Fr. Richard John Neuhaus: prominent convert from Lutheranism
What is it with all these people going Catholic these days? Has the (traditional Protestant) world gone nuts? First there was the president of the Evangelical Theological Society (Francis Beckwith). Now (actually almost three months ago) it is a Lutheran whose site I was directed to by a Lutheran acquaintance precisely as a place where I could find some solid apologetic material to interact with, for comparative theology discussion purposes. I was beginning to wonder whether there were any Lutherans anymore who offered a robust apologetic for their belief-system, and was asking around for some recommendations.
*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***
And so, last night, in the process of adding some long-overdue links to my sidebar (including Lutheran and Reformed and other Protestant ones), I wandered over to The Orthodox Lutheran Web Page only to discover (oddly enough), photos of Fr. Louis Bouyer and Cardinal Newman on the top. That gave me a clue right away that something had changed. It sure has. Darel E. Paul, who runs the site, explains:
Ten years ago my family and I left The Episcopal Church and became Lutherans. For me this came to pass especially because I believed the above claims, namely that the Evangelical Lutheran Church -- i.e., the church constituted by all Christians who accept the Augsburg Confession as their own -- was the Church properly called because it was the one church which truly preserved, taught and lived the faith of the Apostles and Fathers. I believed along with Martin Luther in the Smalcald Articles that "faith alone justifies us" and that this doctrine is the "first and chief article," of which "nothing can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin." I believed along with the Augsburg Confession that the refusal of the Catholic Church to "allow the Gospel to be purely taught" constituted a wholly legitimate "cause for schism" from Rome and thus for the very existence of a distinct "Lutheran" church in the first place. I believed along with seventeenth century Lutheran divine Johann Gerhard that "We suffer ourselves to bear [Luther's] name, not as of one who has invented a new faith, but of one who has restored the old, and purified the Church."Certainly Darel was a true-blue conservative, traditional, orthodox Lutheran; no doubt about it (who else talks like that, after all? -- and I say this with true, genuine affection for my Lutheran brethren, whom I respect a great deal). He continues, further down:
Through much prayer and study, I have come to believe that the doctrinal and moral problems of the ELCA and its full communion partners are neither accidental nor the result of an insufficient commitment to the principles of the Reformation, but are instead natural and unavoidable degenerations of Lutheranism's core theological commitments. Thus I have come to the point where I no longer believe the Evangelical Lutheran Church to be the Catholic Church rightly reformed. I now believe, in the words of former Lutheran pastor Richard John Neuhaus, that "Lutheranism is a Protestant denomination among Protestant denominations, and is determined to remain so". If I believed Lutheran (or more broadly, Reformation Protestant) doctrine to be the doctrine of the Apostles and Fathers, and believed the Evangelical Lutheran Church (or more broadly, the liberal protestant church visibly united via full communion agreements both in North America and Europe) to have a unique relationship to the "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" of the Nicene Creed, I would stay to defend the faith, just as Catholics in the fourth century defended her against Arianism. Yet I do not believe that sola fide and sola scriptura -- the material and formal principles of the Reformation we celebrate every final Sunday in October -- are restorations of the old faith which have purified the Church. Instead I am convinced that they are innovations which diverge from the catholic faith and bear fruit in contradiction to the catholic faith. For this fundamental reason, here I cannot stand.This is very eloquently stated. Darel, like Francis Beckwith, will be a tremendous addition to the membership of the Catholic Church. He has announced his reception into the Catholic Church, but (much like Dr. Beckwith), has shown a remarkable consideration for the thoughts and feelings of his Lutheran friends, and a solemn responsibility to not bring about further unnecessary division:
I do not believe the solution to these problems can be found in a return to the LCMS which suffers from similar difficulties but manifested in a conservative rather than liberal cultural setting. Moreover, it is bold audacity to claim the mantle of "real Lutherans" when the LCMS and the International Lutheran Council (the international expression of the LCMS) together constitute less than 5% of Lutherans worldwide. Nor is the solution the establishment of yet another microsynod in which each of us picks and chooses that ecclesial community which allows us to act as our own pope. Now more than ever I believe that the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" of the Nicene Creed is and must be more than simply the invisible unity of all the baptized. It must also have a clearly visible manifestation so that it can truly be "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15) in the world.
. . . my family and I will be received into the Catholic Church on February 18. Some will interpret this decision as a betrayal of Lutheranism. I pray that you will see my thankfulness for all that I learned of Christ, His Gospel and His love from the hands of Lutheran pastors and parishioners. Some will fail to understand this decision at all. I pray that you will be able to see God's handiwork in it. Finally, some will understand and nonetheless be saddened by my choice. I pray that you will know how terribly heavyhearted I feel as well -- and yet I also pray that, although we may be separated for a little while, we will soon be joined together again in the New Jerusalem before the throne of God and of the Lamb. For there "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." (Rev. 21: 4)Yes (to my readers), please do that. Converts like this, who had plenty of friends in their own Christian tradition, undergo tremendous sacrifice and suffering, for following their consciences into the Catholic Church. You may want to encourage this brother and commend him for this courageous, principled move on his part. He lists his e-mail address on the site (so I trust it is not improper or presumptuous for me to list it here):
Please remember me and my family in your prayers.
darel [dot] paul [at] verizon [dot] net
If anyone wants to know more about Darel's previous Lutheran apologetics, see, for example, his critical review of my friend Tim Drake's book of Lutheran-to-Catholic conversions, There We Stood, Here We Stand, or his paper St. Augustine was a Lutheran. Also, see the most recent version of his website available on Internet Archive: from 30 April 2006 (earlier versions are also available). I mention these things mainly to offset the common generally foolish criticism in such cases, that the person "really wasn't a Lutheran; his conversion proves that."
Well, easy to say; much harder to demonstrate. Is it inconceivable that a person could truly believe (and understand and even vigorously defend) one thing and then change their mind and reject some of his former beliefs? It is not at all. I know that firsthand, as do many thousands of fellow Catholic converts.
Alas, however, not all is lost in traditional Lutheran circles. Josh S. of Cruising Down the Coast of the High Barbaree fame (who wants to keep his last name hidden, because he says it harms his future career prospects to have it known; I refrain from further comment . . . ), offers some sage, heretofore unthought-of insight. It's rather ingenious.
You see, folks who convert to Rome are really seeking to become Lutherans, whether they know it or not. They are unaware of that because of their profound ignorance, but if they truly studied Lutheranism the way zealous seminarian and controversialist Josh does, then they would realize that their true desires and deepest hopes and wishes, ecclesiology-wise, would land them in orthodox Lutheranism (i.e., that sect-within-a-sect of 5% of worldwide Lutherans, as Darel explained above), rather than Catholicism. Hence, Josh wrote in the Boar's Head Tavern forum (my emphases below):
[A] lot of evangelicals going to Rome think they’re becoming Lutherans (regardless of whether they know what Lutherans are) . . . I believe that the way forward for evangelicals and Calvinists who look with longing eyes toward Rome is to turn back and give a hard investigation of those precepts of the Reformation which they rejected as vestiges of Roman superstition . . .And again, he writes, in his inimitable fashion:
I have this theory that a large plurality of evangelicals who become Roman Catholics think they’re becoming Lutherans. I mean, a lot of them think they’re getting a historic liturgy, ancient practice, and an evangelical understanding of grace with a sacramental package providing assurance. But what they’re really getting is crappy Marty Haugen rites, medieval novelty, and dogmatic doubt. I mean, you almost never see evangelicals swimming the Tiber because they’re really excited about being able to get indulgences, sacrificing Masses to get their grandmas out of purgatory, or doubting whether they’re in the state of grace.Ah, yes. Clearly, Lutherans of Josh's type have a lot of catechizing to do (and we thought education was bad in the Catholic Church!). So-called "Reformed Catholic" Kevin Johnson (who has himself written many ridiculous things about Catholic converts in the past, too, but seems to have mellowed a bit), noted, in the same post where he cited the above:
[T]his causes our Token Lutheran to suspect that deep down inside what most evangelicals are really doing when crossing the Tiber is crossing the Rhine and becoming Lutheran . . .In comments of 4 May 2007, Josh elaborates:
You mean someone can’t convert to the Roman Communion for legitimate reasons? Not that I agree with Dr. Beckwith provided the rumors are true, but who are we to say he’s somehow lost his faith or that he may hold a PhD but he’s just not smart enough to actually become a Lutheran like he really wants to deep down inside? [and I love that this comes from a Lutheran seminary student!] Give me a break. That’s like saying someone loses their Christianity when they go to Rome. I’m going to say this and I trust it will be misunderstood by conservative Lutherans and other fundamentalists. There are legitimate reasons for some to think about going into the Roman Communion. It’s not the place where I believe God would have me serve but it is a Christian communion nonetheless.
I’ve read enough rhetoric from evangelicals (and liberal Lutherans) jumping into the arms of the papacy to say pretty fairly that many of them really do think they’re becoming Lutherans with a dash of saints and authority thrown in for good measure–they don’t get really Romanized in their thinking until after spending a good while in the Roman communion. And the fact is, Protestants never give Lutheranism a fair shake. When they realize how theologically, sacramentally, and liturgically bankrupt evangelicalism is and start groping around for liturgy, ordained ministry, grace, dogmas, and sacraments, they don’t even pause for thirty seconds to ask what Lutheranism might offer, or whether the original Reformation had it right. They never say “Wait a minute, maybe the Reformation wasn’t really about the ‘priesthood of all believers’ and a nude, unmoored faith with no dependence on church, ministry, or sacrament.” I rarely see them tackle the issues of the relationship between justification and the sacraments or the Reformation head-on. They just jump right into Rome or Byzantium.Kevin responded again on 5 May 2007:
Kevin is talking quite sensibly here! That gives me hope that I'll be allowed to comment on his blog again, one day. Hope springs eternal . . .
I just think it’s absurd to think that people moving to Rome can just be flippantly assigned to being put in a group that really wants Lutheranism and just can’t figure that out. Aside from viewing our brothers in such a non-gracious way in making that sort of claim (at root this claim is really as follows: You are just too stupid to figure it out — and what did our Lord say about calling our brothers fools? Are we not in danger of judgment here?), it also ignores looking at this in any way that respects the individual involved in all of this.
I think it is extremely uncharitable to assign all movement to Rome to be a matter of romantic wistfulness for an ancient Church that no longer exists. But I think we should point out that if the ancient Church does not exist in Rome it most certainly does not exist in the Lutheran Church either and only the most zealous and partisan seminary student would be silly enough to argue otherwise.
In any event, it is fascinating to follow all these goings-on, in "confessional Lutheran" and "Reformed Catholic" circles. Meanwhile, the water's very warm on this side of the Tiber and all of our esteemed separated brethren in Christ are more than welcome to come join us and find the fulfillment of all their aspirations for the "ancient church" or "great tradition" or "early church".
Many are discovering this these days. It is not beyond possibility that searching folks like Kevin and Josh may also do so in due course, rather than (however sincerely, and with whatever good motivation) trying in vain to force the square peg of fully biblical theology and actual Church history and history of Christian doctrine into one of many competing choices of Protestant "round holes".