Augsburg Confession XIV and the meaning of "Rite Vocatus"

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.

Again: Quite.

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29 responses to “Augsburg Confession XIV and the meaning of "Rite Vocatus"

  1. William Weedon

    Two corrections:

    1580 Book of Concord

    Not a current discussion, really. One that was held 2 years ago or so.

  2. Chris Jones

    Mr Schütz,

    Thank you for the kind words — I believe that this is the first time I have been called “a fairly cluey bloke.” I shall savour that.

    Note that my point about being willing to correct errors does not apply only to Lutherans. The Reformers’ mistaken notion of the equality of bishops and presbyters was not their own idea; they received it from the mediaeval Roman Church, which taught that the distinction between bishop and presbyter was a matter of discipline, not of doctrine. The functions normally reserved to the bishop (confirmation and ordination) could, in principle, be delegated to a presbyter (and very occasionally were delegated).

    The patristic and orthodox idea that the episcopate is “the essential ministry,” and that the presbyter exercises his ministry of Word and sacrament as the bishop’s representative, has happily made a comeback in the Roman Church — a process that was not complete until Vatican II. So the Reformers’ problem with the role of the episcopate is that it was one item that they didn’t reform, but should have done.

    Now if only the Roman Church would get around to reviving the patristic and orthodox understanding of a few other doctrines (like Papal primacy).

  3. Past Elder

    Well gee bloody whiz, my Catholic Bible says clear as hell in its notes to Titus that the bishop/priest/deacon thing as we have it now was a later developement, and that episcopoi is not to be understood the same as “bishop” now.

    The bleeder has a nihil obstat.

    Whaddya want? Then again, the great thing about Rome is it can say several things at once and it’s the same thing too.

  4. William Weedon

    Chris,

    Given Jerome, one may wish to say that it was present in the tradition even before the middle ages. He really did seem to see the origin as the lifting up from the presbyters of one appointed by them to serve the others as a remedy to schism.

    What I believe to be so often overlooked in Lutheran circles is the Symbols own declaration that the Church CANNOT be better governed than to have all the bishops equal in office, though not in gifts, and all diligently joined together in unity of doctrine, faith, sacraments, prayer and works of love. (SA II, IV, 9)

    So, in one sense, whether or not the bishop is finally of human or divine distinction from the presbyter should never have been allowed to side-line the challenge our own Symbols present to the current polity in the Synod, a polity under which we have suffered much and continue to suffer much. No real episcope!

  5. Schütz

    Pastor Weedon,

    Thanks.

    Error 1: A slip of the finger. It has been corrected. (Perhaps my mind was subconsciously thinking of the 400th anniversary edition?)

    Error 2: I was referred to the entry, and didn’t take note of the date. Silly me. Still a good discussion.

  6. Schütz

    the Church CANNOT be better governed than to have all the bishops equal in office, though not in gifts, and all diligently joined together in unity of doctrine, faith, sacraments, prayer and works of love. (SA II, IV, 9)

    Well, that was the theory, at least, and perhaps the hope. We have seen that in practice, ie. in reality, this pious hope was not the case.

    The Anglicans gave it a damn good go, but it didn’t last.

    Re the Patristic doctrine on Papal Primacy: There has been ample demonstration on the part of the past and present pontiff that they are open to reforms of just this nature (eg. Pope JPII’s invitation in Ut Unum Sint) – but not to “reforms” that in fact deny what is essential to the office of Bishop of Rome – EVEN and ESPECIALLY in the Patristic doctrines.

    And Chris (me “cluey” mate!) we can’t really talk of what the “ediaeval Roman Church” taught, much less say that there was any agreement on the idea that “the distinction between bishop and presbyter was a matter of discipline, not of doctrine”. Some theologians might have thought that, but there wasn’t any defined doctrine on the table on the matter (just as there is no defined doctrine in the Eastern Church on the matter either). Vatican II was the first council to define the place of the bishop in the Church. Before that, it was just assumed. Or not, as the case of the 16th century shows…

  7. Past Elder

    Oh I get it. We didn’t exactly know what a bishop really was exactly until just now, when for the first time Vatican II defined it, but now that the bishops have defined their role as essential, we can know that their definition is true because their role is essential because the essential bishops have defined their essentiality, therefore everybody can quit their yammering and come home to Rome.

    We know Rome is the true church because the true church Rome has said so.

    That kind of talk lands you in therapy in the real world, but in the church can get you a red hat!

  8. Schütz

    Oddly enough, PE, there are lots of things in the Church that never got around to being “defined” until very late in the game – the fact is that “definitions” as such are not needed until the accepted position is called into question or there is some dispute. THEN the Church has to make an enquiry into the matter and determine (ie. “define”) what the Church’s true teaching is.

    If this sounds circular to you, just consider that the Church existed for over 300 years without a definition of the Trinity, over 400 years without a definition of the two natures of Christ, and almost 1600 years before a defined list of which books were to be considered “scripture”.

    There’s nothing odd in this. It’s how it has always happened. Lutherans do the same. There was no definition of the doctrine of Justification until Martin Luther and his mates gave it a go. (Trent had to correct them on that bit).

  9. Past Elder

    No, Dave boy, it sounds just like what I used to say myself.

    When somebody would say there’s nothing about a pope in the Nicene Creed, for example, we’d say the Church (read: the RCC) always defines itself as necessary against whatever are the current denials of which if its truths, therefore the Nicene Creed was primarily designed to make clear what the Church believes against the errors of Arius current at the time.

    Actually, they used that too to justify moving the altar out into the congregation, or moving the congregation around the altar: the altar was only later moved back to emphasise the divinity of Christ against those who denied it, but now that that isn’t at issue, we can move them back.

    Catholic theology is a lot like this:

    A guy goes to visit his friend, and while they’re hanging out, the friend gets up and goes out on his porch and jumps up and down for ten minutes. When he came back in, the guy said Why in all free falling Judas did you just do that? The friend says Crikey mate, don’t you know, it keeps the elephants away! The guy says Great big eared Judas, there aren’t any elephants for thousands of miles from here! The friend says, See?

  10. orrologion

    Given Jerome, one may wish to say that it was present in the tradition even before the middle ages.

    Yes, but iconoclasm and chilaism and adoptionism and modalism and Arianism and other such unsavories were present in the tradition, too, but they were not received by the Church, i.e., they do not represent the consensus patrum. One can find all sorts of odd opinions – held to be more than just that by those presenting them, oftentimes – even in otherwise highly revered Fathers of the Church. St. Gregory of Nyssa is but one example.

    I imagine a problem ‘catholic’ Lutheranism faces is both to get Lutherans to accept the need for some such catholic principle and then to determine what that catholic principle is – especially regarding things that are clearly part of the consensus patrum both East and West over many centuries (millenia) even if exceptions proving the rule can be found in various outlying statements by Fathers such as Jerome.

  11. orrologion

    Some theologians might have thought that, but there wasn’t any defined doctrine on the table on the matter

    I noted to a precocious student of mine who wanted to study canon law and ‘The Rudder’ in Sunday School that a farm’s fence is not the farm. Most canon law in the East are specific fences put up around the Church regarding specific issues. They do not define the farm (Church) in its fullness, just its mind on certain topics, sometimes only at certain times and in certain situations. The farm (Church) remains much larger, fuller and verdant. This is the domain of Tradition, in the main. Canon law doesn’t make the bishop – just like Scripture didn’t make the Church – it merely codifies part of what the Church sees as the bishop’s place and role, rights and responsibilities, etc.

    The fact of how we have seen the offices of bishops and presbyter act is the Tradition (the farm). If and when there is need, canons (fences) will be written to codify further (such seems to be the reason why Trent did so for the Roman church).

    Various people can have expressed their own opinions one way or the other, but they are merely proposed ways of speaking until or if the Church accepts it. Such were the caveats proclaimed by St Augustine and Origen, for example, regarding their teachings – the were obedient and submissive before the Church Universal and Full (Catholic).

  12. Schütz

    Very well put, Orrologion.

    I imagine a problem ‘catholic’ Lutheranism faces is both to get Lutherans to accept the need for some such catholic principle and then to determine what that catholic principle is.

    And you are right on the money there, too. When I was an “evangelical catholic”, I found I sometimes won the battle to convince folk of the NEED for the “catholic principle”, but never reached agreement on what that principle was. You find the same thing among high church and anglo-catholic Anglicans.

  13. William Weedon

    I am not convinced that Lutherans would have such difficulty with “getting” the catholic principle and agreeing to it. But I admit, given the mess our Church is in, the harder thing is finding the Lutherans in the first place…

  14. Schütz

    Yes, Pastor Bill, my quandry as an “evangelical catholic” was in fact two-fold. In trying to argue that true Lutheranism was true catholicism, I had the double problem of trying defined not only what true “catholicism” was, but also what true “Lutheranism” was!

    “True Lutherans” (in my estimation) recognised that “true catholicism” was essential to the practice of their faith. However, repeatedly, I was accused of being “too catholic”. You must surely get that pretty regularly…

    In the end, I realised that what I was looking for an “authority” to tell me what “true Lutheranism” and “true catholicism” were, rather than simply relying on what “I liked to do/teach”.

    As it turned out, there was no help for me. In the protracted argument that raged in the LCA on what “true Lutheranism” was, I ended up opting for the only “true catholicism” that had real authority or meaning to it: the Catholic Church.

  15. Past Elder

    Yeah, they take care of that real well. You know just exactly what you’re going to find at pulpit and altar in “Catholic” churches with their bishops, while we struggle along with who knows what from church to church with District Presidents.

  16. William Weedon

    Well, I think the Symbols are actually rather clear on a truly catholic approach as the only genuine Lutheran one. Yes, I’ve been accused of being a Romanizer – which always cracks me up. If someone complains: “That’s too catholic” my usual response is: “Why, thank you.” 🙂

    Krauth, though not using the expression “catholic principle,” nailed the distinction between Lutherans and Reformed when he noted perceptively that for the Reformed Scripture operates more as sole source, where as for Lutherans it operates more as a norm for what is true, and thus there is in the Lutheran heritage a greater receptivity and openness to the exegetical and dogmatic heritage (and of course the liturgical heritage). The difficulty that Lutherans have faced of late is the tendency to become “Reformed” in their approach to tradition, with the resulting “adiaphorizing” of the world and the crumbling of the very foundations on which they once stood. I don’t excuse it; I deplore it. But I hold that Lutheranism’s demise is not the result of a faulty structure in Lutheran theology from the get go, but the result of abandoning that very structure.

    Said most simply, once the Symbols are yanked from their long-standing conversation within the catholic tradition and made to stand on their own, they become something other than what they were at their confession and which their original confessors intended them to be.

    I don’t know if that makes sense to you or not, but it’s how I’ve analyzed the Lutheran mess at present.

  17. William Weedon

    P.S. PE’s point is certainly worth considering. When I’m tempted to think of my own Synod becoming a bit of a cafeteria in theology, I always console myself with: “Well, at least we’re not as bad as Rome on that….yet.” I don’t mean that to sound as harsh as it likely does, but some of the inner-communion discussions on our favorite Roman Catholic Blog (that would be yours) more than demonstrates what I mean, I would think…

  18. Past Elder

    Geesh, the troubles in our beloved Synode are a walk in the park compared to what I saw back in Rome!

  19. Christine

    Yes, I’ve been accused of being a Romanizer – which always cracks me up. If someone complains: “That’s too catholic” my usual response is: “Why, thank you.” 🙂

    I like it, I like it !!

  20. Christine

    I don’t mean that to sound as harsh as it likely does, but some of the inner-communion discussions on our favorite Roman Catholic Blog (that would be yours) more than demonstrates what I mean, I would think…

    Not harsh at all, Pastor Weedon. It’s no secret that not all Catholic parishes operate on the same plane these days.

    C.P. Krauth should be required reading for every Lutheran on the planet. The Lutheran Reformation was decidedly different from that of the Reformed.

  21. Christine

    I don’t mean that to sound as harsh as it likely does, but some of the inner-communion discussions on our favorite Roman Catholic Blog (that would be yours) more than demonstrates what I mean, I would think…

    Not harsh at all, Pastor Weedon. It’s no secret that not all Catholic parishes operate on the same plane these days.

    C.P. Krauth should be required reading for every Lutheran on the planet. The Lutheran Reformation was decidedly different from that of the Reformed.

  22. Past Elder

    Judas at Macy’s, I’ve been called a crypto-papist on my supposed home turf! To which my response, so far never uttered so as to preserve my universal reputation for irenicity, is “Great Judas in a mitre, having been a flaming papist, I can assure you there’s nothing either crypto or papist about it!”

  23. Schütz

    our favorite Roman Catholic Blog (that would be yours)

    Why, thank you! But remember, I’m a “Melbourne Catholic”! 🙂

    And as for what I find in Catholic pulpits and altars each Sunday, it is true that what might be heard from the pulpits may be a bit dodgy at times, BUT what I find on the altar every Sunday and everywhere I go in the Catholic Church is the Eucharist. And even APART from the validity question (which I am happy to put aside for the purpose of this discussion) I could never be assured of that in Lutheran churches.

    This was one of the main reasons I first started thinking along lines of conversion to the Catholic Church. I said to myself, that if the Church is the assembly of those gathered around the word and sacrament (the Augsburg Confession definition), then many times the assembly I was gathered in (and this, btw, was when I wasn’t the celebrant) wasn’t it.

  24. William Weedon

    Deo gratias, the days of a Eucharistless Sunday in these Lutheran parts is rapidly passing away. Now we’re dealing with another problem imported from your communion: the MORE THAN ONE EUCHARIST per Sunday issue, which results in more than one congregation calling itself A congregation…

    Don’t worry, though. I got permission from my DP for eucharistic bination before instituting the practice. I still wish I hadn’t…

  25. Joshua

    The last point is very interesting: because nearly every Catholic parish is in fact several congregations, whose members don’t even know each other – since, for lack of priests, in Australia it is the norm to trinate on Sundays. What results is a Saturday Vigil Mass crowd (do Lutherans do the Saturday Vigil thing?), an early Sunday Mass crowd, a later morning Sunday Mass crowd, and even sometimes a Sunday evening Mass crowd: each of which is a separate congregation, who happen to share one priest and one church. It’s not ideal, but it’s accepted as the norm, especially if (as is often the case, even and especially in the best parishes liturgically speaking) the early service is a “low” Mass (no singing) and the mid- to late-morning Mass has all the bells, smells and music.

    When the Paschal Triduum comes round, there’s all the disputes about which choir gets to sing which service, and everyone runs into people they haven’t seen in ages…

    And of course you have the weekday Mass-goers, themselves constituting a different subset, particularly if the parish offers, say, a very early morning or an evening Mass that a lot of people come to who go to their own parishes on Sunday.

  26. William Weedon

    Josh,

    Our parish has Saturday Mass – fully sung, except for the distribution hymns (not always enough folks in attendance to keep the music going when others are at the rail). Then two identically sung masses on Sunday morning (WITH three distribution hymns). Our parish additionally offers a midweek low Mass (spoken entirely). The first three constitute three congregations; but almost everyone who shows up at Wednesday Mass is also there at one of the weekend services.

  27. Joshua

    I see – what stops you doing the weekday service every day? (I’ve never understood why Wednesday should be a sacred day apart from its other brother days: Anglicans, except the very high, also have this Wednesday devotion I note.)

  28. orrologion

    Not sure if there is the same tradition in the Latin Rite, but the Byzantine Rite celebrates every Wednesday as a day of the Cross (it was the day Judas met with the Sanhedrin to betray Him). It’s also mid-week or ‘hump day’ as they have said here in the US, so it’s also simply practical to make sure we can get to Church regularly, and not all bunched together on the weekend. Any other reasons?

  29. William Weedon

    Christopher,

    We chose it for the reason that it was humpday, if you will. It provides an opportunity for midweek refreshment in the Word of God. Our usual schedule for the evening (outside of Advent and Lent) is Mass at 6:15, Bible Study at 7 (we’re studying the Book of Wisdom at the moment), Compline at 8.

    As for the daily mass, Joshua, maybe it is my own laziness. For certainly Dr. Luther’s Large Catechism three times or so refers to the Blessed Eucharist as our “daily sustenance.” Some Lutheran parishes do observe daily mass during Advent and Lent (Zion Fort Wayne does) and I know that it was customary at Zion Detroit. I’m not sure of where else, but wouldn’t be surprised to find it in some locales.