In an earlier thread, I promised I would say a few positive words about Loraine Boettner’s book Roman Catholicism. His book is flawed in many ways, and I have no intention of down-playing those faults by praising other aspects about the book. As with any theologian, it is our place to eat the meat and spit out the bones. These items are relatively unrelated to each other, except that they are concerned with Roman Catholicism. This is not an exhaustive list of good points, either.
He makes an interesting point that Roman Catholicism tends the thrive better in Protestant countries, where it has to stand in its own two feet, rather than in Roman Catholic countries, where it is the state church (p. 36). One could argue about why that is the case, of course, but it does seem to hold when one compares Spain and Portugal, on the one hand, with the United States, on the other.
In answering Roman Catholic apologists who accuse Protestantism of being so very divided, he argues that “the various Protestant denominations agree quite fully on practically all of the essentials of the faith” (p. 37). Then follows a list of doctrines on which Protestants agree. This unity of spirit undermines the denominational differences. Furthermore, Roman Catholicism is certainly not as united as its apologists would have us believe (p. 39). These days, one only has to point out the vast differences in the interpretation of the impact of Vatican II. There is definitely a liberal wing in the Roman Catholic church that is pushing for a more inclusivistic understanding of the Council (thus a disjunctive interpretation of the Council with what happened in the past), while just as many (including the current Pope) argue for relatively complete continuity between Vatican II and previous history. My, what a difference two words can make: “separated brethren!”
In arguing against the infallibility of Tradition, he argues exegetically from John 21:21-23, a remarkable instance of intra-apostolic tradition that was false (p. 78).
In arguing against Peter being the first Pope, he notes that Peter consistently refused to accept homage from men (see Acts 10: 25-26, 1 Peter 5, cf. Boettner, p. 113). No doubt the Roman Catholic will bring up the sophistic distinction between worship and service at this point. But there is no indication in Acts that the man was doing anything other than bowing down (the meaning of “proskuneo” can mean “worship” but can also refer merely to bowing the knee), which is something the Roman Catholic acknowledges can be part of service. This is something Peter refused to accept, contrary to the Popes.
In dealing with the infallibility of the Pope, Boettner makes a very important point, which includes the very nuance that most Roman Catholic apologists believe Protestants overlook: “Infallibility is not claimed for statements addressed to particular segments or groups within the church which may relate more or less to local conditions. And the pronouncements must have to do with matters pertaining to ‘faith and morals.’ In actual practice, however, the term ‘faith and morals’ is broad enough and elastic enough to cover almost any and every phase of religious and civil life. Practically every public issue can be looked upon as having some bearing on faith or morals or both. The Vatican takes full advantage of this, and the result is that within the Roman Church almost any statement issued by the pope is assumed to be authoritative” (pp. 235-236). I would add to this that whenever the Protestant points out heretical popes or problematic positions taken by the pope, the Roman Catholic is very quick to point out this supposed limitation in infallibility: “only in faith or morals when spoken ex cathedra.” However, when the Roman Church quotes previous popes, they quote them as being part of the infallible tradition. Is there a tertium quid, where the pope is “mostly” infallible in everything he says, but with the loophole that if he says something heretical, there is a deniability factor? This is one very frustrating thing for Protestants, because the Roman Catholic always has an answer. Whether it is a consistent answer is a whole ‘nother ballgame. Which papal bulls are infallible and which aren’t? In Denzinger, for instance, many papal pronouncements are used as the sources for Catholic dogma. Are they infallible? Papal bulls present a particular problem, because some of them are obviously intended to be infallible pronouncements. However, there are many papal bulls which are not viewed as infallible, even by Roman Catholics, though, when originally given, were given as supposedly fixed decrees. So, how does one decide which bulls are infallible and which are not? “Faith and morals,” as Boettner notes, is hardly a reliable guide, since the phrase is so elastic in meaning. This is a very serious problem for Roman Catholics, because the Roman Catholic church is so vague on when exactly the pope is infallible in concrete instances, and when he is not.
Not all sources Boettner quotes are bad, either. The sermon from Dr. C.D. Cole, quoted on pp. 257-258 is very eloquent: “The basic and fatal error of Romanism is the denial of the sufficiency of Christ as Saviour. It denies the efficacy of His sacrifice on the cross. Romanism has a Christ, but He is not sufficient as a Saviour. What he did on Calvary must be repeated (in the mass) and supplemented (through works of penance), and this makes priestcraft and sacramentarianism necessary. Romanism is a complicated system of salvation by works. It has salvation to sell, but not on Isaiah’s terms-without money and without price (Is. 55:1). It offers salvation on the installment plan, and then sees to it that the poor sinner is always behind in his payments, so that when he dies there is a large balance unpaid, and he must continue payments by sufferings in purgatory, or until the debt is paid by prayers, alms and sufferings of his living relatives and friends. The whole system and plan calls for merit and money, from the cradle to the grave, and even beyond. Surely the wisdom that drew such a plan of salvation is not from above, but is earthly and sensual.” Certainly pulling no punches, but gets to the point. I especially like the rhetoric about the “installment plan.”
On page 258, Boettner makes a great point about saints: “And it is to be observed further that the distinguishing mark of a saint is not, as in the Roman Church, what one has done for God, but what God has done for him.”
On whether Roman Catholics worship images, he argues: “Roman Catholics tell us that they do not pray to the image, or idol, but to the spirit that is represented by it. But that is the answer given by idol worshippers the world over when they are asked why they pray to their idols” (p. 280). I might add to this the further point that the Israelites believed that they were worshiping God through the golden calf, not some false god (see in particular Exodus 32:4). They believed that this was the form of the God who brought them out of Egypt.