Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Continuity and Discontinuity

I’ve recently been reading the seminary’s copy of ‘Catholic Matters’ – the new book by Richard John Neuhaus (editor-in-chief of First Things I’ve been an RJN fan for some time – in fact I was pleased to attend a lunch with him in Melbourne a couple of years back (thanks Schutz, and I have fond memories of myself, Pastor Adam Cooper, and Lutheran seminarian (but then Classics student) Tom Pietsch ( engaged in conversation with RJN in St Patrick’s presbytery later that night. We’d got RJN talking on the topic of private opinion in the thought of John Henry Newman. But that’s for another post.

Anyhow, back to the book. In it, RJN proposes a way of looking at the life of the Catholic Church since Vatican II that makes a lot of sense to me. Rather than seeing the aftermath of Vatican II in the Catholic Church through a left/ right, progressive/ conservative filter, RJN suggests making a distinction between those who see the council as a great break with the past and those who see it in continuity with the past (he calls the two groups ‘the party of discontinuity and the party of continuity’). Viewed through this filter, he suggest that both the radical progressive theologians and the schismatic traditionalists are both in the party of discontinuity – they are united in the common conviction that the council brought into being a new church – one that is radically discontinuous with what went before.

It got me thinking that a ‘party of discontinuity’ and a ‘party of continuity’ exists outside the Catholic Church, and is an ecumenical reality. At least, these different parties seem to have a life in the LCA. Consider: How are we to receive the Book of Concord? As confessions of faith that are to be read as radically discontinuous with the Catholic Church (and I’ll be specific – with the church that was in communion with the pope – yes, even the ‘antichrist’ papacy), or continuous with it?

The Confessions, in their plain sense (if I may put it that way), invite the conclusion that Lutherans should be committed to the party of continuity. The Augsburg Confession states: “Only those things have been recounted whereof we thought that it was necessary to speak, in order that it might be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic. For it is manifest that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches.”

Now before Schutz accuses me of wanting to do a Tract 90 on the Book of Concord, I’d like to say that here the Augsburg Confession specifically invites us to do a Tract 90 on it. So there.

But more importantly: Ecumenically speaking, isn’t a commitment to being of the party of continuity – no matter to which ecclesial body one may belong- the sine qua non of movement toward the goal of outward, visible unity?


William Weedon said...

Amen! Amen! Amen!

Schütz said...

Now don't tell me, Fraser, that you are unaware that our Holy Father has himself made this a bit of a theme? I note that Neuhaus published "Catholic Matters" in 2006 and mentions the 2005 conclave, so I guess he was writing it in the second half of 2005. Which gives us an interesting "chicken or egg" situation, because in December 2005, the Holy Father introduced into his discourse (at the annual Curial assembly) the terminology "hermeneutics of rupture" and "hermeneutics of continuity" in relation to the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council ( This sounds so close to Neuhaus's "party of continuity/discontinuity", that I wonder who actually originated the idea--or are they in fact (both being intelligent men of like mind) simply singing from the same song sheet? I guess it must be the latter. Any way, Papa Benny has been on the same theme again at the end of his talk-back to the priests during his holiday in northern Italy (, and by this stage the terminology has sunk deep into the Catholic landscape.

RE its application to the Augsburg Confession, I can only say "but of course". I was always of the mind that it would be easier to do a Tract 90 on the AC than on the 39 Articles.

But here is the thing: would you and why would you? For I can see only heart-ache lying in that direction.

For a start, history since 1530 has consistently interpreted the AC through a "hermeneutic of rupture" (except for a few attempts around the 1980's to rehabilitate the AC as a Catholic confession of faith--these notably went nowhere, but see "The Role of the Augsburg Confession" edited by Burgess and published in 1980 by Fortress).

Secondly, the only reason that you would want to interpret the AC through a principle of continuity with what went before is if you are already convinced that what went before WAS the true Church and remains the true Church after that.

From this follows two more points.

1) No matter how Catholic the AC (or your interpretation of it) is, the benchmark for assessing it will be something outside of it, namely, not only "Scripture" (the generally accepted norma normans) but also, in the AC's own words, "the Church Catholic" (which must in relation to the AC also be taken to be, to some extent at least, a norma normans).

2) That there was an Augsburg Confession at all must indicate at least some discontinuity--otherwise why did the confession need to be made? The Christian communities that followed the AC manifestly understood themselves to be doing so in discontinuity with someone or something. If not "the Church Catholic", then with whom and with what?

In the end, while I agree that the AC wants to be interpreted with an hermeneutic of continuity, to actually undertake such a project today would be to admit to the authority of the Catholic Church. This in fact, is exactly what Newman discovered when he attempted the same thing with the 39 Articles.

Fraser Pearce said...

Dear David (Schutz),

Thanks for your reply - I was hoping and expecting that you'd make a post on this one!

You may be interested to know that the dialogue is looking at Scripture and Tradition, and that I'll have some opportunity to think through anew the issues that you rightly raise.

In Christ,


PS Do you think if it were Neuhaus' idea that he'd refrain from mentioning its influence on B16? Neuhaus, after all, likes to tell stories about his connections (don't we all -but it's part of his great charm).

Chris Jones said...

Mr Schütz,

There was a discontinuity, to be sure; but the question is where and when the discontinuity is to be found. From the Confessors' perspective, the discontinuity is not between themselves and the Catholic Church, but between the Papacy and the Catholic Church.

The Augustana appears to be a discontinuity only because the mediaeval Church had itself broken with the Apostolic Tradition. The Augustana was an attempt to restore the Church's authentic Tradition. If one believes (which a Roman Catholic must believe) that that Tradition had not been lost or fundamentally obscured (and indeed cannot be so obscured), then such an attempt at restoral must necessarily appear to be a discontinuity.

But from the Confessors' perspective, they were not creating a discontinuity, but repairing one.

Past Elder said...

Continuity or discontinuity with what? Why, with the institution of the Roman Catholic Church. It thereby sweeps aside all objection to it for no other reason that it objects to it and therefore must be inadmissible.

It's nothing more than the old "have you stopped beating your wife" trick, this time with mitres and crosiers.

And worse than that, it is completely dishonest in its hidden assumption that contintuity or discontinuity is defined by submission to itself.

And worse than that, it was the Roman Church itself which performed a staggering act of discontinuity with even itself at Vatican II, which can only be denied when one assumes a priori that since it must be the same therefore it is the same.

And worse than that, after nearly half a century of self-apostacy, it now dusts off its rite which it has violently suppressed all this time and designates it the "extraordinary" form along with its new ordinary form as two forms of the same thing, a magnificently malicious mendacity by which a thing and its opposite are declared the same.

The Roman Catholic faith is nothing but faith in Roman Catholicism. The one, holy, catholic and apostolic church has no greater enemy under the sun. Having performed a discontinuity with itself, and I now know having previously performed a discontinuity with the Apostolic faith centuries earlier, the great Father of Discontinuity now speaks of continuity?

Only to serve itself, the object of its own faith, from which all else about it proceeds. It is not we who have gone out from them but they who have gone out from us, preserving only the form of religion, a second beast worse than the first to which it bowed down.

Be it from Neuhaus, Ratzinger or whoever, this is simply another self-serving charade by which the Whore of Babylon seeks the destruction of souls. In a single hour her judgement will come and the smoke will rise up from her forever.