Harry Potter And The Allure Of A Magical World

The Harry Potter movies were enchanting movies (pun intended). They are shot through with overt theological themes: ontology, good and evil, cosmology, sin, and redemption. Part way through one of them, I remembered something that Bob Godfrey once said, something that I have read and observed: one of the more important things the Reformation accomplished was the de-sacralization of the world.

By “sacralize” I mean to “enchant” the world, to make creation per se more than it is, to make the world sacramental and to endow it with power to communicate divinity to us. The Reformation diligently and consistently re-asserted and re-defined the world as good, but considered it to be only a creature and not sacramental per se. Obviously we believe that God uses creational elements as sacraments, but that is another matter altogether.

The medieval church made the world a magical place by endowing with power, either by nature or by divine fiat. In short, the medieval church tended to an over-realized eschatology. As lovely as the great, ancient, European cathedrals are, they do reflect that very tendency. Certainly, the medievals taught, believed, and confessed the fall, but they also mitigated the effects of the fall; making the world magical was one way of such mitigation.

The charm of the film (no pun intended this time) is that we are led into an animated world and even an animistic, magical world. Despite, or perhaps because of, their adventures, the characters are not hard-boiled. They still wonder. There are moments in the film when one can almost imagine a world without sin, where creation is in harmony and joy is unspoiled. Yes, evil is present in the world of Harry Potter, and so is redemption. Harry is a messianic character. He is “the chosen one.” The world in which Harry exists, which (not having read the books) I suppose Harry shall have to save (perhaps at the cost of his own life?—do not spoil it for me) is a magical world. Some can see and even manipulate the magic, and others cannot.

The only sacred creation I know existed before the fall. There was when there was not sin. The garden was a holy place, and Adam (and we in him) was meant to act as priest and guardian of that sanctum sanctorum. Of course, tragically, Adam failed to guard and keep the garden holy. He not only allowed it to be defiled with lies; he also participated in its defilement. God offered him immortality upon condition of perfect obedience, but Adam refused that offer and chose to accept the offer of the evil one, to keep covenant with him instead. From that moment the harmony of creation was disrupted and cursed. In a sense, the “magic,” as it were, was gone and not to return until the consummation of the kingdom. That kingdom has been inaugurated in Christ, the chosen One.

The “magic” that Jesus encountered in his earthly ministry was very dark indeed. It is a mark of the gospels that Jesus is confronted by genuine spiritual evil repeatedly. He defeats that evil not by harnessing the latent magical power in creation, but by asserting his divine power and divine right as king and creator. He sealed his victory over the lying serpent not with a wand but with his own suffering, blood, and death. He manifested his righteousness in his resurrection. He cleansed the temple. He did battle with the evil one and he conquered.

Before the fall there was no need for magic because we had righteousness; and because we had righteousness, we had power and authority over creation. After the fall, we turn to magic (and to a magical world) because we lack righteousness and therefore we lack power and authority. We turn to religion as a source of magic (i.e., as a source of power) because we want the original power of creation and the glory that would have been ours had we obeyed. In the medieval church that desire for power manifested itself in the development of “sacramentals” (not quite sacraments) into “sacraments” and in the turning of mere ministers announcing the truth into priests with power to perform magic. Where the apostles and the early church simply announced the law and the gospel and administered those two divinely instituted signs and seals of Christ’s kingdom, the medieval church morphed them into priests with the ability to turn bread into God the Son incarnate and to ritually sacrifice him as a propitiation at will. Oil became not just a prayer but a sacrament. Marriage became not just a creational norm and a witness to the consummation, but a sacrament. Gradually the medieval world became increasingly magical. The priest before the congregation turned his back and performed his magic in a secret tongue, just like Harry Potter.

One of the functions of the second commandment is to remind us that we are mere creatures, that there is no magic and that Christianity is no place for magic. The truth is too important, and reality is elusive enough without the confusion created by ostensible priests performing ostensible, illusory magic. The function of the second commandment is to drive us back to reality, to the truth as it is in Christ. There is only one priest: Jesus the God-Man. There is only one sacrifice: the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There is only one way to approach the holy God who is: the way that he has ordained.

The truth is that what we need is not magic at all. What we need is grace, and that grace is not divinity or even a semi-divine substance dispensed by priests. It is divine approval merited for us by our Mediator Jesus, given freely to unworthy and disobedient sinners, and found only in Christ. That is true power. What we need is worship governed by God’s Word and not by sentimentality and smoke.

The desire for magic is a corruption of a once-holy desire: to obey God and to exercise divinely-given authority in his kingdom as his vice-regents. Now, after the fall, after the incarnation, we have to trust Christ, to live by every Word that proceeds from his mouth, to be washed by his baptism, to be fed by his body and blood, and to wait. We do not live in a sacred world, but there is such, and the Revelation of St. John witnesses to its reality and to its in-breaking into time, space, and history each Lord’s Day. Harry did battle with the half-blood prince but we wait for the prince of Ps 110, to whom the Father said, “Sit at my right hand.” He has inaugurated his kingdom, and we wait for its blessed consummation.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on the Heidelblog in 2009 and appears here slightly revised.


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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Is it not also true that the 18th and especially the 19th Century inheritors of this “magic” in this country also built upon it by establishing Masonic and other variants that largely supplanted Christianity, in its most confessional form, to establish something that one must qualify for in order to be a “more complete” citizen?

    Most confessional denominations decry this nonsense, of course, but are not the antecedents of these events still with us in a similar sense, even though modern American culture seems to have grown beyond them?

  2. You can spoil it for yourself: if you’ve picked up much of the symbolism surrounding Harry, you’ll know what to expect of the climax. It’s just a matter of finding out how.

    I can remember when the Potter books were greeted with distrust. I know they still are in some quarters. But–Scott, you really must read them, you know!–the themes of the books are so obviously touching on things far deeper than simply an argument about whether Potterish magic is incantatory or invocatory. The climax to the series arrives in book 7, chapter 35, and its title tells you everything you need to know about where Rowling was going with her series.

    Hope that didn’t contain any spoilers. 😉

  3. Interesting (ironic?) how secular literatueurs know better what to do with creation than religionists.

    It’s also interesting what religionists do with secular literatueur’s work. I’m of the persuasion that finds less redemptive themes in such work and more creational ones: “Potter” seems to be more about the age-old themes like coming of age, power struggle and friendship set in a lot of fun and dazzling fantasy.

  4. Hey Dr. C,

    Seconding a previous commenter, you should definitely read the books. I have been sorely disappointed in the movies (though the books are too long for great adaptation). They are the greatest imaginative tales since the time of Tolkein and Lewis–and that is only captured in the books. You can be sure that the movies will sanitize some of the more overt theological ruminations as well.

  5. I don’t think the problem of the medieval magical/”sacralized” world isn’t simply that it’s “overrealized eschatology.” The value of an idea is not the extent to which it corroborates a pleasing philosophical or theological construct, but the extent to which it conforms to that which actually exists. In other words, the real problem with the “magical world” is that it simply isn’t the real world that actually exists. The decidedly non-magical studies of chemistry and biology have done far more to heal the sick than any combination of reagents and icons. Likewise, very un-sacral agriscience and free market economics have done far, far more to produce crops than burying statuettes of saints. The Protestants took all the magic out of the world, and an abundance of prosperity poured forth out of the world.

  6. Philip and Stephen,

    I couldn’t agree more with you both (I just finished reading Book 7 for the second time, and I’ve read several of John Granger’s books on the deep Christian themes of the Potter series), but I think you’ve missed the point. Harry may very well be a Christ figure, and there may be some excellent theological themes underlying the stories, but that doesn’t change the fact that the whole genre of fairy tales and magic is essentially Catholic/Orthodox/Anglo-Catholic and “sacramental”, not Protestant. Protestants do not have a sacramental worldview, and therefore we do not, like our Catholic and Orthodox brothers, believe the world to be a “magical” place in the sense that they do. I believe that is the only point Dr. Clark is trying to make.

  7. Magic Oil?

    James 5:14 – Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

    “So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hand of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” (Act 19:11-12)

    The sacraments and sacramentals were not ‘added’ in the medieval church. They were always there. Priests did not just appear in the medieval church or evolve from simple ‘ministers of the word.’

    “Assemble on the Lord’s day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice (Matt. 5:23–24). For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, ‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations’ (Mal. 1:11, 14)”
    (Didache 14 A.D. 70).

    A sacrifice requires a priest.

    The Eucharist has always been a sacrifice and has always been offered as a sacrifice by God’s priests like Melchizedek who also offered bread and wine.

    I am not going to argue that the Reformation removed the sacramental nature of the church (at least for the Reformed) from the world but this is clearly, according to history, not a reaction against some new way of doing things in the medieval church. It was a reaction against the constant faith and practice of the church.

    • Sean,

      The Reformed churches understand a sacrament to be more than ritual. The anointing with oil in James is a ritual act but it’s not a sacrament. It’s not a sign and seal of salvation and it’s not accompanied by the preaching of the gospel. This is one of the differences between the old and new covenants which the medieval church and the Tridentine Romanists ignore(d). Indeed, one of the great errors of the ME and Romanist churches was (and remains) the proliferation of sacraments as part of their return to the Mosaic/ typological era.

      So it is with the various manifestations of apostolic authority and power. You misunderstand the entire book of Acts! The point of Acts is to demonstrate the fulfillment of the promise: “And lo I will be with you always.” So the Apostles manifested the power of the Spirit and of the risen Christ through their healing ministry. Again, there’s not a shred of internal evidence that the apostles were adding to the two dominical sacraments. What amazes me is to see patristic quoting papists making the same arguments as Word-Faith cretins like Benny Hinn.

      As a matter of history, as I show above, there were only TWO sacraments in the ME church as late as the 9th century. So much for patristic precedent there.

      Your appeal to the Didache is unmoving because the it, as interesting as it is, isn’t canonical and is frankly weird in some ways. Early does not equal normative. The Protestants have always been blessedly appreciative but critical of the fathers and rightly so. Anyone who actually reads the fathers understands why.

      Further, there’s nothing sacerdotal about the language of the Didache. It is well known that some of the fathers spoke of the supper in sacrificial terms but it’s quite a drive from metaphorical sacrifice

  8. Yes, medieval inventions! The great Augustine, that medievalist, says, “Remember me at the altar.” Dr. Clark, how can you argue that your position is not ecclesial deism?

  9. Dr. Clark.

    As a matter of history, as I show above, there were only TWO sacraments in the ME church as late as the 9th century. So much for patristic precedent there.

    The sacraments, all of them, were defined as sacraments at the same time. For many centuries all signs of sacred things were called sacraments, and the enumeration of these signs was arbitrary. It was never the case that the church ever held that only baptism and the Lord’s supper are sacraments.

    For example, St. Aphraates writing of the various uses of holy oil, says that it contains the sign “of the sacrament of life by which Christians (baptism), priests (in ordination), kings, and prophets are made perfect; it illuminates darkness (in confirmation), anoints the sick, and by its secret sacrament restores penitents” (Demonstratio xxiii, 3, in Graffin, “Patrol. Syriaca”, vol. I, p. lv).

    Which church fathers taught that only baptism and the Lord’s supper are sacraments?

    It’s not a sign and seal of salvation and it’s not accompanied by the preaching of the gospel.

    A sacrament is a visible sign instituted by Christ to give grace, a sign that really effects what it symbolizes. You can only exclude unction and holy orders (for example) from being a sacrament if you redefine what a sacrament actually is.

    Your appeal to the Didache is unmoving because the it, as interesting as it is, isn’t canonical and is frankly weird in some ways.

    So therefore its disregarded…I am not asking you to agree with me. I am asking you to be forthright about the history of what was taught and believed by the church.

    The Protestants have always been blessedly appreciative but critical of the fathers and rightly so.

    To me this looks like, “When the fathers seem to believe what we belive we’ll use them but when we don’t like what they believed and taught we’ll distrust them. ”

    How is that not ad hoc?

    Further, the question isn’t whether or not you want to sumbit to their teaching.

    The question is whether or not they taught it. You can admit that the priesthood and sacrifice of the mass is not a medieval invention and still not agree with it as a Protestant! Many Protestant church historians do this.

    It is simply reckless to assert something as a medieval invention when it clearly was not a medieval invention. That is all I am saying.

    It is well known that some of the fathers spoke of the supper in sacrificial terms but it’s quite a drive from metaphorical sacrifice

    Every church father who spoke of the mass spoke of the sacrifice of the mass. These same fathers spoke of the priests who offered the sacrifice. I don’t see how that is ‘quite a drive.’

    “Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices. Blessed are those presbyters who have already finished their course, and who have obtained a fruitful and perfect release”
    (Clement Letter to the Corinthians 44:4–5 A.D. 80).

    The sacrifice and priests ‘obtaining release’ by the sacrifice in AD 80.

    “God speaks by the mouth of Malachi, one of the twelve [minor prophets], as I said before, about the sacrifices at that time presented by you: ‘I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord, and I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands; for from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, my name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering, for my name is great among the Gentiles . . . [Mal. 1:10–11]. He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us [Christians] who in every place offer sacrifices to him, that is, the bread of the Eucharist and also the cup of the Eucharist”
    (Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 41 A.D. 155).

  10. Dr. Clark.

    I read your comments and rejoinder about the seven sacraments.

    As late as the 9th century, there were only two accepted sacraments in the Western church: baptism (the sign and seal of initiation) and communion (the sacrament of renewal).

    This is assertion that is made without any evidence in your comment.

    Where do you get the idea that prior to the 9th century the Western church only accepted baptism and communion as sacraments? Which fathers taught this? Which council defined this?

    • Sean,

      If you want the footnotes, take my ancient church and medieval- reformation courses.

      Read the debate between Radbertus and Ratramnus. Read the history.

      Take a look at the several entries on the various Roman sacraments in, e.g. the New Catholic Encyclopedia.

  11. Dr. Scott.

    I think we’re talking past each other.

    I believe, as a matter of Catholic faith, that the sacraments were defined as a matter of dogma all at once at the Council of Trent. Prior to this, these sacraments as well as other sacramentals, were in various and sundry times (to use WCOF language) regarded as sacraments. There was at no time a church father or council which limited the sacraments to only baptism and the Lord’s supper.

    I am not asking for footnotes. I am asking for the claim, “As late as the 9th century, there were only two accepted sacraments in the Western church: baptism (the sign and seal of initiation) and communion (the sacrament of renewal). “ …to be substansiated.

    Its been a while since I’ve read the Radbertus and Ratramnus debate so I’ll read it again.

    I have read, however, the New Catholic Encyclopedia on the sacraments very recently as well as various extant patristic sources and they confirm that at no time did the church every teach that only baptism and communion were sacraments.

    • Sean,

      The NCE, just to name one reference that should have credibility in this discussion since it can hardly be called a partisan Protestant reference, has multiple relevant entries that say essentially the same thing I’m saying regarding the history. The current Roman sacramental system certainly has roots in the use of sacramentals prior to the 9th century but it’s only after the 9th century that what we know as the Roman system came into being and that over several centuries. From a confessional Protestant perspective, speaking theologically now, these are not dominical sacraments. They are ecclesiastical inventions and this claim takes us back to the nature and role of the Word (sola scriptura) with respect to ecclesiastical authority etc. Contra Taylor, I don’t think the historical claims I’m making are remotely controversial. I understand that the theological claims that confessional Protestants make are hotly controversial to Romanists. They’re meant to be!

  12. Dr. Clark,

    You write:
    “In the medieval church that desire for power manifested itself in development of “sacramentals” (not quite sacraments) into “sacraments” and in the turning of mere ministers announcing the truth into priests with power to perform magic…Gradually the medieval world became increasingly magical. The priest before the congregation turned his back and performed his magic in an secret tongue, just like Harry Potter.”

    I’ve lost respect for you. This post reveals that you’re not a serious Church historian, but a Church history revisionist willing to recast history to meet the needs of your personal beliefs. Behind the Oxford title is a man shuffling the deck of history to “prove” his version of magisterial Reformed dogmatics.

    The Apostle Paul calls himself “priestly” in Romans 15:6 (hierourgounton). The claim that Christians worship at a sacrificial altar (thusiasterion) is made at Hebrews 13:10. Moreover, Paul compares the ministry of NT presbyters to that of sacrificing priests at 1 Cor 10:18-21.

    See also 1 Clement 40:5 where he calls the local Christian bishop a “high priest” (archierei) and the presbyters “priests” (hiereusin) and the deacons “Levites” (leuitais idiai diakoniai). Apparently, Saint Clement had already bought into the magical and sacerdotal “Harry Potter version” of Christianity before the end of the first century…

    Yours is the same sort of dishonest Church History that I received at Westminster Theological Seminary Philly – where in class Saint John Chrysostom was called “the head teaching elder of Constantinople” so as to avoid calling him “archbishop” and “patriarch”.

    Eventually, your students will see through you paper mache version of Church History, feel betrayed, and start looking for answers elsewhere.

    The Greek of Saint Clement’s first century account of sacerdotal (so-called Harry Potter) Christian ministry can be found here:


    I apologize for being so frank, but if you’re going to be dishonest about the the Holy Bride of Christ our Lord, the New Jerusalem, and Mother of the Faithful, you need to be held accountable.

    -Taylor Marshall

    • Taylor,

      Facts are stubborn things. I’m sorry if reality is unpleasant but my job is to deal with reality as it was, as best I can. The reality is that the Tridentine Roman Church is not the Catholic church. It’s a sect. Most of what is now the Roman sacramental system was consolidated at Trent. It’s not catholic. It’s not apostolic and it’s not holy.

      Have you read William Perkins’ critique of Roman’s claims to catholicity? We’ve been making this historical argument for a long time.

      Protestants have always been selectively critical and selectively sympathetic with the fathers. The problem is so is Rome. Trent effectively condemned Augustine and a good number of medievals and fathers with him.

      The fact that you’re in high dudgeon over what is standard medieval history as reported by ROMAN scholars suggests to me that you aren’t very well read in critical historical literature.

  13. “So, unless the Reformed churches confess the Papist doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice we’re deists? Get out.”

    Dr. Clark,

    In no way are you a deist and ecclesial deism does not refer to deism as it pertains to theology proper.

    An ecclesial deist is one who believes that as to the nature and structure of the Church God is indifferent. An ecclesial deist is one who believes that the visible, hierarchical structure of the Church is a thing indifferent and a human, NOT divine, construct. Thus, an eccleisal deist is by definition a Protestant and not an Eastern Orthodox or a Catholic, because both East and West believe that the visible structure of the Church is of its essence and not merely functional.

    • You completely misunderstand the Reformed view.

      Please take a moment or ten to read the Reformed confessions. We are not ecclesiastical deists as you define them. We confess that Christ instituted a visible church. We also confess that Rome is not it!

      You can see the Reformed confessions here:


      Click on “Reformed Confessions” on the right

      See also the paper on the doctrine of the church. Go to “systematic theology” and you’ll find it there.

  14. Prior to Trent the medieval church was confused. At Trent the Roman church tragically became a sect.

    Dr. Clark. I don’t know why you are treating the medieval church as something different than the early church in regards to sacraments. Taylor and I have already shown that the early church held to the same sacramental “magic” that the medieval church practiced. I’ve given you language from the first century which flatly contradicts your claim that the office of priest emerged in the medieval ages. Taylor provided scriptural exegesis to the same.

    You are not only anathematizing the ‘medieval’ church as a ‘sect’ but also the church of Augustine, Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Ambrose, Origen etc. If you are going to cast of the church of Trent as a ‘sect’ because of her teaching on the sacraments than you need to be willing to cast off the entire patristic church as well.

    The NCE, just to name one reference that should have credibility in this discussion since it can hardly be called a partisan Protestant reference, has multiple relevant entries that say essentially the same thing I’m saying regarding the history.

    The NCE says that prior to the 9th century the only sacraments accepted by the church were baptism and the Lord’s supper? Here is the NCE on sacraments. Where does it say that prior to the 9th century the only sacraments practiced by the church were baptism and communion?

    If you cannot demonstrate a single church father or council that limited the sacraments to only baptism and the Lord’s supper than your premise is false.

    Also, I do not accept that what you call the ‘sacramental system’ is a medieval invention. That is another claim that needs to be substantiated.

    Contra Taylor, I don’t think the historical claims I’m making are remotely controversial.

    You are making several different claims. That the church’s understanding of sacraments developed isn’t the issue. The issue is that you are claiming that prior to the 9th century the only accepted and taught sacraments were baptism and the Lord’s supper. That is false and therefore a controversial claim.

    I understand that the theological claims that confessional Protestants make are hotly controversial to Romanists. They’re meant to be!

    You are missing our point. It is not the theological claim that is the problem for you (in this discussion). Its the historical claims that are the problem.

    You haven’t addressed the multiple examples from the fathers of the ‘sacramental system’ that have been posted on this thread. Your only comment has been to disregard the Diadache because its ‘weird’ and to remind us that you a Protestant and therefore don’t have to agree with the church fathers. Well, OK. But you cannot disregard history just because you don’t agree with it.

    I am compelled to ask once more: Which church father or church council taught that only baptism and communion were sacraments?

    Trent effectively condemned Augustine and a good number of medievals and fathers with him.

    Trent didn’t condemn Augustine in any way whatsoever. I believe he is the most quoted father of the council.

    • Sean,

      I treat the medieval church as distinct from the fathers because they are! Because I deal with history, with facts, because the automobile is not the horse and buggy. They are related but they are not the same thing. It is bad history to read 13th century developments into the 3rd century.

  15. Dr. Clark,

    As per usual you’re avoiding the argument and moving to another. You completely avoided the devastating texts that I brought forward because you have no answer for them.

    I’m not talking about Trent. I’m talking about how you’re white-washing Church History so that it maps onto Reformed teaching.

    You’re accusing the Catholic Church of being allured by magical priest-craft a la Harry Potter.

    In response, I’m challenging you to deal with the fact that the First Century Church (not Trent) already spoke of their ministers in sacerdotal-priestly terms. If the Apostles and the Apostolic Fathers spoke of their clergy as “priests” why don’t you?

    To justify your claims you have cut yourself off from the tradition going back to the Apostles, not just since Trent.

  16. How are these words associated with “high medievalism”?

    high priest

    Again, you’re avoiding the question, because the answer is devastating to both your position and the “Harry Potter” thesis of this blog post.

    If 1 Clement (over 1400 years before Trent) identifies a bishop as a “high priest” presbyters as “priests” and deacons as “Levites” then you have a lot of explaining to do.

    I know that you’d like to push this into a Trent debate, but the historical facts show that the Apostles and the Apostolic Fathers thought of ministry as hierarchical and sacrificial – a fact that you still won’t admit.

  17. A: None

    Actually it was the Council of Trent. The same council that defined Holy Orders, Reconcilation, Marriage, Unction and Confirmation as sacraments.

    But interestingly enough, the Orthodox who do not accept the Council of Trent hold also to the same seven sacraments.

    they are, unlike the Romish sacraments, dominical. The Word forms the church. Sola scriptura

    By this measure, Reconcilation, Confirmation, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders and Unction are also sacraments.

    I don’t have to because you’re anachronistically reading high ME definitions into 2nd century texts

    The texts are there for anybody to read. One side is definately reading things anachronistically but it ain’t the Catholics.

  18. Dr. Clark,
    Please provide a non-“13th Century” reading of these texts. When I was a Presbyterian, I looked at these claims honestly and saw that there was no difference between the two.

    Could you send us a solution other than “take my class” that would shed a different light on these 3rd century quotes other than those offered by the Catholics and Orthodox, who see sacraments in anointing, marriage, and ordination?


    • Jonathan,

      No, I can’t conduct two entire history courses online and I won’t do it!

      The methodological problem is anachronism. One cannot simply assume that 3rd century authors meant what 13th century authors meant. They didn’t! The 13th century was a very different place from the 3rd.

      It’s just basic exegesis of texts in their original, historical context.

      You’ll have to do that work on your own as I have.

  19. It’s interesting that at least as late as the 9th century, Christianity was still part of the process of de-sacralizing the world. There’s an account of Rabanus Marus who was interrupted in the middle of sermon prep an evening of a lunar eclipse by a loud racket — people were hurling spears, grunting like pigs, dressing like animals, blowing horns, trying to help the moon in her distress. In his next sermon, he then sought to disabuse the people of their shamanistic roots (with no meaningful distinction between divine and natural; god, human or animal), emphasizing that the world (lunar eclipses included) is governed by natural law ordained by the Creator.

  20. Dr. Clark.

    Maybe just provide a non 13th century interpretation that avoids anachronism of the following passages?

    “We beseech you, Savior of all men, you that have all virtue and power, Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we pray that you send down from heaven the healing power of the only-begotten Son upon this oil, so that for those who are anointed . . . it may be effected for the casting out of every disease and every bodily infirmity . . . for good grace and remission of sins . . . ”
    (AD 350, St. Serapion ,The Sacramentary of Serapion 29:1).

  21. “We confess that Christ instituted a visible church.”

    Your claim of this, backed by the Reformed Confessions, I am aware of, but, that being said, do you believe that the structure of this visible Church is of its essence?

    If you answer yes, but do not hold to episcopal authority, and as Taylor and Sean have demonstrated, an ordained priesthood etc.. then where was this visible church you say was established by Christ?

    If you answer no, that the governance of the Church is a thing indifferent, then how would you not be an ecclesial deist?

    I also want to add that I am respectfully trying to find an answer and not set up a straw-man.

  22. Dr. Clark,
    When I “did the work” I didn’t come to your conclusion.
    How about this: as the member of Called to Communion who lives closest to you, would you mind sending me an e-mail to let me know what it would take for me to audit one of your courses? We take the claim that our reading of the Fathers is anachronistic quite seriously, as the quotes that are coming your way substantiate.


  23. All,

    If I may, I’d like to address a question to each side.

    Sean/Jonathan/Taylor: Do you see no validity in Scott’s charge of anachronism? Even if the Didache or I Clement uses the word “priest” to refer to presbyters or “high priest” to refer to bishops, that does not mean that they had in mind the same thing that you have in mind today, 1900 years later. Scott’s point is that you cannot read a specific understanding of priestly ministry back into the first century. That is anachronism, pure and simple.

    Scott: If the RCC “became a sect” at Trent, then my question to you is this: Was the Catholic Church in fact the church that Christ founded up to some specific point before it apostatized and ceased to be such, and if so, when do you think that apostasy happened? Trent or earlier? Or, if the Catholic Church’s visible hierarchy was never intended by Christ or the apostles, but rather a more Reformed or Presbyterian model was the intent all along, then why do you think things went bad so soon after the apostles died?

    Thanks in advance, everyone!

    • Jason,

      Apparently the papist apologists have discovered the web and this blog. I’ve been at it since about 7Am

      My argument in short is that Trent was a tragedy of monumental proportions because it ended the possibility of Reformation within the Roman hierarchy. They cut short discussion and genuine biblical inquiry. Trent made Rome schismatic and sectarian.

      A sharp distinction must be made between the pre- and post-Tridentine church. Prior to Trent the church is common property to Protestant and Papists, at least in certain respects. At Trent, Rome cut herself off voluntarily from great swaths of the tradition even though there had been some, e. g., Contarini who had harbored evangelicals (e.g. Vermigli and others) prior to Trent and who may have been open to re- considering some basic questions.

  24. Jason.

    I am not sure how one would prove anachronism.

    Scott is asserting that we are reading the sacerdotal priesthood and sacrifice of the alter into the 2nd and 3rd century texts. He claims that we are being anachronistic.

    The available texts almost unanimously speak about priests who offer the sacrifice of the Lord’s supper. We read all the texts and at the end of the day admit, “Yeah, the early church and the church continually has taught this.”

    JND Kelly, no friend of Rome, even admits that the earliest Christians viewed communion as a ‘sacrifice’ in fulfillment of the Malachi prophecy.

    On what basis are we being anachronistic?

    Why is it that we are being charged with anachronism and not Dr. Clark? Is there an assumption that we aren’t or haven’t read all the available texts?

    On the one hand we are making an argument and providing extant evidence. On the other hand Dr. Clark is making some assertions which he cannot substantiate.

    Saying that we are reading into to the text is just an assertion. He would need to prove that the texts do not say what the constant teaching of the church says that they say in order to prove anachronism on our part. Or at the very least he would have to produce extant evidence to the contrary.

    What I would like to know is how does Scott know that he isn’t reading 16th century reformation understanding into the text? That seems much more likely considering the constant testimony of these things not only in the 2nd and 3rd century but straight up to Trent.

    You’ll notice that Dr. Clark made the claim that prior to the 9th century only baptism and the Lord’s supper were sacraments. I asked him about 8 times to provide one single church father who taught this. He couldn’t produce but stands by the assertion. How is that not anachronistic?

    If Dr. Clark can provide any evidence that ‘prior to the 9th century’ there were only two accepted sacraments I would LOVE to see it.

    If Dr. Clark can demonstrate that the 2nd century ‘priesthood’ and ‘sacrifice of the alter’ was really just ‘ministers of the word’ sharing a ‘non sacrificial memorial meal’ than I am all ears.

    Like it or not, equating the Holy Sacraments of the Church to Harry Potter sorcery is not only highly offensive it is also demonstrates a gross glossing over of the faith of the church in the early centuries. Its the worst kind of historical revisionism. It is looking the fathers in the eye and simply not taking them at their word.

    • Couldn’t and didn’t are 2 distinct things

      I conceded that some fathers used sacrificial language but so have Protestants. The question is what that language was intended to signify and how one should detrmine the sense intended

      Sent from my iPhone

  25. Showing Anachronism would happen (ideally) in a manner akin to this:

    1) Papist A produces an “overly” sacramental quote 1.
    2) Calvinist B produces a similar quote 2 that qualifies quote 1, making the “Catholic” reading of quote 1 seem self-contradicted.

    It does not occur in the following manner:
    1) Papist A produces an “overly” sacramental quote 1.
    2) Calvinist B calls Papist A’s reading anachronistic and repeats the assertion via virtual fist pounding, or he recommends that Papist A takes a special class that would contextualize the quote.

    It does not take a course to contextualize a quote.

    It takes a course to (even start to) contextualize all of the Fathers, but that is not the same call that is being offered by we who are Catholics. We are showing what we have read from the early Church, and how that demonstrates the Catholic view of the Church and Her sacraments is historical and not anachronistic.

    To not interact with those quotes at all other than merely saying we are clearly anachronistic, or by bemoaning that the sovereign God of the universe was asleep at the wheel during the “tragedy” of Trent does not shed light on why we see things differently.

    Kyrie eleison,

    • Jonathan

      It does take about 13 weeks to BEGIN to tell an accurate, coherent, careful story-to contextualize such quotes and to understand the development of doctrine

      Sent from my iPhone

  26. Dr. Clark.

    It kind of bugs me that the Catholic is so often disregarded by the Reformed as simply ‘lacking in understanding.’

    If that is the close to the conversation I suppose it is at least predictable.

    Thanks for putting up with us Papists Dr. Clark.

  27. Scott,

    My argument in short is that Trent was a tragedy of monumental proportions … Trent made Rome schismatic and sectarian.

    Prior to Trent the church is common property to Protestant and Papists, at least in certain respects. At Trent, Rome cut herself off voluntarily from great swaths of the tradition….

    OK, so I think what you’re saying is that there is an invisible church from which Rome fell away at Trent, is that right? Or, are you saying that there is a visible church that Rome was a part of until Trent?

    It seems that “the church” (whether visible or not) would have to be something bigger than the Catholic Church in order for the monumental tragedy of Trent not to be the failure of Jesus’ promise to preserve his church until the end of the age. Would you take Jesus’ promise to apply to the invisible body of Christ, or to a (singular) visible one? And if that, where is it?


    Well, if you look at what a Catholic today thinks of when he hears the term “priestly service” — things like seven sacraments, the role of Mary as co-mediatrix, and the infallibility of the pope (given the necessary qualifications), it doesn’t seem too off-base to conclude that to read THAT back into Didache is pretty anachronistic, don’t you think. Whether Scott does it too is beside the point. Protestants have the luxury of “picking and choosing” among the fathers because we claim to read them how we feel they intended themselves to be read, i.e., as fallible but important witnesses describing how the church was in its infancy.

    • Jason,

      The Protestant claim has always been that there has always been a true, visible church. The only place to find the invisible church is in the visible church. The Reformation agreed that there is a true visible church and the evangelicals claimed to be continuation of that true visible church. I agree with that claim.

      Trent looked at the Reformation squarely, intelligently, deliberately and condemned the key tenets of the evangelical faith. That was schismatic and sectarian. It’s not possible to condemn apostolic teaching, Pauline teaching, dominical teaching and not be sectarian.

      I don’t think Jesus’ promise has failed nor can it fail. He has always had a church but Rome, in my view, in the view of the Reformers, chose to exclude herself (not to say all her members) from that church by her radically schismatic actions over the course of the 1540s, 50s, to 60s.

  28. Jason,

    I can agree with that. I certainly do not look at the Didache and think it is a proof text for Papal Infallibility anymore than I would look at Irenaeus and use it as a proof text of the doctrine of the Trinity which came 200 years later.

    But, one can very reasonably see that the priesthood and the sacrificial mass was very much present in the early church and definitely not a medieval invention. Does that mean that in the 3rd century they were talking about substance and accidents in the Eucharist? No. But they surely taught that it was a sacrifice and only priests could administer it.

    • Jason,
      If we leave out the terms of transubstantiation, papal infallibility, and the like, we still do not arrive at a Reformed view (note that I say “a”, and not “the”–just saw a review of Dr. Clark’s work where an OPC writer was upset that he apparently denies private prayer as a means of grace). We would still end up believing in apostolic succession, and then we would want to consider whether we ought be Catholic, Orthodox, or Coptic. Reformed will not enter the equation.

      Now, going back to the direct context of the blog post that has inspired this flurry of comments, those writers would still sound quite “Harry Potter-esque”, to the point where Reverend Clark has called the Didache “weird”- it may sound weird to him, but it’s part of the earliest writings of the Church. Could it be that something written in the 1500s has made him think this to be weird?

      Maybe we need to write a blog about Isaac Newton and the Allure of a Mechanical Renaissance world, focusing on how Reformed thinkers have lost a connection to a sacramental view of the world being full of God’s glory by being influenced by deistic Enlightenment thinkers?

      Maybe we need to say that all you need is a Catholic Church History Class and you’ll see this to be true?

      Ah, but that wouldn’t be dialogue….

      Reverend Clark,
      I spent a lot more time than 13 weeks considering Rome’s claims–is it because I spoke to people from RTS and not WTS? But again, I would love to peaceably (e.g., me not protesting against what the Protestant has to say until the end of the course) hear your claim out for what it is. Since you can’t interact with even one quote offered here online in its “full depth”, I would make the drive from San Diego to hear you out/read the exact sources that would, in your opinion, demonstrate our opinion to be anachronistic.

      This is, of course, assuming things work out with my job and family obligations. I pray this is possible.


  29. Professor Clark: “Protestants have always been selectively critical and selectively sympathetic with the fathers. The problem is so is Rome.”

    Anybody object to this claim?

  30. Truth unites…and divides,

    I would refer you to this article. When it comes to Tradition we cannot be ‘selectively’ critical. Tradition is Tradition. However, not every teaching of every church father constitutes ‘Tradition.’

    I would also refer you to John Newman’s Development of Christian Doctrine Specifically, chapter five discusses the genuine developments contrasted to corruptions.

    • Sean/Johnathan/Taylor et al,

      Why don’t you guys set a dialogue up with James White? He would love to respond to you have to say–its his ministry.

      Sola Scriptura,

      • Joy.

        I’ve read virtually ever piece on Catholicism that is on James White’s website and listened to almost every debate. I did this back when I was investigating the claims of the Catholic Church.

        If he wants to address anything on Called to Communion or otherwise he is more than welcome to do so.

      • Joy,

        As you might know, Dr. White does not allow for comments on his site and our site does, so, as Sean said, if he wants to he is more than welcome to dialogue with us.

  31. Sean,

    But when a Catholic sifts through the ECFs and then says, “Well, you can’t believe everything they say, but the stuff our church agrees with is part of big-T Tradition,” it sure sounds similar to what you accuse Protestants of doing.

    Can you see the similarity, or perhaps spell out clearly the difference?

  32. Pastor Stellman,

    I’ll take a swing on Sean’s behalf. I do see the similarity, but really the difference can be chalked up to the fact that the Catholic has an objective measuring stick by which to accept or reject the various and sometimes conflicting teachings of the ECFs.

    In the Catholic Church, theologians are free to hold opinions on subjects that have no been decreed on dogmatically by the Church. Since very few things had been dogmatically decreed in the time of the ECFs, there were a variety of things on which the ECFs could hold varying opinions.

    Once a given subject has been dogmatically decided, we can look back and say “Ah, I like ECF x, but he didn’t believe in the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Since we now know that the personhood of the Holy Spirit is dogmatic Catholic teaching, I can reject ECF x’s teaching on that subject, but take what’s good from the rest.”

    The Protestant, on the other hand, has only himself to cite for his belief that teaching y or z of ECF x is biblical according to his own standard of interpretation. He can, of course, turn to the councils of the Church or the reformed confessions, but he’s still just playing the same game with them that he’s playing with ECF x, that is, I think Nicea is biblical, so I’ll use it as a standard to judge ECF x, whereas I don’t think Second Nicea is biblical, so I won’t use it to judge ECF x.

    So the difference between the picking and choosing of the Protestant and the apparent picking and choosing of the Catholic is the objective, infallible standard of Catholic dogma. Even if you, as all Protestants do, reject some measure of Cahtolic dogma, it must still be admitted that it is a measuring stick, and it is objective, which makes it categorically different from the picking and choosing of the Protestants.

  33. Jason,

    One of the major differences is that the Catholic Church admits, on principle, that any clear consensus of the ECF’s (semper, ubique, ad omnibus) on a matter of Christian doctrine constitutes an infallible teaching of the ordinary magisterium. Protestants (generally) deny this.

  34. These last two comments of course show exactly what I’ve been saying about the way some Romanists read history. It’s ridiculous and quite untenable. It’s mythology, not history — which is far too complex to fit into the simplistic schemes being proposed by the Romanist apologists here.

    Second, Matt Yonke’s account of the Protestant relation to history is not only wrong it is appallingly ignorant. It’s a gross caricature.

    Protestant have a magisterium but its authority is not magisterial. It is ministerial to the Word of God. Protestants have assemblies with real, derived authority. We have confessional documents. We are not the radical individualists that Yonke says. Confessional Protestantism may be theologically wrong but historically we’ve not been anything like what Yonke says.

    Yonke is describing the Anabaptists and the modern evangelicals but he doesn’t seem to be able to tell the difference between the Synod of Dort and the rebellion at Muenster.

  35. Matt,

    So the difference between the picking and choosing of the Protestant and the apparent picking and choosing of the Catholic is the objective, infallible standard of Catholic dogma. Even if you, as all Protestants do, reject some measure of Cahtolic dogma, it must still be admitted that it is a measuring stick, and it is objective, which makes it categorically different from the picking and choosing of the Protestants.

    You’re not gonna like this, but how is your position not completely question-begging? Why can’t I say that we Reformed have an objective standard by which to judge the ECFs, i.e., our Confession and Catechisms?

    Now, I know what you’re going to say: “But the only reason you hold to those Confession and Catechisms is because you already believe they’re biblical.” Well, yeah. But why do you hold to your ecclesiology? Isn’t it because you believe it’s both biblical and historical? But millions of people who read the ECFs don’t believe that your ecclesiology is historical. If your response is that “only the church has the right to interpret Scripture and tell her own story,” then like I said before, you seem to be assuming what you should be trying to prove.

    Or, if your claim is so basic as to be inscrutible, then just admit that we be both have our own presuppositions, we’re all Van Tilians.

  36. Jason.

    When the Holy Mother Catholic Church reads the church fathers she looks for the teaching passed down from the apostles. She looks for organic development (as described in the Newman essay I linked earlier which answers some of these questions better than we could) and she look for consensus.

    The items that Catholics can be more critical of within the fathers are what I would call ‘aberrations.’ Unique ideas during a time prior to the council that defined the issue. There really are not many. The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Jerome and the deuterocanon although he eventually submitted to the Bishop of Rome.

    You’ll find that the fathers often prefaced ideas that were not solemnly defined yet as opinions and conjectures. You’ll also find that the fathers themselves point to councils as ‘de fide’ dogma that is the catholic faith. No church father or church doctor critically looked at Nicaea for example and said, “You know what. Jesus was really just man because I think that is what the bible says.” Heretics did that.

    Here are some real world examples:

    The Catholic Church fully embraces the teaching of Augustine. I can think of no Augustinian teaching that is contrary to the faith. Augustine would not have taught anything contrary to the revealed faith which was delivered to him. However, he could have had opinions about matters not yet defined which were ultimately opposed to what would be defined…although I cannot think of any.

    The Reformed on the other hand looks at Augustine and rejects his ecclesiology completely even though Augustine’s ecclesiology is lock stop with the fathers before and after him.

    To bring this around to something more controversial…let us look at Baptismal Regeneration.

    This is one issue where the ECFs are unanimous. Had 99 church fathers taught the catholic faith on the matter and 1 not taught the catholic faith it would be surmised that the 1 was out of accord with the catholic faith. However, not even one church father taught against baptismal regeneration.

    The Reformed look at this and completely disregard it by saying, “Well, the Church Fathers are not infallible.” But what they are doing is cutting off the entire Christian witness of the doctrine.

    When the Catholic disagrees with a church father its, “He was speaking in a time before this matter was defined and even then his opinion does not correspond with the prevailing understanding of his time.” And even that is rare amongst the doctors of the church.

    Check out this illuminating thread on the Puritan Board. The question is asked, “Did any church fathers not teach baptismal regeneration?” The answer: Crickets Chipping. Read the comments.

    “In this matter of baptism — if I may be pardoned for saying it — I can only conclude that all the doctors have been in error from the time of the apostles. . . . All the doctors have ascribed to the water a power which it does not have and the holy apostles did not teach.” – Zwingli

    Zwingli’s quote represents Protestant position and the way they read the fathers.

    The Catholic might say, “This one father, this one time, when he was speaking about a matter not yet defined, held a position that looked contrary to the consensus of his time.”

    • Sean: “When the Holy Mother Catholic Church reads the church fathers she looks for the teaching passed down from the apostles.”


      What if I showed you a clear example of the church fathers being unanimous on a teaching which was presumably passed down from the apostles, and yet the Holy Mother Catholic Church chose eventually not to uphold it fully?

      What would you say to that?

  37. PS…Luther increasing wrote very harshly about the ECFs because he knew that they were so often opposed to his doctrines. Eventually it was, “I cannot even tolerate them.”

  38. Dr. Clark,

    In what sense is the WCF “authoritative” if it could be changed tomorrow? The only reason it’s authoritative is because people who become members of reformed communities put themselves under its authority.

    It has no authority in itself over Baptists or Pentecostals. It is authoritative only if you agree with it. The claims of the Catholic Church are binding on all of humanity. Whether you believe that or not is one thing, but lets be honest about the nature of the authority of your confessions.

  39. Matt,

    Yes, because the Holy Scripture has unique and normative authority, Protestants are able to recognize that Popes and Councils do err. Scripture doesn’t err but humans do. This is why Protestants have recognized (following Scotus) that there is a qualitative difference between the way God knows things and the way we know things.

    You, on the other hand, have to live in an historical fantasy where councils don’t differ from each other, where Trent doesn’t contradict other councils where Robert of Geneva is arbitrarily made an anti-Pope, and where the 5th Lateran didn’t call the W. Church “corrupt in head and members.”

    • Sean,

      That’s the wrong question and a bad premise. Mom always told me: Son, question the premise.

      The right question is: Is God’s Word infallible? The answer is yes. True catholics are those who submit to the Word of God. The Council of Nicea submitted to the Word over against the rationalist Arians. The Athanasian Creed submitted to the Word. The Apostles’ Creed is in submission to the Word. The Definition of Chalcedon is in submission to the Word. The Word, not the church, defines the faith. To the degree the Nicene Creed is in conformity to the Word, it is Truth and that truth is inerrant. The church marks herself as such by submission to God’s self-disclosure in the Word. This is why Rome is sectarian, because she willfully, blindly, and tragically defied God’s Word and cut herself from the true catholic church of all times and places.

      • “Mom always told me: ‘Son, question the premise.’”

        If this is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, then let me be the first to say, “Dr. Clark, please eat your vegetables.”

  40. Matt,

    The claims of the Catholic Church are binding on all of humanity.

    This is where Protestant and Catholic presuupositions come into view. We’d say that Scripture is binding on all of humanity and that the confessional formulations are binding on those who, as you rightly say, have uniquely vowed themselves to them. I realize you want to pin a sort of Anabaptist tag to us for saying the latter, but we are no more latent evangelicals (your charge of us) than we are frustrated Catholics (evangelicals’ charge of us).

  41. Sean,

    The Reformed person would say that the Nicene Creed is NOT infallible in the sense of “those convened couldn’t have been wrong,” but it IS inerrant. So a fallible person (like me) can make inerrant statements, but that’s different from my being unable to make errant ones.

  42. Because I like it, it just sits well with me, making me feeling good when I read it.

    In all seriousness, the Nicene Creed is inerrant because it speaks to an essential element of the faith with complete Scriptural fidelity in the estimation of true churches everywhere at all times.

  43. Good question. I would be hesitant to do so, since one can disagree with them and still be a true believer, which is not the case when it comes to the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

    Gotta go, I’ll check back in tonight.

    • The Nicene Creed and the Westminster Confession have different degrees of universality. All Presbyterians think of the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed as, in a sense, more fundamental than the WCF simply because the WCF is a public, ecclesiastical articulation of the implications of the catholic creeds. We’re not sectarians. It is essential for Christians to confess the catholic faith. It is the faith that makes us Christians it is not we (whether conceived as individuals or collectively) who make the faith. We understand that there are Christians in all times and places, not all of whom confess the WCF. We think they should and we hope they will but to say that one must confess the WCF would be sectarian. This is why it is schismatic for Papists to insist on submission to a demonstrably corrupt institution (the Roman episcopacy) and to demonstrably false and corrupt conciliar canons and decrees (e.g. much of the 4th Lateran and virtually all of Trent!) as a condition of true catholicity.

  44. Pastor Stellman,

    The second Nicene Council was accepted in exactly the same way as the first for hundreds of years before the reformers took issue with it.

    If a council can be universally accepted for hundreds of years only to be overturned by some monks and lawyers on their own initiative, what sort of authority do councils actually have?

    • Sean,

      No, the church has genuine, ministerial authority. Nicea did not create the Truth or the Word. Nicea confessed the Word. Nicea rightly demanded that the rationalists repent of placing human reason above the Word, to submit to the Word as it was confessed by the church.

  45. Dr. Clark,

    I understand you believe I live in a fantasy world. But that doesn’t answer my question. You said:

    “Protestants have assemblies with real, derived authority. We have confessional documents. We are not the radical individualists that Yonke says.”

    I asked you in what sense your councils have authority if they only bind those who agree with them in the first place which would, if I may be so bold, be a radically individualistic definition of authority and submission.

    So whence this supposed real authority and how does it substantively differentiate you from the anabaptists?

  46. No, the church has genuine, ministerial authority. Nicea did not create the Truth or the Word. Nicea confessed the Word. Nicea rightly demanded that the rationalists repent of placing human reason above the Word, to submit to the Word as it was confessed by the church.

    So you reject Trent because you do not agree with it. You accept Nicea and so should everybody else because you agree with it.

    Nicea was not being schismatic with the Arians because you agree with it.

    Trent was being schismatic with the Lutherans becauase you do not agree with it.

    This is ad hoc and places the councils in the judgement of each and every man.

    • Sean,

      The Protestant, evangelical church rejected Trent with one voice because it grossly contradicts God’s Word!

      Ecclesiastical authority is real but ministerial. You cannot set it up so that only magisterial authority is real.

  47. Scott,

    The Protestant, evangelical church rejected Trent with one voice because it grossly contradicts God’s Word!

    The Church universal with one voice for 1500 years taught that baptism was regnerational and that this is what scripture teaches.

    Why do you reject that teaching?

  48. Sean,

    That’s not true. They rejected the biblical and catholic faith because it didn’t agree with REASON. They were rationalists. The Arians weren’t proto-Protestants.


    The Arians didn’t quote scripture? I am pretty sure they did. And I am also pretty sure that Chalcedon invoked biblical data, patristic witness AND reason when defining Christological orthdoxy.

    It is impossible to leave out reason when reading scripture.

    Besides, the WCOF appeals to ‘reason’ and ‘common sense’ when it calls holy transubstantiation an ‘abomination.’

    • Sean,

      The Socinians quoted Scripture! That didn’t mean that they weren’t rationalists. As I think Eck said, “All heretics quote Scripture.”

      The answer to biblicism and rationalism isn’t Romanism.

      Listen, take a moment and read Recovering the Reformed Tradition where I given an extensive account of a confessional Protestant approach to ecclesiastical authority. It’s far more nuanced than this sort of ping- pong discussion permits.

  49. I don’t mean to be ping-ponging either although I took the morning off.

    I’d love to see if you ever get the time your thoughts on baptismal regeneration in the early church. Maybe you know something that Zwingli didn’t…

  50. Sean,
    Remember, Zwingli didn’t take Dr. Clark’s 13 week course…if only he had taken it (alas and alack!), then he would see that baptism was always less than the Church’s Tradition had made it out to be. Or would he see that he was anachronistic in his reading of the Tradition?

  51. Sorry to interrupt the dialogue going on now… but a question about the original post.

    Dr. Clark, I did not realize certain cultures/worldviews were more holy/better than others. It seems that the Modern world view is as much as a over-realized eschatology as the Medieval one.

    I know not all societies/worldviews are as Equitable as others and some are to be preferred but it seems that many like Tolkien himself would see a doctrine of concursus through the Magical realm in his ‘sub-creation’ world. It was for him another way of talking about providence.

    If one reads Novum Organon, they will see that Francis Bacon purposely was trying to reverse the Fall and bring about eschatological Edenic world through modern natural science.

    I do not know how this jives with what you were saying or not. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks

  52. If I may, I want to ask the Called to Communion clique a question. You guys all claim to be former Reformed Protestants (although one of you was Reformed only for a year, if I remember correctly). In fact, one has to be a former Reformed Protestant in order to join your crew. I see you guys tag teaming on Reformed blogs such as this one, and it makes me wonder about your mission. You guys are obviously Roman Catholic e-pologists and evangelists, but is y’all’s agenda to focus solely on the Reformed blogs to reap converts, especially high profile ones? Are you guys the Calvinist converters?

  53. Kepha,

    The Called to Communion clique is just a bunch of guys who love Jesus Christ and the Church He gave us and seeks to dialogue about the issues that, tragically, divide us from full, visible communion.

  54. That’s a very interesting insight. It reminds me of Peter Leithart’s essay on “Why Evangelicals Can’t Write“, which argues that the reason that evangelical Protestants have produced few great writers of fiction is because of their non-sacramental worldview.

    I think there’s an interesting tension here… on the one hand, the sacramental worldview very easily slides into idolatry and magic. But the insistence of Protestants on the bread and wine as “only” a symbol opened the way to seeing the universe as only a material thing, without meaning or purpose or creator. There is danger for us as Christians both in seeing too much and too little “magic” in reality.

    • Caleb,

      I don’t know that Protestants can’t write. Lewis was a Protestant! The English Reformation was delayed and so was the English Renaissance (according to Lewis) but when it finally developed it produced a fair number of writers. Tyndale did pretty well and he was a Protestant. He gave us about 90% of the authorized version. Milton may not have been orthodox (that’s hotly debated) but he did pretty well for a Protestant.

      If you mean “modern Americans” that’s another kettle of fish. Most people regard Edwards as a pretty good writer but the decline in Protestant literature has more to do with radical egalitarianism since the 19th century than it does with the loss of Romanist magic.

      The Dutch realist painters are another illustration of the falsehood of the premise that the Reformation destroyed creativity and imagination. By reconnecting it with the world as created (de potentia ordinata) arguably it reinvigorated it.

      As to the Protestant view of the Supper, you’ve not represented it well. We’re not all Zwinglians. American evangelicals became Zwinglians but to orthodox, confessional Lutherans and Calvinists the elements are said to communicate the true, real body and blood albeit in different ways.

  55. I’m both a writer and a Christian – I’m working on a fantasy novel at the moment, and so I’m very interested in the intersection of theology and fiction on this point.

    I didn’t say I agreed with Leithart’s article, just that I was reminded of it. Personally I’m not sure that his argument can hold without qualifying it to death to make exceptions for all the various Protestant writers that can be listed.

    I’ve just been reading Owen Barfield’s book Saving the Appearances: A study in idolatry, which traces what he perceives to be the evolution of human consciousness, the way we think (distinct from the history of ideas, what we think), and the corresponding change in the nature of idolatry at each stage. He’s got some very interesting things to say on the subject, and I’m still trying to understand and evaluate them properly.

  56. This has nothing to do with the main threads of the comments. I just wanted to mention that the half-blood prince was actually an ally of Harry Potter, although pretending not to be. Minor point, I know…


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