Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Reply to Bob Hypes' Article: "Religion and How I lost It"

By Dave Armstrong (8-31-04)

The following article was published in atheist Farrell Till's The Skeptical Review (1995, Number One). I will notify Hypes and/or Till or someone else connected to this magazine about this reply, and anyone is welcome, of course, to counter-reply. Mr. Hype's words will be in blue. His article appears here in its entirety.

* * * * * 

"Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so." These lyrics constitute one of my earliest memories of religious instruction or the concept of religion. They may formulate the base experience for many others as well.

One would expect a very young child to be taught in this way. And of course this particular song is well-known as being a sort of "child's hymn." So what? When children grow up, one would expect them to be a bit more sophisticated. St. Paul talks about moving from milk to solid meat. The very subtle implication, expanded less subtly throughout this article, is that Christians remain on the level of an infant in terms of the intellectual vigor of their religion. Granted, many (even a great many) do, from apathy or misinformation or the bankruptcy of religious liberalism or societal pressure against faith, but Christianity is not intrinsically childish or juvenile or unsophisticated. I think the more sophisticated atheists are well aware of this, and hence a cynic (or at least a critic) might submit that they dwell on "fundamentalists" or "young earth creationists" in the attempt to ridicule and dismiss all forms of Christianity (and to rationalize their own disavowal of it). This is, of course, a straw man, as these groups represent only a tiny portion of Christianity today, and historically.

Even if the song itself does not elucidate such a memory, the concept implied in these lyrics may. This may comprise the primary religious training of the preschool child, a training based on unqualified love directed from this brotherly figure, Jesus, to the lowly little child, a source of warmth and comfort, a contrast to the child's own fragility.

And what is wrong with that, as far as it goes? The child clings to its parents for the same reason. By analogy, it is not unreasonable to suppose that there may be a supreme being (I argue from initial plausibility, not any sort of demonstration at this early stage) Who serves as father and/or mother to all of humanity. It is not immediately absurd to speculate in such a manner. Beyond even the infant / parent relationship, most married men will say that "I couldn't have done so-and-so without the support of my wife." We all need such human support. So if that is true on a human level, it may be on a cosmic level as well. This is not as silly a notion as atheists make out.

Indeed, psychologist Paul Vitz has shown a close correlation and connection between a great many famous atheists' bad relationships with their earthly fathers and their atheism itself. They are projecting their domestic situations onto the universe and theology. This might be called a "reverse crutch" argument. It turns the tables on one of the most-beloved "arguments" against theism: that it is a mere psychological crutch based on feelings of relative helplessness in the face of a cruel universe, etc.

No matter where we go or what we do the rest of our lives, that image will remain in some part of our being. It may be the one feeling that is hardest to shake when we grow to question and doubt this religion called Christianity.

Precisely. I am answering as I read, and I was almost sure the author would argue that the childlike sentiments in "Jesus loves me" would set the tone for a lifetime of Christianity. Again, it may for some fundamentalists or misinformed and underinformed Christians of any stripe (Catholic, Orthodox, etc.) but this does not disprove Christianity. The initial rejoinder to this indirect "argument against Christianity by virtue of testimony," then, is simple: "one does not refute Christianity or religion generally-speaking by recourse to a warped, simplistic, minority expression of it. The sub-group does not represent the entire group, or the worldview." The criticism of the sub-group would serve fine if the subject matter were "fundamentalism," but ostensibly the topic is the much larger "religion," and the explanation for why it is untenable and unworthy of belief by rational men. Thus, it is wholly insufficient for its purpose. Either the author doesn't comprehend these points of logic, or he wishes to merely explain his own gross intellectual deficiencies and ignorance in matters of religion, in which case the article is wrongly titled (being much more about himself than about religion per se). I don't claim that he is being merely a clever propagandist, utilizing illogical axioms for his purposes (but this would be a possibility, too). 


We next learn that God is the creator of all that we behold and all that we will never understand. He is the grandfather many of us never knew or an extension of the grandfather on whose knee we sat when young.

I see nothing intrinsically implausible or unreasonable in that, per the above. Atheists are the ones who are more irrational, by dismissing the possibility or existence of God simply because their earthly fathers were scoundrels. One bad father has nothing whatsoever to do with the classic philosophical question of God's existence.

We also become aware of God's propensity for wrath, and we are told not to tempt him or displease him.

If God created everything, He is Lord of everything, and is perfectly entitled to become angry about how His creation is abused for evil purposes. If a father left his property in the control of one of his son, and that son reduced it to chaos and a wreck, no one would think it was absurd for the father to be angry, since the property was his, and his son would not exist but for him and the son's mother. Yet when the same general idea is applied to God, all of a sudden, atheists get this silly notion that it is immediately absurd and unreasonable for God to be Judge of the universe that He created. I say that many of these common skeptical notions flow from simple prejudice and lack of solid thinking, rather than from detached reason and proper, fair analysis.

Then we are introduced to the Holy Spirit and the unfathomable tale of the Trinity. That three can equal one is totally outside of our ability to understand. In fact, few, if any, adults can comprehend this one. The story continues to become more muddled and confusing, and yet we are told we must believe, and we oblige.

It is not "unfathomable at all. Difficult, yes; not able to be adequately or fully comprehended based on our own experience, yes, but not logically impossible. Nor is it "three equals one." It is not "there are three gods and there are one god" (which would be a contradiction). Rather, it is: "there is one God Who subsists in three Persons." This is not a contradiction because persons and God are not the same thing. One God can have three Persons just as one person could theoretically have three brains or three hearts. That is not "three equals one"; it is "three x's in one y." So again, no argument is really given, that can be dissected and examined and scrutinized. The author blithely assumes that all rational, "non-brainwashed" men know the Trinity is absurd, and dismisses it. He may do that if he wishes, but what he may not do is pretend that such a thought process is rational argumentation.

Belief becomes a habit driven by fear of the unknown or the fear of rejection if we doubt or question, so our questions are internalized, and we begin to feel guilt.

More pop-psychological pablum; unworthy of serious attention, as it is again merely assumed as some grand explanation for religious belief.

We now learn a more rigid set of moral values. We learn that thinking a wrong thing is the same as committing the act.

That's correct. There is a certain moral equivalence, as Jesus taught, because all evil acts begin in the will. This is why we have different degrees in murder charges. The notion of premeditation is a legal concept which holds that an act is more blameworthy if it is planned and thought out beforehand (as opposed to a momentary loss of temper, an act of passion, temporary insanity, a half-accident, etc.). I think this is quite sophisticated ethics and psychology, and it is thoroughly Christian. But Mr. Hypes seems to think it is silly and unwarranted. I don't think he has adequately thought-through these issues. or at least so it appears, going by this article alone.

Our guilt grows, and our ability to deal with it overwhelms us.

Guilt is a great thing if we have done something wrong. It's only bad if it is a false or unnecessary guilt.

The feelings of inadequacy wash over us, challenging the depth and the coldness of the baptismal immersion.

Interesting poetic flourish . . . not sure what it is supposed to mean, but it sure sounds impressive, doesn't it? This would require a lengthy reply itself, but suffice it to say that it is hardly conducive to a feeling of "inadequacy" to believe that we are creatures of a marvelous, loving God, in Whose image we are made. Apart from whether theism is true or not; the notion itself does not lend itself more readily to "feelings of inadequacy" than, say, atheism, where we are merely random products of meaningless physical processes. If that is all we are, I could fully comprehend how one might feel utterly "inadequate," in light of the grandeur and largeness of the universe and even the earth. But all things being equal, "inadequacy" is a hugely complex topic which would incorporate background experiences, cultural conditioning, birth order, temperament, even something like income, as well as many other factors. To tie this in simplistically with Christianity is ridiculous.

Thoreau said it well: "They think they love God! It is only his old clothes, of which they make scarecrows for the children. Where will they come nearer to God than in those very children?"

So Thoreau is unable to make a rational argument too, and must resort to mocking? Perhaps he did make such an argument somewhere, but it is not present in this quote, which helps us not a whit in our pursuit of the truth with regard to the questions of theism and religion.

Theists base their belief on faith, belief based on emotion and culturalization.

Clearly, this is a gross generalization, and as such, is of little value in moving the discussion along. Hypes assumes that reason and intellect play little or no part in religious belief, without in the least establishing this. I understand that his own testimony is personally valuable to him, as some sort of sentimental or self-rationalizing thing, but I am under no obligation to accept all his unproven axioms and statements. Thus, ironically -- judging by his methodology -- he is the one who is playing the game with all faith propositions and unproven premises. I, the Christian, have been using my reason and intellect throughout this critique, showing how the author is not dong so in this article. I am demonstrating in my very reply that here is one "theist" at least who is not opposed to reason at all. And I am by no means alone in that. Nor, I assert, does Christianity or the Bible, correctly understood, rather than parodied and caricatured.

When reason and rationale challenge that faith, then the reason can have no value and the rationale must be incorrect. Faith is irrefutable and errorless because it must be in order to validate all in which they believe.

This is quite unfair as well. Everyone believes in some things without fully understanding them: no exceptions. I have made this point a hundred times. Even the greatest thinkers, like Einstein, freely admit that there is a wonder or mystery to the universe. No one can explain everything. Granted, many less-sophisticated Christians fall back on a sort of irrational faith, immune to reason, but so do a great many "sophisticated" thinkers. I could write on this all day. It is simply not a matter of "the unreasonable, gullible, irrational Christians vs. the reasonable, clever, understanding, educated atheists and skeptics." The author must know that his statements are far too broad if he has met any theists at all (folks like philosophers, scientists, etc.). if he knows this, then he is obligated to not absurdly generalize, as he is doing.

They then raise their children into the habit of accepting absurdities, mysteries, convoluted thinking, and supplication. They do this while the children's minds are supple and moldable. They know that the habits of thought thus formed stand a good chance of lasting a lifetime.

Again, all parents raise their children according to what they believe to be true about life and religion and ethics, or whatever. There is nothing immediately wrong about that. One has to determine what is true before we get to the question of child-rearing. I could argue that children's "supple and moldable" minds are just as harmfully brainwashed in our public schools today. I attended those my entire childhood, and I didn't learn the slightest thing about God (and many other topics, either). I came out a good, secular humanist and practical atheist (the idea that even if God exists, He is irrelevant to daily life and relegated to a private, inconsequential sphere). Why would I not be as justified in protesting that state of affairs, as the atheist would protest a fundamentalist raising his child to believe that the earth goes around the sun, or that the earth is 6000 years old, etc.? At least that is the parent in control of his or her own family, whereas the state school system presumes to know "truth" and to propagate it down to its little citizens, so they can be fine and dandy liberal, libertarian secularists (as I was, until I actually started thinking on my own). Even when I got to college, I continued to be subjected to manifest historical absurdities, like Marxism, or psychological absurdities, like Freudianism. There is plenty of error and nonsense to go around, and it is by no means confined to Christian circles.

Belief existing in such a vacuum serves to alienate the faithful of each new generation from the world around them. They either live in judgment of anyone who does not believe as they do, or they begin to question their own values. The following poem by John Dryden may best express this phenomenon:

By education most have been misled;
So they believe, because they were so bred.
The priest continues what the nurse began,
And thus the child imposes on the man. 

I don't see such things as intrinsically Christian. Isolation from the world or judgementalism is just as possible in a secular worldview as in a Christian one. These are simply attitudinal and cultural problems that need to be avoided by all and sundry.

What I thought of as an honest and critical look at the religion I had embraced all of my life had gone on for years as a halfhearted effort.

I can see that. Would that the author would give us some rational argumentation, since he claims to have attained such an exalted state of enlightened reason, due to his having cast off the shackles of antiquated and groundless religion.

I wanted to find the truth, yet I wanted that truth to support that in which I had always believed. In other words, I was front-loading my search by trying to find corroborating evidences, not by searching for the real truth.

We all tend to do that because we all have our existing beliefs, and they inevitably influence our further searches. This is why we must compare and contrast: looking at the most able proponents of any given position (not the worst ones) and make up our own minds as to truth.

As I delved into the questions raised by rational thought, I increasingly found more questions. Each answer ended up raising dozens of other questions. I finally had to face the fact that the only way I would ever find the answers I sought would be to let the truth lead me to its destination. I then stumbled onto the following quotation. It is known as the Maxim of Freethought: "He who cannot reason is defenseless; he who fears to reason has a cowardly mind; he who will not reason is willing to be deceived and will deceive all who listen to him." This struck home. I realized my cowardice and resolved to overcome it. I threw myself anew into research but with a new approach.

All this shows is that Mr. Hypes' own Churches of Christ version of Christianity was devoid of reason; not at all that Christianity, period, or theism, are devoid of reason. So I have been given nothing whatsoever here to cause me to cease believing in God or Christianity. All this piece can accomplish, as far as I am concerned, is to give comfort and solace to other atheists who are former Christians, so that they can rationalize their loss of faith and feel good about themselves (much as testimonies of conversion serve in many Christian communities). Ironically, then, the author falls back on the same sort of non-rational mere emotionalism and sentimentality that he purports to be criticizing. Touting reason, he continues to communicate non-rationally when "explaining" his rejection of Christianity.

Biblical literalism and inerrancy appear to be enemies to the truth, and subsequent study on my part has led me to believe this to an absolute degree. Biblical literalism, as defined and interpreted by various denominations and individuals, has produced such things as the Amish shunning of modern lifestyles and snake handling to prove one's faith and refusing medical treatment to oneself or one's family. Biblical literalism has led to prejudicial actions against nonbelievers, including imprisonment, censure, torture, death, and even wars. Religion, says Feuerbach, is self-estrangement. There is the separation of the world into one spiritual and one earthly. Man sees himself, first, as an individual with limitations, then as a self without limits, empowered by his God.

This is taking the most jaded approach imaginable. Some of the extremes and distortions of historic Christianity are set up as reasons to "throw out the baby with the bathwater." Obviously, Hypes is still reacting strongly to his own background (just as many well-known atheists had rotten fathers and projected that onto the "God" they no longer wished to believe in). But, you see, his background is not every Christians' experience or rationale for their belief. And he is foolish to think that it is. This is the most fundamental flaw of his article. He hasn't uttered a word about Catholicism or Orthodoxy or High Church Anglicanism. Those things don't even enter his radar screen. Instead, he is on a crusade to excoriate his own past fundamentalism. Many of us never went through such a phase, so it doesn't dominate our thinking and emotions as it seems to do in Hypes' case. My own intellectual and spiritual odyssey was quite otherwise: I started out as a religious liberal (to the extent that I knew anything at all about my religion), then went on to virtual secular humanism and practical atheism, then evangelical Christianity, then Catholicism. At every stage, I was thinking through the issues. Background had little to do with it, as I was religiously nominal as a child.

A major purpose of fundamentalist religions is to supply a safe harbor for those who are insecure, fearful, lost or lonely, by justifying a way of life with narrow, defining principles and prejudices. The authority of the Bible is the final arbiter of any question. The inerrancy of the Bible is the final argument to justify or indemnify, becoming the central focus of such a life. The main philosophy of fundamentalists is one of constancy in which they find solace against an outside world filled with questions. They insulate themselves against such assaults by finding answers in these words and ideas, no matter how flawed they may prove to be.

There is some truth to this. As long as fundamentalism is seen as a distortion of Christianity, I wouldn't object to much of it. But the distinction is not as prominent as it should be here. There is indeed a sort of infantile, irrational, insular version of Christianity that is indeed open to much of the criticism Mr. Hypes' sets forth. My only point is that this is a distortion of Christianity, rightly-understood. If one rejects the distortion of something, he is not rejecting the thing itself. As for solace and comfort, etc.: those make perfect sense if there is a God Who can offer same. Therefore, the question goes right back to the existence or nonexistence of God.

To be human means we are doomed to explaining our world, not simply and directly, but only indirectly, through these interpretations. We dwell in our interpretations. In explicating a phenomenon, we always put it in terms limited by our ability to understand, always based in our own prejudices and preconceptions. This means that we will understand things partially and inadequately, through language rather than a godlike omniscience.

I agree. This is true for atheists and theists alike. Theists; however, claim to be in possession of revelation: which is God explaining the world and spiritual truth to us. It is an additional source of knowledge. If it exists, it is supremely important; if it does not, then it is a big joke and a farce.

Therefore, we internalize our belief structure, i.e., that which causes and enhances our beliefs.
At the same time, we externalize its effects on our lives and that of those about us. This duality of nature does not lead us to understanding or knowledge but to faith. Faith in an improperly arrived at conclusion based on illconceived thought processes becomes so entrenched that it is often thought to be the truth even when it flies in the face of reality.

Here again is the dichotomizing of faith and reason. It need not be so at all. But this is never pointed out.

No reasonable person can believe that the guesses of preliterate man, upon which the myths of gods and the supernatural are based, were true. The beliefs of these primitives, however, were more reasonable in terms of their limited and insignificant knowledge, than the beliefs of today's religionists who have masses of information available to them.

Biblical revelation (in the Old Testament) is not "preliterate." Moses could write. The question is whether God revealed Himself or not, to the Jews, the chosen people. If He did, when it happened is irrelevant. The knowledge revealed would have relevance for all time.

It is apparent that such faith is based upon emotion, rather than reason.

This is not apparent at all. It is only apparent that some folks pit reason and faith against each other, as if they were fundamentally hostile.

Emotion needs no proof and rejects all questioning. Reason demands answers, questions conflicts, and objectively studies the issues from every available source and viewpoint. Reason is fearless thought, undeterred by legal, spiritual, or social penalties. Dissenting viewpoints do not alarm those who seek truth. The knowledge seeker who has a passion for truth fears nothing except error.

Amen! I am very muich in agreement with this sentiment. My reason has led me to theism, the Christian God, and to Catholicism. And it has shown me how atheism is untrue. One may disagree with my conclusions, but they can't claim that reason did not play the crucial role in my belief-system.

I have found the average skeptic to have a much broader knowledge of the Bible and theological issues than the average Christian.

I don't know what sort of Christians Mr. Hypes has been talking to. I have found just the opposite. In fact, atheists are abysmally ignorant of even rudimentary biblical exegesis and hermeneutics. I have demonstrated this on several occasions in the course of my apologetics.

Whether led to skepticism by knowledge or led to the knowledge by their skepticism, the truth of the skeptic is that he is ultimately led by a search for truth.

They have no corner on that search; nor is it immediately evident that the search for truth characterizes the motivations and goals of all skeptics and atheists. Aldous Huxley, for example, admitted that his rejection of Christianity was due to basically a desire for sexual freedom. He was honest. And I dare say this sort of "reason" is quite widespread. 

Few Christians can delineate the reasons and evidences for their faith. Almost any attempt to elucidate qualitative responses on the subject elicit catch phrases and incoherent babbling.

I am an apologist, whose field is defending the Christian faith and giving reasons for why we believe what we do. I have had no problem offering sound answers to atheists. They are a challenge, but by no means an insurmountable one.

If one believes, based on naivety or innocence, it may appear charming or quaint, such as a child believing in Santa Claus. If one believes culturally, because he was raised to believe certain things, it can be understood, even if there is no other basis. If one believes as a result of erroneous information or faulty study, it is lamentable. When one defends, propounds, and propagates such error as fact and refuses to examine other information objectively, it is intellectually reprehensible, and I will challenge that type of belief every time.

I agree. Well-stated. I'm all for challenges and dialogue. Bring them on! But not many people are truly interested in that. 

Biblical literalism presents more questions than answers. It offers a god we cannot respect or understand, a god who changes vastly from passage to passage and event to event, a lack of consistency in what should be consistent if our faith is not to be shaken. What is impossible for our minds to believe our hearts cannot worship.

First of all, "biblical literalism" is not the whole of biblical interpretation. Hyper-literalism characterizes fundamentalist Protestantism, but not historic Christianity. Secondly, biblical so-called "contradictions" are often not that at all, once scrutinized. Often, statements such as the above (about God changing, and this being a biblical teaching) flow from ignorance of Christian theology and the Bible, and of Hebraisms and Ancient Near Eastern expressions, idiom, and culture.

Bob Hypes, P. O. Box 305, Howe, IN 46746.) 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Bob Hypes' letters have appeared in previous issues of The Skeptical Review. He is a former Church-of-Christ preacher, and he tells a familiar story. He grew up believing what he had been taught in his childhood, but when he engaged in serious Bible studies as an adult, he found things in it that made it impossible to continue believing what he had been taught as a child. Many former fundamentalists will say that the Bible is its own worst enemy. If we could just get more Christians to study this book that they claim to believe in so much, the inevitable result would be fewer Christians. The Christian religion thrives on ignorance of the very book that is its foundation.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Discussion on Orthodox Caesaropapism and Proper Historiography (vs. "Theophan" and Joel Kalvesmaki)

By Dave Armstrong (8-19-04)

Meanwhile (as I was enjoying this August the glorious wilds and vistas of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), and not giving the slightest thought to apologetics, one "Theophan" (Orthodox, I believe) took it upon himself to resurrect from the distant recesses of Internet Old Papers Out There Somewhere an obscure dialogue I had with Joel Kalvesmaki (also Orthodox). Theophan pulled up no less than nine posts from my old Apologetics / Ecumenism discussion list, from January 2000. I started this list and moderated it for a year (and I believe it is still in existence to this day). He announced this on the Theological Discussion Board, in the thread, "also somewhat interesting." Accompanying this generous citation of old work of mine left unpreserved on my website, Theophan peppered his comments in the thread with silly remarks such as the following:


Anyone with a heartbeat can look at that board and see that Dave was doing a bit of "anti-Orthodox trolling." Then suddenly he hooked something bigger than he was expecting. If he is going to post catenae of proof-texts as supposed scholarship, don't cry when somebody asks him to back it up with some substance.
This is highly amusing, since it was and is my own discussion list we are talking about! It is difficult to "troll" one's own list, by definition, since -- as I understand it -- that Internet term means cruising around the Internet looking to raise a stink or a quarrel on some board or engage in a "hit piece" on someone or other, and then splitting (in other words, not being at all interested in serious conversation). Besides, Joel wrote to me initially. He was responding (at the request of someone else) to my website paper, "Catholicism and Orthodoxy: A Comparison." So the situation is the utter opposite of "trolling." How the discussion began is quite obvious in the opening of the first post that Theophan cites, where Joel (his words will be in blue throughout) wrote:

Thank you for your response to this first critique I offered. Overall, I feel that your response to this first post was rather weak, simply restating what you had originally written without dealing directly with my objections or offering any counter-evidence. You will see how this works out as you progress through this e-mail.
Later, he wrote:

[T]he reason I contacted you in the first place was because I felt that it would be good to make my critiques of these papers accountable to the author as well . . .

This is "trolling"? Someone responds to an existing paper of mine, sends me an e-mail, I counter-respond, it eventually gets posted to my discussion list as a public exchange (with both sides' full consent), but I am "trolling"? One can only throw up their hands in despair in encountering "reasoning" like this: an example of what Malcolm Muggeridge would have called (in his inimitable, delightful, tweaking fashion) "fathomless imbecility." But anyone with a "heartbeat" can figure out what can only be regarded as a manifest absurdity. I must be a dead man already then . . .

As for "anti-Orthodox," I don't know how Theophan defines that term, but if it is anything like how I define anti-Catholic, then it is an absurd charge, since I regard my Orthodox brethren as fellow Christians, and in fact, have an immense amount of respect for them (as I do, many Protestants and Protestant groups). I disagree with them on some issues, and dare to write about it. If that brands me as "anti-Orthodox," then to be consistent, Theophan ought to refer (assuming a desire on his part for fairness and consistency) also to the ongoing inter-Orthodox squabbles.

On that very same list (where Orthodox were always present, and encouraged to participate in the ecumenical endeavor), there were Orthodox from ROCOR who would not only not acknowledge Catholic sacraments, but even those of other Orthodox jurisdictions. Are they "anti-Orthodox" too? This becomes a ridiculous subjective and semantic discussion, so I will leave it at that. Even my dialogue Joel stated that he enjoyed the discussion and obtained some benefit from it (as we shall see below) so it is hardly accurate to describe my efforts as "anti-Orthodox." One might more accurately describe Theophan's attitude as "paranoid" (if we must throw such unnecessary descriptions around).


As for the insinuation that I got my head handed to me in a handbasket by Joel Kalvesmaki, well, as always, I appeal back to the discussion itself, and allow people to make up their own minds. The partisan on one side always thinks that their "champion" wins the debate, so this is not exactly a surprising development on Theophan's part. Joel scarcely even dealt with the citations and reasoning I set forth. Instead, he launched into his own thing (the frustrating "ships passing in the night" routine -- which is no dialogue) and diverted the discussion into a tedious one about legitimate and illegitimate use of sources. That is one of my pet peeves, and so I responded forcefully. Whether I succeeded or not is for the reader to judge. The hoped-for "dialogue" ended on an inconclusive, most disappointing note, with little accomplished (which is what happens when one person leaves prematurely, as Joel did). He probably had excellent reasons to leave the discussion (mostly time pressures, as he said -- I can certainly understand that), but in any event leave he did.

If "supposed scholarship" is what Theophan calls the opinions of sources like the Encyclopædia Britannica, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, A History of Christianity, by Kenneth Scott Latourette, The Making of Europe, by Christopher Dawson, Christendom: A Short History of Christianity, by Roland H. Bainton, History of the Christian Church, Vol. II: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 311-600, by Philip Schaff, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, by James H. Billington (786 pages, with 160 pages of elaborate footnotes), The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy, by Alexander Schmemann [Orthodox], and The Orthodox Church, by Archbishop Kallistos Ware [Orthodox], as well as [Orthodox] Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Lenten Letter of 1972, then I confess that I am completely baffled as to how to respond (so I won't).

And then we have the stupid, familiar accusation (almost always from true anti-Catholics or those who don't understand how vigorous, passionate discussion works) about whining or "crying" when supposedly annihilated in an argument. This is fit only for laughter as well. I'm delighted that Theophan brought up this old debate. Joel at the time asked me not to post his words on my website in any edited form (and I was happy to oblige), but as they are in the public domain, on the Internet already, and as they seem to be some sort of "trophy piece" for Orthodox polemicists who want so badly to see my arguments concerning Orthodoxy defeated (hence Theophan's juvenile polemical rhetoric), it is not improper for me to reference them again on my blog and website. Joel himself said he had no objection to an unedited presentation. If the charge is that I was virtually crushed by the overwhelming weight of Joel's scholarly and historical arguments, I think it is only fair that my readers ought to see what actually happened in this debate. Vive free speech and the exchange of ideas! Let the reader judge . . . this is the beauty of open exchange of competing ideas.

Joel, in the first installment of the discusion, contended that I was somehow engaging in illegitimate methodology in citing sources such as those above:

You had made a number of claims about history. Falsification or verification of such claims can be done through historical analysis. I was not "explain[ing] the papacy and the form of Catholic ecclesiology and theology by purely socio-political analysis," but challenging certain of your claims about Church history.
This would be his theme: I could not -- so he argued -- cite historians, whose task is precisely to study such things in depth and arrive at conclusions (i.e., they make the "historical analysis" that Joel demands), and present them to us ignorant folks out here, outside the hallowed halls of ivory tower academia. That was somehow improper, as if historians are not entitled to their opinions and conclusions, and as if mere laymen like myself commit some egregious, dishonest sin in merely citing them. One has to (in effect, and the result of his argumentation) do historiography, in order to make any claims about history at all, according to Joel (at that time a graduate student in Early Christian Studies at the Catholic University of America Washington, DC, and presumably now nearing or in possession of a doctorate in history).

But this is foolish, because it would mean that no one could appeal to those who specialize in such things, and everyone would be required to specialize in them, to even make any claim at all. Such a state of affairs is manifestly absurd, a most unreasonable demand, and practically impossible. It would render meaningless in a major way the very field which Joel has chosen for himself. I could just as easily retort that "why should I trust your opinion on anything, if you are not yet a professor of history? Why should I trust your opinion even when you are that, since you have implied that no one must cite scholars' opinions; that this is somehow improper?"

I staked out the broad course of my reply in the second exchange:

I have never claimed that my own brief treatment of caesaropapism was anything more than a broad generalization. I do think it is historically accurate, generally speaking, as I will demonstrate. You seem to want minute scholarly accuracy in an overview paper [even Joel stated that this portion made up 10% of the paper above that he was critiquing]. I don't think that is reasonable or necessary; nevertheless, since you have called for further documentation, I will gladly provide it from historians: it is quite sufficient, in my opinion, to strongly back up my claims.

. . . I think the thesis under discussion can easily be defended, and I will shortly do so with further solid sources. But let's make it clear that I am positing a general tendency, in broad, general terms, much as Bishop Ware himself did (in a much more limited way), and similar to what my sources claim. My approach is more or less an amateur "history of ideas/theology" outlook, which isn't pretending to be an exhaustive treatment of all periods of Eastern, Byzantine, and Orthodox history, with the exactitude and precision of a professional historian. If Ware and Solzhenitsyn can generalize about historical trends and tendencies, so can I (neither of them being historians, either, as far as I know - though they are obviously well-versed in history).

I would expect you, as a budding historian, to approach the topic the way you do, with rigor, comprehensiveness, and precision. That's great, but it's another thing altogether to expect this of a piece of writing which had a different nature and purpose from the outset. But I can and will defend the general outlines of my thesis. That is all I should be expected to do, as a non-professional student of Church history. You will see that I do have many many history books in my library (running closely behind theology and apologetics). All the books I cite (unless I cite the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1911 from online) were in my own collection.
I expressed one of the reasons motivating me to do this particular research:

We have plenty of historical faults, too: sins of commission, as I acknowledged in an earlier post. But that's the point: I acknowledged our sins; you want to deny those of Orthodoxy and its historical and geographical predecessors (well,at least this one). And I notice this often in Orthodox polemics: Rome is the bad guy, and Orthodoxy is assumed to be so flawless. Oh, there are faults here and there, vaguely alluded to, but the insinuation is that Catholicism has so many more skeletons in its closet, so much more error. This is an aside, I know, but I get tired of it. It's typified in such consciously and obsessively anti-Catholic rags as Franky Schaeffer's Christian
Around this time, I produced my many citations from historians, dealing with caesaropapism. Joel's friends started pushing him to withdraw:

Not only that critic which is my worst, but several other moderate as well, have chided me for bothering to reply to this message. Although I agree with their fears of the pettiness of such a thread, I do feel the urge to explain why these fears have some ground.
He elaborated upon his argument against citing historians as secondary authoritative sources:

1. Rather than primary sources, you offer secondary sources. Rather than dealing with records and events of the time, you're working with the variegated assessment of modern writers.

2. Furthermore, you never inform us as to the basis upon which these authors derive their conclusions. Where are they getting their information, how do they support their assessments, what are their sources? (This kind of critical assessment is to be done with all quotes, pro or con.)

3. It is unclear what the quotes you offer are supposed to do for your argument. How do they work against any of my arguments? Why did you choose these extracts and not others?

To be fair to Joel, he did qualify his criticisms in an important manner:

Would that this not discourage you! Your citations present materials and views much worth discussing. Most of them seem to confirm what I have written all along. I am especially blessed by Schmemann's critique and assessment. But the task of integrating these quotes into a coherent argument . . . is your task as the catenist.
I was under the impression that the dialogue at this point was still a jovial, amiable one. Hence I wrote:

I think this exchange is very helpful and stimulating. I've learned a lot. If someone else doesn't like this, they can delete it unread. I enjoy your posts, and I hope you enjoy mine, and don't take anything personally. Some people never seem to comprehend that distinction, unfortunately: to critique one's ideas and beliefs is not necessarily to cast aspersions upon them (in other words, apologetics and ecumenism ought to exist side-by-side, in harmony). I know you understand this: I am writing to readers who might be inclined to make the charge that it is a futile and unsavory exercise of merely personal (or, for that matter, ecclesiological) "attacks," etc.

Joel stated:
Were I to bring a paper today to a Byzantine Studies Conference arguing for the
caesaropapism of the Eastern Church I would be laughed off stage.
I summed up my presentation thus far:
I have offered plenty of evidence for my part, which you have not commented on (perhaps you intend to). Would these people, e.g., laugh Schmemann (the severest critic I produced) off the stage? He has been quite frank as to the fact of it, as a lamentable eastern tendency, which is basically my claim (despite my forays into ultimate cause, which is far more tricky to demonstrate and prove).

Joel -- near the end -- claimed to be enjoying the discussion, with some qualifications (emphases added):

I have been very blessed and informed by our discussion, in which we have come to some measure of understanding. Yesterday, as I recieved the syllabi for two of my five courses, I realized that I would have to find a plateau for our fine conversation or else suffer attenuation in my time and attention . . . While I have the answers and the will to respond to most of your objections, I have less time, and increasingly less patience, given what I feel to be poor form in argumentation on your part . . . Thanks be to God for where we have built some kind of understanding!

He acknowledged that he had some answering to do:

I realize that the "ball is in my court" on several points . . . Of course I am available for feedback and criticism and even further discussion on this thread, but it will have to be a bit slower and more limited in scope. Is this agreeable to you?

I readily agreed (though expressing a preference for more speed). For whatever reason, the further dialogue never took place. That is the fact of the matter. In my opinion, the matter was left unresolved, and Joel never dealt with my material from the historians. Basically, his main approach was to complain about the methodology I used. Now, one may think he made all the superior arguments and "won" the debate (perhaps he did; who knows, in the cosmic scheme of things? I don't think so, but maybe he did . . .), but since he himself acknowledged that there were things he needed to reply to, and said he would like to in time, it stands to reason that there was no clear or decisive "winner" in this. It was no "slam dunk." It wasn't even a dunk; not even a basket, in my opinion.

Theophan's cynical, jaded judgment is not warranted by the facts. The discussion never came to any real resolution, but at least it was amiable to the end (and there is much to be said for that). I made a claim with my sources and it was not overcome, as far as I am concerned. Not even a satisfactory attempt was made. One can complain all day that secondary, not primary sources were used, but these are still scholars (three of them Orthodox) with legitimate opinions in their own field of study, and they cannot be overcome merely by complaining about lack of context and primary content, etc. (which is mostly what Joel did). Perhaps if he sees this, he will decide to return and offer a true reply to my arguments after more than four years. In the meantime, I believe that they stand, and are adequately supported. That is not to run down Joel; it is much more so a protest against the ridiculous fictional caricatures of "Theophan," in describing this discussion and the supposed "knockout punch" that I allegedly experienced.

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.