Sunday, May 10, 2009

Catholicity - Good and Ill

We at Gottesdienst love the Church's historic liturgy and ceremonies because they preach Christ and do so beautifully and meaningfully across time and cultures. Folks who feel this way about liturgy and decorous ceremony are used to be accused of being "too Catholic." The hurlers of what is meant to be an insult intend to paint us with the Papal brush. Yet, like Caiaphas, they say more than they intend.

Those who would live out the Church's liturgy and ceremony will indeed look Catholic - because the liturgy expresses the catholicity of the faith over time and place. The papal party also "looks Catholic" in this regard - and that should be a reason for rejoicing, not sorrow, as this well-worn quotation from Walther indicates:

It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American denominations just so they won't accuse us of being Roman Catholic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them? (At the 16th General Convention, 1871)

Thus, one thing that the catholicity of the faith means is that we honestly rejoice where Christian unity is expressed and shared even across lines of division. We have something to rejoice over when the Episcopal priestess still intones the Creed. And we have something to rejoice about when the papist priest still says, "The Body of Christ, given for you."

And, as Fr. Beane so eloquently put it some time back, the catholicity of the Church also means that we all have cause to feel much sorrow as well.

All this came to mind this weekend as I read of the current pope's visit to Jordan. While we Lutherans have rightly rejected the pope's extravagent and anti-biblical claims of authority, with Melanchthon we're going to have to admit the facts on the ground: de jure humano and worldwide acclamation the pope remains, in a very real sense, the chief public voice of Christianity - like it or lump it.

And so it is to be mourned by all Christians that the pope spoke these words at a meeting with Muslim leaders at a mosque in Amman:

Muslims and Christians, precisely because of the burden of our common history so often marked by misunderstanding, must today strive to be known and recognized as worshippers of God faithful to prayer, eager to uphold and live by the Almighty’s decrees.

No cause for Schadenfreude - not unless you thought this was.

You can read everything in context here. Does any of that sound familiar? And here is the dark side of catholicity. Since we have a share in the same faith, we share the same Enemy. What the pope said in Jordan (and what his predecessor did above) flows from the same spirit of the age syncretism that has infested the statements of many modern Lutheran prelates as well - both within the LCMS' circles and without.

And so it goes. Read that Fr. Beane article again.


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