The visit of Benedict XVI to the Lutheran church of Rome

Source: FSSPX News

On Sunday, March 14, 2010, at 5:30 PM, Benedict XVI visited the Lutheran church of Rome.  This visit, at the invitation of Pastor Jens-Martin Kruse, was in line with the one made by John Paul II on December 11, 1983, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Luther ; it was also meant to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the  “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” signed by the representatives of the Catholic Church and those of the Lutheran World Federation on October 31, 1999, in Augsburg. 

During the Angelus on Sunday, November 1, 2009, Benedict XVI had affirmed that the 10th anniversary of this Joint Declaration was “an occasion to remember the truth about the justification of man, to which we bear common witness,” so that Lutherans and Catholics meet “in ecumenical celebrations” and explore “more deeply … this doctrine and others that are the object of the ecumenical dialogue.”  His participation in Lutheran worship on March 14 effected this ecumenism of prayer, which should be followed, he said, by a theological ecumenism—a certain common liturgical practice thus preceding the doctrinal ecumenical dialogue.

Dressed in white surplice, red mozetta and pastoral stole, the pope participated in the Lutheran celebration of the Word.  Praying and singing with the members of the community, reciting with them the Nicene Creed and the Our Father, Benedict XVI succeeded Pastor Kruse in the pulpit of the church, where he commented on a passage of the Gospel according to Saint John (12:20-26, “Unless a grain of wheat dies”). At the end of his homily, he deplored the division among Christians : “We must also see that we have destroyed this ‘we’. We have divided the single path into numerous paths.”  While rejoicing at certain accomplishments of ecumenism : “we must say – and we can say it with much gratitude – that there are already many elements of unity. The fact that we are present together, for example, on this Laetare Sunday, … that we sang together, that we heard the Word of God, that we listened to one another while all looking together towards the one Christ (…),” he nevertheless regretted the fact that “we cannot yet drink from the same chalice and we cannot yet gather around the same altar.  That should sadden us, because it is a situation of sin.” 

In attributing responsibility for the separation to both Catholics and Lutherans, and placing doctrinal dialogue after prayer in common, the pope omits any reference to all the Catholic dogma that Luther explicitly rejected when he separated from Rome.  Hence one cannot help but ask oneself, following Pius XI in the encyclical Mortalium animos (January 6, 1928) : “And in what manner, We ask, can men who follow contrary opinions, belong to one and the same Federation of the faithful? For example, those who affirm, and those who deny that sacred Tradition is a true fount of divine Revelation; those who hold that an ecclesiastical hierarchy, made up of bishops, priests and ministers, has been divinely constituted, and those who assert that it has been brought in little by little in accordance with the conditions of the time; those who adore Christ really present in the Most Holy Eucharist through that marvelous conversion of the bread and wine, which is called transubstantiation, and those who affirm that Christ is present only by faith or by the signification and virtue of the Sacrament; those who in the Eucharist recognize the nature both of a sacrament and of a sacrifice, and those who say that it is nothing more than the memorial or commemoration of the Lord's Supper; those who believe it to be good and useful to invoke by prayer the Saints reigning with Christ, especially Mary the Mother of God, and to venerate their images, and those who urge that such a veneration is not to be made use of, for it is contrary to the honor due to Jesus Christ, ‘the one mediator of God and men.’ (1 Tim. 2:5) ?”

The constant practice of the Church, before the ecumenism promoted by Vatican II, was to avoid giving outward approval to erroneous beliefs through participation in dissident worship, so as not to foster indifferentism or doctrinal relativism in the minds of the faithful – a relativism which Benedict XVI intends to oppose in other circumstances.  This is why his predecessor, Pius XI, declared clearly in the same encyclical that “the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it.”