Saturday, January 10, 2009

A conversation with a Lutheran Pastor on the Evils of Pope Benedict

[Update 12 Jan 09: It turns out that I mistook the identity of my correspondent - it wasn't my Lutheran pal at all, but a complete stranger with whom I was corresponding! Red face covered in egg... No wonder I couldn't make sense of where he was coming from. Email can be dangerous like that. Nevertheless, I will let my comments stand here as they are for their own sake. Please take the mistake into account when reading this, however.]

I recently received a very strange email from a Lutheran pastor with whom I went to seminary. In it, he wrote:
The pope's latest comments confirm my assessment of him: a very negative influence to the Catholoic church and our attempts to move forward and out into the community. What must young people make of this sort of comment and and the attempts by his acolytes to justiy it?
I replied:
Deary me, ol' boy, what on earth are you refering to? Them's pretty negative comments in themselves. I wonder if you might not be relying upon newpaper reports and anti-Catholic journalism for your information? The pope makes a lot of comments, and I don't know which ones have offended you. It is always best to read the original source documentation. Always prepared to enter a dialogue and clarify issues with you.
I received this email in return:
I learned of the Pope's comments from your own material...

[I think he is referring to material I send out from the EIC office on their email news updates - particularly this]

...There followed attempts to justify Benedict's statement - a losing battle surely given his past comments on a variety of issues:

Protestant churches, "Aren't really churches"

The RC Church is the only true church.

Homosexuals are bad - admittedly quoted in the popular press ,?misquoted.

His treatment of progressive theologians before he was pope was draconian.

He refuses to address the issue of married priests and women priests and consequently presides over increasingly priestless churches.

No wonder < 30 % of catholics (and less than that among young people) go to Mass.
To which I replied today:
Good Lord, brother, you have swallowed, holus bolus, a whole heap of liberal rubbish and slander against the Holy Father.

You might have seen on my blog the anonymous letter I received. The article they sent me seems to be pretty much in line with the sorts of things you have heard about Benedict.

It is all total rubbish.

I can't hope to do justice in a short email to all the issues you raise. A good long lunch with a couple of glasses of wine might go somewhere near the mark - are you visiting Melbourne any time in the near future?

John Allen is, by the way, a worthy commentator on things Vatican. You will get an accurate idea of where the land lies by reading him. I wish I could say the same for the newspaper who pays his bills and publishes his articles.

The other person you must read before you start throwing stones at him is Joseph Ratzinger himself. I can recommend two starting points: his 1968 "Introduction to Christianity" and his most recent "Jesus of Nazereth". If you haven't got time to read two whole books, you might like to start by reading his two encyclicals since becoming pope, "Deus Caritas Est" and "Spe Salvi" - both are available on the web. Just google them. In my opinion there has never yet been a pope who is so close to understanding and appreciating Martin Luther's theology, if that goes anywhere with you.

Extremely briefly on the issues you raise:

Protestant churches, "Aren't really churches"

That isn't what the Catholic Church (or BXVI) teaches. It might help if you understand that this is analogous to the Catholic teaching that protestant ministers "aren't really priests". That is not to deny that their ministry is invalid, or that they are not ministers of God's grace, or good pastors, or preachers of the word. It is simply to say that protestant churches do not understand their ministers to be "priests" in the sense that the Catholic Church understands her ministers to be "priests", ie. that they offer the sacrifice of the mass. You would have to agree with that, no?

So when the Catholic Church says that protestant ecclesial communities are "not churches in the proper sense" (which is the exact wording of Dominus Iesus p.17) it says that protestants do not understand themselves to be "churches" in the sense that the particular churches of the Catholic and Orthodox Communions (eg. the "Church of Melbourne" or the "Church of Constantinople") understand themselves to be "churches". This is an issue of ecclesiology, which it is perhaps worth studying a little before you jump to conclusions. It is not denying that the "churchly" nature of protestant communities or that these communities are communities in which the grace of God is found.

The RC Church is the only true church.

This sounds ludicrous if you were to take it to mean "the Catholic Church is the only true denomination". The Catholic Church is not the "Roman Catholic Church". We do not say the "Roman Catholic Church" is the only true Church, we say the Catholic Church is the only true church. You need to understand a bit of ecclesiology here too. The Catholic Church does not regard herself as "a denomination". She regards herself to be the Catholic Church confessed in the Creeds. As long as you have an ecclesiology of "denominations" you will not understand what that means. We speak of "true local churches", ie. the community of Christians in each place around the globe which gathers around their bishop for the celebration of the Word and Sacraments. These true local churches, in universal communion with one another, are "the Catholic Church". This is a huge topic. I could recommend several books...

Homosexuals are bad - admittedly quoted in the popular press ,?misquoted.

I had this conversation with someone this morning, and they made exactly the same mistake. Homosexuals are not "bad" any more than you or I are "bad" when we sin. A problem here is that many people who have same sex attractions and who act out these attractions in same sex acts identify themselves with their homosexuality and call themselves "homosexuals". The Church does not do this. The Church views everyone as human beings. Their sins do not define them. Now homosexual acts are a sin, just like any other sin you or I might commit. The Church does not reject you or I because we sin, nor does she reject any one guilty of homosexual sins. She simply calls all of us to repentance and faith. Surely that is right?

His treatment of progressive theologians before he was pope was draconian.

Interestingly, once again, I have had exactly this conversation with someone in the last twenty four hours. The fact is that before he was pope, he was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His job was to alert the Church to dangers which threaten the faith, and to discipline priests who, against their vows, teach what is contrary to the Christian faith. The Church has a right and duty to do this, especially when the teachings of such priests might lead people into falsehood and error. In fact, the disciplining of so-called "progressive" theologians happened very rarely (given the great prevalence of dissent among Catholic theologians world wide) and was almost always limited to those theologians who taught falsehood in the area of Christology - that is, who denied the divinity of Christ. The treatment was not "draconian" - the only "punitive" measures put in place were that these men were not to continue to teach or publish their erroneous theories in the name of the Church. Surely that is right?

He refuses to address the issue of married priests and women priests and consequently presides over increasingly priestless churches.

The Lutheran Church of Australia refuses to ordain women pastors, and has continued to do so despite numerous attempts to change this. The Catholic Church, like the Lutheran Church in this country, is faithfully upholding the will of Christ as we have known and received it through Scripture and Tradition over the last 2000 years (in fact, the Australian Presbyterian Church does the same according to a recent conversation I had with a leading presbyterian).

The discipline of celibacy is one that I that I have come to value since leaving the priesthood. On practical grounds, I think celibacy in fact enables our priests to do their jobs with single minded devotion and freedom (as with St Paul's suggestion to the Corinthians). On theological grounds, there is a real relationship between the priest and the Church akin to marriage which would make any other similar relationship to a particular human being problematic. This is not to say that married priests is an impossibility (although married bishops are because of their much stronger relationship to the Church in this way), just that it is judged to be for the "bene esse" of the Church that this discipline continue in the western Church. There are, of course, married Catholic priests in the Eastern rites.

And is this the reason for the lack of priests in the contemporary church? Hardly. The LCA is itself going through a thin patch in regard to vocations. And many other non-catholic church groups are experiencing the same. I think it is rather a sympton of a general lack of faith in the whole of the Catholic community, which is best addressed through re-evangelisation and prayer and good leadership from our bishops rather than by taking steps that would be contrary to our tradition.

No wonder < 30 % of catholics (and less than that among young people) go to Mass.

And finally, this is an old furphy. There are still more Catholics in Church on any given Sunday than all the other kinds of Christians in Australia lumped together. The problem is that, statistically, Catholics keep being counted as Catholics even when they leave the church and stop practicing their faith in any sense at all, whereas in other denominations (eg. Lutherans and Baptists) those who stop practicing their faith simply register statistically as "no faith". If you were to count every Australian who had been baptised in the Lutheran Church of Australia as Lutherans (as we count all who have been baptised Catholic as Catholics) I bet you would discover that less than 5% of Australian Lutherans go to Church. You should be able to get some stats on that - the LCA keeps great baptism statistics.

People stop going to Church when they stop believing the Gospel. It's as simple as that. Again, the answer is not some program of progressive modernisation, but faithfulness, catechisation and evangelisation.

Please do take the time to read a little more on these areas before you start picking up stones to throw at your Christian brothers and sisters, my brother.


At Saturday, January 10, 2009 4:17:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

You are a classic, PE, I swear...

That's about as positive as I have ever heard you be towards Rome since you joined us in this discussion.

And on the job at the EIC, let's just say "Don't call us, we'll call you"!

We love you!

Cheers :-)

At Saturday, January 10, 2009 8:34:00 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Worth adding to the reading list is the collection of benedict's addresses and homilies from World Youth Day, on sale as 'Dear Young People'. They are marvellously positive and inspiring.

At Sunday, January 11, 2009 2:14:00 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Catholic Church "identifies itself with the Catholic Church" in the same way that all churches whose origin predates the Reformation do, and did. The Orthodox Church does this, as do the non-Chalcedonians, or Oriental Orthodox. In its heyday, so did the East Syriac, or Persian, or "Nestorian" or "Assyrian" Church (it seems to have adopted the name "Assyrian" -- officially only in 1975 -- as a result of 19th-Century English Anglican influence), although latterly it seems to have adopted a version of the high Anglican "branch theory." Defunct bodies such as the Novatianists, the Donatists and the Arians, as well as the Marcionites and the Montanists, considered themselves to be "the Church" as well. And why? Because the theory or notion, or delusion, of an "invisible church" of which all Christian bodies or denominations are parts or fragments (the modern Liberal Protestant notion), OR the notion that all bodies or "synods" or "churches" that confess the same faith (which seems to be the Lutheran notion) are parts or manifestations of the Catholic Church, but not the whole Catholic Church, OR the alternative minority view (classically stated by william Temple in his pithy "I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church -- and I believe that it does not exist today) that "the Church" (a visible body) has ceased to exist as a consequences of the historic Christian splits -- all of these notions were wholly unknown among Christians of any sort before the Reformation; and although some have teased them out of some aspects of St. Augustine's soteriology, his anti-Donatist polemics, with the constant refrain of "you do not tear Christ's Body, you tear yourselves from Christ;'s body, for 'the Dive remains whole,'" show that he would have himself rejected such conclusions.

I would note further since PE seems to have an obsessive delusion about the Catholic Church being the surviving "state cult" of the Western Roman Empire and the Orthodox Church being that of the Eastern Roman Empire, that the same ecclesiological views are held (as I wrote above) by the Oriental Orthodox and also by bodies (e.g., the Novatianists, as well as some of the others I mentioned above) whose origin predates the years 313 and 380, all which implies that the notion of the "visible indivisible Church" underlying them all is not "Roman" in its origins, but simply "Catholic" or "Christian."

William Tighe

At Monday, January 12, 2009 4:24:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

And Dr William, thanks for that important reminder. My journey into the Catholic Church was begun when my friends Pastor Adam Cooper and Pastor Fraser Pearce challenged me on the logic of my denominational ecumenical ecclesiology. They set me on the right path. For which I am eternally thankful.

At Monday, January 12, 2009 7:24:00 am , Anonymous Past Elder said...

Now there's the way to determine God's truth -- let's examine and date all the claims about church of all the different churches, then decide to believe the claims about everything else of the church whose claims about church we have decided to believe.

Not quite reading an animal's entrails, but the same thing and better suited to modern sensisbilities.

Sola eccelesia. By church alone. Such a church and such a faith believes in nothing but itself. It believes in God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting not in themselves, but because it believes only in the visible church body it believes fully teaches these things and apart from which they cannot be correctly believed. By church alone. Sola ecclesia.

Re me, since I haven't been blogging for three years, let alone been commenting here that long, well you do the math.

I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, when to believe as the Roman Catholic Church believes now was "liberal dissent". I was there for Vatican II, when liberal dissent won, became Roman Catholicism, and went on to quash both what it was before and any further or other "liberal dissent" from itself. The violence and viciousness of this effort can hardly be believed. But being under the influence of sola ecclesia myself, I thought there was no place else to go (which is the reason why sola ecclesia was manufactured), and so concluded it must have been wrong all along, Christianity in any form must be wrong.

It would be over twenty years before I would find out that what was wrong was not Christianity but the effort to validate it sola eccelesia -- that the faith is not validated by the church that proclaims it, but the church is validated by the faith it proclaims. That the Lutheran Reformation -- which is not to say the Reformation -- had set the church, the same church, not a new church, back on the track of the faith which validates the church.

So the postconciliar Roman Catholic Church is an absurdity twice over, once for purporting that its preposterous parody of Roman Catholicism IS still Roman Catholicism, and once for continuing the one thing it must continue to maintain the lie, the meta-lie I have satirised as sola ecclesia, by which the (Roman) Catholic Church of history fancies itself the catholic church of the creed of the catholic church.

As to why post here -- our host seems to have fallen for this barge of bilge, which is understandable, it's a very attractive barge, especially in view of some of what goes on in some church bodies with "Lutheran" in their names, however, if one is thinking with this church body, one is no more thinking with the Roman Catholic Church than when one thought with a church body with "Lutheran" in its name.

Nonetheless, some aspects remain in common -- not to lose sight of the original subject of this post -- and Ratzinger spoke well re the matter of homosexuality.


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