Thursday, February 28, 2013

On the abdication of the Bishop of Rome

A very thoughtful piece by Prof. Stephenson. We are not likely to see another pope with such a great understanding of and appreciation for the Lutheran confession. For our part Ratzinger's greatest legacy must surely be the promise of dialogue with specifically confessional Lutherans. What will come of it, God only knows - but how refreshing it is for Rome to recognize that there are Lutherans-who-have-abandoned-their-ancient-confession) and then again there are just plain Lutherans.



  1. It is always embarrassing to read in various places the kind of rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth, condemnations of all and anything Roman Catholic, sometimes real, but often imagined, confusing what is uniquely Roman Catholic with what is simply part of the tradition and history of the Church in the West, that Lutheranism never abandoned.

    It is particularly something that makes once cringe when such irresponsible and ignorant rhetoric comes from so-called “confessional Lutherans” who should be able, better than any other non-Roman Catholic, to know precisely where, and how, we must, for the sake of the Gospel, depart from the Roman Catholic Church and ever stand in a state of ongoing confession over against the grave errors bound up and with the institution of the Papacy, and where must, for the sake of the Gospel itself, recognize that the Gospel is still very much still heard and spread and shared within the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps nowhere more notably than in the Mass itself where the actual and real presence of the body and blood of Christ is still upheld and the people hear, at every Mass, the great “for you” that is at the very heart of the Gospel. And at that very moment the Mass is being offered as a “representation” of the Sacrifice of Christ, indeed, still a propitiatory act by which man offers something to God to make satisfaction for sins. Such contradiction! Such a deep mystery of error. Thus is the spirit of the Antichrist to be located, to this day, in the Papacy. This is the ever and ongoing tension with which Lutheranism must grapple with when it comes to the Roman Catholic Church.

  2. As the Roman Church now finds itself with a Papal vacancy, in a remarkable event which saw the wholly voluntarily resignation by a sitting Pope, the first time in well over 600 years, or even more, depending on how you consider this situation, we as Lutherans need carefully once more to assess our confessional stand over against the Papacy as the very presence of Antichristian evil within the Church itself. Some so-called “Lutherans” have long ago abandoned any such careful reflection on the Papacy and sober evaluation in their breathless race toward ecumenical compromise with Rome. Rome however does not change. It can not change its core doctrinal assertions about the Papacy, which are entirely antithetical to the Dominical institution of the Church itself, and Her Gospel ministry of preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments as Christ’s instituted them. Simply put, there is no such thing as a “Universal Pontiff.” Jesus Christ did not found His Church on Peter and did not, to Peter, give the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. The claims made ever more grander through the early centuries of the Church by the Bishop of Rome are contrary to the very word of Jesus Christ Himself and to the Apostolic witness of Sacred Scripture.

    Any Lutheran who is actually cognizant of the Lutheran claim to be nothing less than the faithful continuation of the earliest Apostolic Church, and particularly its expression in the West, can not but remain deeply pained at the errors within the Roman Communion, a Church body with which we find ourselves sharing so much, and yet, differing with so much at the very point of the essential assertion of the free grace of God, received and given by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone. This fundamental and essential difference between our two churches is a source of deep grief for all those who love the Church. Those who have no such feelings are simply placing themselves into the camp of sectarianism.

    So, what are we to make of the Papacy? Herman Sasse wrote a letter to Lutheran pastors. In the letter Sasse wisely notes the unique contributions the Papacy makes to the proclamation of the Gospel in the world, but then cautions against the enthusiasm that had already taken hold in his day, of regarding the Roman Church as somehow fundamentally changed in its doctrinal assertions concerning the Gospel and the Lord’s Supper. He counters claims made by Hans Asmussen in 1949, so in this lengthy quote, you will read about Asmussen’s claims and Sasse’s refutations of them. These words could well have been written last week!

  3. Thus Sasse in his letter Is the Pope Really Still the Antichrist? from 1949. Quote from Sasse starts …. now.

    “No one can deny that things have changed in those churches which were once churches of the Reformation. In this the Catholic assessment is altogether correct. Now, however, we must also ask whether something has changed in the Roman Church. This question was raised by the Evangelicals, and Hans Asmussen was among the first to answer yes. Again the evidence as put by Fechter:

    “Just about this time Niemöller’s old friend, Hans Asmussen, began to give a series of lectures in the neighbouring parish of Lichterfelde on the subject of the Roman Church, during which he dealt with the Augsburg Confession in order to show to what extent it was still valid. His conclusions, which appeared in book form, are to be found in his recently published commentary on the papal encyclical Mediator Dei. (p. 534f.)

    “Asmussen’s publications here referred to are Why Still a Lutheran Church? A Conversation with the Augsburg Confession of 1949, and Lord’s Supper and Mass: What Pius XII Teaches of the Lord’s Supper in His Encyclical Mediator Dei, also in 1949. We cannot discuss these now; that will have to wait for another time. Until then just a few words regarding Asmussen’s remarkable conversion to Lutheranism. Would that it were a real conversion to the church of his fathers! He wrote:

    “We are often asked why altar fellowship with the Reformed is not something to be taken as altogether self-evident. Whoever reads the encyclical Mediator Dei will have more understanding for this question. Here it becomes clear that while the Lutheran Church does have certain points in common with the Reformed in the celebration and practice of the Lord’s Supper, it is also clear, on the other hand, that the Lutheran Church approximates the Catholic practice and doctrine.. . . Whoever cares about the unity of the church fears nothing so much as anything wishy-washy. That is the most mischievous enemy of all true unity. The Lutheran Church speaks in two directions, and not only in one. It is in the last resort an idle question to ask to whom the Lutheran Church stands closer and to whom more distant. (Abendmahl und Messe, p. 10)

    “These sentences have to be read more than once to take in their full sweep. At least in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, the Lutheran Church is nearer to Rome than to the Reformed. We hear this from the same man who urged that whatever remains of the deceptive division from the Reformed ought now to be set aside by way of Barmen, the decisions regarding the Lord’s Supper made at the Halle synod, 23 and the “binding” conversations with the Reformed regarding the Lord’s Supper. This is the same man who a few years earlier, with the full applause of the Confessing Church, poured out the vessel of his mockery upon those “confessionalists” who opposed a general Protestant intercommunion. We should rejoice at every conversion, but quite without repentance there is no conversion, not even when that conversion is to Lutheranism. Perhaps there was here no returning home to the Lutheran Church. Perhaps it was only a frontal change in church politics. Perhaps Fechter is right when he explains Asmussen’s departure from his office as president of the Church Secretariat in 1948 “not only because he seemed too Lutheran but because he already seemed too ‘Catholic’ ” (p. 535).

  4. “Asmussen’s thesis runs as follows: the Roman Church of today is no longer what it was at the parting of the ways at the time of the Lutheran Reformation. Therefore the relationship between the Roman and the Lutheran Churches must be revised. He first tackled the revision of the relationship between the Lutheran and the Reformed Churches. Something new should be brought forth out of the “conversation” of the living church, which would move beyond the solidified positions, which he regarded as quite antiquated. Thereupon he tackled the far greater and more difficult task of revising the relationship between the Lutheran and the Roman Churches. Freedom from the entrenched situation, from the hopeless discussions of the past, was to be achieved by hopeful conversations which would replace the antiquated way of dealing with the questions by inquiring how the questions might be dealt with in ways appropriate to the new situation. This is in fact the same old pattern long espoused among the enthusiasts. The famous farewell words which Robinson spoke to the Pilgrim fathers provide a striking instance: “Luther and Calvin were great and shining lights in their time, but they did not penetrate the whole council of God. God will have new truths break forth from His Word.” Such was the hope of Barmen and Treysa. By and large this is also Asmussen’s hope: a union between Thomas and (with Luther it would not be so easy) Melanchthon. Not really a via media between the confessions, but something rather more like a lofty pathway in the airy heights that would lead over and beyond the Augsburg Confession and Trent.

    “It was not the case that Asmussen suddenly found nothing but good in Catholicism. The encyclical Mediator Dei receives both a benevolent and a vigorous and correcting critique. The pope is not only given praise but also blame. “It pains us to hear rumors here and there that in the Roman Church there are powerful efforts to expand the cult of Mary still further” (Abendmahl und Messe, p. 31). Is this enough to delay the proclamation of the ascension of Mary and the further dogmas of the mediatrix and whatever else may be in preparation? To his complaint about Mariolatry he adds this modification: “We know from within our own church such voices as would push us in dangerous directions. We know this most clearly out of the camp of the Reformed Church and her daughter churches.” The mariological heresy it appears is not so unique after all. He says many flattering things about what the pope says of the Mass, but there are also some earnest admonitions. On the whole the pope does not come off too badly. It can no longer be maintained, as it was at the time of the Reformation, that the sacrifice of the Mass is a perversion of the Sacrament of the Altar which turns it into something that man does.

    “When. . . the pope speaks repeatedly of sacrifice this must first of all be understood that in the Lord’s Supper Christ offers himself to the Father even as on Golgotha. The encyclical says that the Lord’s Supper. . . is a true and actual offering of a sacrifice whereby the divine High Priest, through an unbloody offering up of himself, does what he has already done on the cross. . . When the encyclical and. . . we younger Lutheran theologians of the present day. . . stand before the Lord’s Supper and are to express its meaning, we on both sides are intent upon one and the same thing. At this point we should now speak only of the sacrifice which Christ offered on Golgotha. This expresses a very far-ranging recognition. Twice in the encyclical we find the formula that in the Lord’s Supper we have before us “Christ in the condition of the sacrifice.” In his twice using this formula the pope has obviously said the decisive thing in what he had undertaken to say. If this is true, and if I understand it correctly, then at this central point there is no difference between us. (Abendmahl und Messe, p. 24f.)

  5. “That, however, is not to say that there do not remain any differences at all.

    “Our fathers protested passionately against the Roman doctrine that the Lord’s Supper is a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice. In the encyclical there are incidental expressions which are capable of being so interpreted. Thus the pope speaks of the “renewal” of the sacrifice of the cross. There can, however, be no doubt that his tendency is to view the sacrifice of the cross and the Lord’s Supper as one. (Abendmahl und Messe, p. 25)

    “These expositions have to be read many times to grasp how far-reaching they are. Luther’s anguish of conscience over the sacrifice of the Mass which he offered must then have been mistaken. It was no sacrifice offered by a man. Has Asmussen never read the Mass prayers? According to them, who does the offering? Has Asmussen never noticed what contradictions Trent gets entangled in when it attempts to show that two sacrifices (Christ’s and the priest’s, one at Golgotha and one on the altar) are one sacrifice. And has Asmussen ever given a thought to the fact that there is not a shadow of evidence in Scripture for calling the celebration of the Lord’s Supper a sacrifice? In the Lord’s Supper we are given what was once sacrificed on Golgotha, once and for all times in that once-for-all offering of the sacrifice of the cross.

    “It is impossible to pursue all the points here. The great error into which Asmussen has fallen is in his supposing that the Roman Church has changed. She cannot change herself. Her every doctrinal decision is, as Vatican I teaches, irreformable. It is no favor to the Roman Church, or to the Evangelical, to overlook this fact or to remain silent about it. Rome can interpret her formulations, but she cannot change them. It is mistaken then to arouse in people the hope that Rome will some day so transform the sacrifice of the Mass, the cult of Mary, and the papacy so that these things become acceptable to evangelical Christians. However many other interpretations are supplied, and these are said to belong also to the essence of the Mass, the Roman sacrifice of the Mass still remains a propitiatory sacrifice which the priest offers for the living and the dead. At the end of the Mass the priest prays for the acceptance of his sacrifice with the words: “Let the sacrifice be acceptable to You, which I, unworthy, have offered before the eyes of Your Majesty, and grant that of Your mercy it be propitiatory [propitiabile] for me and for all for whom I have offered it” (Sacramentary [New York: Benzinger, 1966], 315). It belongs to the essence of the Roman Catholic idea of Mary that she is not only the holy virgin and the mother of God but that she is also the co-redemptix and the mediatrix, mediator of all graces. It was she who in the name of mankind gave her consent to the work of redemption. It was she who offered her Son on Golgotha. This may be read in the pope’s conclusion to his encyclical Mystici Corporis. All that the Roman Church teaches about nature and grace, about reason and revelation, her entire dogma, is dominated by the thought of the working together of God and man in redemption. For this reason, as has been shown repeatedly by the great dogmatician Scheeben [1835– 88] in his publications regarding the Vatican Council, the doctrine of the infallible vicar of Christ is the crowning capstone in the structure of Roman Catholic dogma. All these doctrines give expression to this one great fundamental idea in Roman Catholic Christianity. It is simply impossible for us Lutherans, even with the best will in the world, to understand this, along with our reformer, as other than man putting himself in a place which belongs to God alone.

  6. “One can only think of the future of the Evangelical Churches of Germany with the profoundest sorrow should Asmussen’s assessment of Roman Catholicism find acceptance even as a possibility in Lutheran theology. We cannot bring ourselves to think this— though in German Protestantism what all has not been found possible?

    “In order not to be misunderstood, we affirm that we know ourselves to be so bound up with Christ’s church, which despite everything still also exists in the papal church. We also know ourselves to share a responsibility for the Christian people in other communions. We affirm the necessity of in-depth theological and churchly conversations between Lutherans and Catholics, and we participate in them whenever possible. Would that the churches really get to know each other so that they might learn again to speak with each other as they were able to do in those centuries when doctrine was still taken seriously. Such a conversation as Asmussen nowadays carries on with the pope we reject. It is really in fact only an Asmussen monologue in which he sets straight what the pope has said, and so brings it into agreement with his own thoughts and wishes. He is unaware of the fact that the pope does not discuss. That is beneath his dignity. He teaches, and he already knows quite well what he is teaching. He teaches the fundamental and unchangeable dogma of the Roman Church. This dogma is there in Trent’s profession of the faith: it stands in every catechism, and the Roman Church is committed to teach it until the end of the world. Here is the agenda for any realistic conversation with the Roman Church. Advances can come only as everything is tested by Scripture, and ever and again submitted to the judgment of Scripture. This goes, too, for all those formulations shaped by the pressures and ways of thinking of the passing day, and for the novel and adventitious ways of talking. Everything else is just talk that goes around and around and fails to engage the heart of the matter. Such talk can only end as did the expostulations of Bishop Fitzgerald of Little Rock in the last session of the Vatican Council. This opponent of the infallibility dogma threw himself down before the pope, and said, “Now I believe, Most Holy Father.”

    “The theme of this letter, honored brothers, is perhaps not of equal timeliness for all of you. After all, the dialogue between Rome and Protestantism is not happening everywhere to the degree which it is going on in Europe and especially in Germany. Some of you live in countries where Catholicism either pays no attention to the Evangelical churches or would sooner do anything else but enter a dialogue with them. What does one in Brazil or Argentina think of Asmussen’s optimism? But the problem which faces us is the great discussion of the Lutheran and the Roman churches also in this century, and which now has become one of the greatest themes in church history. We must be clear that our church has no greater, more serious, worthy, and at the same time dangerous opponent and dialogue partner than Rome. Of every other power which threatens the existence of our church, and which applies to the most powerful of all possible opponents, the following remains basic: Nubicula est transibit [“ It’s a little cloud. It will pass!”]. But this does not hold for Rome. Rome remains the great, unsolvable riddle of church history, which will only be unraveled by the Last Day. For us it is a mystery of Antichristendom; for the Catholics it is a mystery of the rule of Christ over the world. Whether or not a church and its theology are taken seriously depends upon the seriousness with it approaches this mystery.”

    Herman Sasse, “Letters to Lutheran Pastors – Volume 1“ (Kindle Locations 6919ff). Concordia Publishing. Kindle Edition.
    - See more at:

  7. Here are another couple more quotes from Hermann Sasse about the pope... as the Antichrist.

    “That there may be no doubt about our position, let it be clearly said: A theologian who merely because it happens to be in the Confessions lets the doctrine stand that the pope is the Antichrist, and is not solidly convinced that it is so, cannot truthfully be called a Lutheran.”

    “If there was any doubt on the part of some Lutherans as to the correctness of Luther’s judgment, then this was removed when Pius IX, with the consent of the Vatican Council, on 18 July 1870 promulgated the constitution Pastor aeternus. In it eternal salvation was denied to those who consciously oppose the dogma that the pope has the exercise of direct episcopal power over the whole church, over the infallibility with which Christ has equipped His church, and that his ex cathedra decisions in questions of faith and morals are, ‘of themselves, and not from the consensus of the church,’ true and irreformable (ex sese, non autem ex consensus Ecclesiae irreformabiles [Denzinger 3074]). And when the first of these new ex cathedra decisions was proclaimed—the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, in 1950, on All Saints’ Day, the day inseparably connected with the Reformation—the shock wave hit all Christendom. Here became visible something of the reality which Luther had recognized with deep dread—the reality of the man who puts himself in God’s place and proclaims his fantasies as divine revelation.
    Hermann Sasse, We Confess Anthology, Trans. Norman Nagel, St. Louis: CPH, 1999, pp. 118 and 120.

    HT: Stand Firm

  8. Governments should be forced by their people, especially Christians, to uphold the natural law. That's not imposing our morality, but rather holding governments accountable to what God has told them to do.



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