The Best Book On Roman Catholicism I Have Read

Is undoubtedly Leonardo De Chirico’s book entitled Evangelical Theological Perspectives on post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism. The basic point of his book is that Roman Catholicism can only be rightly interpreted when seen as a system. This point has been made by some Roman Catholics, but very few Protestants have seen this. In Chirico’s research, only G.C. Berkouwer and Cornelius Van Til have really critiqued the RC faith as a system. Chirico does an especially good job at explaining how Vatican II fits in with the history of the RCC. For Chirico, the two basic categories for understanding RC are the understanding of the relationship of nature and grace; and the self-understanding of the church that the RC faith possesses. These are rebar, if you will, that penetrate and support the entire system of RC. I am going to blog all the way through this book in some detail, as I think it is such a tremendously important book (in fact, I intend to make it something of a baseline in my own research).

I have only two critiques of the book. The first is the rather unbelievable number of typos it contains. The second is that Chirico’s case for the nature/grace center is not quite as strong as the case he makes for the self-understanding of the church as an extension of the Incarnation of Christ. That being said, he has many penetrating insights into Catholicism, not to mention trenchant critiques of many Evangelical atomistic approaches to RC. That being said, I do not think that anyone researching RC can possibly afford to ignore this book. I wish it were more widely available (not to mention less expensive!).

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36 Comments

  1. January 21, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Typos: It seems that, when a publishing house needs to save money, the first people it gets rid of are the proofreaders.

  2. Andrew McCallum said,

    January 22, 2013 at 7:12 am

    Sounds interesting Lane. But as you say, rather on the expensive side. I think I will just dig out some of my Van Til on Roman Catholicism and follow along.

    Just one somewhat pastoral comment – I find these discussions on the paradigm driven sorts of debates between Catholic and Protestant to be helpful and informative. But at the same time I think we have to consider that there are precious few Roman Catholics who comprehend these deeper systematic issues. The vast majority of Catholics who exit Rome for Reformed and Evangelical churches do so for much simpler reasons, and we as Reformed pastors, elders, and teachers need to ready with straightforward answers as to why Rome and biblical Christianity do not go together.

  3. Jack Bradley said,

    January 22, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Looking forward to it, Lane. Thanks for your work!

  4. greenbaggins said,

    January 23, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Andrew, you are certainly correct in your assessment of the rank and file Roman Catholic. De Chirico does not really focus on justification that much. He addresses it in tandem with both of the core issues. But I think that a pastoral focus on justification is much more likely to speak to the regular Roman Catholic. Would you agree?

  5. greenbaggins said,

    January 23, 2013 at 10:23 am

    AMR, thanks for those links.

  6. Michael said,

    January 23, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    As a rank-and-file (what does this mean to you?!) Catholic, who entered full communion in the opposite direction, having passed through various communities professing “biblical Christianity”, I always found “justification” pretty uninspiring until I actually became a Catholic and slowly began to experience consciously what it means as a reality rather than an almost entirely abstract theory.

    Sorry, but I suspect this is probably not a good “pastoral focus” for “Roman Catholics”. Why not point out to the “rank and file” you have in mind that they are meant to read the Bible to be faithful Catholics? That’s always been a good starting point for me, and indeed was the beginning of my journey to the font of the fulness of Christian faith.

    Cheers!

  7. Andrew McCallum said,

    January 23, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Lane,

    Yes, I agree. But I would add that there are a number of basic issues (Church, sacraments, etc) that are also good pastoral topics. My point was that most of the folks who leave Rome will never get into these deeper systematics debates on ecclesiology and nature/grace and so on. Van Til (and similar thinkers) on Catholicism is great but he will be lost on most all of the folks who leave Rome to join Reformed communions. For rank and file Catholics we need something simple and straightforward.

  8. Michael said,

    January 24, 2013 at 4:59 am

    What’s a “rank and file Catholic”?

  9. Andrew McCallum said,

    January 24, 2013 at 6:55 am

    Rank and file – The average Catholic you might find in the pews. My point was to note that there were very few Catholics who would understand or even care about the kinds of arguments that the philosophically savvy Protestants and Catholics get into. In a previous thread one of the Protestant seminarians said that the same thing of the Protestants and noted that even in the seminaries there is little interest in these deep philosophically orientated debates. So as a Protestant elder/teacher I was just pointing out that, while what Lane was bringing our was important stuff, we still needed to be prepared to have answers for the rest of the 99+% of Catholics who have no interest in trying to get their minds around, for instance, the kind of discussion that Lane/Bryan are having in Lane’s most recent post.

  10. Jack Brooks said,

    February 27, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    I have to agree with Andrew. My wife was raised in an Italian Roman Catholic family.She became a Christian over the issue of whether the Peter-as-Pope was the head of the Christian Church. By the time this conversation happened, she already knew the Gospel. She felt convicted that she had to choose between trusting in the Pope or trusting in Christ Himself. She was persuaded that Christ alone should be the focus of her trust, went to bed, and “woke up saved.” (And even without the Sinner’s Prayer! ;) ) I’m not saying that the deeper philosophical issues aren’t important, but the average Catholic just feels guilty, afraid, and shamed.

  11. Dennis said,

    February 27, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    She became a Christian over the issue of whether the Peter-as-Pope was the head of the Christian Church.

    I find it fascinating that some Protestants don’t consider Catholics Christian.

    It just really shows the ignorance out there.

  12. Bob S said,

    February 28, 2013 at 12:18 am

    12. I find it fascinating that some Protestants don’t consider Catholics Christian.

    You ought to find it disturbing, Dennis. If Rome was a Christian church, Luther and all the rest who separated sinned in doing so.

    It just really shows the ignorance out there among Romanists who are confused, due to what they have been taught, as to what Christianity really is.

    Don’t worry, I was one once too, but the more I read the Bible and asked questions, the inconsistencies became too obvious to excuse or explain away.

     But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;  Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:  For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Romans 3:21-23

  13. TurretinFan said,

    February 28, 2013 at 8:40 am

    Dennis:

    The issue is the gospel. If you follow another gospel, one that was not delivered by Jesus to the apostles, you are not truly Christian. If your gospel requires submission to the bishop of Rome, then your gospel is not the gospel delivered by Jesus to the apostles.

    -TurretinFan

  14. Sean Patrick said,

    February 28, 2013 at 9:24 am

    #14

    Well, its a good thing for the world’s billion Catholics (not to mention all the Catholic in all of history including of course the saints and fathers of the Catholic Church) that the gospel is not defined by ‘TurretinFan.’

  15. TurretinFan said,

    February 28, 2013 at 9:40 am

    What is sad for them, Sean Patrick, is that the gospel is defined by the Scriptures. It’s not about me – it’s about the once-delivered gospel. It was the gospel before I was born and it will be the gospel after I am totally forgotten. It’s an objective truth, against which Rome’s false gospel will not prevail, and against which large numbers of mostly nominal adherents is not a valid argument.

  16. Sean Patrick said,

    February 28, 2013 at 10:01 am

    # 16.

    TurretinFan,

    Your paradigm makes it necessary that each individual defines the gospel for themselves using their own interpretation of scripture.

    Applying that paradigm, you have defined the gospel in such a way as to exclude any person who believes in the apostolic character of the Bishop of Rome, from believing in the gospel.

    Other Christians using the same paradigm define the gospel differently than you. Some Christians, would probobly even exclude you from believing the gospel for some particular belief you profess. Such is Protestantism.

    All your # 14 tells us is that on annoymous person on the internet defines the gospel in such a way as to exclude any Christian who has ever believed in the unique character of the See of Rome from believing ‘the gospel’. This understanding of the gospel forces billions of souls past and present from entering into heaven, including many of the church fathers that you quote on your website all the time. But, again, you have no authority to define the gospel at all which was the point of my # 15.

  17. Sean Patrick said,

    February 28, 2013 at 10:18 am

    See See here, TurrertinFan.

    Here is a Christian defining the gospel in such a way as to exclude Calvinists from believing the gospel. And he is not even annoymous.

    So, we have something in common. Other professing Christians define ‘the gospel’ in such a way as to exlcude each of us from believing in the gospel.

  18. TurretinFan said,

    February 28, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Sean Patrick:

    The once-delivered gospel is objective truth. The Scriptures tell us what that truth is. And Rome’s gospel is not the gospel of Scriptures.

    All those things are true, even if I’m the devil himself and even if my “paradigm” is worth five cents less than a quarter.

    Your confusion over authority is a serious obstacle to you obtaining knowledge of the truth, to be sure. But I don’t assert that Rome’s gospel is false based on my authority — I assert that Rome’s gospel is false based on an external, divine authority, Scripture.

    Even if a child came to you and told you what the gospel was, you ought to believe the gospel – not because the child is authoritative, but because the gospel is the truth, and the truth ought to be believed.

    Your quest for human authority may explain your psychological aversion to my pseudonymity and your attraction to a human papacy, but your quest for human authority is not a path leading toward the truth.

    Search the Scriptures to see if their message is the same as that of your teachers, whether your teachers in comment boxes on the Internet or your teachers in encyclicals and bulls.

    -TurretinFan

  19. Sean Patrick said,

    February 28, 2013 at 11:09 am

    # 19.

    I suspect that Jerry Falwell would tell you the same thing.

    “The gospel is objective and found in the bible. You should just believe that instead of Calvinism…”

    You also dismiss the possibility that a Christian can in good faith go to the scriptures and believe that Christ built a visible church and that church is the Catholic Church. You implore me, and any Catholic, to simply search the scriptures. You presume that we haven’t already. You presume that we’re somehow have an adverse posture to the truth because we don’t believe what you believe.

    I only highlight your anonymity because it makes your attempt at defining the gospel in such a way as to exclude billions of professing Christians throughout history that much more ridiculous. You won’t even put your name to it but you’ll tell Dennis he isn’t Christian. You are shutting the doors of heaven to us but you won’t do so personally.

  20. jedpaschall said,

    February 28, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Tfan,

    Please correct me if I am reading you too flatly but while I certainly agree with you regarding Sean’s confusion surrounding the truth, I think the true vs. false Christian debate is much more complicated than the true vs. false Church debate – and even then, we have to ask by what criteria must we consider a church to be false. My fear is we end up unnecessarily narrow our view of Christ’s faithfulness to build the church down through history if we end up, say, making JBFA as taught by the Reformed as the only possible way for the church to remain in-tact.

    Historically lines of orthodoxy were drawn during the age of the ecumenical councils around doctrines of the Trinity and Christology, then there was a soteriological concern that emerged in the Pelagian controversy by Augustine. But it seemed that whether or not one was a Christian in the eyes of the church had to do with (at minimum) what one believed concerning God as triune, and Christ as fully human and fully divine.

    I can’t really speak to the East, since I am largely ignorant of it, but there was a strong Augustinian current on the matter of divine grace being the sole basis for human salvation in the West. There were even examples of protological JBFA doctrines being taught in isolated areas of the Western church prior to the Reformation. But, to me the anathemas of Trent, where the Church actually condemns the gospel, and all who hold to it – this is where Rome instantaneously ceased to be a true church. Up to that point, I would say in line with WCF, that through history up to Trent, the church had been sometimes more, sometimes less pure.

    As for who is Christian, I would say, regardless of what the official doctrines of the particular church body one belongs to, one is always justified by faith alone, even if they are confused on this point. But, as I understand it, Reformed churches have taught that there is no ordinary possibility of salvation outside the true church. This is vastly different than say Rome’s contention that outside the church (i.e. Rome itself) there is no salvation – even though Rome now does an end around and now considers other non-Roman bodies as simply separated, but still under it’s authority. What I take this to mean is that for me as a Reformed Christian, the only onus on me is to affirm what the true church is, and belong to it, since this is where the locus of God’s saving activity is – and whether or not RC’s or EO’s are actually Christian is up to God. In the end I would affirm that one puts his soul in grave danger in belonging to a false church (such as Rome), but beyond this their salvation is in God’s hands, and all we can do is encourage such people to consider coming under the fold of a true church where the gospel and sacraments are faithfully administered.

  21. TurretinFan said,

    February 28, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Sean Patrick:

    I don’t assume that everyone who hears the gospel is going to believe the gospel. I’m still going to keep calling them to the gospel.

    Your attempts to ridicule are noted, but they don’t persuade me to reject the divine authority of Scripture in favor of the human authority of the Roman pontiff.

    -TurretinFan

  22. Sean Patrick said,

    February 28, 2013 at 11:39 am

    TurretinFan,

    Pointing out the fact you have no authority to assign Dennis to the catagory of ‘non-Christian’ is not ridiculing you.

  23. TurretinFan said,

    February 28, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Jed Paschall:

    While JBFA is an important truth, and while denial of JBFA (as contrasted with simply not understanding it or having a confused or simple faith) is a very serious error, there are plenty of other ways to have a false gospel beside that one.

    So, for example, asserting that it is a matter absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff is an example of a damnable heresy.

    Now, among the “billion Roman Catholics” there are folks like Garry Wills who would not accept such a dogma. But that has been a dogma of Rome since 1302.

    Were there regenerate believers who did not separate themselves from Roman communion at that time? I’m sure there were. They just did not hold to the false gospel that Rome taught and teaches.

    On the historical point about JBFA, I will reserve my comments for another time and place. For here, suffice to say that I don’t fully agree with such a pessimistic assessment of the historical data.

    That said, I don’t think one has to enunciate JBFA to be saved, or even fully understand it to be saved. We are Justified by faith alone, not by correctly understanding justification by faith alone, or properly enunciating it, or any other doctrinal perfection standard.

    At the same time, we need to take Paul’s warning to the Galatians seriously – if adding circumcision to Christ as the basis for one’s standing before God was a damnable heresy, adding other rites (or in general works) as the basis for one’s standing before God is analogously a damnable heresy.

    So, notwithstanding the Judaizers’ profession of faith in Christ, they were objectively anathema before God.

    -TurretinFan

  24. TurretinFan said,

    February 28, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Sean Patrick:

    a) I did not make a judgment as to whether Dennis is a non-Christian.
    b) Your claims about my authority are premised on your false beliefs regarding authority.
    c) Your understanding of authority would be better if it were more carefully informed by Scripture, which calls us to make judgments regarding teachers, and particularly to avoid false gospels.

    So, for example, I have not only the God-given “authority” to judge that the bishop of Rome is a false teacher, but also the God-given duty of avoiding his false gospel. The duty implies the authority to perform the duty.

    -TurretinFan

  25. Dennis said,

    February 28, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    TF,

    The issue is the gospel….

    the gospel is defined by the Scriptures. It’s not about me – it’s about the once-delivered gospel. It was the gospel before I was born and it will be the gospel after I am totally forgotten. It’s an objective truth,

    It’s interesting that Lane in the other post talks about how the definition Evangelicalism has shifted. I think of Protestants can’t agree on definitions like “Gospel” and “Christian” then the problem is bigger than defining “Evangelical”.

    Okay. So, how does Scripure define the Gospel?

  26. jedpaschall said,

    February 28, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    TFan:

    So, for example, asserting that it is a matter absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff is an example of a damnable heresy.

    Agreed – while I am not sure all Catholics would argue this, there are plenty out there who do. Part of the problem however, when analyzing RC dogma on this issue is how inconsistent they are on the question to the relations of Christians outside Rome to the papacy. After all of the wrangling about here about the legitimacy and scope of papal authority – I sure can’t make sense of Trent, and Vat I & II except to say they sure as heck seem to contradict on this question.

    On the historical point about JBFA, I will reserve my comments for another time and place. For here, suffice to say that I don’t fully agree with such a pessimistic assessment of the historical data.

    Church history isn’t a personal strong point of mine, so I’d be happy to hear otherwise. I was recently listening to Trueman’s lectures on medieval church history (on iTunes U), and when posed with the question of how to construe orthodoxy during the middle ages, given the corruption in the churches and no official position on the issue of justification – he felt most comfortable locating orthodoxy within the demonstrable Augustinian tradition (since nearly everyone claimed to be Augustinian, even if they weren’t). He argues this because of Augustine’s orthodoxy on Christology, Trinity, and the role of grace in salvation. I can’t comment on whether or not Trueman is representing how the Reformed construe this historically, but it did seem reasonable.

  27. Bob S said,

    March 1, 2013 at 2:11 am

    26.It’s interesting that Lane in the other post talks about how the definition Evangelicalism has shifted. I think of Protestants can’t agree on definitions like “Gospel” and “Christian” then the problem is bigger than defining “Evangelical”.

    Indeed it is bigger than the foibles of modern anabaptists.
    How come CtC hasn’t fessed up that one of their own might have more than the proverbial snowball’s chance at becoming the next American Pope. Hasn’t Bryan been a little coy lately? And busy with a publication deadline (resume)?
    Better later than never I guess.
    And mail in ballots. Would they let some of us vote?

  28. Michael said,

    March 1, 2013 at 4:16 am

    It’s amazing how few commentors appear to have read De Chirico or even the original post in this thread…

    …am I the only one who’s read De Chirico’s paper linked in comment number 2?

    I find it a wonderful summary of how Orthodox-Catholic Christology is about Christ who is present, whereas all other Christologies tend to reduce Him to a historical, but ultimately inaccessible fact.

    Cheers,

    M

  29. jedpaschall said,

    March 1, 2013 at 9:07 am

    I find it a wonderful summary of how Orthodox-Catholic Christology is about Christ who is present, whereas all other Christologies tend to reduce Him to a historical, but ultimately inaccessible fact.

    Back that up please. It sounds like you have obviously not read Calvin, or any of the Reformers on the matter of Christology. I get it, to the CtC crowd RC is better in every conceivable way than any other Christian tradition. But, with a claim that bold, it usually helps to provide some supporting evidence.

  30. CD-Host said,

    March 1, 2013 at 10:11 am

    I find it a wonderful summary of how Orthodox-Catholic Christology is about Christ who is present, whereas all other Christologies tend to reduce Him to a historical, but ultimately inaccessible fact.

    Pentecostals definitely reduce Christ to a historical inaccessible fact? Me thinks you know basically nothing of other Christologies.

  31. Michael said,

    March 4, 2013 at 4:55 am

    Bonjour Mr. Paschall,

    RE: “Back that up please. It sounds like you have obviously not read Calvin, or any of the Reformers on the matter of Christology…”

    It appears you have not read my post…? :D

    I just referred to, you know, the topic of this thread, which is De Chirico’s book, and the excellent article by De Chirico which was linked in comment #2 up there… ^

    Also: the precise word I used was “tend”. This is used to talk about a general movement; it implies that you look at moving, living things, rather than just the texts. But, sure, I’m happy to read some Calvin. Should be interesting.

    Cheers!

  32. Michael said,

    March 4, 2013 at 5:01 am

    Hello CD-Host!

    RE: “Pentecostals definitely reduce Christ to a historical inaccessible fact? Me thinks you know basically nothing of other Christologies…”

    I refer you to the words of my post: “other Christologies tend…” – and note, “tend” is not “definitive” until you get the the end of the tendency.

    I think we can all see the end of the tendency of the modern Christian experiment in today’s world, without needing to consult books.

    My experience of worshipping with Pentecostals for a couple of years, as well as attending their Bible School (TM?), before “selling out” to The Man (i.e. the boring old, square Catholic Church), convinced me there’s a lot of good there, including in my case, teaching me AUGUSTINE on the relation of the New and Old Testaments, which is of course, Catholic Tradition :)

    But the *tendency* (gosh, note those awkward nuances again) was and is indeed to rely on Grudem et al, and their *tendancy* is basically one and the same: Christ yesterday. But today…? And tomorrow…?

    It’s not an academic excercise, though. I have no teaching post or ministry appointment to defend; I’m talking about the lay-person’s experience.

  33. CD-Host said,

    March 4, 2013 at 5:36 am

    @Michael –

    Pentecostals rely on Grudem, teaching you Augustine? I’m not clear what to say other than #29 is confirmed. Pentecostals are all about encountering Christ in their life, not about a Christ yesterday. Throw out all of historic Christianity and Pentecostalism would not lose its footing. The overwhelming majority of them don’t know who Grudem is and if they did they would consider his theology offensive at the very least.

  34. Michael said,

    March 4, 2013 at 6:23 am

    Word up, CD-Host.

    I can only tell you about the Pentecostals I actually met!

    They absolutely were “all about” meeting Christ, yes. And to that extent I can go along with them, always could and hopefully always will!

    But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that’s what happened; the ones I met who had any interest in actually using reason to explain what they meant genuinely did pass around the old W. Grudem (I even read it…).

    I personally found Grudem inoffensive but rather superficial. I preferred Ladd and F. F. Bruce, but there you go; I find some good in pretty much all the Evangelical theology I ever read.

    I seriously doubt they give any serious thought to what would happen if “historic Christianity” disappeared.

  35. Richard Cronin said,

    May 4, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Lane, just wondering how your book on Catholicism is coming? I can’t remember if you finished off blogging your way through DeChirico’s book. Also just wondering if you intend (or have already) go through the CtC index? God bless.


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