Lutheran readers – and others interested in understanding Lutheran theology – may be interested in a fascinating and frank discussion that took place on Pastor Weedon’s blog a couple of years ago at http://weedon.blogspot.com/2006/04/ac-xiv-thoughts.html. The subject is the original intention and meaning of the phrase “rite vocatus”, which appears in the Confessio Augustana at Article XIV: “that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called [rite vocatus].”
We’ve been most of where this goes before – such as the citation of Jerome’s opinion re presbyters and bishops and Piepkorn’s examples of non-episcopal ordinations and the old furphy that Lutherans only dispensed with episcopal ordination because the nasty bishops wouldn’t ordain their candidates – but there is some new info, such as the fact that a phrase was dropped from the original text of one of the Lutheran Confesions in the 1580 Book of Concord. Viz, the final phrase in bold in the following quotation:
And in summary: “From this it is clear that the Church retains the right to elect and ordain ministers. Therefore, when the bishops are heretics or refuse to administer ordination, the churches are by divine right compelled to ordain pastors and ministers for themselves by having their pastors do it (Latin: adhibitis sui pastoribus).” (Melanchthon’s Tractate on the Power and Primacy of the Pope 72)
Also new is the admission, on Pastor Weedon’s part, that this was “something new” in the teaching of the Lutherans. Which is not news to us, but has been denied in the past by our Lutheran brothers and sisters (cf. previously mentioned citations from Jerome and Piepkorn).
Concerning this novelty, a commentator, Pastor Ben Mayes, says in the combox to Pastor Weedon’s blog:
So the question is really, What do you do when you find a part of the Lutheran Confessions that you don’t think the best early church writers held to? You can either hold to the Lutheran confessional position on the basis of a higher authority, or you can revise the Lutheran confessional position on the basis of some early church fathers. It comes down to how this “catholic principle” is understood.
As our dear departed Fr Neuhaus would have said: Quite.
Chris Jones (another Lutheran – not a pastor – but a fairly cluey bloke nonetheless) gets this point, and sees it as the $64,000 question. He replies to Pastor Mayes:
If the Apostolic Tradition means anything, and if the Creeds, the Councils, and the Fathers are worthy of any credit at all as faithful witnesses to that Tradition, then it seems to me that we must see our Confessions as part of that tradition, and consistently read them in the context of that tradition. Otherwise how can we possibly claim to be the Catholic Church, rightly reformed? And if that leads us to the conclusion that our Lutheran fathers were mistaken about the necessity of episcopal ordination, then that ought to lead us not to put the “Catholic principle” out of court, but to repent of that error. If we have made a mistake, we ought to admit it — not re-interpret Church history to make the mistake somehow not a mistake. After all, if one should never admit a mistake in doctrine or practice, there never could have been a Reformation.