A month or so ago, word went out that the Papacy might be considering lifting the charge of heretic against Martin Luther. This rumor was squelched. In the course of talking about it with a friend, we were going back and forth about our feelings about Rome and the Papacy. I offered him these more personal reflections on my experiences with Rome and what a truly painful thing it is to recognize that Lutheranism and Romanism must be, and remain, separate. In light of the Pope’s coming trip to the USA, I thought I would share these thoughts, with a few modifications, more openly here:
The reason I have such strong feelings of frustration and, yes, anger,
with the errors of Romanism is precisely because there is so much in the Roman Catholic Church that
I love and cherish. "Tragic necessity" is no mere polite soundbite to me, nor to many other faithful Lutheran Christians. We cherish the Gospel that is read and heard in Roman Catholic Churches whenever and wherever it is read, or preached. We cherish the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar which is given and distributed in Roman Catholic Churches. We love and cherish these things in spite of the errors that obscure the glory and grace of God in the mercy of Christ.
close friendships with many Roman Catholics growing up in the Deep
South where Lutheran and Roman Catholics were but two sides of the same
coin in the view of Baptists, Pentecostals, etc. There was a shared history and experience of liturgy and church history that was unknown to many, if not all, Bible fundamentalists.
I attended a
Roman Catholic High School and was so deeply moved and impressed by the nuns and priests there who taught us everything from typing (thank you Sister
Mary Jean!) and drilled us to death in English and grammar (thank you
Sister Mary Margaret!). I loved Latin class when Father Pine, S.J.,
would wander in and engage in Latin with our teacher, and when he
actually corrected my writing one day, walking up and down the rows of
desks, "Ah, excuse me, Mr. McCain, but you seem to have a certain
fondness leaving your "t’s" uncrossed and your i’s undotted." As my face grew red, I was able only but to agree and say "Yes, Father. You are right."
And I recall Father
Foley regaling us with tales of youthful episodes with a
certain "fair lass" in Ireland, where he hailed from, and I recall listening to him
and Sister Mary Ellen rattle away back and forth in Gaelic, their mother tongue, the mother tongue of my ancestors as well.
And they even gave a Lutheran kid best religion student of the year award, twice in a row! And I have the warmest memories of all of the many kind notes and remembrances from the priests, sisters and brothers
who, in their own dear ways, encouraged me to become a Lutheran pastor, with quiet conversations, even whispered in some cases. We shared a love for Christ!
But as for the institution and public doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, here is where the tragic necessity of separation becomes a reality.
I sat seething through four years of Masses where the Gospel was
terribly obscured with all manner of nonsense that one can only imagine that would be possible in the mid-seventies, with people trying to impress teenagers
attending Mass. (It became so bad the Bishop announced he would no longer
conduct mass at our high school until the behavior in Mass got better!).
For these very personal reasons, in addition to my passion for theology, I’ve been deeply concerned and interested in Roman
Catholicism for years and feel such a kindred spirit with the Roman
Church, but also at the same time, such a heart-wrenching separation
when I watch the Gospel not really proclaimed sweetly and clearly.
Tragic necessity, indeed. Lord, have mercy.
And so, in light of the visit of the Pope to the USA, lest anyone get too caught up in the moment, or forget precisely why we continue to reject the Papacy and its claims, we need to remember that the Roman Catholic
Church still insists that it is the one, true church on earth and that all
other Christian communities are either defective (the East) or not
church at all (all us Reformation types).
I am not at all bothered by
the Pope’s pronouncement, actually quite pleased by such refreshing
clarity and integrity in the expression of Rome’s position: open and
honest. Too bad liberal Lutherans can’t be as forthcoming at times. It
is troubling that there are groups about that stand for one thing, but
hide their positions so as to try to deceive and mislead people.
So, big news! The Pope is a Roman Catholic!
Here is the official statment from the vatican. Click through to the
extended version to read it. And then, when you are finished reading
the document, read the Smalcald Articles
and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope for a sound,
Biblical and Gospel-centered refutation of these false claims.
CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH
Bold italic portions are emphases added by PTM.
RESPONSES TO SOME QUESTIONS REGARDING CERTAIN ASPECTS
OF THE DOCTRINE ON THE CHURCH
The Second Vatican Council, with its Dogmatic Constitution Lumen
gentium, and its Decrees on Ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio) and the
Oriental Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum), has contributed in a
decisive way to the renewal of Catholic ecclesiolgy. The Supreme
Pontiffs have also contributed to this renewal by offering their own
insights and orientations for praxis: Paul VI in his Encyclical Letter
Ecclesiam suam (1964) and John Paul II in his Encyclical Letter Ut unum
The consequent duty of theologians to expound with greater clarity
the diverse aspects of ecclesiology has resulted in a flowering of
writing in this field. In fact it has become evident that this theme is
a most fruitful one which, however, has also at times required
clarification by way of precise definition and correction, for instance
in the declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae (1973), the Letter addressed to
the Bishops of the Catholic Church Communionis notio (1992), and the
declaration Dominus Iesus (2000), all published by the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith.
The vastness of the subject matter and the novelty of many of the
themes involved continue to provoke theological reflection. Among the
many new contributions to the field, some are not immune from erroneous
interpretation which in turn give rise to confusion and doubt. A number
of these interpretations have been referred to the attention of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Given the universality of
Catholic doctrine on the Church, the Congregation wishes to respond to
these questions by clarifying the authentic meaning of some
ecclesiological expressions used by the magisterium which are open to
misunderstanding in the theological debate.
RESPONSES TO THE QUESTIONS
First Question: Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?
Response: The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to
change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully
This was exactly what John XXIII said at the beginning of the
Council. Paul VI affirmed it and commented in the act of
promulgating the Constitution Lumen gentium: "There is no better
comment to make than to say that this promulgation really changes
nothing of the traditional doctrine. What Christ willed, we also will.
What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the
centuries, we also teach. In simple terms that which was assumed, is
now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which
was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put
together in one clear formulation". The Bishops repeatedly expressed
and fulfilled this intention.
Second Question: What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?
Response: Christ "established here on earth" only one Church and
instituted it as a "visible and spiritual community", that from its
beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will
always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ
himself instituted. "This one Church of Christ, which we confess in
the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic […]. This Church,
constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the
Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in
communion with him".
In number 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium ‘subsistence’
means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all
the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church, in which
the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.
It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly
that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and
ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic
Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are
present in them. Nevertheless, the word "subsists" can only be
attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to
the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I
believe… in the "one" Church); and this "one" Church subsists in the
Third Question: Why was the expression "subsists in" adopted instead of the simple word "is"?
Response: The use of this expression, which indicates the full
identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not
change the doctrine on the Church. Rather, it comes from and brings out
more clearly the fact that there are "numerous elements of
sanctification and of truth" which are found outside her structure, but
which "as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel
towards Catholic Unity".
"It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we
believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance
nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of
Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation,
whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has
been entrusted to the Catholic Church".
Fourth Question: Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term
"Church" in reference to the oriental Churches separated from full
communion with the Catholic Church?
Response: The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the
term. "Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments
and above all – because of the apostolic succession – the priesthood
and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very
close bonds", they merit the title of "particular or local
Churches", and are called sister Churches of the particular
"It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each
of these Churches that the Church of God is built up and grows in
stature". However, since communion with the Catholic
Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the
Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular
Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these
venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as
On the other hand, because of the division between Christians, the
fullness of universality, which is proper to the Church governed by the
Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, is not fully
realised in history.
Fifth Question: Why do the texts of the Council and those of the
Magisterium since the Council not use the title of "Church" with regard
to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the
Response: According to Catholic doctrine, these
Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of
Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the
Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the
absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine
and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according
to Catholic doctrine, be called "Churches" in the proper sense.
The Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, at the Audience granted to the
undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith, ratified and confirmed these Responses, adopted in the
Plenary Session of the Congregation, and ordered their publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, June 29, 2007, the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul.
William Cardinal Levada
Angelo Amato, S.D.B.
Titular Archbishop of Sila