Monday, January 5, 2009

An interesting denominational family tree

I was looking through some books of mine over the holidays and ran across an interesting diagram in an old catechism. The image below is from my great-grandfather Peter Kuehn's textbook, I assume for his confirmation class or something of that sort. (Peter Kuehn went on intending to study for the ministry in Ohio, but was rejected from seminary because of a physical handicap from a street trolley accident. The physical rigors of ministry at the time must have been deemed too much for him.)

This denominational family tree offers some interesting commentary on ecclesiology. The Lutheran Church stands prominent in the central stream of the Christian faith, while other traditions branch off here and there. The "Mediaeval Church" ends precisely at 1517 AD, no surprise there-- the "Roman" Catholic Church branches off at this point, rather than holding a more ancient beginning.

Perhaps even more interesting, if somewhat odd, is the close of the "Ancient" Church and the beginning of the Mediaeval at 692 AD. This is a not-so-subtle exclusion of Nicea II, which condemned iconoclasm and was thus ignored as legitimately ecumenical by many Protestants. The Quintisext Council was held in 692, amending Constantinople III and IV (the quinti and sext) with disciplinary canons. Why a Lutheran catechism seemingly accepted the ecumenical status of a council usually dismissed in the West, I'm not sure- perhaps a slap in the face of Roman Catholicism? In any case, an interesting piece of the family tree.

Quakers and Anabaptists are distinguished from "Protestantism", which includes the Lutheran and Reformed churches (with all manner of Anglicans, Methodists, and "All Other Sects" swept into the Reformed branch). The Jesuits maintain the honor being a hump on the back of the Romans, while the "Greek Catholic Church" presumably stands in for all Eastern churches as a split during the Mediaeval period and away from the central branch of Christendom.

You may need to click on the image to pull up a more readable version. From An Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism, by Joseph Stump (Philidelphia: General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America, 1907), p. 106:


  1. I love that the Anabaptists point down. One could write a funny post about how all denominational family trees are ideological.

    I saw a similar one from an EO priest once.

  2. Yes, my brother brought that up to me the other day... perhaps you could look at it as representing the anabaptist return to the purity of the primitive church!

  3. This diagram is a bit Lutheran-centric, for several reasons. It shows the Lutheran church as the main branch, where really (in terms of numbers) the RCC is the main branch, and the offshoots are Orthodox, Lutheran and Reformed.

    Secondly, it acts as though there is a "Lutheran" church when there are many. In 1907, there were a dozen Lutheran synods in the US. Today, the ELC has consolidated with other synods to form the ELCA. ELCA is like PECUSA, a mainline liberal US Protestant domination that is in communion with the Scandinavian state churches, but not with other US Lutheran synods such as LCMS or WELS.

    Finally, the diagram implies that the "Episcopal" (which should be "Church of England") is Reformed. But the CoE proclaims itself as "Catholic and Reformed." (NB: Not "Reformed and Catholic.") Today, the liturgy and theology of Communion are more Catholic than Reformed.

    This tension of the two thread of Anglicanism has caused a liturgy choices to go back and forth as the two factions fought excesses of the other. Even so, it's way too simple to treat CoE as Reformed. (And who knows what "Episcopal" theology means nowadays).