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Pope Cracks Door to Lutheran Communion

Francis continues to, um, amaze. From Rocco Palma’s report on the Pope’s meeting with Lutherans in Rome on Sunday, as part of an ecumenical dialogue: [1]

In an answer that’s almost certain to resonate broadly across the ecumenical scene (and elsewhere, quite possibly show his hand on his intended course following last month’s Synod on the Family [2]), the pontiff – clearly wrestling with the plea – pointedly appealed less to the standard prohibition of the Eucharist for Protestant communities than to the woman’s discernment in conscience.

As if to reinforce the point, in a move clearly decided in advance, Francis publicly presented the pastor with a chalice which appeared identical to the ones the Pope gave the archbishops of Washington, New York and Philadelphia during his late September US trip.

Quoting from his answer to a question posed by a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic man, about when she and her husband can expect to receive holy communion together (it is forbidden in the Catholic Church for non-Catholics — Orthodox Christians excepted under certain conditions — to receive communion):

I can only respond to your question with a question: what can I do with my husband that the Lord’s Supper might accompany me on my path? It’s a problem that each must answer [for themselves], but a pastor-friend once told me that “We believe that the Lord is present there, he is present” – you believe that the Lord is present. And what’s the difference? There are explanations, interpretations, but life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism – one faith, one baptism, one Lord: this Paul tells us; and then consequences come later.

I would never dare to give permission to do this, because it’s not my own competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. [Pauses] And I wouldn’t dare – I don’t dare say anything more.

In other words: let your conscience be your guide. Who is the Pope to judge?

It is not in the competence of the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church to say that a Protestant cannot receive communion in a Catholic mass? Really? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: [3]

1400 Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, “have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders.” It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible. However these ecclesial communities, “when they commemorate the Lord’s death and resurrection in the Holy Supper . . . profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory.”

“Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible” is now “One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward.”

Of course he “would never dare to give permission to do this,” the Jesuit pope said, Jesuitically, but said so in winking at doing that very thing. Hard to avoid the conclusion that Pope Francis just effectively rewrote the Catechism, and destroyed a Eucharistic discipline that has existed since the Reformation. Did you ever think you would live to see this? The Pope is refuting the magisterial teaching of his own Church, and not on a small matter either.

The Catholic anthropologist Mary Douglas, in her celebrated 1968 book Natural Symbols [4], writes:

Now I turn to the other example of how messages about symbols issue from the Vatican only to be decoded here [England] as messages about ethics. The celebration of the Eucharist is central to Catholic dogma. If this gets bowdlerized, then the tendency which Herberg describes for denominations to become social compartments empty of distinguishing empty of distinguishing doctrines will have worked its way right through the modern world. Historic, sacramental Catholicism will have faded out.

She goes on to talk about how the condensation of symbols [5]in the Catholic Eucharist is “staggering in its depth.” Says Douglas, “If it were just a matter of expressing all these themes, symbolizing and commemorating, much less blood and ink would have been spilt at the Reformation.

She talks about how Catholics view the Eucharist as being, for Catholics, a “real, invisible transformation” of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the deity, and this having “saving efficacy for those who take it and for others.

It is based on a fundamental assumption about the human role in religion. It assumes that humans can take an active part in the work of redemption, both to save themselves and others, through using the sacraments as channels of grace — sacraments are not only signs, but essentially different from other signs, being instruments. This touches on the belief in opus operatum, the efficacious rite, whose very possibility was denied by the Protestant reformers.

Douglas, quoting a scholar of the Reformation, says that the Reformation’s most powerful effect was to turn Christianity into a religion of inner feeling. It did that not by toppling the Pope, but by changing the sacramental system. “For the Catholic Church, it was not the attack on the Papacy that was the most fateful event which has happened in the Reformation, but the emptying out from her Mysteries of the objective source of power.”

And yesterday, the Pope — the Pope! — told a Lutheran woman to “come forward” because “life is bigger than explanations and interpretations.”

Poor historical, sacramental Catholicism…

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159 Comments To "Pope Cracks Door to Lutheran Communion"

#1 Comment By Lisa De Ruyter On November 19, 2015 @ 9:21 pm

This article is misinterpreting Pope Francis who was referring to this passage in the bible under the unity of the believers preserved by the hierarchical leadership appointed by Christ. …Pope Francis is quoting Paul in Ephesians and that is why he kept stressing Saint Paul and our one baptism etc.. …………and then Pope Francis says very clearly in a clear statement:

“I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence……….bible verse here……Paul in Ephesians. 4:1-16 : New International Version (NIV)

Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ
4 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it[a] says:

“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”[b]
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions[c]? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”…………whole text of of the words of Pope Francis
[6]…/zenit-news-in-text-format–12

#2 Comment By Patrick On November 20, 2015 @ 12:02 am

@ E. Potson:

Thanks for your responses in this extended discussion. I suspect we’re at an impasse if there aren’t at present any articulable doctrines that are worth causing disharmony about. It’s well and good to say, “we know so little about God” – we agree on that entirely. But apparently, there is, after all, some as yet undefined thing(s) that we know so well about God – better than wine and transubstantiation – that it is worth saying, “if you don’t believe X, you are not one of us.” Without knowing X, one really can’t evaluate whether wine/transubstantiation are known with more or less confidence than whatever X is or by what reasoning one is included and not the other or why X is worth schisming over and not the other.

Probably most non-Catholics didn’t leave the Church over wine or transubstantiation, right. But to put your idea into effect – a church that includes both believers in transubstantiation and non-believers in transubstantiation – either Protestants will have to join the Catholic Church, or Catholics will have to join a Protestant community. And I’m saying that since you dislike “disharmony” in the Body of Christ as I do, it is the people who left in protest that can come back and repair the disharmony. Anyone who dislikes disharmony in the Body of Christ, in other words, ought to be part of and support the universal church as the default church of Christian unity. And, by your argument, they can’t let their lack of belief in transubstantiation keep them out of communion.

#3 Comment By dominic1955 On November 20, 2015 @ 12:42 am

Rod,

“They read the Bible as a rule book. Just because they know what the text says doesn’t mean they know how to read it, she said. I found that a fascinating point.”

They, very loosely speaking, read it as a rule book, or an operator’s manual, or a grouping of pithy sayings and morals harangues. Once I started debating with Evangelicals, I lost any awe I once had for their supposed “knowledge” of Scripture as a body. Its a fable. There are certainly some intelligent bible scholars who do have a decent grasp on the Scriptures from the Evangelical realm, but as a body (as many of them will try to act as if its the case) nope.

Matt in AK,

“The RC’s have been taught to group all sogenannten “Protestants” together, and this has led to them making a straw-man out of the most extreme ahistorical versions of “sola scriptura.”

Taught that only in the sense that life is too short and most people are not apologists, so for the average Catholic layman all they really need to know is that Protestantism (all non-Catholic, non-Orthodox ecclesial communities) is wrong and just in which precise manner they are wrong is something that they need not waste time worrying about.

“The reason for the pejorative “sogenannten” is that the term “Protestant” is theologically meaningless. There is no such thing as Protestant theology, or Protestant doctrine. Historically Protestantism existed as a 16th century political/military alliance against Roman Catholic political/military forces. It’s a straw-man factory.”

Its a very general term, but its not meaningless. Protestants are any group that has their roots in the 16th century religious revolution and is still Christian. For the above reason, it is very useful on a pastoral level but maybe not in a dedicated apologetic one. That said, it is widely accepted nomenclature even by the people so-called, so I don’t think your proposal is going to gain much traction any time soon.

“I know it’s messy and inconvenient, but you’ve got to oppose Lutherans as Lutherans, Calvinists as Calvinists, Arminians as Arminians, and Big-Box American Neo-Metobapticostals as Big-Box American Neo-Metobapticostals.”

What I learned when I was a much more interested apologist is that if one really wants to make any head way whatsoever, you do have to be more precise. You can’t oppose “Protestantism” in general in any meaningful way, but neither can you oppose Lutherans as Lutherans. No, you have to oppose Wisconsin Synod Lutherans as Wisconsin Synod Lutherans and ELCA as ELCA and even more to the point, you really have to address Joe Blow’s particular take on ELCA or Wisconsin Lutheranism as Joe Blow’s particular take.

“Immaculate conception?-specifically denied in scripture, and therefore heterodox/heretical; Co-redemptrix?-ditto.”

How, praytell?

“I like William Tighe’s “paper magisterium” phrase. Does our paper magisterium work better than your Episcopal one? I’d say when it works at all, it works better. The solid Confessional folks in the LC-MS are truer to 16th century Lutheranism than any RC theologian is to Trent.”

Care to back that up? I personally know that there are Catholic theologians “true” to Trent.

[NFR: Well, obviously I don’t know anything about your own experience with Evangelicals, and I don’t want people to read me as putting them down. I’m just repeating what an Evangelical academic told me to counter the uncritical praise I was voicing in her presence about Evangelical Bible knowledge. — RD]

#4 Comment By Matt in AK On November 20, 2015 @ 1:29 pm

dominic1955,
Sorry, not a load of time this morning, but I’ll start by saying that if “Protestant” is a valuable category for designating groups that have their roots in the 16th century religious revolution and are still Christian, then post-Trent RCs are also “Protestant”. (Trent was a huge 16th century watershed, and post-Trent Rome is significantly different from it’s predecessor.)

On the immaculate conception I’d suggest starting w/ the Magnificat, and specifically Luke 1:47 where the virgin Mary, Theotokos, refers to God as her “savior.” A sinless person doesn’t need a savior. For a comprehensive treatment of the status of humanity after the fall I’d suggest you re-read the first half of Romans, especially chapters 3-6. Chap 5 will also give you a nice treatment of the federal headship of Adam, and the passing of original sin through the male line, which makes the immaculate conception unnecessary so long as you hold the virgin birth. Finally, unless you reject the dormition of Mary, it’s hard to come up w/ a cause of death for the Theotokos that’s consistent w/ Rom 6:23 for a sinless woman.

Now, I’m not assuming that RC theologians have never sung the Magnificat, or read the book of Romans, just that they carry so much later “authoritative” baggage into their exegesis that they cannot let the texts speak naturally. (Much like the Reformed reading of Matt 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19, 1 Cor 11:24, 1 Pet 3:21, John 3:5 et cetera.)

Writing as we are on the blog of the Ben Opt guy, I think it’s worth hypothesizing that the start of the weirder RC doctrines on Mary started as cultural accommodations to Greek pagans, and I don’t think it coincidental that the assumption is reported to have occurred in Ephesus (Acts 19:28). I also suspect this is perhaps, like transubstantiation, another gift of “St. Aristotle” but I could well be wrong on that.

As to faithfulness to Trent, I suspect that you’re defining the requirements more narrowly than I am, but I’ll save that for another day.

Pax Christi+,
-Matt in AK

#5 Comment By Matt in AK On November 20, 2015 @ 2:11 pm

E. Potson
You write: “I do, however, think it is inconsistent with the teachings of Christ to condition inclusion in a church on either a literal or metaphorical understanding of John 6:53.”

What you’re missing is 1 Cor 11:29-30, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

Because the body and blood of Christ is truly present, it is not an act of love to share it w/ someone who rejects that presence. It is not an act of love to give a person “judgment and death” to avoid hurting their feelings.

Kyrie Eleison,
-Matt in AK

#6 Comment By dominic1955 On November 20, 2015 @ 5:22 pm

Matt in AK,

“Sorry, not a load of time this morning, but I’ll start by saying that if “Protestant” is a valuable category for designating groups that have their roots in the 16th century religious revolution and are still Christian, then post-Trent RCs are also “Protestant”. (Trent was a huge 16th century watershed, and post-Trent Rome is significantly different from it’s predecessor.)”

The Catholic Church pre-Trent and post-Trent is the same and I can quote Denzinger until my fingers fall off to prove it in other words, freely asserted freely denied.

“On the immaculate conception I’d suggest starting w/ the Magnificat, and specifically Luke 1:47 where the virgin Mary, Theotokos, refers to God as her “savior.” A sinless person doesn’t need a savior.”

Yes, we say the Magnificat for Vespers every day.

Mary is sinless because she was saved by Christ in a special way for his coming. She is not sinless on her own.

[7]

Not to mention Luther himself wrote in favor of Mary’s sinlessness.

“For a comprehensive treatment of the status of humanity after the fall I’d suggest you re-read the first half of Romans, especially chapters 3-6. Chap 5 will also give you a nice treatment of the federal headship of Adam, and the passing of original sin through the male line, which makes the immaculate conception unnecessary so long as you hold the virgin birth. Finally, unless you reject the dormition of Mary, it’s hard to come up w/ a cause of death for the Theotokos that’s consistent w/ Rom 6:23 for a sinless woman.”

[8]

“Now, I’m not assuming that RC theologians have never sung the Magnificat, or read the book of Romans, just that they carry so much later “authoritative” baggage into their exegesis that they cannot let the texts speak naturally. (Much like the Reformed reading of Matt 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19, 1 Cor 11:24, 1 Pet 3:21, John 3:5 et cetera.)”

And how, praytell, is it that you come to the table without any such authoritative baggage? You, or whichever brand of Lutheranism, can just withdraw yourselves from where you came from and developed out of? Please, you should look into comedy!

Furthermore, there is no way to let the text speak “naturally”. What you suggest is a vacuum and nature abhors a vacuum. You cannot read pieces of the Bible without the whole nor can you even read the Bible without the larger Tradition. Its one big whole, not a proof texting smorgasbord.

“Writing as we are on the blog of the Ben Opt guy, I think it’s worth hypothesizing that the start of the weirder RC doctrines on Mary started as cultural accommodations to Greek pagans, and I don’t think it coincidental that the assumption is reported to have occurred in Ephesus (Acts 19:28). I also suspect this is perhaps, like transubstantiation, another gift of “St. Aristotle” but I could well be wrong on that.”

Or you could just go full Loraine Boettner on us. Regardless, if the Early Church just bent to accommodate pagan Greeks (and what Mary’s sinlessness or God bearing or any of the rest has to do with Greek paganism other than simple minded comparisons like those of Boettner or the Ellen G. White is beyond me) again, how do you guys all of a sudden get it right, withdrawn from the authority of the Church, just you and a Bible? Pure hubris.

“As to faithfulness to Trent, I suspect that you’re defining the requirements more narrowly than I am, but I’ll save that for another day.”

Probably, and you probably don’t understand how it all connects anyway. I could define things such that none of you today are “really” Lutherans, but of course that would be silly.

#7 Comment By Patrick On November 21, 2015 @ 10:57 am

@ Matt in AK:

“…RC doctrines on Mary started as cultural accommodations to Greek pagans, and I don’t think it coincidental that the assumption is reported to have occurred in Ephesus (Acts 19:28).”

Actually, this is because, according to tradition, John the Apostle went to Ephesus and the surrounding area to found churches. Of course, Scripture shows Mary was entrusted to John’s care, so it would make sense, say, if Mary was with John in Ephesus when the formation happened, which is why the belief began there.

The point being, there is a valid, orthodox, Scripturally sound explanation that has nothing to do with accommodating pagans.

#8 Comment By Patrick On November 21, 2015 @ 10:58 am

“when the formation happened” = when the dormition happened. Autocorrect.

#9 Comment By Matt in AK On November 23, 2015 @ 1:27 pm

dominic1955,

Well, if you’re still here, I assume we’re on our own, and I suspect I’m wasting my time, but here goes: Our inability to perfectly allow the Scriptural texts to speak naturally, is a fairly rubbish excuse for insisting on reading them through what anyone w/ a reasonable theological education has to admit is a late Medieval filter. You appear to be saying that because we can’t scrape all the barnacles off the hull of our boat, we should guild them and call them “decorations.” The fact that we can’t do something perfectly, is a ridiculous reason to do it shoddily. (“Are we to sin more that grace may abound?”)

A short list of theologians who have rejected the immaculate conception would include: Origen, Basil, Chrysostom, Aquinas and Bonaventure, and no one put forth the explanation you give (“Mary is sinless because she was saved by Christ in a special way for his coming. She is not sinless on her own”) before Duns Scotus (d. 1308). Duns Scotus’ view became the official doctrine of the RC church in 1854, though it was fairly popular by Trent.

A view of the authority of tradition that requires 1st and very early 2nd century Divinely inspired documents to be read through, at best, a 13th or early 14th century lens is certainly not “apostolic.”

Quod scripsi scripsi+,
-Matt in Ak