There are a few Lutherans speaking about a possible Lutheranorum Coetibus, following upon Anglicanorum Coetibus. Few means precisely 151 hits for “lutheranorum coetibus” in google search — everything all told since Anglicanorum Coetibus – some of those hits being occasioned by Lutherans. If even just two or three of the Lutheran mentions are positive, we might have hope for some true dialogue as sparked by the Emeritus Pope of Christian Unity, Benedict XVI, and this always with an eye to Jesus, who is Truth, not compromised truth, but Him who is Truth.
Unfortunately, the discussion is often immediately and unnecessarily glued to the 1999 JOINT DECLARATION ON THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church.
I was in Rome at the time this “paper” was being developed and then signed, not by the Catholic Church, as the rather brave title would suggest, but by the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, which does not — it has to be said — represent the specifically Papal Magisterium, however much it is a Pontifical Council. I followed the progress of the discussions and was able to make some unofficial and yet effective interventions. And yet…
The overall result was very disappointing to me. I was not alone in this either on the Catholic or Lutheran side. The document seems to be nothing more than a rationalization for Luther’s preface for Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, though all the hype on this has it that we’ve all moved beyond the early days of the “Reformation”. Though there are many who went along with this “paper”, quite a few did not, and quite a few did so only under protest, even saying quite flatly that they disagreed with fundamental parts of the declaration, calling them misrepresentations and errors of fact and theology.
We can do better, and that was later admitted quite openly. So, lets not be fundamentalists regarding this document. Let’s see if we can move beyond it by digging the foundations in understanding all the more deeply. I hate building on things that so obviously have to be knocked down in order to produce something more substantial. Most people despise being thrown out of complacent mode and told that their work of a life-time needs revision, even though they’ve boldly proclaimed that revision is what it is all about. But, again, this needs more than revision. We need to ask some tough questions. And we don’t need to go into protectionist fear mode.
Luther, in his re-write of Romans 3,28, is consistent with what he writes in the preface for that Letter of Saint Paul. He is so taken by protesting that his unwitting misunderstanding of all that is Catholic and of the true faith, that instead of explicating what is in Saint Paul, he falls into the very error which he is condemning. He would have the works of faith be a consequence of the faith, though ever so very much united to the faith as “burning and shining from fire.” That sounds effervescent and all very nice, ever so attractive, though it is the root of all “Reformation” heresies, ironically placing an emphasis on works of the law instead of on justification, ultimately putting pressure on souls to prove they’ve been saved, an engine driving Protestant depression or rationalization for sin, the old predestination no-matter-what knee-jerk reaction to error, answering error with more error.
Here’s the truth of the matter, by which the heresy is obviated: Justification in faith provides a lived charity by which, with one and the self-same supernatural action, one loves God and neighbor simultaneously, loving Jesus, the Head of the Mystical Body as well as the members of that Mystical Body, not one before, the other after, but at the same time, with the same act of love, for the Body of Christ, Head and members, is not to be divided into a before and after, first a decapitated head and only afterward the flailing members. That would be rather grotesque, no? Did not Jesus say that what you have done to the least of these you have done to me? Did not Jesus ask Saul (not yet Paul): “Why are you persecuting me?”
The Joint Declaration has this: “By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.” That doesn’t cut it. That’s as sharply Martin Luther of the early days of the “Reformation” as it possibly could be. This very sentence was singled out, mind you, years later, by both the new head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the Luther Federation. This very sentence is the greatest work of their lives.
In fact, one head of that Council said that when he goes to heaven and our Lord asks him what he’s done in life, he will proudly say that he signed this declaration to say this. Our Lord might sigh. You remember the old story of Saint Jerome wanting to give Jesus his newly refurbished Vulgate Bible, and Jesus responded that He didn’t want that as a gift, but rather that Jerome confess his sins.
That’s what we can do, by the grace of Jesus, truth be told, and that’s a perfect gift to Jesus. It’s the only way He can forgive us and drag us into heaven, so roughly, mind you, that we will loose hold of all that we thought were… you know… good works. The supernaturally given charity of the supernaturally given faith justifies. Jesus is just that good and just that kind.
Another difficult question I should like to ask my Lutheran friends (and my paternal grandmother was Lutheran, by the way), is how it is that Luther could possibly say that our souls are like a steaming dung heap, even in heaven, so that we are never truly redeemed, truly sanctified, but are simply declared sanctified — in all Islamicist Ottoman Empire fashion of Reformation times — all very external, juridical, as cold as the snow-like cloak that Luther says covers that dung heap of our souls in heaven, dung covered by Jesus’ declaration, so that our Heavenly Father only sees glistening, bright snow, so very nice, but all a lie.
Luther couldn’t wrap his mind around the effects of original sin, weakness of mind and will, emotions all over the place, sickness, death. It was all too much for him. He thought that temptation was itself a sin. How depressing. What a way to throw oneself into despair. The only way for Him to continue, he thought, was to insult the effectiveness of our Lord’s redemption.
Of course, everyone but everyone goes through such a phase, hopefully passing through this, you know, getting all worried that because of temptation of any kind, be it sexual, be it with impatience, whatever… getting all worried that because of that temptation, one is not making any progress in the spiritual life, but is instead falling away, far away from Christ Jesus.
But Jesus didn’t save us by making us stronger in this life. In justice we have to suffer through the freely chosen effects of the freely chosen original sin. But these nasty things will fall away in heaven. Our strength in this world must be Jesus Himself, our union with Him, which He provides. His strength is perfected, is manifested in our weakness. His grace is sufficient for us.
It is in receiving this grace with humility, in seeing how much He has done for us, that we instantly see how much He has loved all of us, how He is drawing us to Himself. We are then in humble thanksgiving, loving Him and our neighbor so loved by Him, all with the same act of love, no before or after, but simultaneously, for there is only one Body of Christ to love, Head and members.
How sad that the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, is lost to the Lutherans, who rejected Holy Orders, who rejected the Sacrifice of the Mass. We must be in anguish until our brothers come back to the fold. Even if they do not call us brothers, we call them brothers. So said Saint Augustine about the heretics of his day, and so must we all say today. Don’t forget, Luther was a one-time Catholic priest, who married a nun, but who had been an Augustinian.
We pray for our priests today, that they do not repeat Luther’s mistakes. We pray for the Lutherans to demand Lutheranorum Coetibus.
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Luther liked to throw insults round about, using animals, as the German speaking crowd are wont to do. He called the Pope a Papstesel, Pope-Jackass. “Papstesel mit langen Eselsohren und verdammtem Lügenmaul. (Pope-Jackass with long donkey ears and damned lies.
Yes, well, just remember, Benedict XVI called himself that Jackass, in such humility. Perhaps our Lutheran friends will stop laughing when they realize that donkeys are always right in there with the Holy Family. Always. A good place to be. And if Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is proud to be a Pope-Jackass now Emeritus, now a hermit, this simple priest, now a hermit, is also happy to be a papist Jackass. Perhaps we are all wont to be Jackasses, who, as Augustine says, carry Christ. Perhaps we are all happy to have that blanket of snow cover us, but also purify us inside out, so that we are no longer dung heaps, but rather truly the beloved of Jesus and our Heavenly Father, on fire with the love of the Holy Spirit. I think so. Call it ad orientem snow.