Friday, November 19, 2004

Ironies of Anti-Catholic Reformed / The Loaded Term "Papalism" (Revised)

Words are funny things. Take the word Catholic, (or in some contexts, catholic) which has particular application to one Christian communion of which I am proud to be a member. People often like to mold this word to make it mean whatever they want it to mean, like a wax nose. I could go on about this for a long time. R.C. Sproul, Jr., the very epitome (like his father) of the sophisticated, highly-educated, should-know-better anti-Catholic Reformed Protestant, made the following statement on his blog:
You cannot claim to be catholic if you welcome Romanists as your brothers and sisters in Christ, and you welcome folks who were excommunicated from the Reformed church down the street as brothers and sisters in Christ.

("Catholic for Dummies," 9-14-04)
This statement is prima facie absurd and beyond that, internally-contradictory if properly scrutinized by reasonable, sensible historical, theological, and ecclesiological criteria. I won't go into the reasons why (having done that many times in many papers), but will simply let it stand on its own so the irony and marvel of it can be relished.

I should note, however (in all fairness), that Sproul Jr. has a place in his heart and head for the usually-maligned Arminian Protestants, if not for us pitiful "Romanists" (aka, papists or papalists):
Still, my own view of the scope of God’s grace includes most Arminians, and most folks who think it includes no Arminians. It doesn’t include, however, Arminians on steroids, adherents of open theology.

How "catholic" and tolerant of him! And here's another classic line:
. . . let us demonstrate our catholicity by loving the brethren. To put it another way, you don’t become catholic by believing in the doctrine of catholicity alone, but by loving one another . . .

(post of 11-19-04; no title)
While any Christian can appreciate the importance of loving Christian brethren, Sproul, Jr.'s definition of "catholicity" doesn't even include [Roman] Catholics (that's me, folks!) as Catholics and Christian brethren. He doesn't include us in his fold. All this demonstrates, once again, is the gross inconsistency of anti-Catholicism, which is similar in this instance to the lesser but still troubling terminological inconsistency and supposedly "ecumenical" nonsense of a "quasi-anti-Catholic" like Douglas Wilson (as exemplified recently in his extreme Mariological remarks in his recent debate with James White on the exceedingly complex, vexed question of whether Catholics are Christians).

Sproul, Jr. can't bring himself to include Catholic catholics (i.e., papists, Romanists, etc. -- we can't even be called by our own preferred title, such is the level of prejudice) in this glorious "catholic" circle that he waxes so eloquently about. Yet Sproul, Jr. and his illustrious dad (a brilliant teacher in many other areas, from whom I have learned a great deal for many years) often get a pass from needed criticism because they are on a much higher level in many ways than the more anti-sacramental, anti-ecclesiological anti-Catholics who are prominent on the Internet. A falsehood is a falsehood, no matter who utters it.

I would expect Protestants who fully accept both Catholics and anti-Catholic Protestants as brothers in Christ (as I do also, by the way, because they are Nicene, trinitarian Christians and truly baptized), to also condemn the anti-Catholicism (or, quasi-anti-Catholicism, as the case may be), since it excludes those of us whom they also consider their brothers in Christ.

Kevin Johnson, on the Reformed Catholicism blog, has done exactly this (in his post, "Yeah, we believe Roman Catholics are Christians [Wink, Wink]"), and he is to be highly commended for it (for more on that, see the Blogback comments below). Kevin wrote about Sproul Jr.'s unfortunate remarks:
Translation: You cannot claim to be catholic unless you actually are not being catholic. Last time I checked, the universal Church was not made up of only the Reformed.

("Deep Thoughts from the Reformed Monastics," 9-28-04)


I merely presented both as alternate titles given to Catholics, to which we object, on various grounds. A list of this sort doesn't imply an equation or "immoral equivalence" of all terms. It does, however, imply that we object to all the terms listed, on some level and to some degree. Papalist is better than papist, but not by much.

Papalism is another weighted term used by Anglicans, liberals, and others, so as to avoid simply using Catholic (which system, as everyone knows, has a pope). Here is an example of a mainstream, orthodox Catholic scholar recognizing this (bolded emphasis added here as throughout):

Liberalism and all its ways and all its pomps has more recently taken a severe beating from Oliver O’Donovan, Regius Professor of Theology at Oxford. Despite his Anglican bias against what he calls "papalism," I most warmly recommend his book, The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge University Press). It is not only a devastatingly convincing critique of a certain version of liberalism, but also a fascinating examination of what the idea of "Christendom" might mean in our moment of modernity’s discontent."

(Richard John Neuhaus, First Things, "The Liberalism of John Paul II," May 1997)
Here is a pejorative use of the term by an anti-Catholic, E.A. Wilson:

They killed Paul and Peter, and now they name their churches after them and pray to them. Papalism is the worship of the Pope, Virgin Mary, and the saints. Roman Catholicism does not worship God. She does not even profess to worship God . . .
Papalism was just given a new name, a Christian name, but Roman Catholicism is just as corrupt and dark as paganism ever was . . .
During those 1260 years of dark ages, there was no Gospel preached. Rome confiscated and burned the Bibles. The Bibles they did have were translated into Latin so that the average poor person could not understand it . . .
. . . when Papalism sprouted forth and reigned as a world power . . .

("The First Beast")

How about the bigoted Northern Irish anti-Protestant Ian Paisley?:

Through Popery the Devil has shut up the way to our inheritance. Priestcraft, superstition and Papalism, with their attendant voices of murder, theft, immorality, lust and incest, block the way to the land of gospel liberty.

And here is the term being used by a patronizing, liberal, smarter-than-thou former Catholic, Garry Wills:

However harsh his critique, Wills believes he is a good Catholic. "Papalism is not Catholicism,'' he says. "It never occurred to me to leave the church.'' Wills doesn't pull any punches in his new book, Papal Sin, as these excerpts show . . .

The two following quotes illustrate the typical Anglican polemical use of "papalism" as portraying the extremity of Catholicism over against the (of course) perfectly sensible, moderate, "normal" Christian state of affairs in Via Media Anglicanism:

As Anglicans, we have long considered ourselves to represent the Via Media. Historically this has meant the ‘middle way’ between the ‘extremes’ of Geneva and Rome, between extreme Protestantism and extreme papalism.

(Simon Kershaw, "Unity, Rome and all that")

In order that we may more fairly estimate this work of God's Holy Spirit in our Communion, we would first call attention to the condition, of the English Church in the century that preceded it. We find the Church in the beginning of the eighteenth century, to quote from the historian, Wakeman, full of vigorous endeavor, secure in her position, bright with hopefulness. Her great theologians, Hooker, Andrewes, Laud, Overall and Montague, had discriminated and vindicated her position as against Papalism and Puritanism.

(Pusey and the Church Revival, Charles Chapman Grafton, 1902)

This is sufficient to establish my opinion on this. I don't deny that there can be in some instances a scholarly, legitimate use of the term also (just as in the case of Roman Catholic and the Catholic use of Rome or Roman in various legitimate, non-offensive contexts), but it is one of those descriptions which might be or is readily used by anti-Catholic enemies of the Church and other Protestant "contra-Catholic" polemicists (particularly liberals and Anglicans).

No comments: