Friday, June 27, 2008

The "Question" of Lutheran Orders

Rorate Caeli posted a wonderfully provocative article, "The 'Question' of Lutheran Orders" (Rorate Caeli, June 26, 2008) yesterday, which speaks to a heartfelt concern of many of my erstwhile colleagues at Lenoir-Rhyne College in North Carolina and its circle of "Germano-Catholic" Lutherans associated -- either closely or loosely -- with the Center for Theology, its monthly colloquia, and its annual Aquinas-Luther Conference, founded by the late ELCA Bishop Michael C.D. McDaniel. Rorate Caeli's article begins thus:
One of the bugaboos of advanced Catholic ecumenists is the widespread "misperception," as they might put it, that the Council of Trent declared Lutheran orders to be invalid. Their ultimate goal is for the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation to officially declare themselves to be in full communion, without any reordinations of Lutheran ministers by Catholic bishops. They lament that too many Catholics still automatically assume the absence of true holy orders in the Lutheran church. So they are at pains to point out, and in fact correctly, that Trent did not declare Protestant orders to be invalid. It only said that those who were not "rightly" (rite ) ordained and not sent by canonical authority, are not lawful ministers of the Word and sacraments. Notice that the end of the passage does not conclude saying these men are not valid ministers. Rite in this passage does not have to refer to the sacramental validity of an ordination, but can signify its having been conferred in accord with the canons or with the authorization of a legitimate superior. Our modern enthusiasts for the validity of Lutheran orders conclude therefore that the ordinations conferred by early Lutheran leaders were at most illicit, without prejudice to their possible validity.
You really must read the rest of this very good article, as well as the spirited and sometimes quite substantive discussion that follows in the comment box. The position articulated in Rorate Caeli's article comes in for some heated if predictable criticism from some non-Catholics, as well as some solid defense, before those backed into their corners revert to a bit of ad hominem muck-slinging in good, 16th-century Lutheran tradition.

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