Sunday, 24 January 2010

"Lex orandi, lex credendi", or should that be "Lex credendi, lex orandi"?

Lex orandi, lex credendi, the rule of praying establishes the rule of faith, or should that be Lex credendi, lex orandi, the rule of faith determines the rule of praying? That is the question.

No doubt both are true in different ways. There is no doubt that what/how one prays will soon come to determine what one believes, even if only by simple psychological laws. No doubt for that very reason the Church has regarded the liturgy as a vehicle for confessing and teaching the truths of the catholic faith once delivered to the saints, and has thus always been mindful that the liturgy be in accord with pure doctrine. That has not, however, prevented liturgical innovations from fostering false doctrines in the church; that's ecclesiastical life, I guess - as St Paul warned, factions and their errors are permitted to arise in the church so that the truth may stand out all the more clearly. The matter under discussion is not that of identifying liturgical abberrations, but whether the liturgy is subject to the Word of God, as Lutherans, Anglicans and the Reformed teach, or, is it the case that the liturgy, as Tradition, is itself the rule of faith, as some Orthodox and Roman Catholics contend?

This question has been the subject of some discussion over at David Schuetz's blog, Sentire Cum Ecclesia (see link in right hand column), under the post headed, Australian Lutherans Praying the Rosary, where David posted on Lutherans using an Anglican form of the Rosary, and suggested that they should just use the Roman form. I reponded that Lutherans could not pray the Rosary in good faith, in its Roman Catholic form anyway, because it was based on false doctrine and therefore constituted a false form of worship. In this case, I wrote, lex credendi, lex orandi. Even apart from this issue, this was the way the Church had always approached such issues, I said. I expected no disagreement on this principle, even if a resolution of the doctrinal issue of prayers to Mary was beyond us.

Imagine my surprise then when two interlocutors, including the blog owner, objected that a) the phrase could not be reversed in this way, and b) on the dogmatic level the liturgy did in fact determine dogma and doctrine. To do otherwise, it was implied, was to fail to take account of developments in the Liturgical Theology Movement and was to subject the worship of the church to the tyranny of dry doctrine.

Suspecting that there were deeper issues here that would resist resolution, I was happy to let the matter rest where it ended, until last night when I came across Pope Pius XII's Encyclical, Mediator Dei, while researching another topic entirely. And there, in a papal encyclical of all places, I could hardly believe my eyes to find the Pope of the day addressing the very matter that had been under discussion and saying what I had been saying. Since a Pope obviously carries more weight in the circle of my interlocutors than I do, I merely paste Pius XII's words here:

"On this subject We judge it Our duty to rectify an attitude with which you are doubtless familiar, Venerable Brethren. We refer to the error and fallacious reasoning of those who have claimed that the sacred liturgy is a kind of proving ground for the truths to be held of faith, meaning by this that the Church is obliged to declare such a doctrine sound when it is found to have produced fruits of piety and sanctity through the sacred rites of the liturgy, and to reject it otherwise. Hence the epigram, "Lex orandi, lex credendi" - the law for prayer is the law for faith.

47. But this is not what the Church teaches and enjoins. The worship she offers to God, all good and great, is a continuous profession of Catholic faith and a continuous exercise of hope and charity, as Augustine puts it tersely. "God is to be worshipped," he says, "by faith, hope and charity."[44] In the sacred liturgy we profess the Catholic faith explicitly and openly, not only by the celebration of the mysteries, and by offering the holy sacrifice and administering the sacraments, but also by saying or singing the credo or Symbol of the faith - it is indeed the sign and badge, as it were, of the Christian - along with other texts, and likewise by the reading of holy scripture, written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The entire liturgy, therefore, has the Catholic faith for its content, inasmuch as it bears public witness to the faith of the Church.

48. For this reason, whenever there was question of defining a truth revealed by God, the Sovereign Pontiff and the Councils in their recourse to the "theological sources," as they are called, have not seldom drawn many an argument from this sacred science of the liturgy. For an example in point, Our predecessor of immortal memory, Pius IX, so argued when he proclaimed the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Similarly during the discussion of a doubtful or controversial truth, the Church and the Holy Fathers have not failed to look to the age-old and age-honored sacred rites for enlightenment. Hence the well-known and venerable maxim, "Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi" - let the rule for prayer determine the rule of belief.[45] The sacred liturgy, consequently, does not decide or determine independently and of itself what is of Catholic faith. More properly, since the liturgy is also a profession of eternal truths, and subject, as such, to the supreme teaching authority of the Church, it can supply proofs and testimony, quite clearly, of no little value, towards the determination of a particular point of Christian doctrine. But if one desires to differentiate and describe the relationship between faith and the sacred liturgy in absolute and general terms, it is perfectly correct to say, "Lex credendi legem statuat supplicandi" - let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer.

It's as if the words fell from Heaven itself into my lap!

Now, my interlocutors may object, "But the Pope supports praying the Rosary to Mary." Indeed he does (or did, in the case of Pius XII), but for present purposes that is beside the point, which is, as the Pope rightly teaches, that the liturgy does not decide what is to be believed independently of the teaching office of the church, to which the liturgy is in fact subject.

Of course, for a Lutheran, the teaching office of the church has no power or authority to require belief in what cannot be proven from holy scripture, so on that point we would digress from the Pope's position, but apart from that difference and what flows from it, I commend to my friends what the Pope has written (And it's not too often you'll see me write that!).


David Cochrane said...

Father Henderson,

I believe it is helpful to have an organized prayer format. The rosary, like many other items, is not the sole property of the Papacy.

I would like your response to this file:

My bride and I have found it very helpful in daily devotions.

God's peace. †

Phil said...

I just started reading Aidan Kavanagh, so I suspect I'll be running into that argumentation pretty soon.

You're probably already aware of it because of your knowledge of Sasse, but he has some excellent comments on the dogma-liturgy connection in one of the articles in the second volume of The Lonely Way (I don't remember the exact title, but it was called something like "Liturgy and Roman Catholicism"). As he points out, we can see the emergence of dogmas in the liturgy before they are dogmatized, but we also see the emergence of errors there first, too.

I remember reading that Tom Winger had translated an article by Paul de Clerck on the significance and common misunderstandings of the so-called "lex orandi, lex credendi" passage. Haven't been able to find a copy yet.

acroamaticus said...


Thanks for your comment.

I certainly agree about an organised format for prayer, with the caveat that not all Christians would agree and we cannot regulate private devotionbal life.

Now, my comments related to Lutherans praying the RC form of the Rosary, particularly the second part, 'Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.' That the church in heaven prays for us we need not doubt, but without a command from God to pray to individual members of the church triumphant, we are at best on shaky ground here, and at worst engaged in a false form of worship which ascribes to creatures the attributes and prerogatives of the Holy Trinity.

I will certainly look at the website you have directed our attention to and make some comment on it as soon as I am able.

acroamaticus said...


If you find the Winger article let us know.

Yes, Sasse had some very in teresting and pertinent remarks about the Liturgical Movement, many of which now seem prescient (as so often with his thought). There is also a very good short article by John Pless called 'Hermann Sasse and the Liturgical Movement' available on-line which I recommend (a Google search should turn it up).

Thanks for your comment and enjoy Kavanagh, but read him with discrimination, as I'm sure you will!

acroamaticus said...


I have had time to look at the link you supplied but I have not had time to check the reference it supplies to 'Martin Luther's evangelical praise of the mother of God'.

I have no doubt that Luther said such things, but I would like to find the original reference, context and date for this prayer.

Having said that, I think the content is unobjectionable from the perspective of Lutheran doctrine, except that the final prayer would be better if it were turned around as regards subject and object, so that we are thanking God for the Virgin Mary and what her life shows us in regard to his grace. If this were done, I would have no qualms about using the suggested method of prayer myself.

I hope this helps. This might be something you can run by your pastor for his opinion.

Melanchthon said...

An excellent aticle and very thought provoking. My first wife (now sainted) was a Roman Catholic before our marriage and found great comfort in her rosary. Intriqued by this, I have always been on the look out for alternative, evangelical ways the rosary may be prayed.

When Luther expressed high regard for the "Hail Mary," it was in the biblical form without the additional prayer Pr. Henderson mentions. An elder Anglican author (I wish I could find the book!) suggested adding instead "Son of Mary, Son of the Living God, have mercy on us now and at the hour of our death." I found this to be very helpful.

At times in my own piety I have found that form of the rosary helpful, although these days the Daily Office is my primary form of spiritual discipline. I find that praying the Magnificat is the best way to remember God's graciousness toward blessed Mary. May our own discipleship approach hers!

Schutz said...

Well, there you go. Always ready to be corrected by a pope. But as always, in the passages you quote from Catholic authors, I wonder if you have quite understood what the Holy Father is saying.

Specifically, he is writing in the context of defending his own reforms of the Catholic liturgy, which were extensive. He was defending the right of the Supreme Pontiff to make changes to thwe Sacred Liturgy. He was defending the right of the Magisterium in relation to the liturgy over the rights of academic liturgical theologians. He affirms that the sacred Liturgy is a dependable repository for the Catholic faith. He is not suggesting that an individual theologian can make changes to the liturgy on the basis of their own judgement of what is or is not in accord with the Catholic faith.

For all the reasons, to say as Pope that "lex credendi legem statuit supplicandi" as Pope in the context of the Catholic teaching Magisterium is quite a different thing to say it in a context where no such authority is acknowledged.

For all that, I remain suitably chastised and have been enlightened by your research. For this I thank you.

To do otherwise, it was implied, was to fail to take account of developments in the Liturgical Theology Movement and was to subject the worship of the church to the tyranny of dry doctrine.

No that wasn't what we were saying at all. The liturgical movement doen't enter into it, and it is rather the tyranny of democratically determined doctrine that is most destructive of the liturgy.

As another point, the rosary is not a part of the liturgy. It may very well be an historical instance of a case where the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the intercession of the BVM led to the establishment of this kind of prayer.

And further to Melanchthon's point, his suggested ending to the Hail Mary is an improvement upon the one that is in use at St Paul's Box Hill, as at least it rghtly asks Jesus to have mercy on us rather than to pray for us.

acroamaticus said...

Thanks David. I suppose only a Roman Catholic can _really_ understand what the Pope was saying, eh? ;0)

You might like to pass the Lutheran Rosary that David has alerted us to on to the good folk at Box Hill, with the final prayer emended as suggested along more evangelical lines, of course.

Fraser Pearce said...

A good post and good discussion. Thanks!

acroamaticus said...

Thanks for your feedback, Fraser. Blessings in Adelaide!
(PS What happened to your modest proposal?)

acroamaticus said...

Jon (Melanchthon), thanks for sharing with us. Yes, I'm sure there is something therapeutic about repetitive prayer that engages the mind and heart, like the Rosary (evangelically conceived, of course) or the Jesus Prayer.

Anonymous said...

A Lutheran rosary? Careful. You might end up with this Lutheran rosary:

Despite the hagiography that claims that the rosary was given by Mary to St. Simon Stock, it developed over time as the "psalter" of the laity who could not read the Psalms in Scripture.

The fact that it is not a sacrosanct prayer set in stone is evidenced by the fact that John Paul II added another "mystery" to the previous format.

It also seems disingenuous to try to rearrange the historic Catholic rosary to suit Lutheran tastes.

Catholics are fond of pointing out the various devotions that are not "part of the liturgy" yet have played a major role in forming the piety of Catholic people, a piety that is sometimes very much at odds with Scripture.


Lvka said...

That's why both you and Rome err in your doctrines, because of the way you play fast and loose, or toy around with the law of prayer.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

I'd love to debate that with you, Lucian, but your equation of Lutheran and Roman doctrine on prayer suggests to me you know little about either.

Lvka said...

The first, apostolic Christians expressed their understanding of the early, apostolic Christian faith in their prayers & services; they had no prior 'lex orandi' to deduce their 'lex credendi' from: they took the faith directly from the mouths of the Apostles, or their disciples, and encoded their innitial 'lex orandi' based on it ["it" here being the apostolic lex credendi]. (Well, not really: the Apostles obviously left a 'lex orandi' together with their 'lex credendi': they served the liturgy at least on a weekly basis, apart from preaching, which, of course, took place more frequently).

Now, *WE* are NOT the Apotles. So WE have to be faithful to both; WE can't just re-interpret the Bible in a way foreign to the early two `leges`, inherited from the Holy Apostles & their disciples through the early Christians, and replace them with a new theology, which in its turn will be encoded to form a new and foreign lex credendi.

(That's what I was trying to say.. hope it makes more sense now..)

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Wow, Lvka, you're really rummaging through the archive boxes! I'm impressed.
We have the Apostolic word today, the lex credendi, from which the lex orandi draws its nourishment and grows.

Lvka said...

No; what you have is a biblical exegesis that contradicts the apostolic 'lex credendi' (ie, the Apostles' own understanding of their own [written] words, passed on through Church tradition: both written and oral).

Pr Mark Henderson said...

An interesting assertion...evidence?