Sunday, November 07, 2004

Quasi-Anti-Catholicism & Baptism as Minimalist Cause of Catholic Inclusion in the Covenant / Mary to be Promoted to the Godhead? (vs. Douglas Wilson)

Lately, with the much-ballyhooed debate between two Reformed Protestants: Douglas Wilson and "Dr." [?] James White, concerning whether Catholics are Christians or not, renewed discussion on the legitimacy of Catholic baptism (and thus, no need for rebaptism of a convert to Protestantism) has arisen in Protestant (particularly, Reformed) circles. Wilson says Catholic baptism is valid, while White denies it (but of course, White is a Baptist, so he would deny the validity of all infant baptism, including all Reformed and other Protestant varieties). Wilson thus asserts that Catholics are part of the "Covenant community" and therefore, "brethren in Christ," while White denies that also. Both men try to enlist the "Reformers" in support of their positions (I believe Wilson is backed-up to a greater degree by the historical facts than White is, in this regard).

What interests me the most, however (as an ecumenical Catholic and opposer of anti-Catholicism) is how little (not how much) the more "ecumenical" side is willing to grant to the Catholic Church. So we are "brethren in Christ" and can be called "Christians." That's surely worth something, and is a considerable improvement. But when one looks at the overall context and opinions of those (at least this one person: Douglas Wilson) making these "concessions," it is clear that they can still be categorized as "quasi-anti-Catholics," if not anti-Catholics (since the most widely-used definition amongst Catholics and historians and sociologists of all stripes is one whereby it means that Catholicism is considered a sub-Christian faith altogether).

I have found this to be true of both Calvin and Luther also, in the course of my studies on this issue. They may acknowledge baptism, yet on the other hand, they maintain the whole range of arguments against Catholicism, based on a host of misunderstandings and incoherent examinations, both theologically and historically. In other words, they hold to a contradictory position, whereas true-blue anti-Catholics are at least consistent (though far more wrong and distant from the overall truth of the matter, insofar as they hold to more falsehoods and errors).

Despite the "minimalistic" (too often quite condescending and patronizing) acceptance of Catholicism on a bare-bones level as Christian, these men state in a hundred different ways that the complete system of Catholic theology is abominable, idolatrous, etc. This is especially true in Calvin's opinion on the Sacrifice of the Mass (and to a lesser extent, Luther's), and both men's reactions to the communion of the saints. It goes without saying that both had a very dim understanding of Catholic soteriology, thus leading to a host of distortions and straw men that have plagued that discussion ever since.

But my immediate point is to reiterate that even with the concessions of this relatively more "ecumenical" position, it is still far closer to outright anti-Catholicism in spirit than to a full-fledged ecumenism such as that seen in Vatican II and the ECT statements and the ongoing Lutheran-Catholic discussions. Luther, Calvin, and men like Douglas Wilson and those who call themselves "Reformed Catholics" today still (generally-speaking) view Catholics as fundamentally "lesser" (often accompanied by much sheer prejudice and ignorance) in a way that they would not view fellow Protestants. They treat scarcely any other Protestant group with the suspicion and apprehension that they bring with them when they approach Catholics.

It seemingly largely remains the case that whoever is a "true Christian" in Catholic circles, must be so despite all of Rome's "errors." They are Christian insofar as they sound like good evangelicals or Reformed Protestants. They can't be a good Christian by being a good (orthodox) Catholic. And that is the condescension and difference in how Catholics are regarded, over against other species of Protestants, by both schools (who are debating each other presently). I shall show examples of how Douglas Wilson regards Catholics in his recent opening statement in the debate mentioned above (his words will be in blue), and then give a few examples from Luther (green) and Calvin (red). Bracketed comments are my interjections:
Before proceeding to my argument, I would like to begin with an assertion so there will be no confusion about my position concerning the Church of Rome. I detest the errors of Rome, and I pray for the day of her repentance. Among those errors I would include the idolatry of the Mass, the use of images in worship, their profound confusion on the matter of faith and works, Purgatory, Mariolatry, merit, the saints, the papacy, and much more. In preparation for this debate, I read James White’s book The Roman Catholic Controversy, which I thought was quite good. Judging from that book, I do not know of any distinctive Roman doctrine concerning which James White and I would disagree.

[note that he accuses Catholics of idolatry in three ways: the Mass, and veneration of images and of Mary]
I want to begin by setting a scriptural pattern, and I want to show how this pattern can be seen as culminating in a specific apostolic warning to the Church at Rome, which is the subject of our proposition being debated tonight.
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:29)
The book of Hebrews was written to a new covenant people, and it was written in order to head off a looming apostasy. That is what the entire book is about.

[Thus Wilson equates institutional Catholicism with an apostate organization supposedly being discussed here, with scarcely any warrant from the immediate textual considerations]
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted (1 Cor. 10:1-6)
In short, our fathers are our examples, and with a number of them God was not well pleased. But what does all this have to do with the Roman Catholic Church? Rome has fallen into the errors it has because she has refused to heed the warning explicitly given by the apostle Paul to that specific church-a warning very much like the ones we have just been considering.
[Isn't this a wonderfully edifying and ecumenical sentiment? Wilson casually assumes that Paul was discussing the historic Catholic Church here. He doesn't prove it; he merely assumes it. In so doing, Catholics are equated in moral and discipleship terms with the disobedient Jews in the wilderness, and those who lust after evil]
The apostle Paul saw (with remarkable prescience) that the Church at Rome was going to be a problem, and he addressed it forthrightly. And the only thing that is more remarkable than the Church of Rome ignoring these Pauline warnings aimed
straight at her besetting sins is that fact that Protestants have also largely ignored the fact that these warning were directed at Rome.

[he goes on to cite Rom. 11:16-22]
[I submit, rather, that the quasi-anti-Catholic Douglas Wilson argues with remarkably circular logic and eisegetically . . . ]
In the past I have maintained (although I cannot find where I said this) that Rome was guilty of a final apostasy at Trent, where in solemn ecumenical council she anathematized any who faithfully held the biblical gospel. This is no longer my position, and if my worthy opponent has found a quotation of mine that says this, and returns to this point to press me with it, I will merely say, "I changed my mind, and it is a practice I commend to you." It is nevertheless still my position that what happened at Trent deserved removal from the olive tree, that is, from the catholic church. But I am now convinced that such a removal has not yet occurred. God does not always give us what we deserve.
[Absolutely classic example of a distinction without a difference . . . Further comment -- and I could make several -- would be entirely superfluous and an insult to readers' intelligence]
The Roman church is shot through with theological liberalism, which Machen correctly identified as another religion entirely.
[As if Protestantism isn't? But the crucial difference is that liberalism (which we received from our Protestant brethren in the first place as an extrinsic "hostile worldview") has not been enshrined or legitimized or sanctioned in Catholic dogma to the slightest degree, whereas we see Protestant denominations -- most notably, Anglicanism (particularly in England and America) -- institutionally changing, compromising, and caving to liberalism all over the place. Therefore, this criticism is far more damaging to Protestantism and its faulty principles of authority which have arguably caused the massive institutional apostasy of Protestant liberalism, than to the Catholic Church]
Couple this with feminism, the appeal of Mariolatry to the natural man, and it is quite possible that Mary will eventually get her big promotion, and people will be baptized into the name of a Quaternity.
[Oh, really? Now Wilson lowers himself to the surreally ridiculous levels of an Eric Svendsen or David T. King. Mary (it is "quite possible") is to be promoted to membership into the Godhead and the Holy Trinity. Wow; it's weird that I, as a Catholic apologist, have completely missed this turn of events . . . Wilson has now lost all credibility in my opinion, as any sort of "expert" on Catholicism. This is shocking and saddening to me, as I thought some progress was being made. But at least this (rather spectacularly) proves my point about ignorance, distortion, and so forth. Who cares if he acknowledges our baptism, if he can argue on an absurd level like this, and have these ludicrous views of Catholic Mariology? To make matters worse (and more illogical) Wilson tries to place this in the context of an encroaching liberalism. But it is precisely liberalism which cares less and less about Mary (let alone Marian dogmas). The ones who are devoted to the Blessed Virgin and development of Mariology are the orthodox Catholics: who would be the very last persons to compromise trinitarianism and the nature of the Godhead]
When the creedal core has rotted out, the liturgy cannot remain indefinitely the same. We see this in the mainline denominations which abandoned the faith in substance, but kept the old triune form for a time, a form which we should receive.
[This serves to prove my point about Protestant liberalism, too. Stuff like this happens in their ranks all the time, but there is no sign that it has occurred in Catholicism. And that should give folks like Mr. Wilson some significant pause, as to why that is the case. Individual stray, heterodox, dissenting Catholics may reject the Trinity, but that has nothing to do with what the Church teaches. Yet Wilson fears that the Catholic Church may switch from a Trinity to a Quaternity (I wonder if he is scared of the boogeyman "getting him" every night, too?). I swear that I have rarely seen such a ridiculous and empty-headed argument from an otherwise intelligent man, who should know far better]

Moving on to the so-called "Reformers," Martin Luther wrote (emphases added):

From: Wider Hans Wurst, or Against Jack Sausage (1541); in Luther's Works, 55 volumes, Philadelphia: Fortress Press (also Concordia Publishing House), 1955 -, General editors: Jaroslav Pelikan (vols. 1-30) / Helmut T. Lehmann (vols. 31-55)

This is a polemical piece against the Catholic (and corrupt) Duke Heinrich (or Henry) of Braunschweig / Wolfenbuttel, written between February 19 and April 4, 1541. It is reprinted in Volume 41 of Luther's Works, pp. 179-256; translated by Eric W. Gritsch.
They allege that we have fallen away from the holy church and set up a new church . . . since they themselves boast that they are the church, it is for them to prove that they are . . . But if they cannot prove it . . . they are not the church and . . . we cannot be heretics since we have fallen away from what is not the true church. Indeed, since there is nothing in-between, we must be the church of Christ and they the devil's church, or vice versa. Therefore it all turns on proving which is the true church . . . One part must be false and untrue . . . The Lord Christ commands us not to embrace the false church. (pp. 193-194)
We have proved that we are the true, ancient church . . . Now you, too, papists, prove that you are the true church or are like it. You cannot do it. But I will prove that you are the new false church, which is in everything apostate, separated from the true, ancient church, thus becoming Satan's synagogue. (p. 199)
You do not hold to the original, ancient baptism, for you have invented many other new baptisms, teaching that the original baptism is subsequently lost through sin . . . For where there is no baptism,the sacraments, the keys, and everything else are of no avail. (p. 199)

You were indeed all baptized in the true baptism of the ancient church, just as we were, especially as children. Now if a baptized child lives and then dies in his seventh or eighth year, before he understands the whorelike church of the pope, he has in truth been saved and will be saved -- of that we have no doubt. But when he grows up, and hears, believes, and obeys your preaching with its lies and devilish inventions, then he becomes a whore of the devil like you and falls away from his baptism and bridegroom -- as happened to me and others -- building and relying on his own works. (p. 207)

We acknowledge not only that you have, with us, come from the true church and been washed and made clean in baptism . . . but also that you are in the church and remain in it . . . But you are no longer of the church, or members of the church, for in this holy church of God you are building your own new apostate church, the devil's brothel, with limitless whoredom, idolatry, and innovation. (pp. 209-210)
These words are quite self-explanatory. I would only note that Luther's view of baptism is even "stronger"(i.e., more sacramentally "powerful" or irrevocable) than the Catholic view. He decries the fact that we believe that mortal sin can in effect undo the positive graces of baptism, whereas he seems to think nothing can do that (which is why he attacks the Catholic doctrine).

How about John Calvin? He said Catholic baptism was valid, right, so is that the end of the story? No. Like Luther, he can't simply pause at making this a point of agreement. He has to still disagree somehow. So in his Antidote to Trent (1547), Calvin rails on and on, disagreeing substantially with many of the decrees of Trent concerning baptism. As an example, Trent's Canon III on Baptism reads as follows:
If anyone saith that in the Roman Church . . . there is not the true doctrine concerning the sacrament of Baptism; let him be anathema.
Calvin replies to this particular canon:
But our writings clearly shew that the whole doctrine of Baptism, as taught by them, is partly mutilated, partly vicious. Now, while they are unable to refute our arguments, it is vain to think of hiding themselves under the flash of an anathema!

(in Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, Vol. 3, Tracts, Part 3, edited and translated by Henry Beveridge, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983, 179; reprinted from edition published by the Calvin Translation Society, Edinburgh: 1851)
He writes similarly when treating of the general character of sacraments; for example:
Here, indeed, they disclose their impiety, not only more clearly, but also more grossly. The device of opus operatum is recent, and was coined by illiterate monks, who had never learned anything of the nature of Sacraments. (Antidote to Canon VIII on the Sacraments, ibid., p. 176)
Their fable of an indelible character is the product of the same forge. It was altogether unknown to the Primitive Church, and is more suited to magical charms than to the sound doctrine of the gospel! (Antidote to Canon IX on the Sacraments, ibid., p. 176)

With regard to Calvin's denial of the sacramental principle of ex opere operato, it is he who is out of step with the ancient Church and St. Augustine, and in line with the Donatist schismatics. As usual, when he appeals to history, he has his facts wrong. Thus, Lutheran (later, Orthodox) Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan writes:
The Augustinian theology of grace was thus obliged . . . to commit itself to the principle that the efficacy of the sacraments, and especially of baptism, was assured "ex opere operato," by the sheer performance of the act, rather than "ex opere operantis," by the effect of the performer upon the act, . . .

(The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition {1200-600}, University of Chicago Press, 1971, 312)
The reputable Protestant scholar J.N.D. Kelly, in his discussion of the patristic view of baptism, makes it clear that a host of benefits (Calvin's reference to "indelible character") were believed by the Fathers to be attained through baptism. It is clear that Calvin can easily be shown to be mistaken as to the earliness (or lateness) of that aspect of baptism and sacraments also. After discussing the sacramental views of many Fathers, he concludes that their opinions:
. . . go a long way towards the so-called ex opere operato doctrine of sacraments, i.e., that they are signs which actually and automatically realize the grace they signify.

(Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: HarperCollins, revised edition of 1978, p. 427; larger context referred to: pp. 422-432)
Likewise, Protestant historian Philip Schaff characteristically presents an accurate picture of ancient Christian doctrine, while disagreeing with it himself. He amply refutes Calvin in both respects:
Augustine also makes a distinction between a transient and a permanent effect of the sacrament, and thereby prepares the way for the later scholastic doctrine of the character indelebilis. Baptism and ordination impress an indelible character, and therefore cannot be repeated . . . The popular opinion in the church already inclined strongly toward the superstitious view of the magical operation of the sacrament, which has since found scholastic expression in the opus operatum theory.

(History of the Christian Church: Vol. III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity {A.D. 311-600}, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprinted, 1974; of the fifth revised edition of 1910; p. 476)
So we see that Schaff would agree with Calvin as to how sacraments should be understood, yet he shows that Calvin was dead-wrong on his opinion of these fundamental elements of sacramental theology being late-arriving novelties. They were not. And so it always goes, when one examines Calvin's claims about the Fathers, over against some Catholic doctrine that he disagrees with. Once again (and as always) the early Church agrees in substance with the Catholic position, and against the Protestant innovations.
I submit that if Calvin's research and scholarship is this sloppy when dealing with what the Fathers and the ancient Church believed, that it is likely that he will be found distorting Catholic theology as well, in addition to giving shabby, fallacious arguments against it. I have often found this to be the case in the past, and I'm sure I will continue to do so in the future, as I study Calvin further (and offer refutations of his faulty, wholly inadequate arguments). The same applies to Luther. And thus current-day arguments built upon the arguments of these men will tend to show the same inaccuracies that were present the first time around. The apple only falls so far away from the tree, after all. Douglas Wilson is no exception. I would class him, along with Luther and Calvin, as "quasi-anti-Catholics"; only slightly distinguishable from outright anti-Catholics. I conclude this with no pleasure at all (in fact, sadness and great disappointment), but I don't see how it can be denied, given all the data above, and much more that could be brought to bear.

No comments: