Thursday, August 05, 2004

Dialogue With Dr. Paul Owen on John Calvin's Anti-Catholicism (Greatly Expanded)

His piece, "On Historical Context," was posted on the Reformed Catholicism blog: "

Dr. Owen's words (presented here in their entirety) will be in blue. Calvin's will be in red, Luther's in green, and Melanchthon's in purple.

Hi Paul,

Now, I've said very nice things about you in another thread, so remember that when you are reading this. :-) I think much of your writing is very good. My problem has been extreme difficulty in trying to get you (and any other Reformed Catholic) to interact with any of the critiques of your position that I offer. Is that because of presuppositionalist methodology (as I increasingly suspect) or something else?

So here goes. You can respond if you wish. I sincerely hope that you do, so the discussion can advance instead of being stymied by refusal to go to the necessary next step in a discussion. As a scholar, it is clear that you understand the place of critique in discussion of vexed and controversial issues. I need not belabor that point. You've bumped heads with your Protestant nemeses, why not with a Catholic once in a while? With that stated, I proceed where angels fear to tread . . .

One of the problems with many pastors in our day in age, is they simply do not understand the historically conditioned nature of all written texts, biblical or otherwise. They simply look at the Bible, or Reformational commentaries on the Bible, as a phone directory of prooftexts, from which they are free to choose at random. This is how they preach, and this is how they conduct their ugly polemics on the internet. 


That may be, but with regard to Calvin's and Luther's anti-Catholicism, I, too, would stand guilty of the same thing, by deduction, because I think I have demonstrated conclusively from their own words that both were anti-Catholics. I agree even with the anti-Catholics about that. That school and myself and many other Catholics are on one side of this question; you and your fellow reformed Catholics on the other.

Strange bedfellows, but there you have it. Truth is what it is. The anti-Catholics may stumble upon it or believe it for all the wrong reasons, and with (possibly) the basest of motives, but it is still historical truth nonetheless.

Minor "loopholes" and anomalies exist, yes, I agree, but in the main Luther and Calvin (and virtually all the other so-called "reformers" I have seen) virulently opposed that institution (the historical Catholic Church) of which I am a member. They can try to come up with a mythical proto-Protestant early "catholic" Church all they want, but many facts have to be squarely faced, and they are not being faced. As I proceed, I will offer at least one highly-important crystal-clear example of this.

Recently, a Presbyterian pastor, who has shown himself to be particularly prone to melting down when confronted with facts that conflict with the canned, simplistic presentations of theology which were spoon-fed to him in seminary,

I agree with this, if the person is who I think it is, because he has done this in encounters with me as well.

has taken to posting little snippets from Calvin on the internet, which allegedly promote his own ugly and just downright ignorant view of the Roman Catholic Church.

I guess I am "ignorant" of my own Church that I defend for a living, too, then, since I have lots of similar quotes from Calvin and Luther that you guys simply dismiss with the wave of a hand and a sneer as all (without exception) taken out of context. It has almost become the be-all, end-all, reformed Catholic mantra. "Defeat" any argument with the "c" word: "context."

This enables one to not actually deal directly with the quote(s) in question, but rather, to readily dismiss it by appealing to the answer to everything: the "c" word. This will not do, because (again, as a scholar I assume you must know this) for a charge of botched context to be plausibly made, obviously it must be substantiated with some minimum of proof besides merely stating the charge, which is no rational proof at all, but rather, a bald appeal to authority (in this case, your own).

The reason this pastor can quote such comments with glee is because he is not conversant in any serious way with the historical context of the Reformation.

Here we go. He may indeed be ignorant in this way (I wouldn't be surprised, frankly), but you would have to substantiate that as well. Just saying it is not impressive at all.

When reading polemical statements which were made by Calvin and other Reformers against the Roman Catholic Church, it is important to place these statements in the broader historical context.

More of the same boilerplate, but let's see what you have:

The following points summarize that context. 


1. Calvin's polemics were aimed primarily at the hierarchy of the RCC, not the Church as a whole. As Calvin said to Cardinal Sadoleto: "We indeed, Sadoleto, deny not that those over which you preside are Churches of Christ, but we maintain that the Roman Pontiff, with his whole herd of pseudo-bishops, who have seized upon the pastor's office, are ravening wolves, whose only study has hitherto been to scatter and trample upon the kingdom of Christ." 


I agree that the hierarchy and corruption therein was Calvin's primary target; however, that doesn't get you or him "off the hook" at all, for the simple reason that Calvin's charges were far more sweeping than just the leadership of the Church, and in fact, extended to every orthodox, practicing Catholic, then and now. This is quite easy to establish and prove. How? Well, by examining what he said about the Mass, which is no less than the central act of worship and the center of every Catholic's Sunday activities at church. If the Mass is what Calvin said it was, then his criticisms affect every one of us equally: to the extent that we all attend Mass and believe in transubstantiation and the Sacrifice of the Mass. And what did Calvin think of that? I have already documented it.

The great man and sage Calvin writes in his all-knowing Institutes:


Hence the Papists act unjustly when they would compel us to communion with their Church. Their two demands. Answer to the first. Sum of the question. Why we cannot take part in the external worship of the Papists.

Now then let the Papists, in order to extenuate their vices as much as possible, deny, if they can, that the state of religion is as much vitiated and corrupted with them as it was in the kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam. They have a grosser idolatry, and in doctrine are not one whit more pure; rather, perhaps, they are even still more impure . . . But in these men, I mean the Papists, where is the resemblance? Scarcely can we hold any meeting with them without polluting ourselves with open idolatry. Their principal bond of communion is undoubtedly in the Mass, which we abominate as the greatest sacrilege.

(IV, 2, 9)

How can we be Christians if our worship every week is such that it is abominable blasphemy and sacrilege, etc. and y'all "don't know" if it is Christian or not? You can't figure it out. But you are sure we are Christian because Calvin said our baptisms are valid? Give me (us) a break! In a certain limited sense this is even more condescending tripe than what the anti-Catholics dish out.

In the same Reply to Sadoleto that you cite, Calvin called transubstantiation a "gross dogma" and a "vile superstition." Elsewhere he calls it a "fiction." He calls adoration of the consecrated Host "abominable idolatry" and as sinful as "the worship of the Statue at Babylon" and a "sink of pollution and sacrilege." Again in the Reply to Sadoleto he writes about this:

In . . . declaring that stupid adoration which detains the minds of men among the elements, and permits them not to rise to Christ, to be perverse and impious, we have not acted without the concurrence of the ancient Church, under whose shadow you endeavor in vain to hide the very vile superstitions to which you are here addicted.

Likewise, Calvin wrote about the Sacrifice of the Mass:

. . . the mere name of Sacrifice (as the priests of the Mass understand it) both utterly abolishes the cross of Christ, and overturns his sacred Supper which he consecrated as a memorial of his death. For both, as we know, is the death of Christ utterly despoiled of its glory, unless it is held to be the one only and eternal Sacrifice; and if any other Sacrifice still remains, the Supper of Christ falls at once, and is completely torn up by the roots . . .

Will it still be denied to me that he who listens to the Mass with a semblance of Religion, every time these acts are perpetrated, professes before men to be a partner in sacrilege, whatever his mind may inwardly declare to God?

. . . In the Mass Christ is traduced, his death is mocked, an execrable idol is substituted for God -- shall we hesitate, then, to call it the table of demons? Or shall we not rather, in order justly to designate its monstrous impiety, try, if possible, to devise some new term still more expressive of detestation? Indeed, I exceedingly wonder how men, not utterly blind, can hesitate for a moment to apply the name "Table of Demons" to the Mass, seeing they plainly behold in the erection and arrangement of it the tricks, engines, and troops of devils all combined . . . I have long been maintaining on the strongest grounds that Christian men ought not even to be present at it!

From: On Shunning the Unlawful Rites of the Ungodly, and Preserving the Purity of the Christian Religion.

(1537; translated by Henry Beveridge, 1851; reprinted in Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, Vol. 3: Tracts, Part 3, edited by Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983; citations from pp. 383, 386-388)

And from the Institutes:

Scarcely can we hold any meeting with them without polluting ourselves with open idolatry. Their principal bond of communion is undoubtedly in the Mass, which we abominate as the greatest sacrilege.

(IV, 2, 9)

What remains but that the blind may see, the deaf hear, and even children understand this abomination of the Mass? . . . it . . . has so stricken them with drowsiness and dizziness, that, more stupid than brute beasts, they have steered the whole vessel of their salvation into this one deadly whirlpool. Surely, Satan never prepared a stronger engine to besiege and capture Christ's Kingdom . . . they so defile themselves in spiritual fornication, the most abominable of all . . . The Mass . . . from root to top, swarms with every sort of impiety, blasphemy, idolatry, and sacrilege.

(IV, 18, 18)

(See more in my paper on the subject: "John Calvin & St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Comparative Eucharistic Theology")

So which is it, Paul? Do you accept Calvin's estimation of the Sacrifice of the Mass, transubstantiation, and eucharistic adoration or not? If so, how can we be Christians in any sensible form of the word and concept? If not, then come right out and say that Calvin was dead-wrong about this, and contradicts himself when he says we are minimally Christian -- insofar as we are at all -- because of baptism.

2. Calvin's polemics were given in a context of unprecedented resistance to reforms which were widely recognized as necessary, even within the Church; reforms which would have brought the Church back into line with Scripture and Catholic consensus. Just read Calvin's description of the state of the Church in Institutes 4.5.1-19. Thus, the resistance to these reforms was interpreted as reflecting an obsession with maintaining the status quo, and the wealth, luxury, licentiousness and privileges of the Catholic leadership, rather than a concern for the health of the Church. In such a context, polemics can get very heated.

Fine; but I consider this (beyond the non sequitur of moral corruption, which everyone admits on all sides) another diversion from the issue at hand (which is stuff like the above: direct; right between the eyes; where the rubber meets the road; brass tacks: do Catholics worship Jesus every Sunday as their Lord or commit these unspeakably blasphemous acts of idolatry, routinely, regularly, by definition?).

The fact remains that Calvin threw all this out. And it is equally obvious that the medieval Church and people like Bernard and Aquinas all believed in these things, as Catholics do today. You can't avoid this. It has to be squarely faced. You can't play games and close your eyes and put your head in the sand and ignore the Mass. It simply can't be done: not if you are serious about considering the Christian status of Catholics and the [Roman] Catholic Church -- that entity historically headed by a pope.

3. Protestants were being horribly persecuted in some sections of Europe. This tends to put a bitter edge on theological exchanges.

That works both ways, too, and so resolves nothing. It is a wash, broadly-speaking. But I'll play your game for a minute. Okay, suppose persecution and the need for some kind of reform (not the revolution that Calvin and Luther brought) can explain these sorts of "anti-Catholic" utterances. Let's assume that for the sake of argument. Are you saying, then, that Calvin didn't really mean all that I have cited him saying above? That was all in a passionate moment when he was distraught over the state of the Church? He had a bad day or was suffering from a bout of verbal diarrhea? If so, then he must have suffered from these maladies frequently, or refused to re-read his manuscripts before they went to press. I find the position ludicrous . . .

4. In spite of his polemics, and in spite of the fact that he insisted that the RCC was so corrupted as to call for separation from her practices (4.2.10), in Institutes 4.2.11 he insists that "certain peculiar prerogatives" still remained with the RCC. He maintains that the Roman Catholics are still God's "children," even in the midst of corruption, just as was the case in the time of Ezekiel. Calvin insists that Roman Catholic baptisms are still a valid "witness" to God's covenant with them, and that "other vestiges" remain, so that "the church" within (though not identical to) the RCC remains. In 4.2.12 he again maintains the "existence of churches" within the RCC, though they have no right to call themselves "THE" Church. Calvin insists that the name of Christ and the church has not been wiped out by the tyrrany of the Pope over the papal communion.

I know all this, but so what? It doesn't change the fact that we are scarcely Christian at all, if Calvin's most gracious comparison is to ancient Babylon, or "Israel under Jeroboam," etc. C'mon! You think we are supposed to receive this "ecumenical" news with gleefulness and joy, because old man Calvin thinks we are as Christian as the grossest idolaters in ancient history were observant Jews? I think you are laboring under tremendous misconceptions.

5. Calvin signed the ecumenically minded Augsburg Confession, and approved of the ecumenical dialogue between Protestants and Catholics which took place at the Conference of Regensburg. How many evangelical Presbyterian pastors today could give full approval to that Confession and that Conference? That should show you the GULF in attitude which separates Calvin from his combative theological step-children.

There is some difference, but one must remember that in those days the revolution was still young, and there was still some chance (however remote) of it being a reform and not merely separatist and sectarian. The Diet of Augsburg and the Augsburg Confession as a supposed effort of unification with the Catholic Church is a joke.

Catholic historian Warren Carroll described the proceedings and the lack of tolerance in the Lutheran party:

Early in July the bishops presented their complaints to the Diet of the plundering and destruction of churches, seizure of monasteries and hospitals, prohibition of Masses, and attacks on religious procesions by the Protestants. When Charles called upon the Protestants to restore the property they had seized, they said that to do so would be against their consciences. Charles responded crushingly: 'The Word of God, the Gospel, and every law civil and canonical, forbid a man to appropriate to himself the property of another.' He said that as Emperor he had the duty of guarding the rights of all, especially those Catholics unwilling to accept Protestantism or go into exile, who should at least be allowed to remain in their homes and practice their ancestral faith, specifically the Mass; the Protestants replied that they would not tolerate the Mass . . .

By July it was clear that on matters of doctrine the Lutherans at Augsburg were dissimulating, concealing their real beliefs in the hope of avoiding a final breach without making genuine concessions. On July 6 Melanchthon made the incredible statement:

'We have no dogmas which differ from the Roman Church . . . We reverence the authority of the Pope of Rome, and are prepared to remain in allegiance to the Church if only the Pope does not repudiate us.'

As it happened, on the very same day Luther, in an exposition on the Second Psalm addressed to Archbishop Albert of Mainz, declared:

Remember that you are not dealing with human beings when you have affairs with the Pope and his crew, but with veritable devils! . . .

On the 13th [of July] Luther announced from Coburg that the Protestants would never tolerate the Mass, which he called blasphemous, and said of the Emperor:

'We know that he is in error and that he is striving against the Gospel . . . He does not conform to God's Word and we do' . . .

Luther stated in a letter to Melanchthon August 26:

'This talk of compromise . . . is a scandal to God . . . I am thoroughly displeased with this negotiating concerning union in doctrine, since it is utterly impossible unless the Pope wishes to take away his power.'

In subsequent letters he declared that no religious settlement was possible as long as the Pope remained and the Mass was unchanged . . .

Luther prepared the final Protestant answer:

'The Augsburg Confession must endure, as the true and unadulterated Word of God, until the great Judgment Day . . . Not even an angel from Heaven could alter a syllable of it, and any angel who dared to do so must be accursed and damned . . . The stipulations made that monks and nuns still dwelling in their cloisters should not be expelled, and that the Mass should not be abolished, could not be accepted; for whoever acts against his conscience simply paves his way to Hell. The monastic life and the Mass covered with infamous ignominy the merit and suffering of Christ. Of all the horrors and abominations that could be mentioned, the Mass was the greatest.'

. . . no Catholic of spirit and courage could be expected, let alone morally required, to give up all his religious rights without a struggle; and few Protestants, at this point, would allow Catholics to exercise those rights if the Protestants were strong enough to deny them. These were the irreconcilable positions taken by the two sides at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, which made those long and bloody years of conflict inevitable.

(The Cleaving of Christendom; from the series, A History of Christendom, Volume 4, Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 2000, 103-107)

Note how Luther's inane and vacuous ramblings (just like Calvin's) do not affect merely the pope and the hierarchy, but EVERY Catholic who observes the Mass.

Melanchthon's own pitiful waffling on various issues illustrates that this attempt at "unity" was a sham from the beginning (or doomed to failure, at the very least, due to stupidity and utter inflexibility). He once advocated the death penalty for anyone who denied the Real Presence in the Eucharist. At length he adopted that very position himself! And that is supposedly the "Catholic position"? This was the primary author of the Augsburg Confession: notoriously wimpy on doctrine (Calvin himself often chastised him over this, in personal letters).

Note again how the Mass was regarded by the Protestants: even to the extent that they felt wholly within their rights to steal church buildings and forbid Catholic worship. But of course Catholics are good ole Christians right next to the godly, holy Lutherans and Calvinists! The Anabaptists were not so fortunate, and were drowned by the hundreds, with the express consent of Luther and Melanchthon. But of course Protestants have always been far more tolerant than Catholics. Everyone knows that.

Keep these FACTS in mind 


Facts? I'm the one who has been providing copious documentation, not you, so I hope folks will remember the facts I have presented, too.

the next time some internet wonderboy tries to quote some out-of-context statement of Calvin to justify his own ugly attitude towards our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.

I'm "ugly" towards myself and my Catholic brethren?Talk about a severe self-image disorder! LOL I'm not trying to "justify" anything (let alone sin). Your other friends may have that motive, but my only concern here is historical truth and a sensible, workable ecumenism that isn't blind to historical and theological realities and mired in some sort of silly pretense. The liberals have excelled at that for years. Those of us who are orthodox Protestants and Catholics gain nothing by adopting their postmodernist, relativistic methodology. Facts is facts, and we have to work with those, whatever they may be.

-------------------------------------------------------------

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your comments. Below are my random thoughts.
Likewise . . .

1. I have no desire to "bump heads" with you Dave. I don't look at you as a nemesis.

Well, this shows, I think, that you are maybe a bit overly-sensitive about serious, issues-oriented discussion with your Catholic brothers and sisters. I come as "family" precisely because you (unlike our anti-Catholic friends) have included me and my faith tradition in the circle of Christianity. So to me it is simply a discussion (in this case, on historical matters of what Calvin believed about Catholicism) and a dialogue (a thing I greatly advocate across the board, as you know). I'm not here to quarrel or wrangle, but to dialogue and learn and clarify. This is my Socratic method.

"Nemesis" means, "anyone or anything by which, it seems, one must inevitably be defeated or frustrated." I don't see myself vis-a-vis you or other Reformed Catholics (or even Protestants in general) in that light at all. Christians discuss theology and Christian history. Period. We can all learn from one another.

I could probably get along with you, and worship God alongside you, much more easily than with James White or David King. That's just a subjective impression, so take it for what it is worth. 


I'm sure you would and could, not because I am anything, but because these men would not allow normal, mutually-respectful Christian fellowship to take place (and I surely would). That is the sad thing. In their eyes, I'm a heretic and an apostate, and you are not much better (maybe even worse) as a kind of "traitor to the cause" who "cavorts with the 'enemy'" and who should know better. I find the whole thing very sad where anti-Catholicism is concerned.

2. Of course Luther and Calvin were opposed to the Roman Catholic Church. Where did I ever say otherwise?

Then why the constant recourse by reformed Catholics to "context" and the insinuation that they were really quite neutral or had mixed feelings (hence the strong objection to citations by men like White and King -- and indirectly, myself -- when we emphasize anti-Catholic elements of Luther and Calvin)?

Clearly you guys wish to play down their anti-Catholicism (because it runs contrary to your "program" of a continuity with historic generic "Catholicism"), and some of you have flatly denied it. My position is that they were against it; that (indeed) I can scarcely imagine that they could have said anything else beyond what they did say to suggest that they were any more against it than they were. I agree that they do throw out a few minimalistic concessions (baptism and so forth). In my mind, however, those contradict the other nonsense which is their normative response. I am glad to see the few positive things, but I don't see how they can be totally reconciled with the negative apprisals. In my opinion, they either contradict the other strain or are, at best, highly paradoxical in the overall thrust of their thinking.

The Roman Catholic hierarchy was resisting needed reforms, and slaughtering Protestants in sectors of Europe. Of course they were going to oppose the machinery of such an institution.

It is more than the persecution (on both sides) and moral corruption (on both sides), and institutional malaise. You know as well as I do that these discussions eventually come down to doctrine. We can trade horror stories all day long, but I don't see that that accomplishes much. The only reason I have written about the "Protestant Inquisition" is because of the common double standard of Protestants always pointing out Catholic historical shortcomings but being blind to their own. I come around to "even the score" a bit and give the other side of the story (somewhat like Rush Limbaugh giving the politically conservative take in light of overwhelming cultural liberalism).

Nobody continues to put their money into a company that has gone bankrupt!

But that's just it: the language of "bankrupt" implies defectibility of the Church, and that is precisely what cannot happen, biblically ("the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church"), and in terms of the organic historical continuity that reformed Catholicism wishes to maintain. If there was a total breakdown of the institutional Catholic Church, then does it not follow that Protestantism was a revolution and not a reform?

But you have to distinguish schism from protest and reform.

I just did. :-)

The goal of the Reformers was not to cause an open split in the church, but to heal the sicknesses within the church.

I am willing to grant that to some extent; however, my basic outlook is that these men were at heart revolutionaries and insufficiently reflective of what they were doing, and how it was a radical departure in many respects from historical precedent. They were theologically and sociologically naive (some might say essentially arrogant, but I don't go that far myself, generally-speaking).

This is a fundamental dilemma for those of you who wish to pursue the course of organic continuity, per the above. I do not believe the difficulty has been gotten over at all, and thus I continue to make these kinds of inconvenient points. Once in a while I manage to get a Protestant to interact with them (I thank you profusely for the opportunity!) -- and even then usually quite reluctantly or half-heartedly.

As Calvin said to Sadoleto, there is a great difference between "schism from the Church, and studying to correct the faults by which the Church herself was contaminated." 


But that, of course, is a circular argument, and the crux of the issue. Calvin needs to establish that certain things that he rejects are in fact, "contaminations." This he routinely fails to do. Like all revolutionaries, he simply assumes the inherent rightness and self-evident nature of his cause, and proceeds thusly. But from a (comparative) logical or theological perspective, this is quite unimpressive. Once Calvin and Luther try to play the "historical game" and co-opt the Fathers for their distinctive innovations, they can easily be shot down every time.

The Reformers protested against an arrogant, affluent, morally corrupt hierarchy which would not listen to calls for reform; that doesn't mean they opposed the RCC as such.

That is by no means clear to me. And given the state of their own collective and individual morality, it is more than a little bit hypocritical and sanctimonious to pose as "moral reformers." I would even say it is an outright joke, knowing what I know about the history.

Again, Calvin told Sadoleto that he did NOT intend to deny that "those OVER WHICH YOU PRESIDE are Churches of Christ." 


Calvin said a lot of things, and they are difficult to synthesize in a coherent whole. I am trying to grapple with one side of what he said; you need to do the same.

You are free to dismiss such comments as anomalies, which merely offer momentary exceptions to the rule.

That's basically what I believe, yes, based on the copious evidence of his various remarks on the subject.

I prefer to see them as qualifications of Calvin's more polemical rhetoric.

Those must be (I think you would agree) logically consistent in order to truly be qualifications.

The difference here Dave is that it appears that you want to read Luther and Calvin in the worst possible light

Not really; I would love to be able to read them in a more positive light concerning this question, but I am constrained by the facts of the matter, as I see it. Of course I don't desire for them to be anti-Catholic (as the present-day anti-Catholics do), but that is different from whether they in fact were. I agree with the anti-Catholics that they were, as a factual matter (and I regard this as a fact as obvious as the sun at high noon on a clear day). I don't want this; they do, but we agree on the fact of the matter.

you are acting like a prosecuting attorney.

I'm not the one who formed their opinions. They did that. I am merely reporting them as they were.

I am trying to put them in a more positive light, as far as they offer resources for modern theological discussion; I am acting like a defense attorney.

Then you should be straightforward about the other strain of their thought. You shouldn't act like a lawyer so much as a private investigator, seeking to determine the facts wherever they lead. The lawyer analogy suggests to me that you want to follow the facts only in one direction. But that ain't how facts and truth work! They are what they are.

Surely you would admit that the same data is capable of more than one possible reading, in light of the total picture?

Not in this case. Like I said, I fail to see how their anti-Catholicism could be any more clear than it is. They have made almost every conceivable negative judgment about Catholicism that can be imagined.

If not, why do we bother to have trials in our legal system? After all, the truth should be plain as day, right?

When it is as profusely documented in the "defendant's" own words it is indeed plain as day. Most murderers do not leave scores of tracts and books detailing their opinions and activities. So the analogy is quite a poor one and not all that applicable.

3. I didn't make a bald appeal to my own authority. I would hardly do that in this arena. I think the points of historical context I listed in my last post are pretty uncontroversial. I would expect you to agree with that.

I have stated my opinion as to Calvin's "minimalistic" acknowledgement of historical continuity. He was in the boat you are in: he had to come up with some sense of continuity with what came before so the pretense of being a "reformer" of former things (by definition) could be maintained with a straight face. But it is a losing cause. Protestantism as a whole simply cannot be synthesized with what came before. It can't be done. It is a clean break in many respects, any way you slice the cake. It is, at bottom, a revolution, not a reform (i.e., in those areas where it departed from precedent, which are not ALL areas, of course, because it remains Christian).

I mean, which of the points do you contest?

I've written about those. Your job is to make a reply, not ask me again what I have already stated.

Do you deny that Calvin said what he said to Sadoleto?

No; I cited that work quite a bit, too.

Do you deny that Calvin's main antagonist was the Catholic hierarchy?

No, as well they should have been.

Do you deny that the RCC was resisting reforms which were widely regarded as necessary, even among those within the RCC?

On an individual and/or moral level, no. But we, of course, differ on what needed reform. Protestants often threw out the baby with the bath water. Catholicism underwent a true reform and clarification proces at Trent. Protestantism was a revolt, not a reform (sorry to ruffle feathers, but that is what I believe, and am very far from being convinced otherwise).

Do you deny that Protestants were getting martyred?

No, Do you deny that Catholics were, too?

Do you deny that such factors might heat up the rhetoric a bit?

Of course not, but we have to determine a person's position, despite the rhetorical and polemical excesses that one would expect in such an environment.

Do you deny that Calvin signed the Augsburg Confession?

No; I assumed that but went on to make further observations about the fundamentally-flawed nature of that enterprise.

Do you deny that it had a conciliatory intent?

I think that if the Protestants could get what they wanted and have it covered with a thin layer of cultural acceptance from Catholic sources like the Emperor, then they would do that in their self-interest (because they were the new kids on the block). I am quite cynical about their overall intent and motivations, because -- like I have shown -- the Protestants were dead-set against allowing the Mass at all. They wouldn't even return the hundreds of churches and monasteries that they stole and plundered (this was directly brought up at Augsburg by the Emperor himself). Do you honestly expect Catholics (then or now) to interpret those things as good faith, conciliatory efforts to get along?

So it is quite easy for you to sit there and make these summary, general remarks; much more difficult to grapple with the facts of history in its more crass, obvious aspects. Protestantism has always played this game, I'm afraid.

Do you deny that Calvin played a role in the Regensburg Conference? 


No, but so what? He has a record of things that he believed about the Catholic Church.

Do you deny that the stated purpose of that conference was to heal the breach within the Church?

On the surface, yes. But let's be realistic: Calvin couldn't even get along with Lutherans. I have a quote (that I can dig up if someone doubts it -- it is in the Dillenberger collection of Calvin primary material), where he referred to Lutheranism as an "evil" that had to be checked. Really ecumenical . . .

If you don't contest any of these points, then why accuse me of appealing to my own authority, as though I were making some outlandish claims without adequate foundation? 


Because you and other comrades of yours continually make this charge that those who disagree with you are qouting Calvin and Luther out of context. I have provided tons of context.

I don't waste my time documenting things that anyone who is familiar with the basics of the discussion (as you certainly are, and then some) should know.

That assumes what it is trying to prove. If you think it is that obvious, then you wouldn't discuss it at all. But as your own ultimately flawed analogy to a legal trial suggests, even you think there is some conflicting data to be grappled with. You can't argue out of both sides of your mouth.

4. I wouldn't call the mass an idolatrous abomination. I am much more of a Melanchthon than a Calvin in my tone towards you Catholics! I don't doubt that you are offering genuine worship to God when you participate in the Eucharist.

Thanks for virtually conceding and granting my case! This is it! Now we are getting somewhere. YOU grant that we are legitimately worshiping as Christians. Calvin does not. And you have yet to explain how in the world he can say what he does about the Mass, yet somehow accept those who commit such blasphemous, idolatrous acts every Sunday as "Christians."

Thanks for finally making very clear how this is completely relevant to the discussion. Calvin is an anti-Catholic; you are not (praise God, and I commend you). But you are trying to make out that he is more on your side in this respect, than on the side of the anti-Catholics who are, in my opinion, correctly citing him in this regard. That's no credit to them; it is simply historically obvious and can't be denied.

You imply that Melanchthon would have had a different opinion on the Catholic Mass; perhaps like your own? This is, of course, untrue also, and I think you could have figured that out with a minimum of work (just as I now did, in documenting what I do, below).

Remember, Melanchthon claimed at the Diet of Augsburg that Protestants were in more or less complete agreement with Catholics. Well, that is poppycock, and we need look no further than his own opinions to demonstrate this. What does he think about the traditional Catholic Mass? In the Apology for the Augsburg Confession, which he wrote in 1531, he stated:

[I]n the papal realm the worship of Baal clings -- namely, the abuse of the Mass . . . And it seems that this worship of Baal will endure together with the papal realm until Christ comes to judge and by the glory of his coming destroys the Kingdom of Antichrist. Meanwhile all those who truly believe the Gospel should reject those wicked services invented against God's command to obscure the glory of Christ and the righteousness of faith.

(Article XXIV, "The Mass" -- p. 268 in The Book of Concord, translated by Theodore G. Tappert, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959)

Likewise, Martin Luther wrote in his Smalcald Articles of 1537 -- also confessionally normative for Lutherans:

The Mass in the papacy must be regarded as the greatest and most horrible abomination . . . it has been the supreme and most precious of the papal idolatries . . .

They are a purely human invention . . .

Let the people be told openly that the Mass, as a trumpery, can be omitted without sin, that no one will be damned for not observing it, and that one can be saved in a better way without the Mass. Will the Mass not then collapse of itself -- not only for the rude rabble, but also for all godly, Christian, sensible, God-fearing people -- especially if they hear that it is a dangerous thing which was fabricated and invented without God's Word and will?

(Article II, "The Mass" -- in Tappert, ibid., p. 293)

Did the notoriously waffling Philip Melanchthon change his tune later? Hardly. In the 1555 edition of his Loci communes, he wrote:

Like the blind heathen, they have invented their sacrifices. The Mohammedans, godless Jews, papists, and monks are still stuck fast in this blindness . . . This frightful blindness and idolatrous sin are often rebuked by the prophets.

(In Melanchthon on Christian Doctrine: Loci Communes 1555, translated and edited by Clyde L. Manschreck, Grabd Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1965; reprinted in 1982, XVI: "On the Difference Between the Old and the New Testaments," p. 194)

These are all devised works, undertaken by clerics partly out of error and partly as a deliberate fraud. In such misuse, when the sacrament is perverted, there is no sacrament, only frightful idolatry . . . there is no doubt that the cruel raging of the Turks is inflicted now as a punishment for the idolatry in the Mass . . . the papal Mass should be shunned and abolished.

(XXII: "On the Supper of Christ the Lord," ibid., p. 221)

Now consider some episcopal laws which compel sin, such as the commands to keep the idolatrous Mass and to invoke dead men.

(XXXIV: "Of Human Precepts in the Church," ibid., p. 307)

Frankly, to be quite honest, I don't think I really understand the theology of the Mass well enough to say much about it in any kind of a dogmatic way. It's not really one of my issues.

I fail to see how it cannot be, since you have taken an ecumenical stance towards Catholics, accepted their worship as fully Christian (indeed even more so than Baptist worship). C'mon, Paul. If you want to claim that you are a "Catholic" in continuity with historic Catholic worship (medieval and patristic) then you have to grapple with this issue. Is that not obvious?

But you (and/or your comrades) even go beyond that and make out that Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon think of Catholics as brothers in Christ, given what they all said about our worship. You can't have it both ways. If all the founders of Protestantism got this wrong, then simply say so, but don't try to pretend that they were not profoundly anti-Catholic. This becomes a crucial issue in your endeavor to make Reformed Protestantism somehow "Reformed Catholic." I don't think the overall project works at all, but I do admire the historically-and ecumenically-minded effort in the right direction, at any rate.

The Council of Trent said: "For the victim is one and the same, the same now offering by the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross, the manner alone of offering being different. The fruits indeed of which oblation, of that bloody one to wit, are received most plentifully through this unbloody one; so far is this [latter] from derogating in any way from that [former oblation]." That seems to say that the fruits of Christ's bloody oblation are received by the unbloody offering of Christ through the priests; but the fruits thereof stem from the bloody oblation, they are only "received" by the manner of unbloody oblation. Now, it seems to me that the whole tenor of the book of Hebrews speaks against the idea of going back to the ministry of "priests" (plural) offering a propitiatory sacrifice, even if it is conceded that this sacrifice is not other than the bloody sacrifice which was once for all offered on the cross. To be honest, the whole notion gives me a headache and makes the room spin around me.

Time to do more study, then. :-) Whatever you may think of this, it is the historical Christian position, which your movement must either accept and espouse, or reject (in which case that is yet another break with consistent Catholic development through the centuries and millennia).

But I have no intention of getting into that. I have no doubt that Catholic theologians could wrap me into a pretzel on this issue.

We can't all be experts on everything (I am an expert on nothing LOL), but all I'm saying is that it is a crucial issue to be dealt with. You can't just take a pass. You are confused (but you would worship with me). Kevin Johnson said he wanted to further study the patristic notion of "sacrifice." This is good. If you want to be "Catholic" in any sense, this is all absolutely necessary. Come on in; the water's warm!

I am just saying that it doesn't ring true to me on that basis.

Of course not; you are a Protestant. I would have felt the same way prior to 1990.

Nevertheless, what I am not sure of is the extent to which this doctrine has been clarified in post-Reformation theological discourse, in a manner analagous to Lutheran-Catholic discussions over the doctrine of justification. 


Not much, as far as I know. But hopefully, Protestants can get it through their heads that the Mass -- whatever they personally think of it -- is not the equivalent of Baal-worship, gross idolatry, etc.

According to R.T. Beckwith (an outstanding Anglican scholar), in the New Dictionary of Theology ("Eucharist"): "In the last hundred years or so, strenuous efforts have been made both by Roman Catholic and by Anglo-Catholic theologians to restate the Tridentine teaching without basically departing from it." He goes on to describe these developments, some of which involve rather complex issues regarding the very nature of time. My question would be: What if Calvin were here to hear these "restatements"? Would he still object to the doctrine in the same strenuous terms?

Yes. Nothing I've seen in him leads me to believe that he correctly understood Catholic theology. He distorts it at every turn. I have shown this a few times now (in my latest book, several times), and hope to do much more in the future. Calvin is not some impenetrable fortress, who annihilates every Catholic attempt to refute him. Quite the contrary; he often shows himself quite ignorant of particular issues in theology.

I don't know. But I do know that we are in a different historical situation than Calvin was, and therefore, we should not be expected to mindlessly repeat his harsher rhetoric.

The issues go beyond mere rhetoric. You claim to be "Catholic." The so-called "reformers" certainly were NOT so with regard to this issue of the Mass. That's my only point, if you remember nothing else I have written here. And how can we be regarded as fellow Christians if we participate in abominable blasphemy, sacrilege, and idolatry at every worship service we attend? If we are no better than ancient Baal-worshipers or the Babylonians, in what sense are we Christian brothers? You can't have it both ways. Most Protestants would not take such a stance about another Protestant denomination. It is only with us Catholics (and to some extent, the Orthodox) that this comes up at all.

5. So yes, Catholics worship Jesus every Sunday as their Lord.

And Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, and other "reformers" all got this wrong . . .

6. It is not at all clear to me why you seem intent on brushing aside Institutes 4.2.11-12. Yes, Calvin thought that the RCC was in a dreadful state. But he still recognized the validity of God's name, covenant, and presence within the papal communion. Luther said much the same in his polemic against the Anabaptists. I don't see why you can't acknowledge that this puts them in a different light than folks like James White and David King.

It does, but it is not all that heartening or earth-shattering. I've already written about all that.

7. I certainly don't contest that Luther and Calvin were less conciliatory towards Rome than folks like Melanchthon and Bucer. If you are wanting me to grant that point, you have it. 


Those guys had their own serious flaws, including advocating the death penalty for various theological "errors."

That is about all I can say within my time constraints this morning.

Thanks for your input. I appreciate it.

I hope that I have at least touched upon some of your concerns.

Yes, but I think you have a LONG way to go to establish your overall point and to show that either your anti-Catholic buddies or Catholics like me have cited the Protestant founders out of context with regard to their fundamental anti-Catholicism.

I am not asking you to give up your calling and ministry as an apologist within the Catholic Church.

Who thought that you were doing so? Not I!

Indeed, until the breach between us is healed, both sides are obligated to contend for the truth as it is understood within our respective communions, in the hopes of bringing one or the other into a greater exposure to the true teaching of Christ, and the grace of the gospel.

I agree. That's all that honest, committed Christians can do, according to their sincere, heartfelt beliefs.

But what I would resist is a winner take all mentality. If you are unable to persuade me to embrace the Roman Catholic faith and way of life, you can still regard me as a separated brother, and vice versa I can do likewise.

I've done that consistently for 27 years now, on both sides of the fence. But that doesn't mean that I won't vigorously make my case for what I believe, until shown otherwise. Respect, admiration, and acknowledgement of fellow Christians and their good faith is not inconsistent with intense disagreement. That's where efforts such as this between us are quite different from the anti-Catholics coming after either one of us. They have to read us out of the faith or create otherwise unnecessary and tragic divisions among Christians. I can make these arguments but within a context of respect, brotherhood, and fellowship. And I will continue to do so.

Again, thanks for your time, and God bless you. I think you are doing a marvelous job defending Catholic soteriology from the tons of misinformation and distortions of it in many Protestant circles. I wish to personally express my appreciation for that, and no criticism of mine here detracts from that gratefulness.

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