This week, for a course I’m taking, I had the opportunity to hunker down and read some confessional documents. First I read The Augsburg Confession and the Catholic response, the Confutatio Pontificia, and then the more recent Joint Declaration on Justification. I also read chh. 12 & 18 of Althaus’ The Theology of Martin Luther.
You may have noticed that sometimes I tag posts with “i might end up eastern orthodox at this rate”. I think I may have used it only twice, but I could have used it more frequently. Anyway, this feeling was increasing over Christmastide, not only with a lot of reading of St. Leo and a couple of trips to St. Andrew’s Orthodox Church, but also because of Frederica Mathewes-Green’s book, At the Corner of East and Now. I admit there is something compelling in Eastern Orthodoxy.
But then I read Augsburg and Althaus’ discussion of Luther’s theology. And I realised that I am still a Protestant, for I found Luther’s explanation of Justification by Faith entirely reasonable and compelling, remaining faithful to Scripture whilst setting forth its doctrine with reason. It holds in tension simul justus et peccator and faith-works and law-gospel — all of these things that, beautiful as so many Orthodox descriptions of the Christian life are, make the most sense to me and give me the greatest spiritual comfort of all explanations.
We are all bound by our understanding of Scripture.
Tonight, for the same course, I finished reading the Second Helvetic Confession. I am clearly not a Calvinist. Certainly not of this Confession’s ilk. This is not just the predestination issue. It is the overbearing, heavy-handed reliance upon public preaching of the Gospel. As though this and the rational world of the mind were all that true piety consisted of — thus, even if the confession didn’t consider images in holy spaces as idols, it would still oppose them on grounds of their needlessness. People don’t need pictures if they can hear the Word of God preached to them (so says this confession).
This Confession also shows many Protestant weaknesses. It gives a fairly decent account of Eucharist when discussing it directly, but sidelines it the entire time whilst always talking about preaching. Indeed, the Eucharist seems at one point to be best understood as basically a sermon that you eat.
It seems to support a presbyterian church order over all and rejects the Daily Office out of hand, making claims about the order of the church as handed down from the Apostles — but makes the claim that the Apostles celebrated together on the Lord’s Day! This is a practice that has evidence for it of the same antiquity as the episcopacy and the Daily Office — evidence not clearly shown forth in the apostolic writings. What has happened has that the Church, seeking to submit itself to nothing other than Sacred Scripture has become not only the judge of tradition but, at times, even of Scripture herself (see the bit where James is subordinated to Paul to the extent that they would be willing to jettison him from the canon if he disagreed with “the Apostle”).
Some of Helvetic II mirrored the 39 Articles. But much did not. So if I must turn anywhere in the Reformation, it is not to Calvin, whose followers haughtily claim that he finished what Luther began, but to Luther and the Book of Common Prayer. No matter how hard I try, I always come up Anglican.