27 August 2011

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

We have not separated from the church catholic.  The Donatists said that the church had perished from the entire earth.  We say, on the contrary, that the church has always continued and will endure forever.  Consequently, we not only acknowledge that the church has been preserved under the papacy in earlier times, we also profess that the church is still being gathered to God by a loud voice in the middle of Rome.  The Donatists enclosed the church within the borders of Africa alone... But we believe and confess that the church is catholic and universal.  The Papists should see if they can free themselves completely from the error of the Donatists because they say that all catholics have disappeared from the world except those alone who have remained in the party of the bishop of Rome. -- Blessed Johann Gerhard, *The Church* p. 184.


Terry Maher said...

Interesting in this context that the word "traitor" and "tradition" come from the same root, which means to hand something over.

During the severe persecutions of Diocletian against Christians, many Christian clergy had handed over Christian property and people to Roman authorities -- the handers-over were called traditores.

One of these traditores, a certain Caecilian, came back to the church and ended up "bishop" of Carthage, consecrated by another traitor bishop, guy named Felix. But he was not accepted by many, who held that his actions as a traditor cut him off from the church and the faith and he would need to be re-baptised and re-ordained for any sacraments he performed to be valid.

So a guy named Majorinus became the non-traditor "bishop" but soon died and in 313 Donatus took his place as the "other" "bishop" of Carthage.

The controversy was resolved by the Empire, not the Church. Constantine ordered a council in Arles (France) to resolve matters, and the "Donatists" lost. It was decided there was insufficient evidence that Caecilian was a traditor, but more to the point, that it was not conclusive that his ordination by a bishop (Felix) who was therefore made the ordination invalid.

So it had nothing to do with the borders of Africa, but rather the nature of the sacraments, including ordination, and whether something is imparted in these sacraments which no later action, including handing over people and property to persecutors, could erase.

Which, for as often as a supposed similarity with the Reformation is noted, makes its applicability re the Reformation shaky at best. The Donatists' loss was a victory for the permanent character of the sacrament of ordination, not the universality of the church against the "party of Rome".

This echoes even in our own day, where for example Rome holds Eastern Orthodox priests and bishops, though not "in the party of Rome", to be nonetheless valid priests and bishops because of their proper ordination in apostolic succession even apart from the "party of Rome", and for example the bishops ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre, also outside the "party of Rome" are nonetheless real bishops because of the character of apostolicly succeeded ordination, illicit but not invalid. Whereas those outside of that apostolic succession, or who maintain no such thing exists, don't ordain nobody to nuttin whether they call them priests and bishops or not.

William Weedon said...

Yup. Gerhard was definitely just getting a polemical jab, but I thought it rather wonderful for showing how the early Lutherans most certainly thought of themselves as catholics. Period.

The whole force of the Donatist controversy as it came into Lutheranism, of course, is the affirmation that the moral failings of the man in the office do not have the power to annul the sacraments he administers. For that, my friend, you may be QUITE grateful!

Terry Maher said...

I think it sidesteps matters when we go on about how the early Lutherans, or we ourselves, think of ourselves as catholic.

They did, and we do. What is controversial is, what is "catholic". The Confessions offer a different take on that than Rome or Constantinople does. That's the point; some of what they offer as catholic flatly is not, it is Catholic and derives from the Roman Imperial institution of the "Catholic Church".

Our confusion about this leads to mooning and spooining about all the smells and bells and churchy looking stuff they have on the one hand, and a revulsion toward same on the other, and both reactions miss the point.

The main force of the loss by the Donatists is not solely that the sacraments are independent of the character of their minister, but includes too a different understanding than ours of the nature and number of the sacraments. We claim our understanding is the truly catholic one, not the one that would be enshrined a few decades later in the proclamation of the "Catholic Church", whose edict also says anything else is not truly a church at all.

IOW, it is the "Catholic Church" which departs from the church catholic, not us.

William Weedon said...

And that, of course, is Gerhard's very point. I have thought several times as I am reading along: "I wonder what Terry would say about THAT?" It's really the best book of his that I've read so far - and that is saying A LOT. He has by the point of this quote already demonstrated that the true understanding of the church catholic is that it is the total number of God's elect children, embracing those already gathered home, those on pilgrimage yet, those yet to come. And because it always involves the church triumphant it is never "visible" until that final day when the whole shall be seen - as described in Revelation. Anywho, really, really good stuff in here.

William Weedon said...

I should have said: never completely visible until the last day - and the fact that there are always hypocrites in the gathered assemblies makes it also impossible to "see."

William Weedon said...

By the bye, Terry, he also cites from a pre-Reformation document - the Synodal epistle from the Council of Basel, where the expression occurs:

"...squandered and lost possession of the temporal property of the Roman church *and all other particular churches.*" (p. 162)

I find that fascinating, because I would love to know the origin of this term "particular church" and how far back it goes. Quenstedt makes use of it when he distinguishes the church militant as either universal or particular; and notes that particular can be diocesan (in a certain realm), provincial (in a certain city or region), or domestic (in a certain house). I had wondered if the Lutherans had come up with the terminology and was intrigued to see that they had not. Any clue about "particular churches" in medieval use?

Terry Maher said...

Typically, intramural Roman usage of "church" means a validly consecrated bishop with his priests and their flock.

For example, if I were still RC -- a thought I shall try to entertain for a moment without barfing -- while I might conversationally say I am Catholic, Roman Catholic, belong to the Catholic Church etc, but technically and literally that is not true; I would be a member of the church of the Archdiocese of Omaha which is in communion with the church of Rome and its bishop, aka pope, in succession from Peter.

Likewise the EO, they are valid and true churches, and the problem is not a question of that but their communion with Rome. Thus the Great Schism of 1054 is just that, a schism within the church overall, whereas the Reformation is a split from it into numerous bodies which are not really churches at all, the current softer term being "ecclesial unions".

In the quoted usage, the reference is what is to-day called diocese. the term coming from Diocletian's administrative units of the Roman Empire of which the "bishops" became officers after the state church was defined. A priest must be granted "faculties of the diocese" to licitly function in another diocese rather than under the bishop of whose full priesthood he represents part.