We Lutherans sometimes encounter a challenge to our Book of Concord that runs something like this: if you guys are really into sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone, that Scripture alone is the norm for the church, then why do you make such a big deal about your confessional documents collected in the Book of Concord?
There are some who use the name Lutheran who indeed see the BofC as a document of immense historical significance, but whose insights as with all documents contain limitations deriving from its time and place, which admit of further development and deeper understanding by later times and places. Not unlike the approach taken to Scripture itself in some, usually the same, circles!
In an article in 1858, CFW Walther, the first president of the Missouri Synod (or The Synod of Missouri, Ohio and other States -- Synode von Missouri, Ohio und andern Staaten, actually -- as it was known at that time) wrote that while a Lutheran is not bound to historical references or matters of science, logic, "indifference" (adiaphora) or the manner of presentation contained therein, he is bound by the doctrine it contains, and this not insofar as (quatenus) it agrees with Scripture but because (quia) it agrees with Scripture.
Thus, regarding the symbolic books of our church, the ones that contain our doctrine, whose servants we would be, those who hold such a position are said to have a "quia subscription" to the Book of Concord. We accept the doctrine stated in the Book of Concord not as a document that is a point in the gradual development of doctrine, that itself may admit of further development or understanding -- John Henry Cardinal Newman, the Anglican convert to Roman Catholicism who brought much of this type of thinking into the Roman church, which crystallised in Vatican II, was 57 in 1858 and his famous Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, written when he was yet Anglican, was published in 1845, in which same year he converted to Roman Catholicism, just 13 years before the Walther article -- but because it agrees with and accurately states and presents the doctrine of Scripture. Period. End of story.
Not period and not end of story with a quatenus subscription, which though a phrase of Lutheran origin describes an approach taken in many churches toward their own confessional documents (statements of binding doctrine) and Scripture itself. And so we come to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, pka (let's start something, pka for popularly known as!) the JDDF, which was prepared and signed by official representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation (to which LCMS does not belong) in 1997 in which same year it was formally adopted by the by far largest American denomination with the word Lutheran in its name, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (pka ELCA and which does belong to the LWF). Might be worth noting that in the same convention the ELCA also adopted a Formula of Agreement declaring full communion with the Presbyterian Church USA, the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ, finding those of their positions which the BofC soundly condemns right along with Rome's errors acceptable and even complementary diversities.
LCMS was quite forthright in its rejection of the JDDF -- as well as the actions of the ELCA, which we leave for another time. No way, no how, can one do or say such things and call it Lutheran. You may find a short and then a longer official statement of our position at the following links:
So the Lutheran side. But guess what? There's a lot of Catholics out there who also think that when a church formally says what it teaches it means what it says, and you don't come along later and say well hey, that was great for that time and place but it ain't such a big deal now, and/or now that we think about it we understand it better and it ain't what we thought, so here's what we think now with our new and deeper understanding which doesn't mean anybody was ever wrong, just that we were on the same path but couldn't see it at the time and now we do. You might say, these Catholics have a quia subscription to their documents just as we do to ours. And to them, the Joint Declaration betrays what is Catholic as much as it betrays what is Lutheran to us. With the consequence that it may place the Roman church under its own anathema. That's serious stuff, if you're a Roman Catholic, which I once was.
Ad fontes, as we say -- to the sources! Let them speak for themselves. Here is the conclusion to a Letter to Friends and Benefactors from October 1998 by a District Superior of the Society of Saint Pius X, Father Peter R. Scott. The full document can be found on the Society's website, sspx.org.
"However, the most damning of the condemnations of this decree of the Council of Trent, and the most necessary for our time, is the very last one. For the very least that the Joint Declaration can be said to do is to state that the "doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century do not apply" (§13), and that they are no longer (if ever) for the good of the Church, providential and helpful for making the Church and the Faith more clearly known. And yet it is this very statement which is condemned by a solemn, binding, infallible anathema. Even those who accept the Catholic teaching on Justification, but refuse to accept that the clear definitions of Trent are truly for the good of the Church, are anathematized. This is the sense of Canon 33, Dz 843:
If anyone shall say that because of this Catholic doctrine of justification as set forth by the Holy Synod in this present decree, there is in some degree a detraction from the glory of God or from the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that the truth of our Faith, and in fact the glory of God and of Jesus Christ are not rather rendered illustrious; let him be anathema.
Horror crawls up our spine at the thought of Catholic prelates falling under such an explicit anathema, and attempting to officially bind the Church itself to be condemned by its own anathema. Yet we must face up to this sobering reality if we are to understand the gravity of the present crisis in the Church, which is truly a crisis of Faith in the most profound way, and not just of discipline. May the Blessed Mother grant to us all the interior life, a life of prayer budding forth from sanctifying grace, to see through this confusion and keep up the combat of Faith for the kingdom of truth and life, the kingdom of holiness and grace, which Our Lord pours into our souls from the Cross."
There you have it. I suggest there is more "ecumenism", more brotherhood though we are separated by substantial differences, between Lutherans and Catholics who are really Lutheran and Catholic than between those who are false to either and both, and proclaim thereby some sort of new unity or stage toward unity. Soldiers can understand each other as soldiers, though they wear the uniforms of different armies. I get it about my brother (generic) who holds a quia subscription to his confessional documents, though those documents do not confess at some key points what mine do.
And I wish him well and God speed, whether he is Roman or for that matter Episcopal, Presbyterian, Reformed or any other body under assault by those who would "develop" or "deepen" what he subscribes to into something else under the same name.
He's got a far more dangerous opponent in his own ranks than he does in me. And I betcha he knows the same about me. And I'd say we both know, and if we don't we'd better start, that in the end we now face the same ultimate opponent regardless of uniform more than each other.
The opponent for damn sure does about either of us.
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