03 September 2009

May Absolution Be Referred to As a Sacrament?

The 1943 Catechism taught many a Missouri Synod Lutheran that there are only two sacraments. Period. The definition of “sacrament” that we use customarily is not a biblical definition but is rather a theological or church-determined definition. Most of the time Lutherans say that there are two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And that is right to do. For the definition of sacrament that Lutherans use is threefold: a divine rite instituted by Christ in His earthly ministry that gives the forgiveness of sins and uses a visible, physical element. Under that definition Baptism and the Lord’s Supper most clearly fit. In the case of the absolution spoken by the pastor, absolution can only be called a sacrament if the visible the most crucial thing about what is or isn't a sacrament. Of course in Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and absolution there must be someone there doing the speaking and administration.

However, our own Lutheran Confessions, as contained in the Book of Concord of 1580, something to which the congregations, Lutheran pastors, and our synod subscribes without reservation, also notes that the definition of a sacrament is not something to be quibbled over. They say, “For no prudent man will strive greatly concerning the number or the term, if only those objects still be retained which have God's command and promises.” The reason the Roman Catholic Church lists seven sacraments and we do not is because we don’t use the same definition. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession says in Article XIII:
3] If we call Sacraments rites which have the command of God, and to which the promise of grace has been added, it is easy to decide what are properly Sacraments. For rites instituted by men will not in this way be Sacraments properly so called. For it does not belong to human authority to promise grace. Therefore signs instituted without God's command are not sure signs of grace, even though they perhaps instruct the rude [children or the uncultivated], or admonish as to something [as a painted cross]. 4] Therefore Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Absolution, which is the Sacrament of Repentance, are truly Sacraments. For these rites have God's command and the promise of grace, which is peculiar to the New Testament. For when we are baptized, when we eat the Lord's body, when we are absolved, our hearts must be firmly assured that God truly forgives us 5] for Christ's sake. And God, at the same time, by the Word and by the rite, moves hearts to believe and conceive faith, just as Paul says, Rom. 10, 17: Faith cometh by hearing. But just as the Word enters the ear in order to strike our heart, so the rite itself strikes the eye, in order to move the heart. The effect of the Word and of the rite is the same, as it has been well said by Augustine that a Sacrament is a visible word, because the rite is received by the eyes, and is, as it were, a picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word. Therefore the effect of both is the same.

Similarly, in the Large Catechism Martin Luther writes:
74] And here you see that Baptism, both in its power and signification, comprehends also the third Sacrament [absolution], which has been called repentance, 75] as it is really nothing else than Baptism.

Absolution is a means of grace along with the preached Word, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren (Christians speaking God’s Word to each other). In the 1991 synodical explanation to the Small Catechism also reminds us that while usually we speak of there being two sacraments, it is also acceptable, though not often mentioned, for Lutherans to speak of absolution as a third sacrament. This is also stated in “What About Confession and Absolution,” in the popular tract series authored by the late Rev. Dr. A.L. Barry, former president of the LCMS. So in conclusion, absolution “may” be freely referred to as a third sacrament among Lutherans, acknowledging that it is a “stretch” of the usual definition. So as our confessions remind us, we will not “strive greatly about the number or term.” In Scripture “sacrament” (mysterion – Greek) means “mystery” but beyond this it is a humanly-devised definition that is descriptive of what we find in the particulars of the means of grace. The number of sacraments is an area of some flexibility according to the definition in our own official Confessions since 1580. In other words, it depends on where the emphasis is placed. It is for catechetical simplicity that two is the most common way of explaining it.


Chad Myers said...

Interesting that Luther called it the "third Sacrament".

Also, Rev. Frahm, you don't quite get the Roman Catholic position correct. The definition is essentially the same: outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification (Catechismus concil. Trident., n. 4, ex St. Augustine, "De Catechizandis rudibus") -- apparently Luther thought he knew better than Augustine ;).

All 7 of the Sacraments were instituted/performed by Christ directly and he commanded them to be done (though perhaps he didn't call them the same names as we know them today -- he also never said "Take Communion" or "Lord's Supper" either, but we all agree on that Sacrament).

One more point, Christ gave the power of absolution to the Apostles (in the upper room, as one of the first things he said to them after the Resurrection -- so this is a very important Sacrament). He also instructed them to pass on authority via the laying of hands. Neither Luther nor any of the Lutheran pastors received the Apostolic succession of laying on hands, so technically they do not have the authority prescribed by Christ to perform proper absolution. Though I don't doubt that in God's grace and mercy, that he doesn't allow for grace to flow, at least in part, through the practice of Lutheran absolution.

Father Hollywood said...

Since our Confessions aren't dogmatic about what definitionally constitutes a sacrament nor how many there are, I think it was a terrible lapse of judgment for the old catechism to go beyond the Book of Concord in its definition, and also unfortunate that the "What About...?" author would consider it a "stretch" to call the Sacrament of Holy Absolution a sacrament.

Such cavalier treatment to one of the six chief parts may explain why many a Lutheran goes his entire life without ever receiving private absolution and why C&A is even treated with contempt by some in our circles.

There seems to be an unintended consequence every time our synod tries to become dogmatic about things that the Book of Concord isn't.

Rev. Jacob Sutton said...

Pr. Frahm,
You say this in your article,
"For the definition of sacrament that Lutherans use is threefold: a divine rite instituted by Christ in His earthly ministry that gives the forgiveness of sins and uses a visible, physical element."

But the last phrase, "and uses a visible, physical element" is NOT said in Apology XIII (except it quotes Augustine favorably as a sign being a "visible Word"). Can you point the readers to any other place in the Lutheran Confessions that speak the way you did? I was looking, for example, in the Large Catechism and the Smalcald Articles, and the Augustana itself, and I have not found such a phrase. I may be wrong. Also do the scriptures speak in such a way? I stand willing to be corrected.

Would it not be better/simpler to just stick to "a rite or ceremony that has the command of God and to which the promise of grace has been attached"? This seems so much easier to explain in so far as the means of grace are concerned, and, Melanchthon is quite brilliant in his analysis of the Roman Sacramental system in light of this definition. I especially like to point out how there is definitely no "grace" attached to marriage, esp when one gets in trouble with one's spouse... (I always get a good laugh from the guys on that one...)

Mr. Myers,
When is it that Christ "never said" "Take Communion"??? What about the clear Scripture in three Gospels and in 1 Corinthians where Christ says, "Take eat" "Take drink" "THIS DO", or am I not understanding you?

I confess to being a Lutheran theological hick, after all, out here in the dregs and wasteland of having received an ordination where no one knows whether or not the "bishop" had "apostolic succession" or not! My theological aptitude may therefore be lacking! Especially since I dare to consider Holy Scripture to be the supreme authority in all matters of faith and life along with the Lutheran Confessions.

I've been reading your comments over many days now in response to many different topics, Mr. Myers, and I am glad you keep track of what the "Blackbirds" have to say and GLAD for you to contribute. BUT - do us a favor, and quit pulling the trick that is played on EWTN all the time regarding Lutherans, where they look down their nose over their glasses and make fun of the Lutheran know-nothings because they "only" have "one authority" - as if Lutherans are in the theological backwoods. This may not be your intention.

And if we are in the backwoods as far as Rome is concerned, fine, we don't need them in the grand scheme of things - the Gospel will still be preached, the Sacraments still administered, sinners still comforted and assured, and the Holy Spirit will still produce faith in Christ through His Word - in OUR CHURCHES.

But sometimes your comments are coming across with a lack of Christian charity and quite a bit of condescension. I pray I never do that, I may have sometime I'm sure, but God forgive me, I am asking you for a bit better.

BESIDES all this - how do you know that "Luther [never] received the Apostolic succession of laying on hands..."? Who ordained Luther a priest, when was he ordained, and where? OR did his excommunication "nullify" his ordination as a priest? Now he also did not receive such consecration as a "bishop" - is that what you are getting at? Does it only "count" for the consecration of a bishop, or does it "count" for your average priest? Just asking for some clarity and help. I mean, let's let Luther play by the rules now that he's been dead for 500 years - if he got the apostolic "goods" - which in his writings he never seemed too worried about for any reason - then he should be credited with the "goods"!

The Rev. Jacob Sutton
Faith Lutheran Church
Plano, Texas

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Chad:

Actually, we Lutherans have a succession through laying on of hands in a *presbyterial* succession - of which there are many examples in the early Church - especially in Alexandria.

If the presbyterial succession invalidates our orders, it also invalidates Roman orders in the case of any modern bishop or priest who is "descended" from one of these early presbyterial orders that have been considered valid for centuries.

Also, there are many Lutheran bodies around the world that actually have episcopal succession, as several RC bishops in Scandinavia at the time of the Reformation (unlike in Germany) themselves accepted the reformation and continued to ordain priests and consecrate bishops in their episcopal office apart from the papacy (which would be considered "valid but illicit" under RC canon law).

The validity of such orders is what frightened the Vatican about Archbishop Milingo's tryst with the Unification Church (including his marriage to a Moonie woman). Had be started consecrating the Moonies as priests and bishops, those ordinations and consecrations would have been likewise "valid but illicit" and would have wrought havoc. Fortunately, they somehow got Milingo back to his senses.

I know of no RC authority anywhere that denies the validity of Martin Luther's priestly orders.

John Frahm said...

Chad Meyers wrote:
Also, Rev. Frahm, you don't quite get the Roman Catholic position correct. The definition is essentially the same: outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification (Catechismus concil. Trident., n. 4, ex St. Augustine, "De Catechizandis rudibus") -- apparently Luther thought he knew better than Augustine ;).

All 7 of the Sacraments were instituted/performed by Christ directly and he commanded them to be done (though perhaps he didn't call them the same names as we know them today -- he also never said "Take Communion" or "Lord's Supper" either, but we all agree on that Sacrament).

You prove that the definition isn't the same. Roman Catholics do not understand "grace" simply as favor dei or as forgiveness -- to name but one point. Sanctification is also a different thing than forgiveness. The definition is very different.

I think marriage is instituted in Genesis and not in the New Testament. Lutherans mean that the sacraments were instituted by the incarnate Christ in His earthly ministry.

John Frahm said...

Pr. Sutton,

I'm not sure if it is all in one place, but it does speak this way in the Book of Concord. Of course, you must know that the definition of a sacrament as we or Rome use it is descriptive of things in common, not a biblical pre-conceived notion (as if a sacrament exists in generic form).

Born of water and the Spirit - Baptism

This is my Body; this is my blood - involves bread and wine.

Absolution - that's the fudge - pastor, His mouth speaking... Although it is an external Word (externum verbum) and not some kind of interior, Pietistic, Quaker "word"

Large Catechism, Sacrament of the Altar: For it is said: Accedat verbum ad elementum, et fit sacramentum. If the Word be joined to the element, it becomes a Sacrament. This saying of St. Augustine is so properly and so well put that he has scarcely said anything better. The Word must make a Sacrament of the element, else it remains a mere element.

[Also cited in LC on Baptism]

Smalcald Articles:
1] Baptism is nothing else than the Word of God in the water, commanded by His institution, or, as Paul says, a washing in the Word; as also Augustine says: Let the Word come to the element, and it becomes a Sacrament. 2] And for this reason we do not hold with Thomas and the monastic preachers [or Dominicans] who forget the Word (God's institution) and say that God has imparted to the water a spiritual power, which through the water washes away sin. 3] Nor [do we agree] with Scotus and the Barefooted monks [Minorites or Franciscan monks], who teach that, by the assistance of the divine will, Baptism washes away sins, and that this ablution occurs only through the will of God, and by no means through the Word or water.

Smalcald Articles again:
5] As regards transubstantiation, we care nothing about the sophistical subtlety by which they teach that bread and wine leave or lose their own natural substance, and that there remain only the appearance and color of bread, and not true bread. For it is in perfect agreement with Holy Scriptures that there is, and remains, bread, as Paul himself calls it, 1 Cor. 10:16: The bread which we break. And 1 Cor. 11:28: Let him so eat of that bread.

Sacrament of the Attar is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself; 11] and in the Apology this is not only explained still more clearly, but also established by the passage from Paul, 1 Cor. 10, 16, and by the testimony of Cyril, in the following words: The Tenth Article has been approved, in which we confess that in the Lord's Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present, and are truly tendered with the visible elements, bread and wine, to those who receive the Sacrament. For since Paul says: "The bread which we break is the communion of the body of Christ," etc., it would follow, if the body of Christ were not, but only the Holy Ghost were truly present, that the bread is not a communion of the body, but of the Spirit of Christ. Besides, we know that not only the Romish, but also the Greek Church has taught the bodily presence of Christ in the Holy Supper. And testimony is produced from Cyril that Christ dwells also bodily in us in the Holy Supper by the communication of His flesh.

Chad Myers said...

@Rev. Sutton:

I believe he instituted the Eucharist, don't worry I'm not making that point. He just never used the words specifically "take communion" or "Lord's Supper." My point is that just because Christ never used the specific word we use today for a Sacrament doesn't mean it's not a Sacrament. Otherwise, only Baptism would be a sacrament.

Also, I do not "look down my nose" at you. I greatly respect all of you and have learned more about my
faith and Christianity in general. I am very greatful you guys spend time writing for this blog.

I do believe that Lutheran theology is a shadow of, or a self-imposed shedding/subset of its original Catholic faith -- the faith as it was, is, and will be as Christ instituted it. Catholics possess the fullness of faith as Christ imparted it to us. Lutherans posses a lot of it, but not the fullness and the rest contains errors that prevent Lutheran faithful from fully understanding and realizing the goal that Christ imparted to us. And yes, before you ask it, I absolutely believe Lutherans can, do and will go to Heaven. I just believe that they're missing out on a lot of faith that they surreptitiously threw out without any true just cause. Much of it Luther explained, much of it (later) was discarded simply for the purpose of not appearing too Catholic. In the former, we can argue. In the later, it it just silly. This blog has given me hope because many of you are open to ideas and are "rediscovering" the Catholic heritage of your faith tradition (this post being a clear example of it).

I am concerned however by your nonchalantness of throwing off the clear authority Christ imparted the Apostles, the authority which Luther, without just cause, discarded to the great detriment of many of the faithful. While the Gospel will still be taught, Sinners comforted and this is VERY good, "the Sacraments still administered" is not correct because the priestly power to perform the Sacrements (except Baptism) has not been granted to you (or to me) because you were not given that power through the Apostolic Succession as ordained and exemplified by Christ. Therefore, you deny yourself and your congregations part of the proper Sacramental economy and means of Grace here on Earth. Can you still be saved? Of course. It is not required to take of the Sacraments (except Baptism) to be saved. But your faith life is made harder because you do not possess the fullness of the faith tradition carried down for 2,000 years in the Church.

"But sometimes your comments are coming across with a lack of Christian charity" -- On the contrary, it is supreme Charity. I wish for you to possess the fullness of faith and experience Christ as he instructed us to experience him, not how Luther mistook it to be. I wish for you the fullness of Christ's truth. Is it charity to allow good Christian brothers to persist in incorrect theology? Do you not correct your own brothers and sisters if they are in error? What is the point of this blog if not that?

Chad Myers said...

Forgot to answer the question about Apostolic Succession:

We have examples of this in Acts and later in the writings of St. Igantius of Antioch (Bishop of Antioch ordained and given Apostolic Succession by Peter himself), St. Iraeneus, and St. Polycarp in the earliest days of the Church.

Luther was indeed a priest monk, but neither priests nor deacons possess the power to ordain other priests.

Only Apostles (Bishops), appointed by other Apostles (Bishops) may carry the line of Succession.

To do so without the approval of the Pope (Bishop of Rome, primary) is illicit, but still valid according to the power of his office as a Bishop. This is why, even though they have excommunicated each other, the Orthodox Bishops are still valid (though illicit in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church and vice versa) and can validly perform the Sacraments.

This is also why various schismatic Bishops (such as the SSPX Bishops) present a real problem for the Church both in unity and confusion for the faithful.

Chad Myers said...

@Rev. Frahm: "were instituted by the incarnate Christ in His earthly ministry"

1.) Marriage was spoken to by Christ when he said "and so a man will leave his mother and cleave to his wife." He also attended the wedding feast at Cana and performed a miracle to aid in is festivity. While Christ himself did not get married, his essential promotion and approval of it is seen as institution and a means by which Grace is imparted. That's a weak defense of it, this combox is too small for a proper discourse.

2.) Ordination, Christ himself ordained the Apostles through laying on hands and breathing the Holy Spirit in them, as well as granting them the power to forgive sins.

3.) Last rites: Christ administered blessings to several dying folks. The Thief on the Cross is one quick and obvious example.

4.) Penance: The woman at the well, Peter on the shore after the resurrection, numerous examples. The Peter example also demonstrates the need for penance for a proper full confession and absolution, but there are some better examples of this.

5.) Lord's Supper: Obvious, we agree on this.

6.) Baptism: Obvious, we agree on this.

7.) Confirmation: Acts has several examples of Paul or other Apostles baptizing people and then also giving them the Holy Spirit or laying their hands upon them. In at least one case, the person had to go speak with Peter (I think it was) after his Baptism before he was fully integrated into the Church. They did this because they were emulating the things Christ did to them and to others that were following them (laying on hands is used for more than Ordination and not all laying on hands confers Apostolic Succession).

This was a quick rapid-fire summary. If you need the specific chapter/verse of any of these, I can get them all for you.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


I think you put the cart before the horse on this one - the 43 Catechism's attitude towards CA didn't cause the lack of Private Confession - it was just proof that it had fallen into disuse. The fact that we were willing to state so dogmantically something beyond the BOC demonstrates that we had gone barking up the wrong tree.

But to be fair, it was also pointed out that this was merely our definition of a Sacrament that we found useful, and according to this definition where the Pastor doesn't count as a visible element, there are only 2.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Chad:

You wrote:

"Luther was indeed a priest monk, but neither priests nor deacons possess the power to ordain other priests. Only Apostles (Bishops), appointed by other Apostles (Bishops) may carry the line of Succession."

This is *normally* but not *exclusively* the case. There are quite a few specific historic cases of presbyters ordaining other presbyters in the Roman succession.

It's fair to say that our ordinations are not licit according to Roman canon law. It's fair to say that our ordinations are even irregular. It's fair to say that our ordinations are not recognized (at this time) by the Vatican. But it is not correct to say that any and all ordinations done by presbyters are invalid. It's just not historically true.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Peter wasn't assigned penance in John 21 - he was instructed to show love to his neighbors. It is sad where an injunction to show love towards the neighbor is twisted into a matter of "do this or otherwise you won't be forgiven."

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

To the people born and raised on the 1943 Catechism, who memorized it and repeated it again and again, private confession is not a sacrament. It says so right in the "catechism."

I have heard it from several newer pastors that when they came along and "contradict" the "catechism," that is indeed a cause of people digging in their heels and despising the sacrament - or at very least, looking askance at the pastor who is calling it a sacrament and emphasizing its importance, trying to get people to do it.

This is why I don't believe our catechetical materials ought to be dogmatizing things that are left without dogmatic definition in our confessions.

This is the problem with our Lutheran version of scholasticism. We're so eager to slap a logic-bound definition on everything that we out-define the definitions of our confessions - which are themselves supposed to be definitional!

At least our catechism should explain that marriage, ordination, anointing, and other churchly acts may well and properly be considered sacraments based on how the word is used - and that this is not wrong. It could be done with a single paragraph and a citation from the BOC (Ap XIII).

CPH - even when speaking ex cathedra - does not have the power to declare new dogma.

And please feel free to call me by my first name. It was a while ago, but we were actually classmates at Fort Wayne.

K said...

Father Hollywood,

You wrote:
"This is *normally* but not *exclusively* the case. There are quite a few specific historic cases of presbyters ordaining other presbyters in the Roman succession."

Would you clarify for me a little bit?

I went to wiki (I know, the internet isn't the best way to search, but it's all I got) and they say that Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans all need a bishop to ordain new clergy.


Chad Myers said...

@Everyone: I realize that perhaps I was a little zealous and overbearing. This was not my intent. I am a very matter of fact person when I comment and all emotional or nuance is destroyed in these comment boxes.

I love and respect you all, and I would not argue with you in this fashion if I didn't think you were all highly intelligent, extremely well versed in scripture, and ardent, obedient, loving Christians striving for a deeper relationship with Christ.

I do not mean to offend. However, I am offended (this is tongue in cheek, but half-serious): If Lutheranism is the correct, proper, and right way of following Christ, why then do you not try to convince me of the errors of my ways and of the Catholic Church and its potential heresies? Don't you love me?

If you loved me, which I know you do (even if you find me annoying) because you are all caring, loving individuals by virtue of your vocation, then you should try to instruct me and correct me.

Why then would you not expect any less for me? If I believe I am right and I see people such as yourselves (highly intelligent, educated, God-fearing, dedicated, Christ-loving), why would I not try to help you find a deeper meaning?

If I have offended, I am sorry. If I have been uncharitable, I am sorry double.

I do not mean to come off arrogant, only confident -- as one who has found the correct path in the forest and implores his comrades to join him.

Condescension is the LAST thing I am trying to do.

I was born, raised, and instructed Lutheran (LCMS -- in fact I grew up in Fort Wayne and my Father had and still has much to do with Concordia Seminary and various Lutheran institutions around town).

I feel that I have found that Lutheranism is not the full expression of the Christian faith, that Luther shed more than was due and that I was missing much of the faith for so long. As a child who has found a lost toy, I wish to share this joy I now have with you.

My overbearing is my immaturity and my arrogance overzealousness. For that I am sorry. I do it only out of love, please believe me!

Rev. Jacob Sutton said...

Thanks for your kind reply.

I am afraid that most people take someone saying, "you're missing out" on a part of the Christian faith, warning us that we are somehow deficient, with a bit of a prickly feeling. Especially when according to the plain reading and easy interpretation of Holy Scriptures, and when Lutheran doctrine is so very much in line with the early church fathers, notably, as Pastor Frahm has ably shown on this topic, with St. Augustine himself on the Sacraments, that it is difficult to see someone (even if not intended) try to warn us of mortal danger (I never thought you'd say we are "going to hell") when in fact by Scriptures we are far from it by God's grace and on account of Christ's blood.

So we're missing the "Apostolic Tradition" of the Roman Magesterium over the centuries (which unbroken line it is dubious at best that it can be proven to actually be intact). What if the office of "Apostle" is done with, what if the Holy Ministry of pastors and priests and bishops of various sizes and shapes are the continuation of the Apostolic doctrine, the proclamation of the Apostolic doctrine concerning Christ and His Church, the proclamation of their witness concerning Christ?

I like the current Pope, he has some good things to say, he seems to be a godly leader of the church. But can he be called an "Apostle" - what defines this? The Apostles (the eleven and Paul, and by drawing straws, Matthias) are dead (as far as we know), and they were eyewitnesses of our Lord, and they were allowed to perform miraculous signs in Jesus' name. Does Benedict heal people today? Did he eyewitness our Lord Jesus? Does Rome have something the rest of the world does not in access to God the Father and His Son? I'm starting to sound Dan Brown'ish.

Your difference with us is that we have "discarded the Apostles". No way. We have the Prophetic and Apostolic witness in Holy Scriptures. Our difference is in believing that there is "new" apostolic revelation since the time of the Apostles. For Luther, proof of this "enthusiasm" was that the papacy was clearly hanging onto doctrine and practice contrary to the clear words of Christ, His apostolic and prophetic Word.

Having said that - in talking with a local Roman Catholic theologian, I am aware that there is a certain side of Roman theology that really treats the "apostolic succession" and "apostolic tradition" in a truly "Historical-Critical" way - seeking to explain the "tradition" without needing to prove an unbroken line to Peter. Sort of they believe the Peter idea to be a "wive's tale", but in order to keep the "tradition" as authority, they have proffered a modern way of still maintaining the authority of the papacy - if I recall correctly, since there is an organic growth of doctrine from the magesterium, it proves the Holy Spirit is still working through them to rule the Church authoritatively, this authority however cannot truly be linked to an actual succession. This side of the Roman church won the fight at Vatican II - and thus the traditional side of the church, along with the Latin Mass, etc., went down with it (even though that side outnumbered the new theological view).

Well, thank you Chad for your kind contributions and eager dialogue.

Peace in Christ,
Rev. Jacob Sutton

PS - THANK YOU Pastor Frahm for doing what I was too lazy to do - find the Augustine quotes on the Sacraments. I must look like I don't ever study my own Book of Concord. I apologize for that. I did know they were there. But it is not quoted quite that way (as in the Large Catechism for example) in Apology XIII by Melanchthon. I suppose in this case, answering to the Confutation, he did not feel it necessary to the argument. It is interesting to note that in Wilhelm Lohe's Small Catechism questions and answers, he leaves off Augustine totally and only defines the Sacraments by Apology XIII.

And yes, the Word of Christ, living and active, is certainly not just a "vocable", I totally agree with you.

Fr. Timothy D. May, SSP said...

Since the Book of Concord makes no insistence on the number of sacraments and the 1943 Catechism insists on two it may be that the Catechism has taken a different route (since others insist on only two).

If grace and forgiveness are the pastoral issue, as we normally emphasize, then Holy Absolution certainly leans in the direction of sacrament (and not as an obstacle to a fixed number).

Let us not turn Absolution into "fudge" nor be afraid if the forgiveness comes from pastors or priests just as we do not fear forgiveness when it comes from our neighbor. Forgiveness and retention of sin are clearly attached to the apostolic ministry in our tradition.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear K:

"I went to wiki (I know, the internet isn't the best way to search, but it's all I got) and they say that Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans all need a bishop to ordain new clergy."

A good treatment is in an essay by Arthur Carl Piepkorn called "The Sacred Ministry and Ordination in the Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Church" - Excursis II of this essay is called "The Minister of Ordination in the Primitive and Medieval Church."

Piepkorn sites:

* the second century bishops in Alexandria and Lyons being ordained by the local college of presbyters.

* Canon 13 of the Council of Ancyra (314) approved by Leo IV (847-855) gave specifics on when and how presbyters (priests) could ordain other presbyters.

* St. John Cassian reports that the priest-abbot Paphnutius ordained his successor to the priesthood.

* Sts Willehad and Liudger (8th century) were performing ordinations prior to their own episcopal consecrations.

* Altfrid (d. 849) was ordaining presbyters even though he humbly refused episcopal consecration until very late in life.

* Boniface IX, in his 1400 bull Sacrae Religionis, granted an abbey in the diocese of London the permission to confer priestly orders through the presbyterate.

* Martin V's bull Gerentes ad vos (1427) granted the same authority to the Cistercians in Altzelle.

* Eugene IV's bull Exsultate Deo (1439) declares that the "ordinary minister of this sacrament [ordination] is a bishop."

I know there is further historical data in Part IV of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Eucharist and Ministry (which I don't have in front of me) - which in fact moved the panel of Roman theologians to unanimously recommend to the Vatican recognition of the validity of Lutheran orders and Masses (while not, of course, recommending intercommunion). Although the Vatican did not act on the recommendation, these were heavy-hitting theologians that were convinced by the vast historical evidence for the presbyterial conferring of orders.

Father Hollywood said...

"sites" should be "cites."

Mea culpa.

Chad Myers said...

@Rev Sutton:

When you say "so very much in line with the early church fathers", I disagree with this. In fact, this was one of the primary reasons for me reverting to the Catholic faith was that I found Protestantism almost completely lacking in any historical basis -- as if Christianity stopped when Christ ascended and picked up again with Luther. Attempts since then to try to reach back and "rediscover" historical authoritative Catholic teaching and rebrand it somehow to support the Protestant position I have found somewhat disingenuous not to mention head-scratchingly incorrect.

Case in point, Augustine. He argues quite plainly a very Roman Catholic (even as we know it today) position from everything form the Papal orders to Mass and the Eucharist to Mary, etc. I find that Lutheranism rejects or ignores most of this. This post particularly raised my attention because of Lutherans seemingly rediscovering absolution, but leaving out penance and everything else Augustine and other Doctors of the Church have to say about it. I can't understand why certain things are cherry picked from the Catholic Deposit of Faith while others are summarily rejected without (in my mind) any just cause other than "Luther said it" (a confounding appeal to tradition).

"unbroken line is dubious at best that it can be proven to actually be in tact" Really? It's quite plain. What doubt is there?

"What if the office of 'Apostle' is done..."

We can play "what if" all day, but it was clear from the beginning that there was ONE Church (Christ said, 'and on this rock I will build MY CHURCH' not 'my churches' or 'my 30,000+ denominations of loosely interconnected, but contradictory theologies with many hundreds more created every year'.

So there's ONE Church according to Christ. This ONE Church is consistent with itself, so we cannot logically say that the "Church" is "all Christianity" because "all Christianity" is in conflict and inconsistent with respect to itself. There must be one truth. By which sign can we know which group possesses the fullness of truth? By the authority with which it teaches and how it received that authority.

There is ONE Church, it is HOLY, it is APOSTOLIC, and it is CATHOLIC. Only Roman Catholicism and perhaps the Orthodox faiths meet these 4 requirements completely. This fact is so important that it was put into the Creed. By what authority do you draw your theology? By men like Luther and his predecessors who have no clear authority by which to teach or change 1,500 year old Dogma of the ONE Church.

"But can he be called an 'Apostle'" - Yes:

I find it curious that Christ might intend for the authority to "loose and bind" granted to Peter and the power to forgive sins given to the him and rest of the Apostles to die with them. Why then, did he 'send them forth' (Apostle)?

Chad Myers said...

One last thing:

"Does Rome have something the rest of the world does not in access to God the Father and His Son?" -- Yes, the promise of the Holy Spirit, the Keys of Heaven, and the Power to Loose and Bind on Earth and in Heaven. It also has the promise from Christ that the gates of hell shall never prevail against it.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


I called you by your last name more often at school -- if I said, "Larry" that was generally an ironic reference to Rast coming up =o)

I agree with you that it is probably over dogmatic - but it isn't as though CPH just codified something that wasn't present in Lutheranism. In fact, Luther in the Babylonian Captivity of the Church does a swing on Absolution - he starts with three, but at the end he says, "Eh, Absolution is really just the Word, not the Word tied to a visible element, so let's call it two."

If you come across a problem with the "authoritative" CPH, what you do is you slide back to Luther and the Augsburg Confession - and don't just teach "This is the way it should be" but teach "This is how we sort of slid away from where we were, and we ought to go back there."

Rev. Jacob Sutton said...

Dear Chad,
Thank you for your impassioned response. But you have missed the Lutheran point. Perhaps it is because of being called "Lutheran" after the name of the man.

"I can't understand why certain things are cherry picked from the Catholic Deposit of Faith while others are summarily rejected without (in my mind) any just cause other than "Luther said it" (a confounding appeal to tradition)."

This is an untrue statement, a caricature at best. Lutherans do not do this, and I defy you to find an orthodox, Book of Concord subscribing Lutheran that bases doctrine and teaching on "Luther said it."

You ignored my argument it toto and did not address it head-on. We do not accept or reject anything from the "deposit of faith" because of "Luther saying so" - nowhere is he cited as a perfected, infallible source of authority. He is respected as "the chief teacher of the churches of the Augsburg Confession" - but ONLY IN SO FAR as his teachings agree with and are normed by THE AUTHORITY - HOLY SCRIPTURE. I would say in our circles, Luther is quoted because he was such a clear, easy to understand, teacher and doctor of the Scriptures, and he is respected, admired, even loved - because God used him to reform the Church and help turn her back to the Gospel, back to the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures.

No, you've ignored the whole point of the Reformation. Back to the Bible as God's authoritative Word to us, even above councils and popes. All of us must humble ourselves to His apostolic and prophetic Word. When church tradition agrees with clear Scriptures, we rejoice. When not... it must be pointed out and avoided.

Augustine and the church fathers (and other pastors are much more well read than I, and may wish to chime in, on this matter) are not "cherry picked" - when they teach according to Holy Scriptures, we rejoice in their teaching. When they do not, or when anyone does not, we must point it out, avoid it.

I think there are men reading this blog who can marshal a whole constellation of the Church Fathers being in agreement with the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions of them. They may or may not wish to join in this argument. Not to mention the Book of Concord itself goes to great pains to show the doctrine confessed there is in line with the Fathers.

Also, you ignored the point on the Apostles. The gifts Christ gave to the Church through them did not "die with them" - the office of preaching the Gospel and giving the Sacraments continues, and certainly we teach according to their "deposit of faith" that they have left to us.

But the question is - simply based on a supposedly unbroken chain of men sitting on a bishop's seat for 2000 years over the top of dead, dry bones in Rome - and an incorrect understanding of Christ's words to Peter - this group of men are allowed to contradict Holy Scriptures freely, without questioning them? And we must call the holder of this office an "apostle"?

I am happy to call them pastors, priests, doctors and theologians of the church even - especially when they teach according to the plain words of Holy Scripture, especially when they proclaim Christ crucified for the justification of sinners, given as a free gift. But when they say - at the most basic level - you or I must add our works to the merit of Christ, you or I must do something to please God in addition to the atoning sacrifice of Christ in order to earn our eternal salvation - then they are OUT OF BOUNDS, they have gone beyond Scripture, beyond the Apostles themselves. This was pointed out to them in the Lutheran Reformation - and the point is still not overcome, but has been ignored with sophistry and condemnations of various kinds.

James T. B said...

I realize that I am joining this discussion a bit late, but I would like to offer another view of C & A.

When I read part four of Luther's explanation of Holy Baptism in the Small Catechism, it seems to sound a lot like C & A. May I suggest that the reason many have decided on two sacraments is that they consider C & A to be a part of the ongoing life of the baptized person.

This allows us to say for example that Divine Service contains all the "Means of Grace." We start out with Holy Baptism in the C & A. Then we have the Word. Finally we have the Lord's Supper.

Is it possible that the reason we went from three sacraments to two is that C & A was included with Holy Baptism?

K said...

Thank you Father Hollywood for the homework :)

K said...

Here's my chance to step in it.

So I'm trying to figure out this idea that presbyters can ordain other presbyters. I looked up some of the things Father Hollywood sent and found this from the Council of Ancyra.


IT is not lawful for Chorepiscopi to ordain presbyters or deacons., and most assuredly not presbyters of a city, without the commission of the bishop given in writing, in another parish.

So, it is lawful for a presbyter to ordain another but only with the bishop's permission.

I'm gathering that the majority of the other examples that Father Hollywood gave would come under this rule.

Now I'm back to apostolic succession. The Church started with 12 bishops. The laying on of hands surely continued up until Luther's time. Right? He would have been ordained by a bishop. Since Luther was a priest, not a bishop, how do you know the "line" wasn't broken then?

Father Hollywood said...

Dear K:

I don't know what tradition you're from, but the Lutheran confessions assert that the difference between the grade of "bishop" and "presbyter" is one of grade based on human, rather than divine, right.

In other words, the New Testament uses the terms episkopos (bishop or overseer) and presbuteros (presbyter or elder) in an interchangeable way. Sometimes early church historians will use the term: "presbyter/bishop" to describe the ministerial office.

Thus, all ministers of Word and Sacrament (whether styled priests or bishops) actually hold the episcopal office.

This is why 1 Tim 3 (though using the term "bishop") is used as a guideline of the requirements for parish pastors.

Martin Luther and his fellow Wittenberg reformers, as validly ordained presbyters, had the credentials to ordain other pastors. modern Lutheran pastors are ordained by other pastors - who were in turn also ordained, and so on. We do not advocate men serving in the ministry simply because they "feel called" and start describing themselves as "Reverend." Ordination is a constituent part of the "rightly ordered call" in our Augsburg Confession (Article 14) that is confessed as a requirement for pastoral ministry.

Using ordained men who hold a in a specific supervisory office to ordain other men is a fine and laudable practice, but it is not something Scripture mandates.

I hope this helps!

smith_ad19 said...

Chad and Pr. Sutton,

I think Chad has a valid critique of much of Lutheranism practiced today; it's not as catholic as it should be and much of what has been recovered has been so in the last 20 to 30 years. Just look at the '43 catechism and today's. Look at the '41 hymnal and today's LSB. Confessional Lutherans today stand on the shoulders of those like Piepkorn and Pelikan and dare I say, Marquart and Nagel and Fuerhahn and other such men who reiterated the preface to the Augustana so that we were to value again highly our catholic roots.

If Chad grew up in a typical 20th century Lutheran parish, when would he have ever heard mention of the "Church Fathers"? That might have been said referring to the board of elders or some such. Anti-Catholic sentiment was part and parcel of American Lutheranism throughout the 20th century. This is broadly outlined in Weiting's book, "The Blessing of Weekly Communion." We have a great deal to answer for as a church.

My biggest problem with Chad's assessment is that he has ignored entirely the valid line of apostolic succession by Rome's definition through the Scandinavian bishops, not that I base the validity of my ordination based on such a thing. I pass on what I have been given, that is, the apostolic witness and teaching about Jesus Christ. Therein only lies my authority to forgive or retain sins. But the irony is, that even by Rome's definition, our "bishops" were at least, rightly and even "ritely" bishops.

It also remains for us to be held accountable for all those pastors who act like bishops all on their own rather than shepherd a flock of the one Church.

Chad, thanks for the debate. Pr. Sutton, thanks for the well-written and evangelical responses. I am heartened today.

Pr. Andrew Smith
Hickory, NC

Chad Myers said...

@Smith: What you said about my education sounds spot-on. The Lutheranism I hear spoken about on this blog is quite different in many respects to the Lutheranism I was taught (at least in the practical elements, not necessarily the fundamental ones).

As far as the Scandinavian Bishops, I am aware of these and to the extent that they had ordained through the proper means and rites (which is doubtful, but possible), they may have ordained other Bishops and the preserved, illicitly, the line of succession and thus the ability to preform proper sacraments other than Baptism.

However, to my knowledge, this line went fairly short and does not survive today or has faded into obscurity.

Have any of the Lutheran Pastors on this blog been ordained and had hands laid on them in conferment of the Holy Orders by a Bishop who has followed the line of the Scandinavian Bishops? If not, then the line has ended and this point is moot. If it has not ended, I'm not aware that it is an integral part of the practice of Lutheran ordination. In fact, Lutheran pastors are quick to not call themselves Priests which alludes to a denial of the Holy Sacrifice part of the Mass which is a requirement for performing a proper Consecration. While I don't deny that Christ, in his great mercy and love for us still confers some grace to faithful Lutherans during communion, it does not possess the full power of Body and Blood as described by Christ.

P.S. - I Stopped responding here because I ran out of room in the combox (Google kept cutting me off). It was then I realized that this was a fruitless exercise -- debating in a little tiny combox :) Please do not interpret my silence as rudeness, quite the contrary. My spamming this thread doesn't help much of anything.

Rev. Jacob Sutton said...

Pr. Smith,
Thank you for your contribution. Your point, "I pass on what I have been given, that is, the apostolic witness and teaching about Jesus Christ. Therein only lies my authority to forgive or retain sins..." is the point of the Reformation, is it not? The validity of the Sacraments must rely on the living Word of Christ, or else one cannot know if one has done enough, done it "correctly enough", followed the "cookbook" or the "rules" laid down enough.

Any church government can attempt to prescribe a list of "must do's" - but if these lie outside of God's revealed Word, but rely on the word of men which is shifting and changing and tainted by sin, then the consciences and hearts of sinners are not in the end going to be relieved of their burdens. Which is the very purpose of the Means of Grace then being defeated. And so we return to the real reasons behind the Reformation.

I totally agree with you about twentieth century Lutheranism in this country, often defining what it means to be Lutheran as "not being Roman Catholic" - I still run into this attitude. It is particularly dangerous, because if that was our attitude, then never would we Baptize, never would we preach the Gospel, never would we give out the Lord's Supper (ooops, that was indeed the case in the early twentieth century, as many Lutherans went down to four times a year offering the Sacrament of the Altar, or once a month... see Kenneth Wieting's book on Every Sunday Communion), etc.

A close examination, however, shows a real anti-Roman Catholic bias in the whole history of this country and its many protestant veins. The Puritans were particularly bad in New England - I believe that I read in a biography of Jonathan Edwards once that a person who was banished for criminal acts or for rebelling against the church would be sent to Maryland to live with the heathen Roman Catholics there... as if it were one step away from hell itself. American Lutheranism has certainly contributed to such attitudes and been influenced by them, without doubt, in her history.

Chad: thank you for your vigorous debate, and for your passionate defense of Catholic theology. I for one like that you are contributing and am happy to see it, and I sincerely hope you continue to do so.

Rev. Jacob Sutton