By Fr. Michael Magiera, FSSP
Many thanks to Michael Voris and his Church Militant team for inviting me to participate in "Mic'd Up" February 22. The topic dealt with the document "Declaration on the Way," and I was to participate in the section concerning the Church, i.e., how there was agreement on certain things among Catholics and Lutherans, what they were specifically, and then what the document put forth as "bones of contention" that still had to be addressed in the future before "communion" was satisfactorily achieved theologically so that Holy Communion could be shared sacramentally.
Preparing for the show was rather daunting in that I had to wade through pages and pages of much writing with relatively little substance. I also reasoned that any discussion and question and answer on this topic would necessarily require much more time than the 20 minutes or so allocated. Of course, these days I understand the restrictions that time puts on all of us.
So, I thought that perhaps a type of expository "sermonette" might be helpful, that perhaps I might be able to "sum up," without plunging too deeply into philosophy or theology, what I saw as a response to the document and as a solution to the whole problem. Time prevented me from giving this little mediation, so Church Militant invited me to submit the text instead. So my simple and, perhaps, naïve ramblings begin immediately following. Perhaps they will shed some light, perhaps not. Judge them as you will. Again, many thank you's to Michael and Church Militant.
I think it important to inform our viewers that this program on February 22 could, providentially, be considered of special importance. Those in the Internet audience who are of a certain "vintage" might remember this day as President George Washington's birthday. They might also remember that Lincoln's birthday was celebrated on February 12. Both days were independent celebrations. But the powers that be saw that, even though Presidents' Day is primarily the celebration of Washington's Birthday, eventually, President Lincoln — whose birthday had special importance in several states — slid into the celebration, thus showing the utilitarian prudence of combining both celebrations into one. That day is known as Presidents' Day, which was celebrated on February 15 this year. This way, banks, post offices and trash collections are only upset on one day this month instead of two. Much better for the economy and not quite as bothersome to U.S. citizens, right?
However, what the U.S. Government didn't know — or at least didn't care about, most probably — was that Washington's birthday, coincidentally, is also a major feast in the Roman Catholic Church, namely the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. How fitting that the Father of our country and the Holy Father of the Roman Catholic Church, the first Holy Father, are celebrated and commemorated today.
There are two feasts of the Chair of St. Peter. The first is on January 18, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter at Rome. The February 22 feast is the Chair of St. Peter at Antioch. Saint Peter reigned in Antioch before he reigned in Rome. Since the time of his reign in the Eternal City, Rome is and will always be the See of Peter and his successors, the Seat of the Roman Catholic Church in the world.
The February 22 Invitatory for the Office of Matins reads: "Tu es Pastor óvium, Princeps Apostolórum; tibi tráditæ sunt claves regni cælórum." "You are the Pastor of the sheep, the Prince of the Apostles; to you were handed over the keys of the kingdom of Heaven."
Well, that about sums up the importance of the Church and who rules it. So, anyone who doesn't submit to or rebels against the lawful authority of the ruler necessarily separates himself from the entity God has entrusted to that ruler.
Actually, in speaking of our presidents, what would happen to one who — as publicly as Martin Luther did — denounces a president, denies his authority and refuses obedience — be that president George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or Barack Obama? One can think of the unfortunate "Man Without a Country," Philip Nolan, in the Edward Everett Hale novel of the same name. Such are the fruits of and punishment for treason. Today, instead of spending one's days on U.S. Navy warships, one could possibly end up in a federal penitentiary of some kind, or even, if the offense warrants it, wind up executed.
Is the Church so harsh? No, never. The Church would have welcomed Martin Luther back with open arms, had he swallowed his pride and bent his knee to Peter, and, of course, through Peter as His Vicar, to Christ. With an eye towards reunification, various "reformer" leaders at the time were invited to the Council of Trent. Likewise, with an eye toward hoped-for repentance and reunification, Protestants may have been invited to the First Vatican Council as well. If they were, they must have misplace their invitations and arrived a bit late — by 90 years or so — at Vatican II. After their arrival, it became very plain that repentance and reunification were definitely not on their minds, nor, it seems, were they on the minds of the Council Fathers. To be sure, they weren't handed the keys to St. Peter Basilica, but their presence and influence at the Council still affects the way most Catholics worship today. But, it seems even that isn't enough.
So now, today, meetings and collaborations between Catholic and Lutheran scholars over the years have resulted in the document we know as "The Declaration on the Way." A noble effort, I suppose, and very much "the thing" in today's climate of ecumenism, be it true or false ecumenism.
I can only wish that such a document and effort at reunification be seriously undertaken between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church (of all national stripes). We must remember that there is Apostolic Succession, along with valid sacraments, in both Churches. Remember, there is no Apostolic Succession nor are there valid sacraments in the Lutheran Church. All of that was lost when the Lutherans left the Church.
After all, Martin Luther was merely a priest, not a bishop. So, in principle, there should be far greater chances of unification in the case of Catholics and Orthodox than there is in the case of Catholics and Lutherans. And this is because, though each party comes at the issues — perfectly convinced of its authenticity, legitimacy and validity — there is only one party that can be rightly called the Church — and it's not the Lutherans.
Basically, there is no intrinsic equality whatsoever between these two entities. Yet this document seems to be convinced that there is. Contemporary thinking everywhere also seems thus convinced. So, this whole affair is more like a long, drawn-out conversation or compilation of documents between the Roman Catholic Church, the True Church of Christ, and a prominent Christian association that long ago, and adamantly, declared its independence from that True Church. What kind of legitimate outcome could there possibly be?
What it all boils down to is the fact that Martin Luther and his subsequent followers made a conscious decision to separate himself/themselves from the One True Church and Her Head, the Pope, the Vicar of Christ. Of course, the collection of Lutheran bodies, synods and churches, often but not exclusively defined in terms of nationality, are not the only ones who have decided they know better than Christ and His Church. There are, as Church Militant has said many times, literally thousands of denominations out there, each claiming — how this is possible, you tell me — to be the true Church of Jesus Christ. This confounds logic. It's simply not possible. Very simply, there is One True Church — and everything else is not.
I could go on and on about this, but the fact is, the "Declaration on the Way," laudable effort that it is, is in the final balance an exercise in futility and, ultimately, should prove itself completely unnecessary in the greater scheme of things.
"Ut unum sint" — That all may be one. How? By a simple admission on the part of Lutherans, and by extension, all Protestants, that they were wrong in separating themselves from the Church, their Mother, and by humbly requesting the one simple thing that no mother would refuse: Mother, can I please come home?
Watch the full episode: "Mic'd Up—Lutheran Communion?"