Lutheran split

When I was growing up in southern Minnesota, the Church meant the Roman Catholic Church, and to turn Lutheran meant to leave the Church. (In my parents’ eyes this was worse, but only slightly, than leaving the DFL party.) In those parts, outside the Church pretty much meant Lutheran. And this mostly with a Scandinavian accent. (How can you tell when a Norwegian farmer is extroverted? He looks at your shoes when he talks to you.) The Lutherans and the Catholics got along quite well, in fact, and my father would report with pride that he had sat in the booth at the coffee shop with the Lutheran minister and visited with him “just like that,” as if he were a regular guy. Something Pa probably never would have done, but in this day and age we’ve become ecumenical.

Within limits. When as an undergrad I got a job playing organ for the Lutherans (they paid the best), my parents went along with it only because their morning worship wouldn’t keep me from the evening Mass at Saint John’s University. (“It’s OK to take their money but not their message.”) When my father was thinking of having a Mass said for a deceased Lutheran farmer who was a good friend, the question arose as to why we should put out our good money for them, since they weren’t paying to have any Masses said for us. Ecumenism won out and I celebrated the Mass.

And so I follow with interest anything happening among my brothers and sisters in the Lutheran Church (note my generous shift in terminology). Most of them are  known as the GBLC -the Great Big Lutheran Church – or more properly as the ELCA, from the 1988 merger  which brought into being the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Any split in the Body of Christ is deeply tragic. And now the Minneapolis paper reports that 2% of ELCA congregations are leaving because of certain culture-war disputes. This week the PSLC (Pretty Small Lutheran Church), also known as the North American Lutheran Church, will begin to form itself in Ohio. The website GetReligion (in the sense, “Get my conservative view of religion”) wonders why the media give so little coverage to the Lutheran split, especially since their proportion of dissidents is higher than the Episcopalians’, whose difficulties have enjoyed wide media coverage. I think they have a point.

For a decade now Lutherans in these parts have had the Word Alone movement, which arose mostly to counter the dangerous catholicizing tendencies of the Lutheran-Episcopal agreements. (Ordinations would always have – gasp! – bishops.) The Word Alone folks came out with Reclaim: Introductory Edition, a step on the way to a complete Word Alone hymnal. (A confrere asked whether it would also include music, or just the texts.) But the hymnal was not to be. It seems that the kind of folks who set out to restore the correct version of Christianity have strong opinions about many things, and they don’t always match up. (As an aside, their liturgy uses the response “And with your spirit.”) The Introductory Edition is noteworthy for its mediocre service music, and also for its reprinting without permission of an illumination from the Saint John’s Bible. I think we’ll let it pass.

Let’s all say a prayer for Christian unity – within and between all the various denominational traditions in Christ’s one Church. Here’s a nice prayer for the church from the Word Alone Introductory Edition.

We pray for your holy church
gathered and nurtured by your Word
and sent into the world to be the body of Christ.
Give us always the mind of Christ,
that we may seek the lost,
bring good news to the afflicted,
bind up the broken hearted,
and proclaim liberty to the captive.



  1. “And now the Minneapolis paper reports that 2% of ELCA congregations are leaving because of certain culture-war disputes.”

    So these disputes have nothing to do with theological disagreements over the nature and authority of Sacred Scripture or the Christian moral tradition? The words “culture war” don’t appear in the article you site; why distill this split to secular politics?

    1. Culture wars aren’t an outside the church phenomenon, even if they’re also theologically driven. As long as we maintain the artificial and contrived distinction between “sacred” and “profane” we’ll continue to see the one-hour-a-week Christianity, with all its double standards and lack of integration, to which we’ve grown accustomed.

  2. Jonathan – whooa, hold off. I tried to use a netural term because I really would rather not go there. I guess I missed “neutral” by a long shot. I’m just trying to keep the peace. Lots of strong opinions, I’m sure, about Scripture and morality – great. Please do it somewhere else.

  3. I agree, Fr, disunity is always a tragedy.

    I wonder, though, what do you think is more important– the appearance of unity, all the while dealing with (or not…) internal schism because of major theological differences; or an external schism, where at least a clear definition of doctrine is allowed to subsist (in whichever is the “true church”)?

    I recall to mind the quote that “those who stand for nothing fall for everything”.

    I had a married couple from the Lutheran church be received as Catholics this past Easter, and their main reason for leaving the ELCA was over this issue… we benefit, for sure, as they are a great Catholic couple!

    I feel torn on the issue within our own Church– those who are proponents of gay marriage, women priests, contraception, etc– a large part of me says, “hey, there’s already a church for that– I’m sure that they would welcome you with open arms”… but the other part of me prays and hopes that they will be more deeply converted to the truths of Faith, and at least by remaining in visible “communion,” even if not fully, they can receive the grace of the Sacraments, and perhaps be more fully converted.

    It’s a slippery issue, for sure, as this was and is the foundation of relativism in modern society.

    1. Chris – Church history amply shows that the ‘truths of the Faith’ are not immutable. The list of changes in Church teaching is very long – freedom of conscience, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, whether democratic gov’t is evil, whether married couples sin if they enjoy sex, whether a physically abused wife must stay with her husband, whether charging interest is prohibited, whether abortion is permitted in the early weeks (based on mistaken science, I grant), whether the earth moves or whether the sun revolves around it, whether Moses wrote all 5 books of the Penteteuch, and on and on.

      I’m not advocating a change in any Church teaching here, nor am I dissenting from Church teaching. But: I honestly don’t know what the Church will be teaching 100 years from now on contraception or women’s ordination or same-sex relations. Neither do you. You write as if you do.


  4. Chris, good food for thought. I also pray for deeper conversion for dissidents, as well as myself.
    I only get cranky when those outside the clear teachings of the Faith teach their opinions as authoritative, or speak for all Catholics in public.
    I do feel badly about the Lutheran split, and pray both for the people involved, and that we can avoid our own Catholic split. The new priests and sems give me hope that Catholic faithful will experience a little more stability in the next 10-15 years as these guys are made pastors.

    1. Mary Ann, with all due respect, why is this “food for thought” in your view? You give the impression that the Faith is clearly taught by the magisterium and one should simply agree with it. Doesn’t this mean that no thought is required? I wonder if you really mean what you wrote. Do you mean, rather, “Rah Rah! I agree!” ? There is a difference.

      1. Father, Chris’ first paragraph struck me as thought-provoking.
        Dissidents, agitators, and honest questioners on the three questions raised are my brothers and sisters, too. I try to weigh my response/attitude toward/ prayer in community with such folks I disagree with carefully, that’s all. And I appreciate Chris’ question in my own personal evaluation.

        In the three areas mentioned, I have come to the conclusion that the Church is both correct and consistent, with some developments that do not contradict
        former teaching. I live a vocation and interact with the world
        based on these understandings in my daily life, and I embrace them as a consequence of my own reflection, study, and ultimately my own will.

        You (more than) hint that I advocate blind obedience. Not so. While blind
        obedience is a problem, it is less so than blind disobedience that rules much of the discourse on these subjects in our day.

        Those who agree with the Church, even to the point of grateful acceptance, should not automatically be accused of not thinking. I’ve read enough of your work to have hope you’d agree with that.

  5. Chris, I agree that those are the choices: ideally that they will be reconciled to the Church, or, as a worse alternative, leave. The problem is that there seem to be those who urge a third way, namely, that the Church ought to change to accommodate those views. Take Humanae Vitae, for example, or Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. I pray and hope that the dissidents will be reconciled; but if they can’t stomach it, they should leave, and changing the teaching should not be considered a serious option. Some people just don’t seem to get that, and I will confess that I wonder how many dissenters aren’t staying in a sincere effort to reconcile themselves to what the Church teaches so much as out of a hope that if they wait long enough, the Church will change to accommodate their preferred teachings.

  6. Simon …

    I also wonder how many pray regularly that the Church will change rather than praying that THEY will change. It seems to be a fine but difficult point to make without sounding like a “hardliner”, but I fear that you are right… too many feel that it is incumbent upon the Church to change to meet them where they are.

  7. I think all of this is a bit more ambiguous than some black-and-white comments may make it seem. Of course the Church is always changing, and doctrine continues to develop in every era. And I think some people have found that, as they change and grow and mature, they have something to contribute to the development of doctrine. It is at least possible that someone clings to doctrine or church teaching (as they understand it) in a way which shows they need to change and mature. It is too simplistic to claim that Church teaching never changes, and all the good guys pray only for their own conversion so that they’ll better agree with unchanging teachings of the Church. Look at Church history! Look at all the changes and contradictions in what the Popes have taught over the centuries!

  8. Anthony, okay, let’s look at that. What do you have in mind? What would be the, say, top five contradictions in doctrine between one Pope versus another? Doctrine, that is, as opposed to disciplinary rules, and change, as distinct from reformulation and refinement of existing doctrine.

    1. No, Simon, I doubt it is worth my time to name specific examples, and I think I’ve said what I have to say.

      In my experience, those who want to believe that doctrine doesn’t change and Popes don’t contradict each other will bend over backwards to show, somehow, that each change really isn’t a change, or the doctrine really wasn’t a doctrine, or it really wasn’t taught at the level of real teaching. I already know of this type of response.

      Such responses ignore what the reality must have been like for the people involved. I think of the real-life Catholics who were forbidden to vote because the Pope rejected secular democracy, or the real-life Catholics who couldn’t ride a train because the Pope didn’t allow such modernity in the Papal States, or the married people who tried so hard not to enjoy sex and were guilt-ridden as they confessed their ‘failures,’ or the beaten wives who kept going to confession and kept returning to their husband for the sake of preserving the sacramental bond. It would have done them little good to claim that “this is merely discipline, not doctrine,” or “this is a low-level teaching which isn’t solemnly defined and may change, but you still have to follow it now.”

      The real question, I think, is what we make of authority-fundamentalism. What are all the conditions of contemporary culture which make this fundamentalism appealing?


  9. Oh, but Anthony, look at all the changes and contradictions! Your phrasing insinuated a large corpus of changes whence any number of examples could be adduced. Yet you “doubt it is worth [your] time to name specific examples” and would like to switch categories to “fundamentalism.” I think the “real question” is the one that I asked, the one that, with all due respect, for reasons unknown (given its manifest simplicity if your previous point was not rhetorical overstatement), you are dodging.

  10. Oh, OK, we only need one contradiction to make the point.

    “Error has no rights.” – eg, Leo XIII: “It is quite unlawful to demand, to defend, or to grant unconditional freedom of thought, of speech, or writing, or of worship, as if these were so many rights given by nature to man. ”

    “The human person has a right to religious freedom.” Dignitatis Humanae, Second Vatican Council


  11. Libertas Praestantissimum did say that, but the limits of its implications are right there in the quoted text: it warned against granting *unconditional* freedoms. Leo continued: “freedom in these things may be tolerated wherever there is just cause, but only with such moderation as will prevent its degenerating into license and excess. And, where such liberties are in use, men should employ them in doing good, and should estimate them as the Church does; for liberty is to be regarded as legitimate in so far only as it affords greater facility for doing good, but no farther.”

    Dignitatis Humanae did say that, but it added that “[t]his freedom means that…no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs…*within due limits*.” It continues: “all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth.” Far from being in tension with LP, with this comes close to paraphrasing Leo’s observation that “it is manifest that the eternal law of God is the sole standard and rule of human liberty” (LP10).

    It is far from clear to me that there is a contradiction here, assuming for sake of argument that this is a matter of doctrine in the first place. The difference seems to be one of perspective: They seem to be describing the same point seen from different…

    1. “I think all of this is a bit more ambiguous than some black-and-white comments may make it seem.”

      Simon, I think you have made Fr Anthony’s point for him. I suppose the next step would be to show that the unambiguous positions to which he objected really ARE unambiguous, unlike past teaching on the rights of error or the like.

  12. Incidentally, it’s a bad habit to not cite sources, particularly for quotations, and a fortiori for a quotation offered as a whipping boy: it looks really bad when someone gives a citation for a quote they like while leaving their bete noir shrouded in mystery.

  13. As I thought, and just as I foresaw:
    The change really isn’t a change; and
    the doctrine isn’t a doctrine.
    No serious commentator on religious liberty believes what you believe, but you do.
    Let’s leave it at that.

  14. That’s quite a closed loop you’ve constructed, Anthony. You state a point, and then construct a category of invalid responses that is drawn so broadly as to include any possible response. Thus, any challenge can simply be waved away: a claim of incompatibility is indisputable if actual compatibility is deemed an impermissible argument. It’s a great way to avoid thought, but it’s rather thin gruel.

    One must wonder whether the “serious commentator” concept suffers from a similar closed loop: is the test for the seriousness of a commentator their agreement with your position? I’m sure that there are those in the Richard McBrien set who would agree with you, but men are apt to believe minor propositions on which they must depend for their major beliefs. If one wants to change doctrine, one must believe that doctrine is and has been plastic. It strikes me that a serious commentator on this issue must be disinterested in the sense that in order to credibly claim the plasticity of doctrine, they must themselves be unimpeachably orthodox and without any desire to change any doctrine. Otherwise, their positive claims will inescapably appear tailored to their normative view.

    1. For Pete’s sake, in Rome they used to force Jews to listen to Christian catechetics every Saturday, and now they don’t. Could that be, perhaps, because of development in papal doctrine regarding freedom of religion? Or is it that the Popes failed to follow their own unchanging teachings then and now?

      1. More to the point, Fr Ruff:

        Were the Pope tomorrow to order Jews in Vatican City to attend such catechetics, would the faithful be in error to imagine he was in some way wrong to do so?

      2. Those links certainly show crass insensitivity on the part of the past Popes qua temporal monarchs. They do not show, however, that Dignitatis Humanae wrought a change in Catholic doctrine as distinct from papal behavior.

  15. I find comfort in our ambiguities and (dare I even say) contradictions. Even within scripture; lay the Book of Job and Proverbs side by side and you can see one obvious example.

    Our God is the God of Newtonian physics and the God of quantum physics; I think he can handle some ambiguity.

    I’m sure he is saddened by the divisions in his Body the church over these things; especially over whose ambiguous doctrine is true enough to call anathema on the rest of the Christian family.

  16. Karl, just what do you think the Jewish population of Vatican City is? And your phrasing gives the game away, does it not, because it situates the issue in the Pope’s (now very, very limited) authority as a temporal monarch rather than as teacher of doctrine.

    1. OK, let’s say the Pope reinstated what used to happen at S Angelo in Pescheria. (Which, btw, is extremely well known among people interested in the history of Catholic-Jewish relations.) Let’s say he somehow had the power to compel it as he used to.

      Now answer my question.

    2. Karl, the hypothetical doesn’t work, because you can’t simply assume the power to compel when that is integral to the issue. The abuses that Anthony describes are exercises of the Pope’s temporal power as a monarch; they could perhaps be characterized as exercises of his ordinary authority as Bishop of Rome, but they don’t appear to be exercises of his doctrinal authority as Pope. They can be tested for the compliance vel non with doctrine, but it assumes the answer to look at them as a source of doctrine.

      Your question presupposes an improper commingling of roles (this is why I get grumpy when people use “the Church’s magisterium” as a synonym for any Church authority, incidentally), and while things can be assumed for sake of argument when they make no difference either way, they can’t be when they are integral to the issue and it would distort the picture to assume one answer or the other. It suffices to say that if the Pope tomorrow ordered Jews in Vatican City to attend such catechetics, the faithful—like the non-existence Vatican Jews—would wonder what he was talking about, not whether it comported with pre- or post-Vatican II doctrine.

      1. Then that means one must construe the practical effect of the doctrine as it stood before Vatican II more narrowly than had been understood before Vatican II.

        Since the issue of freedom of religion perforce implicates the issue of how the secular arm should order the practice of religion, the way you approached this reveals the development of the doctrine. It would not have been so obvious in earlier centuries.

        Anyway, that’s what Fr Ruff is getting at, I believe.

      2. Well, does anyone dispute that doctrine can develop in the sense that Card. Newman envisaged (to which my 7:43 AM comment and Chris’ 2:35 PM comment allude)? Certainly, our understanding of doctrine evolves as we continue to pray, learn and contemplate. What was seen before in coarse outline comes to be understood in greater detail; we invent and refine terminology to describe issues. All that can be cheerfully granted. But that wasn’t Anthony’s point; he says that there have been changes and contradictions in doctrinal matters over the centuries, and I really think he has set himself to an impossible shot.

        Perhaps his point can be finessed. One might fairly say “look at all the changes in what the Popes have taught over the centuries,” and that that “[i]t is too simplistic to claim that Church teaching never changes,” if what one means is change in the way doctrine is presented rather than its substance. (The allusion is to John XXIII’s opening address at Vatican II). That would be a much more readily-defensible hill. But it would avail him little, since it sits far from the battlefields his comment seemingly sought to engage, viz. Humanae Vitae and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

      3. So the Pope’s actions as temporal ruler aren’t necessarily a reflection of what the Pope believed about doctrine (eg, the religious rights of Jews)? The Pope as temporal ruler didn’t know what the Pope taught about religious liberty?? I believe that’s your claim – or the absurd extent to which you will go to show that there was no change or contradiction in the Church’s teachings on religious liberty!

  17. If you please… I think I can confidently count on the Church’s teaching on same-sex relations, women’s ordination, and contraception, as those were the three that were mentioned.

    Just as the very nice conversation with Simon Dodd (kudos!) points out, in the vein of JHNewman, there is development of doctrine, but the beauty of the Catholic Faith is that it has never once contradicted itself with regards faith and morals.

    If it did, I don’t think we could confidently claim the (Roman) Catholic Church as the Church founded upon Peter, the Rock, and I would have never swam the Tiber. But… something tells me that the prevailing wind on this forum would argue that there’s room for any baptized Christian to make the claim that their denomination has that same birthright.

    It just struck me, though, that makes sense, because those people also are the ones who disdain the “hermeneutic of [reform in] continuity.” Perhaps it’s the idea of a church as a ship, able to shift with the winds, be it liturgy or doctrine, that is making the Catholic Church out to be something it isn’t. At least, as Ceile De said elsewhere, they are consistent, if in error.

    1. No Chris, I don’t think you can. Neither can I. There has been development and change and contradiction in Church teaching. This has all been documented by others. (See my link to Steinfels on Noonan.) I’m sorry, but you don’t know what the Church will teach on these things 100 years from now. Neither do I, nor do I claim to.

      Cardinal Schönborn, a co-author of the Catechism, said that something as weighty as women’s ordination could only be affirmed by an ecumenical council in his opinion. I.e., he didn’t exclude that future possibility. He is no advocate of women’s ordination and I’m sure he accepts the Church’s teachings. But he’s enough of a theologian to know that future development can’t be known now.


      1. Why should such an issue need the attention of a general or ecumenical council? I can’t think of many issues more suitable to resolution by the Pope. The doctrine was settled for the entire history of the Church until a handful of modernist radicals saw fit to challenge it. The arguments advanced for it run the gamut from unpersuasive to outright laughable (McBrien, for example, scrapes new layers off the bottom of the barrel in suggesting that tradition can’t settle the question because we assumethat the Church is in its maturity, a point which would eliminate all tradition). The history and doctrine are clear, and the only way “to get to there” is to massively expand the Church’s authority over the sacraments by junking the Church’s orthodox teaching on the sacraments and adopt something akin to Karl Rahner’s view. That won’t happen. In such a situation, it’s hard to see why the Pope’s witness won’t do.

        Let’s be frank: there’s a simple reason why some people might want to air this before a council: because they don’t like the answer they’ve been given and think they’ll get a different one from a different jury. They won’t, and it isn’t worth wasting their excellencies’ time to prove the point.

      2. Simon,

        To the first part: take your argument to the Cardinal, not me, since he’s the one who said it.

        To your last part: you’re impugning motives. And you’re dead wrong – surprise! Isn’t why I’m raising the point at all. Not even close.


  18. Well, Fr. Anthony – you have your work cut out – good luck. Suggest a course on “inerrancy” vs. “infallibility” as a method to better understand doctrine, truth, and how it is expressed in different times/ages?

  19. And then there is the little problem that vast and important areas of the theology such as revelation, ecclesiology, and liturgy itself were not even disciplines until recently.

  20. Fr. Anthony: I think that you and Simon may be talking past each other while agreeing on a great deal.

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think that Simon is denying that doctrinal changes take place. Instead he appears to be denying that these changes constitute a negation of the previous doctrine.

    I’m guessing that you’re familiar with Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, but Newman’s thesis was that (a) substantive changes in christian doctrine do take place, but (b) these changes should be understood as a growth in the understanding of the doctrines held previously, not their negation.

    It seems to me that you’re both emphasizing different sides of the same reality.

  21. I think many people agree that Newman was very good, but his theory didn’t quite allow for as much change as there really is. It’s more common now to admit outright contradiction. Even in this article: Slavery is acceptable / Slavery is prohibited – seems like a stretch for Newman’s theory, since it’s an outright contradiction.

    1. I agree that an outright contradiction would be difficult to explain within Newman’s framework. But notably, Avery Cardinal Dulles has maintained that “Slavery is acceptable / Slavery is prohibited” doesn’t do justice either to the past or present teaching of the Church.

      It’s quite possible that he’s wrong. But that’s why I want to do further reading on the subject.

      And of course, it’s a bit difficult to establish what is or isn’t a contradiction in a religion that affirms the hypostatic union. 🙂

  22. Joshua, I would agree with what I think you’re getting at, but doubt Anthony’s comments above are compatible with that view (as he has since indicated). I take what I had thought was the orthodox view: Michelangelo supposedly (apocryphally, one must suspect) believed that the stone already contained a statue which the sculptor merely freed, so divine revelation already contains the truth, which the Church has labored to reveal, chip by chip, over the centuries.

    The difference is illustrated by something in Steinfels’ article. He supposes that as doctrine develops, new ideas “were projected back into New Testament texts.” I would say that as doctrine develops, we come to better understand what was already latent in the texts. Some castigate this as unsophisticated or naive, but I think those people have been blinded to what is obviously correct by a paralyzing fear of anachronism. They fear that we could get trapped in a species of circular reasoning by subconsciously overlaying modern assumptions over the text and finding things that aren’t there. And there is some merit to that concern—to a point. But it would prove nothing to say that there was nothing that resembled—mutatis mutandis—the Papacy in the early years of the Church (even if that was true), because, again, our ability to understand what is in the deposit of faith grows and develops.

    Steinfels’ examlpes aren’t awfully good, BTW. Language of Mass? Friday meat? Liturgical regulation &…

    1. If our ability to understand what is in the deposit of faith grows and develops, how does your position differ from Fr Anthony’s?

      If “Error has no rights” can become “every person should be free with respect to religion”, how do you know today’s apparently unambiguous statements do not include their opposite? Can your ability to understand ordination still grow to include women as priests? Or do you understand all the context thoroughly enough that you can say no such growth is possible?

      Fr Anthony is pointing out that our ability to understand may grow; you are pointing out that our ability to understand has grown. How are those positions opposed to one another?

      1. I think you may overstate our agreement. We can stick with the example you raise: ordination of women. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is absolutely crystal clear in its teaching. It cannot be finessed, only contradicted or adhered to. And that is where Anthony and I part ways: I think that doctrine can be better-understood, that a formulation that was imprecise can be recast, but he thinks that doctrine—in its substance, not merely its formulation—can actually change. To extend the Michelangelo metaphor, he seems to think that rock that has already been cut away can be reattached, whereas I say only that what remains there has yet to be perfectly understood.

        To the extent Ordinatio Sacerdotalis can be developed, we might come to better understand the doctrine underlying it, and we might (as I hope we will) understand that its teaching does not close the door on ordaining women to the permanent diaconate. We might even set the teaching in better language. But to escape from its core holding would require changing the doctrine.

      2. But how does the “absolutely crystal clear” teaching in OS differ from the absolutely crystal clear teaching that “Error has no rights”?

        The context of OS may be just as malleable as the context of Leo XIII’s remark. Maybe a century from now, someone will be quoting OS to say we are bound by the example of Jesus, which includes sending women to do priestly tasks. I do not know how they could get to such a conclusion (though I have some ideas), but that ignorance is precisely the point. We do not know how these documents will be interpreted, so they contain ambiguity. You can see that ambiguity with hindsight in Leo’s dictum, but you seem adamant that no ambiguity exists in OS.

        Fr Anthony has the more consistent position: “I think all of this is a bit more ambiguous than some black-and-white comments may make it seem.” You agree with him on the ambiguity of “Error has no rights” but disagree on the ordination of women. I cannot see what the difference is that leads you to make this distinction.

  23. To my discomfort, I find myself siding (slightly) more with Fr Ruff on this one: we cannot foretell the future. Archbishop Nicholls in the UK recently made the same point. However, if the Church may exist outside of time, her individual members do not. I know that Fr Ruff has said here that teachings may change in the future, and that is true, and he has said before here that catechisms have changed before and may change again, and that is true. But we do not know that they will or how they will change – are we not bound by them until that time comes, if it comes? If not, why bother with them at all? If the law says I owe 30% of my income as tax, and it is possible but not certain that in the future the law may reduce my liability to 20%, am I free to lobby for such a change? Yes. Am I free only to pay 20% tax now? No. Church law is clear now and binding now – is not whether or how it may change mere conjecture? Or do we all meet back here in 20 or 200 years to check notes?
    My point is that it would, I think, become impossible for the Church to teach if she always had to add “but that is only my teaching for today. Check back tomorrow for changes.”

  24. It seems to me that in this discussion, no one is making distinctions between solemnly defined dogma and doctrine that is still developing and not clearly defined as dogma and pastoral sensibilities based upon cultural norms or mores at any particular time. Do we really expect more development concerning the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption? Do we really think that when a priest told a married woman to stay with her abusive husband, this was dogma? The same with the nature of marital sex and it’s “venial sinfulness? I’m not sure that any teaching on religious liberty is solemnly defined as dogma, such as the two natures of the One Divine Christ. Humane Vitae certainly gives some doctrinal moral principles, but is that solemnly defined dogma? The Commandment from God, “Thou shalt not kill” which does not need to be solemnly defined to be true, since it is explicitly from God still has some opt outs, such as just war and self defense. It seems to me that the nature of the Sacraments of Holy Orders and Marriage are more clearly defined and will see little change. But if a future pope solemnly defines some aspect that we do not see today, I’m sticking with the Pope. But if a future pope says that Jesus Christ was actually a Martian, I’d say he was crazy (not Jesus, but the pope). And could a future pope solemnly define the doctrine of limbo to be a dogma? I guess he could and could make a worthy argument for it, but I doubt that he will, but I can’t predict the future. I’ll leave that question in limbo. 🙂

  25. I think this is a good point, with the proviso that the distinction between doctrine and dogma, or what is defined and what isn’t, can’t be drawn too sharply. Incarnation, Resurrection, Atonement for our Sins, Sending of the Spirit, Real Presence, Assumption – these are much more central than the teachings on contraception or women’s ordination or same-sex relations. I’m not denying that the latter are connected to the whole, for everything is connected. But surely they’re much lower in the hierarchy of truths.

    1. I always thought there was a distinction between doctrine and dogma and moral teachings on social issues. Doctrines and dogmas cannot be changed, but certainly the church’s stance on social issues can change (and have changed throughout history). I just hope these don’t change to the degree that they become incompatible with scripture and tradition, as we’ve seen in the Episcopal church lately.

      1. One issue is that things that depend on facts are understood in light of facts. Since not all facts are known a priori, understanding must evtually (and on a lag) account for new knowledge. Sometimes, acknowledging this reality has been tainted with the lazy accusation of modernism.

      2. But the church can teach infallibly on both faith AND morals. The collocation is frequently found in Lumen Gentium.

      3. Ioannes, I’m open to correction, but in terms of the moral teachings of the Church, I’m not aware of any infallible teaching, either ordinary or extraordinary, that in every case “such and such” is always wrong. For example, Jesus is divine or He is isn’t, there’s no wiggle room. Mary was assumed into heaven or she wasn’t, there’s no middle room. In terms of killing, war, certain sexual acts and I suspect even artificial birth control, I’m not sure there is any dogmatic or infallible statement that says that in every instance, no matter what, even in terms of decisions of conscience, such and such is always right or always wrong. But again, I will stand corrected.

    2. Agreed on the hierarchy of truths, even when Cardinal Ratzinger with Pope John Paul’s approval wrote that only men could be ordained priests because it is a part of the “ordinary magisterium” of the Church and thus the pope has no authority to change it. Was this a dogmatic statement? Liberals like that the pope acknowledges he has no authority over something but hated it when it is explicitly stated in the context of opening Holy Orders to women. Others would say that the letter from Cardinal Ratzinger is itself not infallible or dogmatic and thus open to future changes. Who knows but God at this point. I think we are shaky ground in thinking same sex marriage or fornication will ever be allowed as a dogma to be accepted.

      1. I believe you are talking about the commentary written to accompany Ad Tuendam Fidei Cardinal Ratzinger later made a statement on its authority:r ” the text should not be given a binding force; rather, it should be offered as a help for understanding. It was not, therefore, published as a proper document of the Congregation itself.”

        With that commentary, an additional category of teaching was described, beyond the dogma and still developing doctrine you described. (I am not sure that is the proper distinction — the doctrine of the Trinity is still developing long after Chalcedon! — but it is good enough for now) Dogma must be believed, but there are other solemnly defined teachings that have to be *held*, rather than believed with a divine faith. JP2’s declaration on ordaining women is one of these. As I understand it, the distinction is similar to Ceile’s contribution above, but there is a LOT of room for growth in my ability to understand.

        Generally, the core idea is that there are things that the Church has taught infallibly, though perhaps not with designated infallible statements. Your closing examples may be instances of this — they have never been infallibly defined with solemn proclamation, but they have been taught (infallibly) consistently.

        And yes, my 2nd paragraph sound different from the 3rd, but they fit together in the commentary. And again, there is plenty of ambiguity here in my oversimplifications.

      2. I think when you look at limbo, which when I was in elementary school, was taught to us children as though it was an official doctrine of the Church rather than a pastoral theological construct to avoid the unpleasant teaching of some that unbaptized babies went to hell, we see that we do have principles that we hold that can develop, change or in the case of infant limbo, be eliminated. For example the principles of Vatican II are precisely that, principles, not dogmas or even doctrines, but we want to treat them as dogmas or at least some do. But when we start questioning everything, we undermine everything, even principles that in essence are good for the Church.

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