"This de-theologizing and de-sacramentalizing of our understanding of the Church is now very widespread," wrote Richard John Neuhaus in 2003. He, of course, was addressing trends of Vatican II within the Catholic Church which move in the direction of breaking continuity with what is at its essence the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
Lutherans cannot afford to dismiss these words. Whatever one's views of the Papacy or of the Catholic Church, the winds of Vatican II have had a great impact on the state of Lutheranism and on all of Christianity. This impact is both positive and negative. It is here to stay and will forever affect ecclesiological questions in the future.
For a Lutheran to understand what Neuhaus is talking about one might find a parallel in the differences between what is called the "conservative" reformation and what is called the "radical" reformation. One might even go back in church history and revisit the dueling influences of orthodoxy and arianism in the 4th century. Whatever these historical parallels teach us they will show that "de-theologizing" and "de-sacramentalizing" are essentially contrary to the nature of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. "De-theologizing" and "de-sacramentalizing" go with discontinuity and not with continuity.
Unfortunately, "de-theologizing" and "de-sacramentalizing" are quite widespread too among non-Catholics, and may be arguably moreso evident in the years following Vatican II. Theology and the sacraments are of God and Christ. Ecclesiology is not ecclesiology without christology. Without christology we cannot understand either the Church or the Sacraments and without either the Church or the Sacraments we cannot come to Christ and through Him come to the Father in the Spirit.
With these big words Fr. Neuhaus is being a good parish priest. He is telling us to stop running away from that which comes from God for that which comes from God also leads us back to Him. In the context of these words, Neuhaus is not talking gloom and doom but about hope in overcoming trials within the Catholic Church that are only temporary in the long history of the Church.
Theology, Sacraments, Church help us to keep our perspective in the long scheme of things. They cannot be separated from one another or from the faith. They give us a vision of the eternal things. We are led to this eternal vision and hope in the Sacrament of the Altar, for, as Luther teaches us "where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation." And as Fr. Neuhaus reminds us, this is what we are about as fellow members of Christ and His body in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
Requiescat in pace
(HT: The Catholic Thing, 16 January 2009)