08 June 2009

That Horrid Word

"Catholic." Lutherans tend to be allergic to it, and none more than Lutheran converts from Rome! Yet the word itself which confronts most Lutherans on Trinity Sunday when the Athanasian Creed is confessed is actually defined in that Creed of the Church:

"And the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, neither confusing the Persons nor dividing the substance."

By this definition, Lutherans (and all other Trinitarian Christians) are CATHOLICS! And when we confess that Creed we confess that ONLY catholics are saved - for they alone are worshipping that God who alone is the true God, full of forgiveness, life, and salvation. He's the only one who CAN give eternal life.

And with that word comes an obligation - an obligation to set for the faith in its fullness. I am reminded of the remarkable words of Krauth:

"She should lead men, not to the least faith, the least holiness which makes salvation possible, but to the very highest - she should not encourage the religion whose root is a selfish fear of hell, a selfish craving of heaven, but she should plant that religion to which pure truth is dear for its own sake, which longs for the fullest illumination, which desires not the easy road, but the sure one." (Conservative Reformation, p. 191)

Such must be the aim of every Church which would be catholic, which would worship the One God in Three Persons and Three Persons in One God. It must of necessity lead people to the fullness that is in Christ Jesus - a faith not of minimals, but of maximals. A faith whose constitutive center is sharing in the divine life that was born of Mary, nailed to a tree for our sins and raised from the dead for our justification. To be catholic simply means not to settle for anything less than the fullness of Jesus Christ, through whom we give glory to His unoriginate Father in His all-Holy Spirit, now and unto the ages of ages!


Cap'n Salty said...

It's bothered me since I became a Lutheran and started confessing the creeds weekly that we change the word "catholic" used in the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed into the word "Christian" which does not appear in the Greek text of the creeds. The two words are quite different in their meaning. Catholic means "pertaining to all." It's indicative of our commitment, as believers, that Christ in fact uses His Church to reach to the whole world, for which He himself has atoned. Why do we seem to flinch in our public confession?

William Weedon said...

What's a hoot is to hear Lutherans protest that the word is just too confusing for people. Only for Lutherans, apparently! We must be hopelessly backwards, for the Methodists and the Presbyterians and the Anglicans have no difficulty whatsoever with understanding what the word means and use it in their liturgies without difficulty. Sigh. Many of us hoped that when LSB came out, we could end this parochial practice. Maybe with the next hymnal?

Jeremy Loesch said...

What a great post! And what a great Krauth quote. It has been a worthy educational experience to help some members understand the beauty of the word catholic and even to embrace the reality of the bigness of the una sancta.

I simply have to get that Krauth book! Sadly my reading list is so long- Just, Forde, Neuhaus, now Kleinig- they are all waiting for me. And your posts keep poking me in the ribs that I need to read this book.

God continues to bless His Church with gifted authors that can express the timeless relevance of Gospel proclamation and Gospel living.

Thanks for highlighting some of these. Jeremy

-C said...

I wish there was a blog feature like FB has. I would have said "-C likes this."

christl242 said...

No problem at all with "catholic" but since my return to the Lutheran fold I've developed at bit of an allergy to "Catholic."

I also see no problem in confessing the one, holy catholic Church in our creeds, as it was originally.


Past Elder said...

That's exactly why this former RC became Lutheran -- because after reading the 1520 essays, "Lutheran" was what the creed calls "catholic", whole, complete, universal, and "Catholic" was a proper adjective for a denomination that had ceased to be catholic a long time ago and with Vatican II ceased to be Catholic as well.

Which makes the reaction in some corners of Lutheranism sort of funny to me -- being catholic is exactly what being Catholic isn't.

Which makes it even stranger when we bend over backwards not to be "too Catholic" then worship like Vatican II was in St Louis with novus ordo wannbe liturgies in LW and LSB.

Robin Lee said...

I originally learned the Apostles' Creed with both "catholic" and "Holy Ghost" in it. This was in a Presbyterian church (I'm LCMS now). I never had a problem with "catholic" but my Baptist friends sure did. And what happened to "Holy Ghost"?

While we're on the subject, why don't Lutherans conclude the doxology with "unto the ages of ages" as the Orthodox do (and as Pr. Weedon concluded this post), rather than "now and will be forever"? Isn't "unto ages of ages" closer to the original Greek?

Cap'n Salty said...

In response to "Past Elder" - so is "Roman Catholic" an oxymoron?

christl242 said...

Which makes it even stranger when we bend over backwards not to be "too Catholic" then worship like Vatican II was in St Louis with novus ordo wannbe liturgies in LW and LSB.

Yep. That's exactly the mistake that the ELCA made. The Lutheran Book of Worship is a far better resource than what the ELCA has now, but the liturgies are most definitely patterned on the postconciliar Roman novus ordo. We really don't need that.

"Roman" Catholic is only fitting as a description of one particular rite of the Catholic Church but it is the largest and most well-known.

Quite frankly, after enduring the strange mixture of Roman Catholic and Reformed liturgy that has taken over the Catholic Church since Vatican II, I much prefer the evangelical catholic heritage of the Confessional Lutheran tradition.

Robin, for what it's worth the old Western doxology of "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end" was simply upgraded in the Western churches to "Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever" or, for LCMS Lutherans, "Glory BE to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit . . ." The "Holy Ghost" kinda went out with Jacobean language although it is still heard in some circles.

There's really no need for us to use a Greek, eastern doxology. We have our own Western heritage and it is equally valid.

My Lutheran East Prussian mother stubbornly clung to the use of "Holy Christian Church" in the creeds. Understandable since she lived with the results of the polemics of the Reformation era after which the lines between Catholics and Lutherans were firmly drawn for some time.


Past Elder said...

I think the use of "christlich" in the Creed in German was already established pre-Reformation, but I may be wrong on that. We've perpetuated it in English.

In WELS -- on the Q&A, where I drove them nuts before I turned LCMS -- I was once told "christian" and "catholic" mean the same thing because they refer to the same church, therefore "Christian" translates katholike in the Creed. Oh well.

I think the controversy over the word points to a major problem in Lutheranism, and derives from exactly where Christine mentions. Catholic retains much that is catholic, and we never meant to throw any of that out.

Yes Cap'n it is an oxymoron, and as Christine mentioned it properly speaking refers to only one rite in the Catholic Church, but popularly has become the name for the whole thing, that one rite being by far the biggest and most powerful.

Oddly enough, when I was a Catholic, we were never taught that the word in the creed was proof of being the true church of Jesus Christ. Rather, we were taught that the four adjectives for the church in the creed describe the church, for which reason they are called the marks of the church, which description is only found all to-gether in the Catholic Church.