Saturday, August 07, 2004

Dialogue With Tim Gallant on Whether the Mass is Similar to Jeroboam's Idolatry

By Dave Armstrong (8-7-04)

Pastor Tim Gallant (Presbyterian), was responding to certain comments of mine in my post, "Reply to Pastor Steve Schlissel's Reflections on 'Romanism.'" His words (initially written in the thread, "What Thinkest Thou?" on the Reformed Catholicism blog) will be in blue

* * * * * 

If only the Hebrew prophets could have recognized that the really important thing about Jeroboam's calves was that he intended Yahweh to be worshipped through them, they clearly would never have objected. No, sorry, Dave, the issue in question is not "seeing into the heart of the worshipper." I suggest that the parallels of Scripture point to two things:

(1) Rome, like the northern kingdom, is in many fundamental respects, one people of God with Protestants; and

(2) Rome's worship needs serious reformation at a very fundamental level, and sharing in those aspects of worship peculiar to it (and I am thinking specifically of the idolatry issue here) would
be sinful -- just as the children of Judah were not to worship before Jeroboam's calves.

Of course, I will also add that (1) so does much of modern Protestantism's worship require some pretty radical reformation, as well; and (2) we all have a long way to go in terms of obeying the ninth commandment.

Hi Tim G.,

Again, you (as so many Protestants do) fundamentally misunderstand the crucial distinctions between Catholic eucharistic adoration and ancient idolatry and Baal-worship. You falsely portray the situation with Jeroboam, not even accurately representing what happened there. As a pastor who knows his Bible, you should know far better than this. As it is, a lowly Catholic has to correct you from the Bible. :-)

Ahijah spoke the word of the Lord concerning Jeroboam's sin:

. . . you have done evil above all that were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods, and molten images, provoking me to anger, and have cast me behind your back.

(1 Kings 14:9; RSV)


So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, "You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt." . . .

. . . and he offered sacrifices upon the altar; so he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made.

(1 Kings 12:28,32)

Note: this is not intending "Yahweh to be worshiped through" the graven images, as you claim, but rather (according to God Himself, Who knows all things) "other gods." Jeroboam himself refers to "gods": a rank polytheism and idolatry indeed. We know that he sacrificed to these stupid molten images. It couldn't be more clear than it is. Yet you represent it as his thinking that he was worshiping Yahweh.

Secondly, this is truly idolatry according to the Commandments, since another God is involved. Anti-Catholics may claim that Catholics are worshiping other gods in the Mass, but no documentation whatever can be produced for this spurious charge. It is produced simply because classic Calvinism is unbiblically iconoclastic, which runs blatantly contrary to the Tradition of ancient Catholicism and Nicaea II.

Thirdly, it was our Lord Jesus Himself who held up bread in His hands and said "this is My body" and told His disciples to do the same in memory of Him. If we merely follow His model for worship, how in the world is that "idolatry", let alone worship of other gods??!! Granted, folks interpret the Eucharist differently, but even Luther held to Real Presence, and Calvin in some sense, too. So how can the adoption of transubstantiation somehow move Catholics into the realm of outright idolatry and "Baal-worship"?

Fourth, if Jesus is "really present" then He ought to be "really worshiped"! If He isn't "really present," then He cannot be worshiped as "really present"! This is not rocket science. But some Protestants want to have it both ways: a "real presence" without a "real worship" which is appropriate if our Lord Jesus is really there. It is a ludicrous contention from beginning to end.

Fifth, if any use of any representation whatsoever of God is to be condemned as idolatrous, then Jesus was an idolater, since He said of ostensible bread, "this is my body." That being absurd, the position collapses in a reductio ad absurdum.

Sixth, all these high places and shrines and altars set up in places other than at the Temple were condemned by God and the Law. So they were in violation of clear divine commandments and will, in addition to being idolatrous already (again, quite different from the celebration of the Eucharist that Jesus commanded as the central act of Christian worship).

The New Bible Dictionary (edited by J.D. Douglas, 1962), in its article on Jeroboam, noted:

They threatened true religion by encouraging a syncretism of Yahweh worship with the fertility cult of Baal and thus drew a prophetic rebuke.

(p. 614)
Likewise, in its article on "Idolatry":
[I]t is a most significant thing that when Israel turned to idolatry it was always necessary to borrow the outward trappings from the pagan environment . . . The golden calves made by Jeroboam (1 Ki 12:28) were well-known Canaanite symbols, and in the same way, whenever the kings of Israel and Judah lapsed into idolatry, it was by means of borrowing and syncretism.

(p. 552)

I rest my case. See my similar paper, "Is the Mass Equivalent to Golden Calf Worship?"

Baal worship?

Well, yes, at least partially, according to the New Bible Dictionary, which is not exactly an organ of Catholic propaganda. Commentators and ancient near east scholars think it is a mixed bag. You don't accept the reasoning of this reputable Protestant scholarly source, so I will give you another one: The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, revised edition, edited by Allen C. Myers, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987 (from Bibjbelse Encyclopedie, Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1975, edited by W.H. Gispen et al), "Jeroboam," p. 568:

. . . Jeroboam erected golden calves at Bethel and Dan for Israel's worship ([1 Ki] 12:26-30); although not meant as idols but as pedestals for Yahweh, the calves were soon enmeshed in a syncretistic blend with Baalism, the symbol of which was the bull (cf. Hos. 8:5-6; 13:2; see GOLDEN CALF).

The "pedestals for Yahweh" theme was also mentioned in the New Bible Dictionary, citing the celebrated biblical archaeologist William F. Albright. Moving over to the other article referenced, we find:

The text [i.e., regarding Aaron and the Golden Calf] does not state whether the intent was to make an image of Yahweh . . . The people proclaimed it to be the god who brought Israel out of Egypt (cf. Neh. 9:18; Ps. 106:19-23) . . .

During the divided monarchy Jeroboam I of Israel (ca. 922-901 B.C.) placed a calf in each of the traditional sanctuaries of Dan and Bethel (1 Kgs. 12:26-33) as part of the plan to legitimize his rule. While he may actually have intended to foster worship of Yahweh, Jeroboam's actions were denounced as pagan (v. 30; 2 Kgs. 10:29; 17:16; 2 Chr. 13:8 . . . The calf worship mentioned in the mid-eighth century oracles of the prophet Hosea (Hos. 8:5-6; 10:5-6; 13:2) may allude to these or similar abuses or may refer more generally to increased syncretism in Israelite religion.

(p. 430)

Albright, in his discussion of the bulls of Jeroboam (referenced above), noted:

So Jeroboam may well have been harking back to early Israelite traditional practice when he made the "golden calves." It is hardly necessary to point out that it was a dangerous revival, since the taurine associations of Baal, lord of heaven, were too closely bound up with the fertility cult in its more insidious aspects to be safe. The cherubim, being mythical animals, served to enhance the majesty of Yahweh, "who rides on a cherub" (II Sam. 22:11) or "who thrones on the cherubim" (II Kings 19:15, etc.), but the young bulls of Bethel and Dan could only debase His cult.

(From the Stone Age to Christianity, 2nd edition, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1957, 301)

Thus, ironically, in helping to establish your point that it was indeed Yahweh who was consciously being worshiped through images (albeit those closely associated with pagan and heathen idolatry), it is shown that the notion of images "under" God as a pedestal is orthodox and biblical and not contrary to monotheism, for this was the imagery of the temple and the ark of the covenant (the cherubim in proximity to the invisible one and only God, Who is a Spirit). Therefore, it is not image per se which is expressly forbidden, but graven images, which is a sub-class and a particular forbidden manifestation. The Golden Calves and bulls were graven images and idols precisely because they were associated with pagan polytheistic and idolatrous belief-systems, even though they may have been regarded as "pedestals" by some or many. The cherubim of the Temple and the ark, on the other hand, were not so associated, and in fact, were commanded by God.

The brilliant biblical scholar F.F. Bruce draws a similar comparison and contrast (I found this after I wrote the above analysis):

. . . golden images of bull-calves were installed, to serve as the visible pedestal for the invisible throne of Yahweh. This . . . represented a dangerous assimilation to Canaanite religious practice (although among the Canaanites a visible representation of the divinity was supported by the animal).

It may be asked whether there was any difference in principle between the use of bull-calf images to support Yahweh's invisible presence and the use of cherubs for the same purpose in the holy of holies at Jerusalem. The answer probably is that the cherubs were symbolical beings (representing originally the storm-winds) and their images were therefore not "any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" [note: Ex. 20:4; Deut. 5:8], whereas the bull-calf images were all too closely associated with Canaanite fertility ritual. It appears from the ritual texts of Ugarit that El, the supreme God of the Canaanite pantheon, was on occasion actually hypostatized as a bull (shor), and known as

(Israel and the Nations, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963; reprinted 1981, 40-41)

So in the act of condemning Jeroboam's idolatry, we mustn't go too far and condemn all images. This is neither biblical nor the teaching of historic Christianity (Council of II Nicaea in 787). To condemn all such imagery whatsoever would be to eliminate orthodox, divinely-revealed Temple symbology and worship. That proves too much; therefore, this so-called "Reformed" argument collapses even before we get to illogical and absurdly forced comparisons of any of this to the Catholic Mass. It equates any image with graven images. The latter are forbidden in the Commandments, not the first. Jeroboam's imagery and practices were expressly forbidden by God; the Eucharist and the Real Presence were expressly instigated and demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Himself and reiterated in strong terms by the Apostle Paul.

You're the one not making necessary distinctions. I suggest you re-read the narrative of Kings a lot more closely. Jeroboam's "sin" is treated in radically different fashion from Baalism.

Well, sure, there can be differences in degree and nature of sin and disobedience, but that doesn't affect my overall argument, that I have carefully constructed, using all non-Catholic scholarly sources, as is my usual custom. What you neglect to see, however, is the association with Baalism. All the scholars above believe this, but you do not, for some reason. Why do they mention Baal at all if there is no connection at all here?

Joseph P. Free, in his Archaeology and Bible History (Wheaton, IL: Scripture Press Publications, revised edition of 1969, 180-181) is inclined to take an even more negative view towards Jeroboam's idols:

The archaeological discoveries in Egypt, however, show the presence of bovine worship there. The sacred bull was an object of worship in Egypt, its tomb being found at Memphis during the last century. The sacred cow was the symbol of the goddess Hathor. In the light of this evidence, it is more likely that Jeroboam became acquainted with bovine worship when he fled to Egypt while Solomon was yet alive (1 Kings 11:40, 12:2), and upon his return to Palestine introduced the worship of that which he had observed in Egypt. The German Egyptologist, Steindorff, as well as the American Old Testament scholar, George L. Robinson, both reflect what we believe to be the correct view, that is, that Jeroboam was inclined toward setting up bovine worship from what he observed in Egypt.

I am more inclined to agree with Albright's and Bruce's and the Bible Dictionaries' explanation myself. I find them to be more plausible, knowing what relatively little I do about the subject.

"Elohim" is plural in form, and thus can be translated either "God" or "gods." Yes, God does treat this as idolatry, because He does not acknowledge that He is worshipped through this. So no surprise that He says that Jeroboam has gone after "other gods." But Jeroboam's own statement that these calves have to do with the Elohim who brought Israel up from Egypt makes it very clear that in his mind, he has not changed gods.

I agree, yet there are associations with pagan polytheism and idolatry that cannot be gotten over.

It is clear that the plural verb is at most dependent upon the fact that he has two calves, not two gods (otherwise, he would have two calves in each place of worship, rather than one); more likely, it is simply due to the plural construction of Elohim, since the plural is also used in Ex 32, and it is clear that Aaron made only one calf. Jeroboam and all his people knew that it was Yahweh who brought Israel out of Egypt, and indeed he himself knew that it was a prophet of Yahweh who promised the kingdom to him. His employment of the calves was explicitly a cultic-political move (see 1 Kg 12.27), not a self-conscious exchange of deities.

As shown above, I agree in part, but you still have to adequately explain the two passages above that I cited. God Himself stated that Jeroboam made "other gods" (1 Kings 14:9). Why didn't God simply say something like, "you have made images of Me that I do not allow"? What more is needed? If God reveals in Holy Scripture and directly to the person involved that he has made "other gods," then isn't that sufficient? Sure, there are complexities here, but we shouldn't overlook the basic data that we have.

Furthermore, we are informed that he was "sacrificing to the calves that he had made" (1 Ki 12:32). Why doesn't the text say, "sacrificing to Yahweh through the images of Yahweh that he had made"?

Furthermore, on your explanation, it is inexplicable why God treats Baalism in a radically different fashion from Jeroboam's sin. Ahab does "more evil than all before him" - why? because he explicitly adopts another god, Baal. Meanwhile, on your view, Jehu slaughters all the priests of Baal (on Yahweh's orders) and then self-consciously worships gods other than Yahweh, since he maintains the system of worship of Jeroboam (2 Kg 10.28ff). Frankly, I find that very hard to believe. Your handling of the passages has an initial plausibility but simply will not stand up.

But I made no such argument. I know you think this reductio follows from my argument, but it does not, necessarily. Sinful practices develop over time and get worse. Jeroboam's worship was syncretistic, whereas Ahab took it to the next level. So his sin was worse. But that doesn't get Jeroboam off the hook. Nor does any of this prove that the Mass is an instance of the same sort of idolatry: whether pure and gross, or syncretistic. I've backed myself up with scholars (and some of the very best at that). You have simply given your own opinion. It is, I'm sure, based on scholarly interpretations at some point, too, but I don't know what those might be unless and until you present to me the documentation.

The Jeroboam issue (and likely Aaron's calf, as well) has to do with the false worship of the true God. In Deut 12.29ff, God says that Israel is not only not to follow the gods of the Canaanites, but they are not to worship Yahweh in the way the Canaanites worship their gods (Dt 12.31). That is the point at issue with Jeroboam, and because it is so, He does not account Jeroboam's worship as true worship.

I agree again, but there are other factors to consider (that you neglect), as recounted above.

Yes, He calls them other gods - for much the same reason that Protestants have historically identified Roman Catholic worship as idolatrous. Most of us are well aware that RC self-understanding is not that you conceive yourselves as worshipping other gods. The issue (on Protestant and E.O. division of the commandments) is 2nd commandment, not 1st commandment.

The issue is also the nature of idolatry, correctly understood, and what is forvidden by God in terms of images (i.e., what is a graven image). I think I have made a bit of a deeper analysis than you have, here.

As for "this is My body," I'm sure you know that the arguments against your position are much better than you present.

I've dealt with those at length elsewhere. I cannot adequately get into that in this context, as it is ultimately a separate issue.

None of the disciples worshipped the bread.

Of course not; nor do any Catholics. That is not at issue. We are worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ.

It would have been unthinkable for them to suppose that the substance of Jesus' body had moved from the Person speaking to them to the bread that He was holding in His hand. No Jew on earth would have misunderstood what He said, and that is why we [have] no biblical record of worship of the elements.

We do not contend that they could or should have understood everything at that extraordinary moment. But this was merely one of many very difficult things they had to understand -- only made possible by the help of the Holy Spirit (including the Resurrection itself, which no one shows any indication of comprehending, until after it happened, despite repeated predictions from Jesus).

As for "worship of the elements" in Scripture (or what we would call eucharistic adoration), there is indeed explicit biblical warrant, from St. Paul:

1 Corinthians 10:16 (RSV) The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

(Read 10:14-22 for the context)

1 Corinthians 11: 27-30 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

(Read 11:23-26 for the context)

James Cardinal Gibbons comments on these passages:

Could St. Paul express more clearly his belief in the Real Presence than he has done here? . . . He who receives a Sacrament unworthily shall be guilty of the sin of high treason, and of shedding the blood of his Lord in vain. But how could he be guilty of a crime so enormous if he had taken in the Eucharist only a particle of bread and wine? Would a man be accused of homicide . . . if he were to offer violence to the statue or painting of the governor? Certainly not. In like manner, St. Paul would not . . . declare a man guilty of trampling on the blood of his Savior by drinking in an unworthy manner a little wine in memory of him.

(The Faith of Our Fathers, New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, rev. ed., 1917, 242-243)
Martin Luther explains the Real Presence very well, yet fails to realize that if Jesus is really present, then it follows straightforwardly that He can be really worshiped. It's not rocket science. If He is truly there, he can be worshiped, just as He was when He walked the earth as a man. And that is all there is to eucharistic adoration. But be that as it may, Luther is brilliant, as far as he is willing to go, regarding this topic:

[T]his word of Luke and Paul is clearer than sunlight and more overpowering than thunder. First, no one can deny that he speaks of the cup, since he says, “This is the cup.” Secondly, he calls it the cup of the new testament. This is overwhelming, for it could not be a new testament by means and on account of wine alone.

(Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525; LW, 40, 217)

He thinks one does not see that out of the word of Christ he makes a pure commandment and law which accomplishes nothing more than to tell and bid us to remember and acknowledge him. Furthermore, he makes this acknowledgment nothing else than a work that we do, while we receive nothing else than bread and wine.

(Ibid., LW, 40, 206)

Commenting on 1 Corinthians 10:16. Luther writes, forcefully:

. . . The bread which is broken or distributed piece by piece is the participation in the body of Christ. It is, it is, it is, he says, the participation in the body of Christ. Wherein does the participation in the body of Christ consist? It cannot be anything else than that as each takes a part of the broken bread he takes therewith the body of Christ . . .

(Ibid.; LW, 40, 178)

Finally, St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, in an explicitly eucharistic passage, uses language suggesting that he sees the Eucharist as a sacrifice involving an altar (hence priesthood, hence the Sacrifice of the Mass): He mentions the "altar" of the Old Covenant in 10:18 and makes a direct analogy with the altar of the New Covenant in 10:21:

You cannot drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
In my opinion, all of this suggests explicit New Testament reference to eucharistic adoration, because that notion cannot be separated from Real (or, Substantial) Presence, which is clearly taught in the New Testament.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Dialogue With Dr. Paul Owen on John Calvin's Anti-Catholicism

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

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

* * * * * 

Hi Paul,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following points summarize that context. 

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

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

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

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

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

(IV, 2, 9)

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

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

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

Likewise, Calvin wrote about the Sacrifice of the Mass:

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

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

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

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

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

And from the Institutes:

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

(IV, 2, 9)

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

(IV, 18, 18)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luther stated in a letter to Melanchthon August 26:

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

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

Luther prepared the final Protestant answer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep these FACTS in mind 

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

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

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

* * * * * 

Hi Paul,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But you have to distinguish schism from protest and reform.

I just did. :-)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

you are acting like a prosecuting attorney.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mean, which of the points do you contest?

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

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

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

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

No, as well they should have been.

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

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

Do you deny that Protestants were getting martyred?

No, Do you deny that Catholics were, too?

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

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

Do you deny that Calvin signed the Augsburg Confession?

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

Do you deny that it had a conciliatory intent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are a purely human invention . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for your input. I appreciate it.

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

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

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

Who thought that you were doing so? Not I!

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Reply to Pastor Steve Schlissel's Reflections on "Romanism"

By Dave Armstrong (8-4-04)

See his article: "What Thinkest Thou?" I initially replied:

Pastor Schlissel might do even better in his ecumenical maturation process if he would drop the antiquated and baggage-laden terms "Romanism" and "Romanists" (much beloved of anti-Catholics; all we need is "Romish" too) Even James White can agree to that much.

I know it is too much to ask to refer to us as simply "Catholics," but the Anglican-originated "Roman Catholic" would be acceptable (even though it excludes those members of the Catholic Church in 21 or so non-Latin rites; aka Eastern Catholics).

Why the unneccesary annoyance of terminology, in an effort to build bridges? Or is it just remnants of a previous anti-Catholicism undergoing a change for the better?

The last time I saw someone use "Romish" when he knew better, I immediately wrote and asked if I could use the descriptives "Genevish" or "Wittenbergish." The point was readily, graciously acknowledged, and he (a Presbyterian pastor) issued a disclaimer. :-)

My friend Kevin Johnson asked me to reply in full. Here is his comment:

I agree Dave that we don't always use the right vocabulary but I would love to hear your actual thoughts on the substance of Pastor Schlissel's article. I would think it would be very encouraging on your side to see much of what Pastor Schlissel is saying become more popular in the Reformed world even though he and others might retain some sort of cultural affinity towards their forefathers in regards to issues like terminology. But I am very interested in your thoughts regarding the actual substance of what Pastor Schlissel said in his article.

And so I did (Steve's words will be in blue):

* * * * * 

Okay, Kevin; thanks for asking. Here goes:

[omitting things I have no comment on one way or the other]

Speaking personally, my attitude has undergone major changes over the last 25 years. Speaking plainly, I’m still confused, sometimes changing my attitude day to day. For example, since coming to serve at the hospital I’ve become reacquainted with some of the worst Rome has to offer. My office is connected to the chapel which serves both Catholic and Protestant populations at Coney. While plans are (gratefully) underway to make physical alterations and improvements to this shared set-up, for now the statues upon which so many Romanists depend stand in plain view. And observation confirms that the behavior of many of Rome’s children cannot be properly described without use of the word “idolatrous.”

This is the same old ludicrous charge of automatic idolatry, simply based on the presence of a statue. I think you (Kevin) might agree with me that idolatry is determined in the end by the state and condition of one's heart and intent in worship, not by religious images as a supposed universal violation of one of the Ten Commandments. But hey, this is the original predominant Calvinist position (iconoclasm), so Pastor Schlissel can claim to be in the "mainstream" on this one.

I have seen the See of Rome’s subjects enter quickly into the chapel, apply the so-called “holy water,” hasten over to their favorite idol (most often Mary),

Again, how does he know it is an "idol" without the power to see into one's heart and know what is going on in their heart, mind, and soul at that moment? I am amazed at the haughty presumption here; it's breathtaking (but I know from whence it is derived).

. . . kneel before it, utter adoration of some kind,

How does he know it is "adoration," for heaven's sake?

then scurry out, utterly convinced that they have just rendered some sort of service before God which He finds acceptable, even creating in them that assurance so commonly joined to superstitious ritual, that the act just performed will be repaid by the deity with some bonus oversight and protection, perhaps a couple of extra angels dispatched to keep guard until their next idolatrous moment.

Condescending hogwash, uttered in obvious ignorance . . . certainly not worthy of a response, but let me say that I find such a comment ironic and amusing, particularly in the mocking of "assurance" (coming from a Calvinist, of all people?!). The tables can easily be turned on this one . . .

If I sound a tad too cynical, add another apology.

Not so much cynical as misguided and wrongheaded . . . (with all due -- sincere -- respect). I'm sure the pastor is a fine man, and a great servant of God, but he is simply ignorant of (at least some aspects of) Catholic theology; a strange phenomenon on the blog which has featured the fine work of Paul Owen, who shows an extraordinary grasp of Catholic theology, though he disagrees with it. It IS possible! The contention of Dr. Owen that Catholics are not Pelagians was by itself enough to make me jump for joy and renew my hope in Protestant mankind . . . :-) I can say something for years and most Protestants who see it pass right over it, but it is a joy to see an articulate Reformed spokesman say the same thing. Now maybe it'll get through . . .

It just rankles a man to see such self-deception.

I know the feeling; I am rankled viewing such correctable ignorance and seeming inability to grasp basic distinctions (again, agree or disagree).

Witnessing such flat out ignorance in action, I become inflamed and grieved, turning over and over in my mind the question of responsibility: how did these poor souls become so religiously abased, deprived, misled?

Indeed; I can TOTALLY relate, reading this piece . . . so see, common ground is being achieved after all! We can relate to each others' feelings!

At other times, seeking the larger picture, I remember that Rome hardly enjoys a corner on self-deception.

Good (though a self-evident truism).

And I remember that no Protestant could, no Protestant should think of his religious history as one completely severable from Rome. We Protestants are Western Christians, and our line does not go back from us to Calvin with a leap from there clean back to Paul.

Also self-evident, but nice to see stated in these circles.

Calvin, for example, appealed without shame or qualification to Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), a bona fide saint of Rome—and Geneva!

But of course. The question is whether Calvin was consistent in doing so. How did he interpret the simultaneous "acceptable" piety or theology in St. Bernard alongside the so-called "idolatry"? How can this be? How can one be so right on one topic and yet be deluded and sunk into a slimy pit of idolatry?

It reminds me of R.C. Sproul's semi-amusing "co-option" of St. Thomas Aquinas, as if he wasn't every bit as Catholic as Pope John Paul II, and would have been a good Protestant had he lived 300 years later. And of course, this can become a general question to be asked of Protestants trying to understand Catholics who seem to be halfway decent Christians, yet inexplicably accept all Catholic teachings.

In fact, Bernard is a fine example to keep in mind when discussing our topic, for he represents in a man the inextricable and inexplicable contradictions one will encounter in any effort to understand, absorb, or own (i.e., appropriate as ours) Christian history. In Bernard we find a seriously devout follower of Mary, the author of a complete treatise on Mariology, “Praises of the Virgin Mother.” He is also the author of that matchless hymn of devotion, “O Sacred Head , Now Wounded,” sung to this day with tears by Christians of every stripe, and found in the Reformed Psalter Hymnal, as well as in every significant Presbyterian Hymnal. What Christian could fail to affirm that Bernard has expressed for him the love and awe of his own Christian heart when he penned, “What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain. Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain. Lo, here I fall, my Savior, ‘tis I deserve Thy place; look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.” Who can even quote this, let alone sing it, without tears? Yet Bernard, championed by Calvin, was a champion of Mary.

That should tell the good pastor something, but the chances of that happening are, I suspect, slim. I hope I am wrong. But I thank him for this observation, because it is something all Protestants who seek to be ecumenical, have to grapple with. Mary is always a "biggie."

At the same time, no one could doubt that he was, above all, a champion of Christ.

How can this be? Idolatry, by definition, is replacing God and substituting something else. If Mariology is always Mariolatry, then Bernard could not possibly have been a "champion of Christ" (due to the extreme seriousness and wrongness of idolatry). But if he was that champion, then maybe, just maybe, Mary can be regarded and venerated in a fashion that is not idolatrous?

And he was a monk.

Oh my! Heaven forbid that anyone deny themselves sex for the sake of the Kingdom!!!! Why is that so rare in Protestantism, despite the very clear teaching of our Lord Jesus about certain eunuchs, and St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7?

Yet, here again, to even approach the subject of monasticism brings us square in the face of the complexity of our history.

Why, pray tell? -- it being explicitly biblical?

I am a Christian who unabashedly promotes the cause of covenant, with a special emphasis on the fact that Christianity is only fully lived if lived in covenant community.

Monks do live in community. They merely separate themselves from the society-at-large for the sake of prayer and spiritual betterment. Is prayer now suspect? One can devote themselves to making shoes or donuts and be a good ole Reformed Christian, but not exclusively to prayer and other such directly spiritual endeavors? I've always been amazed at the opposition to such things. It was never an issue for me at any time before I converted.

Further, I see in Scripture the ideal set forth for our emulation of a strategy of missions that is city-centered. To go one step further, it is a religion provided for the redemption of life lived in the world, not one encouraging flight from the world.

I fail to see why some cannot devote themselves to the monastic lifestyle. There are more than enough of us out in the world. What we need is to get those people off their butts (and they are legion in both Protestantism and Catholicism: a pastor surely is well aware of this) and seriously doing something for the Kingdom, not go after monks because they are supposedly anti-worldly or anti-cultural. That is simply more of the incessant Protestant false dichotomizing.

It would be difficult to imagine a lifestyle more radically opposite to all this than anchorite monasticism! But in Bernard we have a monk. What am I to do?

Stop making false dichotomies!

Love him. Of course, loving him keeps me not from evaluating him and his doctrines, but love requires that I recognize his contributions.

Same with me and Pastor Schlissel. We agree on that. I would love to get together and talk all night. I would love to talk on the phone (I have unlimited calling). I would love to discuss the many things where we agree. But will it actually happen? It is up to Pastor Schlissel.

Similarly, love requires us to recognize the contributions of monks to Western, that is, to our history. After the fall of the Western Empire in 476, the pope was left “as the only effective force for order in the West.” In the centuries which followed, the papacy aligned with the Carolingian dynasty and, “with the assistance of a remarkably vital and active monastic community, Christianized the barbarian invaders…” (Encyclopedia of World Religions, p. 938). Have we given adequate recognition to the monastic movement, which did more than preserve Christianity and civilization itself, but which advanced both through the incredibly courageous and Herculean mission which resulted in the conversion of the barbarian hordes to Christianity? It is passing belief that anyone would do anything but boast in such a magnificent legacy. Would we, in sheer stubbornness, hand this over to Rome, or may we not properly lay claim to it as ours?

Good, but again, personally, I have thought all this was self-evident (before I converted, and now), so it is not, in my opinion, some amazing thing to make such an admission. Good (again), even great and necessary, but not especially praiseworthy to simply acknowledge the historically- and ecclesiologically obvious.

No, this question of attitude toward Rome is no easy one.

I think it is very easy: "Rome" is a variation of Christianity not different at bottom from denominational differences within Protestantism. But we are always placed in a unique category (one can hardly imagine, e.g., an article like this being written about, say, Lutherans or Methodists -- it is always Catholics; oops, "Romanists").

Obviously there are more differences to work through, but once the Christian status is granted, then I don't see how it is all that different (in the sense of acknowledging a fellow Christian group) from a Reformed looking at a Methodist or Lutheran or Baptist. It is very different in the Protestant mind, in my opinion, because of the historical baggage of centuries of anti-Catholicism and misguided polemics (some of which I deal with in my new, just-released book: The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants, and mountains of ignorance and lack of acquaintance with Catholic thought.

I want Calvin and Bernard. I want it all. That means I have to take the good and the bad and the mixed and say, “Yes, this is my heritage. But my task lies not in the past, but rather in the present and in the future. My task is to be Biblically faithful in the generation and in the world where God has placed me.”

Good, as far as it goes . . .

But the part of her book which pertains to the subject of this newsletter in your hands right now is how bile-filled (and, I’d add, folly-filled) was my attitude toward all things Roman Catholic, and how that irrational and ignorant hatred nearly cost us at least one conversion in our service to Christ

. . . But I know a little now that I did not know then—and Patty was neither the first nor the only friend to tell me. I’m indebted to several friends who confronted me about the severe downside of my once public rantings against Rome. I thank them all for helping me to grow.

Acknowledgement of one's own shortcomings is the first step to recovery, so I admire this confession; I really do (despite all my usual criticisms, as an apologist). It's more than most people will do. I'm even touched by it. But I think there is still a bit of work to be done yet, in the areas noted above.

. . . The point of this paragraph is a simple one: Rome is often spoken of as if it were completely monolithic, but it is not.

The overall theology is indeed one. Individuals differ, because individuals vary in how willing they are to accept the whole Catholic dogmatic ball of wax. It is like that for any Christian body: we can only examine what their "books" say. I have stressed this for 23 years now, as an apologist who started out doing extensive critiques of Jehovah's Witnesses, and I will continue to say it, because people don't seem to get this seemingly elementary point.

And Protestants often think of themselves as preservers of the true and only faith, but Protestant history has as many quacks per square inch as the looniest fringes of Romanism.

Indeed . . . (how well I know, having been in both camps, and the non-denom, charismatic part of Protestantism, where fools are quite prevalent (I was critiquing excess in charismatic circles in writing as far back as 1982).

If Christ is thought of as the center, many differences between Romanists and Protestants lose significance as the center is approached, just as things in both camps get uncontrollably wild as the movement flows away from center. (C.S. Lewis observed the same thing, and said it better.)

Yes, I love that quote from him.

We have sought in this issue of Messiah’s Update only to introduce some of the inescapable difficulties inherent in assessing our attitude toward Rome and Romanism. We can hardly expect to reach maturity in our posture if we refuse to engage in careful reflection, choosing instead the easier, cheaper path of sloganeering.

How about dialogue with Catholics, too? Pastor Schlissel did not reply to my previous critique of his reflections on Catholic conversions (for whatever reason; just stating the fact; and I informed him of it). I hope he will decide to do so this time. If he is serious about better understanding and appreciating Catholicism, he will have to get with some Catholics who know their faith, sooner or later. I have no problem with Jewish converts. I used to attend a church which was predominantly Jewish converts, and loved it. I loved the people dearly, and always thought they were special. But we all seem to fear those we don't know very well on a personal level.

There’s no need to be blind to Rome’s flaws. But neither is there warrant to say that flaws are all that’s there. The tough thing about growing up is that things seem to happen much faster, but answers come much slower.

Overall, I like this article. But again, I reiterate that if Pastor Schlissel is truly serious about becoming more ecumenical, then he should:

1. Start talking seriously TO Catholics (priests, religious, apologists, academics, deacons, etc.), in addition to talking ABOUT them.

2. Work through vexing and (for him) troublesome issues such as iconoclasm and supposed idolatry, Mariology, etc. and seek to correctly understand the Catholic perspective. Elimination of straw men is crucial for further growth (and I believe he is perfectly sincere in seeking that). If he then disagrees, fine, but at least he will comprehend what he disagrees with, in the terms of those who believe and practice them.

I think the leading models along those lines that I have observed within the Reformed Catholic community are Paul Owen and Joel Garver (both academics, as it were). To my mind, they have scarcely distorted anything. They present Catholic belief accurately (and quite respectfully, which is equally important from an ecumenical perspective) and candidly dissent where they must as Protestants. This is the bare minimum of respectful discourse: to correctly portray an opponents' belief-system and not to caricature or misrepresent it (and of course not mock it).

The models are there. If anyone besides Kevin (also a pretty good model, I think) cares about my opinion on this, as a published Catholic apologist and advocate of serious Catholic-Protestant dialogue, there it is, for what it's worth. If not, that's fine too. God bless you, and thanks for reading.

Thanks to Kevin (and others here) for the opportunity to render my opinion on this. Of course, I will want to post it on my blog, too, as always . . . And as always, I hope further discussion is generated. Dialogue can do wonders . . .

* * * * *