One of the most under-reported religious stories of the past decade has been the movement of Lutherans across the Tiber.

by Tim Drake for NCR

What first began with prominent Lutherans, such as Richard John Neuhaus (1990) and Robert Wilken (1994), coming into the Catholic Church, has become more of a landslide that could culminate in a larger body of Lutherans coming into the collectively.

In 2000, former Canadian Lutheran Bishop Joseph Jacobson came into the Church.

“No other Church really can duplicate what Jesus gave,” Jacobson told the Western Catholic Reporter in 2006.

In 2003, Leonard Klein, a prominent Lutheran and the former editor of Lutheran Forum and Forum Letter came into the Church. Today, both Jacobson and Klein are Catholic priests.

Over the past several years, an increasing number of Lutheran theologians have joined the Church’s ranks, some of whom now teach at Catholic colleges and universities. They include, but are not limited to: Paul Quist (2005), Richard Ballard (2006), Paul Abbe (2006), Thomas McMichael, Mickey Mattox, David Fagerberg, Bruce Marshall, Reinhard Hutter, Philip Max Johnson, and most recently, Dr. Michael Root (2010).

“The Lutheran church has been my intellectual and spiritual home for forty years,” wrote Dr. Root. “But we are not masters of our convictions. A risk of ecumenical study is that one will come to find another tradition compelling in a way that leads to a deep change in mind and heart. Over the last year or so, it has become clear to me, not without struggle, that I have become a Catholic in my mind and heart in ways that no longer permit me to present myself as a Lutheran theologian with honesty and integrity. This move is less a matter of decision than of discernment.”

It’s been said that “no one converts alone,” suggesting that oftentimes the effect of one conversion helps to move another along a similar path. That’s exemplified through Paul Quist’s story. He describes attending the Lutheran “A Call to Faithfulness” conference at St. Olaf College in June, 1990. There, he listened to, and met, Richard John Neuhaus, who would announce his own conversion just months later.

“What some Lutherans were realizing was that, without the moorings of the Church’s Magisterium, Lutheranism would ineluctably drift from it’s confessional and biblical source,” wrote Quist.

Many of the converts have come from The Society of the Holy Trinity, a pan-Lutheran ministerium organized in 1997 to work for the confessional and spiritual renewal of Lutheran churches.

Now, it appears that a larger Lutheran body will be joining the Church. Father Christopher Phillips, writing at the Anglo-Catholic blog, reports that the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church (ALCC) clergy and parishes will be entering into the U.S. ordinariate being created for those Anglicans desiring to enter the Church.

According to the blog, the ALCC sent a letter to Walter Cardinal Kasper, on May 13, 2009, stating that it “desires 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.” That letter was sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Surprisingly, in October 2010, the ALCC received a letter from the secretary of the CDF, informing them that Archbishop Donald Wuerl had been appointed as an episcopal delegate to assist with the implementation of Angelicanorum coetibus. The ALCC responded that they would like to be included as part of the reunification.

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6 Responses to One of the most under-reported religious stories of the past decade has been the movement of Lutherans across the Tiber.

  1. sixupman says:

    My experience in the Rhineland has been Lutheran churches which put to shame their Catholic counterparts, which give the impression of being completely devoid of anything. Indeed, there appears to exist the German equivalent of Anglo-Catholicism.


  2. kathleen says:

    I don’t know how many people were aware of this “crossing of the Tiber” of so many Lutherans, but I certainly had no idea about it. It certainly seems to have been an under-reported story for most of us – and a very welcome one too! The few Lutherans I know personally are great biblical scholars…… and very nice people.


  3. rebrites says:

    I was a religion reporter at a succession of American newspapers through much of the period covered here. Because there were plenty of Lutherans among our readers, and because one of the major Lutheran denominations was fond of holding its national meetings in my city, I wrote PLENTY about these Tiber swimmings (and Bosphorus-crossings, as well as a few Thames-paddles). Major Lutheran church news was well-covered by all the major news outlets, at least in the USA.

    I am a surprised the Missouri Synod, a very large, (2.8 million) conservative, and very “high-church” division of the Lutheran church in the USA, has not made a move similar to that of the Anglo-Catholic group detailed above. Maybe they are next? Now THAT would be front-page news!


  4. rebrites says:

    (I just talked to an LCMS pastor, who says that won´t happen anytime soon. “We are too deeply convinced of the truths of “justification by faith” and “grace alone” and “soli scriptura” to simply set aside the legacy of Martin Luther,” he said… “We (LCMS) like to think we keep the “Luther” in Lutheranism.”)

    And so even though my supposition was wrong, I confirm: the LCMS swimming the Tiber would be big news indeed!


  5. toadspittle says:

    …the few Lutherans I know personally are great biblical scholars…… and very nice people.

    Says Gertrude.

    Oh, dear.
    Well, we’ll just have to do our best to make sure they don’t feel too much ‘at sea, ‘ won’t we?


  6. toadspittle says:

    My God! He’s done it again! Mixed up Kathleen and Gertrude!

    Sorry! It’s honestly not one of Toad’s bits of teasing.
    But Freud would surely have something to say about it. And it must stop.


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