Thursday, April 17, 2008

Initial Thoughts on the Pope's Visit and Homily

I watched the Pope's homily this morning, and several things came to mind. There is much to be pleased about. I think that his sense of who he is, and of the gravity of all that he does as Pope, is a good thing for people to behold, even for us who are not of the Roman Catholic communion. Would that more men who preach the Gospel would have such a sense of who they are, and of the gravity of what they are doing. Did you notice? No jokes, no levity, no feeling the need to 'yuk it up'; now that was a refreshing thing indeed.

Second, he doesn't seem to be taken with the need to be 'correct' according to the sensitivities of this or that interest group. He addressed head-on the horrid matter of pedophilia in the priesthood and the need to help the children affected by it. Good for him. Brave man.

I noticed something else too, which is that this didn't really seem to be a real sermon, at least not in the sense I understand what a sermon ought to be. It was more of a speech. To be sure, I'm not meaning to criticize what he said here (see above); and in fact I believe it was better than what I hear in altogether too many churches, whether Roman Catholic, Lutheran or other. Really, it was quite good, I thought.

But I'm always looking for more of a sermon in the basic sense of what a sermon ought to be, in my opinion. What I mean is that I am accustomed to preaching on some Gospel, the Gospel just read prior to the time of preaching. I don't think he really did this. I realize that most preachers don't do it; but I think it would be better if more preachers did it. What happens when the preacher explicates the reading just heard is that he implicitly shows that he is dependent on the Scriptures in his preaching. He is not simply addressing the people with his own ideas, nor, really, is it his business to do so.

Preachers need to address their people according to what the people face, certainly, but I think they need to be careful to be addressing those things from the Gospel. Generally the sermon should contain clear and frequent references to what was heard in the Gospel reading.

Of course this was a special occasion, so there's room for a bit of an exception here. It just got me thinking more generally about the need for expository preaching.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Well, you just expressed in different words the main difference between Lutheranism and Catholicism. For you, the top-ranking authority is Scripture, hence a preacher ought always to preach from it, show that his preaching is subordinate to it. For them, the top-ranking authority is -- well, the Pope!

Father Eckardt said...

To tell the truth, I'm reticent to be critical of him when there are so many Lutheran preachers who are nowhere near as good.

And frankly, I think it might be a cheap shot. When I did my graduate work at Marquette University, I learned a bit about papal supremacy, and what it is not. The pope does not really view himself as having the freedom to say anything that pops into his head. There is a strong sense of maintaining continuity with the tradition.

This particular Pope happens to have a very acute understanding of that, I believe, which makes him worthy of considerable respect, even among Lutherans.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

True, his being the top-ranked authority does NOT mean he could, for example, change Catholicism's teaching on contraception, or could abolish one or two of the Ten Commandments. Plenty of Catholics seem to think he could and should, but he does realize he is not God. Just His Vicar on earth. He considers himself the "*Visible* Head of the Church," but this is a two-headed creature, and the *Invisible* Head, though acting through the other, still outranks him.

And I'm amazed how many non-Catholics seem to think that's what he is, too.

Jeff said...

"This particular Pope happens to have a very acute understanding of that, I believe, which makes him worthy of considerable respect, even among Lutherans."

Umm... I'm a bit too bound to our Confession (specifically "Treatise on the power and primacy of the pope") to do that. It's wonderful that he's bound by tradition and all but if that tradition (and he himself) "defends ungodly worship and teaching contrary to the gospel... it is necessary to oppose him as the Antichrist." (quote form afore-mentioned treatise).

"There is a strong sense of maintaining continuity with the tradition."

All that means is he can't make sudden changes but has to wait for the doctrine to slowly evolve. Romanists view Scripture in light of tradition- and ultimately that tradition is viewed in light of the pope.

I won't repeat it here- but remember our conversation at Red Robin's in which you were stating the comments of someone after your article on the eastern orthodox church? Don't give him more ammunition ;)

Father Eckardt said...

I, um, don't really remember too much about that conversation, and exactly what it was about. Old man syndrome, I guess.

Anyhow, I just think there's some reason to find points of agreement where we can, without compromising our own position.

Everybody gets up in arms about the Pope, it seems, but he's less offensive than lots of others I could mention. The Lutheran Confessions do not require us to machine-gun every Pope at every point in history; that is to misread them, in my opinion.

Jeff said...

I don't know... we're talking about a guy who leads the church which claims that only people in that church can be saved.

Later on they were nice, and allowed exceptions to other religions (recognizing that they're actually Catholics- they just don't realize it).

More recently, they've applied that same standard to people of any religion.

Even if he's not particularly offensive- you can't view him outside the system he's the head of. Like it or not- he sits on a throne where he can make statements that (he believes) become divinely binding, over and against the revealed word of God.

Like a modern day Pharisee... but on a much grander scale.

I don't know- even when he says good things, it's hard to ignore where he's saying them from.

The conversation I was referring to was someone commenting that (because of your article)- you couldn't actually be eastern- you must be a Romanist!

Father Eckardt said...

I just don't happen to think knee-jerk reactions to the word "Pope" are helpful.

Put it this way. As soon as the Pope came to America, Christian News trotted out all their stuff about how the Confessions call him the antichrist, blah blah blah. Predictable.

I don't know, what if the man knows that the history of the Roman papacy is flawed, but he must be careful what he says?

There's something wrong with adherents of a tradition--any tradition--that has an a priori judgment to spout against anyone who for any reason happens to be outside the tradition, even when that tradition itself is true and proper.

How about this: if you agree to arrange a meeting between me and the Pope, I'll promise to talk him into becoming Lutheran. OK?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Jeff's comments don't sound "knee-jerk" to me.

So long as the pope claims supreme spiritual and secular authority over you and me, so long as the pope aspires to secular power and holds onto its trappings, so long as he preaches heretical doctrine, it seems to me entirely fair and indeed appropriate to accord him but scant attention.

I'm still astonished at the fascination non-Catholics seem to have with him. Why? I don't know! Do you?

Father Eckardt said...

I'll continue this thread at my next post, above.