A Romanist Responds to the Reformation

Pope Benedict XVI wears a red hat as he arrives to lead his weekly general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the  VaticanI’ve had a fair bit of response to the HB over the years. Some of it comes over the transom from anonymous writers (anonymous comments are generally forbidden on the HB) and it usually goes where anonymous correspondence should go. This one, however, piqued my interest.

I debated about whether to post it. On one hand I’m not sure that it faithfully reflects Roman dogma at every point—but then, as we’ve seen, it’s not always easy to know what Roman dogma is hence the need for implicit faith. On the other hand it surely reflects what is believed on the ground by faithful Romanist laity. It illustrates very nicely the QIRC-y nature of the Romanist’s quest for certainty via implicit faith (fides implicita) in secret knowledge (gnosticism) that someone else has or must have. The post comes from “Roman Catholic” and is presented without any alteration:

We are frankly disgusted and TIRED of phony “Evangelicals” attacking our Pope, our foundations (2,000 years old) church and traditions.

Typical evangelical preachers have a FRACTION of a percent of knowledge of the ORIGINAL scriptures (which are held in the Holy Archives and NONE of you phonies have EVER seen).

Try being unification of ALL Christian faiths in light of the hatred from the Left and Muslims.

Your hit piece on Pope Benedict is simply crap.

As you can see, “Roman Catholic” does not indicate to which post he refers. It’s interesting that he identifies me as an “Evangelical.” Is RC trying to hurt my feelings or do all Protestants all look alike? I can tell the difference between a Jesuit and a Franciscan but RC can’t tell the difference between a Reformed confessionalist and a child of the Second Great Awakening.

Notice that our correspondent believes that the Roman communion is 2,000 years old. Why? Because this is the myth that Rome peddles about herself.  Sed contra: The Roman communion, as we know it today, didn’t take its present shape until the 13th century (Fourth Lateran, 1215). In which case it is coming up on its 800th birthday. That’s pretty old but it’s not 2,000 years. The Roman sacramental system did not begin to come into existence until the 9th century and it did not become dogma until the 13th. The Papacy did become what it is until the 7th century.  There has been a pastor in Rome for a long time but a “pope”? Not so much. Then, as we recently noted, there was that little matter of the Avignon Papacy, which makes the whole business of tracing the apostolic succession ever so much more difficult.

Our devout Romanist cannot read Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  Yet, he (or she) attacks Protestants because they have not read the “ORIGINAL” Scriptures. Our correspondent has not seen these alleged originals and likely has never met anyone who has seen them but knows that there must be a secret edition of Holy Scripture that lies hidden in the Vatican archives and that someone else has read and understood them. This person has does not know the secret traditions of the church but knows that they exist. Fides implicata. It is enough for our correspondent that someone else has read Scripture and knows what it says (or must say). In the spirit of a certain Augustinian monk, respondeo dicendum:1

Our papist cannot read the Biblical languages but I can.
Our Papstesel cannot translate Holy Scripture but I can.
Our Romanist cannot hold the magisterium in one hand, but I can.
Therefore tell him that Dr Clark will have it so.
Sic volo, sic iubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas.2

Finally, it is interesting that a Romanist appeals for Christian unity against external enemies: “the left” and Islam. First, if one is concerned about “the left” one should look at Rome herself. The “left” flourishes within Rome. Catholic Worker anyone? Has this person ever read the decisions of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops? It’s the Democrat Party at prayer. Vatican II, which was not a gathering of the Evangelical Theological Society, constituted the triumph of the theological (and social) left over the theological and social “right” in Rome and the decrees of Vatican II have dogmatic authority. So, our presumed conservative needs to fall in line with holy mother church. Physician, heal thyself.

I take it as a manifest fact that Islam is a threat to all civilized people and has been since its inception but it is not obvious how submission to the papacy would keep Islamists from flying planes into buildings. Perhaps our Romanist should read Augustine’s City of God again?

This correspondence is interesting because it vindicates some of the most basic Reformation complaints about Rome and suggests that, whatever dubious ecumenical agreements have signed by misguided evangelicals, on the ground not much has changed. It is also illustrative of the reason why many are attracted to Rome: rest. This is what the newly minted former evangelical converts are selling, Rome, Sweet Home. “Don’t you worry your pretty little head there missy, we know someone who knows everything. You can lay down your burdens in the narthex of St Peter’s Basilica.” The Protestant says, “Yes, well, we know someone who knows everything and he’s revealed his saving and moral will in Holy Scripture, which is plain enough for the simplest person to understand what is necessary to believe for faith and life.” Jesus Christ is our pontifex maxmimus. His Father is our Holy Father and the grace of the Holy Spirit and iustitia are freely given to sinners sola gratia, sola fide.

Dear Romanist, I think you wrote because something you saw troubled you. It raised doubts. Perhaps what you’ve been told isn’t true? Perhaps you can never please God by your acts of penance? Perhaps you cannot cooperate with grace sufficiently? Perhaps things are not as you’ve been told? Please see yourself for what you (and we all) are by nature: dead in sins and incapable even of cooperating with grace (Rom 1–3; Eph 2). Turn to the Christ of Scripture, who finished his work, “once for all” (Hebrews 7:27), who propitiated God’s wrath for all who believe (Rom 3:25) and whose righteousness is credited to all who believe (Rom 4:3), and on the basis of whose righteous alone, received through faith alone, we stand before God (Rom 3:28). These are not Protestant tricks. This is God’s truth.

1. Sed contra = “But on the contrary” and Respondeo dicendum = “I respond by saying.” There are formulas used by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa theologiae when replying to objections.
2. “I will it, I command it, my will is reason enough.” A quotation from Juvenal’s sixth satire, which Luther often used to characterize the arbitrary power of the pope. See Luther’s letter on translating.

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  1. I’m reminded of the debate via letters between Calvin and Sadoleto. Although a learned man and well-able to express the nature of Roman Catholicism in eloquent terms, at its core Sadoleto’s apologetic wasn’t much more persuasive than that of your RCC commenter. It really does boil down to just trust (and don’t verify) Rome and everything will be fine.

  2. Does Rome have an equivalent of a “really good preacher”? I can’t say I know of any. Is there a “Duncan, Ferguson” equivalent?

  3. Very interesting, Scott…. it’s been a long time since I’ve heard the claims of the ORIGINAL scriptures, buried somewhere deep in the bowels of St. Peter’s… sounds awfully Masonic to me.

  4. Thanks again for your gospel-centered insight, Scott. I have a family member to whom sometimes I send your insights and thus continue to pray for him that he will one day rest the weight of his soul on Christ alone and not on any mere human (As Paul refers to it in 1 Cor 2 “Natural”) tradition which adds unbiblical traditions to the Holy (completed!) Canon.

  5. Well, even if Plato said something to the effect that rock and roll was for those with a diseased soul, I certainly appreciated the recent post on the history of the papacy contra the fabrications by the papacy.

    But the argument for Codex Vaticanus, however garbled by our correspondent, is essentially that of protestant higher criticism contra WCF 1:8 and the providential preservation of the TR – which is also parodied on the other hand by the KJO buffoonery – is it not?

    (Conflict? No conflict, officer, just a collision.)

    And if the reformers to a man, saw Rome as the antiChrist because of his rabid and bloodthirsty opposition to the gospel of justification by faith alone in grace alone, Muhammed was merely seen as the eastern antichrist to the pope’s western seat and likewise visited upon a disobedient church. Both are totalitarian ecclesiastical/political systems consumed with and dedicated to an external works righteousness.

    As far as evangelicals go, even JI Packer before he went mushy ecumenically, spilled the beans in his intro to Luther’s Bondage of the Will. Free will is of the essence of both romanism and arminian evangelicalism, so no wonder there, why so many in the latter opt out for the real deal. One might even be tempted to say, good riddance. Better honestly deceived than half heartedly confused.

  6. Forgive my impertinence, but this should have gone “where anonymous correspondence should go”. If, for example the CtoC guys posted a similarly lengthy response to an equally “brilliant” comment by a protestant and stated “it surely reflects what is believed on the ground by faithful” reformed types, what would be your thoughts?

    • Mark,

      This is a fair criticism and it’s precisely why I hesitated before posting. I think, however, that this Romanist is faithful to the Roman magisterium in his/her reliance upon fides implicita. I don’t know yet to what degree reliance upon hidden Scripture reflects Roman dogma. If a Protestant wrote something like this, he/she should expect to be criticized (by both Romanists and confessional Reformed folk). What would be the Protestant equivalent of this that would embarrass Reformed folk?

      Our confession is published for all to see. The Roman catechism is published for all to see but that doesn’t exhaust their doctrine. They also hold as authoritative a bewildering array of conciliar dogmas and decrees, papal declarations and audiences, and ex cathedra decrees. Their body of doctrine and list of authorities is inherently confusing and apparently meant to be so. In contrast, our confession is NOT inherently confusing. We don’t unwritten tradition that has magisterial authority. They do. We don’t have secret archives. They do. We don’t have popes and anti-popes (we don’t have any popes), they do.

      So, I don’t accept the premise that both sides are on equal moral or historical footing.

    • How so? It’s true that Calvin has been given a privileged position in contemporary Reformed theology but that’s a relatively recent development. If one reads the Reformed orthodox many writers are given preference over Calvin. In fact, the relative absence of references to Calvin among the orthodox is striking.

      It was Lutherans who gave the epithet “Calvinist” to the Reformed.

      Calvin was just one voice among many in our tradition.

      Sola scriptura.

  7. Indeed! According to Richard Muller in his book: “Calvin and the Reformed Tradition”-

    “Specifically, we have no indication from Calvin’s correspondence that his theology was viewed as the primary expression of Reformed thought in his generation… Bucer offered criticism to Calvin of several aspects of the Consensus Tigurinus of 1549… Beyond this, Reformed theologians of the seventeenth century typically took umbrage at being called ‘Calvinists’ and viewed Calvin as one of a group of significant forebears–not, indeed, emphatically not, as the founder and norm of their confessional tradition.” (pp. 22-23)

    • Jack and RSC

      an impish follow on to Charles Tucker’s point…

      on what doctrinal points would either of you disagree with Calvin?

      • For my part Richard, it’s mostly a matter of development. I suspect I disagree with him re the eternal generation of the Son. His was the first theology I ever really read so it’s been pretty formative. It might be that there are other issues like, perhaps, the marks of the true church (he had two, the Belgic had three). Mostly, however, as I suggested, I think the orthodox took what Calvin and others gave us in the sixteenth century and elaborated on it to address the issues they were facing that Calvin was not addressing in his time.

  8. Richard,

    Your question presumes a kind of meta-narrative about Reformed believers, i.e. that true Reformed Christianity is based on the teachings of Calvin… therefore Reformed equals Calvinism. This doesn’t stand up to the historical record.

    For instance, Calvin didn’t write on covenantal theology which is a big part of Reformed theology and came into greater understanding by other Reformed writers after him.

    Muller again, “Calvin’s work ought to be understood as a development of a Reformed tradition that began with such Reformers as Zwingli, Bucer, and Oecolampadius and, as such, represents one contribution, albeit a significan one, among others made by thinkers of Calvin’s generation (e.g. Bullinger, Vermigli…)”

    Muller’s list of names continues, not to mention those that came after him. “It is a simple historical datum that Calvin was neither the founder nor the sole continuator of the Reformed tradition…”

    So, he is no pope. And Calvin would blanch at the idea anyone viewed him that way. But his teachings are consistent with and helped bring about the Reformed confessions. I would have to say that the closest thing I have to a pope are the Reformed and Presbyterian confessions and catechisms of the Continent and the British Isles which are a reliable teachings on the doctrines of Scripture.

    • Thank you indeed for this measured response (and RSC too for his complementary comments) which I think will be useful to many of us

  9. Thanks for posting this, Scott. I had a Romanist respond to the post I wrote when Ratzinger announced his resignation. While my interlocutor didn’t use the same words as did yours, nonetheless the message was basically the same. Namely, we Protestants don’t know what we’re talking about.

    What a shame.

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