Sunday, 31 March 2013

Raised to Life for our Justification

"Christ was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" Romans 4:25 NIV

"Paul is indeed the man who extols Christ in a masterly manner, telling us exactly why and for what purpose he suffered and how we should conform ourselves to his sufferings, namely, that he died for our sins. This is a correct interpretation of the sufferings of Christ, by which we may profit. And as it is not sufficient to know and believe that Christ has died, so it will not suffice to know and believe that he rose with a transfigured body and is now in a state of joy and blessedness, no longer subject to mortality, for all this would profit me nothing or very little. But when I come to understand the fact that all the works God does in Christ are done for me, nay, they are bestowed upon and given to me, the effect of his resurrection being that I also will arise and live with him; that will cause me to rejoice. This must be brought home to our hearts, and we must not merely hear it with the ears of our body nor merely confess it with our mouth...
Martin Luther, Church Postil, c. 1525.

Yes, folks, it's all about justification!

Pic courtesy

Friday, 29 March 2013

The Descent into Hell - Holy Saturday

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. 1 Peter 3:18-20a NIV

Traditionally, Holy Saturday has been associated with Christ's descent into hell (descensus Christi ad Inferos). While we wouldn't push the temporal link too strongly, since Scripture only says that Christ visited the imprisoned spirits "after being made alive", yet Holy Saturday seems a good time to ponder this article of faith which has often been argued against by contemporary theologians.

"Before Christ arose and ascended into heaven, and while yet lying in the grave, He also descended into hell in order to deliver also us from it, who were to be held in it as prisoners ... However I shall not discuss this article in a profound and subtle manner, as to how it was done or what it means to 'descend into hell', but adhere to the simplest meaning conveyed by these words, as we must represent it to children and uneducated people...since we cannot but conceive thoughts and images of what is presented to us in words, and unable to think of or understand anything without such images, it is appropriate and right that we view it literally, just as it is painted, that He descends with the banner, shattering and destroying the gates of hell...we ought ... simply to fix and fasten our hearts and thoughts on the words of the Creed,which says: I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God,dead, buried, and descended into hell,' that is, in the entire person,God and man, with body and soul, undivided,'born of the Virgin, suffered died, and buried'; in like manner I must not divide it here either, but believe and say that the same Christ, God and man in one person, descended into hell..."
From Martin Luther's Torgau sermon on Christ's Descent Into Hell

"...we believe simply that the entire person, God and human being, descended to Hell after his burial, conquered the devil, destroyed the power of Hell, and took from the devil all his power."
Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Art. IX

Pic: From an altar reredos at All Souls College Chapel in Oxford, England

Note that the reredos depicts Adam and Eve alongside what appear to be other OT figures, reflecting the common but erroneous folk belief that Christ preached to OT believers in hell. This is not consistent with the Biblical sedes doctrinae (seat of the doctrine), 1 Peter 3:18f, which specifically mentions Christ proclaiming his victory to those who were disobedient "in the days of Noah". 
In the history of interpretation of this passage, Augustine took the view that Christ preached through Noah to the unbelievers who later became "the spirits in prison" while Aquinas interpreted the passage allegorically, asserting that it was intended to teach simply the victory of Christ over the devil.
Other medieval interpreters thought hell was the mythological underworld, divided into various compartments for the just and unjust, the former becoming known as "the limbo of the fathers", which was liberated by Christ.
The Roman Catholic apologist Robert Bellarmine thought the spirits in prison were the souls in purgatory - an outstanding example of eisegesis or the reading into the text of information which is not there.
Lutheran interpreters through the centuries have consistently followed Luther's lead in the Torgau sermon (which also proves he did not believe in "soul sleep") and interpreted the text literally (see Bo Reicke, The Disobedient Spirits and Christian Baptism, 1946), regarding Christ's preaching as a proclamation not of forgiveness but of his victory over sin, death and the devil, a victory which meant that the condemned state of the souls in prison was confirmed.
One must be alert in our time to interpretations which favour an apocatastasis or restoration of the souls in hell - a "second chance" to hear the Gospel and repent after death which finally results in an empty hell, save for the devil and the evil angels. This view is present not only among liberal Protestants but in the Roman Catholic and Easter Orthodox churches (see here). We dare not go against the clear word of God, which tells us that people "are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).

Luther on the Passion of Christ

"We do not preach about the passion [from the Latin verb, pati, meaning 'to suffer' - MH] in order for people to become ingrates; but rather that they recognize our heavenly Father’s great love for mankind and his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we again gain the Father’s and the Son’s favor. For he who believes with his whole heart that Christ suffered for him will not be a thankless rogue, but will with his whole being be grateful to Christ. If someone came to my rescue in an emergency, when death threatened by fire or water, I would have to be a wretch not to feel grateful toward him. We hold that person dear who gives or loans us ten guilden. What should our response be when God’s Son is given for our sakes and endures sin, death, and hell? Should we not respond, My Lord Jesus Christ suffered for me; therefore, in return, I will love him, gladly preach, hear, and believe his Word, be obedient to, and follow him. If we do not do this, we are a thousand times more malicious than the people of the world. They know nothing of this grace, but we know, and yet we are ungrateful, thoughtless, and forgetful of the fact that we, through Christ, are redeemed from sin and death. He says to us, Neither sin nor death shall harm you for I have obtained eternal salvation for you through my death. It is terrible for anyone to despise such a love!"
Martin Luther, House Postil, Good Friday, 1533

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Luther on the Lord's Supper

"Whoever wishes to be a Christian should not be like the fanatical spirits who question how it is possible for bread to be Christ’s Body and wine to be Christ’s Blood. They have their own ideas of God and want to comprehend him with their reason; therefore, if something does not rhyme with reason, God also is unable to do it. But just why is it that man has puzzled about this for so long? The more man struggles over it, the less he is able to comprehend our Lord God with human reason. For our Lord God is not a God who allows himself to be measured and comprehended by human reason, nor are h is works and words to be subject to the canons of human reason. St. Paul says (Ephesians 3:20): “[God] is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Why is it then that we torment ourselves by presuming to resolve and establish that God’s Word and work must conform to our reason? If God says it must be so, then because it is God’s Word and he is all-powerful and truthful, he is able, also, to effect what he says.
Therefore, we should hold steadfastly to these clear words of our Lord, The bread he proffers is his Body, and the cup or wine is his Blood, or the New Testament in his Blood. In childlike faith we should partake, without doubting, and believe it to be so. We should give thanks to Christ for such grace, rejoice over it, and strengthen our hearts by it, considering why Christ has done what he did, not disputing whether he is able to do it. Impertinent are the hearts which question why Christ did it this way and doubt that he is able to do it.
We should leave God’s Word and work undisputed and ask only who has spoken the Word and who has done the work, whether God or man has spoken it, whether it is God’s or man’s work. If it is God’s Word and work, close your eyes, do not dispute and inquire as to how it comes about, but believe that God is all-omnipotent and truthful in his words and work.
People who are conscious of their sins and sincerely desire to be rid of them should be urged to receive the Sacrament and not regard it as a judgmental occasion to be feared, but as welcome and comforting food for distressed souls. Undoubtedly it occurred under the papacy that people came to fear this Sacrament. But Christians should be instructed to approach it with joy, confident and comforted, saying, I am a poor sinner, I need help and comfort, I wish to attend the Lord’s Supper, and take nourishment from the Body and Blood of my dear Lord Jesus Christ. For he instituted this Sacrament so that all hungry and thirsty souls might be nourished and refreshed. He will not reproach me, much less hold me back, if I but come in his name to receive his help and comfort."

From Luther's House Postil for Maundy Thursday.
Pic: The Mystical Supper; icon by Simon Ushakov, 1685 (Public Domain).

Monday, 25 March 2013

Atheist Philosopher Shunned for Questioning Evolution

Science is about the collection of natural data and the dispassionate development of theories which best explain the data. Right? Sort of. Probably best to strike 'dispassionate' from that sentence. Scientists turn out to be as passionate about their beliefs as, well, we religious folk tend to be. They even practice 'shunning', the exclusion from the scientific community of those deemed to be heretical questioners of the prevailing scientific paradigm.

Shouldn't science welcome sceptics? Isn't scepticism foundational to the scientific method? On the contrary, it seems that the practice of shunning in the scientific community is evidence that a kind of 'groupthink' prevails in scientific academe which suppresses questioning and thus stymies progress towards theories which better explain data. This criticism was actually made as long ago as 1962 in Thomas Kuhn's seminal monograph The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which punctured the image of science as a dispassionately infallible process, although you wouldn't know it today, when, ironically, science seems to be the one area of human thought that is immune to radical, late-Modern scepticism.

Witness the furious reaction among the scientifically "orthodox" to Professor of Philosophy at New York University Thomas Nagel's new book, Mind and Cosmos, in which the renowned atheist* astoundingly confesses,  “For a long time I have found the materialist account of how we and our fellow organisms came to exist hard to believe, including the standard version of how the evolutionary process works. I realize that such doubts will strike many people as outrageous, but that is because almost everyone in our secular culture has been browbeaten into regarding the reductive research program [about the origin of life] as sacrosanct, on the ground that anything else would not be science.” Nagle's critique of the view that science is confined to naturalistic explanations is his major heresy, from which flows his disbelief in neo-Darwinian evolution, for which he is being shunned. Nagel's work, despite its critical reception, could be contributing to an inexorable paradigm shift in the philosophy of science.  

Read more about the reactions here.

* THOMAS NAGEL (B.A. Cornell 1958; B.Phil. Oxford 1960; Ph.D. Harvard 1963), University Professor, Professor of Philosophy, Professor of Law. He specializes in Political Philosophy, Ethics, Epistemology, and Philosophy of Mind. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, and a Member of the American Philosophical Society, and has received Guggenheim, N.S.F., and N.E.H. Fellowships, a Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award in the Humanities, the Rolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy, the Balzan Prize in Moral Philosophy, and honorary degrees from Oxford, Harvard, and the University of Bucharest. He is the author of The Possibility of Altruism (Oxford, 1970, reprinted Princeton, 1978), Mortal Questions (Cambridge, 1979), The View From Nowhere (Oxford, 1986), What Does It All Mean? (Oxford, 1987), Equality and Partiality (Oxford, 1991), Other Minds (Oxford, 1995), The Last Word (Oxford, 1997), The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice (with Liam Murphy) (Oxford, 2002), Concealment and Exposure (Oxford, 2002), and Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament (Oxford 2010).

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Is the Pope a Catholic?

For years now I've disagreed with the many  Lutherans I've come across - from folk in the pews to seminary professors - who argue that the Roman Catholic Church has changed in a fundamental way since Vatican II. They point to cosmetic changes like the introduction of the vernacular language in the Mass (btw, the Latin Mass is back) and the removal of statues of Mary and the saints to the backs of churches (btw, they're coming back to the front) and more weighty ecumenical developments like the  Catholic-Lutheran 'Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification'. But I demur. Granted, there were some shifts of emphasis announced at that Council, but they were organic developments of classic Roman Catholic doctrine (particlarly in the area of ecclesiology and salvation for those 'outside the church', where Rome simply extended the boundaries of the church and its authority to include other Christians and even non-Christians), not fundamental changes in the doctrines that divided Western Christendom at the time of the Reformation/Counter-Reformation. If you don't believe me, just note how many times the Council of Trent is referenced in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church. Rome remains semper eadem - ever the same.

Exhibit # 1: the new Pope, Francis (Jorge Bergoglio). Here is the text of his address to the faithful from the balcony of St Peter's:

Brothers and sisters good evening.
You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals have come almost to the ends of the earth to get him… but here we are. I thank you for the welcome that has come from the diocesan community of Rome.
First of all I would say a prayer pray for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI.. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord bless him and Our Lady protect him.
Our Father…
Hail Mary…
Glory to the Father…
And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood. My hope is that this journey of the Church that we begin today, together with help of my Cardinal Vicar, be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.
And now I would like to give the blessing, but first I want to ask you a favour. Before the bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your prayer for me – in silence.
[The Protodeacon announced that all those who received the blessing, either in person or by radio, television or by the new means of communication receive the plenary indulgence in the form established by the Church. He prayed that Almighty God protect and guard the Pope so that he may lead the Church for many years to come, and that he would grant peace to the Church throughout the world.]
[Immediately afterwards Pope Francis gave his first blessing Urbi et Orbi – To the City and to the World.]
I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.
Brothers and sisters, I am leaving you. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and I will be with you again soon.
We will see one another soon.
Tomorrow I want to go to pray the Madonna, that she may protect Rome.
Good night and sleep well!

Note the claim to universal jurisdiction over the church. Note the prayers to Mary (even for her protection of Rome). Note the plenary indulgence, which grants the remission of the temporal punishment (i.e. in purgatory) due for all sin at that particular time, granted out of the treasury of merits of Christ and the saints (note well what I call the Roman "and" - Christ and Mary and the saints, faith and works, scripture and tradition, which reflects the synergism that is at the heart of Rome's system), which merits the church dispenses by virtue of holding the power of the keys to heaven. It should be noted that the indulgence does not graciously release the pentitent from the debt of his sin, but provides him with the means of paying that debt. One may well ask, with Luther, why it is that if the Pope has this power he does not use it more often?
Is the Pope a Catholic? 
You bet!
And the Reformation is not over either.

Note to non-Australian readers: I'm not sure how well the pun implied in my post title translates to other cultures. In Australia, if somone asks a question to which the answer is an obvious "Yes!", the respondent might instead reply, "Is the Pope a Catholic?"

Monday, 11 March 2013

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Sic transit gloria mundi - Thus passes worldly glory...

Reported from the US (italics mine):

"The once prestigious and now nearly bankrupt National Council of Churches [NCC] is quitting its famous New York headquarters built with largesse from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and whose cornerstone was laid by President Dwight Eisenhower. Down to a handful of staffers, the NCC will consolidate into the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C [in the basement of said building, to be precise -MH]...Such demise for the NCC could not have been foreseen in 1960 when the Interchurch Center, once called the “Protestant Vatican on the Hudson,” first opened on the upper west side of Manhattan next to Grant’s Tomb and Columbia University. More specifically the “God Box,” which originally housed dozens of denominational offices, is next door to architecturally magnificent Riverside Church, also built by the Rockefellers, and Union Seminary, collectively representing the once formidable but now faded power of Mainline Protestantism.
At the Interchurch Center’s 1960 dedication, a German Lutheran bishop presciently warned against the “institutionalization” of churches, noting that a beautiful building and organization were of “no avail without true faith.” Initially the NCC occupied four floors of the 19 story, $21 million imposing midrise that overlooks the Hudson River. The Methodists, Presbyterians, American Baptists, and Reformed Church in America, among others, also based their offices there. His father having recently died, John D. Rockefeller III was present at the dedication to honor the Interchurch Center as the fulfillment of his father’s dream of a new Christianity without denominational distinctions. Although he didn’t then specify it, the Rockefellers also dreamed of a uniformly liberal Protestantism devoted to good works instead of doctrine. The elder Rockefeller donated the land for the Interchurch Center plus over $2.6 million for costs.
Ironically, nearly all the Mainline denominations housed there would begin their nearly 50-year membership decline just a few years later. A sanitized Protestantism without doctrine or distinctions simply became too boring to sustain. In the early 1960s, about one of every six Americans belonged to the seven largest Mainline denominations. Today, it’s one out of every 15. ...mainstream, Mainline Protestantism ...began its decline into radicalism in the mid 1960s, mostly in reaction to the Vietnam War. No longer moored to a firm theology, groups like the NCC were easily susceptible to take-over by radical activists. And having tied themselves to American culture and modern secularism, they were ever anxious to stay abreast of the latest social and political fad, primarily from the perspective of New York-based elites.
Over the decades, even liberal Protestants tired at least of the expense of maintaining headquarters in New York. The Lutherans, Presbyterians, and United Church of Christ eventually quit the “God Box” for new digs in the Midwest, even as they continued their decline and liberal trajectory. The NCC, which once prided itself as the chief voice of American Protestantism, never recovered from the 1980s media revelations, led by Sixty Minutes, about its infatuation with Marxist liberation movements around the world. ..the NCC’s move from New York to Capitol Hill will divorce it even further from most of its church constituents and presage its eventual, quiet death. The arc of the NCC’s story showcases the rise and fall of liberal Protestantism in America. It’s a sad tale but also instructive for the more robust churches of today." From The American Spectator

There's certainly a timely message in this story for Lutheran churches struggling with their confessional identity yet eager for their messgae to be heard by the world - churches which point to the expansion of their schools and aged care homes as indicators of success in mission will not long survive the watering down of confessional identity.  Such things are "of no avail without true faith".

Thursday, 7 March 2013

A Response to David Schutz on the Crisis of Evil in the Roman Church

Erstwhile Lutheran brother come Roman Catholic apologist (and I mean no disrespect by my usual discription of David; I have a lot of respect for him although, for the sake of his soul, I grieve over the path he has taken) has posted a reply to my post "End the Crisis, Please!". Taking a leaf out of David's book I've decided to make his comment and my reply a post in itself, lest it be lost in the comboxes. David makes some fairly strong accusations that I believe need rebuttal. [pic: Hercules Clearing the Augean Stables]
David wrote:
"I don't know who else reads your blog, Pastor Mark, but you have at least one reader, and I don't mind discussing this matter on your blog as well as mine.

One reason that I don't talk about the abuse crisis much on my blog (and there are plenty of Catholic blogs where it is the only thing they talk about) is that I don't think much is gained by blogging endlessly about it.

Your idea that the instances of abuse arise from something systemic in the Church is not original. As you point out, there are many who share this idea - including members, priests and some bishops in the Catholic Church.

I usually find, however, that those who argue in this way have some other agenda in play. The argument goes like this:

There is disproportionately high instance of abuse in the Catholic Church,
therefore there must be something in the Catholic system which is the cause of this abuse,
I identify X as the cause (completely incidentally, I happen not to like X and have always wished that the Catholic Church would do away with it) therefore I cite the abuse crisis as the result of X and call upon those in authority in the Catholic Church to do away with X.

Now, X could be anything from the celibacy of priests (eg. Paul Collins), to the all male priesthood, to the priesthood itself (Gary Wills is a good case in point here) - or the Pope, or the Bishops, or indeed the Church itself.

I am sick of commentators using the abuse crisis as their opportunity to push their own particular agendas on the Church.

In this way, the real crisis goes unaddressed and a whole lot of pet causes get more airing than they should.

In the mean time, there is very little that I can do about it. Stupidly, perhaps naively, I actually trust that the Church herself, precisely through the systems of authority that exist in the Church (properly exercised) still remains the best means for eradicating this evil. This is why the crisis is a very central part of the conversation currently taking place among the Cardinals in their general congregation at the moment.

In the mean time, the fact that the governance of the church is none of my affair, I remain happily free to continue to take great joy in belonging to the Church, and sharing that joy with all who will receive it.
Wednesday, 06 March, 2013"

Blogger          I reply (revised and expanded from my original):
"Thanks for your comment, David. And for reading my blog. Guests at the old manse are a rather studious bunch who seem to do more reading than commenting, which is just as well since I don't have time to moderate intense discussions - or perhaps I just don't write much that is worthy of comment ;0).

Now, as to your complaint that commenters on the Catholic sexual abuse crisis use the crisis to push their own agendas: I've no doubt that is the case. But that doesn't mean they are being disingenuous or that their arguments don't have merit. You are not doing them justice by maintaining this line - deal, if you can, with their arguments but best leave their motives to their own conscience.

I would never say you are stupid, David, but yes, I think you are naive to rely on the Roman hierarchy - as presently constituted - to address the crisis. The Cardinal O'Brien affair reveals why. If the reports are credible, and I believe they are given the Vatican's own refusal to deny them, the Vatican sat on a complaint against the Cardinal for 5 months and apparently sent a  cardinal (Mark Oullett, considered by informed commentators to be a front-runner for the papacy) to negotiate a confidential settlement which would have enabled Cardinal O'Brien to retire "honourably" without the complaint going public. When the 'whispers in the loggia' reached the ears of other alleged victims of the cardinal, they promptly did go public and the whole sordid affair was exposed. When will Rome learn? As I suggested in my previous post, it is impossible, given that this affair concerned a cardinal, that Pope Benedict was not aware of all this. What was he thinking?*
David, as you must know, if a credible complaint of a similar nature against a Lutheran Church of Australia pastor - even dating back many years - were received he would be stood down immediately (i.e. the same day) pending an investigation, utilising competent outside investigators if the case merited it. This illustrates the difference between a church body that takes the possible presence of sexual offenders in its midst utterly seriously and one that is dragging the chain or in denial (btw, just yesterday I attended a meeting at which a lawyer - I gathered she was a practicing Anglican - employed by the LCA to oversee our development of 'Professional Standards' remarked that unlike the Roman Catholics we do not have a problem with sexual offenders in the LCA's ministry. Why do you think that is?).

I don't believe the inability of the Vatican to deal effectively with the crisis is just due to ethical obtuseness or rank moral corruption (i.e., that so many in the Curia may, directly or indirectly, be implicated in similar offences that they cannot afford to clean house without the whole house falling down), as some commentators argue, but that there is also a very significant theological dimension to the crisis, as I have noted in a previous post. Lutherans, as you might remember, have a habit of looking for the doctrinal angle in any issue; for us doctrine and life are as inter-related as marrow and bone.
One does not have to be acting disingenuously to make such claims. In fact, David, to question others' motives in such a way -"they are just enemies of the church" - as even papabile cardinals  (i.e., for my non-Catholic readers, these are the favourites to be elected Pope) have reportedly done recently, seems to me very much a part of the continuing problem the Vatican has in dealing with the crisis of evil in their midst, of which I very much fear that we have only seen the tip - just wait until India and Africa are exposed. 
David, your declared intention to imitate an ostrich on this matter is also historically part of the  problem. Thank God - and I mean that quite literally - for the sake of justice for past victims and protection of the presently vulnerable, for those not so docile Catholic laity who are attempting to hold the bishops accountable. This is an entirely proper calling for the laity under these circumstances. Whatever your theological differences with some of them may be, I urge you to consider joining their ranks and working actively for the purification of your church body from the evil that infects it even, apparently, to the highest levels. You say that as a layman you are not responsible for the administration of the church, but this is not just an administrative crisis, it is primarily a spiritual crisis. I put it to you that to do nothing in this crisis when one is in a position to do something beyond praying about it (which is, as always, our first recourse), is a sin of omission. 
* This is one reason why critics of the Roman church on this matter refer to the crisis as "systemic"; the Roman system of church administration (from the papacy at the top down to the celibate clerical caste and the notionally docile laity at the bottom) is based squarely upon (erroneous) theological/doctrinal foundations which both foster and perpetuate the incidence of sexual offending against minors and others by clergy and religious. A good place to begin the necessary reform, then, would be to open up the papal dogma to the light of historical-theological inquiry. Of course, to do this would bring the whole Roman edifice there a Hercules waiting in the wings to clean out the Augean stables of Rome? 
A Roman Catholic moral theologian makes pretty much the same points I have, even going so far as to call the O'Brien affair a "failure of ecclesiology": 
HT Another reader of the blog!

Updates 11 March, 2013:
         "There is a kind of opinion that is an easy way of ridding (society) of the issue of pedophilia     by putting it on the Church," Andre Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris, told AFP in an interview.
"We shouldn't be duped. It's easy because that prevents asking the question within society itself," said Vingt-Trois, 70, one of the 115 cardinals set to elect the next pope in a conclave starting tomorrow."

The liberals play dirty. The allegations against Cardinal Pell, who I believe is a man of integrity, were found to be not proven by a retired Victorian supreme court judge engaged by the church to investigate (Pell stood down for the duration of the inquiry - a good example, btw, of how the church should handle such allegations).  The cardinal's own management of the crisis in his former diocese, however, has drawn criticism.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Why the Lutheran Reformation is Not Over (Although Some Think it Is)

"the Renaissance...must be understood as the great secular countermovement against the attempt of the Middle Ages to build a Christian world. This attempt, like all similar ones in later times, ended not in the Christianization of the world but in the secularization of the Church. The world did not become Church; rather, the Church became world. The Reformation was in its deepest nature an attempt to save the Church from that destiny."

Hermann Sasse, in Sin and Forgiveness in the Modern World: Reflections on the approaching the 450th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Christianity Today, 11, March 3, 1967, p5.
Anyone who has read John Carroll's very interesting book The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisited will recognise that his view of the Reformation, set in a broad brush survey of the decline of western Christendom, exactly matches Sasse's contention that the Reformation was in its deepest nature an attempt to save the church from being secularised. I would contend that the Roman church is a sort of fatal compromise in this endeavour - Sasse's "Church become world". The crux of the differences between the distinctly Roman version of Christianity (which officially begins with Trent) and the Lutheran (and I suggest they are finally irreconcilable and competing versions) can be found in theological anthropology - how man is estimated.
Of course, Roman Catholics, even theologically educated and aware Catholics, seldom understand the differences here; we must increasingly ask whether Lutherans do either. It is revealing, for example, that an attempt was made to reach agreement on the doctrine of justification without first agreeing on theological anthropology. That, subsequently, a number of Lutheran pastors/theologians converted to Rome citing JDDJ as resolving the central issue of the Reformation confirms my suspicions that contemporary Lutherans are in danger of a kind of doctrinal reductionism, forgetting or not being aware that the doctrine of justification is like a brilliant jewel set within a cluster of jewels that serve to support and highlight it. Remove it from that cluster and its brilliance is diminished. Luther's saying that the church stands or falls according to the doctrine of justification is true, but the Lutheran doctrine of justifiction itself stands on its explication of the scriptural doctrine of man. It is not for nothing that Luther regarded The Bondage of the Will as his most important work.        

End the Crisis, Please!

Over at Sentire Cum Ecclesia, erstwhile Lutheran brother come Roman Catholic apologist David Schutz has admitted, in response to my suggestion that he was in denial over it*, that there is a crisis in his church brought about by the sexual sins of priests. David asks if his admission makes me happy.

Of course it doesn't.

What would make me happy is for the Roman Catholic hierarchy, which claims to be the successor to the Apostles not just in terms of historical descent but in authority and juridical power in the church, to face up to and end the crisis.

I make this plea - for what it is worth, coming from an obscure Lutheran pastor on the margins of church life - in light of revelations today that the Vatican has known of allegations of improper sexual conduct against Scottish cardinal Keith O'Brien (not against minors, but against young adults over whom he had authority, although the complainants were under the age of consent and sodomy was still a criminal offence in Scotland at the time the offences are alleged to have been committed) for 5 months and appears only to have acted, by bringing forward his retirement, when these allegations became known to the press.

If that is indeed the case, it is prima facie evidence that the past practice of covering up the sexual sins and even crimes of clergy continues in the Roman Catholic Church and extends all the way to the recently retired Pope, Benedict XVI, who must have known of these allegations against a cardinal (Cardinal O'Brien has, in the last 24 hours, admitted his guilt in these matters in a somewhat mealy-mouthed apology).

As I have written before, the repercussions from this on-going crisis do not just affect the Roman Catholic Church; to some extent all of us in Christian ministry are affected, no matter how much we try to disassociate ourselves from the Roman Catholic Church (for example, I no longer wear a clerical collar in public because where I live it signifies that I am a Roman priest and in the general public's eye anything I say and do is likely to be viewed through the prism of the sexual abuse crisis).

The Roman Catholic hierarchy, because of the unique, top-down polity of the Roman church, has the power to end the crisis. The question is, does it have the will to do so?

I'll give the last word to American ex-Catholic journalist and blogger Rod Dreher, who left the Catholic Church in despair over the complicity of American bishops in the crisis, who writes:

" is time for the secrets and lies to end. Just end it. The Christian Church — Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant — has no credibility to preach orthodox Christian sexuality to a world remade by the Sexual Revolution, when its own pastors, especially bishops and other senior leaders, exempt themselves from those teachings. Authority and credibility are not the same thing, but in our time, the Church’s authority, in practical terms, depends on the credibility of its ministers. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, if the cardinals going into the conclave don’t understand how sexual corruption in the clerical and bishops’ ranks is devastating the Church’s witness, they will only condemn themselves and the Church they serve to more mockery and more irrelevance. And: if they think the O’Brien revelations are the last of their kind, they’re dreaming. More is coming."

From today's UK Guardian newspaper: "Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, who stepped down as Archbishop of Westminster in 2009, insisted that issues such as O'Brien's behaviour and the abuse of children by other Catholic clergy was due to the weakness of individuals rather than any structural or institutional failings by the church."
Extraordinary! Let's hope the gathered cardinals in Rome aren't thinking along those discredited lines.

* I suggested this because when reports of sexual improprieties by members of the Roman Curia (i.e. priests and possibly bishops and even cardinals) were dominating the news following Benedict's resignation, swiftly followed by the allegations against Cardinal O'Brien becoming public, David and all other Catholic bloggers I looked at seemed to be studiously avoiding the issue. Indeed, David was preoccupied with what title the retired Pope would be given. That struck me as a remarkable attempt to imitate an ostrich.