A Lutheran view of mystical ecclesiology

 

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Admin NB: I am not the author of this piece. It was written by my friend George, whose abilities as a theologian and prose stylist far surpass my own. Read and be blessed!

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To Tom,

Though you do not know me, I have acquiesced to the request that I write you briefly concerning the Lutheran understanding of The Church. Forgive me for this rudeness, and for the unpolished and likely ignorant rambling that is likely to follow. I do not mean to debate or argue, only to speak on a subject; and briefly. I am by no means a theologian, and would be flattered to even be called a Christian; however, perhaps you might be able to discern, if not a full doctrine of the Church, at least an understanding as to how we exiles comprehend our Holy Mother, the Eternal Church of Christ.

To begin, it has been said that we Lutherans suffer from several great heresies, the greatest of which is “And”. By this, it is meant that Lutherans are often too likely to say they believe “x AND y”, when in reality, they do not believe them both, at least, they do not believe both in the same way. You might hear a Lutheran say “we believe in the Bible and the Confessions” though of course, not in the same way, for one is the Word of God and Christ himself, and the other is a set of German theological statements which have become accepted as the touchstone and arbiter of the Germanic churches. Similarly, we are often heard saying something along the lines of “We believe the creeds and the confessions”, though, even here, not in the same way, for the Confessions are nothing more than a footnote and commentary to the Creeds; most notably, the Apostle’s Creed, which is to be considered nothing less than divine. It is for this reason that the Book of Concord itself begins with the Creeds, for these are the faith. The rest of the book is to be considered clarifications for the most part, or, as it were, “insights.”

Therefore, let the creed witness to us.

The third article begins with “Credo in spiritum sanctum, sanctam ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum comunionem, remissionem peccatorum, carnis resurrectionem, et vitam aeternam. Amen” [I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the flesh, and everlasting life. Amen.]

Now first, there is a structure to the Creed, for, as you know, it begins with the confession of God. Everything that follows is an answer to the question “which god?”

The confessor answers in the true beginning of the First Article, essentially, “the Father.” Then, which father? “patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem coeli et terrae” that is “the father that is omnipotent, the one that created heaven and earth,” and who eternally and timelessly begets the Son. There begins the matter of the Second Article.

The entire second article explains the nature of this Son which the Father begets; it is an explication of the Father, for the Son, being of the Father, is an essential attribute to the definition of the Father, and by defining the son, one defines the Father, and therefore God. The remainder of the Second Article goes on to answer the question “And what son is this, that is begotten of the father?”

Then the Third Article arrives, it too being essentially an explication of the Son. We must understand the phrase “Credo in spiritum sanctum” [and I believe in the Holy Spirit] to be but an explication of the Holy Spirit, and all that follows the phrase to be an answer to the question “which Holy Spirit?” every doctrine that follows — i.e., the Church, the forgiveness of sins, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the flesh, and everlasting life — are to be viewed as “the result” of the Spirit of Christ who proceeds from Christ and therefore is rightly considered the personal Will and Action of Christ. The point being, from the Lutheran perspective, that all these are not to be thought of as separate and distinct doctrines, but as a many different aspects of the one doctrine; or better, the one person that is Christ.

I have no fondness for the art of explication, as I am sure you can tell. All this is to say that to the Lutheran, there are no doctrines of this and that, of the church and of Popes and of sanctification and of justification. All these are human categories used, usefully, to comprehend the single revelation given to us, the very person of Christ. There is no faith but Christ himself, and that is not to say that the faith is about Christ, but that the faith is Christ, and that Christ is present in faith. To think of faith as belief in Christ is to already misunderstand the Lutheran concept of faith. Faith comprehends, that is, embraces, contains, and includes Christ; and not in a “relational”, “epistemological” or “spiritual” way; but in a true, real, ontological way. Christ is truly present in faith. It is for this reason that Lutherans scowl at the idea of “faith being the beginning, but love the completion,” for to us, faith is Christ, and to say such a thing would be to say “Christ is the beginning, but love is the completion.” Is not Christ the beginning and the end? The ever existing? Is he not Love itself? Salvation by Faith alone is therefore synonymous with salvation by Christ alone (and even Love alone!), for Christ is who is truly within (and not just believed in or thought on or contemplated in) faith; there can be nothing before or after Him; to have faith is to be woven into Christ, to have Christ vanquish your flesh and become your life and existence. Faith is nothing else than the phenomenon of our joining into God; or, if we are to use our Eastern brother’s preferred term, our “theosis.”

In iconography, Christ has the letters “ὁ ὠν” written upon his halo, which is Greek for “The one who is.” It is for this reason that Lutherans believe that participation by the Holy Spirit in all the various “doctrines” of the Third Article of the Creed is nothing more than explications and aspects of our singular participation in Christ, for He is the one who is, and all that is. The church is not an institution or even a communion or an idea, it is just an extension of Christ. To participate in Christ is to be in the Holy Catholic Church, to have the communion of saints, to receive the remission of sins, to have a redeemed body, and to live forever.

So now, let it be stated clearly. What is the Church?

The Church is the body of Christ. What do we mean by His body? We mean his glorified, physical, mystical and eternal body. His actual body. This is the only “body” that matters, for it is the only one that is everlasting; it is the only one “that is.” To be in the Church means to be joined into his true body, the same one, though now glorified, that hung on the cross, the same one that is consumed in the blessed Eucharist. His body is universal, and therefore rightly called catholic; His body is entirely set apart from all Creation as something assumed from creation into the uncreated, and therefore is rightly called “holy.” Since Christ is without blame, so in Him there can be no blame, and so, being forgiven, we are joined to that which is righteousness and blamelessness, so we too are truly, and no longer “only forensically” righteous and blameless. Our bodies being joined to the eternal body are glorified by Christ’s body, that is, acquire his glory, and so are resurrected by virtue of this. Having been joined to that which must ever be, we too shall ever be, and so we have “life everlasting.” This is what Luther called “the blessed exchange.” All that is Christ’s, that is, His righteousness, His immortality, His divinity, etc., is ours (though as something eternally derived), all that is ours, that is, our sinfulness, our guilt, our weakness, etc., is His (though, again, as something taken away); for we are one body.

How then, do we gain this “joining to Christ?” By the “communio sanctorum” which is rightly translated as “the participation in the Holy Things.” And what are these Holy Things? The mysteries, which can be understood as the epiphanies or manifestations of Christ Himself. They are the Word of God, which must also be understood as Christ who manifests Himself in language, and the Sacraments (or, if you prefer, the two chief sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper). By the hearing of the Word, Christ enters into us. By Holy Baptism, we are baptized into Christ and participate in all His works: in His death and resurrection, His life, and His suffering, as Paul himself tells us. By the Holy Mass, we are given His very body, that, though we eat Him, He may truly devour us into Himself, that, just as the Adam once looked upon Eve and said “You are flesh of my flesh”, so the New Adam, our Christ says “You are flesh of my flesh.” Just like Eve, the Church is drawn from His side, and in Holy Communion, we are returned into it, and thus become His body. We are His bride, for we are made “one flesh”, and no man can tear such a perfect union asunder.

There is, properly speaking, no Roman Church or German Church or Eastern Church. There is but one body forged by the Word and Sacraments. Wherever these things exist, there, by definition, Christ is, and there His body is manifested, or better, there, men are assumed into his body. These things exist within the institution known as the Roman Catholic Church, as well as in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and therefore, the Church is most assuredly there, for Christ is in the mouths of their priests and on the altars of their churches.

I have finished. I pray you will forgive me for the length and obtuse nature of my explanation. As I said before, if, by my fault, you are unable to discern a “doctrine of the Church” from my remarks, hopefully you might at least see the categories and assumptions within which the Lutheran theologian operates.

To finally conclude, I will answer the questions you put out briefly and simply:

Am I a member of your Church, even though I am in error?

Yes, for you are a member of my Christ.

How big is the sheepfold?

It is as big as all those who cling to the Christ given to them in their baptism.

Who is the visible head?

Christ is the visible head.

Or do we have an invisible head with visible members?

He is not invisible, for he is made visible for us in every priest, pastor, bishop, and pope; as well as in the Sacraments; for when we witness the elements of the mass, we must acknowledge that there on the table, and not in Rome or Wittenburg or Constantinople, is our head, our Lord, and our God. Christ has not left us. We see Him every week.

Are there a church triumphant and a church militant, as there are in the Catholic tradition?

Yes, there is; though by virtue of the communion which exists in the Church, the Church triumphant participates in our struggles, and so is, to some degree, still participating in our “militancy” just as we, in Christ, participate in their triumph.

Is the Church everyone who adheres to scripture?

The Church is all who adhere to Christ, Who is present in the scriptures.

Who chose scripture?

The scriptures are a manifestation of Christ, Who is manifested in the Church. The Church, who, it could be said “chose scripture” is nothing else than the body of Christ recognizing Christ; that is, Christ knowing himself.

Is it a process of Evolution?

The scriptures were perhaps recognized in an evolutionary process, no one would deny this. But Christ, Who is the Word, is, was, and is to come. In Him there is no “evolution.”

At the beginning of this little writing, I noted that we are strangers to one another. However, let it be known that, by virtue of our Holy Mother, the very bride and flesh of Christ, the Church, we could not be closer, for both you and I and all the saints participate in one life and one work.

May you live forever.

Quiet George

20 Comments

  1. An excerpt from the Blessed Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work, Life Together might serve as a fitting addendum to George’s (excellent and beautiful) piece:

    Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.

    What does this mean? It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.

    First, the Christian is the man who no longer seeks his salvation, his deliverance, his justification in himself, but in Jesus Christ alone. He knows that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces him guilty, even when he does not feel his guilt, and God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces him not guilty and righteous, even when he does not feel that he is righteous at all. The Christian no longer lives of himself, by his own claims and his own justification, but by God’s claims and God’s justification. He lives wholly by God’s Word pronounced upon him, whether that Word declares him guilty or innocent.

    The death and life of a Christian is not determined by his own resources; rather he finds both only in the Word that comes to him from the outside, in God’s Word to him. The Reformers expressed it this way: Our righteousness is an “alien righteousness,” a righteousness that comes from outside us (extra nos). They were saying that the Christian is dependent on the Word of God spoken to him. The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ. If somebody asks him, Where is your salvation, your righteousness? he can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him of salvation and righteousness. He is as alert as possible to this word. Because he daily hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he daily desires the redeeming Word. And it can come only from the outside, and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

    But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seeks and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.

    And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation. As such God permits them to meet together and gives them community. Their fellowship is founded solely upon Jesus Christ and this “alien righteousness.” All we can say, therefore, is: the community of Christians springs solely from the Biblical and Reformation message of the justification of man through grace alone; this alone is the basis of the longing of Christians for one another.

    I find this to be a fair epitome of Lutheran ecclesiology, much in keeping with what George has said above. For what is the Church but an εκκλησια (ecclesia) of those who have been called by the Gospel and enlightened with faith by the Holy Spirit, who are sanctified and kept by the same Spirit in Christ?

    So who does the calling? Well, God the Father did the calling first. His call was (and is) the Son. The Son called and sent the apostles, they who beheld His glory, that as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. The apostles’ testimony of what they beheld, heard, and handled is the deposit of the Christian faith. They ordained pastors/presbyters/priests to be stewards — ministers (from the Latin ministro, ministrare: to attend to, serve, furnish, or supply) — of their message. These pastors of the church are all equal in rank in God’s eyes, holders of the same divine office. Those among them who have been appointed to serve as bishops — pastors of pastors, overseers — for the good of the Church do not constitute a magisterium — they cannot preach a new Gospel; they cannot create new laws with which to bind the consciences of the faithful, not even if they’re the bishop of a really important Mediterranean city where two great saints were martyred for the Faith. There’s nothing magic or divine about all of them getting together and voting. Rather, all of the pastors of the Church constitute a ministerium which is tasked with shepherding the little flock of Christ in the narrow way of the Gospel. Christ is the singular Magister, Rabbi, and Lord of the Church. He does not grant it to any of his pastors to speak infallibly on His behalf, not even if they’re from that one city.

    Lutheran ecclesiology really is about the call. It’s about Christ calling us, and us gathering around His Word and Sacraments. As with the rest of Lutheran theology, God is the one who does the doing: ecclesiology is a work of God, coterminous with justification. A justified man is a Christian. When justified men gather together around Word and Sacraments, that’s the Church.

  2. Trent’s stated intention for the site was to “get to the meat of our disagreements.” From a Lutheran perspective, that’s probably going to sound like an invitation to talk about our competing interpretations of the Pauline epistles on justification.

    But that starts from what we Catholics would identify as a false premise: that the final authority in the interpretation of Scripture falls upon the individual.* That I, as the Christian, am responsible for interpreting Scripture and then finding a Church, Creed, or community that corresponds to the conclusions that I have already come to. We would regard this view as upside-down (just as we would regard as upside-down the ability of children to choose parents based upon how much they liked their parents’ rules).

    So as Catholics, we would identify the meat of our disagreements as something more fundamental: a dispute over the question of authority (in re the Church, Scripture, Tradition), and about our moral obligation to remain a single visible Church. In this, we’re holding to the position held to by the Church Fathers. Certainly, they (like we) used Scripture to prove the truths of the faith. But they (like we) didn’t think that was all that there was to the story. So, for example, Jerome writes in <i.The Dialogue Against the Luciferians,,

    “We ought to remain in that Church which was founded by the Apostles and continues to this day. If ever you hear of any that are called Christians taking their name not from the Lord Jesus Christ, but from some other, for instance, Marcionites, Valentinians, Men of the mountain or the plain, you may be sure that you have there not the Church of Christ, but the synagogue of Antichrist. For the fact that they took their rise after the foundation of the Church is proof that they are those whose coming the Apostle foretold.

    And let them not flatter themselves if they think they have Scripture authority for their assertions, since the devil himself quoted Scripture, and the essence of the Scriptures is not the letter, but the meaning. Otherwise, if we follow the letter, we too can concoct a new dogma and assert that such persons as wear shoes and have two coats must not be received into the Church.”

    In this way, Jerome argued that we could “dry up all the streams of argument with the single Sun of the Church.” This, I would argue, is the meat of the disagreement between Catholics and Lutherans. After all, if Catholics are wrong about the nature of the Church, then the justification debate is the least of our problems. Conversely, if Catholics (and St. Jerome) are right about the nature of the Church, then we’re necessarily right about questions like justification, even if non-Catholics “think they have Scripture authority for their assertions.”

    I.X.,

    Joe

    * I know that some Protestants would reject that characterization (citing the alleged difference between solo and sola Scriptura, etc.). Suffice for now to say that this is how the matter looks from a Catholic perspective, and I welcome the opportunity to tease out the nuances with you.

    • Joe Heschmeyer writes,

      But that starts from what we Catholics would identify as a false premise: that the final authority in the interpretation of Scripture falls upon the individual.* That I, as the Christian, am responsible for interpreting Scripture and then finding a Church, Creed, or community that corresponds to the conclusions that I have already come to.

      That’s not a premise; it’s an incontestable, though subjective, description of reality. I wasn’t born into the RCC, you see, so how on earth would I ever get there except by being convinced that they were right about the interpretation of Scripture? And how could I be convinced of that fact except by examining its teachings and judging them according to Scripture? Even if I was born in the RCC, how could I know that I should stay there except by the same operation? My only other option is to assume that I was born in the right place–whether it was Roman or Baptist or whatever. Nobody submits to the Truest Denomination out of simple objective knowledge that it is the Truest Denomination. It’s either a personal assumption or a personal decision, and I can’t think of any better grounds for such a decision than Scripture.

      • This is why I suggested in my first rejoinder to Raymond over on his post on miracles that it seems that one must have a conversion experience, something sensational that will compel him to make a decision for Rome. I have thought for quite some time that this is not unlike Evangelical Protestantism, and why I am rarely surprised when a EP friend of mind goes to Rome. In the absence of this kind of psychological event (NB: I am not saying here that it is merely psychological), indeed, as Eric asks, “how on earth would [anyone] ever get there except by being convinced that they were right about the interpretation of Scripture?” For whatever it’s worth, people rarely come to the Lutheran Church on the heels of a “conversion experience” of this sort.

  3. That it may be made clear what is confessed by us, I have thought it fitting that I bear forth a few clarifications concerning certain matters, that we might all understand the points of contention more clearly.

    I had hoped that my previous post concerning the church would have sufficed to absolve us travelers upon the lonely way of any suspicion of Enthusiasm or Sectarianism. However, it has seemed that in my rambling, I had failed to address various categories in a simple manner. I hope I might be able to right this below.

    It is surely to be rejected that the individual has any force in interpretation, as this is merely a version of enthusiasm, and ultimately the source of all heresy. The private notions of man and the stirrings of his spirit can not be made the standard of doctrine and practice. If it is asked who then is to interpret the Scriptures, it can be only answered, “The Church.”

    The question, then, is, “what is the Church?” This is exactly what I had hoped to make clear before. It is the opinion of the Roman Catholic that “the Church” is all those ministers and their congregations which are under the headship of the Bishop of Rome who alone is the vicar of Christ and alone is supreme over all the church, and if Unam Sanctam is to accepted, over all kings and authorities, upon the penalty of damnation.

    It is the position of the Lutheran churches that the Church can not be understood in anything but a sacramental and christological way; that is, that the Church is the very body of Christ, glorified and mystically united to all the saints by means of his holy mysteries and his tireless and efficacious Word, which is to be thought of as nothing else than a sending forth and projection of himself.

    If it is not to be contested, then, here are where the two positions stand.

    In accordance with the Catholic Principle, that is, that no doctrine is to be accepted which is foreign to the witness of the Church, nor is anything to be denied which is accepted by the consensus of the Church, the question then becomes as follows: “When the fathers speak of “The Church” do they define it according to the papal definition, or according to the christological definition? When St. Jerome speaks of the shining light of the Church, does he mean the exegetical community under the bishop of Rome, or does he mean the illuminating light of the Church as Christ working by his Spirit to bring forth the truth of his Word?” It is the Lutheran contention that the Early Church knew of no supreme bishop of Rome. It is furthermore the Lutheran contention that, by the witness of the Church, the Scriptures are to be understood as the sole infallible source of truth for the Church, by which the Church is to be judged, and moreover that within the Scriptures, and particularly within the Gospels, exists all that is necessary for our salvation, for by the Gospels Christ himself, and no man, is made our first and only teacher and catechist. It is for this reason that St. Augustine writes in De Doctrina Christiana, “Among the things which are clearly stated in Holy Scriptures are found all things which comprise faith and morals for living, namely hope and love.” And again in his letter to the Donatist, “If anyone preaches either concerning Christ or concerning his church or concerning any other matter which pertains to our faith and life; I will not say, if we, but what Paul adds, if an angel from heaven should preach to you anything besides what you have received in the Scriptures of the Law and of the Gospel, let him be anathema.” And again, in De bono viduitatis, “What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostles? For Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare to be wiser than we ought. Therefore I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher.”

    St. Athanasius would also have us hear him when he writes in Contra gentes, “The holy and divinely inspired Scriptures suffice for all instruction in the truth.” And St. Jerome likewise while commenting on the Epistle to the Galatians, “It is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit which is set forth in the canonical writings, and if the councils declare anything against it, I hold it to be wicked.” And St. Chrysostom likewise, “All things are clear and plain from the divine Scriptures; whatever things are necessary are manifest.” And likewise St. Basil, “If the Lord is faithful in all that He says, and if all His commandments are faithful, it is a manifest falling from faith and a crime of pride either to reject something that is written or to add something from the unwritten, since Christ said: My sheep hear My voice.” And again, “The hearers taught in the Scriptures ought to test what is said by teachers and accept that which agrees with the Scriptures but reject that which is foreign.” and again, “everything that is outside the divinely inspired Scriptures is sin.” And again, “We do not think that is right to make what is custom among them into a law and rule of right doctrine. Therefore let the divinely inspired Scriptures be made the judge by us, and on the side of those whose doctrines are found in agreement with the divine words the vote of truth is cast.” Ten thousand more testimonies could be added to this to prove that this is beyond any doubt the opinion of the catholic and orthodox church, both of the East and of the West. It is therefore argued that to speak of an extra-canonical tradition, or to speak of continuing revelations, or to speak of papally sanctioned interpretations is against the universal witness, and therefore to be rejected.

    The fathers, we argue, had no eagerness to minimize the position of the scriptures, or to understand them as obscure, in need of an interpreter, or to believe them to be insufficient, or in need of augmentation, or to think of them as comprising only a piece of the greater body of belief. Rather, in the Scriptures, they saw Christ, their teacher. Unlike many modern theologians, both Catholic and Protestant, they saw no distinction between Scripture and Church and Tradition, for all these things are Christ, and therefore are not to be separated. To say that the Scriptures are a piece of Christ, and the Church is a piece of Christ, is to do an operation on the indivisible body of our God and to pit his hand against his chin. As it is understood by the Lutherans, the Spirit, the Scriptures, and the Church are but one cloth. This is to say that all are united and accepted, but none is to be understood as inferior, subordinate, or reliant upon another.

    Herein lies the Lutheran position, a highly paradoxical one to be sure, but one that is both demanded by Scripture and by the fathers; that Christ, the Church, and the Scriptures are One.

    For this reason, we reject the positions of the Reformed and the Evangelicals, who argue that the Holy Spirit has not worked within the history of Christ’s body, the Church, to produce a divine and worthy witness to his Word, which is rightly called “The Tradition” for by it, Jesus has been handed down to us as our inheritance, and handed over to us as our atonement.

    Also, for this reason, we reject the position of the Roman Catholics, who argue that the Scriptures are in need of ever increasing augmentations, and that these augmentations are equal in authority to the Scriptures, and that they are required of all Christians upon the pain of damnation and anathema, and that only the Pope, and no other bishop or Patriarch, not even those of the East, may exercise this right of promulgating new teachings and damning those who oppose them, for within the Pope exists the whole authority of the Church.

    It seems to be common among Catholics to merely assume that it is agreed that they are the true Church, and that everyone else “broke away.” But by what logic are you assured that the in 1054, it was the four Patriarchs of the East that forsook the Church, and not the one of the West which forsook the consensus of the four? That the Church of Rome is always by necessity the True and Only Church is in need of proof from both the Scriptures and fathers, including those fathers of the East, who can not be excluded from the proceedings merely because they are Eastern, or because they do not bear witness to the primacy of the Pope.

    You are correct in seeing that the chief issue between Lutherans and Catholics is not Justification by faith, but the doctrine of the Church, or more specifically, the power and primacy of the Pope. If this can be proved, then the whole Roman system stands. If this can be falsified, then the whole Roman system must fall.

  4. I think you may be right that about the importance of the question “what is the Church?” However, the claim in the above paragraph (pasted here) seems to conflict with the claims about Lutheranism under the Scripture and Authority post.

    The above comment reads, “It is surely to be rejected that the individual has any force in interpretation, as this is merely a version of enthusiasm, and ultimately the source of all heresy. The private notions of man and the stirrings of his spirit can not be made the standard of doctrine and practice. If it is asked who then is to interpret the Scriptures, it can be only answered, “The Church.””

    On the other post, the claim is made that the perspicuity of scripture negates the need for an infallible interpreter.

    First, if scripture is perspicuous to such an extent that it negates Catholic claims about the relationship between scripture and authority/tradition, would it not also eliminate the possibility of individual interpretations of scripture being “the source of all heresy.”?

    Second, would “The Church” in the Lutheran framework be a fallible or infallible interpreter of scripture? If fallible, how would the Church protect people from heresy through its interpretation if an individual’s interpretation is able to lead him into heresy? In other words, does the Church’s interpretation provide more protection against heresy than simply the natural protection against any error that comes from discussing any issue with any group of intelligent people? My personal interpretation of Plato is usually improved by listening to my colleague’s thoughts about Plato in a graduate seminar. If the Church’s interpretation of scripture is fallible, how is it any better at protecting her sheep from false views about scripture than my graduate seminars are at protecting me from false views about Platonic dialogues?

    Third, the Catholic understanding of the Church includes both a visible and invisible dimension (the above comment makes it sound like there’s only a visible dimension). The claim that there was no supreme bishop of Rome in the early Church seems to be an important part of our disagreement. Perhaps you could specify what Lutherans believe about the bishop of Rome. Do they accept a petrine primacy among the apostles? Do they think the apostles had successors through the laying on of hands? Do they think the Church of Rome presided in any sense whatsoever among the other churches in the early church? Do they think Sts. Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome? When do they think the Church of Rome first fell into heresy in history, and was this point before or after the other ancient sees? If Lutherans don’t accept the infallibility of the bishop of Rome, do they at least accept the infallibility of the Church?

    If the argument is about Catholic view of the structure of the visible Church established by Christ, what structure do Lutherans think Christ established in the visible Church?

    • First, if scripture is perspicuous to such an extent that it negates Catholic claims about the relationship between scripture and authority/tradition, would it not also eliminate the possibility of individual interpretations of scripture being “the source of all heresy”?

      No, it would not also eliminate this second possibility. Correct me if this is a mistaken perception, but you seem to be implying that the only way that one could criticize “Roman claims about the relationship between scripture and tradition” would be to rely on a mere individual interpretation.

      Lutherans are not claiming that the perspicuity of Scripture makes it impossible to misinterpret. This is not an inconsistency, either. Your hermeneutic sets up an untenable division between “scripture” and “the interpretation of scripture” and says that the latter is accessible to human reason, i.e., anyone can understand the teachings of the Roman Church, but that the scriptures themselves are not. If “what the infallible scripture says” is inscrutable, why would “what the infallible interpreter says the infallible scripture says” be any less so? Why do the holy apostles need an interpreter, but the pope does not? Why do Roman Catholics think that the Roman magisterium is clear, but the words of the apostles are opaque? If I can’t tell what the apostles are saying, how can I hope to tell what the pope is saying? This is deconstructionism. According to this logic, the scriptures do not, in fact, say anything.

      If the Church’s interpretation of scripture is fallible, how is it any better at protecting her sheep from false views about scripture than my graduate seminars are at protecting me from false views about Platonic dialogues?

      I just want to point out that this, too, is a false dichotomy: the Church is comprised of sheep and shepherds; indeed, even her shepherds are sheep, all under the Good Shepherd. The laity are part of the Church.

      • Trent,

        can you reply to kevin’s last questions. i think those would help us much more than deconstructing each others logic. it will allow us a better starting place once we understand the a priori’s each is bringing to the table. Kevin for example gave a simplified version of what Catholic believe the Church to be as well as asked questions about your understanding of basic church history.

        cary

        • Do they accept a petrine primacy among the apostles? Yes, depending on what you mean. St. Peter was clearly the chief among the apostles and the “Rock” of whom Christ speaks.

          Do they think the apostles had successors through the laying on of hands? Well, no. The apostles were eyewitnesses of Christ and His resurrection. It was a requirement for the job (cf. the consecration of Matthias to replace Judas — they couldn’t have consecrated whomever they wanted; or, rather, they could have, but it wouldn’t have made him an apostle). The apostles consecrated qua bishops, placing men into the ministerium of the church to serve as bishops and presbyters. For a more detailed treatment of the Lutheran understanding of this matter, see George’s post, “Bishops.

          Do they think the Church of Rome presided in any sense whatsoever among the other churches in the early church? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? That Rome had a “supremacy of honor” on account of being the site of the martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul is indisputable and a matter of history. That Rome’s supremacy of honor gave it authority over the other patriarchates — well, no. It sure did not.

          When do they think the Church of Rome first fell into heresy in history, and was this point before or after the other ancient sees? I really don’t know. We don’t really have an “Aha!” moment for this. And I think we would avoid saying that Rome “fell into heresy”; we’re very careful to distinguish between the office of the papacy and the Church of Rome, which, like our little flock, is also but a flock in the One Church. A very rich and ancient flock, but a flock, nonetheless. By no means do the churches under the bishop of Rome exclusively constitute “The Church.”

          If Lutherans don’t accept the infallibility of the bishop of Rome, do they at least accept the infallibility of the Church? I’m not sure what that means, honestly. Last I checked, the Church was a communion of sinners. Even the bishops and pastors of the Church are sinners. Very fallible men. I don’t know of any promise from Our Lord saying that “The Church will never err.” I know of no promise that says that whenever bishops get together and vote, the result is infallible. Councils and popes can err, but Christ never errs, that’s for sure. Yes, the Church is His Body, but I’d have to see it parsed for me a little more clearly.

          If the argument is about Catholic view of the structure of the visible Church established by Christ, what structure do Lutherans think Christ established in the visible Church? Fellow Lutherans, correct me if I speak fallibly here (ha!), but…

          Christ established the Office of the Keys. He gave it to all his disciples, i.e., placed them all in this one office, making them priests, pastors, and bishops, and commissioned them to preach about all that they had seen and heard with their own eyes and ears, making them apostles. St. Peter possesses the same office — though he is higher in “rank,” perhaps, this is a difference of degree, not of kind. Other than this, the New Testament does not speak of Christ “instituting a structure.” If it does, I would like to know where.

      • “No, it would not also eliminate this second possibility. Correct me if this is a mistaken perception, but you seem to be implying that the only way that one could criticize “Roman claims about the relationship between scripture and tradition” would be to rely on a mere individual interpretation.”
        That’s not quite it – I’m saying that using perspicuity to argue against the Catholic teaching on scripture/tradition/magisterium cuts against the argument that the source of all heresy is individual interpretation of scripture. Or, to put it a different way, if individual interpretation is the source of all heresy, that doesn’t seem to be compatible with the perspicuity of scripture. Unless the argument is something like that scripture is clear enough that one does not need the Catholic magisterium which Catholics believe teach no error with respect to faith and morals but unclear enough that one does need the Lutheran church which Lutherans believe does teach error from time to time with respect to faith and morals.
        “Lutherans are not claiming that the perspicuity of Scripture makes it impossible to misinterpret. This is not an inconsistency, either. Your hermeneutic sets up an untenable division between “scripture” and “the interpretation of scripture” and says that the latter is accessible to human reason, i.e., anyone can understand the teachings of the Roman Church, but that the scriptures themselves are not. If “what the infallible scripture says” is inscrutable, why would “what the infallible interpreter says the infallible scripture says” be any less so? Why do the holy apostles need an interpreter, but the pope does not? Why do Roman Catholics think that the Roman magisterium is clear, but the words of the apostles are opaque? If I can’t tell what the apostles are saying, how can I hope to tell what the pope is saying? This is deconstructionism. According to this logic, the scriptures do not, in fact, say anything.”
        Let’s be clear about where we disagree. I say that sometimes the scriptures can be pretty clear. Other times, less so. We would never say that scripture is “inscrutable.” So far, it seems we must agree since you don’t think scripture is clear enough to prevent people who interpret it apart from “the church” i.e. individually from misinterpreting it (assuming, as the other Lutheran commenter said, that individual interpretation of scripture is the source of all heresy). Perhaps you might draw a distinction and say that no one reading scripture with pure intention could misinterpret the most crucial teaching of scripture (for Lutherans, I suppose this would be “the gospel” –a purely extrinsic imputation of righteousness?—and correct teaching on baptism and the holy eucharist?) even if these heretical individuals have false interpretations of less important parts of sacred scripture.

        In terms of why the teaching of the magisterium might (in some instances) be more clear than the plain text of sacred scripture, I think this is fairly straightforward. For example, one might be confused, just from reading scripture, as to whether Christ is of the same substance as the Father or of a similar substance. The magisterium can say, “consubstantial.” One might be unsure as to whether there are one or two natures of Christ, one or two wills of Christ. The magisterium can say, clearly, “one nature” and “one will.” If new philosophic concepts or terms arise that would have been unknown to the apostles (though certainly they would have agreed if the terms had been defined for them), only the living magisterium has the ability (and I would add the authority) to clarify/settle the dispute. One might wonder whether a baptism administered by a heretic is a real baptism. The magisterium can clearly say “yes.” One might wonder whether one can be baptized in the name of the “Creator, Sanctifyer, and Redeemer.” The Church can say “no, you must be baptized for real in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Even though you reject the authority of the pope, surely you can recognize that in some instances the living magisterium can be clearer than sacred scripture, especially in response to new concepts and controversies that the apostles were not familiar with. Right? This is not an argument that the magisterium can never be unclear. But even when the magisterium is unclear to some people, the living magisterium is capable of clarifying herself (the women’s ordination issue is a good example of this). So, we both assert that scripture can be unclear. I suspect you will agree that if a living magisterium were true and infallible, that it could indeed make teachings in sacred scripture clearer in various ways when controversies demand clarification. We both agree that the teachings of scripture are not always unclear, and we agree that the iterations of the magisterium are not always perfectly clear. We just disagree about whether Christ established a Church with the infallible authority to define doctrine. If he did indeed establish this kind of Church, wouldn’t you agree that it could theoretically make some of the teachings of sacred scripture clearer in particular times and places?
        “I just want to point out that this, too, is a false dichotomy: the Church is comprised of sheep and shepherds; indeed, even her shepherds are sheep, all under the Good Shepherd. The laity are part of the Church.”
        I agree that the Church has sheep and shepherds. I agree that the shepherds are sheep (including the pope!), and I agree that the laity are part of the Church. I’m only asking how, mechanically or spiritually speaking, a fallible visible church can protect the faithful from erroneous interpretations of sacred scripture. In particular, is there some supernatural yet fallible protection that the church would offer? Or, is it merely a natural kind of protection that comes from the safety anyone can find by checking is personal interpretation of any text with any group that has studied the text (like how I check my interpretation of Plato with Plato scholars)?

        • One might wonder whether a baptism administered by a heretic is a real baptism. The magisterium can clearly say “yes.” One might wonder whether one can be baptized in the name of the “Creator, Sanctifyer, and Redeemer.” The Church can say “no, you must be baptized for real in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Even though you reject the authority of the pope, surely you can recognize that in some instances the living magisterium can be clearer than sacred scripture, especially in response to new concepts and controversies that the apostles were not familiar with. Right?

          Well, Rome hadn’t seceded from the rest of the apostolic patriarchates when the Donatists were condemned, so we certainly wouldn’t need a peculiarly Roman magisterium to tell us that. And, well, um… “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (St. Matthew xxviii, 19). I did not need the Roman magisterium to tell me that. Same way I do not need the Roman magisterium to tell me that when Christ says “Drink of it, all of you,” he means that the chalice is part of the Eucharist, and not to be withheld from the communicants.

          I’m not sure that there are any instances where the pronouncements of the Roman magisterium is clearer than sacred scripture. I think you will have to come up with some for me and defend this contention. “But even when the magisterium is unclear to some people, the living magisterium is capable of clarifying herself (the women’s ordination issue is a good example of this).” I don’t find this to be a compelling example at all. St. Paul says that he does not permit women to have authority over men in the Church. It doesn’t get much clearer than that. The Church’s magisterium can only reiterate the words of the Apostle, and affirm that she has a reason for believing likewise which is grounded in the ordo creationis.

          If new philosophic concepts or terms arise that would have been unknown to the apostles (though certainly they would have agreed if the terms had been defined for them), only the living magisterium has the ability (and I would add the authority) to clarify/settle the dispute.

          This is pure assertion. It’s also important to note that much in the speculative realm of philosophy is of no direct concern to the Church. That which is makes itself none, and as far as this latter category is concerned, “There is nothing new under the sun.” I’d like an example here, too.

          Perhaps you might draw a distinction and say that no one reading scripture with pure intention could misinterpret the most crucial teaching of scripture (for Lutherans, I suppose this would be “the gospel” –a purely extrinsic imputation of righteousness?—and correct teaching on baptism and the holy eucharist?) even if these heretical individuals have false interpretations of less important parts of sacred scripture.

          You have a misplaced emphasis, methinks: we don’t reason our way into salvation. I think many do misinterpret the most crucial teaching of Scripture, regardless of their intentions. Such are usually separated from the tradition of the Church. But this is the whole beef, and it’s one that George is ably taking up in another comment-feed as we speak: Rome is not the arbiter of the tradition of the Church. I’ll also note that the Lutheran teaching of justification is far from being “a purely extrinsic imputation of righteousness.” That sounds like the Catholic-school strawman I’ve heard numerous times, the one which is usually accompanied by the quotation from Luther about how God’s grace is like snow covering a pile of manure — which, if Roman Catholics know one quote by Luther, it’s this one. But, for reasons which have been explicated profusely in other threads over the past week, this has nothing to do with what the Church of the Augsburg Confession actually believes, teaches, and confesses. God’s word effects that which it declares, it does not merely state God’s regard or indicate a standing. When hearts are regenerated by the Holy Spirit and the faith which lays hold of the merit of Christ is bestowed, a real change takes place: a heart of flesh has been given in place of the heart of stone, and new powers are granted so that the Christian may cooperate with God’s grace and grow in holiness. But this growth in holiness only takes place in those who have been justified — that is to say, regenerated. So, no, it is not purely extrinsic.

  5. And, that’s “two natures” and “two wills”! Whoops. Though perhaps the heresy I accidentally published makes the principle about clarity more clear since we can look at it dispassionately and disconnected from actual revealed truth. If there were such a Church that had infallible authority, it could indeed clarify matters as new questions arise.

  6. And, thanks for the responses to the questions about the papacy. The article on “Bishops” was helpful. What does “supremacy of honor” mean to you, and what do you think it meant to the early fathers? For example, I suppose you would say, at minimum, that the early fathers said nicer things about Rome than the other sees. In other words, what were the practical manifestations of that “honor” in the early church?

    I’m happy for Lutherans to distinguish between the papacy and the Church of Rome when it comes to determining when the See of Rome first fell into heresy. Let’s talk about the papacy in particular. Who was the first pope to formally teach error in matters of faith or morals? And was it before or after formal affirmations of heresy by the bishops of every other ancient see?

    A similar question might be asked of the General Councils. Even though Lutherans don’t think the Councils have supernatural significance, when do they think a Council first formally defined error in a matter of faith or morals? Obviously, the condemnation of Hus by Constance would be an example for Lutherans. But is there any time before that?

    I’m asking for a few reasons. First, those were the questions that first guided my path toward full communion with the successor of St. Peter. But I think there is also a supernatural proof underneath (though this kind of proof would probably be scorned as comparable to the post on “miracles”). If I were a Lutheran, I think I would say that the first papal affirmation of heresy would have occurred well after the 8th or 9th century (if not the 11th, 12th, 15th, etc., or even 16th), hundreds or even a thousand years after every other ancient see fell into heresy at one time or another. That’s quite a track record of protecting what Lutherans and Catholics think is the deposit of faith, and I think evidence of the supernatural origins of the papacy.

  7. Concerning those things which have been said:

    I hope and pray everyone is well.

    It would perhaps be fitting that I address those questions which have been brought up concerning the magisterium, the validity of councils, the honor of popes, and so forth, and it is my intention to do so in a very brief and perhaps crude manner; however, it is of greater importance to speak upon a certain fallacy which has become evident during this conversation.

    Much of the argumentation against the Lutheran position has been one of practicality: that if there is no Pope or Magisterium to speak infallibly concerning faith and morals, then there can be no assurance concerning any belief or action, but that all things will become a writhing darkness. Such an argument has a great amount of appeal, for we all do long for certainty, but a desire for a thing, or a proposed necessity of a thing does not prove the validity of a thing. Whether or not the Papacy is deemed useful or even necessary does not indicate whether or not Christ indeed did institute its existence through Peter. If Christ did not ordain the Papacy, then it is not, and nothing it says is valid, even if it does grant a sense of certainty to those who have come under its sway. Yet this is exactly the problem: if the Papacy has no divine origin, then all we have is “the sense of certainty,” but no certainty at all. Moreover, we spit forth a blasphemy, for we find what Christ did institute insufficient, and therefore we go running to the workings of man’s imagination for our “blessed assurance.” Let not our longing for answers turn us away from the only one who has answers, that is, Jesus, the one who saves, unless he himself has answered our longing first by saying “Go to Peter and his successors, for in them and through them alone I will work, and they will never fall away. All the successors of Thomas, of John, of James; they will become to you, dear Christian, as a den of liars. But to those who follow Peter flee, for in them alone will you find Me.”

    Therefore, only one question need be asked and answered: Is this what Christ, in essence, said? If he has said it, then it is so. If he has not, then it is not, and we must seek our “certainty” elsewhere. We shall have no choice but to ask along with the Blessed Apostle Peter:

    “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

    And we shall have no choice but to answer as he did, and forever confess with him:

    “You have the words of eternal life.”

    And herein lies the Lutheran answer to the question of who has the authority to determine doctrines. That authority lies in Christ alone, who is manifested in and as the Church, which is generated by the Scriptures and the Sacraments, and which is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church, the Spirit, and the Scriptures can not be thought of as separate categories, but must be understood as realizations of the one glorified Christ. It is in this Christ we have faith, and so we trust in his guidance of the Church and in the power of his Word, which is himself, which is truth. To seek a Pope for certain exposition is to accuse Christ of not having been clear enough. If Christ has granted us a Pope to guide us, let us be guided by the Pope; but if he has promised his Spirit to work within himself, that is, within the Scriptures and the Church guided by his Spirit, then let us look to that.

    Now, concerning those things which were asked:

    Concerning a “supremacy of honor” accorded to the bishop of Rome, it is best to look to the Sixth Canon of the Council of Nicea, wherein it is written: “Let the ancient customs of Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis prevail, that the bishop of Alexandria have eminence over all these, as the like is customary to the bishop of Rome as well. Likewise, in Antioch, let the churches retain their privilege” Herein we find that Rome was accorded a place of honor among the churches. However, we also see that her honor is made commensurate to that of the church of Alexandria and of Antioch, and that all of these are granted such a position out of “custom” and not divine right. Thus it has been infallibly stated in the greatest of the church councils.

    Concerning the first Pope to formally teach errors, this can not be well said, as all Christians and Saints teach some error, or some doctrine which is not accepted by the church catholic or by the tradition of the faith. St. Augustine taught a reprobation of the damned before all time, and Clement of Alexandria taught an odd form of universalism. To privately speculate concerning, and carefully teach an unorthodox opinion does not make one a heretic and exclude him from the church. No one person perfectly apprehends the fullness of the divine revelation, not even a Pope, and so, if nothing else, in their ignorance they may teach heterodox or incomplete doctrines. It is for this reason that the full witness of the Church must be taken into account, and not just that of one man, or one city, for all have been made vulnerable to error, that we might not depend on ourselves and have no pride within ourselves in which to boast.

    With that said, if the question is, when did a pope formally, that is, ex cathedra pronounce as binding upon the church a doctrine on faith or morals which was false, then again, it is hard to say, as the practice of Roman bishops making declarations and demanding obedience by all other churches and patriarchs without question or counsel is unknown to antiquity, for it was a product of the middle ages which was not officially dogmatized until the 19th century. Even with that said, it does not seem that it is possible to procure a list of all the Papacy’s ex cathedra pronouncements, for there seems to be no agreement on what pronouncements were ex cathedra, and therefore binding, and which are not, and therefore only to be considered according to the honor of the episcopal see.

    Concerning church councils, it is perhaps not proper to say that Lutherans do not believe in a supernatural validity to ecumenical Church councils. Luther himself believed in the binding nature of the seven ecumenical councils, and held fast that a new ecumenical council, if it were to be called and include those Christians of East as well as the West, would surely arrive at the truth, and that he would willingly comply with its determinations. To Lutherans who follow such an understanding, which there are many today, they would say that most of the more recent church councils have erred due to the fact that they are in no way ecumenical, for only those of the Roman church are allowed to participate. They are therefore “local synods” and therefore just as able to err as the Second Council of Ephesus. I would not say which Council was the first to err, I would only say which council was the last to be ecumenical, which would the Second Council of Nicea.

    Now, with this all out of the way, let us return to the only question which is worth asking and answering, that is, whether or not the bishop of Rome can be proven by the universal witness of the Scriptures and the fathers to be the only head of the Church, with complete supremacy over every Christian soul, who is infallible, who alone is able to call a council of the church, and who alone is capable of offering a valid ordination. It may further be asked the related question of whether or not it is to be believed that in the infallible literature of the Papacy the church has ever taught an error or contradicted itself. Though it is a very precarious position, the Catholic must admit that if it can be shown that the magisterium has ever once in any place been shown to err or contradict itself, no matter how minor the issue, then both it and the Pope are shown to be fallible, and the Catholic system is made to fall, along with the certainty derived from it.

    This is the task set before the pious defenders of the dignity of the Holy Father against schismatics and fanatics.

    Similarly, this is the task of those who have set out to restore the Supremacy of Christ against the ambitions of any one cleric.

    Here lies the field. Do draw up your ranks as we draw up ours. Let neither flee or be unsuitably routed. Neither let us skirmish in the woods or by the river. It is time for there to be a decision and for one of us to face our downfall. Who will be brave enough to charge first?

    • Thanks for the response. In response to the first half of your comment, I don’t think that I ever argued for what you say is a fallacy. Have I said that there can be no assurance concerning any belief or action without the magisterium? No, of course I acknowledge that lots of things can be known from the precepts that eventually spring from the first principles of practical and speculative reasoning. I’m a big natural law guy. When it comes to divine revelation, I even acknowledged that sacred scripture is indeed clear on some points, such as various matters concerning the life of Christ. He died on a Friday. He rose on the 3rd day, etc. By no means do I think that all things will become a writhing darkness without the magisterium. The fact that some Protestant communities, such as confessional Lutherans, have managed to maintain life with Christ without at least the living magisterium is proof enough of this possibility. I’d go even further—I don’t think the infallible written word of God is absolutely necessary to keep all things from becoming a writhing darkness. I think it’s possible for a poorly catechized Christian with little knowledge of scripture who shipwrecks on an island to communicate the good news of Christ to natives on the island in such a way that they have a decent general idea of what Christianity is about. Perhaps some people could even be persuaded and might know God more deeply through prayer. If you pushed me on this, I might admit that ultimately our trust in what we know about the deposit of faith depends on the Church, whether we acknowledge it or not. Our knowledge of the canon of scripture is only firm because it comes from a supernatural, infallible source.

      I also have not argued that the desirability of the papacy means that it is true. I merely argued, contra other Lutheran commenters, that a living magisterium can actually be more clear than the text of sacred scripture in some instances. Your comments hint that you concede this point, but am I interpreting you correctly? Do you agree with me that in some cases a theoretical, living magisterium could be clearer than the text of sacred scripture?

      Similar to the first point, though: If you pressed me, I might eventually admit that I kind of like the syllogism 1) God could have done it, 2) It would have been fitting for God to do it, 3) God did it. I think it’s kind of interesting if not ultimately persuasive. However, if you actually doubt the desirability of such a magisterium, I think that would sort of prove the logic of the syllogism if it is indeed necessary for Lutherans to reject the 2nd premise. I suppose the Lutheran syllogism would be 1) God didn’t do it, 2) God could have done it, so 3) It wouldn’t have been fitting for God to do it.
      Furthermore, I don’t know how you think we believe that Christ said, “Go to Peter and his successors, for in them and through them alone I will work, and they will never fall away. All the successors of Thomas, of John, of James; they will become to you, dear Christian, as a den of liars. But to those who follow Peter flee, for in them alone will you find Me.”

      God works outside the canonical boundaries of his visible Church all the time. Baptism is the most obvious example, when he gave me the life of Christ even as a Methodist. I think the magisterium has been quite clear on this point, actually. And of course we also believe that God works through the successors of all of the apostles in a very special way through the sacramental priesthood, whether or not they are in full communion with Peter. We just think Christ intended all of the successors of all of the apostles to be in communion with the successor of the man that Lutherans (evidently) believe was first among the apostles. I would add that this is the man for whom Christ promised he would pray that he would never fall away. But this discussion would make more sense if I knew that Lutherans thought there was something crucial about apostolic succession. Wouldn’t a Lutheran be making the same point if he substituted Baptists and Trinitarian Pentecostals for the successors of John, Thomas, etc.?
      “And herein lies the Lutheran answer to the question of who has the authority to determine doctrines. That authority lies in Christ alone, who is manifested in and as the Church, which is generated by the Scriptures and the Sacraments, and which is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church, the Spirit, and the Scriptures can not be thought of as separate categories, but must be understood as realizations of the one glorified Christ.”
      I’m not sure I would disagree with any of that except the last sentence. I think the Church is the extension of Christ’s body through time and space. On the other hand, I think it’s still fair to think of these things using different categories, if only to follow the example of sacred scripture. We should be able to speak intelligibly about “the Church,” the “Spirit,” and “the Scriptures” without always collapsing them all into a unity. And we don’t know that Christ instituted the Church and gave her her authority by looking away from him, but by looking to him. Obviously we believe Jesus gave the Church her authority (or we wouldn’t believe in it), which we know from sacred scripture and sacred tradition. I admit that this would be fuzzy (but still, I think, discernible) without recognizing sacred tradition (i.e., apostolic succession in particular) as one of the fonts of divine revelation, but that gets us back to the question of whether scripture alone is sufficient, or at least formally sufficient, without tradition/the Church, and whether Christ himself left us evidence one way or the other.
      “To seek a Pope for certain exposition is to accuse Christ of not having been clear enough. If Christ has granted us a Pope to guide us, let us be guided by the Pope; but if he has promised his Spirit to work within himself, that is, within the Scriptures and the Church guided by his Spirit, then let us look to that.”
      That question from you to me would sound the same to you if I told you, “To seek scripture for certain exposition is to accuse Christ of not having been clear enough.” You think that God gives us the written word, though of course we can imagine an alternate universe where God becomes man but does not give a written account. Perhaps in a universe where the intelligent beings don’t have a written language. The fact is, God decided to reveal himself to us today through scripture and the Church. I would say this is fitting, but I wouldn’t push you on that. I’d also say that the Petrine ministry is a constitutive element of the visible Church. Your comment is also confusing to me since you think the Church can err in matters of faith and morals. How can she err if she is 100% identified with Christ in your schema? Why should you look to the Church if she can err? (And, to go back to an earlier question, does the visible Church add anything, supernaturally speaking, to aid in one’s interpretation of scripture? Or is it a purely natural aid?)
      Regarding “honor” and Nicea. Benedict XVI makes an interesting point that the authority of each of these three sees is derivative of their connection to St. Peter. Of course, the canons of Nicea are not all we have to go off of to see that Rome was preeminent even among the Alexandria and Antioch. Are you saying that Rome was not in fact preeminent even only in honor among the rest of the churches, but only enjoyed an honor absolutely commensurate with Antioch and Alexandria? And, does this mean that the “honor” in which Rome was either “Supreme” or “up there with Antioch and Alexandria” was merely manifested by other bishops saying nice things about her? Or do you think it was manifested by Rome’s ability to appoint bishops in Western Europe? If so, do you think the Roman bishop has the authority today to appoint bishops over the same area in which it had the right to appoint bishops during Nicea? By the way, this is still the way the bishop of Rome interacts with the eastern patriarchs who are in full communion with the Holy See.
      “Thus it has been infallibly stated in the greatest of the church councils.”
      I assume you’re being ironic, since you don’t believe church councils are a thing that can be infallible ? Or do you?
      “To privately speculate concerning, and carefully teach an unorthodox opinion does not make one a heretic and exclude him from the church.”
      Agreed.
      “It is for this reason that the full witness of the Church must be taken into account, and not just that of one man, or one city, for all have been made vulnerable to error, that we might not depend on ourselves and have no pride within ourselves in which to boast.”
      The continuous orthodoxy of the Roman bishop is not something that I ascribe to some personal attribute of either the various pontiffs or the Roman people. That’s kind of my point… I think it’s pretty good evidence of supernatural protection. Christ protects the bishop of Rome from formally teaching or affirming heresy.
      “it is hard to say, as the practice of Roman bishops making declarations and demanding obedience by all other churches and patriarchs without question or counsel is unknown to antiquity for it was a product of the middle ages which was not officially dogmatized until the 19th century.”
      I confess that I’ve been trying to avoid going to my books full of quotes from the early fathers that indicate that the Roman bishops from the beginning did indeed make declarations, and demand obedience. But just so that we’re on the same page (and to save some time if this would indeed be helpful), what particular century are you arguing that the Roman bishops started making declarations and demanding obedience by all other churches?
      “ Even with that said, it does not seem that it is possible to procure a list of all the Papacy’s ex cathedra pronouncements, for there seems to be no agreement on what pronouncements were ex cathedra, and therefore binding, and which are not, and therefore only to be considered according to the honor of the episcopal see.”
      Fair enough, though I’m still interested in what you think were practical applications of this “honor” in antiquity. Let’s not worry about these distinctions and take the question at its most basic level. When is the first record of a pope teaching heresy privately, and when is the first record of a pope doing so more publicly? Or ever (if that’s less complicated)? And was this point before or after the similar point in history for the bishops of all of the other ancient sees?
      “Concerning church councils, it is perhaps not proper to say that Lutherans do not believe in a supernatural validity to ecumenical Church councils. Luther himself believed in the binding nature of the seven ecumenical councils, and held fast that a new ecumenical council, if it were to be called and include those Christians of East as well as the West, would surely arrive at the truth, and that he would willingly comply with its determinations. To Lutherans who follow such an understanding, which there are many today, they would say that most of the more recent church councils have erred due to the fact that they are in no way ecumenical, for only those of the Roman church are allowed to participate. They are therefore “local synods” and therefore just as able to err as the Second Council of Ephesus. I would not say which Council was the first to err, I would only say which council was the last to be ecumenical, which would the Second Council of Nicea.”
      This is very confusing for those of us without wide exposure to Lutheranism. It seems like there is a disagreement about councils among the Lutheran contributors to this blog. I assume you take the supernatural view? How would you account for the supernatural view without falling victim to several of the arguments you employed against the papacy? Would this not be an admission, in your schema, that Christ isn’t sufficient, so there are infallible, supernaturally valid councils? What is the source of the supernatural validity of councils to a Lutheran? The scriptural precedent of Jerusalem? And, according to your criteria for what makes an ecumenical council, is a council valid so long as it includes some bishops from east and west? Several of the early councils were almost entirely made up of Eastern bishops. If those are ecumenical councils, so would Florence, Vat. I, and Vat. II (if not all of them…) since they involved some bishops from the East though they were predominantly (at least V1 and 2) western.
      “Now, with this all out of the way, let us return to the only question which is worth asking and answering, that is, whether or not the bishop of Rome can be proven by the universal witness of the Scriptures and the fathers to be the only head of the Church, with complete supremacy over every Christian soul, who is infallible, who alone is able to call a council of the church, and who alone is capable of offering a valid ordination. It may further be asked the related question of whether or not it is to be believed that in the infallible literature of the Papacy the church has ever taught an error or contradicted itself. Though it is a very precarious position, the Catholic must admit that if it can be shown that the magisterium has ever once in any place been shown to err or contradict itself, no matter how minor the issue, then both it and the Pope are shown to be fallible, and the Catholic system is made to fall, along with the certainty derived from it.”
      Fair enough, but we don’t believe that only the pope can call a council of the church (even if that is how it can happen canonically nowadays). Many of the councils were not called by the pope, but he did have to approve or consent to the council (or the particular declarations of the council) in order for it to be a council that is infallible, binding, etc. We also don’t believe that only the pope can confer a valid ordination. Catholic bishops all over the world confer valid ordinations all the time. Even Orthodox bishops confer valid ordinations since they are real bishops. Do Lutherans believe in such a thing as an “invalid ordination”? Do they believe ordination is something God does, or something man does?

      You are right that we Catholics embrace a very perilous condition from a natural point of view, since if one of her infallible teachings is shown to be in error or contradict another supposedly infallible teaching, that would mean that she is not what she claims to be. But from a supernatural point of view, we can have great confidence since even the Lutherans here would, I suspect, eventually concede that God for whatever reason prevented the papacy from formally teaching error for a great number of centuries.

      • Kevin writes,

        If you pressed me, I might eventually admit that I kind of like the syllogism 1) God could have done it, 2) It would have been fitting for God to do it, 3) God did it. I think it’s kind of interesting if not ultimately persuasive.

        Then 9/11 never happened, right? But since it did happen, we must conclude either that the syllogism is bad, or that we are so far from being able to figure out what is “fitting for God” that it is useless to us, even if true.

  8. Trent, I think we can stick with the Donatist example. We’re only talking about a hypothetical magisterium, not the particular Roman one. The fact that the Churches of the East were united with the Churches of the West doesn’t change the fact that it was a magisterial teaching. It doesn’t seem like scripture deals directly with the question of baptism by a heretic, and so this new situation (even if it came rapidly after the death of the apostles) could be understood more clearly with the help of the living magisterium than by scripture alone, correct? Or are you willing to admit that a hypothetical Orthodox magisterium could be helpful while a hypothetical Roman one would not be?

    In terms of new philosophic understandings, I think it would have not been crystal clear from scripture whether the “substance” of the father and son were identical or whether they were very similar. The magisterium helped.

    I’m also more than happy to accept that we share views on justification that are only a hair’s breadth apart. I included the bit about extrinsic imputation in order to not assume that Lutherans think we Catholics know what the true Gospel is. I included the question mark to avoid being accused of throwing up strawmen if what I remembered about Lutherans was wrong. And I’ve read enough Luther to know several other good zingers, not just the manure one. I didn’t bring up Luther– I know by now that he is not identical to the Church of the Augsburg Confession. But another Lutheran brought up Luther to make a point about what some Lutherans believe.

    • This operative definition of “magisterium” does not seem to be anything that a Lutheran would object to, but I will have to enlist the help of others more knowledgeable than I. Whether or not it comports with either the Lutheran view of sola scriptura (and whatever the official Lutheran position with respect to conciliarism is) on the one hand or the Roman view of papal infallibility (and councils as necessarily subordinate to popes) I am unable to parse.

      It is important to note, however, that the Donatists were not first opposed or condemned by a council. They were opposed by St. Augustine of Hippo, who reasoned with them publicly, convincingly arguing from the scriptures that the the Word of Christ which instituted the Office of the Keys, i.e., the priesthood, made the sacraments valid, and not the character of the priest. The Donatists’ condemnation by the Synod of Arles did not make them heretics. They were heretics already according to Christ and St. Paul, who writes in Philippians i, 15-18: “Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.” That the stewards of the mysteries of God are themselves sinners, and that this did not nullify the effect of the Word they delivered, is clearly shown in both the Old and New Testament scriptures. In St. Augustine’s Letter to the Donatist, the blessed bishop writes: “If anyone preaches either concerning Christ or concerning his church or concerning any other matter which pertains to our faith and life; I will not say, if we, but what Paul adds, if an angel from heaven should preach to you anything besides what you have received in the Scriptures of the Law and of the Gospel, let him be anathema.”

      “And I’ve read enough Luther to know several other good zingers, not just the manure one. I didn’t bring up Luther– I know by now that he is not identical to the Church of the Augsburg Confession. But another Lutheran brought up Luther to make a point about what some Lutherans believe.” Fair enough — you were indeed making an honest attempt to be deferential. Didn’t mean to jump all over that example. My apologies. And yes, Luther does have loads of zingers. His dialogue with Thomas More is frankly puerile (though More gave as good as he got). I look forward to George’s explication of the Lutheran understanding of conciliar authority.

  9. Kevin writes,

    If I were a Lutheran, I think I would say that the first papal affirmation of heresy would have occurred well after the 8th or 9th century (if not the 11th, 12th, 15th, etc., or even 16th), hundreds or even a thousand years after every other ancient see fell into heresy at one time or another. That’s quite a track record of protecting what Lutherans and Catholics think is the deposit of faith, and I think evidence of the supernatural origins of the papacy.

    It’s evidence that the Roman see, and the West in general, wasn’t nearly as interested in speculative theology as the East. It wasn’t just the big heresies that came from the East; it was also the solutions, the orthodox definitions. Rome was conservative, and very well served by theologians such as Tertullian and Augustine. In fact, the latter, along with his fellow African bishops and the Emperor Honorius, put pressure on Pope Zosimus, who had condoned the theology of Pelagius, and got him to condemn it instead. It also managed, as the old and revered capital of the Empire, and soon the only Latin-dominant Patriarchate, to hold itself aloof from most of the infighting of the other three great sees, who did not target the Roman Bishop the way they targeted each other, but rather appealed to him as an outside authority who could add weight to their side. But even at that, one 7th century Pope, Honorius I, did get posthumously condemned (42 years after his death) by the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680) for promoting Monothelitism. Hiccups, you might call these, compared to the drama of Paul of Samosata in Antioch, Nestorius in Constantinople, or Dioscorus in Alexandria, but I don’t think even hiccups are allowed in the argument you are making. And on the positive side, Rome didn’t produce anyone of the stature of Athanasius or Cyril, both from Alexandria, or Gregory of Nazianzus, who was for a short time the Bishop of Constantinople.

    Nor did Rome stay conservative. The Gregorian reforms, which began mostly as a good thing, led over the succeeding centuries by a familiar and all to human process to great radicalism on the subject of Papal powers. Only now the West and the East were separated, and Alexandria and Antioch were long under Muslim dominion, and the old centralized system for dealing with wayward Patriarchs was only a distant memory.

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