Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Diet of Regensburg (1541) & Colloquy of Poissy (1561): Protestant "Ecumenical" Efforts at Christian Unity?

Catholic historian Warren Carroll writes:

Reform-minded Cardinal Contarini attended the Diet of Regensburg and its religious discussions. and managed to obtain agreement on both sides on a statement on justification, but only by using a new concept of "duplicate justice," which recognized that God gave justifying grace to men in baptism, but also stated that "a yet higher justice, that of Christ Himself, becomes necessary in order to attain a perfect renewal, this latter being given and imputed to men through faith." It seemed an inspired straddle, but the Council of Trent later repudiated it [Dave: Luther had refused to accept it also]. Jubilation over this paper harmonization . . . soon faded when the conferees took up theor differences on the Mass and the sacraments, which were absolutely irreconcilable. The Catholic Faith cannot be practiced without the Mass, and the Protestants had totally rejected the Mass. Just a week after the illusory agreement on justification, Cardinal Contarini wrote that he had been astonished to discover that the Protestants rejected both the Real Presence and veneration of the Blessed Sacrament outside Mass. On May 16 Contarini wrote to Rome: . . . "strife proceeds neither from the Holy See nor from the Emperor, but from the obdurate adherence of the Protestants to their errors."

(The Cleaving of Christendom [A History of Christendom, vol. 4], Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 2000, 179)


Noted Protestant Church historian Roland Bainton wrote about the same diet:

Protestants and Catholics were in attendance and the purpose was to see whether accord could be achieved. There was some real hope because the leader of the Catholic side was Cardinal Contarini, one of the Italian liberals of the Erasmian brand, and the leader on the Protestant side was Martin Bucer of Strasbourg, noted for his mediatory role between the Swiss and the Lutherans. The cardinal doctrine of Luther, justification by faith, proved after all not to be an insuperable obstacle because Contarini was ready to accept it, though whether he meant by it precisely what the Lutherans did is another matter. But the Protestant rejection of transubstantiation was more serious and Bucer, unlike Melanchthon at Augsburg, was very insistent on the rejection of papal authority. Union failed . . .

(The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, Boston: Beacon Press, 1952, 152)


So we see that the Catholic side was willing to "compromise" on the Protestants' leading ("cardinal") concern: justification, but the Protestants would not flinch on matters of supreme importance and "non-negotiability" for the Catholics: transubstantiation and papal authority. We see almost the same exact dynamic and Protestant inflexibility at the Colloquy of Poissy in 1561. Carroll describes that event:

A group of French Calvinists headed by Theodore Beza had been invited to present the case for their religion to the bishops assembled to prepare for the Council of Trent . . . the government made public a series of edicts drawn up three weeks earlier, which while continuing to forbid public Calvinist worship, allowed it in private homes, recommended that judges be more lenient with Calvinists, and granted a general amnesty to those in prison charged with heresy.

. . . The colloquy itself began September 9 with another speech by [Chancellor] l'Hopital urging religious unity and pledging that the government would no longer persecute the Calvinists. But . . . the Colloquy of Poissy was no exercise in "ecumenism." Even less than the Lutherans were the Calvinists interested in ecumenism, Like all revolutionaries, they would accept it only on their own terms. On this first day of discussion Beza threw down the gauntlet with the explicit and shocking denial of the Real Presence . . .:

If we regard the distance of things (as we must, when there is a question of His corporeal presence, and of His humanity considered separately), we say that His body is as far removed from the bread and wine as is heaven from earth. [September 9, 1561]


. . . The Real Presence, like the Incarnation, is a doctrine on which there can be no compromise for a serious Catholic . . . Still Catherine de Medici and l'Hopital set up a committee of twelve Catholics and twelve Calvinists to continue the discussions. In a meeting of this committee, Beza attacked the doctrine of papal primacy and papal succession from Peter, using the absurd fable of "Pope Joan" to support his argument, and denied that Scripture depended on the authority of the Church or that there was any infallible source of religious truth. Catholic theologian l'Espence responded by pointing out that the Calvinist ministers lacked any claim to authority whatsoever. By now the discussion had degenerated into a shouting match . . . Efforts to find a compromise formula of language for the Real Presence were torpedoed by Peter Martyr Vermigli, a radical Calvinist . . .

(Carroll, ibid., 281-283; Beza citation from p. 235)


Bainton practically agrees with Carroll's implication that any hope of conciliation was destroyed by Protestant intransigence:

Theodore Beza was given unrestricted opportunity to state the Protestant case. In so doing he not only failed to conciliate the Catholics but succeeded also in alienating the Lutherans by stating in the baldest terms the Calvinist doctrine of spiritual communion only in the Lord's Supper, seeing that the body of Christ is as far from the bread and wine as heaven from earth. Agreement on any such basis was of course out of the question.

(Bainton, ibid., 167-168)


A Protestant web page called Reformed Sovereign Grace (which includes in its repertoire, the interesting article, "Biblical Reasons for NOT seeing the 'Passion of the Christ' Movie"), stated in its biography of Beza:

In a confrontation with the cruel and bloodthirsty Duke of Guise, Beza made his memorable statement: "Sire, it belongs, in truth, to the church of God, in the name of which I address you, to suffer blows, not to strike them. But at the same time let it be your pleasure to remember that the Church is an anvil which has worn out many a hammer."


Noted Protestant historian Phillip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church (1910 edition of Charles Scribner's Sons, vol. 8, ch. 19, § 170. "Beza at the Colloquy of Poissy"), describes the scene:

He then addressed the assembly upon the points of agreement and of disagreement between them, and was quietly listened to until he made the assertion that the Body of Christ was as far removed from the bread of the Eucharist as the heavens are from the earth. Then the prelates broke out with the cry "Blasphemavit! blasphemavit!" ("he has blasphemed"), and for a while there was much confusion. Beza had followed the obnoxious expression with a remark which was intended to break its force, affirming the spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist; but the noise had prevented its being heard. Instead, however, of yielding to the clamor the queen-mother insisted that Beza should be heard out, and he finished his speech.


The tragedy of these so-called "ecumenical" gatherings (at least from my admittedly biased Catholic perspective) is twofold. First of all, we observe Protestant utter intolerance of various Catholic doctrines, held for many hundreds of years and passed down in apostolic Tradition, so that compromise (or even agreement to disagree) is made impossible by definition right from the outset (Bucer and Beza).

Why, then, even attempt a dialogue, if the Protestants went into these meetings determined to not agree with or even allow any Catholic doctrine which they rejected? Reconciliation and whatever compromise is possible (without either party forsaking their own principles and deepest beliefs) is a two-way street, after all.

It may very well be (I suspect it probably was the case) that the Catholics were just as inflexible and stubborn, but certainly no more so than the Protestants. So any implication that the Protestants were all for freedom of religion and tolerance (either far more than the Catholics, or exclusively) is simply false to history.

Somewhat ironically, the second pronounced Protestant fault in these "ecumenical" gatherings was equivocation and astonishingly two-faced proclamations (such as those of Melanchthon at Augsburg -- see my paper, The Real Diet of Augsburg; Protestant Intolerance in 1530)

John Calvin wrote a fascinating letter which dealt with events shortly before the Diet of Regensburg and proves once again the first Protestant tendency mentioned above: equivocation in negotiations with Catholics (this time by both Bucer and Melanchthon). Phillip Schaff introduces it:

Calvin . . . gave a decided judgment in Latin against transubstantiation, which he rejected as a scholastic fiction, and against the adoration of the wafer which he declared to be idolatrous. He was displeased with the submissiveness of Melanchthon and Bucer, although he did not doubt the sincerity of their motives. He loved truth and consistency more than peace and unity. "Philip," he wrote to Farel (May 12, 1541), "and Bucer have drawn up ambiguous and varnished formulas concerning transubstantiation, to try whether they could satisfy the opposite party by giving them nothing [Schaff footnote: These formulas are printed in Melanchthon's Epistolae, IV. 262-264]. I cannot agree to this device, although they have reasonable grounds for doing so; for they hope that in a short time they would begin to see more clearly if the matter of doctrine be left open; therefore they rather wish to skip over it, and do not dread that equivocation (flexiloquation) than which nothing can be more hurtful. I can assure you, however, that both are animated with the best intentions, and have no other object in view than to promote the kingdom of Christ; only in their method of proceeding they accommodate themselves too much to the times .... These things I deplore in private to yourself, my dear Farel; see, therefore, that they are not made public. One thing I am thankful for, that there is no one who is fighting now more earnestly against the wafer-god [Schaff footnote: Or, in-breaded God, impanatus Deus], as he calls it, than Brentz."

(n Schaff, ibid., vol. 8, ch. 11, § 89; the entire letter is also published in Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters: Letters, Part 1, 1528-1545, vol. 4 of 7; edited by Jules Bonnet, translated by David Constable; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House (a Protestant publisher), 1983, 262-264; reproduction of Letters of John Calvin, vol. 1 [Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1858] )


For any progress to have taken place, both parties needed to be straightforward and honest with each other. Equivocation was not the route to success, because it would only backfire later, when the true nature of Protestant beliefs became apparent. Nor is total inflexibility. Both sides were inflexible, granted, but a major difference between the two is the fact that the Catholic beliefs had been held for many centuries, whereas the Protestant beliefs on things like the Eucharist were new and novel.

Along these lines, the Protestant historian Thomas Babington Macaulay wrote, in a remarkable passage in one of his Critical and Historical Essays:

The immediate effect of the Reformation in England was by no means favourable to political liberty. The authority which had been exercised by the Popes was transferred almost entire to the King. Two formidable powers which had often served to check each other were united in a single despot. If the system on which the founders of the Church of England acted could have been permanent, the Reformation would have been, in a political sense, the greatest curse that ever fell on our country. But that system carried within it the seeds of its own death. It was possible to transfer the name of Head of the Church from Clement to Henry; but it was impossible to transfer to the new establishment the veneration which the old establishment had inspired. Mankind had not broken one yoke in pieces only in order to put on another. The supremacy of the Bishop of Rome had been for ages considered as a fundamental principle of Christianity. It had for it everything that could make a prejudice deep and strong, venerable antiquity, high authority, general consent. It had been taught in the first lessons of the nurse. It was taken for granted in all the exhortations of the priest. To remove it was to break innumerable associations, and to give a great and perilous shock to the principles. Yet this prejudice, strong as it was, could not stand in the great day of the deliverance of the human reason. And it was not to be expected that the public mind, just after freeing itself by an unexampled effort, from a bondage which it had endured for ages, would patiently submit to a tyranny which could plead no ancient title. Rome had at least prescription on its side. But Protestant intolerance, despotism in an upstart sect, infallibility claimed by guides who acknowledged that they had passed the greater part of their lives in error, restraints imposed on the liberty of private judgment at the pleasure of rulers who could vindicate their own proceedings only by asserting the liberty of private judgment, these things could not long be borne. Those who had pulled down the crucifix could not long continue to persecute for the surplice. It required no great sagacity to perceive the inconsistency and dishonesty of men who, dissenting from almost all Christendom, would suffer none to dissent from themselves, who demanded freedom of conscience, yet refused to grant it, who execrated persecution, yet persecuted, who urged reason against the authority of one opponent, and authority against the reasons of another. Bonner acted at least in accordance with his own principles. Cranmer could vindicate himself from the charge of being a heretic only by arguments which made him out to be a murderer.

Thus the system on which the English Princes acted with respect to ecclesiastical affairs for some time after the Reformation was a system too obviously unreasonable to be lasting.

("John Hampden," December 1831)


In other words, it was far more objectionable for the Protestants to be totally dogmatic about their "new stuff" than for Catholics to be totally dogmatic about their "old stuff."

An Eloquent Statement Against Child-Killing

She looked into the camera and said, "I think it is just sad that we have to be here today." She was talking about being one of more than half a million people gathered in Washington in support of "abortion rights." Yes, I agreed: it is very sad. The march was called the "March for Women's Lives." Given that nearly half of those who lose their lives in the murder of unborn children are women, the title is tragically ironic. And the woman's statement, meant to say that we should be "beyond" the debate over abortion, reminded me of the description of those who become accustomed to evil in Isaiah 5:20, who call evil good and good evil.

You see, we live in a day when the humanity of the pre-born child is so clearly documented, so forcefully proven through our modern technology, that every possible excuse that could be offered has become absurd on its face. When I listen to the mindless rhetoric shoveled out by those who seek to defend this "right" I am forced to recognize again the truth that total depravity extends to the mind of mankind, so that "they became futile in their reasoning and their senseless hearts became darkened" (Romans 1:21). This is all that can possibly explain how we can have such compelling, convincing evidence of the humanity of the pre-born child and yet these image bearers seek to continue the holocaust of innocents with every fiber of their being, all the time fleeing in panic from any logical challenge to their tortured reasoning. Yes indeed, those who refuse love the truth will be caused to love a lie.

Oh God, save the little ones. Melt the hearts of stone of those who murder them. Grant repentance, we pray.
----------------------------------

Who wrote this? Dr. James White, on his blog; 4-27-04.
Good to agree on something once in a while . . .

Luther Was Not a Revolutionary?! Huh?!

Many Protestants have argued that Martin Luther never intended to start a "new religion" or denomination, or to split Christianity; in fact that he never intended to leave the Catholic Church. One can quibble about when and why he intended on starting a new version of Christianity, but the fact remains that he did. It is foolish to think that the Catholic Church was supposed to simply bow to Luther's novel ideas, rather than assert its own received Tradition and demand a retraction on his part.

Luther refused to retract his revolutionary opinions, so unless one thinks that any Christian communion is obliged to bend its doctrines and beliefs to the whims of one dissenting person, then there is a sense in which Luther "intended to start his own religion" (I myself wouldn't say it is a new religion, because it is still Christianity; I prefer the terminology of a revolt against the Catholic Church and the beginning of a new denomination or form of Christianity).

It is also said that Luther's case against indulgences was clear-cut and unambiguous: that the Catholic Church was in the wrong, through and through. There were indeed abuses, and the Church dealt strongly with them -- to that extent we might be grateful to Luther, I suppose. But he wasn't content to deal just with abuses -- as true Catholic reformers all through the centuries had done. He had to "throw the baby out with the bath water," and so rejected indulgences altogether, along with many other received doctrines too numerous to mention.

One Protestant who wrote to me stated: "the Church's marketing strategy was 'as the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.' " But this is untrue. This was neither a "marketing strategy" nor does this characterization present a totally accurate assessment of Johann Tetzel's actual views: the famous figure who often represents in the mind of the non-Catholic all that is excessive, foolish, and evil in the Catholic Tradition. Luther lied when he said of Tetzel in a 1541 pamphlet: "He sold grace for money at the highest price." Tetzel's teaching was erroneous in some respects, according to Catholic dogma. But it was not identical to the silly stereotype. What have most anti-Catholics, or even non-Catholics ever read about indulgences from a Catholic perspective? If they had read much at all, they would not repeat the tired slanders against both the Church and Tetzel. But such is the way of cultural mythology and fables -- passed down for generations.

Luther (not immune to slander when it suited his polemical purposes) wrote of Tetzel:

He wrote that an Indulgence is a reconciliation between God and man and takes effect even though a man performs no penance, and manifests neither contrition nor sorrow.


In point of fact, Tetzel's teaching, which we have in written form in his Vorlegung, states precisely the opposite:

The Indulgence remits only the pain [i.e., the penalty] of sins which have been repented of and confessed . . . No one merits an Indulgence unless he is in a truly contrite state.


He did indeed exaggerate the monetary aspect of the indulgence, but not according to Church teaching. Even the silly saying about the "coffer" cannot be traced to Tetzel with any certainty. He did teach a version of what the saying conveys, but it was -- again -- not the official teaching of the Church, as is often ignorantly and slanderously implied. The view was not supported by the Papal Bulls of Indulgence, and the pope had not taught this, as Luther falsely charged.

(Background Source: Luther, Hartmann Grisar, S.J., translated by E.M. Lamond, edited by Luigi Cappadelta, London: 1914-1915, 6 volumes; taken from vol. 1: 342-344)

As for the relative "case" and justifiability of the actions of Martin Luther and that of the Catholic Church, particularly between 31 October, 1517 (95 Theses) and 3 January 1521 (Luther's excommunication), one might do well to ponder the following facts:

By that time he had written at least three scathing denunciations of the Catholic Church (all in 1520). I shall comment on two of them:

The first is To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. In this work, he invited the German princes to take the reform of the Church into their own hands. He wrote:

When necessity demands it, and the pope is an offense to Christendom, the first man who is able should, as a true member of the whole body, do what he can to bring about a truly free council. No one can do this as well as the temporal authorities . . .

(in Three Treatises, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, revised edition, 1970, 23)


This is a complete rejection of traditional Catholic authority, and a direct attempt to set up a State Church, which in fact occurred after Lutheranism became established. It is quite questionable, to put it mildly, that secular princes can do a better job at Christianity than bishops and popes. In fact, Luther and his right-hand man Philip Melanchthon admitted many years later that the jurisdiction of bishops was superior to the jurisdiction of politically- and economically-motivated princes.

So the Catholic Church is supposed to merrily accept this, as if it is not fatal to its ongoing structure? Just bow to all of Luther's demands? Of course this is absurd. No institution can operate in such a ludicrous fashion. That would change the Church into a dictatorship -- much as many Protestant denominations and split-off cults in fact become. Popes never even dreamt of the power and self-granted infallibility that Luther claimed in his own created church.

In The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther called for the even more revolutionary notion of abolition of five of the seven Catholic sacraments, and the Sacrifice of the Mass. So, again, the Catholic Church was supposed to just go along with Luther's radical program of "reform," rather than excommunicate a son who was clearly obstinate and no longer a faithful Catholic? I would contend that the honest thing for Luther to have done would have been to leave the Catholic Church, since he no longer accepted its doctrines -- rather than create a spectacle and a schism that had repercussions we still live with today. Surely he must have known that the revolutionary rhetoric of his treatises of 1520 would have the effect they did. If not, then he had to be one of the most naive persons who ever lived.

Yet commonly Protestants tell us that Luther only wished to reform, not revolutionize the Church. This makes no sense, once all the historical facts are taken into account. To ditch dozens of beliefs and practices of any institution, and revise it almost entirely is
not reform, but rather transformation, evolution, or revolution. I have outlined above what Luther was calling for in 1520 -- before he was excommunicated. The Church had previously operated on the principle of preserving its Tradition, received in an unbroken line from the apostles. Neither the pope, Luther, nor any other self-anointed "reformer" is at liberty to change apostolic doctrine at their whim and fancy. Luther even approached biblical books cavalierly, thinking that they were legitimate or not based on his personal opinion alone, as I demonstrated -- from his own words -- in my paper on that topic (Luther vs. the Canon of the Bible).

How in the world anyone can maintain that Luther was not a heretic (in those areas where he diverged from Catholicism), by the criteria of Catholic dogma, is beyond me. Obviously, he is not by Lutheran criteria, but if one wishes to blame the Catholic Church for excommunicating him, then they must explain how his views were not heretical by Catholic standards. This simply cannot be done; it is impossible.

As for not wanting to start his own church, I think this desire is implicit in his radical rejection of the Catholic Church. After Luther asserted in 1520 that the temporal princes ought to overthrow the rule of bishops and popes, is it reasonable to maintain that Luther thought he would play no central role in such a "counter-church"? That makes less than no sense to me.

The standard Protestant party line (which I myself used to enthusiastically embrace) is that Luther's stance in support of Faith Alone and in opposition to indulgences was heroic and altogether necessary. But I say his position on these points was folly, because the former was based on a gross misunderstanding of Catholic soteriology (that it was somehow Pelagian and rejected not only Faith Alone, but also Grace Alone), and a novel exegesis of Scripture, which many Protestant scholars and exegetes have rejected. His polemic against indulgences was also based (arguably in large part) on misunderstanding, caricature, and slander, as I have partially demonstrated above.

Another constant theme we hear from Protestants about Luther is that he was "not perfect." Of course he wasn't (who is?). My point, however, about him has been that founders of Christian churches ought to be subjected to a higher standard than the rest of us (to vastly understate it), as the Bible teaches about Christian elders, etc. The fact that Luther had many glaring and serious faults (all freely acknowledged and discussed by Protestant historians) does not bode well for the truth of his claims against the Catholic Church, in my humble opinion. True reformers are pretty holy people. A St. Bernard, a St. Francis, a St. Catherine of Siena, or a St. Ignatius Loyola immediately come to mind.

It is said that Pope Leo X was just as imperfect. This may be granted by a Catholic. But he didn't deign to create a new sect of Christianity. His imperfections had few lasting repercussions. One might argue (I think falsely) that his intransigence caused Luther to be cast out, and that therefore he started the schism (or was more to blame for it than Luther was), but I think the facts of the matter show quite otherwise. Luther had already become a heretic (by the received criteria of what constituted heresy and departure from Catholic, apostolic Tradition) before he was excommunicated.

Every Christian group has a perfect right to determine who is faithful to its theology and doctrine and who is not. Therefore, the action of the Catholic Church in excommunicating Luther is not one whit any essentially different from the Dutch Reformed Calvinists determining that the Arminians were no longer "orthodox" by their standards and separating from them, in the Synod of Dort (1618-1619).

Among the decrees made was a sentencing of the prominent Dutch jurist and theologian, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) to life imprisonment (he escaped and settled in Paris in 1621. Louis XIII provided him with a pension, but he didn't convert to Catholicism). 200 Arminian clergy were deprived of their ordination privileges, and one J. van Oldenbarnevelt was "beheaded on a false charge of high treason."

(See: The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., edited by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1983, 421, 604)

How is this different in principle from Luther's excommunication (except that Luther was allowed to keep his head)? If the Catholic Church is deemed more (or solely) guilty of the Protestant-Catholic schism because of its supposed "intransigence and inflexibility and dogmatism," then why are the Dutch Calvinists not equally accused with regard to the Calvinist-Arminian schism?

Didn't they know that the Arminians possessed many truths that they were duty-bound to accept, in order to reform themselves and avoid a tragic schism? Don't they know it was all their fault, because of their 100-year process of corruption and dogmatic, self-righteous tyranny over the consciences of their subjects, and hardly at all the fault of the sincere, Bible-loving, freedom-loving Arminian "reformers" who dissented on things like God's predestination of sinners to hell apart from their free will and consent to reject God?

Erasmus on Luther & Protestantism, & Luther on Erasmus

Appendix Four of my book: Protestantism: Critical Reflections of an Ecumenical Catholic.

Desiderius Erasmus (c. 1469-1536), Greek scholar and Christian humanist, is widely regarded as the greatest man of letters and intellect of the 16th century. He was highly critical of corruption in the Church and was initially somewhat favorable to the Protestant cause, but soon (after 1521 or so) turned against it after he saw the direction it was going, and remained a lifelong Catholic. He engaged in a famous written debate with Luther on the issue of free will. These are some of his words about the early Protestants and Martin Luther himself:

Nothing was ever seen more licentious, and, withal, more seditious; nothing, in a word, less evangelical than these pretended evangelists. . . All is carried to extremes in this new Reformation. They root up what ought to be pruned; they set fire to the house in order to cleanse it. Morals are neglected; luxury, debauchery, adulteries, increase more than ever; there is no order, no discipline among them . . . I find more piety in one good Catholic bishop than in all these new evangelists.

(in Bishop James Bossuet, History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, 2 volumes, translated from the French, New York: D. & J. Sadler, 1885 [orig. 1688], vol. 1, 155-156)

What can be more ruinous than to let such words as the following come to the people's ears? -- 'The Pope is Antichrist; Bishops and priests are mere grubs; man-made laws are heretical; confession is pernicious; works, merits and endeavors are heretical words; there is no free will; everything happens by necessity' . . . I see, under the pretext of the Gospel, a new, bold, shameless and ungovernable race growing up -- in a word, such a one as will be unendurable to Luther himself.

(in John L. Stoddard, Rebuilding a Lost Faith, New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1922, 97)

The Reformation seems to have had no other purpose than to turn monks and nuns into bridegrooms and brides.

(In Stoddard, ibid., 92)

Luther has covered us and good learning with hatred. Everyone knows that the Church is overburdened with abuse of authority and ceremonies and man-made decrees for the purpose of gain. Many people are now wishing for a remedy, but often an imprudent attempt at a cure makes things worse. I wish that man had either been more moderate or else left things alone!

What a mass of hatred Luther is bringing down on good learning and Christendom!

(in Margaret Phillips, Erasmus and the Northern Renaissance, New York: Collier Books, 1965, 171. From the year 1521)

I greatly wonder, my dear Jonas, what god has stirred up the heart of Luther, in so far as he assails with such license of pen the Roman pontiff, all the universities, philosophy, and the mendicant orders . . .

Perhaps there were some who out of honest zeal favored calling the orders and princes of the Church to better things. But I do not know if they are those who under this pretext covet the wealth of the churchmen. I judge nothing to be more wicked and destructive of public tranquility than this . . . This certainly is a fine turn of affairs, if property is wickedly taken away from priests so that soldiers may make use of it in worse fashion; and the latter squander their own wealth, and sometimes that of others, so that no one benefits.

I do not even agree with those men, my dear Jonas, who say that Luther, provoked by the intoerable shamelessness of his adversaries, could not maintain a Christian moderation. Regardless of how others conduct themselves, he who had undertaken such a role ought to be faithful to himself and disregard all other matters. Finally, a way out should have been provided before he descended into that pit . . . We see the affair brought to that point that I reasonably see no good outcome, unless Christ through His own skill turn the rashness of these men into a public good . . .

How great a swarm of evils this foolhardiness now yields! And ill will greatly weighs down the study of letters as well as many good men who in the beginning were not particularly hostile to Luther, either because they hoped he would handle the matter differently or on account of the enemies they had in common . . .

And here, my dear Jonas, I have been forced at times to wish for evidence of the evangelical spirit when I saw Luther, but especially his supporters, strive with skill, as it were, to involve others in a hateful and dangerous affair.

. . . So far am I from ever having wished to be involved in a faction as dangerous as this! . . . Moreover, I am desperately afraid lest among the other nations this affair bring a great disgrace to our Germany, as the great mass of men are accustomed to impute the foolishness of a few to the entire nation.

What else has been accomplished, therefore I ask, by so many harsh little books, by so much foolish talk, by so many formidable threats, and by so much bombast . . . ? . . . Luther could have taught the evangelical philosophy with great profit to the Christian flock, he could have benefited the world by bringing forth books, if he had restrained from those things which could only end in disturbance.

. . . Above all, I am of the opinion that discord, ruinous for all, must be avoided. And that thus by what I might call a holy artfulness the needs of the time must be served, that by no means the treasury of the Gospel truth be betrayed, whence can come the reformation of corrupt public morals. Perhaps someone will ask whether I have another mind regarding Luther than I had formerly. No, indeed, I have the same mind. I have always wished that, with changes made of certain things which were displeasing to me, he discuss purely the Gospel philosophy, from which the morals of our age have departed, alas, too far. I have always preferred that he be corrected rather than suppressed. I desired him to carry on the work of Christ in such a way that the leaders of the Church either approved or certainly not disapproved . . .

(in Christian Humanism and the Reformation, [selections from Erasmus], edited and translated by John C. Olin, New York: Harper & Row, 1965, 152, 157-159, 161-163; Letter to Jodocus Jonas, from Louvain, May 10, 1521)

Wherever Lutheranism prevails, learning and liberal culture go to the ground.

(in Johannes Janssen, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 volumes, translated by A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910; orig. 1891, vol. 3, 355; Letter to Pirkheimer)

The study of tongues and the love of fine literature is everywhere growing cold. Luther has heaped insufferable odium on it.

(in Hartmann Grisar, Luther, tr. E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta, 6 volumes, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1917, vol. 6, 32)

All this laziness came in with the new Evangel.

(in Grisar, ibid., vol. 6, 32; regarding the downfall of the schools of Nuremburg)

When I admonished Zwingli in a friendly way he wrote back disdainfully:

What you know is of no use to us; what we know is not for you.


As if he had been caught up like Paul to the third heaven and learnt some mystery which was hidden to us earthly creatures!

(in Phillips, ibid., 195; Zwingli was a Protestant founder who had previously – like Luther – admired Erasmus)

Sound human reason teaches me that a man cannot honestly further the cause of God, who excites so great an uproar in the world, and finds delight in abuse and sarcasm, and cannot have enough of them. Such an amount of arrogance, as we have never seen surpassed, cannot possibly be without some folly, and such a boisterous individual is not at all in harmony with the apostolic spirit.

(in Stoddard, ibid., 97)

All good people lament and groan over the fatal schism with which you shake the world by your arrogant, unbridled and seditious spirit.

(in Archbishop Martin J. Spalding, The History of the Protestant Reformation, 2 volumes, Baltimore: John Murphy, 1876, vol. 1, 464)

I shall show everybody what a master you are in the art of misrepresentation, defamation, calumny and exaggeration . . . In your sly way you contrive to twist even what is absolutely true, whenever it is to your interest to do so. You know how to turn black into white and to make light out of darkness.

(in Grisar, ibid., vol. 4, 100-101. From Erasmus’ work Hyperaspistes, [1526], I, 9, col. 1043)

. . . The whole world knows your nature, according to which you have guided your pen against no one more bitterly and, what is more detestable, more maliciously than against me . . . The same admirable ferocity which you formerly used against Fisher and against Cochlaeus, who provoked it by reviling you, you now use against my book in spite of its courtesy. How do your dcurrilous charges that I am an atheist, an Epicurean, and a sceptic, help the argument? . . . It terribly pains me, as it must all good men, that your arrogant, insolent, rebellious nature has set the world in arms . . . You treat the Evangelic cause so as to confound together all things sacred and profane, as if it were your chief aim to prevent the tempest from ever becoming calm, while it is my greatest desire that it should die down . . .

(Letter from Erasmus at Basel to Martin Luther at Wittenberg, April 11, 1526; in Preserved Smith, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther, New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1911, 209)

It is part of my unhappy fate, that my old age has fallen on these evil times when quarrels and riots prevail everywhere.

(in Philip Schaff, The History of the Christian Church, Volume VII: History of Modern Christianity, Chapter IV, section 71, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910)

This new gospel is producing a new set of men so impudent, hypocritical, and abusive, such liars and sycophants, who agree neither with one another nor with anybody else, so universally offensive and seditious, such madmen and ranters, and in short so utterly distasteful to me that if I knew of any city in which I should be free from them, I would remove there at once.

(Ibid.)

By the bitterness of the Lutherans, and the stupidity of some who show more zeal than wisdom in their endeavors to heal the present disorders, things have been brought to such a pass, that I, for one, can see no issue but in the turning upside down of the whole world. What evil spirit can have sown this poisonous seed in human affairs? When I was at Cologne, I made every effort that Luther might have the glory of obedience and the Pope of clemency, and some of the sovereigns approved of this advice. But, lo and behold! the burning of the Decretals, the 'Babylonish Captivity,' those propositions of Luther, so much stronger than they need be, have made the evil, it seems, incurable ... . The only thing that remains to us, my dear Berus, is to pray that Christ, supreme in goodness and in power, may turn all to good; for he alone can do so.

(in Schaff, ibid., Chapter IV, section 72; letter to a friend in Basel, Louis Berus, dated Louvain, May 14, 1521)


An iconoclastic riot took place in Oecolampadius' Basle, Switzerland, on February 9, 1528. Erasmus was an eyewitness of this event, and described it in a letter to his friend Pirckheimer:

Not a statue has been left, in the churches . . . or in the monasteries; all the frescoes have been whitewashed over. Everything which would burn has been set on fire, everything else hacked into little pieces. Neither value nor artistry prevailed to save anything.

(in Phillips, ibid., 197)


One cannot help but be greatly disturbed by this vivid image of crazed mobs dashing through sublimely beautiful churches, with self-righteous fury, slashing to bits handcarved crucifixes representing our Lord's death on our behalf, on grounds that all such works of art were idolatrous. Erasmus, fearing that "the reign of the Pharisees will be followed by that of the pagans" (Phillips, ibid., 198), left Basle on April 13th, despite the pleas of his friend Oecolampadius. Blessedly, the later Protestants softened their hatred of art, and Martin Luther had always strongly opposed iconoclasm, and promoted art and music (hence the magnificent Bach was to emerge from the Lutheran milieu). Luther, of course, had plenty to say about Erasmus in return:

Erasmus of Rotterdam is the vilest miscreant that ever disgraced the earth . . . He is a very Caiaphas.

(Table-Talk, translated by William Hazlitt, Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society: n.d., #667, 350-351)

Shame upon thee, accursed wretch! . . . Whenever I pray, I pray a curse upon Erasmus.

(Ibid., #668, 351)

Erasmus was poisoned at Rome and at Venice with epicurean doctrines. He extols the Arians more highly than the Papists . . . he died like an epicurean, without any one comfort of God.

(Ibid., #675, 355)

This I do leave behind me as my will and testament . . . I hold Erasmus of Rotterdam to be Christ's most bitter enemy . . . the enemy to true religion, the open adversary of Christ, the complete and faithful picture and image of Epicurus and of Lucian.

(Ibid., #676, 355)

Erasmus writes nothing in which he does not show the impotence of his mind or rather the pains of the wounds he has received. I despise him, nor shall I honor the fellow by arguing with him any more . . . In future I shall only refer to him as some alien, rather condemning than refuting his ideas. He is a light-minded man, mocking all religion as his dear Lucian does, and serious about nothing but calumny and slander.

(Letter to Montanus About Erasmus, May 28, 1529; from Preserved Smith, ibid., 211)

I thank you, my excellent friend, that you give me so candidly your opinion on my book. I care not at all that the Papists are offended: I did not write on their account, for they are not worth my writing or speaking in Consideration of them any more. God has given them up to a reprobate mind; so that they even fight against that, which they know to be the truth.

My cause was heard at Augsburg, before the emperor Charles, and the whole world, and found to be irreprehensible, and to contain sound doctrine. Moreover, my Confession and Apology are made public, and set in the open light throughout the world. By these, I have answered an infinity of my adversaries' books, and all the lies of the Papists past, present and to come!

I have confessed Christ before this wicked and adulterous generation, and I doubt not but that He will also confess me before His Father, and the holy angels. My light is set on a candlestick! - Let him that seeth it, see it more clearly still; let him that is blind, be blinder still; let him that is just, be juster still; let him that is filthy, be filthier still; - their blood be upon themselves; - I am clean from their blood! I have declared to the unrighteous his unrighteousness, and he will not be converted; - let him therefore die in his sins; - I have saved my own soul! There is no need, therefore, that I should write, or care to write on their account, any farther.

. . . Your judgment of Erasmus I much admire: wherein you say plainly, that he has no other basis wherein to build his doctrine but the favour of men; and attribute to him, moreover, ignorance and malice. And if you could but convey this judgment of yours with conviction to the minds of men in general, you would in truth, like another stripling David, by this one blow, lay our boasting Goliath
prostrate, and at the same time, eradicate the whole of his sect. For what is more vain, more fallacious, in all things, than the applause of men, especially in things spiritual! For, as the Psalms testify, "There is no help in them:" again, "All men are liars."

. . . I at one time attributed to him a singular kind of inconsistency and vain-talking, for he seemed to treat on sacred and serious things with the greatest unconcern; and on the contrary, to pursue baubles, vanities, and things laughable and ridiculous with the utmost avidity; though an old man, and a theologian; and that, in an age, the most industrious and laborious. So that I really thought, that what I had heard many men of wisdom and gravity say, was true - that Erasmus was actually mad.

When I first wrote against his Diatribe, and was compelled to weigh his words, (as John says "try the Spirits,") being disgusted at his inconsiderateness in a subject of so much importance; in order that I might rouse up the cold and doltish disputer, I goaded him as if in a snoring sleep; calling him a disciple, at one time, of Epicurus, at another, of Lucian, and then again, declaring him to be of the opinion of the sceptics; supposing, that by these means he might, perhaps, be roused up to enter upon the subject with more feeling. But all was in vain. I only irritated the viper, . . .

. . . But the truth is, he hates all the doctrines together. Nay, there can be no doubt in the mind of a true believer, who has the Spirit in his nostrils, that his mind is alienated from, and utterly hates all religion together; and especially, the religion of Christ. Many proofs of this are scattered here and there . . .

. . . He published lately, among his other works, his Catechism, a production evidently of Satanic subtlety. For, with a purpose full of craft, he designs to take children and youths at the outset, and to infect them with his poisons, that they might not afterwards be eradicated from them; just as he himself, in Italy and at Rome, so sucked in his doctrines of sorcerers and of devils that now all remedy is too late . . .

. . . he does nothing but set before them those heresies and offences of opinions, by which the Church has been troubled from the beginning. So that in fact, he would make it appear, that there has been nothing certain in the Christian religion . . .

. . . I began to suspect him of being a plain Democritus or Epicurus, and a crafty derider of Christ: for he every where intimates to his fellow Epicureans, his hatred against Christ: though he does it in words so figurative and insidious, . . .

. . . This observation fixes in me a determination (let others do as they please) not to believe Erasmus, even if he should openly confess in plain words, - that Christ is God. But I would address to him that sophistical saying of Chrysippus, 'If you lie, you lie even when you speak the truth.'

. . . Our king of ambiguity, however, sits upon his ambiguous throne in security, and destroys us stupid Christians with a double destruction. First, it is his will, and it is a great pleasure to him, to offend us by his ambiguous words: and indeed he would not like it, if we stupid blocks were not offended. And next, when he sees that we are offended, and have run against his insidious figures of speech, and begin to exclaim against him, he then begins to triumph and rejoice that the desired prey has been caught in his snares. For now, having found an opportunity of displaying his rhetoric, he rushes upon us with all his powers and all his noise, tearing us, flogging us, crucifying us, and sending us farther than hell itself; saying, that we have understood his words calumniously, virulently, satanically; (using the worst terms he can find;) whereas, he never meant them to be so understood . . . . .

(Letter to Nikolaus von Amsdorf, Concerning Erasmus, from the web page of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Covenanted – no date for the letter indicated)


Protestant Church historian Philip Schaff paints quite a different picture of Erasmus, strikingly contradictory to that of Luther:

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) was the king among scholars in the early part of the sixteenth century. He combined native genius, classical and biblical learning, lively imagination, keen wit, and refined taste. He was the most cultivated man of his age, and the admired leader of scholastic Europe from Germany to Italy and Spain, from England to Hungary . . . No man before or since acquired such undisputed sovereignty in the republic of letters . . . Erasmus shines in the front rank of the humanists and forerunners of the Reformation, on the dividing line between the middle ages and modern times. His great mission was to revive the spirit of classical and Christian antiquity, and to make it a reforming power within the church. He cleared the way for a work of construction which required stronger hands than his . . . He did more than any of his contemporaries to prepare the church for the Reformation by the impulse he gave to classical, biblical, and patristic studies, and by his satirical exposures of ecclesiastical abuses and monastic ignorance and bigotry.

. . . Protestants should never forget the immense debt of gratitude which they owe to the first editor of the Greek Testament who enabled Luther and Tyndale to make their translations of the word of life from the original, and to lead men to the very fountain of all that is most valuable and permanent in the Reformation . . . His exegetical opinions still receive and deserve the attention of commentators. To him we owe also the first scholarly editions of the Fathers, especially of Jerome, with whom he was most in sympathy . . . he cannot be charged with apostasy or even with inconsistency. He never was a Protestant, and never meant to be one.

. . . Erasmus was, like most of the German and English humanists, a sincere and enlightened believer in Christianity, and differed in this respect from the frivolous and infidel humanists of France and Italy . . . He devoted his brilliant genius and classical lore to the service of religion. He revered the Bible as a divine revelation, and zealously promoted its study. He anticipated Luther in the supreme estimate of the word of God as the true source of theology and piety . . . He had a sharp eye to the abuses of the Church, and endeavored to reform them in a peaceful way. He wished to lead theology back from the unfruitful speculations and frivolous subtleties of scholasticism to Scriptural simplicity, and to promote an inward, spiritual piety. He keenly ridiculed the foolish and frivolous discussions of the schoolmen about formalities and quiddities, . . .

(Schaff, ibid., Chapter IV, section 71)


Schaff renders his own judgment as to the personal conflict between the two men:

Luther abandoned Erasmus, and abused him as the vainest creature in the world, as an enraged viper, a refined Epicurean, a modern Lucian, a scoffer, a disguised atheist, and enemy of all religion. We gladly return from this gross injustice to his earlier estimate, expressed in his letter to Erasmus as late as April, 1524:

The whole world must bear witness to your successful cultivation of that literature by which we arrive at a true understanding of the Scriptures; and this gift of God has been magnificently and wonderfully displayed in you, calling for our thanks.


(Schaff, ibid., Chapter IV, section 73)


Monday, April 26, 2004

Doubts About Protestant First Principles From a Protestant

Excerpts from various places on the traditional Anglican Pontifications blog (I link to it on my sidebar). Normally, I wouldn't post material like this, as this sort of painful examination of one's own position is a very personal and private thing, and I do my best to respect that. But since it is already "out there" in public on a blog, I am particularly interested in hearing other Protestants interacting with these observations. I'm always one to go right to the premises of a position, so I find this discussion very worthwhile.
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There is an inherent theological and ecclesiological flaw in Protestantism that makes it helpless in the face of neo-Gnostic modernity. My unoriginal diagnosis of our disease: the absence of magisterium–the absence of a true teaching office and the absence of an authoritative tradition. Consequently, Protestantism is unable to effectively defend Holy Scripture against idiosyncratic and hostile interpretations. Is it accidental to Protestant identity that Protestants find themselves incapable of dogmatically asserting the fullness of catholic faith? Is it sufficient to say that only if we would be true to our Reformation principles we would produce orthodox teaching and practice?

The best biblical theology of the past 100 years has always been written by Protestants. That doesn’t change the fact that we now find ourselves in a heretical denomination. And it’s not just ECUSA. The churches of the Reformation, arms locked together, are marching right into apostasy–that is the point. And it is this fact that cries out for explanation.

The real question is, What does it mean to be faithful to the Reformation? Whose Reformation? Are we talking about faithfulness to content, method, or the English monarch?

Bottomline: We are Protestants, just like the Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Church of the Brethren. Sola scriptura and private judgment. And our contemporary judgment always trumps the past.

Anglican theologians of course, have advanced and will continue to advance their individual, and often conflicting, theories about what it means to be the Anglican church, just as they have advanced and will continue to advance their theories on the nature of the Episcopal office. Dreamers dream dreams. But these theories do not constitute our ecclesial identity; they do not express reality. “Too much Anglican writing about bishops,” Sykes remarks, “is about the episcopacy of a church which does not exist.” The same thing can be said about most Anglican articles and books about what it means to be Anglican.

Is it possible for a Protestant denomination to invoke an authoritative tradition?

Both Orthodox and Catholics know they are the Church of the Apostles. They know they are the same Church that Christ founded. And they know that the Spirit has created a Holy Tradition that authoritatively governs their interpretation of Holy Scripture. It’s not a theory; it’s reality for them.

Was the Reformation a Blunder? Darn tootin’! Fifteen years ago I would have been shocked at such blasphemy. But now the answer seems obvious. I am certainly not suggesting that the European Church was not in drastic need of both theological and ecclesiastical reform. Everyone seems to agree on this. But was the corruption of such degree that it justified the breaking of the Western Church? (Yes, I know all about Tetzel’s bad stewardship program.) And did the Reformation actually provide the cure?

But surely, after almost five hundred years, we can look back and legitimately question whether the Reformation was the cure for what ailed the Church. Look at the thousands of sects that have since sprung up, each one justifying its existence by appeal to the Bible. Which Reformation confession or catechism are we going to subscribe to? Augsburg? Heidelberg? Dort? Westminster? The Articles of Religion? Or perhaps we’ll just align outselves with one of the nondenominational “Bible only” denominations. It’s cafeteria Christianity. And today the situation is even worse. The heirs of the Reformation, under the relentless attacks of modernity, have lost their grip on the essentials of Christian doctrine. So what is the Protestant solution to Protestant apostasy? Create another denomination, of course. Revolution and schism seems to be built into the Protestant DNA.

The Reformation formulation of justification by faith alone was a novelty in the history of the Christian theological tradition. Look far and wide and you will not find the pre-Reformation Church teaching “justification by faith alone.”

Like the other Fathers of the early Church, Augustine spoke of justification as a process, a process from a state of sin to a state of holiness. We can find some instances where the Fathers appear to talk about imputed righteousness and justification by faith (see Thomas Oden’s The Justification Reader); but on the whole one does not find even an incipient Lutheranism in the patristic period.

The liberating gospel of grace may have been lost for fifteen hundred years–golly, it sure got misplaced early on, didn’t it?–but Martin Luther finally unearthed the message of grace and salvation after centuries of corruption, irreligion, and idolatry. Just as Paul had to fight against the works-righteousness of second-Temple Judaism, so Luther fought against the pernicious Pharisaism of medieval Catholicism. But now non-Roman scholars like E. P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, Jacob Neusner, Krister Stendahl, and N. T. Wright, tell us that that this portrayal of Judaism is pure caricature, a projection into the first century of 16th century polemics. Moreoever, it looks like Saul of Tarsus did not suffer from episodic depression, a poor self-image, and bouts of self-hatred. His concern was the inclusion of the Gentiles into Israel apart from submission to Torah. With the advent of this new perspective we can no longer identify Luther’s understanding of justification with the understanding of the New Testament.

Luther & Melancthon’s interpretation of St Paul and their specific theological proposals were new! They broke with fifteen hundred years of exegetical and theological tradition. It was therefore wrong for them to insist upon their formulations to the point of fracturing the Church. Those who advance theological novelties should be a bit more humble and patient, don’t you think?

There is so much misunderstanding about justification by faith. If Protestants think that either Catholicism and Orthodoxy (at their best) teach that sinners may rely upon their works for final salvation, they are wrong. Both traditions embrace the sola gratia. Both teach the baptized to rely ultimately, not upon their own works and strivings, but upon the mercy and grace and love of God, freely given in the sacramental and ascetical life of the Church.





Brief Exposition on Mary Mediatrix

From: Q & A Forum #2:
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What level of delegation is involved by God to Mary? The image I am struggling with is that God, after the atonement, left Mary to "mind the store", in which case it almost seems uneccesary to do any prayer apart from asking for Mary's intercession. What is more comfortable for me is to view her as more of a passive channel.

The idea is not that Mary is involved in every single intercession (from us to God); we can pray as we choose: directly to God, or asking saints to intercede for us. Rather, it is that God chose her as the vessel to distribute His graces to mankind, and she always intercedes for us. To use an analogy, He is the lake; the water is His grace. Mary serves as the conduit to get the water / grace to us. We believe that this is how God designed it. He could do anything He wanted to do. We know from revelation that He likes to involve His creatures in the redemptive process. He became a Man after all. In the OT, we see Moses interceding to make "atonement" for the people. In the NT, we see Paul speaking of being "poured out as a sacrifice" for the sake of others. It's all over the Bible.

You are right to view Mary's mediation as relatively "passive." Her involvement does not in the least mean that God's involvement is LESS. This is the mistake in Protestant reasoning, so often. They see things in an "either/or" or "zero sum game" way, and create many false dichotomies, where if one thing is emphasized, something else must be lessened (whereas Catholics think in terms of "both/and"):

1. Mary helps distribute God's grace (even up to and including every instance of it).

2. Therefore, God must be doing less in the overall scheme of things than He does in the Protestant view, where Mary plays no role in grace at all.


This doesn't follow at all, not even logically. It is a fallacy. God still does it. He is the only source of grace. He's the sole cause. It is only for Him to give, because He is God; He's the one who forgives us and enables us to become more holy. He simply chooses to distribute it with Mary's participation. He chooses to involve men and women. He always does this. He gave us the Bible through men. He gave the Ten Commandments through Moses. The gospel was promulgated by the apostles. He gave His message to the Hebrews through the prophets, and announced the coming of Jesus and the New Covenant through John the Baptist. Jesus was born of Mary. He could have simply appeared as a 30-year-old man if He so chose (like the theophanies in the OT, where God appeared as a man). But God wanted to involve human beings! It shows how highly He loves and values us.

How you characterized it above, then, is not a very accurate description at all of how we view this. God is still in complete control. He gives all the grace, and it was Jesus' death on the Cross that makes salvation possible for us. Period. All Mary does is assist her Son in that process and God the Father. God does it, using Mary as a means of application. In no sense is He sitting back on His heavenly rocking chair (as the stereotype would have it; stroking His long white beard) and delegating this job to Mary as if that means He does nothing in that regard.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

The Epistemology of My Conversion / My (Protestant) Letter to Karl Keating in 1990 / How I Became an Apologist

Yours truly in October 1987: right in the middle of my evangelical campus missionary days, and never dreaming in a million years that I would ever be a Catholic.

From the Q & A #2 Thread. I have added significant new material: lengthy excerpts from a letter I wrote to Karl Keating in February 1990, when I was a Protestant and still eight months away from conversion. This is probably the primary written document I have, pertaining to my opinions of Catholicism, as I was just starting to seriously study it. It also strongly puts the lie to claims that I wasn't a "real" Protestant (James White) or that I never correctly understood sola Scriptura and perspicuity. I did in 1990 and earlier, and was citing Hodge and Calvin.

* * * * *

EL Hamilton (evangelical Protestant) is asking the questions (in blue):

I'd be interested in knowing what teaching(s) of Catholicism you found hardest to embrace during your conversion-study period.

Papal and conciliar infallibility.

I don't necessarily mean historical "scandals" ("this Pope was corrupt", or "the Crusades were too violent"), but actual dogmatic teachings.

That stuff was highly offensive to me as well. I wrote a letter to Karl Keating complaining about all that. Here are some excerpts from it. It was dated 25 February 1990, which was near the beginning of my serious study of Catholicism (initially purely out of curiosity). I had begun my ecumenical group discussions only the month before and this was before I changed my mind on contraception. This is the first time I have ever cited this since my conversion. It may provide some insights to people who wonder how I was thinking when I was a Protestant considering Catholicism:

I am an evangelical with growing and sincere respect for Roman Catholics, largely due to my increased communion with them by virtue of the Operation Rescue movement . . . I consider Catholicism as a fully Christian faith . . . I am, with you, disgusted and scandalized by works such as Boettner's and Jack Chick's and all such ilk, which, if any works deserve to be censored, certainly qualify in the highest degree.


I then proceeded to a lengthy exposition on my disagreement with Keating's constant use of the term "fundamentalist" on the grounds that it paints with too broad a brush, and wrongly included many ecumenical evangelical Protestants (like myself at that time) in its sweeping scope. I argued that this was setting up a straw man and was, though on a much lesser scale, what the anti-Catholics did to Catholics in their literature. I suggested that he use "evangelical" or "Protestant" instead. I wrote, "I'm concerned with being lumped in with people I have very little affinity with."

After that, I objected to a subtle insinuation Keating made, that Jehovah's Witnesses were a species of Protestant, and made an argument that if they were similar to any Christian groups, it was Catholicism. I concluded:

The idea of sola Scriptura and individual conscience and study would release thousands of JW's from their spiritual bondage to false and deceitful leaders. But if it's so clear that a JW should "check up" on the validity of his leaders by reading the Bible, why should this not be the case with Catholics?


I then strongly objected to an article by William Reichert, entitled "I will be where Peter is," in This Rock, January 1990 (in retrospect this was really hitting a nerve). I responded to two paragraphs which I described as "logically outrageous," "rather foolish," and guilty of "unfounded and illogical conclusions." I stated that Riechert "betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of what exactly perspicuity is." To show what it was, I cited Charles Hodge, backed up with two citations each from St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine. I wrote:

Therefore, differences over "minor" matters not necessary to salvation do not cast doubt on the concept of perspicuity by definition. Protestants are merely allowing freedom of diversity on matters such as church government, modes of baptism, views on the Lord's Supper, worship style and liturgy, etc. On central doctrines, we are indeed unified (God , Man, Salvation, Biblical Authority). So we have unity as Christians, at the same time allowing for differences of opinion on non-crucial items, and we all mutually-recognize one another as part of the Body of Christ -- something Catholics cannot comprehend because of their different view that the Church is equivalent to an ecclesiastical organization -- i.e., Roman Catholicism.

The falsity of that view is well dealt with by Calvin in Book IV of his Institutes. Although it is unfortunate that denominations (usually smaller ones) do split over much more trivial matters than those mentioned above (die to sin, to be sure, on someone's part), I still prefer this state of affairs to the purely formal "unity" Catholics have.

In theory, no diversity on doctrine is allowed, but in practice, you well know (and I'm familiar with enough Church History) that there is much dissension held privately -- notable examples today being widespread Catholic dissent concerning contraception, abortion, and even fornication, but particularly the first, because it is so summarily and disobediently broken. Likewise, theological liberalism looms large in Catholicism, despite this supposed "unity" you claim.

Human nature is everywhere the same, and there will be diversity of opinion, whether due to illogic, different perspectives, evil, conscience, or whatever. We recognize it and allow for its expression, within certain bounds, whereas you attempt to deny and suppress it, which only causes it to flourish and become rebellious in spirit (I see this in countless young former Catholics whose questions were ignored).

Further, it is true that many will differ due to ignorance (Hodge: "things hard to understand") or evil (Hodge: "all men need the guidance of the Holy Spirit"). These are not incredible assertions nor are they peculiar to Protestants, and they are quite consistent with perspicuity rightly understood, as opposed to the caricature of it by Reichert. The least one can do in "refuting" a position is to portray it accurately (another "straw man").

Catholics recognize the same two factors in their distinction between formal and material heresy, denoting evil and ignorant differences from catholic Dogma respectively. I can't resist mentioning in passing the case of Galileo, whose views which were condemned as heresy were neither ignorant nor evil -- far from either, whereas his accusers were obviously ignorant and arguably evil as well.

. . . for us, unity is not "a joke." For the invisible Church is a far more profound unity than a merely formal, artificial, organizational unity, as it is comprised of those truly in Christ, including those now with the Lord -- somewhat like your "communion of saints." You might say we value individual conscience and standing under God more than the unity you aspire to -- in fact, we regard separation from a group with which we cannot agree as a duty, not as a dreaded "schism" -- far preferable to the spectre of millions of Catholics refusing to honestly acknowledge that they are not "true" or "good" Catholics.

Lastly . . . I would like to see how you would respond to the material enclosed. Are you familiar with a book: The Infallibility of the Church, by George Salmon, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI (orig. 1888)? It is very good (from my perspective!). The photocopies are from a work very well-written and worthwhile (Salmon) -- it is not at all stylistically like Boettner. Salmon is an Anglican with much respect for Catholicism.

The fundamental disagreement between Catholics and Protestants is, I believe, the issue of Apostolic Succession, Tradition, and its corollary, Infallibility. Therefore, I've set out to show that Catholicism has in fact not been infallible historically, by means of clear logical contradictions and instances of undoubted heresy. If this is shown, then the whole edifice collapses, and you are on the same ground as we are. I think that such an utterly extraordinary and remarkable claim as Infallibility must be prepared to meet objections of example seemingly contradictory to that claim. Thus, out of motives of sincere inquiry and interest, I seek your assistance on that score. Thanks so much for your time.

With respect and sincerity,

Dave Armstrong

And did you resolve that opposition more by 1) convincing yourself that your objections were unfounded, or 2) just deciding to submit to the authority of the church even when you didn't understand it?

Both, but more so, the first. The first thing I changed my mind on was contraception, so that could be classified under "moral theology" or "the moral argument." But it also related to the history of dogma because I was shocked to discover that all Christians opposed contraception until 1930 (and Church history and doctrinal precedent were highly important to me. I had a strong "historical sense"). In my own developing moral theology (especially all the "sexual" issues whch are always controversial -- for some odd reason), I had arrived on my own at positions that were invariably held by the Catholic Church all along. I increasingly felt that "here was the place where someone (at last) got it all right -- the traditional Christian moral teachings are all firmly in place."

As for infallibility, I was studying all the "usual suspects": people like Hans Kung, Joseph Dollinger, and George Salmon (precisely as the anti-Catholics do today: people like William Webster and Jason Engwer and David T. King: those who concentrate on historical critiques). I even worked up a long paper of 95 Feces, containing difficult "problems" of Catholic history and alleged contradictions and so forth, to torment my Catholic friends with, in the discussion meetings I was having at my house. So I was behaving very much like the big bad (cynically chuckling) "Catholic-slayer" and gadfly, who brings up all the "embarrassing" facts of the scandalous history of the Beast (though I was never anti-Catholic, I hasten to add; just thoroughly Protestant, through and through).

Anyway, while I was doing that, I was also fair-minded enough (at first out of sheer curiosity; never thinking I would possibly convert) to read Catholic works, like Karl Adam's The Spirit of Catholicism, and Chesterton, and Thomas Howard, and Thomas Merton, and Alan Schreck's Catholic and Christian. And then I took to studying the Protestant Reformation from a Catholic perspective. I discovered that my hero, Martin Luther, was not this perfectly noble guy who was merely bringing the "gospel" back from darkness, etc., and that the actual facts of what happened during that volatile time were immensely more complex than I had been led to believe as a Protestant: hearing only one side all those years.

At length, I read Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, which brought about a paradigm shift in my thinking. he explained all the facts of doctrinal development in a way far more plausible than I had ever heard before. It was simply a brilliant historical and analogical argument, and I found myself unable to refute it. I was honest enough with myself to admit that I could not, and had to admit that this was a huge problem for me to resolve.

My conversion, then, was a combination af the cumulative effect of three different "strands" of evidences, all pointing in the same direction. This was perfectly consistent (epistemologically) with my apologetic outlook that I had developed over nine years: the idea of cumulative probability or what might be called "plausibility structures."

So I converted (apart from God's grace; I am talking specifically about my thought processes -- not denying God's role) because I was convinced on all three grounds. The Catholic arguments were better than the ones I had been setting forth previously. I was simply ignorant about early Protestant history (I accepted what might be called "the Protestant myth of origins" uncritically); I had come to agree on my own with Catholic moral teaching, and the historical arguments of Newman blew Salmon and Kung and all their ilk out of the water, revealing them to be mostly special pleaders or sophists with an axe to grind (which is the way I myself had been acting in my arguments about papal infallibility).

All this stuff led me to the notion that the Catholic Church had a unique status, and so I accepted its authority in faith. Of course, I hadn't answered every jot and tittle of the arguments I had myself produced (no one ever answers everything; it is unreasonable to think that they can), but I had seen more than enough to come to a place where I was more than rationally justified to accept the authority of the Catholic Church and to reject the Protestant rule of faith (private judgment and sola Scriptura).

So there is faith involved; of course, just as in any religious view. I keep saying: "Christianity is not philosophy." But at the same time, I was following the direction that my mind and thinking had led me. I would never adopt a view which was contrary to my reason or thinking. Since then, I have become always more convinced, as I keep defending the Catholic faith and observing how weak or nonexistent the opposing arguments are. I didn't, for example, do all the "biblical Catholicism" stuff I do now, before my conversion. I started that right after my conversion, in an attempt to justify my change of mind to my Protestant friends, and to strengthen my own newfound, fledgling faith. It is then that I learned how very strong the Catholic biblical "case" is.

The version of my conversion that goes into the above dynamics the most, would be:

How Newman Convinced me of the Apostolicity of the Catholic Church

Do you think one of those two approaches is better than the other, with respect to either Catholicism in particular or "mere Christian" apologetics in general?

I don't think we have to choose; consistent with my longterm apologetic outlook. One ought to always have a reasonable faith, supported by as much evidence as one can find (I thoroughly oppose fideism or "pietism" -- which attempt to remove reason from the equation). We accept in faith what appears most plausible and likely to be true from our reasoning and examination of competing hypotheses and worldviews. We are intellectually "duty-bound" to embrace the outlook that has been demonstrated (to our own satisfaction, anyway) to be superior to another competeing view.

Is that absolute proof? No, of course not. I think "absolute proof" in a strict, rigorous philosophical sense is unable to be obtained about virtually anything. But one accepts Catholicism in and with faith, based on interior witness of the Holy Spirit and outward witness of facts and reason and history; much like one accepts Christianity in general or how the early disciples accepted the Resurrection and the claims of Jesus.

For my general epistemological outlooks, see:

Catholic Apologetic Method, Epistemology, and Open-Mindedness

The Relationship Between Christianity and Philosophy (particularly regarding the interpretation of the Church Fathers)

Catholics and Reason: Reply to Certain Misrepresentations of Catholic Apologetics and Philosophy -- including excerpts from Newman's Grammar of Assent --

"Chronological Snobbery": History of Ideas, Socratic Philosophy, Christian Worldview, Scientists and God (Dave Armstrong and John Kress)


* * * * *

I have been doing apologetics since 1981 (initially influenced by C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and Walter Martin). I was a full-time campus missionary as a Protestant from 1985-1987 and then part-time till 1989. After I converted in late 1990 I kept writing, but had no intention to publish at first (I was writing strictly for my Protestant friends, then, in order to explain / defend my conversion). I happened to meet Fr. Peter Stravinskas in Steubenville at the Defending the Faith Conference in 1992, and gave him copies of some of my writings on Martin Luther. He liked them a lot, and so an article on Luther in his magazine, The Catholic Answer, in 1993, was my first published piece as a Catholic.

So I kept on writing and seeking publication. I got my conversion story in This Rock in late '93 and then in Surprised by Truth in 1994. The latter, of course, gave me much name exposure (though not one penny in royalties), as it has sold some 200,000 copies.

It is really the Internet that has made so much possible for me. The first, much larger draft of my first book (about 750 pages), A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, was completed in 1994. Fr. John A. Hardon, one of the most respected and orthodox catechists in America, whom I had met in 1990 and with whom I attended many "Ignatian Catechist" courses, recommended it and wrote a foreword. Of course that was a big boost and vote of confidence.

I went online in March 1996 and was active in the Compuserve Religion Forum (where I had the pleasure of meeting the winsome anti-Catholic, David T. King). I started posting excerpts from my book, and shorter articles there. In February 1997 I began my website, where a virtual explosion of writing was able to be promulgated. People like Scott Hahn and Marcus Grodi were saying nice things about my writing, which confirmed to me that I was doing the right thing. After that I just worked worked worked!

My first book (revised, shorter version) was done in May 1996 but was turned down by five publishers. One had actually accepted it (I had a signed contract and an advance), but then business problems set in and they never published it. So -- exasperated and absolutely disgusted with publishers -- I decided to do it myself with 1stBooks Library in October 2001. It sold well, so that eventually I convinced Sophia Institute Press to pick it up, in 2003. So basically it took me seven years to get published by a "real" publisher.

I lost my delivery job in December 2001 through no fault of my own (they went out of business), -- a month after my daughter was born --and so I decided to see if it was feasible for me to be a full-time apologist (which is all I had really wanted to do with my life, since 1981). I was getting good royalties from my book (perfect timing!) and received many donations when I announced what had happened on my website. So I have succeeded as a full-time apologist since then. I've also tried to network with virtually all the apologists I know of, by sending out my monthly updates, and keeping in touch, making links, meeting them at Steubenville and other conferences, etc.

I've gotten to the place where I am through endless hard work -- much of it without any remuneration at all -- (basically, I had to wait 20 years to really be able to devote myself totally to my calling in life), determination, and a spiritual assurance that this is my vocation. I have tried to simply do my writing and let whatever value it has speak for itself, with a bare minimum of "begging."

But I do need contributors badly, and I hope whoever reads this and whoever likes my work, or has been helped by it in some fashion, will prayerfully consider becoming a monthly supporter or one-time contributor, or buying one or more of my books. I have to feed my family, and the Bible says that "the laborer is worthy of his wage." By contributing, you help to make possible, conversions and a rejuvenated faith-life for many people (I know, because I get letters from folks saying how their lives have been changed, by God's grace, helped in some small way by this unworthy vessel). Thanks!


***

Reply to a Muslim on the Two Natures of Christ & the Incarnation

Full paper, on my website: Reply to a Muslim Apologist Concerning the Two Natures of Christ and Trinitarianism
(vs. Shabir Ally) (93K)

This is my first "official" dialogue or exchange with a Muslim on my website (one of the last major "frontiers" of my apologetic endeavors). The discussion is not so much about Islam, however, as it is about philosophical reasoning regarding the plausibility and possibility of trinitarianism and Chalcedonian Christology (Jesus has Two Natures: He is 100% God and 100% man: one Person Who has a Divine Nature and a Human Nature).

It is also a strong protest against the practice of heterodox, ultra-liberal "Christians" being utilized to bolster a case against orthodox, historic Christianity. In this respect, the Muslim apologetic or polemic against Christianity is quite similar to theologically liberal polemics against orthodox theology, and also to Jehovah's Witness methodology. What follows is a short excerpt; it serves as a good concise "capsule summary" of my overall argument. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.
-------------------------------------------

Now let us closely examine this assertion that the Incarnation and the Two Natures of Jesus (and by inevitable implication, the Holy Trinity also) are logically impossible, meaningless propositions. Upon close scrutiny, all these arguments utterly collapse, and it will be plain to see that they do, and why they do.

First of all, the most obvious difficulty has to do with God's omnipotence, which Muslims and Christians both accept. Now, the claim is that God could not become a man, because it is "logically impossible" (God and man being different and thus, unable to be merged in a single being). This involves a logical absurdity, seen in the following straightforward chain of reasoning:

1. God is omnipotent, meaning that He possesses all power and can do everything which is logically possible to do.

2. God created man out of nothing, as Creator (which is a function of His omnipotence and His nature as the Essential, Pure, Self-Existent, Self-Sufficient, Self-Subsisting, Infinite, Eternal Being).

3. Furthermore, we are told that man was created in God's image (Genesis 1:27).

[Muslims have traditionally believed that the Old Testament and especially the first five books, or Torah, is an inspired revelation. See: What Does the Qur'an Say About the Jewish and Christian Scriptures?, by Samuel Green]

4. And God, on several occasions, took on human form, according to the Old Testament (what are known as "Theophanies"):

GENESIS 18:1 And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day. (KJV; cf. 18:13,17,22)

GENESIS 32:24,30 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day . . . (30) And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. (cf. 35:9-15)

EXODUS 24:10 And they saw the God of Israel: and {there was} under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, . . .

ISAIAH 6:1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

EZEKIEL 43:6-7 And I heard {him} speaking unto me out of the house; and the man stood by me. (7) And he said unto me, Son of man, the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever, and my holy name, shall the house of Israel no more defile, . . .


5. God also appeared in the form of the "Angel of the Lord." An angel is a creation, not an eternal being, so if God appeared as an angel, He assumed a form and a nature (as in the Theophanies above) that is not intrinsically God; much like the Incarnation itself:

JUDGES 2:1 And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I . . . have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you.

JUDGES 6:12,14 And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord {is} with thee, thou mighty man of valour . . . (14) And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? (cf. 6:16,20-23)

ZECHARIAH 12:8 In that day shall the Lord defend the
inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David {shall be} as God, as the angel of the Lord before them.

(cf. Genesis 31:11-13; Exodus 3:2-6,14-16; Joshua 5:14-15)


6. What do these Theophanies suggest? The Bible described God as able to be "seen" in the above passages, and others (such as Genesis 17:1, 33:11, Numbers 12:7-8, Deuteronomy 34:10, Judges 13:22, and Isaiah 6:5). For those who deny the incarnation of Christ, Theophanies do show that the notion of God becoming a man is not altogether incomprehensible or impossible, but rather, downright plausible.

Theophanies might be considered precursors (along with verses such as Isaiah 9:6 and Micah 5:2) of the incarnation of the Messiah Jesus, the Son of God. Now how is it possible for the invisible God, Who is a Spirit, to be seen, and to have a body? Yet this is what we are told in the Old Testament. This is scarcely any different from the incarnation, yet Mr. Ally tells us that the latter is "logically impossible"!

7. How is it, then, that Mr. Ally believes that the incarnation cannot possibly happen, based on purely logical considerations? We start with an omnipotent God. He makes man in His image; He appears as a man; He appears as the angel of the Lord (and angels are not eternal, and they are creatures; so this -- like the Theophanies -- is a supposed "contradiction" since it opposes God's Nature). He can and does do all that, yet supposedly He can't become a man. This is what is logically absurd, not the incarnation, as seen in the following logical chain:

A. God has all power.

B. God appeared as a man, supposedly "contrary" to His nature as invisible, eternal, and a non-creature (which man is).

C. God appeared as an angel, supposedly "contrary" to His nature as invisible, eternal and a non-creature (which an angel is).

D. God created man in His own image.

E. But God cannot become a man. This is logically impossible.


Oh??!! How is it logically impossible for a Being with all power, Who appears as a man and an angel, and Who creates man in His own image, to become a man? By what ironclad, indisputable logic do we completely distinguish the concepts of appearing like a man or an angel in all outward aspects, and becoming an actual man? Certainly the two notions are quite close, and if one is actual, we cannot plausibly rule out the other concept as "impossible." We might be able to reasonably infer (apart from revelation and faith considerations) that it didn't happen in fact, but we can't reasonably infer that it is "logically impossible."

And that is because of the well-known maxim and prior widely-accepted axiom that "the stream can't rise above its source." If God can make a man, He can easily become one, without yielding up His divinity, which cannot by definition ever be given up. To say that He could not do so would be to say that a mere creature possesses attributes (existence in human form) that the Almighty God does not and cannot possess, and that is absurd.

Contingent and derivative creatures can never be greater than their own cause: the First Cause and Prime Mover and Creator of all: the Almighty God. If God switched from being God to being a mere man, that would be absurd, because of the immutability (unchangeability) of God. But if He takes on human nature in addition to His Divine Nature, which He always has, and cannot ever lose, it is no contradiction at all; it is simply part and parcel of
His omnipotence. The legitimate reasoning chain, therefore, works as follows:

A. God has all power.

B. God created man.

C. Man has the attribute of existence in human form.

D. Therefore, existence in human form is logically possible, because it exists and is manifestly apparent.

E. An omnipotent God can do all that is logically possible.

F. Existence in human form is logically possible (D).

G. Therefore, God can so exist as well (while simultaneously and necessarily remaining God), since He created the human form, and made the human form in His own image, and even assumed it in the Theophanies (and in angelic forms).

H. Otherwise, He is not omnipotent, for man would be able to do something (exist as a man) that the very Creator of man, Whose image man reflects, cannot do.

I. Omnipotence is central to the definition of God. Therefore, H must be false (granting the theistic nature of God), and G must be true.

J. Ergo, the Incarnation is not only not logically impossible; is quite plausible from reason alone, and an actuality, based on reason and revelation and historical argument.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Dialogue: Radical Catholic Reactionaries and the Dreadful Malady of the Mind and Scourge of an Optimistic Faith in God's Protection of His Church (vs. Mario Derksen)

Mario's  words will be in green.

I have a challenge for you guys. The reply could come back from the sisters that they are only being "ecumenical" by allowing the use of their facilities by Wiccans. . . . Add to this the fact that Pope John Paul II was publicly present with African and North American animists and Zoroastrians at a religious gathering in Assisi in 1986.
 
Here's the unfolding news on our coven of witches. We have sought to get the bishop to place the Franciscan Spirituality Center under interdict if they persist in hosting the Wiccan coven. But when I spoke to one of our most orthodox priests to get his support for that idea, he resisted it by bringing up the example of.....you guessed it, the Holy Father's hosting of pagans at Assisi, including his allowing them to use Catholic facilities for pagan ceremonies.
 
I told him that I believe that this is precisely why the Holy Father should not be involved in such things as the gathering at Assisi and that it is an example of ecumania rather than true ecumenism.
 
You asked for it! Are you sitting down? :-) I guess so, if you're at your computer . . .
I agree with you (based on what I know from your report) that what is going on in your area with the witches is weird and scandalous and disgraceful, for whoever is allowing it. I disagree (surprise!) that this is the equivalent of, or consistent with, or logically flows from, legitimate Catholic ecumenism or the Assisi meeting. Why I think that has been well laid-out in my papers on ecumenism; I need not reiterate it here (nor do I wish to). But I have more than enough to express in this letter nonetheless. In my last exchange with you guys I expressed what I feel are the glaring logical fallacies and extremities of a hostile opinion towards (real Catholic, Vatican II) ecumenism.
 
I don't think you guys "get it" with regard to ecumenism. You don't seem to make the necessary (elementary) distinctions, and you jumble things and ideas together that don't belong together (even though liberals and suchlike often join them, to the detriment of everybody - to that extent, you repeat their errors, though for much different - far superior - reasons and motivations). There are liberal lies about and distortions of ecumenism, and there are "traditionalist" lies about and distortions of ecumenism. The liberal "useful idiot" buffoons get more and more heterodox and wacko and New Age, and the radical Catholic reactionaries (RadCathRs) get more and more conspiratorial and exclusivistic; almost Pharisaical at times, in their strong tendencies towards absurd, short-sighted hyper-legalism.
 
Some RadCathRs I've seen (not you guys, I hasten to add) make the John Birchers look like flaming Leninists. LOL Many would have been Arians or Nestorians or Monophysites in the old days, I am quite convinced (or Old Catholics, with Dollinger in 1870): fighting the "liberal" innovations and corruptions of Nicaea and Ephesus and Chalcedon alike, which (so they would tell us) "threaten passed-down orthodoxy." Down with development! Down with new and fresh approaches from the same orthodox Catholic standpoint (e.g., St. Francis, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Therese of Lisieux, Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman, Pope John Paul II, etc.), in order to deal with and better reach modern man and the secular society we find ourselves in. Down with increased sophistication and nuance and a proper, orthodox sense of social and theological progressivism.
 
Such nay-saying is, I think, the equivalent of anti-intellectual Protestant fundamentalism, stuck (in their case) in the 1890s, unwilling to admit that there has been such a thing as the 20th century, or a Bible translation other than the King James.
 
St. Paul must have been a modernist and dreaded "ecumenist," too, I guess, when he sought to approach people differently, based on their place in the scheme of religions and ideas. "I have become all things to all men, that by all means I may save some." He paganized himself in the market square at Athens, referring to weird false gods and even pagan poets. What an indifferentist, he! Obviously compromised . . . clearly he would have kissed the Koran too. Tsk, tsk, tsk! Shame on him. How did he make it into the Bible anyway? Maybe the liberal Chalcedonians screwed around with the "real" Bible so Paul could get in . . . . . .
 
[don't make the mistake of thinking that my sarcasm does not have a deadly serious meaning underlying it. Some ideas require sarcasm to be refuted - pure, non-acerbic reason not having worked very well]
 
And then there is simply orthodox Catholic ecumenism, standing in that glorious position of the "middle" or the mainstream, which Chesterton refers to often (in different terms) in his book Orthodoxy.
 
Why is this so difficult to comprehend or to accept? You want to put the Holy Father out on the extreme fringes of ecumenism (in the wider, not always orthodox sense of the word)? Go ahead . . . I think it is nonsense (in fact, not because I am some sort of "papal slave," as those obedient to the pope are often falsely accused of being), and I think you make yourself look foolish in so doing.
 
I have always said that radical Catholic reactionaries of the common sort today exhibit a problem of faulty thinking, perhaps foremost, but also of a loss of supernatural faith (in the full Catholic sense). It blends (quite ironically and astonishingly) the Protestant principle of private judgment with the liberal principle of (arbitrary) pick-and-choose. I see both of you falling into these traps, to some extent, the more I read about what you believe. It is distressing. Do I have to observe the tragic spectacle of one or other of you going SSPX one of these days? I guess human nature is prone to separatism, disobedience, and the creation of conspiratorial theories.
 
Once a false idea takes hold in a group, it spreads like wildfire or cancer. This RadCathR stuff reminds me (sociologically) of my former days in the charismatic denomination Assemblies of God. Though it formally decried the "name-it-claim-it, hyper-faith, God always heals" heretical nonsense of Copeland, Hagin, Tilton et al (i.e., the fringe elements of pentecostalism), yet there were people everywhere to be found within A/G ranks who believed this claptrap, because it was tolerated and not severely rebuked. That led me to do a huge refutation of it way back in 1982, but I had little success with individuals, once they had "caught the disease" of the so-called prosperity gospel. It was never an intellectual process to begin with for these people, but an ear-tickling and narcissistic path, so Bible-quoting and reason was of little use.
 
I made a similar point when I critiqued the Remnant. I argued that technically the views expressed might be orthodox and non-schismatic, but when you come right down to it, the views were so close to schism and disobedience (and the pope and Vatican II railed against so incessantly), that in a very real practical (or what one might call a psychological) sense, there is virtually no difference. And this "ultra-conservative" mindset seems impervious to all reasoning and appeal to any Church teaching whatever (at least in my experience). In fighting so hard against the liberals (for which you have my highest commendations), you have, strangely enough, adopted a hybrid persona of liberal Catholic/fundamentalist Protestant/"orthodox Catholic" - having assimilated key ideas and premises from all three camps, yet not seemingly aware that you have done so.
 
There is an old saying: "scratch a Protestant and you get a Nestorian." I think there is a lot of truth to that. Well, now I suspect that if you scratch a RadCathR you may wind up with a closet-SSPXer (i.e., schismatic). The behavior of those in the Remnant subsequent to my critique spectacularly confirmed my thesis in that paper, I think. The quasi-schismatics either did cross the line or got dangerously close to it (e.g., the ISOCC video), while Stephen Hand started to see the writing on the wall and got out. I'm not saying at all that I caused all this with my paper (of course not! LOL). I'm just making a sociological observation that what I warned about indeed occurred (sociology was my major, after all, and I do manage to utilize a wee bit of it every now and then :-).
 
Anyway, that's how this stuff strikes me (in my analogical mind). None of this is intended to be personal at all. As always, I am strictly criticizing ideas and what I see as tendencies and trends of thought (which necessitates much generalizing and broad analysis), without ever implying obstinacy or lack of intelligence or bad motives or anything of the sort. I hope you guys know me well enough to know that. But you asked my opinion, and I have given it. :-)
 
You guys have been pretty silent on this. Anybody agree with me? Disagree with me?
 
Speaking for myself, that is because I am sick and tired of this so-called RadCathR debate. I was sick of it before I did the piece on the Remnant over a year ago. I only did that because it was sort of a "deal" I made with [Name; one of the correspondents]. I think it zaps energy, creates needless animosity, is one of Satan's clever schemes to divide the Church, and detracts from the truly important business of sharing the Gospel and the truth of the fullness of the Catholic Church with Protestants and infidels alike. And it takes people away from other far more important issues such as charity, social and pro-life activism, and family and devotional time.
 
Wish I'd shut up? ;o)
 
No, I would never tell anyone to do that (well, maybe Jesse Jackson), being the Socratic and passionate advocate of free speech that I am. :-) My wish for you is that you could straighten this out for yourself, stop being so "troubled" and attain to the trust and comfort that God is in control of His Church, warts and all, 100% sinners and all, and that the present Holy Father is one of the greatest popes in history. That's my wish for you two, and others of like mind. Pray for real problems, do all you can to resolve them, rebuke (real) hypocrisy as you wish, but please, stop being so "troubled." You ought to be at peace with yourself, your God, and the Church. If you wanted to continue worrying about everything, you could have stayed in man-centered Protestantism, where there is every reason to be concerned about any number of heterodoxies and morally relativistic beliefs.
 
I think that ultimately it is a matter of faith, and that RadCathRs - somewhere along the way - have lost some of this faith in indefectibility and ecclesiological infallibility and the Holy Spirit's guidance of Holy Mother Church in all times and places.


* * *

[exchange with a second RadCathR]

I much appreciate your cordiality, as always, if not several of your ideas. I will make a few replies, because - as you know - I try to avoid lengthy dialogues on this topic. I have more than enough on my site, and not much to add to them, at least at this point in my life. But this very letter is a case in point, for one of my gripes. If I wasn't doing this, I would be writing to a Lutheran friend who may convert. In my opinion, that endeavor would be far more important than this little debate. I'm tired tonight and don't know how much writing I will be able to get done. But here I am because you're so nice and I wanted to at least offer some response. :-)
 
I don't think that this was really [Name's] point. I think the real point was that, de facto, the Assisi event is USED to explain and justify such Wicca events within Catholic territory.

So what? People commit fallacies all the time. If I tried to refute all of those I would do nothing else (actually, I think I do do quite a bit of that, come to think of it LOL). But I was trying to get at the deeper, underlying assumptions, as is my custom and usual methodology.

OK, shift back a few gears concerning your word choices now.... :-)

Hey! I resemble that remark! (making my best Curly-face) LOL

The fact of the matter is that the traditionalist realizes that the perhaps intended ecumenism of a few orthodox Cardinals in the Vatican just isn't there. It's not practiced. You may point to this and that document pointing out that, doctrinally, the idea is orthodox, but DE FACTO, it just doesn't happen.

So ECT wasn't real? The Lutheran Agreements weren't real? Or the many agreements with the Orthodox? Or the siding with the Muslims at one of those feminist world conferences? I guess we really do live in two different worlds, my friend.

The Vatican may say something about religious liberty, and the world takes it to mean indifferentism.

Why should I care what the world thinks? They think a lot of false things. It matters not what the Church does. It will always be wrong in the world's eyes, either triumphalistic or touchy-feely inclusivistic (sometimes both simultanesouly, so we are told by our holier-than-thou secularist critics).

Sorry but I can't help putting these words now: BLAH BLAH. That "middle" ground may exist on paper, but not in the real world. It's just not there.

It certainly is. The center ground is orthodox Catholicism, which has always existed, and always will exist. My primary point was concerning orthodoxy, and if you claim that it has ceased, then you have accepted defectibility and are no better than an Anabaptist.
Who cares about Spong and McBrien? See, this is part of your problem. You are concerned about the buffoons, whereas anyone who has any sense of the perspective of history knows that their time has long passed, and that they are living fossils (just like the stubborn and persistent Marxism at American universities). You are trapped in your own time - the current zeitgeist -, like a fish in a dinky tank. This is why history is so important, among many other reasons. And Church history is more exciting than any other.

"clearly-schismatic Remnant"?? I think it's bold enough for Stephen Hand to claim it's schismatic, but now you're saying it's CLEARLY schismatic??

Yes; not that I am an expert, but from what I have seen, it is quite sufficient to convince me that they are schismatics, at least in spirit, if not in letter, per my reasoning all along. The spirit comes first. One has a spirit of lust before one commits the act of adultery. Adultery of the heart comes before adultery of the genitals. One has a spirit of division (Luther in 1517 / Lefebvre, Dollinger, Kung, Curran, and Matthew Fox) before one actually splits "in the real world" (Luther, 1521). This shouldn't be any sort of controversial observation on my part. But to one who is a canonical, liturgical, and conciliar hyper-legalist, I suppose it would seem that way.

(The SSPX, by the way, was allowed to say Mass on some of the side altars during the Jubilee Year---perhaps this is one of Rome's ecumenical favors).

Indeed it would be that. There is a place for prudence and diplomacy, in the attempt to win people back to the Faith and the Church.

Ah, there we go! That's precisely what I think about the so-called "middle ecumenism." Technically, it may be correct and praiseworthy, but it ain't there in practice.

So, according to you, all ecumenism (in reality, in practice) is wacko indifferentist, touchy-feely, liberal, modernist, relativism. Is that what you wish to contend?

Hold it right there, Dave. Let me show you what the problem is with your position here. We
cannot heal anyone else or convert anyone else before we haven't solved our own problems.

If that were true, then we would have done no evangelism for 2000 years, because there have always been problems in the Church, due to sin (not in its dogma). You're digging yourself deeper and deeper, my friend. This is utterly nonsensical. I'm really surprised you would make such a weak and pathetic argument as this.

By converting a Protestant to Catholic, you're doing a great thing, but it doesn't take long and he'll realize that there are tremendous problems in the Church, and if he realizes this soon enough, he may not even convert to Catholicism!

How, then, can it be that there has been a tremendous number of converts despite your Chicken Little scenarios about the current-day Church? Hmmmmmmmmmm????????????? Were all us converts dupes who should have stayed in the "conservative" denominations? I'm here in the Church because it taught against contraception, like all Christians did before 1930. How many Catholics disbelieve the teaching was absolutely irrelevant as to my decision to convert or not. The doctrine was correct. Same thing with divorce. Same thing with abortion. This is what attracted me to the Church, because moral laxity can be found anywhere (original sin). But true, traditional, unchanging Christian moral teaching is only found in one place.

That's what I had been seeking for, for ten years as a serious Christian. I found it, and here I am, and quite glad to be here, thank you, and not at all constantly "troubled" like you two seem to perpetually be. It must get very tiring. I've found the pearl of great price. You guys seem to want to prove that the pearl is really a jagged, stinky lump of coal, or worse (an almost-dead jellyfish, perhaps?). You won't succeed with me; I'll tell you that right now.

So we're supposed to stop making converts and devote ourselves to house-cleaning exclusively? Yeah, right. Where in the world do you find that in the Bible or in the Church's directives to laymen? My vocation is as an evangelist and apologist. By definition the former is to the non-Catholic, and the latter is primarily to be used as a method of clearing roadblocks to the Faith (though it is useful for bolstering the faith of Catholics also - but that, too, has nothing to do with most of the RadCathR critique). These offices and tasks don't cease because there are "problems" in the Church - as if that is some new thing that wasn't always there.

If the Protestant-turned-Catholic reads what we believe about the Eucharist, it won't take long for him to ask, "Wait a minute, why do you give it in the hand? And why doesn't Father take more care in handling the Body and Blood of Christ?" It is such things that, IF NOT WORKED OUT, will STOP people from converting.

Again, this was not at all true in my case, and I don't think I am all that un-representative of the average fairly-educated convert. We all know (and knew) that there are problems of liberalism in the Church! It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. Liberals (like the poor) will always be with us. But - again - only one Church has true doctrine in toto, true moral teaching, the most sublime spirituality, saints and miracles and all the rest, and the unbroken history to verify those. That is what brings converts in, because we are well-acquainted with the absolute chaos and anarchy in Protestantism.

So, in short, I think you conservatives are still living in a fancy wonderland of "everything's alright with the Church,

Doctrinally, yes. In practice, we never reach perfection, and will always fall short as a group. Whoever says "everything is alright" (which I have never done nor would ever dream of doing), is the one in a wonderland, not a realist so-called "conservative" such as myself. If I thought there were no problems how could I give you RadCathRs such a hard time, as one of the "problems" I would identify? Why would I have a page on modernism? Etc., etc. C'mon! You can do better than this. I believe the doctrines are very much "alright," and infallible.

and John Paul will be called 'the Great'

He will indeed, as (I believe history will record) the vanquisher of modernism, Communism, the culture of death, and unisexism, if not many more things.

and a new Springtime is ahead in the Church".......

Absolutely. This has always been the case in the next century after a terrible one, as Chesterton loves to point out ("the Church has gone to the dogs at least five times. In each case the dogs died"). The 20th has been the worst in history, by far. So the 21st century (if history teaches us anything) will be a time of one of the greatest revivals in the history of the Church. This is what the late Fr. John Hardon (flaming modernist that he was) believed. The pope believes it. So do I. If you want to sit around and moan and groan and cry in your beer and be a pessimist and a cynic and a doomsayer while revival breaks out all around you, go ahead. You won't take away my excitement when I start to see it. No way! In fact, I say that the seeds of the revival are all well-planted already. We will see the growth soon, no more than 20-40 years away at the latest, I would speculate.

unfortunately, the doctor who can't figure out what's wrong with the patient until he's almost dead will have a much harder time healing him.

If the Catholic Church were "almost dead," we would look a lot more like Anglicanism or even more far-gone denominations like the United Church of Christ. You want some profound deadness? Grow up in Methodism in the 60s as I did. Deader than a doornail (at least the church I attended). I don't think you have the slightest inkling of what real "near-spiritual death" looks like. Whole denominations which fully accept abortion and fornication and homosexuality. And you're most concerned about Catholic ecumenism???!!! Good heavens! What a waste of energy and emotion . . .

This is depressing . . . the only thing that cheers me up in such a discussion is pondering the revival that will almost certainly occur in this century. I used to think (as an evangelical dispensationalist enamored of pop prophecy) that the world would end in 10, 20 years. I'm glad that I take a much longer view of Church history now, rather than dwell in this sort of doom-and-gloom conspiratorial apocalypticism which is yet another hallmark of RadCathRism.



Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 21 January 2001. Revised (terminology) on 7 August 2013.


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