Monday, November 12, 2007

Living in Communion as opposed to living "in statu confessionis"

Pope Benedict has been continuing his series of weekday audiences on the Fathers of the Church, this time with St Jerome. In this, he stressed (in regard to the message of scripture) that:
Despite the fact that it is always a personal word, it is also a word that builds community, and that builds the Church itself. Therefore, we should read it in communion with the living Church.
That reminds me of something Orthodox blogger Dixie wrote recently about Kallistos Ware's conversion to the Orthodox Church:I thought to myself:
Yes, indeed, as an Anglican I am at liberty to hold the Apostolic Tradition of Orthodoxy as my own private opinion. But can I honestly say that this Apostolic Tradition is taught unanimously by the Anglican bishops with whom I am in communion? Orthodoxy, so I recognized in a sudden flash of insight, is not merely a matter of personal belief; it also presupposes outward and visible communion in the sacraments with the bishops who are the divinely-commissioned witnesses to the truth. The question could not be avoided: If Orthodoxy means communion, was it possible for me to be truly Orthodox so long as I still remained an Anglican?
That statement could be ditto for me if you substitute the word Catholic for Orthodox and Lutheran for Anglican. Which in turn puts me in mind of something Marco wrote some time ago about the funny Lutheran idea of "in statu confessionis". He says:
My understanding of the concept is that one can remain within an ecclesial structure while theologically disagreeing with it. The point is that unity is more important than the finer points of theology. The reasoning is something like this: God has called the individual into a particular ecclesial context and they are called to proclaim his Truth within that context. One can withdraw from the life of the community while still remaining within it in some sense. In other words, one need not participate in activities which are against ones conscience. (NB: I never really understood the whole idea so I am only going by my limited knowledge and reasoning.)
Funny enough, I was myself challenged by this very idea before I made the final decision to become a Catholic. My district president at the time suggested that I invoke this time-honoured Lutheran strategy to enable me to remain in the Lutheran Church as a Lutheran pastor while personally holding to Catholic ideas (see these blogs). I considered it for a while and finally gave it up as an idea that was not only unworkable but also dishonest.

Which makes me wonder how many of my Lutheran readers are still knocking around the Lutheran Church, recognising how out-of-joint their ideas are with mainstream majority modern Lutheran opinion, justifying their situation by holding to a (defacto) "in status confessionis" position.

To return to the Holy Father's audience, does the idea of "sola Scriptura" tend toward a "solus Christianus" existence?


At Monday, November 12, 2007 6:54:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Do you realise how out of joint your ideas are with the mainstream majority modern Roman Catholic opinion, justifying your situation by holding to a (Platonic) "living in communion".

In statu confessionis is the de facto position of most Catholics, hearing the supposed apostolic suc cessors when they want to do and ignoring them when they want to.

You describe well the Platonic ideal of church, or at least the post conciliar version of it. Mr Coyne describes well the church as it actually is. And that is the church in communion with which one actually is as a Catholic -- something that, to borrow your words again, I attempted for years and finally gave up as not only unworkable but dishonest.

At Tuesday, November 13, 2007 3:11:00 am , Blogger William Weedon said...


Not meaning to be unkind at all, but I did have the same thought occur to me that Terry expressed above. From the Lutheran standpoint, I should note that many in the Missouri Synod were quite persuaded by Dr. Alvin Collver's paper on "in status confessionis" showing that it simply does not apply outside of situations where the state is coercing the Church. He delivered that at a free conference in Chicago some years back.

What complicates matters for those outside of the Missouri Synod scene looking in is the temptation to think of the Missouri Synod in the way that other jurisdictions operate. In the Missouri Synod, though, for better or for worse (surely at times both), the congregation is foundational and the Synodical structure ancillary.

In Synod today "it is the best of times and the worst of times." There is shocking divergence. More parishes practicing the weekly Eucharist than ever in our history; more parishes offering private confession; a wonderful new hymnnal that has been speedily adopted across the Synod; an exciting youth movement that focuses on "dare to be Lutheran" and draws good crowds year by year. And right along side this the diverging path of those who embrace a pentecostal style of worship (imagining that such can be done without prejudice to Lutheran doctrine), an Arminian form of evangelism (as though this can be employed without prejudice to Lutheran doctrine), and a false understanding of the Church's mission (where "mission" becomes the Church's mission - sort of a "go out and get some more" club). All of this bundled into one Synod makes for some moments of tension. Can it continue moving in two divergent directions? Obviously not.

But the fact that the parishes think out from themselves and consider Synodical structure as secondary to them, means that for many of our people the problems of the divergence are not as acute as they would be if the parish were not the center of thinking about the very nature of the Church.

So we're limping along at the moment, and none of us is quite sure what the future holds. But because the Lord Jesus coming to us in His means of grace is the very center of our joyful hope, we know that whatever the future holds, we can meet it with confidence praying always that God's good, gracious and perfect will be done here on earth.

Sorry for the long post!

At Tuesday, November 13, 2007 1:01:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

A number of thoughts.

Re whether faithful Catholics are "in status confessionis" in their own Church, I hardly think so. They are, after all, fully owning the teaching of the Church. You could, however, apply this to those who dissent from magisterial teaching (whether on the right or on the left), and who yet continue in the Church, enjoying all its privileges. In which case, I say that yes, these characters are in an unworkable situation which is also dishonest.

Re the suggestion that "in status confessionis" can only work in a state Church where the state in enforcing something on the Church, well, yes, you could be right there. That certainly takes into account the original context of the phrase.

Finally, I am very intrigued by what you say about the parish/congregational organisation of the LCMS. It fits with what we were saying earlier about the congregational Pastor being the equivalent in the LCMS of the Diocesan Bishop in the Catholic Church. The upshot must also be therefore that in the LCMS the congregation is what the diocese is in the Catholic Church, that is, an independant true local church in full fellowship with the wider communion. Just as bishops have the right to decide many things of a pastoral nature and of jurisdiction for themselves in their own diocese, so I suppose pastors in the LCMS do, with the caveat on both sides that one cannot stray too far from the wider communion that the ties of fellowship are actually breached.

Interesting reflection.

At Tuesday, November 13, 2007 2:00:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

This is also a characteristic difference between Lutheran synods. In WELS, the synod to which I first belonged, synod is church in the same sense that parish is church, whereas as Pastor pointed out in LCMS parish is church and synod is a helpful (one hopes) human ancillary. Which works well if the priest/bishop dichotomy is, well, less clear than in the RCC. In that sense, our DPs in some ways are comparable with Roman bishops but in other ways not at all.

I think too this issue is what drove the two synods further apart, with the emergence of the Wauwatosa theologians in WELS. About a century ago, an LCMS congregation in Ohio excommunicated a member for sending his kids to public schools, and the district later overturned it. In the meantime the parish appealed to WELS, which privately supported them but publically declined, since they took the actions of both parish and district as equally church. Which in time lead to further reflection on What Is Church, each side claiming to represent the original idea. It remains a sticking point to this day -- and started me on the direction to LCMS.

Re the RCC situation, I stand by my comments above. "Dissent" is not only a matter of published books and articles, blogging, teaching and preaching heterodoxy. In my experience -- and this would apply equally to the pre and post conciliar church, quite apart from my contention that the latter is a radical disconnect from the former -- most Catholics do not fully own the teaching of the church and simply use the "don't ask, don't tell" strategy to remain for cultural and social reasons. Of course one can find this in all churches; I think it takes on a different dimension however within the context that the RCC officially holds itself out to be, a visible body instituted by Christ in organic continuity across time -- something neither WELS nor LCMS would claim for itself or even claim exists.

So again, you describe a church I read in church documents on a shelf, some books and periodicals, and find in some locations, EWTN and broadcasts from Rome. Mr Coyne describes a church I find everywhere else. All of them called the RCC.

At Tuesday, November 13, 2007 4:05:00 pm , Blogger William Weedon said...

With Lex Orandi operating as it does, I am curious what will be the effects of this change from LW to LSB:

During the Litany (borrowed from the East) in Evening Prayer of LW we had:

"For___names___, our pastor, for all pastors in Christ, for all servants of the Church, and for all the people."

In LSB this reads, in very uncharacteristic LCMS fashion:

"For___names of synodical and district presidents___, for all pastors in Christ, and for all the people."

It will be quite interesting to see the outcome of the change!

At Tuesday, November 13, 2007 4:53:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

It's a little more Roman, which prays in the corresponding place for the Pope, the local bishop, and omnibus orthodoxis atque catholicae et apostolicae fidei cultoribus -- and all who cultivate the orthodox and indeed universal and apostolic faith, which if memory serves is now "and all who hold and teach the catholic faith which comes to us from the Apostles".

If memory further serves, the abbot's name can be inserted, if one has the misfortune to be around an abbey.

Bishop is referred to as antiste, which is Latin for presiding priest (or priestess)from the previous Roman Imperial religion.


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