Time for a Lutheran Ordinariate?

In recent weeks, Russell Saltzman – a former dean of the North American Lutheran College – announced his decision to become a Catholic. Meanwhile, the Lutheran Church of Finland’s November recognition of homosexual relationships as marriages led to large-scale apostasy: in just the first couple days after the church’s decision, 12,000 Finns left it in protest. Such events prompt the question whether Rome should create an ordinariate for Lutheran converts, just as Pope Benedict XVI did for Anglican converts in 2009.

In recent decades, mainstream Protestant churches have become increasingly indistinguishable from the broader secular culture of the West. The recognition of homosexual unions, lax attitudes towards abortion, and the ordination of women as priests and bishops have increasingly estranged from them from Catholic and evangelical Protestant Churches in North America and Europe. As recently as the 1980s, the Vatican believed that it could reach full communion with the Church of England. Today, however, due to Anglicanism’s growing rejection of traditional morality and women-bishops, this sounds like theological fiction.

As it became increasingly clear that Anglican-Catholic reunification was fantasy, a group of traditionally minded Anglican prelates approached the Vatican in the 1990s asking for the creation of an ordinariate in which they could enter into communion with Rome but retain their liturgy and rules regarding celibacy. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI responded, creating the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. In 2011 and 2012, respectively, similar ordinariates were established for North American Episcopalians and Australian Anglicans. Since then, over 3,000 faithful, 90 communities, 5 bishops and about 140 priests, some married, from three continents have “swum the Tiber.”

A Lutheran ordinariate has been discussed in Rome. In 2013, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, explicitly formulated this desire. Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, echoed his sentiments, publicly contemplating the creation of an ordinariate for Lutherans where “the legitimate traditions they have developed” may be respected.

Lutheran converts like Saltzman are attracted to Catholicism largely due to its unwavering adherence to tradition. Previous high-profile Lutheran converts – such as Fr. Richard Neuhaus (founder of First Things), Leonard Klein (onetime editor of Lutheran Forum), and Canadian Bishop Joseph Jacobson – had similar concerns. Would the creation of a Lutheran ordinariate have success similar to that of the Anglican ones, and would the thousands of conservative Lutherans in, say, Finland leaving their Church follow in the footsteps Saltzman or Neuhaus?

Of course, the main difference between Lutheranism and Anglicanism is that the Church of England did not form because of doctrinal issues but pragmatic ones related to King Henry VIII’s divorce. As a result, for centuries Anglicanism shared many of Catholicism’s traditions while its doctrines on the Eucharist, priesthood, or confession were closer to those of Rome than those of Protestant churches. By contrast, Luther’s theological views on these matters represented a radical departure from Catholicism. Furthermore, many orthodox Lutherans continue to regard Rome and the papacy with strong suspicion.

"Conversion on the Way to Damascus" by Caravaggio (c. 1600)
“Conversion on the Way to Damascus” by Caravaggio (c. 1600)

For these reasons, one can presume that many among the traditional Lutheran apostates of recent weeks would prefer to join evangelical or charismatic Protestant churches rather than seek unification with Rome or perhaps they might start their own Lutheran church.

At least some of the growing numbers of estranged Lutherans in Europe and North America might consider Catholicism as Saltzman did. When asked about the creation of a Lutheran ordinariate at a book signing in Rome last year, Cardinal Müller acknowledged the differences between Anglicanism and Lutheranism, yet noted that in his native Germany, traditionally divided between Catholics and Lutherans since 1648’s Peace of Westphalia, many Lutherans have “retained Catholic traditions” and actually believe that many of the reforms that Luther had sought were actually implemented by the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, many Church historians today believe that had Rome been more willing to critically look at corruption within its ranks and been more open to dialogue with Luther, perhaps a schism could have been avoided.

Of course, the proposal of a Lutheran ordinariate faces opposition. Cardinal Koch’s suggestion drew the ire of the International Lutheran Federation, which is particularly concerned about celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses on the door to the cathedral at Wittenberg (today called Lutherstadt) in a spirit of camaraderie with the Vatican in 2017.

It is also unclear how Pope Francis would respond to the proposal to create a Lutheran ordinariate. During a press conference on his return to Rome from Turkey, he said that “Eastern Catholic Churches have a right to exist, but uniatism is a dated word; another solution needs to be found.” While he said this in the context of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, this raises the question of whether Francis would also oppose “uniatism” for Protestants. The Holy Father recently said that he wants Catholics and Protestants to celebrate the anniversary of the Reformation together in 2017.

Although a Lutheran ordinariate may attract fewer converts than the three Anglican ones, Lutheranism’s turn away from tradition is alienating a growing number of its faithful. These people will undoubtedly look for a new spiritual home, and at least some will find one in Catholicism. Thus the Vatican should make a transition easier for them while at the same time allowing them to maintain their unique traditions unrelated to doctrine.

At the end of the day, Rome must ask itself if it is more concerned about contributing to Christian unity, to which it has established a pontifical council headed by Cardinal Koch who first discussed a Lutheran ordinariate, or about political correctness and not irking the International Lutheran Federation. The Vatican must decide which is the greater priority: bonhomie during an ephemeral event in 2017, or the creation of a permanent religious alternative for frustrated seekers of truth.

Filip Mazurczak

Filip Mazurczak

Filip Mazurczak is the assistant editor of the European Conservative. His writing has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Catholic Herald, Crisis Magazine, and many others.

  • Gunnar Gundersen

    I can’t think of a better way to “celebrate” the 500 year anniversary of that event than by the creation of a Lutheran Ordinariate.

  • The personal ordinariates for former Anglicans exist in order to provide for preservation of their unique liturgical and spiritual patrimony, while Lutheranism is predicated on a rejection of those very same elements which in the case of Anglicans justified the creation of an ordinariate at all. A so-called “Lutheran ordinariate” should not exist.

    • I agree that the doctrinal issues would be an obstacle to a Lutheran ordinariate, but the concept of an ordinariate precludes doctrinal disagreements. As I said in my reply to Alley, what carries over into the concept of the ordinariate is the Ecclesial tradition not the Apostolic Traditions. If there is to be a Lutheran ordinariate, it would be (as is the Anglican ordinariate) based on full communion with Rome. Full communion is not a monologue, or a path simply opened by the Church to the entering group, but a dialogue and discerment, an path opened that assumes (requires) a response by those entering. Their response is then discerned and if the Church discerns their orthodoxy, then the welcome mat is laid out.

      • The preservation of a legitimate yet distinct Anglican liturgical and spiritual life justified the erection of personal ordinariates for Anglicans. The same cannot be said for Lutherans.

        • This seems to be in contrast to your reply to ABBonnet. Is it “Thanks be to God” or “The same cannot be said for Lutherans?” What I am saying above, is put succinctly by ABBonnet, in his quote: ” ‘to undo the mistakes of Father Martin Luther, and return to the One, Holy, and True Catholic Church established by our Lord Jesus Christ through the Blessed Saint Peter.’ Thus they renounced the heresy of Luther, and were welcomed into the Anglican Ordinariate.” Isn’t that the dialogue that I’ve described above.

          • “To undo the mistakes of Father Martin Luther” a Lutheran need only convert to Catholicism. The erection of a Lutheran ordinariate is unnecessary, because there is nothing uniquely Lutheran that ought not to be left behind in conversion.

            Presumably, the Anglican character of the ALCC justified their inclusion in the Anglican ordinaraite. I do not see my replies as inconsistent.

          • Adithia Kusno

            Joshua, I was a Reformed Presbyterian before becoming an Eastern rite Catholic. As Gunnar Gundersen said, ‘I can’t think of a better way to “celebrate” the 500 year anniversary of that event than by the creation of a Lutheran Ordinariate.’ The only way to heal our wounds is by creating this ordinariate. This will help people like Jordan Cooper (a Lutheran) and Peter Leithart (a Calvinist) to be in communion with Rome without betraying their reformational narrative. Vatican II clearly clarified that Protestants and Catholics are within the one Body of Christ. Just like diaspora Jews and Jews in Judea. Both are Jews, but the former is not in communion with the successor of Aaron and the House of David in Jerusalem.

            You might then asked, ‘What about their theological disagreements in the past, how would those be reconciled?’ It’s helpful to note that unlike Zwingli, Calvin was much closer to Luther with spiritual presence. While I was considering Eastern Orthodoxy for about 8 years before becoming a Catholic, I learned that there are wide variety in EO regarding Real Presence from Impanation, Consubstantiation, and Transubstantiation. If these are acceptable views by EO, then there should be no problem in accepting plurality of Real Presence in Lutheran ordinariate. Other than Real Presence, Lutheran view on Justification is not irreconcilable. We need to remember how far Regensburg Colloquy progressed in accepting dual view of justification.

            Absolute Papacy is a novel construct, which is foreign to Trent and Vatican I. Conciliar and Collegial Papacy is what Vatican II stand for. Old Catholic ordinariate, and Sedevacantist and SSPX ordinariates would be the next possible venues. Eastern Catholic is theologically identical with their EO brethren differ only in their continual communion with the Church of Rome. The schism between Lutheran and Catholic is analogous with that between Non-Ephesian and Cyrillian where the former distinguish the two natures greatly while the later distinguish it moderately. Hans Kung on his reflection of Vatican II revisit the idea of Justification with openness toward Protestants. If EC have no issue regarding Ss. Photius the Great, Mark of Ephesus, and Palamas as the three pillars of Orthodoxy even though they opposed Popes during their lifetime then there should be no problem for us to be reconciled with one another following the example of St Cyril and John of Antioch in their Formula of Union. Lutheran ordinariate is the best way to commemorate Reformation from within Catholic Church and not separately.

          • And I was an Independent Baptist before becoming an Eastern Catholic.

            As RainingAgain said: “Perhaps, someone can explain to me why one should celebrate a catastrophe [at all]?”

            Lutherans have been converting, and will continue to convert, even in the absence of a personal ordinariate; it is simply not true that such a creation is “the only way to heal our wounds.” Converting to Catholicism itself entails an abandonment of the “reformational narrative” (and no hypothetical ordinariate can change that).

            What Vatican II “clarified” is the traditional teaching of the Church: See Lumen Gentium, §8. ¶2, the third question of the CDF’s Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church, and ¶17 of the CDF’s Commentary on the [aforementioned] Document. Protestants most certainly are not “within the one Body of Christ.” (Which is why it was necessary for us to convert…)

            The heterodoxy of the Eastern Orthodox is just as irrelevant as the heresy of the Lutherans. Such doctrinal “variety” enjoys no legitimacy in Catholicism, in which transubstantiation is defined dogma and justification by faith alone is condemned error.

            If by “absolute papacy” you mean the proposition that the pope possess “primacy over all, both pastors and faithful” and “full, supreme and universal power over the Church” which he is “always free to exercise,” I would point out that Vatican II reiterated the existence of “abosolute papacy” in Lumen Gentium, §22. ¶2.

            The most appropriate instrument for canonical recognition of unrecognized societies of apostolic life, such as the SSPX, is the personal prelature, not the personal ordinariate.

            Eastern Catholics are not, in fact, theologically identical with the Eastern Orthodox. Every sense in which the Eastern Orthodox reject Catholic dogma, we are at variance with them. Eastern Catholics, as Catholics, do have an issue with specific theologumena belonging to Photius of Constantinople, Mark of Ephasus, and Gregory Palamas, if not the men themselves.

            On December 15, 1979, the CDF declared that “Professor Hans Küng, in his writings, has departed from the integral truth of Catholic faith, and therefore he can no longer be considered a Catholic theologian nor function as such in a teaching role,” rendering his position on Vatican II immaterial.

            Unfortunately, Lutheranism’s errors are more exaggerated than you suggest. I can only repeat what I said above: The erection of a Lutheran ordinariate is unnecessary, because there is nothing uniquely Lutheran that ought not to be left behind in conversion.

          • Kjetil Kringlebotten

            Joshua, it seems you only know of certain variants of American Lutheranism, and that you are projecting this onto Lutheranism as such. You do not seem to have any immediate knowledge of the European, or at least North European, Lutheranism. In Scandinavia and other Nordic countries, and in the countries of Europe formerly part of the ‘Swedish Empire,’ Lutheranism is basically the same as Anglicanism. The Church of Norway, in which I am a parish priest, have bishops, cathedrals, and we are in immediate and direct communion with the Church of England. We have distinct Norwegian liturgical tradition, many of which predate the Reformation (comparable to the English Sarum Use), and we have distinct Norwegian homiletical tradition.

            In fact, during the later stages of the European Reformation (after Luther’s death), my Church (then being ‘the Church of Denmark-Norway’) rejected most of the Book of Concord, as stuck to the three ancient symbols (the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed), the Augsburg Confession, and Luther’s Small Catechism (and the latter mostly as, well, a catechetical tool). Though both are very important, and do influence each other, our focus is on liturgy over doctrine.

          • Assumptions about my familiarity with Lutheranism aside, the content of your reply, while interesting, does not provide examples of uniquely Lutheran characteristics of the Church of Norway that ought not to be replaced by those things characteristic of Norwegian Catholicism upon conversion.

    • ABBonnet

      In 2011, the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church, a small mixed group of erstwhile Lutherans and Episcopalians, were invited by Archbishop Luis Ladaria, Secretary of the CDF, to enter the American Ordinariate under the provisions of Anglicanorum coetibus. They did so with the stated intention “to undo the mistakes of Father Martin Luther, and return to the One, Holy, and True Catholic Church established by our Lord Jesus Christ through the Blessed Saint Peter.” Thus they renounced the heresy of Luther, and were welcomed into the Anglican Ordinariate.

      • Thanks be to God.

      • SykesFive

        I think the ALCC was essentially an entrepreneurial independent church by which the Vatican was briefly taken. The application under Anglicanorum Coetibus seems to have stalled indefinitely. Note that the church is now officially called the Augustana Catholic Church.

        As best I can tell from internet searches, the church’s metropolitan archbishop was a former army dentist named Irl Gladfelter (a good search term to use) who for a time ran a wedding chapel business with his wife. A number of men around the country are listed as bishops and priests, but the addresses associated with them seem to be their home addresses and there is little evidence that they have actual congregations. Someone did some biological research on the clergy and found no evidence of theological training or other priestly formation. Most of them were retired military or law enforcement personnel. No lay members are known.

        A blogger claimed to have attended an ALCC service led by Gladfelter and found it basically indistinguishable from Catholic worship, except that Gladfelter insisted that those present were not Catholic but earnestly wished to be. The blogger was puzzled why those present did not simply present themselves at RCIA classes.

        Incidentally, Gladfelter seems to have left the ALCC in late 2011 to become a Catholic layman, then rejoined the ALCC as its archbishop emeritus. The ALCC claims to be in communion with a number of churches including Old Catholic ones. (I can’t wait to read about a proposed Old Catholic Ordinariate.)

        The information about ALCC is compatible with a group of men forming a church for the express purpose of being “acquired” by the Catholic church and receiving the benefits accruing to Catholic priests while remaining married. If so, then the Church is right not to take them on their own terms.

        • ABBonnet

          Thanks for the update. I was unable to track their application process past 2011.

          • Irl Gladfelter

            The ALCC does still exists. It now has some 60,000 members, mostly overseas in Europe, East Africa, and the Caribbean (especially in Haiti.). It is full communion with a Lutheran Church in Russia and a number of Continuing Anglican Churches in the US and UK, a number of Old Roman Catholic Churches, a priest and congregation in Berlin, GE. It has changed its name to the Augustana Catholic Church, and has a new website under that name with current information.

  • Alley Upta

    Why not petition the pope to form a Secular ordinariate? This would allow a large, currently marginalized class to come into communion with the Church while still holding onto their instant traditions relating to divorce, contraception, non-complementary sex marriages, and so on.

    Oh hang on. Isn’t that…

    • The ordinariate concept does not include “traditions” that are contrary to Tradition. Ecclesial tradition as opposed to Apostolic Tradition. It is Ecclesial traditon that is allowed into the ordinariates, Liturgical rites, prayer practices, etc. Not “divorce-remarried, contraception, non-complementary sex marriages, and so on.” The tradition of celibacy for clergy itself, is not open to priest already ordained marrying and retaining their priestly faculties. This has never happened in Church history. Yes there have been and are married Catholic priests, but only those who were married prior to Catholic ordination and only allowed to be ordained Catholic priests if converting from Anglicanism (not sure about Orthodox).

      • SykesFive

        Let me add to what the deacon has said about ordination of married men in the Catholic Church.

        The Eastern Catholic Churches–which are just as Catholic as the pope or anyone in communion with him—have historically ordained married men to the priesthood. Such ordinations had not been allowed in areas where Latin Catholics whose discipline requires clerical celibacy are the majority, so married priests of these church ministering in North America were all immigrants. Those rules were changed in 2014, so now married men from these churches can be ordained in the United States.

        As the deacon notes, the Latin Catholic Church sometimes allows married male converts who were previously priests of another church to receive priestly ordination, but despite appearances this is not just for Anglicans. Rather, it’s for liturgical Protestants such as Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians. While in the United States, if not the world, most of these married priestly converts come from Anglicanism, I can think of two married former-Lutheran Catholic priests in the Northeastern United States: Fr. Leonard Klein (Diocese of Wilmington) and Fr. Steve Anderson (Diocese of Camden). While this is not a huge number of Lutherans, the total number of married priestly converts nationwide is only something like 100.

        An Orthodox priest’s situation is somewhat different, since unlike the cases above, the Catholic Church cannot ordain him–he’s already ordained! (Think of how a married man converting from Anglicanism would not usually be baptized or required to remarry his wife.) In the ordinary course of events, he would convert to the corresponding Eastern Catholic Church, which already allows married priests. So it would really be up to his bishop, who would have the option of treating him like he treated any other married priest.

        A married Orthodox priest who wanted to join the Latin Catholic Church (rather than the corresponding Eastern Catholic Church) and retain his priestly ministry would present a very strange case and people would probably try to talk him out of this decision.

  • Vic Wanjura

    I don’t think it’s accurate to call other Christians “converts” when they become Catholic. A convert is one who comes to faith in Christ for the first time (i.e., a non-Christian; an unbaptized person). Non-catholic Christians come into full communion with the Catholic Church when they leave their denominations. LIkewise, I think the term apostate is misused. An apostate is one who rejects the Faith. Those described as “Lutheran apostates” in this article are, in my opinion, far from apostates. The Lutherans who conform to the secular culture would be more accurately described as apostates. Just my two cents.

  • Joseph Ratzinger, In his book “Theological Highlights of Vatican II” written between sessions of the council, gives us the first concepts of the ordinariate. In the chapter on ecumenism, he astutely claims that (at that time) there were only two views of a solution to Christian unity. On the one hand there was the notion that Protestantism would be absorbed into Catholicism and the more this was accomplished the more Protestantism would “disappear.” On the other hand was the notion that eventually the Church would make a declaration that all Christian confessions were equally (and fully) valid and therefore there would then be one “Church,” simply by said declaration (e.g. the Kasper approach.)
    Father Ratzinger rightly proposed that neither option was reasonable (the former) nor acceptable (the latter.) He then goes on to describe what we now know to be the ordinariate. Given this background and theologically sound concept, I would say “yes” it may indeed be time for a Lutheran ordinariate. When the first Anglican ordinariate was announced, I remembered what Ratzinger had proposed in his Council journal and immediately thought that the Lutherans would be next. In all reasonableness, this is the only path to Christian unity; acknowledging, of course that the Orthodox/Catholic dialogue has a path of its own. Let us pray, therefore, for Christian unity by way of the ordinariate.

  • uwesiemon

    This is a highly commendable article. As a confessional Lutheran, I too yearn for the unity of the Body of Christ. As a catholic (lower case) Lutheran, I empathize with decision of Russell Saltzman and other prominent pastors to “swim the Tiber.” Too painful is the apostasy of churches pretending to be Lutheran, to wit not only the homoerotic agenda of the ELCA and her sister denominations in Europe but also of the German-born woman archbishop of Uppsala, Sweden, claiming that the entirety of Scripture is but a mere metaphor. Talk about SOLA SCRIPTURA!

    That said, Mr. Mazurscak’s contribution has some flaws:

    1. For one thing it ignores the existence of faithful denominations united in the International Lutheran Council (ILC), which is not part of but rather a powerful alternative to the Lutheran World Federation. The ILC includes the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in the USA with 2.3 million members and rapidly growing denominations in Africa and Asia. The ILC is currently engaged in a thorough dialogue with Roman Catholic theologians in Germany.

    2. There exists a great difference between Anglicans and confessional Lutherans in their relationship with the Catholic Church. The Anglicans LEFT “Rome” essentially for reasons of royal concupiscence. Luther was KICKED OUT for doctrinal reasons. Mr. Mazurscak ignores what prompted Luther to nail his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church (not cathedral) of Wittenberg, which is still called Wittenberg; the title, Lutherstadt, was just added to this name. Luther was scandalized by the Dominican monk, John Tetzel, selling God’s grace for money (indulgences). Please! Let’s not overlook that.

    3. Hence the confessional Lutheran-Catholic dialogue will take longer but probably be even more fruitful theologically than what has transpired between Rome and the Anglo-Catholics because it is not enough to offer Lutherans the right to maintain their “traditions” when united with the Roman Cathoiic Church. We treasure our confessions the center of which is the right interpretation of the ARTICULUS STANTIS ET CADENTIS ECCLESIAE of the Augsburg Confession, (article IV) stating that Christians are justified before God by grace alone through faith alone (in Christ’s salvific work on the cross),but not by their own merits. To explore this requires good theological legwork and should not be rushed. In the meantime, both Catholics and Lutherans are already members in the same Body of Christ.

    4. What makes all this easier is the fact that, unlike most Anglicans and other Protestants, Lutherans affirm the Real Presence in the Eucharist, making it co-equal with the Word as Means of Grace. Moreover, confessional Lutheran pastors make sure that their communicants know what they will receive when approaching the altar, namely Christ’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of sin. Not that I wish to needle our Roman brethren, but most of their congregants in the United States take the Zwinglian view that the Lord’s Supper is only a commemorative occasion, a conviction prompting Luther to say after the 1529 Marburg colloquy with Ulrich Zwingli and his lieutenants, “The are of a different spirit.” Confessional Lutherans still believe that.

    5. Like the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, confessional Lutherans, remaining faithful to Scripture, do not ordain women.

    In sum, there are lots of ways for Catholics and confessional Lutherans to work, pray and live together in a brotherly manner until after much prayerful and thorough dialogue God himself will unite them. Until then we should pray with Christ on the Cross: UT UNUM SINT.


    • Tanyi Tanyi

      I pray and hope for this day!

  • RainingAgain

    “…celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses on the door to the cathedral at Wittenberg.”:

    Perhaps, someone can explain to me why one should celebrate a catastrophe?

    • DeaconEdPeitler


  • SykesFive

    The erection of a Lutheran ordinariate or any other ordinariate strikes me as profoundly unlikely given Pope Francis’ declared hostility toward uniatism. What are ordinariates but a Latinization of the uniate paradigm?

  • Filip Mazurczak

    Although, unfortunately, this received little attention because it was overshadowed by Francis’ controversial comments (on “rabbits”, “punches”, etc.), the 23rd Eastern Church was recently created in Eritrea. Certainly, this was probably due to the good work of Cardinal Sandri and his Congregation for Eastern Churches. However, Francis ultimately agreed to the creation of a uniate Church despite his previous words. Perhaps this bodes well for a Lutheran ordinariate?

    • SykesFive

      I don’t think so. The Eritrean Catholic Church was created by subdividing an existing uniate church, the Ethiopian Catholic Church. For reasons that I don’t fully understand, the political independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia almost immediately resulted in the Coptic pope declaring Eritrea’s Oriental Orthodox Christians to have an autocephalous church.

      Now over 20 years later, the corresponding uniate church has been made a sui juris metropolitian church.

      I’m not sure this is good work at all–shouldn’t we all be moving toward unity?–but maybe it addresses some particular issue in Eritrea.

  • Richard

    Not sure why we as Catholics should even remotely celebrate the reformation in 2017?