Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Early Protestants Were Ecumenical? NOT! (Part II) (vs. Dr. Paul Owen)

See Part One. Paul Owen's words will be in green; Patrick's in blue; Josh's in purple.

I see Dave. When the Protestants compromise, they are really just lying about their true beliefs.

It was Calvin and Luther who thought that Melanchthon dissembled. And Calvin thought Bucer did too. I am simply reporting it. So why don't you get angry at them instead of me? You characterize too broadly, of course. Most of the time, the Protestants did not do that, which is precisely a major contributing factor as to why these conferences never accomplished anything.

When the Catholics compromise, it is a noble effort at gaining peace.


I wasn't writing primarily about the Catholics at all. I would say they weren't all that ecumenical, either. It was a different age and a particular difficult circumstance then. Don't be silly enough to think that you know everything about what I think. I was responding to your insinuation that the Protestants acted much differently in these contexts compared to their harsher rhetorical statements. To an extent, yes, but not nearly as much as you paint it.

When the Protestants stick to their theological convictions on the Mass, they are being stubborn.

I wasn't talking about theological convictions (though this does strongly indicate anti-Catholicism) as much as allowing others who differ to worship as they please. It is not ecumenical to say to your theological opponent: "Your worship [which has hundreds of years of established Christian practice behind it] is diabolical, sacrilegious, blasphemous, abominable, sinful, and idolatrous: so much so that my party will not allow yours to worship in this fashion anywhere in our territories." A fine way to establish better relations and some semblance of reconciliation, huh Paul?

When Catholics stick to their theological convictions on the Mass, they are staying true to the Faith.

They believe what they do, yes. But that is not imposing the belief on others against their will. That's the difference. The Protestants were the upstarts in all this.

Melanchthon was an anti-Catholic, yet he managed to get criticised by his contemporaries for stretching too far to conciliate Rome.

Look at his view of the Mass. He was more conciliatory, of course (to the point of dissembling, like a typical Democratic candidate for President), but that doesn't necessarily mean he wasn't anti-Catholic (or quasi-anti-Catholic, which is the term I have been using).

The Reformers really were not interested in reconciliation, because they wouldn't give back property which changed hands when cities decided to choose in favor of the Reformation.
That would be the distinct impression left, yes. It seems the least that one can do is return stolen property, as a good will gesture. The bishops and priests were kicked out. Churches were plundered and stolen. They were owned by the Catholic Church, and in most cases had been constructed by the collective toil and contributions of simple townsfolk over several generations. Or do you deny all that? That would be something to see.

And they weren't interested in reconciliation because they didn't immediately throw up their hands and accept the doctrine of the Mass as Rome understood it.
They should allow Catholics to worship according to their conscience. It's a basic human right. If you deny that, then there is no hope whatsoever for any ecumenism, because one is denying one of the core beliefs and practices of other Christians.

Oh, and at Regensburg, it was only the Catholics who compromised on Justification, even though Luther insisted that the Protestants had given too much ground on that very subject.
I didn't make a statement on that one way or another. I would say that was probably the best example of an attempted compromise, from both sides. I was simply compiling some facts to ponder. As usual, you chose to ignore all that, and instead make non-helpful broad comments and send insults my way.

Long time, no see. I can't really say that I have any comphrensive comments to make about this post; I would note, however, that in the Reformation conflict harsh and negative polemics cut both ways. To give two examples from the Roman side, Pope Leo X's dismissal of Martin Luther (whom many contemporary Roman Catholics, such as Peter Kreeft, believe was on the right track concerning the Gospel vis a via 16th century Rome) as a "drunken German" and, more extremely, the Roman Catholic persecution of the French Huguenots. After 500 years I think it's time that we Roman Catholics and Protestants end squibbling about which side killed or supressed more of the other and simply repent of our errors.

A few thoughts with regards to the quotes from Carroll and Bainton about Beza (under your section on the Colloquy of Poissy):

I'm afraid that Beza's position has been somewhat represented. He was no Zwinglian. For example, Jill Raitt, in her The Eucharistic Theology of Theodore Beza: Development of the Reformed Doctrine, AAR Studies in Religion no.4, quotes Beza thusly (p.34, as quoted in Keith Mathison's Given for You):

"The bread which we break according to his (God's) institution, is the communication of the true body of Jesus Christ which was delivered up for us: and the cup we drink, is the communcation of the true blood shed for us, that is to say, in that same substance which he took from the womb of the virgin Mary and which he bore into heaven."

So it's a canard to say that Calvinists such as Beza believed in a solely "spiritual" communion with the body of Christ in the Eucharist if that's taken in a rationalistic way that denies the original Calvinist doctrine: that through the instruments of bread and wine, Christians receive the very body and blood of Christ. What is spiritual is the manner in which we receive Christ's body and blood: not in a carnal, physicalist manner but by the Spirit-empowered means of the sacramental elements.

I believe one of your sources said that Beza rejected the Real Presence, basing this upon Beza's rejection of a local presence of the body of Christ in the Eucharist. But, as Calvin noted, the fact that Jesus is in heaven does not impede Him for communicating Himself (i.e., being present) to His Church in that dynamic meeting between heaven and earth that is the Eucharist:

"Even though it seems unbelievable that Christ's flesh, separated from us by such great distance, penetrates to us, so that it becomes our food, let us remember how far the secret power of the Holy Spirit towers above all our senses, and how foolish it is to measure his immeasurableness by our measure. What, then, our mind does not comprehend, let faith conceive: that the Spirit truly unites things separated in space." (Institutes, IV.xvii.10)

I know that this raise the same questions that came up in our previous dialogues; I haven't had the time for posting my responses to your "Further Challenge…", but I should have some time in December to get that paper posted on my blog.


I agree, and I will take your word as to Beza's precise opinions on the Eucharist. In any event, he still flatly denied the Catholic view, and the way he stated it was not conducive to an ecumenical, conciliatory effort. Instead, it highly offended the Catholics present. It was imprudent and plain dumb (i.e., how it was expressed).

Both sides screwed up during those turbulent times? Of course. That has always been my position. As I stated in my reply to Paul, I try to give our side of things, and our critique of Protestant conduct and arguments, because it is so little known (I know I didn't have the slightest knowledge about a Catholic response to Luther and the "Reformation" when I was a Protestant). The present paper was a direct response to certain of Paul Owen's comments.

I denied them, and gave my reasons why, with heavy historical documentation. He came back with no arguments and lots of insults, including gross caricatures of my positions. It would be nice once in a while to receive a counter-argument on these matters. You have done so in the past. It's too bad that you aren't inclined to do so here. But that's okay; it's your choice, and we can't all respond to everything. At least you have remained a gentleman, and I appreciate that. And see, we do broadly agree, as I agreed with your reply comment.

I think the issue of the Reformers ought to be set aside for the time being.
It's an historical matter, which is part of what I do, so I can't set it aside. It's part and parcel of my apologetics, and I agree with the maxim that to understand the present, we must also study the past.

I think the back-and-forth on the rhetoric of the Reformers is obscuring the important point. The important point, as far as I can see, is the status of our contemporary Reformed Catholics, not the status of the long-dead Reformers.

Those are two different things, and I have no problem separating them (though without ignoring one, as you suggest). But it seems that Paul Owen can't figure out that I don't view him as a clone of Calvin.

Are our contemporaries, like Wilson, stooping to Jack Chick level claims? In an earlier post, Dave suggested that they were.

Yes, if he says there is a live possibility that we will promote Mary to God. In fact, I would contend that it is even more absurd for him to say this than Jack Chick, because he knows far better than to come up with this.

He [ I ] wrote: “It is a time for a bit of guts and speaking in defense of other Christians for a change, instead of the same old nonsense that I had hoped Wilson was opposing in this debate. But we end up with Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, as it turns out. Do you detect some disgust in me? You perceive accurately. I think it is pathetic. For once, something could have been accomplished, and I have to read ridiculous old Reformed wives' tales polemics, on the level of Maria Monk or Jack Chick”

Dave's frustration here seems to be based largely on Wilson's claims about Mary and the Trinity.


Correct. And particularly because of the severe disappointment of seeing that in a talk which I had thought would be a positive, constructive thing. I'm much more pessimistic about Reformed ecumenism now than I was, so my strong language very much reflects that.

It is frustration I well understand. But I think this frustration has certainly caused a gross overstatement. I've read some Jack Chick. Wilson's opening statement, taken as a whole, is nothing at all like Jack Chick. What's more, I am quite sure that Dave will agree with that, upon reflection.

I don't have to reflect upon it (I already agreed), as I was referring strictly to the Mary comments when I wrote that.

Wilson's opening statement of course includes certain claims that Catholics will find deeply objectionable. That's because Wilson's not a Catholic.

No, it is because he is exceptionally ignorant about Catholicism. I didn't know all that much about Catholicism before I converted, but I would have never asserted anything this asinine when I was Protestant. It's mind-boggling.

He disagrees with us on some important stuff. But he's willing to take a great deal of unjustified heat for saying that our baptism is valid—that we really are Christians. That's the whole point of his closing line about trying to get White to be harder on Rome. Wilson is willing to be harder on us, it seems, because we really are Christians. White, of course, thinks we are not.

Why is it that I don't feel that this is all that much of a "concession"? When you see the sort of thing he does believe about us, I really could care little whether he regards me as a Christian or not. I am an "equal" to him in Christ the way a slave was equal to his master as a man. After all, they were both men, right?

Whether White or Wilson is more like the Reformers is, perhaps, an interesting question. But as I say, in the present context that question obscures the point. The point is that Wilson is doing some very good stuff.

I've already said that I admire the "Reformed Catholic" strain of thought as a whole. I expect grown men to be able to disagree and have a thoughtful conversation about honestly-held differences, without getting all on their ears and becoming insulting. My critique is within an overall attitude of respect. But I have no respect for statements that ignorant regarding Catholic Mariology. Nor do I have any patience left for that kind of inexcusable error and insult (which is obvious).

Catholics, again, will insist that he's got his weaknesses. In particular, his point about Mary and the Trinity was a gross error. Dave's reading of that passage was not, as Paul suggested, "wooden." Dave was not to blame for interpreting that passage harshly.
Thank you. But apparently that was part of the reason I am supposedly "unreasonable" on a grand scale, and not truly interested in dialogue.

It is pretty evident that that passage was at best very badly put, and at worst, (as Paul himself said) just plain stupid. Perhaps Dave might be convinced to go ahead and grant to Paul and Tim the more charitable reading.

I'm waiting for a clarification or retraction. I see no reason to modify my present opinions.

That is, perhaps Dave can be convinced to think that Wilson just made a fair enough point extremely badly, rather than thinking that he made an absurd point clearly enough. (Indeed, I firmly hope that we will be getting a clarification from Wilson, either in person or by proxy, on this point, and that the Tim/Paul interpretation will be vindicated.)
I don't think such a statement can be wholly accounted for by clarification and nuancing. Some things are of such seriousness and revealing nature that it is obvious that they reflect a deep strain of thought in the one who states them. In my own opinion (I speculate), I think it is fear and prejudice, frankly, on the part of Protestants, against Mary, which causes them to become outright irrational oftentimes when discussing the subject.

I demonstrated this about John Q. Doe (also a Calvinist). When he gets to St. Alphonsus and Mary, however, he becomes almost ridiculous and cares little about objective reading of an author in context at all (which is ironic because he charges me with the same regarding Luther). I did a paper on that: it's listed on my sidebar. That's a case in point. I contend that otherwise reasonable, intelligent, insightful men, can be led far astray by fears and prejudices. Nowhere is this more true than with the Blessed Virgin (followed by the pope).

But I also think it's only fair for Paul to admit—as he has certainly not yet done—that his own reading of the text is far from the most natural reading.
Don't look for that here anytime soon, given his low opinion of me. But if he does admit it, praise God.

I'd like to see Paul openly grant that my reading (and Dave's, and Jonathan's, etc.) is the most straightforward and natural way to take Wilson's point. I'd like to see Paul, in fact, recant the charge that Dave's reading was "wooden." That was not a fair charge to make.
That's the least of the charges he has made, when you read his recent posts! LOL

It is Paul's reading that is strained and unnatural. I only hope it is, for all that, the correct one.
I have no such hope, but perhaps it can be explained in a way to convince me.

Perhaps if Dave would admit to having been a bit too hard on Wilson,
I still believe the substance of what I said. One can always soften the way they expressed things, upon reflection. That is true for me, as for anyone else.

and Paul would admit to having been a bit too hard on Dave,
:-) That would mean I truly do like to dialogue, and I don't think Luther and Calvin were scumbags and scoundrels through and through . . . :-) Obviously, Paul's feelings about me have been brewing for some time. He only got mad enough to express them after this latest exchange. A very common phenomenon . . .

and everyone would agree to leave the Reformers out of the picture for awhile,
I can't do that, because it is part of my apologetics. I'm not scared of learning more about history, and I don't see why anyone else has to be. But let a Catholic like me criticize the sacred cow "Reformers" and it is Chicken Little and I'm a big bad wolf who doesn't care about dialogue and supposedly detests Protestants. One tires of this. There is no large difference at all between the two endeavors. Tim is criticizing medieval and post-Tridentine Catholicism as an orthodox, classical, ecumenical Protestant and I am criticizing primitive Protestantism as an orthodox, Tridentine, and ecumenical Catholic. If his enterprise is perfectly allowable why is mine is a big scandal and affront? I have replied to Tim's theories time and agin, whereas mine are mostly ignored. It's a clear double standard, and I won't bow to it.

ALL PROTESTANTS PLEASE NOTE, AND READ THREE TIMES: I do not (repeat, NOT) equate current-day Protestants with the early ones. Quite the contrary. It is precisely because I make a big distinction that I think it is such a simple matter for Protestants today to denounce things in the "Reformers" that they got plain wrong. After all, N.T. Wright does this. Lots of scholars do. It's no big deal. It is part of my duty as a Catholic apologist to respond to the lies and distortions of history that are used to present my Church in an unnecessarily unfavorable light (and Protestants in an exaggeratedly favorable light). There are plenty of actual bad things that both sides have done throughout history, without resorting to distortions and caricatures and historical revisionism (on both sides).

we could come to some agreement on the important point. Here it is, in my book:
Resolved: that Wilson is to be applauded for his commitment to Ecumenism (in the true sense of that word)

But I disagree with that. You don't achieve ecumenism by falsely believing that your Catholic "brethren" are gross idolaters in three different ways: the Mass, images, and Mary, and by stating that they are in a distinct danger of making Mary God and baptizing in her name along with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Sorry, that is not "ecumenical" in my book. It is "quasi-anti-Catholic" — which was the point of my critique.Tim and Paul don't believe these things. Many "Reformed Catholics" do not. But some apparently still do. I don't think that is the ecumenical position ("in the true sense of that word").

and for his courage in standing up to James White and co.
I question how much he is doing that, after reading this piece . . .

Once we can all agree that Wilson and the rest of the Reformed Catholics are our friends—that our disagreements, though real and deep, can be talked through without animus, in a spirit of reconciliation—then perhaps some of the impulse to overreact can be overcome.
Oh, sure, absolutely. But that is not the tenor of Paul Owen's remarks about me lately. He is making me his enemy: not even of his "camp" — as you can read above. I've been ecumenical on both sides of the fence. It is nothing new to me.

I'm just rambling now, so let me keep going. I'm a philosopher, as some here know. I'm trained in one "school" of philosophy. Call it school A. Last week, I went to a conference to read a paper: I knew full well that my audience would be made up largely of people trained in a different school—call that one school B. What's more, a good part of the thrust of my paper was to say that B was getting some important stuff wrong, and that it stood to learn from A. I also noted that the converse was true: A stood to learn some important stuff from A. Let me assure you that I chose my words carefully. I don't believe I dissembled in any way, but the things I chose to emphasize in a room full of B philosophers were different than they would have been had I been speaking to a room full of A philosophers.

Sure. I don't see anything wrong with that.

It seems to me obvious that Wilson had to do the same. He had to emphasize the "Reformed" aspect of his Faith in the debate.

He could do that without lying and casting aspersions upon our Church. You can be as firmly against Mariology as all get-out without becoming ludicrous and claiming that Catholics are teetering on the edge of making her into God (I did it myself before 1990; I particularly loathed infallibility and railed on and on against it, much as Tim does against the papacy). I do the same thing from the opposite perspective. You see me making these strong arguments against Luther and Calvin and various Protestant beliefs, but I am still ecumenical. In fact, I have been accused of caving to the Protestants by so-called "traditionalists." But Paul Owen seems to think I am a "quasi-anti-Protestant" with a nefarious apologetic agenda (an old tired charge by those who fail to fair-mindedly read my work, or to read it at all). It all depends from what perspective one is.

I will always be a controversial figure, apparently, but we are to expect that in this line of work because we take positions and vigorously defend them. It's the old nonsense that apologetics is intrinsically contrary to ecumenism, conciliarism, and dialogue. It is not. And I try to demonstrate that in my writing and in how I conduct myself. I fail often, but that doesn't make the whole attempt to do all these things futile or contradictory (simply because I may screw up as a human being).

If he ever speaks to a roomful of Catholics, perhaps he emphasizes the "Catholic" side of his faith. I don't think there's anything going on here like hiding what one really believes in order to avoid stepping on toes (which Dave suggests is characteristic of liberalism). I think there's just an attempt to communicate effectively.

Again, he could have done that without going to the offensive and false extreme that he did.

For this reason, I just want to try to suggest that all of us Catholics need to be sure to cut Wilson some slack. He was in a tough spot. From what I read in his opening statement, he did an excellent job of presenting his position carefully and as persuasively as he could, given his audience.

I have no problem with that. I appreciate your conciliatory tone. You are more charitable than I am. But I retain my same opinion until clarification might persuade me otherwise. I couldn't find anything else that Wilson wrote about Mary online, so I have no further information. We have had one Protestant person here, who talks to him, suggest that he takes a rather low view of Catholic corruption. He seemed to support our interpretation of the Mary remarks.

I do apologize for going on so. But I'm getting depressed by the debate over this Wilson thing.
Believe me, lots in apologetics is depressing. Don't let it get you down.

I really want to say that I respect and appreciate the Reformed Catholicism movement (insofar as I know anything about it, which frankly isn't all that far),
Me too.

and I respect and appreciate what Wilson did in the debate.
I can't say that I follow you in that opinion. That's not to deny that some elements of it were helpful, but overall I think it was a net loss and a lost opportunity to accomplish much in ecumenical terms. I'm extremely disappointed in this, and hope beyond hope that something good can come of it. But this is what we deal with as Catholics, on an ongoing basis. It seems that a miracle of God's grace is required to overcome the inherited animus against our beliefs and our Church. I believe that: nothing short of supernatural grace can dissuade folks from the usual claptrap and myths that get bandied about concerning Catholicism.

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