Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Catholic Critique of Anglicanism

By Dave Armstrong (12 November 2001)

I. The Dilemma of Competing Ecclesiologies: the Visible vs. the Invisible Church

If Anglicans have any sort of notion of "indefectibility" - whereby the true Christian Church (or a valid portion of the universal catholic church, etc.) cannot and will not fall into rank heresy; being protected by the Holy Spirit, then it would be quite difficult for traditionalist Anglicans to square that concept with what is happening in liberal Anglican and Episcopalian circles today.

If one takes a view of the Christian Church that it is a visible, historical institution, then indefectibility would seem to follow as a matter of course. Or one can take an alternate view of the "invisible church," which is the route of most non-Anglican Protestants, but then (in my opinion) historical continuity, apostolicity, and legitimate apostolic Tradition lose some of their authoritativeness and binding nature.

The presence of heresy and ethical departure from Christian precedent raises troubling questions as to the apostolicity and legitimacy of visible, institutional churches. But the breakaway Anglican communions have to deal with the schismatic principle: i.e., how can they break away and form a new sect without this doing harm to the notion of "one holy catholic and apostolic church" and the apostolic continuity (or, "indefectibility") of the "mother church"?

In other words, I think (orthodox, traditional) Anglicans have a real dilemma here, since to accept the more institutional, "visible" view of ecclesiology is to be confronted with clear heresy and departure from Christian Tradition, while breaking away, on the other hand, creates the difficulty of a de facto acceptance of the Protestant "invisible church" framework and hence, the actuality or potentiality of yet another schism. So the orthodox Anglican is "betwixt and between" two incompatible forms of ecclesiology, with no easy resolution to either problem.

Anglicanism seems to me to foster an incoherent mixing of low Protestant invisible church beliefs and apostolic succession, which I understand is the mainstream Anglican position. It's neither "fish nor fowl." Better (logically speaking) to be either . . .

The Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571 state:

XIX. The visible Church of Christ is the congregation of faithful men in which the pure Word of God is preached and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all things that of necessity are requisite to the same.
So the Church is visible. If one adopts visibility and "institutionality" as ecclesiological criteria, then the dilemma or difficulty arises, because that is in distinction to the invisible church notion of mainstream Protestantism. But Anglicans (i.e., orthodox ones) seem to be in a catch-22 here, granting the above standard of the nature of the Church.

But then again, I suppose the above might be interpreted in the "invisible" fashion. To me, it is potentially as nebulous and malleable as any Baptist or Reformed Creed or Confession or official denominational statement, etc.

This business of "the congregation of faithful men in which the pure Word of God is preached" is full of interpretational difficulties. It reads great, but it is extremely difficult to consistently apply. If the Church is merely every "faithful" man, then surely this is the invisible church, rather than the visible, since in the institutional Church, the wheat and the tares grow up together, as Christ tells us. There are sinners in the Church. That is abundantly clear in Paul's letters to the Galatians and Corinthians, and the seven churches in Revelation, among other biblical indications.

And what is the "pure Word of God"? Given the squabbles in Anglicanism, it seems that this is not so simple of a matter to determine. There are no Ecumenical Councils to resolve it, and of course no pope. If it were that simple, then many things in Anglicanism would have long since been determined, and the current civil war would be a lot less serious than it is. But if the "Church" consists of all the faithful, who hear the Pure Word, then I dare say that there isn't a single congregation in the world, of any trinitarian Christian stripe, which qualifies. So - with all due respect - I contend that the above statement is hopelessly incoherent.

I have faith that my Church is divinely protected, just as most committed, devout, practicing Christians of any stripe have faith that God preserved the Bible from error, and inspired it. One is no more implausible than the other, in my opinion. And just as there are thorny exegetical and hermeneutical and textual difficulties in Scripture to be worked through and mulled over, so there are in Church history. But that need not cause anyone to despair that God is able to protect His Sacred Tradition and His Church and orthodoxy inviolate.

That's why I've always said that Protestants seem to have a lack of faith in what God can and will do. I believe this even has a relationship - however remote - to the Incarnation. God became a Man and so raised humanity to previous untold heights (I've actually written about deification and theosis - usually Orthodox emphases - in my second book). Likewise, if God created a Church which is at bottom a divine institution: His institution, is it not plausible to believe in faith that He can protect that institution from doctrinal error? Yet Protestants and (many?) Anglicans want to adopt an "invisible" notion of the Church, which I find to be utterly unbiblical and non-apostolic.

Indefectibility follows from the "self-confidence" of each Church's Creed and how binding they claim to be; also based on certain statements of Jesus and the Apostles whereby we are led to believe that the true Church would not fall into heresy, as there is a true and false tradition. That is certainly how St. Paul views the matter. For him it is quite cut-and-dried. God is able in fact to maintain pure doctrine. He is not able to maintain pure human beings, because He has allowed free will and the freedom to rebel against Him and righteousness. But doctrinal and ethical truth and orthodoxy - not having free will - are possible for an omnipotent, sovereign Being to uphold, even in a human institution.

Abuse and institutionalization of error are vastly different. Catholic theological and moral doctrine has not changed. Anglican doctrine has: on contraception, on divorce, on abortion, on homosexuality, and any number of other issues. So the traditionalists among them have formed breakaway communions. Their motives are certainly pure, but this doesn't solve their ecclesiological problem. They're still applying the Protestant principles of schism and private judgment, and this clashes with the nature of the Church as expressed in the Nicene Creed.

Be that as it may, I see internal inconsistency in how Anglicans are applying the term "church" - an arbitrary switching back and forth between invisible and visible definitions, which I think is improper and illogical. There is a sense in which an invisible or mystical church is properly spoken of, but for those who accept apostolic succession, this can never undermine in the least a visible, institutional church.


II. Anglican "Messiness": Glory or Tragedy?

More than one Anglican has told me that they "glory" in Anglican "messiness" - i.e., the fact that not all dogmas are infallibly declared, but that the individual can choose among options. They seem to view this as an admirable moderation or restraint, free from the excesses of "Rome." But where do we find the desirability of "messiness" in Holy Scripture? We find messiness in the early Church, surely (all over the place), but what we never find is commendation for such "messiness," as if it were a good thing.

What we find, on the contrary, are condemnations of this in the strongest possible terms, from both St. Paul (in places too numerous to mention) and Our Lord Jesus (e.g., John 17). So this approach is somewhat baffling, from a strictly scriptural point of view. Are we to glory in human shortcomings rather than divine ideals and goals and biblical prescriptions? This strikes me - with all due respect - as C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity" taken to an extreme.

If I may be so brash as to speculate: the tendency of Anglicanism to perpetually divide itself into parties in many ways mutually exclusive (thus allowing a natural inroads to the modernist with few scruples and little historical sense of orthodoxy), is ultimately doctrinal relativism. It isn't like Dominicans, Jesuits, and Benedictines in the Catholic Church, since those are primarily differences in spiritual approach and liturgy, rather than fundamental theology and ethics.

Messiness has struck the Catholic Church too, because of the gift of modernism that was born and bred in Protestant ranks and bequeathed to us. But we regard this "messiness" as a bad thing, as a distortion and co-opting of the orthodox Vatican II, whereas so many Anglicans "glory" in it. Strange: traditionalist Anglicans fight the liberals on the one hand, yet revel in theological diversity and relativism on the other. Relativism and a body of truth more than one and indivisible is an absolutely unbiblical concept.

The Church is what it is, because the apostolic deposit was what it was and is. Unity exists insofar as Christians accept this deposit and submit themselves to it. But of course Anglicans and Catholics have arguments as to the nature of the initial Tradition handed down to us by the Apostles. The thing to do is to determine what the Apostles believed and to conform ourselves to those beliefs. But one must necessarily take into account the place of development of doctrine, as well. I think development is the key for understanding the non-essential differences in doctrines from the time of the Apostles to our time, and the key for Protestants to understand the ostensible "growth" of doctrine in Catholicism (what is usually termed "[unbiblical] excess" or "corruption."

It was even stated by one Anglican with whom I dialogued, that this "messiness" had humility "as its root." I fail to comprehend this thinking. How is it a lack of humility (as it seems to me this person was perhaps subtly implying) to simply acknowledge that certain things are true, as passed down by an authoritative Christian body, be it Anglican, Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, or Reformed? And how is it "humble" merely to accept the notion that large areas of ethics and doctrine should be left up to choice and a sort of "majority vote" - which I would call a de facto relativism? If I were to choose, I would say that it is arguably far less humble to feel that one can pick and choose Christian truths, rather than submitting in obedience and faith to whatever brand of Christianity they adhere to. This gets into the rather complicated argument about private judgment.

III. The Via Media: the Attempted and Sought-After "Middle Way" of Anglicanism

The Anglican concept of the Via Media is regarded as a "middle way" between Protestantism and (Roman) Catholicism. Cardinal Newman disputed this understanding with great force (I think, compellingly) in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and Apologia pro vita sua, but the perspective is still very much with us today.

What fascinates me about this Via Media approach is: by what means does one arrive at it? What are its first premises, and where do they come from? Is it in the Bible? If so, where? Is this strain of thought present in the Church Fathers? For my part, I would suspect that it is ultimately (in terms of history of ideas) a product of Renaissance nominalism, sola Scriptura, and the negative influences of post-"Enlightenment" philosophical thought. I could just as easily make a case that certain secular philosophical influences have brought Anglicans to this juncture where they think in these terms in the first place, so that they are just as beholden to philosophy as we are with our Thomistic "baptized" Aristotelianism (as they sometimes criticize us).

Catholics are in no way, shape, or form, reducing mysteries to merely intellectual constructs. We bow before the mysteries; we marvel at them. Are Marian apparitions, e.g., instances of a "dominance of intellect"? Yet some of them (notably, Fatima and Lourdes) are accepted at the very highest levels of the Church, and all of our greatest thinkers (e.g., Aquinas, Augustine, Newman, the present pope) had or have a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

It's not either/or. We value mind and heart, mysticism and systematic theology, orthodoxy and orthopraxis, experience and the pondering of the intricacies of dogma. Our greatest saints are always combinations of these traits and emphases. I say that our "both/and" approach is the truest kind of Via Media: a refusal to create false dichotomies, and to accept all the different aspects of faith, all the while not relegating dogmas to majority vote and "secondary doctrines." As Chesterton observed:

The Church is from the first a thing holding its own position and point of view, quite apart from the accidents and anarchies of its age. That is why it deals blows impartially right and left, at the pessimism of the Manichean or the optimism of the Pelagian. It was not a Manichean movement because it was not a movement at all. It was not an official fashion because it was not a fashion at all. It was something that could coincide with movements and fashions, could control them and could survive them.

(The Everlasting Man, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1925, 228)
If the Via Media is such an attractive and distinguishing trait, then surely it can be found in the Bible and the Fathers and the early Councils, right? Anglicans also value those sources very highly, so it seems to me that if this notion of Via Media cannot be found there, then Anglicanism has a problem of internal incoherence once again - and a rather serious one at that.

Cardinal Newman, in his criticism of the Via Media in his Apologia, argued that the "middle position" between so-called extremes was also heretical. If one takes a position between 4th-century Catholicism and Arianism, one is not a "Via Media Christian." That person is a Semi-Arian. By pressing various analogies like this, Newman was led to the realization where he wrote (famously): "I looked in the mirror and I was a Monophysite."

Again, I ask Anglicans (with perfect sincerity and curiosity): where in the Bible or the Fathers or Councils do you find the scenario of always seeking a "middle way" between two other parties? What was the equivalent in the Ancient Church of the Anglican Via Media? I suppose Anglicans could argue that the ancient Catholic Church was closer to present-day Anglicanism than to present-day Catholicism, but that would take an awful lot of arguing to be persuasive. To offer two quick examples: where are, e.g., the analogies to the Council of Chalcedon and Pope Leo the Great in Anglicanism today? But Catholics have John Paul II and Vatican II.

IV. Anglicanism and the Papacy

One Anglican argued that since the ex cathedra definition of papal infallibility was promulgated in 1870, that no pope prior to that date could fulfill that role. That a particular doctrine was not dogmatically defined before a certain date, however, does not mean that it didn't exist prior to that date, or was not widely accepted. Papal infallibility and supremacy of jurisdiction certainly did exist, and was - by and large - adhered to, until the Orthodox ditched it, and later the Anglicans and Protestants.

The very fact that all of them made a big deal out of rejecting it (we need look no further than Henry VIII) proves that it was in fact present. It is presupposed in Luther's contrary statement at the Diet of Worms: "popes and Councils can err." How can one reject something that is nonexistent? Controversy suggests contrary views. St. Thomas More was martyred in order to uphold papal supremacy, which in turn is closely connected (logically and ecclesiologically) to papal infallibility (of some sort, at any rate).

John Henry Cardinal Newman, in his masterpiece Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845; rev. 1878), elaborates upon the above analysis:

Whether communion with the Pope was necessary for Catholicity would not and could not be debated till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred. It is not a greater difficulty that St. Ignatius does not write to the Asian Greeks about Popes, than that St. Paul does not write to the Corinthians about Bishops. And it is a less difficulty that the Papal supremacy was not formally acknowledged in the second century, than that there was no formal acknowledgment on the part of the Church of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity till the fourth. No doctrine is defined till it is violated . . . .

Moreover, an international bond and a common authority could not be consolidated . . . while persecutions lasted. If the Imperial Power checked the development of Councils, it availed also for keeping back the power of the Papacy. The Creed, the Canon, in like manner, both remained undefined . . . All began to form, as soon as the Empire relaxed its tyrannous oppression of the Church . . .

Supposing there be otherwise good reason for saying that the Papal Supremacy is part of Christianity, there is nothing in the early history of the Church to contradict it. . .

Doctrine cannot but develop as time proceeds and need arises, and . . . therefore it is lawful, or rather necessary, to interpret the words and deeds of the earlier Church by the determinate teaching of the later.
Details needed to be worked out (e.g., how wide was the latitude for papal infallibility: Vatican I settled on a (relatively speaking) "moderate" position over against the Ultramontanes and the Gallicans, and what was later known as the "Old Catholics" (led by the historian Dollinger), but this is the case with all developments. I could just as well say that no one believed that Christ had Two Natures before Chalcedon in 451, because it wasn't yet precisely defined dogma, or that no one accepted the Trinity before Nicaea in 325, etc.

Papal infallibility is a straightforward development and logical extension of papal supremacy. The latter can be indisputably shown in hundreds of patristic (and even conciliar) quotes, perhaps most notably from Pope Leo the Great. And the former is not at all inconsistent with it.

Now, lest Anglicans or anyone else dispute the validity of development itself, they would have to demonstrate how Christological or canonical or soteriological development (particularly concerning original sin) differ in essence from development of the office of the papacy. Anglicanism has no pope; Orthodoxy has none; Protestants have none, but the early Church sure seemed to (even if the office is regarded as merely a primacy of honor).

How does one get from a pope to no pope in a straight line of doctrinal development? Therefore, I submit that having no pope is far more a departure from early Christianity than having an infallible pope. The first is a complete reversal of precedent; the latter a deductive development of what came before.

There either was a pope in Church history or there wasn't. Most (if not all) would grant that there was. Then the dispute becomes the extent of his power and jurisdiction, and infallibility. At that point it becomes (insofar as it is a strictly historical discussion) basically a "war of patristic and conciliar quotes." Thus far, no matter how (in my opinion) compelling a set of quotes from the Fathers is produced, I have yet to meet an opponent who will deal with them seriously and comprehensively rather than derisively or dismissively. Granted, I may have limited experience, but I have engaged in many dialogues, and I refer only to my own experience, as far as it goes.

Another tack I would take on this is that Anglicans (as far as I can see) acknowledge (early) conciliar and creedal infallibility (or at least a high degree of authoritativeness, notwithstanding disputes of interpretation). Now, I assume that would be based on consensus of the early Church, just as, e.g., the Canon of New Testament Scripture or the Two Natures of Christ was. But many in that early Church (and not a few from the East) acknowledged the papacy in exalted terms not inconsistent with the full development of papal infallibility, brought to fruition in 1870.

So why accept their opinions on one thing and not the other? If we judge the authoritativeness and truthfulness of Church Fathers at every turn based on our own private judgment, then we are in no wise different in our approach than Luther at Worms and thereafter. And that gets me right back to my point about the incoherent mixtures of Protestant and Catholic notions of ecclesiology and authority in Anglicanism. Apostolic succession means something.

Beyond that are the biblical indications of papal supremacy and the logical deduction of infallibility in the same sense that a Council (e.g., the one in Jerusalem: Acts 15) is regarded as infallible in some binding and dogmatic sense.

Development ought not surprise us. It has always been with us, and always will be. It is evident in Scripture itself (e.g., the angelology which had obviously undergone much development amongst the Jews in the inter-Testamental period). The common mistake is to confuse particulars of definition with the essence of a doctrine, and so conclude falsely that the essential or presuppositional elements were never historically present before they were defined in great precision. Such is the case with papal infallibility, as with many other disputed doctrines - e.g., the Catholic Marian ones.

Anglicans like to claim that papal excesses in the exercise of authority fractured the Catholic Church, with the Great Schism (when three men claimed to be pope simultaneously) and the events of the 16th-century so-called "Reformation." But the papacy was by no means the sole factor in either break. It was much more so in the so-called English "Reformation" since Henry VIII wanted supremacy to reside in himself rather than the trans-national papacy (in the first instance due to sheer lust). St. Thomas More died because of his refusal to accept that travesty of justice and perversion of Christian governance.

Students of Church history may recall that Martin Luther also rejected conciliar infallibility and five previously commonly-accepted sacraments, among many other things. He had to do so in order to establish absolute supremacy of conscience, private judgment, and sola Scriptura, with its corollary perspicuity of Scripture, as the new formal principles of authority. I don't see that Anglicans are much different, much as they acknowledge and claim to respect primitive Christian Tradition and the Fathers. I believe Anglicans (at least the more traditional and "orthodox" ones) do respect them, but I see many problems of inconsistent application of their teachings, and an incoherent mixture of visible and invisible church notions (and private judgment vs. the obedience entailed in apostolic succession).

Jesus Himself said that His coming would divide households. Was that His fault? Likewise, if the papacy was indeed divinely-instituted, yet people didn't like it and rejected it, was it God's fault that division then occurred? We should also expect conflict in larger Church battles and divisions. But we shouldn't adopt an indifferentist or relativist approach and assume all sides are equally right, or that there is no right side, simply because division exists, or that every man is in effect his own pope, or despair that there is any answer at all.

The grounds for the papacy are in Scripture itself, and in how the Lord and the early Church regarded St. Peter. That's where the argument succeeds or fails (at least in ecumenical discussion), not in a momentary dispute between Paul and Peter (over behavioral hypocrisy - not doctrine at all), or some alleged arrogant act of Pius IX, or a whoring Renaissance Borgia pope, or historical-political-cultural happenstance, etc.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dialogue on 16th Century Theft of Church Properties (vs. "CPA")

By Dave Armstrong (2-22-06)

CPA's words will be in green. Martin Luther's words will be in blue


Thanks for your (as always) thoughtful reply.

I'll just reply and let you have the last word (it's your blog and I couldn't hope to out-write you anyway).

Why must discussions end just as they are getting somewhere? No need to think this is the end. We might actually accomplish something if we continue what I think has been a great discussion.

The basic presupposition I'm working with here, is the idea that assessing the behavior of a religious group toward other religious groups (e.g. as in which one is more respectful of others, which one resorts to violence first, which one "plays by the rules," etc.) must be neutral with regard to confession. Since you are a Catholic and I am an Augsburg Evangelical (Lutheran), the premise "Catholic doctrine is truer" or "Evangelical doctrine is truer" is nowhere allowed.

Yes, of course. Beyond that, I believe there is natural law (and biblical morality), which governs ethics, and which we have in common. That allows us to judge behavior by a commonly-held standard without getting into doctrinal distinctives and clashes.

Otherwise, we're just saying, my group is true and yours isn't so my group gets to do things your group can't.

No; the whole point is that no one can do things they oughtn't do, by biblical and natural law standards (or even civil law standards - hopefully based on natural law, such as, e.g., the prohibition against stealing others' property).

If that's the case then the whole point of the debate (attempting to suggest something about the truth of Catholic or Evangelical by looking at their historical behavior) is pointless, since you've put into the premises what you are trying to conclude.

Since I'm not doing that, this is a non sequitur and doesn't apply to me, but I agree that it is good to point out. It shows how one should properly approach the discussion. You are simply incorrect that I am doing any such thing. I'm not.

You generally seem to follow this, but at several points you fall back implicitly on the, "well Catholicism is right so that makes it different" argument.

Perhaps I inadvertently did that at times, as we all tend to do, but I don't think you have proven this, from the supposed examples you provide.

For example, when you discuss my Roman analogy, you object that I am comparing Roman pagans to Catholics, and that that somehow makes my analogy grotesque. But as I said, in discussing behavior towards other groups, we have to abstract all question of truth.

Yes (to the latter point), but you are mixing apples and oranges. I understand the usual evangelical presupposition that Catholicism was an old, dead, crusty, moldy thing, which needed to be replaced by young, fresh, vital, supposed "reform" of Protestantism. But then, of course, that entails you smuggling in your conclusions and arguing in a circle.

Apart from that circularity, I object mainly to the Roman analogy for precisely the same reason why I objected to the (even more ridiculous and desperate) Muslim and Communist ones. In every case, you compare the Catholic Church to a non-Christian religion or ideology or form of government. This is unfair and untrue. It comes down to, again, whether Catholicism is Christian or not. If it isn't, then you make the standard anti-Catholic arguments that Luther, Calvin et al used, and which are endlessly repeated today.


That's one thing, and would again presuppose the fundamental rightness of your cause over against mine (back to the circularity you objected to). But since you don't accept that characterization, and it is in fact, untrue, the analogy is again fundamentally flawed and thus inapplicable. If Catholicism is Christian (as you grant), then why do you keep comparing it to non-Christian systems?

If it's wrong and a form of theft for Evangelicals to seize Catholic churches in Nuremburg and make them Protestant then all other things being equal (and as I said truth is not in this case a relevant factor)

But your premises are wrong here insofar as you overlook the common ground of ethics between Catholics and Protestants (which applies without regard to theological differences). We both follow the Ten Commandments, remember? We both think it is wrong to steal. It is wrong to steal the property of another Christian. If I came rummaging through your town with a band of rag-tag, self-righteous zealots and simply came into your church, destroyed works of art, smashed windows, booted out the pastor, and stole the building and made it a Catholic Church, what would you think? Would you feel that a grave injustice had been done? Would you rightly believe that you would have ample recourse to civil law to deal with your grievances and return to you what is rightly yours? Of course you would. But when we talk about the 16th century, all of a sudden you want to play games and act as if this is not indefensible behavior and fundamentally outrageous.

it's wrong for Christians to seize the Parthenon and make it a church (as they did).

I already agreed that the issues raised in conquering of pagan lands and cultures are difficult and thorny. I have not claimed to have worked through all of that (indeed, I would like to give it some serious consideration at some point, as something I have long wondered about).

But I don't have to have all that worked out to know that it is wrong for one Christian to steal another Christian's property, and banish their religion in the land where they have always lived, and require them to move in order to get their religious freedom back.

Stealing is wrong. Period. However it works out in analyzing the ethics of conquering and evangelizing lands, that doesn't undo the fact that stealing is a grave sin. Because one issue is more complex and more difficult to decipher does not make a much simpler situation ethically neutral or indecipherable. No; this is a clear case of injustice. You admit it yourself in the cases of Sweden and England, but you have tried to argue that it was a lot different in Germany. As a quantitative matter of degree, yes, but when the rabble-rousing Protestants came to my town and stole my church, then it was a clear matter of wrong and injustice.

These things cannot be defended. The very fact that you have to appeal to extraordinary, inapplicable analogies in order to bolster up a lost cause (stealing of churches of fellow Christians) shows the very weakness of your case.

When you argue that Evangelicalism, being new, must therefore legitimately accept a position as being in some sense on probation or on trial that the Catholic church or even Islam need not be, you are simply special pleading, unless you accept that Christianity should have similarly accepted that position vis a vis Judaism when it was 12, 13, 24, or 44 years old.

Here we go with the desperate, fundamentally-flawed analogies again. Having tried Communism and Islam (you wouldn't even defend those arguments), then pagan Rome, now you try Judaism. Close, but no cigar. At least here we have the historical precursor to Christianity; the "OT Church," so to speak. But you use this analogy because it fits boilerplate Protestant polemics: Catholicism was old and decrepit and hypocritical just as OT Pharisaical Judaism was; it was time to pass the torch to the new, noble, bearers of the Gospel, lovers of the Bible and piety, etc.

This is not radically presupposing what you are trying to prove?. I was simply, on the other hand, arguing in that context from an essentially neutral, sociological standpoint (that was my major in college, by the way). Catholicism was the status quo, and Protestantism was the new thing. In a very real sense, then, Catholicism was more respectable and worthy to be maintained, as it had been tested by time and tradition.

You might say, "who cares? What do those factors have to do with anything? How important are they?" Well, you can't have it both ways. If you say that we can't smuggle our theological predispositions into the conversation, then we have to argue sociologically, as I was precisely doing. So my argument was perfectly valid from that relatively neutral perspective. But now here you go bringing in the implicit anti-Catholic bias again: Catholicism was wrong like Pharisaical Judaism; therefore, Protestants get a big huge pass for their clearly unethical behavior of stealing and demanding "equal rights."

Otherwise it’s just “newborn true faiths don’t need to bow to anyone, but newborn false faiths should show a little humility.” As I said, that’s an illegitimate importing into your premise what you wish to prove.

Quite the contrary; as I just showed. You are the one committing the argumentative fallacy which you object to. My original defeater of your analogy showed exactly how your reasoning went astray. You wished to compare Catholicism in its attitudes in the 16th century to Islam and Communists. So I played the game and followed the analogy through: showing how it would work in contemporary America. This revealed the moral absurdity of the initial Protestant behavioral/political/cultural viewpoint; so much so that you made no attempt whatsoever to defend your original analogy.

The pagan Roman and Pharisee analogies are slightly better, but still fundamentally flawed, and now contradictory to your talk of "neutral" analyses without delving into relative truth claims.

(Had the authorities on both sides in Germany adopted the wisdom of Gamaliel that would have been a great thing, but the very laws against heresy that were part of their common heritage compelled them to do differently.)

Heresy is one discussion; stealing is quite another . . . the first is highly subjective in the sense of folks defining it quite differently from where they sit; the second is a common ethical precept, held by religious, non-religious, pagan, and atheist alike.

Similarly, in arguing the fact that the laws against heresy were secular laws (and presumably therefore something which both sides can agree on being something that ought to be observed), you add:

If heresy is a bad thing, and causes strife and people to potentially go to hell, it should be suppressed. Would that we had a bit more of that attitude today (while still preserving religious tolerance and liberty).
Well, again, here you've imported into your premise the conclusion:

Lutheran doctrine (which you have identified as heresy) can potentially cause people to go to hell.

But that was simply an aside, and formed no point of my argument. I was making a "footnote"-like comment about how heresy was viewed then and now. They (both sides) had some very bad beliefs in those days, but we do today also, in the opposite direction. I was simply commenting on that. No part of my argument against Protestant behavior and double standards in the 16th century rests on these secondary comments.

As I pointed out, you can assert that as a heretic Luther caused trouble, but just don't expect me to be impressed when you thereby “conclude” from that fact that Luther was a heretic.

I wouldn't expect you to be impressed by such an absurd argument, which is why I never made it.

Now this gets us to the issue of Catholicism and Evangelicalism: two different religions or two interpretations of one religion. You imply that if we adopt the second school, and hence reject "anti-Catholicism" (your term for the idea that Catholicism is a type, possibily wrong, but still a type of Christianity)

I take this (Catholicism is Christian, and especially must be regarded as so if Protestantism is) to be self-evidently true, which is why I don't waste my time arguing with anti-Catholics anymore. They defend the indefensible, and what that says about their overall rational capacity precludes attempted dialogue with them (not to mention my near-universal negative, hyper-frustrating experience in actually attempting just that).

you imply that it would be invalid for the Evangelicals, once they become the political authorities, to convert Catholic churches to Evangelical churches. I guess you mean that since they’re both branches of one religion, the Evangelicals ought to have seen it as less urgent to suppress Catholicism.

Neither should suppress the other, of course, under our agreed-upon principles of religious freedom and tolerance. But they both did. I have argued that it was more understandable (though still not defensible by our ecumenical standpoints today) for the Catholics to act as they did, since they were the established tradition. That makes a difference (your flawed analogies to dead Pharisaism notwithstanding). Even Will Durant the secularist could clearly see that, but for some reason you cannot.

Unfortunately the argument can be (and was) turned around, and used against your case. Let’s take those heresy laws. According to them, the secular authorities are required to suppress heresy. Now heresy is wrong belief in the Christian faith. Pagans aren’t heretics because they’re not Christians. You have to be in some sense in the ball-park of Christianity before you’re a heretic. So if the Catholics are wrong, but in the ball-park of Christianity, then they fall under the heresy laws.

There are a few problems with this as applied to Luther and other "mainstream" so-called "reformers." First of all, when Luther thought he saw a heretic, for him (oftentimes) the person was damned and not a Christian at all (e.g., Zwingli). He was not one to adopt fine distinctions. His followers largely mirrored him in this respect.

Secondly, as I showed in a more recent paper from Roland Bainton, for Luther, his fellow Protestant Anabaptists were to him far more heretical and dangerous than even Catholics. He didn't call for capital punishment for Catholics; only Anabaptists and what would today be Baptists, Pentecostals, Church of Christ and the like (those who believe in adult, believer's baptism).

So how can it be that Catholics weren't wicked and "unChristian" enough to be killed under the Protestant Inquisition, led by Philip "Torquemada" Melanchthon and Martin "kill them all, even the women, children, and cattle" Bucer, then why were they wicked enough to not be allowed freedom of worship, and to have all their church properties stolen?

By this law, the secular authorities in Germany are required to identify what is a heresy and what is not, and suppress the former.

Yeah, a wonderful situation, isn't it? Lax, greedy, power-hungry princes (Melanchthon's own descriptions) determining what is heresy and what isn't, even to the point of death? This is even more ridiculous than the situation in England. At least there everyone knew it was a raw power play originally motivated by lust (as they say, "all heresy begins below the belt"). Here, there is the hyper-naive pretense that such a caesaropapist state of affairs could bring about something other than disaster (spiritual and civil).

So the claims of Luther and the claims of Cardinal Cajetan and Pope Leo X must be weighed by the secular authorities in Saxony and judged as to which is heresy and which not.

What better way to determine true theology, I ask???? Let some silly prince do it! Far better than something as trivial as an ecumenical council or a fully-developed 1500-year-old Christian Tradition, right Chris?

Now you might claim, that since in the Christian faith the Papal magisterium is infallible it is not subject to such weighing. But once again, you’re simply importing into the premises your conclusion (that Catholicism is true and Evangelicalism false).

I have said nothing about that. I'm simply commenting on the ludicrosity of State Church caesaropapism. It didn't work any better in Lutheranism than it did in Orthodoxy or Anglicanism. It lasted about 150 years in Lutheranism before liberal rot began to set in. It's amazing that you even sit there and try to talk seriously about princes determining true and false Christian faith. Why do you not blush in embarrassment to even ponder that this was the "orthodoxy" and "heresy-hunting" that your system of Christianity proposed?

Imagine a judge who brought a trial and allowed one side to assert that its expert witnesses and even its plaintiffs were infallible. Why even go through the motions of the trial then? Why not let the plaintiffs enforce the law themselves if they’re infallible?

We're not discussing infallibility, but religious liberty. I'll be glad to discuss the former at another time.

In short, by making heresy a secular law, the law of the Holy Roman Empire gave the secular authorities before God the duty to determine what is Christian doctrine and what is not.

Under the Holy Roman Empire, this was all overseen by the pope, not some idiotic prince like Philip of Hesse, who tried to have more than one wife, with Luther and Melanchthon's consent.

Since the claims of the Pope, etc., are precisely what is at issue, they cannot be admitted but have to judged by some outside source, and the only source they can use for that is Scripture. In many realms of Germany they determined that Evangelical doctrine is true, and Catholic doctrine false (= heresy). So they then proceeded to follow the law and suppress Catholicism.

Now we are into the discussion of sola Scriptura, which we cannot do in a nutshell.

This was everywhere the basic legal presupposition for the idea that the secular sovereign (whether a city council in Nuremburg, an elector in Saxony, or a king in Sweden) has the right and duty to find out what the true Christian doctrine is, and impose it.

A plain recipe for anarchy and chaos if there ever was one. And we see what happened in the subsequent history of Protestantism.

(You could argue that the Augsburg diet, where the Emperor decided against the Evangelical confession, superseded the German lands’ decisions. But that decision was so biased - the Evangelical party was not even allowed to see the Catholic “refutation” in writing - that it marked a clear miscarriage of justice.)

You still need to deal with the essential inequity in the two positions, in terms of their respectability and how they were entrenched in the society (or not). You can't lightly dismiss this as you have been doing, or keep resorting to desperate analogies to defend the ridiculous (Communists, pagan Romans, Muslims, etc.). You don't seem to realize what it is you defend in this particular discussion. Let me try as exact of an anology as I can, which applies to your own situation, to bring the point home to you.

You are a Lutheran, with a nearly 500-year-old tradition at this point of history. Now, I assume that you would freely grant that there is a great deal of corruption of one sort or another in world Lutheranism. There is liberalism, there is caving into the pro-abortion mentality in many forms of it (ELCA, etc.), and other sorts of decay. This is true of every Christian tradition.

So all of a sudden, one day there arises a new form of Christianity, led by a fiery visionary who claims to be a sort of pseudo-prophet and God's man of the hour, and who is willing to confront the entire Lutheran tradition if needs be.

Let's give them the name "Believers of the True Gospel" (henceforth known as "BTG's"). This is analogous because the early Protestants claimed to be the sole possessors of the Christian gospel, while Catholics had supposedly forsaken the same.

These folks take it upon themselves to overrun Lutheran cities. The procedure is usually something like the following. This time, it occurs in your town, though. They come in, enter your church building, kick out the pastor and any staff, break the stained glass windows, smash any religious art that they see, destroy the organ, and in the end, steal the entire building with its property.

When you protest, they reply that "the goods are no longer yours," because you proclaim a false gospel, and they have the true gospel; therefore, they have the right to your property. Your congregation takes to someone's house to worship as you see fit.

But that is not sufficient for the BTG's. They not only steal your property and refuse to give it back because that is against their "conscience." They also go a step further and proclaim that you cannot worship as a Lutheran at all, in your own town. You are forced to leave, split, with all your possessions.

Your Baptist friends fare even worse. They are burned, drowned, tortured, crucified, or (in some more fortunate cases) lose their tongues and other body parts before being forced to leave town. You are relatively fortunate, being a Lutheran, but even so, your worship is declared by the BTG's as blasphemous, idolatrous, and an abomination; no Christian thing at all.

At length they take over the city or state government and institutionalize all their theological and ecclesiastical claims. The mayor and governor, city concil and state congress decide what is true religion and what is not.

But of course, none of this poses any problem for you, Chris, because you have your abstract analyses which can overcome all this supposed injustice and wickedness. You seem to think all of this would be fine and dandy because, well, because the BTG religion is every bit as valid and worthy of civil protection or legitimacy as the Lutheran religion. After all, it is still Christian (it's trinitarian, and so forth). But it does not regard your faith as legitimately Christian. So it makes perfect sense for it to suppress your religion entirely, and boot you out and take your property (and to kill Baptist and Pentecostal friends and family of yours), because it has every right to do so and no one could possibly object!

Will you concede the outrageousness of such a state of affairs yet? Or do you insist that the Lutherans in this instance had less cause for crying injustice than the BTG's? The latter were more justified in their actions, and the Lutherans deserved what they got? And this shall be how history views the situation for the next 500 years? The Lutherans deserved everything they got, and the BTG's were the "good guys" - the true Christians doing what they had to do?

Another (less legalistic) way to look at it is to see the lands and funds of the church as set aside by the secular authorities to teach that which the community (as ordered under its sovereign) as a whole thinks is true. If the community changes its ideas about the truth, so too the teaching supported by the set-aside lands and properties will be changed. Since the church lands had public authority and prerogatives, they can’t be treated simply as private property, but must be subject to the common will of the community (again as expressed in the sovereign).

I see. Now we are defending socialism and extreme caesaropapism?

Now, I don’t think laws against heresy are a good idea for precisely this reason. Luther didn’t like them either. But most Evangelicals and Catholics at the time disagreed, and if you are going to have such laws, you have to play by those rules.

All of that is overcome quite sufficiently by my above analogy. No one of their right mind - of any religion - can possibly condone such a thing. Once Protestants learn what happened, and how this happened over and over, most of them would not, either. Yet I can't seem to convince you of this. I wonder why that is, since you are an intelligent, fair-minded, knowledgeable, and ethical guy? What am I missing here? Admitting this was wrong no more harms your Lutheran faith than my admitting as a Catholic that a lot of the Inquisition and Crusades were unethical.

Nor do I think political communities should be in the business of deciding what true religion is and funding it.

Then how can you defend the early Lutherans and how they conducted themselves? What is it about my position that you disagree with? I must be missing something . . .

Luther too thought it was a bad idea in general. But if they are, then the land they set aside for what they think of as the true religion has to change its teaching with their beliefs. The Catholic church in Saxony lost its lands and support by the legal and political same arguments it originally held them.

How is this different from my analogy? How do you defeat my analogy? It describes exactly what happened, from the Catholic standpoint, simply switched over to a present-day Lutheran perspective. Would you just sit and stand by and let these guys come destroy your church, take the property, boot you out of town, kill certain Christian friends of yours, and defend their right to do it with abstract arguments? Or would you agree with me that it is an outrage (having nothing to do with religious differences [i.e., in terms of the debate we are having]) which has to be condemned as a wicked thing?

(Since you brought up the “anti-Catholic” issue, I also think that the medieval dichotomy of “anyone outside our church is a schismatic or heretic and hence going to hell” is too rigid,

It was always tempered by various qualifications, as I have shown at length in one of my papers.

and accept that between heresy [inherently damning error] and orthodoxy is a third category of heterodoxy, or error that may impede your chances of understanding, believing, and living the Christian faith but which is not absolutely fatal to it.

I agree.

I see Catholicism, like Methodism, or Pentecostalism as heterodoxy, not heresy, something that, depending on the individual’s situation, may be a stumbling block in the Christian faith, but not a wall against it, the way Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses are. I presume you feel the same way about Lutheranism.

Exactly. The BTG's were still Christians. They came in and took your church. How would you react? And why do you not apply that feeling to the 16th-century Catholics, since this entire discussion is abstracted from the question of relative Christian truth claims. To me it is an entirely ethical discussion. The differing theology is irrelevant in that sense. What was done was wrong, period. It is impossible to justify.

About Luther’s “anti-Catholicism” - I don’t think its irrelevant that he was under a death sentence for his beliefs, a death sentence passed by the Emperor at the instigation of the Catholic representatives.

I agree with you. Doesn't justify stealing property and treating the established religion in such a manner. No one proved that Catholicism ceased to be Christian. It's simply assumed. It's the same with anti-Catholics today.

Nor do I think it is irrelevant that in the twentieth century the Catholic church has moved closer to Lutheran beliefs (I know you’d dispute that, semper eadem and all, but that is the way I see it),

I do disagree. What has happened recently is that both sides have understood each other much better than formerly, simply through listening to each other and making a concerted, sincere, good faith attempt to do so. So from your side, you think we have moved towards you. Yet I would argue that the common ground has been there all along and is just recently becoming better understood.

Any true movement from what existed formerly was on the Lutheran side: adopting pro-abortion platforms, accepting contraception where it formerly opposed it, with us and all other Christians, etc. Our soteriology is exactly the same as it was at Trent. Y'all may understand it better now, but it doesn't follow that we ourselves did not, all these centuries. We always believed in Grace Alone. So now Protestants have figured that out? Big Wow. It's nothing new. Louis Bouyer (Lutheran-turned-Catholic) was writing about precisely this, even before Vatican II began.

thus proving that the Holy Spirit is in fact at work in her.

We proved we had the Holy Spirit because we're "closer" to you? That's cute. I believe that the Holy Spirit is involved in both communions. The only "proof" I need is common belief in the Creed and the Cross and common baptism.

But did it look the same to the Lutheran exiles from Nuremburg in the mid-seventeenth century?

Did it look the same to the Catholics who were kicked out of their towns and branded as gospel-denying blasphemers?

I don’t know and I don’t feel I’m called on to judge.

You are called to exercise a sober historical judgment as to ethics. We all do this in any number of ways. Sure, hindsight is 20-20, but that doesn't mean that we justify sin because we have an easier time judging it from our 21st-century easy chair than both sides did on the ground at the time.

In other words I’m not “anti-Catholic” about the Catholic church that I have known in my lifetime, but do not criticize those Lutherans who in very different circumstances, facing a very different Catholic church, have come to a different conclusion.

How does a Christian group cease to be Christian, simply because it has some corruption in its ranks? You tell me. Your anti-Catholic Protestant brethren have never been able to. Maybe you can explain it. This is how you rationalize how they acted then, yet it is based on an entire fallacy: that corruption equals total loss of the very thing that something is. Christianity is based on beliefs, not whether everyone in a group is a perfect saint. Luther taught this as clearly as anyone else ever has. It remains true, therefore, that the first Lutherans had no grounds whatsoever for reading Catholicism and Catholics out of the Christian faith. But it's a very easy and convenient thing to do, isn't it, when your goal is to conquer church properties and lands for your supposedly new wonderful "gospel".

Again I guess you would say you’re not “anti-Protestant” today about the forms of Protestantism you've encountered in your life,

Correct. I have never been "anti" any form of trinitarian Christianity.

but that doesn’t mean you have to accept all forms of Protestantism in all circumstance through all time as being compatible with Christianity.

They are by definition, properly-understood. A Protestant is a Christian who is trinitarian and who holds to the Creed, and who is neither Catholic nor Orthodox. Protestants historically derive from Martin Luther and the other early branches of the "reform" that soon split off from Luther.

One can't separate "Protestant" from Christianity because it is a mater of definition. It's a form of Christianity and cannot not be so unless it leaves Christianity! This would entail a denial of the Trinity or Incarnation or something like that. So Unitarians are not Christians. Seventh-Day Adventists still are, even though they deny the doctrine of hellfire. The United Pentecostal Church is not Christian because it is Sabellian, etc. The first and third groups aren't Protestants, but the second is. If you have a better definition, I'm all ears.

Moving on to your more recent comment:

We seem to be stuck on how to apply this proposition:

"Time-tested religious traditions deserve (at least slightly) more deference than new religious traditions."

Your point is to say that this rule is generally accepted by natural law and hence means that by natural law the Protestants should have shown deference to the Catholics.

I explained why this is by my latest analogy. Your task is to defeat the analogy. Show me how the situation I painted with you today is somehow different from what occurred in the 16th century. I don't see it. For your opinion to be upheld, you are forced to believe that the "BTG's" were equally, if not much more, justified in their behavior than the Lutherans. I don't see any way out of it. You can't deny the historical facts. But I'm sure you'll come up with some attempt to escape from the horns of the dilemma.

For my own part, I accept this as a kind of general principle of society.

Not stealing . . . yes, that is a widely-accepted general principle of virtually all, if not all, societies. And it was in the 16th century. That's why my "case" is a slam-dunk. It has nothing whatsoever to do with competing theological claims.

My point is to say that as Christians, neither of us is really in any very good position to say we always have followed this rule, because the early church never let even valid charges of being new-fangled stop her from "turning the world upside down".

That's not analogous. Early Christianity was originally a sect of Judaism; thus not entirely "new." I would argue today that Christianity is a consistent development of Judaism and that indeed this was God's plan. Protestants sometimes attempt to argue that Protestantism is a consistent development of Catholicism; retaining its true aspects while discarding the "corruption." But I think it is impossible to make such a case (and I can and will back that up with extremely vigorous argument if challenged on it).

But Protestantism was still Christian. So it was one form of Christian religion against another. The Protestants had to pretend that the Catholics weren't Christian (to justify their own existence), yet they never proved this. But with early Christianity against pagan Romans, the Romans were simply not Christian. No one claimed that they were.

One can easily justify Christians taking over the Roman empire because, first of all, it was very slow, and a process of internal decay rather than revolution, armed or otherwise. Even toleration took some 280 years to achieve.

Secondly, even if it had been more quickly, it is easy to reconcile with a state of affairs in which Rome was judged by God and handed over to the Christians. This is quite consistent with biblical motifs of judgments of nations. There is nothing unbiblical about that at all.

Read the old apologists (Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, etc.): one of their stock arguments is "you always tell us to follow old custom, but we say truth is more important than old custom."

I agree, but this is exactly the point. You can't just yell "truth, truth" and pretend like you have it and the other guy doesn't, without proving that this is the case. Neither Luther, Calvin, nor anyone else ever proved that Catholicism ceased to be Christian, so that therefore (according to them) the Protestants had every right to either blow the "Catholic castle" down or take it over. Furthermore, they are wildly inconsistent because they cite early fathers who were themselves thoroughly Catholic.

But Protestants like to play this odd game of having it both ways with the fathers. When they write something that sounds "Protestant" or when Protestants take something out of context for the same purpose, they love that. But when the fathers talk like Catholics, they were corrupt like all Catholics. But try to develop a case that Protestantism is the true legatee of the fathers and you have one whale of an impossible task on your hands.

That's true, so I would say that deference to the old is a good thing, but not a very good thing, not something that should be placed above the search for truth.

Very well, then. The BTGs come to your town and don't give a rat's rear end about what you think is truth, or how old or established your denomination is. They are here with the true gospel and that's that! How do you argue against them, seeing the position you have staked out here? They see you as decrepit and their religion as the new, exciting, godly thing. How do you argue without getting into relative theology? But in the meantime it is easy to see how stealing and banishment is wrong, even more so when committed by one Christian against another.

Now obviously, people will disagree about what is truth or not - which means thus that we have to accept a certain amount of social disorder as the result of the advance of religious truth. If deference to the old was made absolute, we'd all be pagans.


Now you can still say "Well some disorder is a price of the search for truth, but stealing Catholic churches in Wittenberg is too high a price." In response, I would only point you to the points about heresy laws that you have not yet gotten around to addressing.

I don't see how any of that overcomes the force of my analogy that I have now honed even more so. How can theft become right simply because it is for a supposedly "noble" cause?

The custom in this case was not allowing Christian worship the authorities believed false. I'll await your reply on that.

On what grounds does one conclude that a form of worship which was consistent for 1500 years is now suddenly an abomination and "false"? How does that work? Do you pretend that the mass was a corruption of patristic worship? That's been tried, but it, too, is an impossible task, since the sacrifice of the mass is a fairly highly-developed doctrine very early on.

It can't be done. Protestantism is a mess of internal contradictions, any way you look at it (particularly anti-Catholic Protestantism, which was the original brand, as you well know). That's why you're forced to defend aspects of it that you do not even accept yourself.

Thanks again for the discussion, and I look forward to your next reply.

As Ronald Reagan would say "There you go again."

What, making you squirm due to exposing the implausibility of your position? LOL

You write:

You can't just yell "truth, truth" and pretend like you have it and the other guy doesn't, without proving that this is the case. Neither Luther, Calvin, nor anyone else ever proved that Catholicism ceased to be Christian and therefore the Protestants had every right to either blow the 'Catholic castle' down or take it over.

Furthermore, they are wildly inconsistent because they cite early fathers who were themselves thoroughly Catholic.
First of all, you never deal with my main point here: that Protestantism never proved that Catholicism wasn't Christian . . . Its early actions necessarily proceed on that assumption. Yet it wasn't proven, and it is an inconsistency in your own position, since you do accept that Catholicism is Christian, yet you want to somehow defend this great supposed "reformation" which presupposed what you and I both decry as a falsehood.

Now, you may think Luther's arguments unconvincing - that's why you're a Catholic. I find them convincing, that's why I'm an Evangelical.

Obviously. But this isn't about some general comparison about theology. Rather (to the extent that the present discussion is theological at all, rather than historical-ethical), I am challenging you and other defenders of this stuff to show me where it was ever compellingly proven that Catholicism is no longer a form of Christianity.

Also - more specifically - where did Luther or anyone else demonstrate through some unassailable rational-theological-biblical argument that the Mass is a wicked, unChristian thing, which should therefore be utterly suppressed?

If you act as a Catholic you can claim you are acting according to the truth (as you see it); if I act as an Evangelical, I too can claim I am acting according to the truth (as I see it). Only on judgment day will we know who's right.

Yes, but before that time God gave us a mind and will to know the truth that we can use to figure out who is right about what, before Kingdom Come.

But I do think we are getting somewhere, because I see we have a difference of fact that can be cleared up.

Good! I'm less optimistic in this regard than you, but I have enjoyed this as a great discussion.

As you show with your BTG analogy, you seem to be primarily referring to mob action against Catholic worship by private citizens and overheated preachers (like what Carlstadt did in Wittenberg). I agree that can by no means be defended - and Luther harshly attacked Carlstadt and that's why he and Carlstadt broke up.

I understand that Carlstadt was far more radical than Luther, and that Luther generally opposed such destructive rabble-rousing. However (as so often) he was inconsistent on this score and also made some remarks which would suggest his own sanctioning of such practices or very similar ones. I wrote the following in the introduction of my paper, Martin Luther's Violent, Inflammatory Rhetoric and its Relationship to the German Peasants' Revolt (1524-1525):

On a more earthly, mundane, practical plane, however, it is astonishing to note how cavalierlry Luther sanctions wholesale theft of ecclesiastical properties . . . on the grounds that the inhabitants had forsaken the "gospel" (as he - quite conveniently in this case - defined it, of course). This was to be a hallmark of the "Reformation" in Germany and also in England and Scandinavia, and was justified as a matter of "conscience" by the Protestants at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, who flatly refused to return stolen properties, as a gesture of good will and reconciliation with the Catholics . . . Luther was still rationalizing this outrageous and unjust criminal theft in 1541:

'If they are not the church but the devil's whore that has not remained faithful to Christ, then it is irrefutably and thoroughly established that they should not possess church property.'

(Wider Hans Wurst, or Against Jack Sausage, LW, vol. 41, 179-256, translated by Eric W. Gritsch; citation from p. 220)

I offered a few other proofs in that paper:

[Catholic historian and Luther biographer Hartmann] Grisar [1] (228):

"For it is not unlawful, indeed, it is absolutely right to drive the wolf from the sheepfold . . . A preacher is not given property and tithes in order that he should do injury, but that he should labor profitably. If he does not work to the advantage of the people, the endowments are his no longer."

Grisar [1] (229): "This principle was promptly applied at Schwartzburg. The Count seized the properties and revoked the privileges which his father had given to the Church . . . Luther's reply concerning temporal possessions, taken in connection with certain other statements made by him, reveals an idea truly revolutionary in its consequences. It indicated that, if the clergy refused to preach the new religion, in Germany and in the Church in general, ecclesiastical possessions were no longer secure . . . It is hardly probable that Luther realized in advance all the consequences of his decision in the Schwarzburg affair, though practically it had been acted upon ever since the beginning of the new movement."

(Grisar [1], 228-229; partial translation in Grisar [2], VI, 244: "If the preacher does not make men pious, the goods are no longer his.")

[under the date 12 December 1522 in that paper]

. . . there is need of great care, lest the possessions of such vacated foundations become common plunder and everyone make off with what he can get . . . the blame is laid at my door whenever monasteries and foundations are vacated . . . This makes me unwilling to take the additional blame if some greedy bellies should grab these spiritual possessions and claim, in excuse of their conduct, that I was the cause of it . . .

In the first place: it would indeed be well if no rural monasteries, such as those of the Benedictines, Cistercians, Celestines, and the like, had ever appeared upon earth. But now that they are here, the best thing is to suffer them to pass away or to assist them, wherever one properly can, to disappear altogether. This may be done in the following ways. first, by suffering the inmates to leave, if they choose, of their own free will . . .

[then follows an exhortation to charitably provide for those who won't or can't leave]

I advise the temporal authorities, however, to take over the possessions of such monasteries . . . it is not a case of greed opposing the spiritual possessions, but of Christian faith opposing the monasteries . . . I am writing this for those only who understand the Gospel and who have the right to take such action in their own lands, cities and jurisdiction . . .

. . . the third way is best, namely, to devote all remaining possessions to the common fund of a common chest, out of which gifts and loans might be made, in Christian love, to all the needy in the land, whether nobles or commons . . .

I am setting down this advice in accordance with Christian love for Christians alone. We must expect greed to creep in here and there . . . it is better that greed take too much in an orderly way than that the whole thing become common plunder, as it happened in Bohemia. Let everyone examine himself to see what he should take for his own needs and what he should leave for the common chest.

In the third place: the same procedure should be followed with respect to abbacies, foundations, and chapters in control of lands, cities and other possessions. For such bishops and foundations are neither bishops nor foundations; they are really at bottom temporal lords sailing under a spiritual name . . .

In the fourth place: part of the possessions of the monasteries and foundations . . . are based upon usury, which now calls itself everywhere "interest," and which has in but a few years swallowed up the whole world . . . God says, "I hate robbery for burnt offering." [Is 61:8] . . .

But whosoever will not follow this advice nor curb his greed, of him I wash my hands.

(Preface to an Ordinance of a Common Chest, PE, IV, 92-98, translated by A.T.W. Steinhaeuser; WA, XII, 11-30; EA, XXII, 106-130; citations from 93-98)

[under "Spring 1523"]


Wow! This is without a doubt the most elaborate, ingenious, self-righteous rationalization for theft and stealing that I have ever seen.

But this isn't the type of action I am (qualifiedly) defending. Rather it is the action whereby the acknowledged secular authorities (say, the king of Sweden, the Elector of Saxony, or the City Council of Nuremberg) is convinced by Luther's writings, Evangelical creeds, etc., that this doctrine is the true Gospel doctrine. Hence 1) it is not a heresy, and we won't allow it to be treated as such, and then 2) by state action says that the churches within their jurisdiction must begin teaching this new doctrine.

So far it is at least conceivable and thinkable (though still a stupid way to promote Christianity since it involves coercion and undue interference of the state). Where this all falls to pieces is the fact that such properties were simply stolen. Just because the state authorities may pass a law saying that it is okay to steal property doesn't make it right, any more than making abortion legal made that sin right and well and good. What is contrary to God's Law remains that no matter what government or blinded-by-zeal special pleader like Luther may say about it.

I don't see how anyone can argue otherwise. Are not the owners of the property at least owed compensation for their property? Is this not utterly obvious? Cities today give compensation for a house that is to be torn down for the greater good of a freeway (this happened to my wife's house where she grew up). But when it comes to the good ole Lutherans in the 16th century, they can steal a bunch of Catholic Churches and monasteries and that is fine because Catholicism is from the devil?

Thus Luther wrote:

"Who does not see that all bishops, foundations, monastic houses, universities, with all that are therein, rage against this clear word of Christ . . .? Hence they are certainly to be regarded as murderers, thieves, wolves and apostate Christians . . .

". . . the hearers not only have the power and the right to judge all preaching, but are obliged to judge it under penalty of forfeiting the favor of Divine Majesty. Thus we see in how unchristian a manner the despots dealt with us when they deprived us of this right and appropriated it to themselves. For this thing alone they have richly deserved to be cast out of the Christian Church and driven forth as wolves, thieves and murderers . . ."

(The Right and Power of a Christian Congregation or Community to Judge all Teaching and to Call, Appoint, and Dismiss Teachers, Established and Proved From Scripture, PE, IV, 75-85, translated by A.T.W. Steinhaeuser; WA, XI, 406 ff.; EA, XXII, 141 ff.; citations from 75-79)

Now take your BTG analogy. The key bit you have to add is, before BTG arises, there is a law by which the US, Indiana, and Bloomington governments are committed to defend true Christian religion from heresy. Proponents of something a lot like BTG have been burnt at the stake by the authorities in the past, and (following the analogy) I have approved this, because I thought BTG was a heresy, and heresy is legally punishable by burning at the stake.

Now in that case, if a mob of BTG-ers attacked my churches, I'd still have reason to complain.

But what if the BTG-ers produced pamphlets that convinced the mayor of Bloomington, and the governor of Indiana that BTG, far from being a heresy was in fact the true Christian religion.

Yeah, what if? The Lutherans never proved that they were the true Christian religion in a way that excluded Catholicism as also Christian. So (to quote The Gipper) "there you go again" making analogies that don't fly. You really need to work on your use of analogy. This does not help your position!

In fact it was my church which was the heretical version of Christianity. In that case, it certainly hurts, but I can't complain that I have not been treated by a legal procedure. I didn't complain when the mayor and governor thought I was wrong and BTG-ers were heretics - do I have a right to complain when the shoe's on the other foot?"

Again, we are not simply talking about laws about religion (which are very foreign to us in America, but historical reality in most cultures and times). We are talking about theft and stealing of property. Are we to believe that it is your position that some government can pass a law making theft of Church property legal and good and ethical? I can't imagine that. Yet this is what your overall position requires you to defend. You either have to defend legalized theft or admit that it is wrong, in which case - it seems to me - you concede virtually this entire argument about religious tolerance (or at least a major part of it).

I would hope (to conclude the analogy) that the lesson I would learn was not that BTG-ers are the problem (although I might still think of them as heretics) but was that I idiotic (not to mention cruel) to allow the government to determine who is and isn't a heretic in the first place, and to punish heretics by death.

We do agree on that. You still, however, are faced with the widespread Protestant sanction (through governments or no is irrelevant, as far as I am concerned) of stealing and plunder. Do you think a Catholic watching this (e.g., Erasmus) would be impressed that Lutheranism is a uniquely true, full manifestation nof Christianity, when the first thing they see Lutherans doing is stealing and plunder and rioting? How impressive, huh? Wow, that guy would want to run right away to the Lutherans so he can be a real Christian. Maybe the first things he can do is to manhandle a priest out of a church, smash some windows, and participate in the orgy of destruction or stealing of churches. Then he can know he has arrived at true Christianity. Who could doubt it?

Erasmus wrote:

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

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

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

You complain that I am defending Caesaropapism and even extreme socialism. Well, I didn't write the secular laws that made heresy a crime. Catholic Europe did. Blame them.

Were there laws which institutionalized theft, too?

I might note that in defending the church against charges of burning heretics, Catholics frequently like to explain that the punishment of heretics was not done by the church, but by the secular authorities. True enough. But that's the reason the secular authorities were in the business of deciding what is heresy and what not.

I detest all such laws. The Church should have never gotten into that. Yet there is much misinformation about what happened in the Inquisition and Crusades.

Maybe as you say the princes were all corrupt (some were, some weren't, Frederick the Wise was an admirable man, for example), but once again, that power is vested in them by the laws. You and I may think the laws are stupid, but since the adherents of the Catholic position made no bones about getting stupid and corrupt princes to burn those they called heretics, why should the adherents of the Evangelical position have qualms about using the same laws not to burn Catholics (as you yourself point out, Catholics were not treated as heretics)?

Yeah, they substituted burning Anabaptists. Having started out demanding religious liberty for themselves, they went out almost immediately (for Luther it took nine years) and started persecuting their fellow Protestants. As many have pointed out, this was far more inconsistent for Protestants to do (given their ostensible first principles and Luther's "heroic" rhetoric at Worms) than for medieval Catholicism.

So yes, I agree mob violence is a bad thing, whether its smashing Catholic churches and abusing monks in Wittenberg or killing tens of thousands of Calvinists in Paris in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. I also think state heresy laws are a bad thing - but, I don't think Evangelicals are especially culpable for having made use of the same laws the Catholics did, when they could.

Where are the Catholic laws which sanctioned stealing? If you produced any, I would roundly condemn them, so will you join me in also condemning such laws when passed by Lutherans? Remember, my argument is that stealing is part of natural law, understood by all societies as wrong. It should not be a point of controversy between Catholics and Protestants.

The real conflict here is whether the early Protestants could rationalize stealing on theological grounds (the Catholics are evil murderers, etc., and so they demand whatever they get, including stealing and banishment and having a host of lies told against them in hideous, vulgar pamphlets. Last time I checked, bearing false witness is also condemned in the Ten Commandments, along with stealing and covetousness.

And it is historically unconvincing to attempt to condemn them as especially bad sinners for having done so.

I've made my case. I don't see that you have overcome it yet. You haven't done so by simply appealing to heresy laws as a supposed justification for plunder and theft.

Finally, about the Anabaptists, you noted it already in your post from Bainton, that they were treated badly not so much as heretics, but as subversives

Yes, but this is another classic Luther/Lutheran rationalization. The grounds were primarily theological. It was simply a way to justify the slaughter.

- and some of them really were. Telling the Anabaptist pacifist from the Anabaptist millenarian theocrat was not always easy -- often times one was just a disappointed later form of the other.

I think a crowd of Anabaptists gathering at the river for a baptism is quite distinguishable from ravaging mobs destroying cities and so forth. Since the Lutherans did that quite a bit themselves, I think they were eminently capable of spotting such tendencies in others. Very few Anabaptists were violent. A few fringe characters gave a bad name to many.

In fact, as I showed in my Bainton paper, the Lutherans abolished the distinction between peaceful and violet Anabaptists, anyway. They considered them all seditious. That's as ridiculous as firing into a crowd, hoping to nail a criminal or two, along with many innocent people also being killed. At least in the Catholic inquisition, there was painstaking analysis done of individuals before judgment was passed.

Let's remember what the dispute actually was: it was, was it hypocritical for Saxony to treat Catholic worship the same way Bavaria treated Evangelical worship. Your claim is yes, that was hypocritical, because while it is reasonable for Bavaria to ban new-fangled Evangelical worship, in Saxony Catholic worship was old so it shouldn't be banned.

I have (being fully aware of the initial discussion and my goals and yours in this discussion) dealt with this in many ways, including analogies. With all due respect, I don't believe you have overcome my objections, and have a lot to explain and clarify in your position.

Where are the Catholic laws which sanctioned stealing? If you produced any, I would roundly condemn them, so will you join me in also condemning such laws when passed by Lutherans?
Under Theodosius (c. 395), pagan worship was prohibited and all suitable pagan temples were destroyed or (occasionally) taken over as churches. Mobs of monks were the pointmen in this process which involved riots, deaths, and frequent chaos. This met with the general approval of the church hierarchy, saints, and fathers of the time. (see for example here).

When the Albigensians were overthrown in southern France, what happened to their property? Taken over by any Catholic knight who participated in the crusade against them: In 1208 "The Pope reacted to the killing by issuing a bull declaring a crusade against Languedoc — offering the land of the heretics to any who would fight. This offer of land drew much of the nobility of the north of France into the conflict, against the nobility of the south." [link]

Ditto in the suppression of Protestantism in Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium), the destruction of the Husite communities of Bohemia, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. If you are a heretic, you lose your life and the person informing on you to the authorities gets your property. If the heresy is on a big scale, the Papacy encouraged the Catholic governments to pay for its suppression by distributing the lands vacated by the "heretics" (by death or exile) to the anti-heretical "crusaders" or nobles.

To think that somehow the Catholic church supported laws burning heretics, but wouldn't dream of allowing the Catholic suppressors to help themselves to the heretics' property is pretty naive.

I think all such laws and all such practices to be atrocious. But I might point out that the reason you focus on theft of Catholic property in Evangelical lands, is because you can't find a whole lot of murder, or torture. By the standards of the day, and the standards of the Catholic church of the time, the Catholics in the Evangelical lands got off easy.

As for the Catholic church being Christian or not, I still don't see how this is relevant at all. The laws against heresy defined any false teaching about God as a heresy. So if Luther shows how current Catholic teaching is contrary to Scripture (as I believe he did, although I understand you don't accept that), then he's proven its a "heresy" by the standards of the era.

Nor do I feel you are being fair in asking me to prove that Luther proved Catholic teachings on the mass are false. I have a whole long series on the "Babylonian Captivity of the Church" that you could go to. But in this discussion we are simply bracketing the issue of doctrine, and assuming that each side believes it has reason to believe the other seriously wrong.

About the Anabaptists, you are simply special pleading. All of the governments of Europe at the time thought that the Anabaptists' pacifism, refusal to serve the government in any way, and denial that government can be Christian were subversive. The Evangelicals showed in this regard how much they agreed with the Catholics, not how much they disagreed. If the Evangelicals were so specially awful to the Anabaptists, then you should be able to prove that the Anabaptists fled from Evangelical lands to Catholic ones, from northern Germany to Bavaria, from Bohemia to Austria, from Germany to France, Spain, and Italy. Of course you can't because they didn't; quite the opposite. The Anabaptists found refuge not in Spanish Netherlands (Catholic, Belgium) but in the United Provinces (Calvinist, Netherlands), in Switzerland (Reformed) not Austria or Bavaria (Catholic). In Moravia the Hutterites were sheltered by the presence of a large Hussite community until in 1622, the whole Czech lands were Catholicized at sword point, and they had to flee to Turkish-ruled Hungary. (I wonder who got their property? Catholic nobles and burghers, that's who.)

So please stop riding the Anabaptist horse -- it doesn't help your case at all.

I think all such laws and all such practices to be atrocious.
Great. Then we can agree that Luther- and Lutheran-sanctioned theft was also atrocious, and I assume you know that this was a major way in which the "Reformation" was spread (along with massive propaganda literature campaigns mocking Catholicism and largely cynical, Machiavellian political machinations). If we agree on that, then that is about the best outcome I could have hoped for in this dialogue.

If you could direct me specifically to a paper of yours which documents Luther's "proofs" against the Mass as a Christian service (with URLs, please), I would appreciate it. Perhaps that can be our next discussion. I would be delighted to refute Luther on this score and show how he either has made no argument at all (and is merely ranting and raving, as was his wont), or has set forth a a grossly inadequate and fallacious one.

Lastly, I have never denied that Catholics did things wrong in history. Of course they did. Only a fool or an ignoramus could deny it. My point is always that the Protestants were either just as bad or worse, and more hypocritical, in light of their supposed foundational principles. I am always opposing what I call the "Protestant myth of origins" and the silly notion that Protestants were especially noble and righteous over against the Catholics. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The more both sides face up to historical facts (whatever they are), the better we can communicate today regarding theological issues, because we're starting with a clean slate, so to speak, without being burdened by the baggage of historical falsehoods and myths.

I thank you for an excellent dialogue. We seem to have gone as far as we can go with this. You can have the very last word if you like, as I have made a sort of "concluding statement" here. I hope we will engage in many more dialogues. I always enjoy discussing things with you.

It's your blog, I'll leave the last word with you! It's been a pleasure, Dave.

If you check out Three Hierarchies regularly, you'll see the stuff from Babylonian Captivity when it goes up.

I will check it out. I did see some of that but don't recall if the Mass was dealt with.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

How Anti-Catholics Can be Catholics' Brothers in Christ

["Truth Wherever it is Found, Ignorance, and Invincible Ignorance"]

By Dave Armstrong (18 April 2002)

* * * 

I have consistently maintained that anti-Catholic polemicists who fight against the Catholic Church and claim that it is not Christian (and - usually - that Catholics can only be good Christians to the extent that they reject the "errors of Rome") are themselves fellow Christians, based on how Vatican II and the Catholic Church has defined that word (possessing a valid trinitarian baptism and belief in the Apostles' or Nicene Creed).

Someone objected to this, saying that "it's like calling the United States a 'Christian' nation." That is not so because a "nation" cannot believe in the Creed or get baptized. This is a broad sociological characterization, like saying that Saudi Arabia is a Muslim nation (they're much more Muslim than we are Christian, no doubt). My definition of Christian is specifically doctrinal and sacramental.

Anti-Catholics (broadly speaking) accept the creed, and have been baptized. They're simply very lousy, hypocritical Christians. How they behave is beside the doctrinal, definitional point. If a whoring murderer can still be a pope, these persons can be "Christians." The state of their soul is ultimately God's judgment. In all likelihood, I would suspect that many anti-Catholics are out of God's graces, whatever one calls them, and that is the bottom line. But when we start implying that they are deliberately serving the devil, as if they don't believe in Jesus and the Resurrection, and salvation by grace, etc., then we go too far.

The "wolves-in-sheep's clothing" metaphor based on the Bible applies to those who are pretending to be something they are not. Anti-Catholic Protestants are Christians, and they are not pretending to be Catholics. The pretense (where present) would be a lack of sincerity. "Heresy" applies to individual errors. Protestants (like Orthodox) are a bit of a special case. Luther is a heretic on any number of things, but he is a separated brother too, in virtue of his baptism and adherence to the Creed. In his case, he is also close to the Catholic Church in many ways, such as the Immaculate Conception and baptismal regeneration and disagreement with contraception. Would that most Protestants today could be as Catholic as Luther in those respects.

The obstacle of invincible ignorance is very large and sweeping indeed (and it grows as general ignorance of the faith and lack of theological education grows). Invincible ignorance, it seems to me, increases as ignorance, period, increases. I don't see that this proposition is arguable. One would have to maintain that people today are more educated in theological matters than in, say. the 19th century. The growth of invincible ignorance follows straightforwardly from the principle "To whom much is given, much is required." Therefore, "to whom less is given, less is required."

God's grace has to bring people to a place where they are interested in faith, religion, and spirituality at all. There are a host of reasons why people don't seek to learn more about the faith, and that gets back to the psychological complexity of spirituality and conversion. They may have been shunned by a Catholic or a church unjustly, or been raised by a severely hypocritical Catholic. They may have had a whole childhood of anti-Catholic brainwashing. They may have been raised with no particular instruction in Christianity (or enthusiasm) about it at all, as I was. I couldn't care less about Christian doctrine till I was almost 19. They may have - God forbid - been sexually abused by a priest.

God takes all this into account. As He uses us to share His message and exhibit His love, the lack of that will cause people to not follow God as well. Most of us converts needed people to help us along in our journey, by example. My brother was that person in my evangelical conversion, and my current best friend for my Catholic conversion. But what if they hadn't been there, and my life had been different? I might have converted much later, or not at all. I believe all these factors (and a hundred more) figure into invincible ignorance and culpability.

Some seem to think these matters are very simple; I think they are extremely complex, at least subjectively. Among those who are already motivated to seek out spiritual truth, which involves all the other cultural, educational, familial, psychological factors already mentioned, surely there would be less invincible ignorance. If people who have some religious curiosity can figure out how to click a mouse and use the Internet, then they are probably more culpable, because they will know more.

My own ecumenism hasn't had the slightest deleterious effect on my determination to share the truth that we have the fullness of truth and Christianity in the Catholic Church. And this is true of the vast majority of apologists who are also ecumenists (being orthodox Catholics and acquainted with Vatican II). I don't see the "traditionalists" who despise ecumenism doing much apologetics. I do see them expending oodles of energy running down the Church and (their inane title) "neo-Catholics" though. There is no contradiction between ecumenism and apologetics at all because they deal with different things: one looks for common ground and rejoices in it; the other seeks out falsehood and vigilantly opposes it wherever it is found, and defends true doctrine. Every Catholic is called to recognize both complementary truths.

One Protestant who was considering converting to Catholicism, wrote about some of these factors on Steve Ray's Catholic Message Board (April 09, 2002 at 12:51:18):

I am a Protestant who is on the verge of deciding to join the Catholic Church . . . It really takes a lot for someone like myself who was raised in a committed Evangelical home to see the truths of Catholicism, and it doesn't come overnight. So, you see [ecumenism] can pay off for the Church. Especially when done in a loving and patient way by an orthodox Catholic . . . if Catholicism had been presented to me in a hell and brimstone, Bible-thumping way it would have turned me off. I know you are going to say something about grace is necessary for conversion, which I agree with 100%. But I will say that a graceful presentation of the Church's teachings helps a lot as well. I certainly am not going to take the fire and brimstone approach in discussing the Catholic Church with my wife and family -- it would led to division, not conversion . . . I don't think the traditionalists have been successful in helping win near as many converts from Protestantism . . . If you want to attack "false ecumenicalism", go after the liberal Catholics who don't believe what the Church teaches in the first place. They are the ones watering down the teachings of the Church, not just to Catholics, but to Protestants as well.
The contention that ecumenism by its very nature, or by logical outcome, runs counter to the impulse for seeking the conversion of Protestants or any other non-Catholics, is manifestly false. Only false ecumenism and liberal indifferentism leads to that undesirable result, which is why there is no such thing as a liberal Catholic apologist, let alone evangelist. That's an oxymoron. Vatican II and the sort of ecumenism that I espouse has been at the forefront of the great apologetics revival and remarkable wave of conversions in our own time.

If this critique is correct (i.e., that there is a disjunction between ecumenism and apologetics/evangelism and efforts to convert people to Catholicism), we would expect to see a correlation between acceptance of ecumenism and decrease of efforts to convert Protestants. We see precisely the opposite in the obvious "control group" where we can support or disprove this thesis: Catholic evangelists and apologists: whose very goal and purpose as a calling is to facilitate conversions and strengthen existing Catholics.

And the revival we are currently in coincides with John Paul II's pontificate and post-dates Vatican II, which stressed ecumenism so highly. We should be out there vigorously trying to convert Protestants regardless of where we come down on their "metaphysical" or "spiritual" status or the state of their souls. We can argue about that all day or we can simply go out and try to convert them. Christianity is ultimately a very practical, concrete, incarnational religion, not one of philosophical abstracts and metaphysical speculation, to the exclusion of action and orthopraxis.

The whole "salvation outside the Church" discussion becomes, in a large sense, an abstraction after a while, much like the predestination debate. We simply don't know who will be saved, whether looking at it from the angle of predestination, free will, or the discussion about precisely how non-Catholics fit into the picture. I assert both complementary truths. I believe in the presence of much invincible ignorance. But practically speaking it has no effect on my behavior, as critics of ecumenism claim such a view should. I go out and argue just as vigorously with Protestants, as if I believed that they were all damned, being "outside the Church." Culpability is an individual matter, as it always has been. The teaching is clear, and anyone in the Church who is lax in their duty of teaching against error will be accountable to God (James 3:1). I think of that verse often, because I am myself in a position to teach many.

The abstractions don't matter as much as what we do with what we know. It reminds me of the wrangling over works and justification/sanctification. Good Christians on both sides believe that the Christian in good standing does many good works. Fine, so let us both go out and do them and cease the endless discussions over how they precisely fit into our fine-tuned theology. We know that Jesus asks what we did when we stand before Him, and on that both sides can heartily agree: it is good to feed the poor, clothe the naked, tend to the sick and the orphan, etc.

Likewise, whatever we believe here, we know we have to preach the fullness and necessity of the Catholic Church for salvation. The Church has stressed often that authentic ecumenism is not indifferentism. The Catholic can't pick and choose what Catholic teachings they will emphasize and which they will chuck (including entire ecumenical councils). We must interpret them in their totality and complementarity.

I strongly disagree with the Catholic opinion that all or most anti-Catholics are deliberately following Satan and what they themselves believe to be lies. I think that is psychologically naive and absurdly simplistic. They are heretics according to wherever they deviate from Catholic teaching. But the subjective culpability is far more complex. I believe - in accordance with the teaching of Vatican II and constant Catholic Tradition - that one is always in a better place spiritually being a Catholic.

We don't know eternal destinies, but we know this for sure, so we seek that result. It is necessary for any non-Catholic to follow truth according to the lights given them, and we are commanded to evangelize and teach our faith. That is the bottom line. The presence of widespread ignorance should make a good Catholic work to alleviate the ignorance, not accept it passively in resignation and stop trying to persuade others.

Some Catholics claim that anti-Catholic agitators and polemicists are the "false brothers" who are "slipped into" the Church by the devil. Jesus speaks of "false prophets" in Mt 7:15-20. I'm not sure that would apply to other Christians. On the face of it, I think He meant absolutely deceptive persons who are utter pretenders, just as a false Messiah, if he wasn't the Messiah, was a deceiver, because people followed him wrongly. I think this would apply far more to the child-molesting priest than to anti-Catholic Protestants. In Acts 20:29 Paul talks about "savage wolves" who "will come in among you." Anti-Catholics obviously have not come in among us. Quite the contrary. They oppose us, without a pretense of being among us.

It is contended by some Catholics that anti-Catholics are serving Satan. Jesus spoke this way about the most obdurate Pharisees, but even then, He condemned them according to their opposition to truth (and He knew their hearts, of course. He would have known if there was not a single one of them of the assembled group who was not a hypocrite, when He was calling them "vipers" and "whitewashed tombs"). He spoke quite differently to the open-minded, humble individuals among them (e.g., Nicodemus).

Likewise, we can't say all anti-Catholics are serving Satan. They believe many lies, but they also believe many truths. So what do we say: if the lies they teach comprise 51% of their teaching, then they are serving the devil? So that if they change their mind on one and now the proportion of truth is 51%, they are back in the kingdom of light again?


As for calling anti-Catholic "brothers (in Christ)," I would point out that Jesus, while excoriating the seven churches in Revelation, still called them "churches." They were legitimate, despite all. A "church" is comprised of real Christians. In fact, Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for opposing false apostles (Rev 2:2), yet rebukes them for abandoning their earlier love, and says they are in danger of losing their "lampstand" (Rev 2:4-5). He rebukes Pergamum because, although they "hold fast" His name (Rev 2:13), they allow the "teaching of Balaam" (2:14).

It is a radically mixed bag. Jesus and Paul even acknowledge the authority of Jewish leaders who aren't Christians at all. Jesus says to follow the Pharisees' teaching but not their example, and refers to the seat of Moses. Paul says to the high priest (not knowing who he was), "God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall!" Yet when he is informed of his identity, he backs down (Acts 23:1-5).

This being the case, I say that by analogy it is possible to speak of one as a "brother in Christ" and a "Christian" in a bare-bones, minimalist sense, all the while vigorously opposing their heresies wherever found. It is no contradiction, and it has plenty of biblical precedent. For example, Paul starts off his first letter to the Corinthians with glowing words not suggesting at all that he doesn't regard Corinth as a legitimate church.

He calls them the "church of God" (1 Cor 1:2), uses the phrases "God our Father" (1:3), thanks God for the grace given them (1:4), says that "in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and all knowledge . . . so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift" (1:5,7), says that Jesus "will sustain" them "to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1:7-8), and notes that they "were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1:9). He calls them "brethren" (1:10). This is no different from my saying "your brother in Christ," to anti-Catholic Christians. Then Paul starts in, lambasting and excoriating them:

1) His rebuke concerning their divisiveness (1 Cor 3:1-4; cf. 1:10-17) seems to be directed at the group as a whole, not just a few.

2) The incest spoken of in 5:1-2 was of one man, yet the whole body is rebuked for not having "mourned" that, and for failing to "remove" the incorrigible sinner.

3) Likewise concerning bringing lawsuits into the secular arena. Paul says, ". . . Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another . . .?" (1 Cor 6:5).

4) Likewise with divisions and abuses of the Lord's Supper (" . . . each of you . . ." 1 Cor 11:21). This is a general rebuke, directed towards practically all the members, not a dissenting minority.

5) Finally, in 2 Cor 11:4, Paul speaks of the church as a whole being prone to chasing after false teachers. This leads him into his famous "boasting" discourse. He is touting his own qualifications as an Apostle so that they won't go running after false apostles and deceivers, and will keep to the true path (2 Cor 12:20-21).

Same thing with the Galatians. He addresses them as "the churches of Galatia" (Gal 1:2) and sends them "grace" and "peace" from "our Lord Jesus Christ" (1:3) and mentions "our God and Father" (1:4). He calls them brethren in Gal 1:11, 3:15, 4:12,28,31, 5:11,13, 6:1,18 -- no less than nine times. Yet what else does he say to his Christian "brethren"?:

1) "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel." (Gal 1:6)

2) "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? . . . Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing? . . ." (Gal 3:1,3-4)

3) "Now . . . that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again? . . . I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted." (Gal 4:9,11)

4) "Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? . . . I am perplexed about you." (Gal 4:16,20)

5) "For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. . . . You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace." (Gal 5:1-2,4)

6) "You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth?" (Gal 5:7)

Now, if these not-all-that-commendable-or-praiseworthy folks can be Paul's brothers and fellow Christians, and a true church, how is it that any Catholic can deny that characteristic to anti-Catholic Protestant Christians? Have they allowed incest in their ranks (as with the Corinthians)? Even "orthodox" Catholic bishops have wickedly allowed child molestation to go on. Yet - by logical extension - Paul would not deny that they are "brethren." Have anti-Catholics "turned to a different gospel"?

No, not when "gospel" is defined as the apostles defined it (as I have demonstrated elsewhere). This outlook all goes back to the historic Catholic teaching that the Church (over against Donatism, Montanism, and other rigorist sects - now continued in spirit by SSPX, sedevacantists, schismatic-minded, uncharitable "traditionalists" and their ilk) has sinners and hypocrites in it, because it is institutional and visible, and given the low estate of fallen humanity.

We converts have a bit more empathy, having often been in anti-Catholics' shoes ourselves. I was never anti-Catholic myself, but I know what I knew and didn't know in my evangelical period, and I know I was following God with perfect sincerity, according to what I knew. Once I learned some other things, I was quickly converted, in less than a year's time. There are thousands of non-Catholic Christians like that, including anti-Catholics. They have to overcome a ton of false information to convert.

I had less to overcome than most, because I hadn't been brainwashed; hence the rapidity of my journey. And if they can do that, then surely grace had been working in them for some time. And if that is true, they were not serving Satan or deliberately resisting what they know to be true (not even, I believe, most anti-Catholics). No, they were among those of whom Fulton Sheen spoke:

There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church -- which is quite a different thing.
I've yet to meet an anti-Catholic who properly understands what it is they are attacking. That goes all the way back to Luther. I agree with Fulton Sheen. Anti-Catholics don't know that the Catholic Church is the Bride of Christ, as Sheen says. They sincerely believe a falsehood, in ignorance. That is my point, and it is a very simple one. And simply being told truth cannot quickly or easily overcome mountains of prejudices, dispositions, biases, false paradigms and worldviews, truckloads of individual lies told about the Church, a vigorous and systematic opposing view which appears altogether plausible to them, emotions, family, background, culture, oftentimes hostile spouses, possible loss of jobs or resultant persecution, etc. People with this baggage cannot yet hear the truth.

Conversion is extraordinarily complex psychologically. I know a little about that because I have undergone many conversions in my own life (e.g., besides Catholicism, to evangelicalism, to pro-life, to sexual traditionalism, to creationism, to political conservatism), and I also have a minor in psychology and a major in sociology (not worth much, but they offer some slight insight into human behavior). I wasn't fortunate enough to be born into the fullness of Catholic truth. I had to work to arrive at every major truth I came to espouse.

To acknowledge invincible or otherwise significant ignorance, therefore, is to acknowledge psychological and sinful (and biblical) reality. I don't recall Vatican II saying that Protestants are "separated brethren" except when they are anti-Catholic. I am following the Bible and Vatican II and other official Church documents.

Anti-Catholics may intellectually know what Catholic doctrines are. But they have - in most cases of virulent anti-Catholicism - extraordinary obstacles to overcome in order to come to a place where they really, truly believe Catholic truth is true, and yet reject it, like Satan would have rejected God, knowing full well that he had no legitimate grounds to do so. In other words, the interior, psychological, subjective dimension is supremely important to consider. Karl Adam, in his classic, The Spirit of Catholicism, wrote:

From the purely theological standpoint,.......the only possible conclusion regarding all heretics and schismatics, Jews and pagans, is that judgment of condemnation which the Council of Florence [1438-1445] pronounced upon them.........[p.181].......It is thus, from this purely theological standpoint, that we are to understand the sharp anathemas pronounced by the Church against all heretics and schismatics.........In these pronouncements the Church is not deciding the good or bad faith of the individual heretic. Still less is she sitting in judgment on his ultimate fate. The immediate purport of her condemnation is that these heretics represent and proclaim ideas antagonistic to the Church. When ideas are in conflict, when truth is fighting against error, and revelation against human ingenuity, then there can be no compromise and no indulgence.......Dogmatic intolerance is therefore a moral duty, a duty to the infinite truth and to truthfulness.

But so soon as it is a question, not of the conflict between idea and idea, but of living men, of our judgment on this or that non-Catholic, then the theologian becomes a psychologist, the dogmatist a pastor of souls. He draws attention to the fact that the living man is very rarely the embodiment of an idea, that the conceptual world and mentality of the individual are so multifarious and complicated, that he cannot be reduced to a single formula. In other words the heretic, the Jew and the pagan seldom exist [p.182] in a pure state........Therefore the Church expressly distinguishes between "formal" and "material" heretics. A "formal" heretic rejects the Church and its teaching absolutely and with full deliberation; a "material" heretic rejects the Church from lack of knowledge, being influenced by false prejudice or by an anti-Catholic upbringing. St. Augustine [354-430] forbids us to blame a man for being a heretic because he was born of heretical parents, provided that he does not with obstinate self-assurance shut out all better knowledge, but seeks the truth simply and loyally (Ep. 43,1,1). Whenever the Church has such honest enquirers before her, she remembers that our Lord condemned Pharisaism but not the individual Pharisee, that He held deep and loving intercourse with Nicodemus, and allowed Himself to be invited by Simon......

The religion of the medieval man embraced his whole life and outlook......So that every revolt against the Catholic faith seemed to him to be a moral crime, a sort of murder of the soul and of God, an offence more heinous than parricide. And his outlook was logical rather than psychological. He rejoiced in the perception of truth, but he had little appreciation of the living conditions of soul by which this perception is reached.......In dealing with the living man we have to take account not only of the logical force of truth, but also of the particular quality of the mental and spiritual endowment with which he reacts to the truth. Because they were not alive to the infinite variety of such spiritual endowment, they were all too ready, especially when truth was impugned, to conclude at once that it was a case of "evil will" (mala fides) and to pass sentence of condemnation, even though there were insuperable intellectual obstacles (ignorantia invincibilis) in the way of the perception of the truth. This pre-eminently logical attitude of mind is characteristic of the Middle Ages. That epoch had no feeling for life as a flowing thing with its own peculiar laws, no appreciation of history, whether within us or without us.

. . . The theologian has by means of psychological and historical studies attained a wider understanding and become increasingly cautious in attributing an "evil will" to the heretic. He has become more alive to the thousand possibilities of invincible and therefore excusable error.......

Wherefore the Church's claim to be the Church of salvation by no means excludes a loving and sympathetic appreciation of the subjective conditions and circumstances under which heresy has arisen. Nor is her condemnation of a heresy always at the same time a condemnation of the individual heretic......[p.185] ...... So that the non-Catholic of good will is already fundamentally united to the Church. It is only that he sees her not. Yet she is there, invisible and mysterious. And the more he grows in faith and in love, the more plainly will she become actually visible to him.....And it is because we believe that very many non-Catholics are already thus invisibly united with the Church, that we do not abandon [p.186] our conviction that this invisible union will one day be made visible in all its beauty. The more consciously and completely we all of us exhibit the spirit of Christ, the more certainly will that hour of grace approach, when the veils will fall from all eyes, when we shall put away all prejudice and misunderstanding and bitterness, when we shall once again as of old extend to one another the hand of brotherhood, when there shall be one God, one Christ, one shepherd and one flock.
The Church is much slower to make the charge of evil will (mala fides) than it used to be, and that is a very good thing. This is a very positive development of ecumenical understanding.

When Paul ceases calling the Corinthians and the Galatians "brethren" and being charitable (while strongly rebuking them), then I will as well. As that isn't likely (he being dead), the task of the person who claims that anti-Catholics aren't Christians is to explain these writings of Paul, and to show how anti-Catholics are in an essentially different category than people who are allowing incest or the teachings of Balaam, following a different gospel, losing their first love, etc.

If we cease being charitable, we show ourselves the same as they are in that respect. Let them hate us if they must (and I have been falsely accused of hatred myself, by some of them). I will not return the hatred. Part of charity is believing the best of someone, and hoping all things (1 Cor 13:7). That applies to anti-Catholics, as to anyone else. And that is why I keep trying to reconcile with them. Seventy times seven. At the same time, I don't give any quarter at all, as to their false doctrines. So why should anyone object to simply calling them "brothers in Christ"?

The word "Christian" is used repeatedly in the Decree on Ecumenism, in a sense obviously wider than being merely a synonym of "Catholic." I presuppose the authority of the Council and its teaching in my analysis (and also that of papal encyclicals). E.g., in Ut Unum Sint, the pope writes in the Introduction:

. . . besides the doctrinal differences needing to be resolved, Christians cannot underestimate the burden of long-standing misgivings inherited from the past, and of mutual misunderstandings and prejudices. Complacency, indifference and insufficient knowledge of one another often make this situation worse.
Note the use of the word "Christian," and that there are problems beyond just doctrine, including prejudices and so forth, which we must not "underestimate." In section 42, the Holy Father refers to "a certain aggressiveness or a spirit of vengeance" and says that people of good will:

. . . have not been able to transform every situation where brutal conflict rages. In such circumstances those committed to ecumenism are often required to make choices which are truly heroic. It needs to be reaffirmed in this regard that acknowledging our brotherhood is not the consequence of a large-hearted philanthropy or a vague family spirit. It is rooted in recognition of the oneness of Baptism and the subsequent duty to glorify God in his work.
And in section 66:

. . . the Decree [on Ecumenism] observes that the ecumenical movement and the desire for peace with the Catholic Church have not yet taken root everywhere [sec. 19]. These circumstances notwithstanding, the Council calls for dialogue.
A fellow Catholic apologist stated that my position might be inconsistent with 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. I replied that the main thing in the passage that (arguably, often) applies to anti-Catholics is the "reviler" or "slanderer" label (cf. also 1 Cor 6:10) . I agree that it is possible and quite plausible grounds for questioning the Christian status of many anti-Catholics, on the moral basis established in this passage and others, as opposed to the strictly doctrinal. Anti-Catholics think Catholics are idolaters. That's enough for them to separate from us, using this same passage.

If we are too quick to make these judgments, we become in some ways the very thing that we (at least speaking for myself, anyway) despise in anti-Catholics. I have always tried to give people the most benefit of the doubt possible, in charity, and in understanding of the extreme complexity of human psychology, because I think this is scriptural (1 Cor 13:7), and not an optional thing at all. It's rarely applied in real life, but what else is new? No one ever said Christianity was easy or intuitive to human nature. As Ringo Starr sang, "It Don't Come Easy."

In fact, yet another example of Paul's approach is shown in the immediate context of the contrary proof text of 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. For in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 Paul urges the church to hand the incestuous man "over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved . . . " This is an example of penance, or church discipline. What is interesting, however, is that Paul reverses this penance in 2 Corinthians 2:6-11, in what might be called an indulgence (I used this dual example as just that, in my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism).

Objectively, many if not most anti-Catholics have lied and slandered about the Catholic Church and Catholics. There can be no doubt about that. But - as for subjective culpability -- that gets right back to all the influences on them that cause them to act as they do towards Catholics in the first place. And they have also been provoked (made to stumble? - see Rom 14:13-15,19,21) by Catholic apologists. There are many condescending "hit pieces" done about Anti-Catholics in Catholic websites and magazines, where their internal states of mind and heart and motives are pilloried.

Sadly, many Catholic apologists slander and lie about anti-Catholics or their beliefs as well. We frequently say bad things about them. And some of these lies are the charges that they are serving Satan, or are insincere, or demon-possessed, or not Christians. Most anti-Catholics are not monsters; they are not evil through and through. They have been hurt and have gone through bad experiences like we all have. And that causes them to do dumb and stupid things in reaction (again, something we are all quite familiar with in ourselves).

The language of 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 is obviously applying to those who are absolutely unrepentant and inveterate sinners, characterized beyond a doubt by the vices mentioned. But what would happen if we applied it with absolute strictness? "Sexually immoral persons." Where does one draw the line on that? I think many, many Christians (if we're honest with ourselves and others) struggle with lust and impurity fairly often. We do it repeatedly. Presumably we repent, but we keep doing it. Jesus made lust almost the immoral equivalent of adultery. Does that mean we are in this category, and so should stop being associated with by other Christians? The "greedy"? I don't want to get started with a critique of the gross materialism of America and many who seem to be more capitalist and/or pragmatist than Christian.

Christians of all stripes are shot-through with that failing. How do we determine who is greedy, and how often is that ever done in Catholic (or other Christian) circles? Virtually never. We're much more likely to cater to the rich and because we can get something out of them (James 2:1-10). When was the last time any of us heard an admonition to a "rich young ruler" to give up all their riches, which have become their idol? My point is that a Puritan-like application of this passage is a little more difficult and troublesome than might first appear. And yes, I think "he who is without sin can cast the first stone" has some application.

So we object to anti-Catholics slandering the Church and the Blessed Virgin Mary? People almost always do that when they're ignorant and sincerely deluded and dead-wrong. If anti-Catholic Protestants truly knew our Mother like we do, they wouldn't even have the desire to do such a thing. It would never cross their minds. They truly believe with all their heart that she is not the Mediatrix, Immaculate, etc.

In their minds, they are not slandering her as they believe her to be; they are simply fighting what they deeply believe to be false doctrine, just as we fight them on the same grounds, but as Catholics, we feel duty-bound to defend the honor of our Lady. Same thing with the Church. If the anti-Catholic truly understood Her, he wouldn't fight Her as he does. Virtually all anti-Catholics are in that huge majority of folks greatly mistaken about Catholicism, that Fulton Sheen talks about.

Much more of this determination to read folks out of Christianity, to the exclusion of the really important things of Christianity and we are in danger of becoming like the Pharisees:

. . . you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith . . . you strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. (Mt 23:23-24).
None of us know the eternal destiny of any anti-Catholic or the state of anyone's soul in all its particulars. All we can do is fight anti-Catholic falsehoods, pray, and hope for the best, including repentance from lying and heresies, and sinful opposition to the Church.