We Are Not Heretics or Schismatics

Charles Hodge (1797–1878), on behalf of two General Assemblies of the PCUSA (1869–70) on the refusal of the GA to send representatives to attend Vatican I (1869–70). This is a eloquent summary of the same Protestant case against Romanism that we’ve been considering by reading William Perkins’ (1558–1602) treatise The Reformed Catholic. Confessional Protestants are the true catholics, i.e., we still believe the holy catholic faith revealed in God’s Word and confessed by the church in all times and places. What we reject is not the catholic faith but Romanism. Those two things must not be confused.

Thanks to the Banner of Truth for posting this and to HB reader Chuck Bridgeland for calling it to our attention.

To Pius the Ninth, Bishop of Rome,

By your encyclical letter dated 1869 you invite Protestants to send delegates to the Council called to meet at Rome during the month of December of the current year. That letter has been brought to the attention of the two General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Those Assemblies represent about five thousand ministers and a still larger number of Christian congregations.

Believing as we do, that it is the will of Christ that his Church on earth should be united, and recognizing the duty of doing all we consistently can to promote Christian charity and fellowship, we deem it right briefly to present the reasons which forbid our participation in the deliberations of the approaching Council.

It is not because we have renounced any article of the catholic faith. We are not heretics. We cordially receive all the doctrines contained in that Symbol which is known as the Apostles’ Creed. We regard all doctrinal decisions of the first six ecumenical councils to be consistent with the Word of God, and because of that consistency, we receive them as expressing our faith. We therefore believe the doctrine of the Trinity and of the person of Christ as those doctrines are expressed in the symbols adopted by the Council of Nicea AD321, that of the Council of Constantinople AD381 and more fully that of the Council of Chalcedon AD451. We believe that there are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are the same in substance and equal in power and glory. We believe that the Eternal Son of God became man by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, and so was, and continues to be, both God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever. We believe that our adorable Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the prophet who should come into the world, whose teachings we are bound to believe and on whose promises we rely. He is the High Priest whose infinitely meritorious satisfaction to divine justice, and whose ever prevalent intercession, is the sole ground of the sinner’s justification and acceptance before God. We acknowledge him to be our Lord not only because we are his creatures but also because we are the purchase of his blood. To his authority we are bound to submit, in his care we confide, and to his service all creatures in heaven and earth should be devoted.

We receive all those doctrines concerning sin, grace and predestination, known as Augustinian, which doctrines received the sanction not only of the Council of Carthage and of other provincial Synods, but of the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus AD431, and of Zosimus, bishop of Rome.

We therefore cannot be pronounced heretics without involving in the same condemnation the whole ancient church.

Neither are we schismatics. We cordially recognize as members of Christ’s visible Church on earth, all those who profess the true religion together with their children. We are not only willing but earnest to hold Christian communion with them, provided they do not require, as conditions of such communion, that we profess doctrines which the Word of God condemns, or that we should do what the Word forbids. If in any case any Church prescribes such unscriptural terms of fellowship, the error and the fault is with that church and not with us.

But although we do not decline your invitation because we are either heretics or schismatics, we are nevertheless debarred from accepting it, because we still hold with ever increasing confidence those principles for which our fathers were excommunicated and pronounced accursed by the Council of Trent, which represented, and still represents, the Church over which you preside. Read more»

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  1. I’m opening up with this tonight in our Thursday Night Study in Theology as we begin our study into the early church councils. I’m doing my best to present the heretics, schismatics, and the church from the ancient world.

  2. We regard all doctrinal decisions of the first six ecumenical councils to be consistent with the Word of God …

    I was surprised to see this. Canon 2 refers to “the holy and glorious Mary, Mother of God and always a virgin” (from here). Or did he not consider the Canons to be “doctrinal”?

    (The disciplinary verbiage contra Nestorius, Theodore and Ibas also speak about “of the holy Mother of God, and ever Virgin Mary”.)

    • Not sure the status of the canons in Hodge’s mind. That Mary is theotokos (God bearer) is in the Definition of Chalcedon. The only controversy would be perpetual virginity but that was widely held by Reformed writers (e.g., Bullinger and I think Calvin) in the 16th century.

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