Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New Game: "Name That Convert"

Deacon Keith Fournier, at Inside Catholic, is quite taken with the hint that a few unhappy Anglican bishops may jump ship. He suggests that "just when some in the media are attempting to write obituaries on the Catholic Church, she seems poised to make an historic resurgence, becoming a safe harbor for many Christians who long for historic Christian orthodoxy" and orthopraxy." Safe, that is, except for ordained women and choirboys.

Cheap shots duly taken, we now pass on to the most interesting part of Deacon Keith's editorial, linked above. Pardon our parochialism, but his rehash of news reports about the CofE was water off our back, at least when compared to this foretaste of the feast to come:

We are on the trail of another historic turn of events in this move toward full communion with the Catholic Church. The story we are pursuing - with much prayer and research - indicates that it is not only Anglicans knocking on Rome's door. I am in the middle of a series of interviews with an Archbishop which will lead to at least one article on a group of Lutheran Christians who are following a similar road as* the Anglicans who blazed this trail.

Okay. So -- who's who?

There are precious few Lutheran archbishops in the world -- Uppsala, Turku and Riga -- so we assume that Deacon Keith's source is someone within his own camp. But we wonder whether the eminence in question is a metropolitan or titular bishop. The difference would be between a territorial bishop, likely to have been in conversation with dissident Lutherans in his own territory, and a church diplomat of some sort, who might be talking to Lutherans anywhere in the world. (Of course, once we factor in the recent willingness of some Southern Hemisphere bishops [Anglican division] to expand their territory into North America, we suppose that anything is possible. But surely this canonical tomfoolery defeats the whole dream of "orthopraxy").

The more engaging question, obviously, is which "group of Lutheran Christians" may be tensing its thigh muscles for a Tiber-vault. We can't see a "back-to-Rome" movement emerging in staunchly Germany, with its strict Catholic/Protestant cultural divide, nor in the emerging churches of the developing world, which are for the moment still bound by a financial cord to sister churches elsewhere. The likeliest candidates, by far, are disaffected Swedes and Americans, with Finns and perhaps Latvians trailing well behind.

The conundrum, of course, is that "reform" movements within Lutheranism have historically been as nearly the opposite of Rome as one can imagine: intensely skeptical of, if not hostile to, clergy, sacraments, church order and not incidentally the Whore of Babylon and her leader the Antichrist, meaning you-know-who. So, for example, the conventional dissidents, driven by Haugean and Laestadian impulses, are far more likely to set up their own brand new church bodies than to seek union with the Pope, or for that matter anybody else.

But we are looking for a group whose demographics skew high-church and socially conservative. Surely there is such a group in the Church of Sweden, but we aren't worldly enough to name it. In the US, there have been several over the years, most of which have coalesced around the ALPB and, especially, its curious little daughter clique, the Society of the Holy Trinity.

Many of our closest friends are STS members, although we are blessed if we can figure out why. To us, the organization seems like a bunch of preening self-important poseurs, culled from the intellectual middle ranks of the ELCA. But, in fairness, life in clerical orders can be hard, not to say combative, and we all need the comfort and support of like-minded peers. The STS does offer this, to some of its members.

So. Is the STS secretly negotiating with some Vatican diplomat to make a break for Rome? It seems unlikely. For one thing, the STS has plenty of ordained women in its ranks, who might not be quite as eager as the men to move. For another, there is a palpable, if residual, skepticism about Papism among them -- the legacy in some cases of a very old-fashioned midwestern Lutheran upbringing, and in others of growing up Papist. But principally, it sees to us that these guys couldn't keep a secret if their collective lives depended on it.

If not them, then who? Or rather, with whom are we to believe that Deacon Keith and his latter-day Deep Throat are in quiet conversation? We have no idea. But readers are invited to speculate, as wildly as they like, in the comments box below.

*Note: If a few Anglican converts can make any lasting contribution to the Roman church, we hope it will include an improvement in English prose. We yearn with earnest expectation for the day when Deacon Keith will be forced by peer pressure to rewrite that sentence, perhaps to read "a trail like the one already blazed by some Anglicans."


Father said...

Our Beloved Godfather (for some reason unable to post comments himself today) proposes a candidate: The Most Rev. Irl Gadlfelter, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church.

Read all about it:

Yeah, these folks look like a feasible entry. Rome could score like fifteen parishes this way -- what a coup.

Rod said...

I would offer that you take care in what you say - or write - about the Society of the Holy Trinity. I'm in it, and I was the organizing Dean of the Chesapeake-Potomac Chapter of the Society. We are a ministerium - and as such we offer mutual support for one another. We are a pan-Lutheran group as well. We are not political; and, in fairness, not everyone is as high church as I might be. Before any negative comments are made about "a bunch of preening self-important poseurs," go to the website ( and then make comments that honor the Eighth Commandment - please! And by the way - the Society is not a daughter clique of ALPB - where, oh where, did you get that? Wow!

Rod L. Ronneberg, STS
Fulton, MD

Father said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Father said...

A bit touchy, are we, Rod? Fine.

Let me say, for anybody who doubts it, that you are basically right. Basically.

You're right, of course, about the 8th commandment, so let me clarify in the interest of charity. The STS isn't composed in its entirety of preening, self-important poseurs. It just has a lot of them, which when we come down to it could be said about nearly any organization. (Congress, anybody? The Egg's editorial board?) I really am sorry if I made it sound like a blanket description. But I won't retract it, either.

You're also right about variation in styles of churchmmanship. Sorry if I offended your Haugean member. (Joking, for pity's sake.) Yes, it varies. But we both know it skews high, which is just what I said.

I also know a couple of social liberals in the STS, and if you're nice I'll give you the secret list. Again, joking -- about the list. My point is that no organization of reasonable people consists in its entirety of people who agree about everything, and i take for granted that readers are sophisticated enough to assume this.

As for "where did [I] get that idea, oh, wow," I can explain. Certainly the lineage isn't direct, so "daughter' may not be the best word. But the STS is a creature, rather more directly, of the 9.5 Theses. These, in turn, were first published in Lutheran Forum (November, 1995). So it was principally through the work of ALPB that most people became aware of them. And Theses-co-drafter Ron Bagnall was either the Forum editor or the editor-on-deck at the time, Louis Smith was a regular contributor (or even board member), etc. Beth Schlegel has since been a columnist. Etc. So I think I'll stick by that claim, as amended.

Beyond this, I do hope you appreciate my essentially warm feelings toward the STS and its members. It may not be the self-congratulation that members of reform groups generally get from one another, but compare what I wrote here to my typical comments on, say, the New ALC.