern Rite Catholic churches sounds like a lot, but there are not that many actual members (with some important exceptions); they don't actually represent 'The East' as a whole. That's sort of like saying the Catholic Church ordains women because a splinter sect of self-proclaimed Catholics does - though that is admittedly a hyperbolic example, you get my point, though.

At Saturday, October 27, 2007 4:23:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Yes, I get your point but I don't see it as being the same thing. The Lord is present where "two or three are gathered" so I don't think size is relevant. True, Oriental Catholics don't represent the "East as a whole" but neither since the Schism do the Orthodox.

As for the Maronites, according to the Maronite Monastery of the Holy Trinity:

The followers of St. Maron, both monks and laity, were always faithful to the teaching of the Pope. In fact, in 517, as controversy continued to rage over the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon (451) regarding Christ as “true God and true Man,” persecution of the Maronites broke out which resulted in the martyrdom of 350 Maronite monks on account of their defense of the Council’s decrees. Because of this, the Maronites were also known as the “Chalcedonians.” Even today, on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, our liturgy prays: “O Lord, preserve your children from all error or deviation, grant us to live and die proclaiming: ‘Our faith is the faith of Peter, the faith of Peter is our faith!’” During the seventh century, the Maronites again suffered persecution and fled for refuge to the mountains of Lebanon. There they maintained and grew in their Christian faith and culture. At the time of the Crusades, close bonds were established by the Maronites with the West which have endured to this day. Later on, the Holy See sent missionaries to Lebanon, and in 1584, Pope Gregory XIII established the Maronite Seminary in Rome. Thus throughout history, there have been continuous and close relations between the Maronites in the East and western countries in Europe.

At Saturday, October 27, 2007 4:39:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Personally, I'd like to see progress on contemporary issues such as the Russian patriarch's insistence that the small community of Catholics in Russia (made up mainly of Eastern Europeans and Germans) is attempting to "proselytze" the Orthodox.

At Saturday, October 27, 2007 5:52:00 am , Blogger Christopher Orr said...

...size is irrelevant.

Agreed, as is universality if it is teaching error universally. So, simply having churches around the world - or being the biggest single church - is no guarantee that one is right. Irenaeus said something similar regarding a teaching's age, if a heresy was old it just meant it was an ancient heresy - age alone was no guarantee of orthodoxy.

The proselytizing charge is just silly in my book. It is playing off Rome's take that we are sister churches to protect turf. The difficulty is that 'turf' is no longer solely geographic as it was during the forcible Unia under the Hapsburgs and the Poles and the anti-Unia shenanigans of the Soviets. Eastern Catholic families can very easily emigrate all over Russia, and they would want to take their church with them.

I'm sure there is openness to Russians that want to become RC, as one would expect, and some sensitivity must be had here since the RCC as a whole never underwent the slaughter and control that the Orthodox Churches did leaving them with nowhere near the resources that flooded into the former USSR from richer RCs and Protestants attempting to 'win' or 'save' Russia.

At Saturday, October 27, 2007 6:02:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Recognizing also that the Orthodox Church views herself as having the fullness of Apostolic life and worship and numerically, worldwide does represent the majority of Eastern Christians (good Lord, I'm doublespeaking and contradicting myself over my prior post).

Hmmm, this post makes me want to go home and reread the biography of Sophia Augusta Frederika von Anhalt-Zerbst, the German Lutheran princess who we all know as Yekaterina Alexeyevna, Catherine the Great, Empress of All Russia.

At Saturday, October 27, 2007 6:05:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

the RCC as a whole never underwent the slaughter and control that the Orthodox Churches did leaving them with nowhere near the resources that flooded into the former USSR from richer RCs and Protestants attempting to 'win' or 'save' Russia.

Totally in agreement with you on that. Of course the Catholic Churches of the Ukraine too had their era of Stalinist suffering.

God grant that the world never sees the likes of any of it again.

At Saturday, October 27, 2007 2:15:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Christ taught the Magisterium?

And how do you know that (epistemological questioning of your ontological situation)?

Because the Magisterium says so.

No-one else says so.

I'd say This is my body, This is mu blood, This do is just a little more concrete. Likewise Baptise in the name of the Father ...

My RC mother and your Lutheran one seem to have identical ideas about public displays of faith.

She had an ecumenism of a less spectacular kind. She told me once the story of being on a boat crossing one of the Great Lakes when it was caught in a bad storm and seemed likely to sink, decades before Vatican II. She mentioned all of the passengers were singing "The Old Rugged Cross" without a thought as to who was Catholic or who was Protestant or who wrote the hymn.

At Saturday, October 27, 2007 3:30:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Bishops and churches and who's who.

Theodosius. 27 February 380.

The Western Roman Empire got the pontifex maximus from the undivided Roman Empire and the East didn't.

So as these state religions survived their empires, so did their polity.

Damasus in Rome got to be pontiff, poor old Peter in Alexandria only got to be bishop. By imperial decree. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So the pontifex maximus and the collegium pontificum morph into the pope and the bishops in communion with him. There's your succession, and not a bloody thing apostolic about it.

Too bad for the nuns. At least their antecedent Vestal Virgins only had to be celibate for 30 years!

At Sunday, October 28, 2007 4:17:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Yep, that's true about the Vestals but betraying their virginity had frightful consequences.

At least nuns who leave the convent still manage to get away with their lives!

There's no doubt that both the ancient East and West "baptized" practices taken from their respective cultures.

Makes perfect sense to me in faith traditions that are informed by the Incarnation.

At Sunday, October 28, 2007 8:59:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

Pigs's bum.

Incarnation did not mean becoming like us in our sin, including the practices of the robbers and thieves, as Jesus called them, of those who came before -- and since.

Then again, "faith tradition" and revelation are not exactly the same thing.

At Monday, October 29, 2007 2:58:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

Not only that, but the same Theodosius who gave the Roman church its pontifex maximus was also the one who outlawed the Temple of Vesta and its virgins, right after outlawing the Olympic games.

The Roman Empire is gone, its state religion(s) endures. Happy Reformation Sunday!

This just in -- 498 newly beatified martyrs from Rome, the largest ever at once! Seven are lay. Typical. Curiously, all are Spanish, killed in the Civil War whose anti-clericalism fuelled the rise of Franco, and this just three days before the Spanish Parliament is set to approve amends to victims of the war and Franco and formally condemn the Franco regime supported by the RCC. In modern Spain you can designate whether a percentage of your taxes go to the church -- follow the money!

At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 12:38:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Of course incarnation did not mean becoming like us in our sin. But it did mean that the divorce between the spiritual and the physical that infected some churches after the Reformation (happily, not the Lutherans) and made God so transcendent that He nearly disappeared was never present in the catholic churches.

All creation is blessed and redeemed by the God who took on our human flesh.

I don't expect much from the current Socialist regime in Spain.

Hmmm, there's new reports that young Catholics are flocking to attend the Tridentine Mass, which is increasing all over the U.S.

Veeeerrrry interesting.

Oh, and I happen to like piggies. I've heard that that are as smart as or smarter than dogs (sorry Tyco!!!) There's a sanctuary in New York state that takes in refugees from the abominable factory farming system and vistors are always amazed at how friendly the pigs are and how much they enjoy tummy rubs.

At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 12:31:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

I don't think God became Man so his revealed religion could take on the form of the Roman state religion. Which is what happened. That's not Incarnation. It's not a metaphor.

I don't expect much from the current apostate regime in Rome. The point was about them, not Spain.

The Tridentine Mass celebrated under the Motu is a sham. One has to recognise the validity of the novus ordo as the ordinary Rite of the Roman Church to do so, and anyone who can do that has no sense of the Tridentine Rite as theology -- if they did they would recoil from the novus ordo for the abomination it is -- but as a sentimental form of smells and bells. Lots of people like smells and bells. Lots of religions offer that. Guess the RC needed its. Again, follow the money!

At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 1:58:00 pm , Anonymous Christine said...

Hey, I love my "Roman state religion" and I'm gonna love it even more when the revised Missal comes out.

From the Washington Times as reported in New Oxford Review:

Roman Catholic churches nationwide are rushing to accommodate a surge in demand for the traditional Latin Mass, which is drawing a surprising new crowd: young people.

And of course I recognize the Novus Ordo -- would I be at Mass every Sunday if I didn't ? :)

At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 3:46:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

The only thing worse than the current bad translation of the Latin original to the novus ordo would be a better translation, and the only thing worse than that is the Latin original itself.

But the RCC needed new worship for its new faith. What endures is the pontifex maximus and the collegium pontificum. Great Caesar's Ghost (literally)!

At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 12:57:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Latin, Latin, I LOVE Latin. In fact, as I am typing this I am listening to Dum Complerentur by Tomás Luis de Victoria. I mean, I was raised Lutheran -- I'll never tire of Sheep May Safely Graze (which, to my amazement, was what the very talented young organist at my parish was playing a couple Sundays ago) but adding Victoria, Palestrina and Gregorian Chant to my repetoire -- well, simply heaven on earth!

I received a beautiful CD from Clear Creek Monastery of Gregorian chants for Easter.

Must send them a note of appreciation (and donation, of course).


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