The Roman Catholic Church has chosen its first non-European pope ever, and they went to the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. In taking a name no other pope has ever chosen, it seems likely that this pope will have some new directions for the Roman Catholic Church in mind. Both of the famous Francisi of history were reformers. St. Francis of Assisi introduced social reform to the church, whereas Francis Xavier was the founder of the Jesuit movement. Possibly, then, a combination of social reform and theological reform is coming?
March 4, 2013 at 11:30 pm (Roman Catholicism)
I received an email from Leonardo de Chirico, which has a fascinating analysis of possible candidates for the next Pope. I reproduce that email here, with his permission. I have only very lightly edited it. I also make another disclaimer that Chirico says a few things here in a way different than I would. I found the piece very interesting, chiefly for his analysis of the candidates for the next Pope.
Papabili: A Short Guide Waiting for the Conclave
The outcome of a conclave can be unpredictable. Whether or not one believes that the Holy Spirit actually works in the election of the Roman pontiff, its results defy easy previsions. As an absolute monarchy, the Vatican does not normally operate according to democratic procedures. The conclave, however, is one of the few instances where each vote counts and the total amount of them (two thirds is the majority for the first 34 ballots) determines history. So there is room for political maneuvering and surprises.
The Role of Benedict XVI
Having resigned from office at over 80 years of age means that Benedict XVI will be cut off from the conclave. During the conclave he will be living at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence on the hills outside of Rome. Though physically absent, his influence will be powerful in a couple of respects.
First, as a living former Pope his shadow will be a major factor in determining what the cardinals will decide. It is likely that no cardinal will vote someone that the present Pope would not himself vote. It is unlikely that the conclave will elect someone who would radically depart from Ratzinger’s trajectory, since he will still be around during and after the conclave. Following the new Pope’s election, Benedict XVI will go back to the Vatican where he will live in a former monastery inside the Vatican walls. He will be there and around. The co-habitation with the new Pope suggests that the latter will be somewhat a prolongation of the former. Without voting and without using words, Benedict XVI will have a say in the next election.
Second, his input in the conclave is evident in considering the fact that during his pontificate he has nominated about half of the 117 electors. The composition of the conclave is largely shaped by men personally chosen by Benedict XVI, men he trusted.
There are two counter-elements to be considered. One is that the conclave will not be held in the emotional atmosphere that generally follows the funerals of the previous Pope. It will be more cerebral than sentimental. The other is that, given the unprecedented decision by Benedict to resign and the shock that has caused in the curia, the conclave could be used as a showdown in the Vatican checkerboard. It is clear that Ratzinger’s weakening conditions that led to his resignations were hastened by internal fights and unresolved tensions in various Vatican departments. The conclave will have to decide what to do about them and the outcome could be surprising. Benedict surrendered to the stand-still situation, but the new Pope will have to act.
A List of Candidates
After two non-Italian Popes (the Polish Wojtyła and the German Ratzinger) is it time for an Italian one? If this is the case, then the Archbishop of Milan Angelo Scola (72) is the first and perhaps only option. The Italian candidates, however, could pay the price of a possible showdown. Many of the recent scandals (e.g. Vatileaks and the Vatican bank’s financially opaque maneuvers) originated in the Roman curia, which is mainly governed by Italian prelates. Moreover, the Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone (78), himself an Italian, is part of the on-going controversy. So the poor performance of the Italian hierarchy may result in leaving Italians out of the game to wait for the next round.
Two solidly “Ratzingerian” candidates are the Archbishop of Québec Marc Ouellet (68) and the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schoenborn (68). The French-speaking Canadian Ouellet is the Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops and knows the Vatican machinery very well. His role of selecting the new bishops allowed him to have the pulse of the world-wide Church, though he is not a “charismatic” figure in Weberian terms. Schoenborn is a brilliant theologian that denounced some of the silences over the sex abuses scandal. His bold exposition on this issue could find resonance in some traditional circles. Adding to that, the fact that a growing number of Austrian priests are taking critical stances on the celibacy issue may falter Schoenborn’s candidacy. Another papabile in the same group is the Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan (63). Historically, North-American candidates have been excluded for the simple fact that the Roman Catholic Church did not feel comfortable with the idea of having a Pope coming from a super-power of the world. This emotional and political obstacle should be overcome to give Dolan a chance.
Finally, there are three outsiders. Voices around the world repeatedly say that the time has come for a “black” Pope. Cardinal Peter Turkson (65), Ghanean, is President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and a rising star in Vatican circles. A non-Western Pope would definitely come to terms with the reality of the Christian growth in the Global South and the need to move the axis of the Church toward it. In 2012, however, Turkson caused many eyebrows to rise when he launched a document evoking the creation of a global agency to preside over the world’s economy. “Does he want a Soviet-type of control over the world?”– people asked. Turning to Asia, the Archbishop of Manila (Philippines), Luis Antonio Tagle (56) is another option if the Roman Catholic would turn the page in a more radical way towards becoming a less Western institution. This smiling, apparently simple, yet engaging and charming young cardinal made a positive impression at the last Synod of Bishops for the New Evangelization and attracted immediate positive feedback. A middle way solution could be the Archbishop of San Paulo (Brazil) Odilo Pedro Scherer (63), the Brazilian bishop with a German name and European “heart”. Latin America is perceived as being a continent of solid Catholic traditions (like the old Europe), yet expressing the spiritual vitality of the Global South.
An Evangelical Preference?
Given the range of possible candidates, who is the more Evangelically inclined or Evangelical-friendly? This is difficult to say. Here are three criteria that could form a list of Evangelical desires for the next conclave.
First, generally speaking, those ecclesiastical figures with first-hand experience among Evangelicals in their pastoral work tend to be more inclined toward friendly relationship with non-Catholic Christians. It is true that where the Roman Catholic Church is strongly attached to the national state in a privileged position, the leaders tend to have a more “defensive” attitude and inward-looking vision. On the contrary, where the Roman Church experiences the stresses and strains of being a religious institution in the midst of other movements and in the context of a separate political power, there the Church has a more positive attitude towards religious pluralism. To the extent that the next Pope comes from a background of interaction with the plurality of Christian experiences and orientations, the better he will be among evangelicals.
Second, those who have more global perceptions of the state of Christianity surely have a better consideration of Evangelicals than those who are grounded in regional areas where Catholics have a traditional majority status. The challenges of the persecution of Christians, global poverty, and the rising secularism of the West are common concerns that allow conversations and cooperation between different Christians. A Pope who is aware of global trends and who has knowledge of the complex geography of the Christian Churches will be in a better position to appreciate the contribution of Evangelicals around the globe.
De Chirico’s book on Roman Catholicism spends the first chapter discussing the definition of “evangelicalism.” Of course, this word has broadened in meaning considerably over the last 30 years or so. In fact, it has become so broad that many question whether it is a helpful designation of anything anymore. A professor at Fuller seminary recently called Mormons evangelical. If a term can successfully encapsulate both the Mormon faith and confessional Reformed theology, how useful a term is it, really? De Chirico acknowledges this drift of meaning: “[The] increasing vagueness of the use of the word is making its semantic value less and less precise” (p. 28). This results in a lot of hyphenated terms, in order to gain more precision, like “evangelical-Reformed,” “evangelical-Catholic,” “evangelical-liberal,” etc. De Chirico, however, does argue that there is still a core of meaning associated with the term. Historically, the movement of evangelicalism has its roots in the Reformation; theologically, it is defined as a theology of the gospel; ecclesiologically, it has embraced the concept of the denomination, with varying types of spirituality associated with them. He has a helpful diagram on p. 39. In terms of the general outlook of evangelicalism, he says that it is becoming marginalized (p. 41). The way that evangelicalism “works” is by describing a core Christianity that has essentials, and then defining other matters as adiaphora (things of indifference). He gets at a key difference among evangelicals, when he says that there are traditionalists and reformists, the former seeing “the church as (a) ‘bounded set’ whereas the latter as ‘centered set’” (p. 46). These differences among evangelicalism make it quite clear that there are significant differences among evangelicals over theological method. Historically, they have been united around the gospel, though that unity has fragmented somewhat of late. All in all, a pretty fair description of evangelicalism.
February 6, 2013 at 4:38 pm (Roman Catholicism)
This post will not be an attempt to hash out all the arguments adduced in Bryan Cross’s original review of Mathison, or Mathison’s response, or Liccione’s response to Mathison. I do want to point out a few things, however.
First of all, I think Liccione gave away the barn when he said,
Catholic theologians generally understand Scripture as the divinely inspired norma normans for other secondary authorities, including the Church. That means that, once the biblical canon was formed, whatever was admitted from other authorities had to conform to and cohere with Scripture. No authority may introduce anything as de fide that is logically incompatible with Scripture or otherwise fails to cohere with it. Other authorities are thus norma normata: they are “normed” by Scripture rather than vice-versa.
To put it mildly, this is NOT what I have read in Roman Catholic sources. Generally the partim-partim understanding has prevailed, which is that divine revelation is contained partly in Scripture, partly in tradition. In practice, tradition trumps Scripture. For instance, even supposing a Roman Catholic canon, the argument from Maccabees about purgatory is that prayer for the dead means that the church can help the dead. The problem is that the passage they usually cite has people praying for idolaters. Idolatry is mortal sin, and cannot be something purged away in purgatory, which is only for the cleansing of the temporal punishments of venial sin (I have yet to see this argument answered by Roman Catholics). Therefore, since Maccabees cannot support their understanding of purgatory, Tradition makes purgatory necessary in spite of its having no support in Scripture. By this method of procedure, the church can invent anything it wants, “find” a justification for it in Scripture, and then stoutly say that the Tradition has supported it all along. A very vocal minority at Vatican I, by way of contrast, led by Bishop Strossmayer, strongly rejected papal infallibility, stating that Scripture and history were strongly against it. But that would not deter the pro-papal authority crowd.
The other problem with this quotation is the statement “No authority may introduce anything as de fide that is logically incompatible with Scripture or otherwise fails to cohere with it.” On Roman Catholic principles, however, since the Magisterium can interpret the Bible to say what they want, then by definition no de fide statement could ever possibly be introduced that was logically incompatible with Scripture. Liccione is here actually borrowing a Protestant principle that is incompatible with the Roman Catholic position. There is the assumption implicit in the statement that the Bible has a logical system all its own apart from interpretation, to which de fide statements must conform. This is the very position they accuse Protestants of holding! If the Magisterium holds the exclusive key to authoritative interpretation of the Scripture, then Liccione’s statement is devoid of teeth.
Liccione/Cross also failed to deal with what is generally regarded as the most severe problem associated with Tradition: where is it? As we noted before, Tradition usually boils down to what the current church says. But this confuses the Tradition with the Magisterium. There are supposed to be 3 sources of infallible authority in the RCC: Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. The more modern Newmanesque version of Tradition, however, collapses Tradition and the Magisterium, thus making what the early church fathers said practically useless. I was somewhat flabbergasted recently when Bryan Cross admitted to me that it wouldn’t really matter if even more than half of the ECF did not believe that Matthew 16′s “petra” was a reference to Peter. This certainly reflects a non-Vincentian understanding of Tradition. But isn’t Trent Vincentian in its understanding of Tradition? I would argue that it clearly is Vincentian. What authority does the later church have to re-interpret what Trent said? And if the ECF’s did not, on the whole, believe that “petra” equals Peter, then by what authority does the Magisterium trump Tradition? Oh, I get it, the Magisterium also gets to interpret the Tradition (read, define it!). Quite frankly, this turns church history, the ECF’s, and the Bible into a complete wax nose: it means whatever the church today says it means, regardless of what it might actually say. All contrary evidence can be therefore safely ignored. The evidence, however, will not be so quickly domesticated. Protestants, it should be noted, do not have to do this. I can freely acknowledge that what is believed today in the RCC can be found among the ECF’s (in a very inchoate form), though I would be quick to point out that what Protestants believe would also be found there. But if you listen to many Roman Catholics, it is as if there no evidence whatsoever, and no arguments whatsoever against their position!
Speaking of Trent, one assumes that the RCC believes that everything Trent said was infallible (and if it isn’t, who gets to define it? And how do we know which parts are infallible and which aren’t?). However, most Roman Catholic biblical scholars today ignore the first article of the fourth session, which states that Hebrews was written by Paul. By what authority do modern Roman Catholic biblical scholars go against the infallible decrees of Trent? Has anyone ever been disciplined for this? This was in the section on the canon, by the way, so an anathema sits on those who do not believe everything in that article (see Denzinger, 1503-1504).
It would be good, perhaps, to go through all of Bryan’s post section by section. Maybe sometime I will do that. For now, a teaser. Bryan argues that the individual is still the ultimate interpretive authority, even in Sola Scriptura, because he chooses his church based on what agrees with his theology. And, if he should at some time choose to believe something else, then too bad for the church. One other thing I did notice about Bryan’s article is that he quoted Mathison’s words to the effect that all Bible reading is interpreted reading. He quoted these words about ten times. But, as Mathison pointed out, he was really using the word in the sense of simply understanding what was there: not implying that what is said is unclear, and therefore has to be interpreted by some infallible magisterium. As to the substantive point about Sola Scriptura that Bryan brings up, I would answer it in brief with these observations. 1. Just because a person disagrees with his particular church about something does not mean that he reserves the right to leave it. The membership vows of the PCA, for instance, require the member to study the purity and peace of the church. This means that if the person disagrees with the church, he will start talking about the matter to the leadership. Most of the time, the issue can be settled in this way. 2. Also, the vows include submission, which is to say that a proper keeping of the vow will include giving the church the benefit of the doubt in the case of a difference. The fact of the matter is that if the leadership of the church cannot convince the person of the incorrectness of his views (assuming the issue is large enough to warrant separation, such as the difference between paedo-baptism and credo-baptism), then the leadership should recommend that the member go to another church. The member does not have this responsibility all on his own. In other words, Bryan’s picture of supposed individualism does not take into account how shepherding is actually supposed to work. It is not the individual who should be shuttling around to various churches. It is the church which should shepherd the people. If the difference is not a matter on the level of importance indicated (take post-millenialism versus amillenialism), then the member should just continue to learn and discuss, and not leave the church (after all, everyone differs on some things), and be respectful to promote the purity and peace of the church. What I am describing, of course, is the ideal situation. We live in a fallen world, where people do not even recognize this shepherding function of the church. And thus, individuals leave on the flimsiest of excuses nowadays, even the color of the carpet! I would decry this form of individualism just as much as the Roman Catholics would. Surely, even Roman Catholics and Protestants can agree that 1 Corinthians 12 would preclude this kind of thinking!
January 26, 2013 at 4:55 pm (Roman Catholicism)
A common criticism of Protestants from Roman Catholics is that any interpretation of Scripture we put forward that differs from Rome’s interpretation is “your own private interpretation.” The picture that comes to mind in most of these cases is, on the one hand, the weight of the entirety of church history on the side of the RC apologist, whereas the Protestant has only himself. This is really not that accurate of a picture. In my own case, for instance, I have only come up with one interpretation of a single verse that I have never seen before in the history of interpretation. I am not an original thinker when it comes to exegesis. I depend greatly on what other, smarter people have said on the passage before I came along. Calvin, as another example, was able to quote vast swaths of the early church fathers from memory. Calvin never claimed to be re-inventing the wheel. So, the real state of affairs here is not that the Protestant is all by himself, and the Tradition of the RCC is opposed. Many Protestants have written extensively on how the early church fathers had many different interpretations of doctrines, some of which are what Protestants believe today.
Now, a Roman Catholic would probably claim that, during the time of the ECF’s, very few doctrines had been established, and the multiplicity of views was therefore not a problem. Views that were not culpably blameworthy for holding in the time of the ECF would be blameworthy later on. I actually agree with that, to a certain extent, and other Protestants would, too. But the point I am making here is that many Protestants are not operating, in fact, on “their own private interpretation.” In fact, their views have antecedents all throughout church history. The question of whether the Roman Catholic Tradition is correct is a subject for another post.
I do want to ask formally this question: if the RCC has a monopoly on the interpretation of the Bible, how come they have not come out with an inerrant commentary on the Bible? They keep telling us that “our own private interpretations” are wrong when they run foul of the RCC. However, they don’t tell us what every verse in fact means. I would think this would be a rather high priority, seeing as how we are dealing with direct revelation from God. I want to know what God said to me in His Word. How can the Roman Catholic find that out? Would it not be vitally important that we have God’s Word all figured out by the church as to its meaning? If a RC apologist responds by saying that it is all interpreted in the Tradition, I would say that they are operating with a definition of Tradition that doesn’t really work. Tradition is basically what the current RCC teaches. Besides, very few verses have ever been definitely interpreted by the RCC as to their meaning. Where is the definitive interpretation of the Bible? In the Protestant tradition, we really don’t have to worry about that. We have and can learn from all the writers of the past, while not having to agree with any one or group of them, unless, say, we take a vow upholding a particular confessional standard.
One last point: to those RC apologists who have asked me about my authority, I would ask the question back: how can they speak for their Tradition? What gives them the authority to speak about what the RCC teaches? Every RC apologist seems to give off this air that the entirety of the RCC is behind them every single time they speak. I question that. According to the official RC teaching, only the Pope can do that. So, the authority of the RC apologist is quite a bit less than he usually (unconsciously!) arrogates to himself.
January 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm (Roman Catholicism)
Protestants are often at a loss to know what is tradition in Roman Catholicism, and where to find it. Is it what is always and everywhere believed? Or is it what the current RC teaches?
Let’s take one example concerning the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist. Now the Eucharist is absolutely central to the RC spirituality. For instance, Eucharisticum Mysterium (May 25, 1967), says this: “The mystery of the Eucharist is the true center of the sacred liturgy and indeed of the whole Christian life.” When one considers the vital importance of the RC self-understanding of the RCC as the extension of the Incarnation of Christ, this becomes a natural conclusion. It would appear, then, that the actual practice of the Eucharist is a vitally important aspect of the RCC.
The problem is this: when it comes to the laity, and whether they can participate in the cup, the RCC has changed its position twice, and in the opposite direction both times. The early church gave the cup to the laity. When the doctrine of concomitance arose in the Middle Ages (concomitance is the doctrine that the entire Christ is present in both the bread and the wine, so that receiving either one receives the whole Christ), the cup was withheld from the laity, mostly because of fear of spilling. Vatican II restored the cup to the laity once again. Was it tradition that developed the doctrine of withholding the cup from the laity? Was it tradition that restored the cup to the laity? If tradition is infallible, then how can it reverse itself? According to the first edition of the New Catholic Encyclopedia, tradition is basically what the current church says: “Tradition is the communication by the living Church of the Christian reality and the expression, either oral or written, of that reality.” St. Vincent of Lerins’s definition, however, is quite different: “Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” In context, it must be noted, he was talking about tradition, particularly in terms of interpretation of Scripture. These definitions of tradition cannot both be correct. Whose is correct, and how does the RCC determine this? Roman Catholics cannot agree on what tradition even is. The result is that private interpretation of what that tradition is and what is included winds up carrying the day. The only way that the RCC can be consistent, in my opinion, on the definition of tradition, is to go with the New Catholic Encyclopedia’s definition, in which case, tradition has contradicted itself in the matter of who gets the cup: tradition, defined as what the current church teaches, taught in the early church that everyone gets the cup. After concomitance, it taught that the laity cannot receive the cup. Now it teaches that the laity should receive the cup. These decisions were all reached through official Roman Catholic documentation.
The truth of what tradition is, then, is able to change over time. The New Catholic Encyclopedia explicitly says this: “Tradition that is living and dynamic must, by the law of life itself, undergo change.” If that is so, how can it have a divine element, which would (presumably, at least) be unchanging?
January 23, 2013 at 10:01 am (Roman Catholicism)
De Chirico’s introduction does an excellent job of laying out the issues that he raises. The first question is the ecumenical one: what is the future of Evangelicals and Roman Catholics? He does not presume to answer the question, as too many things are still up in the air. The main thing that De Chirico raises in this regard is the Evangelical approach to Rome, which, in his view, has not typically resulted in understanding RC as a unified system.
A case in point is the Evangelical perplexity on how to interpret RC in the light of Vatican II. Does Vatican II signal a break with the past, or continuity? Of course, this question has been asked with vigor among Roman Catholics as well. De Chirico has the best analysis of this question of any that I’ve seen. He goes back to the principle of “et-et” (Latin for “both-and”). Robert Barron noted in his book on RC that they don’t throw anything away (meaning that anything that can be assimilated to the system is retained). De Chirico agrees and will eventually say that a new idea, which might at first seem antithetical to the system, is drawn into the system, with the “rough edges” taken off, so that it will fit. The RCC has been doing this for centuries. This means that Vatican II is ultimately in continuity with the church of the past, if one considers its results in the light of the “and…and” principle.
One can see this in his definition of what was perhaps the key-word of Vatican II: aggiornamento. Probably the best translation of this word is “renewal.” De Chirico says:
The word does not denote reformation in the Evangelical sense but neither is it a merely political and linguistic device aimed at concealing an unchanging reality. It is instead the Roman Catholic way of responding to the need for some kind of renewal without altering the fundamental structure inherited from the past and its non-negotiable thrust (p. 15).
The result of this insight is that the Evangelical viewpoint can be resolved on the ultimate relationship of Vatican II to the rest of the history of the RCC. It is continuous. However, it is not a static continuity. There were changes. The fundamental system did not change, but it was renewed. Vatican II must, therefore, be taken into account just as much as Trent and Vatican I must be taken into account.
Evangelicals, however, do not think in “et-et” categories, and so Vatican II completely perplexes them. Even David Wells was a bit perplexed at what Vatican II meant for our interpretation of RC. He asked the continuity question, but did not really answer it, instead opting for the “wait-and-see-what-happens” approach. This would certainly be wiser than imposing Evangelical exclusivism on what is usually regarded as an assimilative system. The problem comes when Evangelicals try to critique RC on a static understanding of RC. They wind up interpreting the “semper eadem” (“always the same”) without the assimilative element. This result in confusion and misinterpretation.
As was mentioned in the last post, De Chirico argues that there is a core to RC. He describes it in these words:
This core is a composite one and entails the ways in which the relationship between nature and grace are worked out and the Roman Catholic self-understanding of the Church which is the main subject of the system itself. The Roman Catholic system can be seen as emerging from the range of the nature-grace motifs which are allowed to coexist within it and serve to enrich it, and expressing itself in the paramount role of the church which is basically understood in Christological terms as the prolongation of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ (p. 24).
Given this understanding of a systemic awareness based on this core, De Chirico argues that “Evangelical theology needs to reshape its own perspectives on Roman Catholicism according to a systemic view taking into account its historical trajectory, dogmatic structure, theological dynamics, institutional outlook, and cultural project” (p. 24). I would put it a slightly different way: the systemic awareness based on the core of the nature-grace dynamic and the Christological prolongation of the Incarnation of Christ in the church (this latter point especially will be carefully nuanced by De Chirico in future chapters) needs to be evaluated from a generalist perspective. That is, RC as a system needs to be evaluated from the perspective of a united theological encyclopedia (church history, exegesis, biblical theology, systematic theology, apologetics, and practical theology working not in competition, but in mutual inter-dependence). This is certainly a mountainous task, and it is the one I have set for myself. Please pray for me.
January 21, 2013 at 4:37 pm (Roman Catholicism)
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!).
January 5, 2013 at 4:11 pm (Roman Catholicism)
I am approximately 150 pages into Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica. In the interests of being able to report on my reading more often than every three months (which is about how long it will take me to get through one volume of the Summa), I am reading other words on Roman Catholicism. Two books I have read recently are Thomas Howard’s On Being Catholic, and Devin Rose’s If Protestantism Is True. My basic evaluation is that the Howard book is very interesting reading, is more constructive, and seeks to focus on the heart of Roman Catholicism. As such, I found the book quite interesting and informative (he writes quite a lot like G.K. Chesterton).
What is especially helpful about Howard’s book is the class of statements that begin “To be Catholic is…” If one were to put all these statements together in a row, one would get a fairly complete picture of what it means to be a Roman Catholic. His viewpoint on Roman Catholicism certainly seems to jibe with Robert Barron’s view of the church as an extension of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The book I am reading by de Chirico is also leaning in this direction, though he would include the Roman Catholic understanding of the relationship of nature and grace to be equally central to Roman Catholicism (though I don’t think Howard would necessarily disagree with that assessment). Howard’s book will be extremely useful in formulating what Roman Catholicism is.
The Rose book I found rather disappointing. Rose tends to take a Baptist, general evangelical, low-church approach as constitutive of all Protestants. Even though he quotes Lutherans and Reformed (though he quotes Calvin as if the Reformed world were entirely indebted to Calvin in the same way that Lutherans are indebted to Luther, which is not the case), when he argues, it is as though the Reformed have dropped off the map. Many, if not most, of his arguments don’t work against the Reformed world. There are false dichotomies everywhere (the two options usually being Roman Catholicism and low-church, generally evangelical Baptist theology). He does not understand Reformed Protestantism, that much is quite certain. A few examples will suffice. On page 36, he says: “The Protestant teaching on grace is that it is divine aid but not divine life. Holiness comes from Christ imputing His righteousness to the Christian and so the Father legally declares him to be holy, but in reality he is not transformed into holiness” (emphasis original). Apparently Rose has never heard of the idea of sanctification. This is a recurring problem in Roman Catholic writings. I found the same problem in Ott’s Fundamentals. The correct Reformed Protestant teaching is that we get two benefits from being united to Christ. The first is justification, which is the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience to the believer, received by faith alone. The second is sanctification, which is God changing the person on the inside by infusing the Holy Spirit within the believer, such that the person becomes positionally holy, and progressively holy. The doctrine of sanctification says precisely what Rose thinks Protestants never say. The difference is that Protestants do not confuse the outward declaration with the inward change, but rather distinguish them as distinct (though inseparable) acts of God’s grace. The believer is not transformed on the inside in justification, but most certainly is transformed on the inside in sanctification. I have yet to see a Roman Catholic who understands this about Protestantism.
Another example is the description of Mary as Mother of God (and this issue was hashed out in excruciating detail on this blog a while ago). Yes, fundamental Baptists probably aren’t very comfortable saying this. But the Reformed have said that this is an appropriate way to refer to Mary, as long as it is understood by this that Mary is the mother of Jesus, a person who is God and man. We can refer to the person of Jesus by reference to either nature. And in this way, we can say that Mary was the Theotokos, the God-bearer. No one believes that Mary was the origin of Jesus’ divinity (although I would still argue that Roman Catholics go way too far with their doctrine of Mary). Still, one must not throw out the proper way of speaking about Mary, just because some people go too far. The abuse does not prohibit the use.
Rose, like other Roman Catholics I have read, misunderstands the Protestant doctrine of the perspecuity of Scripture rather badly. His definition of the Protestant doctrine is that “Protestantism teaches that the Scriptures are clear-despite any person’s experience to the contrary” (p. 153). The examples that Rose brings up involve things that are not central to being a Christian. Protestants do not, and have never taught, that all Scripture is perfectly clear. Protestants have taught that what is necessary for salvation is clear. The clearest example of how this works is the work of the Gideons. They place Bibles everywhere they can. The stories and testimonies told by the people who are affected by the Gideons’ work proves the Protestant thesis: many people who have either never been in a church, or didn’t understand and therefore went very seldom, are at the verge of committing suicide, or are seriously down and out. They go to a hotel, and are about to do something drastic, when they find a Gideon Bible there. Without a single person explaining to them what the text means, they come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit worked through the Word to convert that person. Now, it is true that saving faith comes far more often through hearing the Word preached. However, the Scriptures are clear enough on matters related to salvation that a person can come to a saving faith simply by reading the Bible. That is what the Protestants mean by perspecuity.
On authority, Rose again presents a false dichotomy. He seems to think that if a Christian does not have a Roman Catholic heirarchical authority telling him what to believe, then the Christian has no authority at all instructing him. Related to this is the idea of individualism: Rose thinks that the only alternative to Roman Catholicism is radical individualism. Reformed Protestants beg to differ. The church is most definitely an authority. The pastor is an authority figure. It is not just “me and my Bible and Jesus.” The difference is that we do not posit infallible authorities other than Scripture and the Holy Spirit. We posit fallible authority over (yes, OVER!) a Christian’s life.
In short, Rose’s book is entirely too simplistic in its analysis of Protestantism, which leads me to believe that Rose did not thoroughly explore Protestantism before he left it. He did not scour the multitudinous writings of Evangelicals on Roman Catholicism before he left. Apparently, he asked his pastor and friends questions which they were not able to answer. And because they were not able to answer them, he left Protestantism. Folks, let me stress this: if you are considering such a life-changing move as going from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism, shouldn’t you leave absolutely no stone unturned? Shouldn’t you read as widely as you can on the subject before you give up? So far, I have not found a single objection to Protestantism from Roman Catholicism that has not been answered somewhere or other in Protestant works. This is not to say that Roman Catholic objections have no substance. Many of their objections are weighty questions indeed. However, there are answers, as there have been answers for centuries.
December 13, 2012 at 11:35 am (Roman Catholicism)
I just finished reading Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma this morning. It is quite a remarkable feat of compression. In this regard, it reminds me of Turretin. It is certainly not easy going. It is a very thorough and clear exposition of Roman Catholic teaching in a somewhat scholastic mode. I say somewhat, since Ott does not always defend each and every doctrine from opponents. Most of the time he does, but not always.
Ott’s work is extremely Thomistic. Aquinas is not only cited more often than any other source, but is also the source with which Ott agrees the most (occasionally he will disagree, but always in the context of having cited and understood Aquinas’ position). It must be pointed out, therefore, that there are other streams of theology within Roman Catholicism that are not Thomistic. The most obvious example, of course, is the so-called “Nouvelle Théologie” (“new theology,” a name given to the movement by its detractors). This movement actually preferred to call itself Ressourcement, a name referring to a desire to return to original sources. After Vatican II, this newer movement split into two factions, one basically progressive, and the other basically conservative. The former is represented by such theologians as Rahner, Congar, and Küng. The latter is represented by de Lubac, von Balthasar, and the current pope. So, we can see that there are at least three major streams of Catholic thought, all with significant overlap, of course, but distinguishable in their basic approach to theology: the Thomistic and Neo-Thomistic stream, which is a scholastic tradition based on Aquinas; the progressive Ressourcement stream, a more humanistic (in the Renaissance definition of the term) methodology, and the conservative Ressourcement stream, which currently has the upper hand in Roman Catholicism, given that the current pope is probably its best-known practitioner. Ott is obviously a representative of the Thomistic stream. Of course, the conservative Ressourcement theologians owe a great deal to Thomism, and so these categories must not be seen as hermetically sealed from each other. Ott’s work is pre-Vatican II.
A fascinating question arose as a result of reading Ott’s position on the duration of purgatory. He argues that purgatory will cease to exist at the final judgment, the need for it being gone. I wonder what happens, then, to a person who dies just before the final judgment, and who needs purifying, but will not have the opportunity (!?) of being purified before the Final Judgment. Is there a gigantic intensified push of purifying before the end of purgatory? Or does the final judgment take care of the remaining impurities?