Friday, July 10, 2009

Dialogue on the Definition of "Anti-Catholicism" and Knowing Jesus Personally (w Reformed Protestant "Pilgrimsarbour")

By Dave Armstrong (7-10-09)

This occurred (amazingly enough) on an anti-Catholic blog. The links will be provided for each comment. "Pilgrimsarbour's" words will be in blue:

* * * * *

Hello Mr. Armstrong,

May I ask you to delineate, in a very specific way, the difference between an "anti-Catholic" Protestant opponent and those Protestant opponents who are not "anti-Catholic?" I'm not asking for names, I'd just like to get a better sense of what Catholics consider to be "anti-Catholic." Thank you.




Hi Pilgrim,

Sure. The anti-Catholic believes that Catholicism is not a Christian system of theology. They think Catholics deny the very gospel of grace and that an observant Catholic is (in all likelihood) unregenerate. The usual things accompanying this would be to hold that Catholicism is akin to paganism and that it is Pelagian (works-salvation). The Mass is also considered rank idolatry.

The majority of Protestants are not anti-Catholic at all. They recognize Catholics as fellow Christians and believers in the Body of Christ, while they disagree with the usual issues of dispute between Catholics and Protestants, and obviously consider Protestantism a preferable Christian option. That is what I used to believe as an evangelical Protestant.

Does that answer your question?


Greetings Mr. Armstrong,

Thank you for your thoughtful response.

My Catholic upbringing militates against the idea that I was not, in at least some sense, a believer in Christ while a member of the RCC.
On the other hand, there is sufficient biblical and internal witness to evidence, in my view, that I did not, in fact, know Him as I ought. Nor do I believe it likely that had I continued in Catholicism I would have come to know Him as I ought.

However, the Reformed principles regarding election and predestination, of which you are undoubtedly aware, comfort me that believers will be found throughout the world and in history having been members of all kinds of Christian denominations, including the RCC.

Now I may, perhaps, stand to look like a double-minded coward to some here whom I respect, but I cannot at this time in good conscience claim that Catholics are not Christians. I do, however, hold very strong convictions which I will defend should I be asked to give an account of my beliefs.

So once again, thank you for your response. And now the obligatory back-handed compliment: At least you're not a Mormon asking me if I think you're a Christian. ;-)

Blessings in Christ,



Hi Pilgrim,

Then you are not an anti-Catholic in my book at all. I'm delighted to hear it.

I came to know Jesus personally as Lord and Savior as an evangelical Protestant, after a profoundly life-changing evangelical conversion in 1977, after six months of deep depression. That relationship has deepened since my conversion to Catholicism.

One can discuss "Christianity" in a strictly doctrinal sense (as I was doing, and tend to usually do; especially in a discussion like this about the terminology of "anti-Catholic") and/or in the sense of personal discipleship, which is equally important, but more difficult to discuss objectively, because by nature it is a subjective and spiritual, internal, deeply personal thing. Nominalism and lukewarmness can be found anywhere. I saw plenty of it in my Protestant days and I certainly see a lot of it in Catholic circles.

So I fully agree that there are many Catholics (just as there are many Protestants) who do not know Jesus "as they ought to." There are tons of hypocrites on both sides. I disagree, however, that it is required for one to become a Protestant in order to experience this personal relationship. If anyone thinks otherwise, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis will quickly disabuse him. it was written in the 15th century, before Protestants supposedly "restored the gospel".

You're a brave man to express what you did on this blog, and I respect you for it. You'll probably be subjected to all sorts of pressure now, and viewed as a "double-minded coward" and compromiser by some who read this. And above all, you will be suspect because you were friendly and acted normally towards me, which is the ultimate kiss of death in many Protestant Internet circles. I hope they aren't too hard on you. :-)


And now the obligatory back-handed compliment: At least you're not a Mormon asking me if I think you're a Christian. ;-)

LOL That's funny. My first major research as an apologist was starting in 1981, when I studied and wrote about Jehovah's Witnesses, in connection with a local evangelical counter-cult ministry. In 1982 I wrote a paper about the name-it-claim-it errors of Copeland, Hagin et al, which is online on my site (as is my final JW paper). My only radio appearance as a Protestant was talking about JWs one night in 1989, on WMUZ: the largest Christian radio station in metro Detroit.

I haven't learned nearly as much about Mormonism, but I have engaged in a debate with a Mormon elder, and the only known photograph of me personally evangelizing, is with the Mormons at the Ann Arbor Art Fair in 1989, a year before I became a Catholic.


Hi Pilgrim,

Hi Dave A.,

Thanks again for your response regarding my question about your use of the term anti-Catholic.

You're very welcome. Thanks for asking me to explain further, rather than going right to mocking, as if I have no rational, defensible reason whatever for my usage (which is the common reply in these environs, as we see in this very thread).

You piqued my curiosity because I have had dealings with Catholics in the past regarding their use of the term. Unfortunately, I think the comments back and forth generated more heat than light; I confess to being quite perturbed by one fellow's impugning of my motives for desiring dialogue with Catholics. It got kinda ugly.

Well, there are all types on the Internet. Unfortunately, on both sides, terminology of these hot-button issues is often confused. Just as many Protestants (and Catholics) don't properly understand the meaning of sola Scriptura, so many Catholics misunderstand and abuse the term anti-Catholic and often use it as a synonym of "bigot" or as a club to attack anyone with an honest disagreement with Catholicism. And so it is abused, like so many theological terms. Whether this occurred in the discussion you refer to, I don't know till I look at it. If it did, I'd be the first to agree that the term was used wrongly and perhaps uncharitably.

It started with a new dialogue in response to my review of Scott and Kimberly Hahn's book Rome Sweet Home back in June of 2007. If you are at all interested (I'm sure you're quite busy) you can read the review and comments here. [ link ]

I would be very interested, as I have written a lot about the term and how it is properly used in theological discourse. Does this mean I can reply too? :-)

Although I had many positive things to say about the book, what was zeroed in on were my comments about the use (and what I deem to be the abuse) of the term anti-Catholic used throughout the book. I had picked up on this phrase in my online travels over the 10 months or so prior to my review. It was these comments that caused all the hubbub with one person in particular.

Well, chances are I would agree with Scott's take, but perhaps he overused the term. I'd have to look and see what was written that you objected to.

Sadly, in addition, a dear friend from college days was wounded deeply by my statements in the review and the wound is unlikely to be healed anytime soon. He thought I was saying that most or all instances of real anti-Catholicism have been manufactured, or at least overblown, which is not what I was saying at all. But let the reader decide.

That's sad. It's tragic when anyone has to divide over religious issues; especially when both parties are Christians.

The follow-up post, in which I attempted to fully answer the questions posed to me by "Joseph" is here, [ link ] should you (or anyone here) be interested.

I will definitely check them out, as time permits: perhaps as early as later tonight.

Thanks for your time,

And yours. God bless.


(9 July 2009)

Hi Pilgrim,

I read your review [of Scott Hahn's Rome Sweet Home], which I thought was good and fair, though at the end I thought you dwelt a bit too much on the terminology issue. I suppose that is fair game, though, if that was your biggest objection to the book. A review can only deal with so much. I appreciate the many positive things said. That is rare in Protestant reviews of Catholic books. When I get such a positive review of one of my books from a Protestant, it is usually from a traditional Anglican.

You didn't cite any specific examples of Scott's use of "anti-Catholic" so I'll look through the book to see if I would have the same opinion as you about overuse and inaccurate use.

For now, I wanted to point out one matter of fact. You wrote:
Additionally, there is no equivalent use of the term anti-Protestant in apologetics or in the blogs, although that attitude can frequently be found.
This is untrue (especially in the case of James White), and I have documented it many times myself. Oftentimes, the same person who complains loudest about the term "anti-Catholic" uses equivalent "anti" terms themselves. It's okay for them, but not okay for us, even though (as I have also shown three times now) there is a long history of scholarly use of "anti-Catholic" among historians, sociologists, etc.

James White alone has used all of the following terms:


Eric Svendsen often uses "anti-Evangelical" and has also used:

anti-Baptist (applied in one post to Tim Enloe)

Turretinfan has used:

anti-Calvinist (hundreds of times)
anti-soveriegntist [sic]

Moreover, there is widespread use of "Romanist," "Romish," "Popish," "Papist," etc.: all clearly derogatory terms, and yet there seems to be no attempt to stop using those terms, which are not at all in use in scholarly circles, as "anti-Catholic" continues to be used.

(10 July 2009)

Thanks for checking out the review. I will say that I did write that two years ago. Since then I have come to see the term anti-whatever used all over the net, so it is a bit dated in that regard.

As it is, though, I do not have a problem with the word "anti" as such. Therefore any lack of clarity is my fault. . . .

But I thank you for your comments and would be interested to know if you thought I was conveying that incidents of anti-Catholicism were exaggerated as opposed to the idea that term itself was being used abusively. As I indicated before, some did take it the wrong way.

(10 July 2009)

I completely agree with the first commenter [on your thread] Theo (I think I know him):
Thus you may find even among the most otherwise thoughtful individuals, a penchant for quickly assuming the worst of critics, sometimes taking their "hatred of Catholics" for granted. When people develop such delicate sensitivities, they tend to see things in an us-vs.-them mindset, where "they" are anti- "us." Obviously, this is vastly unfair. . . . especially in the blogosphere one can find many truly anti-catholic people that for whatever reason propagate blatantly false or misleading trash. But truly, there are vastly more who simply either honestly disagree or honestly misunderstand. It is incumbent upon we who might be sensitive to actively look for Christ in all who disagree with us.
I've often noted, myself, how anti-Catholics will claim that Catholics "hate the gospel" or "hate the Bible," or hate the person making the charge, etc. For example, Turretinfan:
Yes, Steve Ray hates James White . . . because Dr. White preaches the Truth and exposes the errors and delusions of Rome. May we all be labelled and despised by those who hate the truth, . . .

Or David T. King:
I already have a very low view of the integrity of non-Protestants in general, . . . most of you are too dishonest to admit what you really think.

(6-5-03, on Eric Svendsen's Areopagus board)
Or Eric Svendsen:
RC apologists will do or say just about anything--true or not--to advance their cause. They engage in the strategy of deception regularly.

(4-27-03, Areopagus board)
Then there are Catholics who make dumb, extreme statements about Luther. I recently strongly criticized Catholic apologist Matthew Bellisario (often active on this blog) for doing that (to no avail).

Joseph, in your combox, led the discussion astray when he wrote, "I have come to detect what I think is a passive aggressiveness towards devout Catholics in your tone." That is mind-reading, and I haven't detected it in you (quite the contrary).

He did say, though (not to excuse the above at all), that neither you nor your friend are anti-Catholics, so he is making the fine distinctions, too. But on the Internet, motivations and internal dispositions are often rashly speculated about. One sees it repeatedly on this very thread, directed towards me. Then he gets even more insulting and personal:
That is why I post on your blog. I don't think you are sincere about your desire to dialogue. Rather, I think that your posts regarding Catholicism are really just passive aggressive attacks on Catholics who respond.
I think this is sinful speculation on your motives. It's wrong. I can certainly relate to being the recipient of such foolishness, because it happens to me all the time (and again, can be seen in several of my critics in this very thread). I found your answers to the pointed questions in your second thread that you referenced perfectly acceptable and sincere.

I don't have this impression that your friend had, at all. I find it a pleasure to dialogue with you. You were kind to me in this thread, and a breath of fresh air. How ironic that he questions your sincerity in your desire to dialogue . . .

You wrote:
Nevertheless, I am happy to discuss theology with you anytime. If you can concentrate your efforts on a discussion of issues rather than on personal attacks, we will do well.
Amen! How often I have thought that myself! But this is mostly why I have given up trying to debate anti-Catholics. It's mostly personal attacks, and when there is a halfway rational discussion, it is fatally hampered by relentlessly hostile premises that they are unwilling to discuss (hence my challenge to debate the definition of Christianity, which was scornfully rejected). This stuff obviously happens on both sides all the time, and it is our responsibility (those of us who detest these tendencies) to do a better job, by example.

I agree again with Theo (from what I know so far) when he defended you, on the basis of having met and observed you.

Joseph again goes on the attack and in my opinion, sins, by stating (among many other unsavory things): "I find your debate tactics deceptive."

So that is my take on your article and reactions to it. I agree with you that you were commenting on abuse of the term and not trying to minimize anti-Catholicism itself, where it occurs, even though I think you exaggerated far too much with regard to the Hahns' own use of the term. I did not find it to be the case that they were guilty of overuse and broad, sweeping use, without proper qualifications.

If you can show me otherwise from their book, I'd be interested in seeing that.

I would be honored and privileged to dialogue with you anytime, and you are very welcome to comment on my blog. You're the sort of Reformed Christian I've always sought out and have occasionally been able to dialogue with on the Internet, but sadly, not very often.

God bless,



Hi Pilgrim,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. This has truly been a pleasure.

Thanks for taking the time to both read the review and to go back over the Hahn book. That would have required an inordinate amount of time for me to do. What's your secret?

I dunno. I think I have some "speed reading" abilities if I am looking for particular things. I can spot them quickly. If something interests me, I seem to work faster, too.

You've made some very good points here.


I do think now that I was not paying careful enough attention to the context of the term's usage. I was reading into it what I thought it consistently meant.

Fair enough. We all often do this, I think.

But it seems to me that my broad brush analogy still applies in the sense that the term anti-Catholic, as you've demonstrated here, carries with it several meanings depending on the context in which it is used:

I agree. Because it is a complex issue, it stands to reason that a two-word description would have within itself several possible shades of meanings, as with most words.

1) one opposed to the Roman Catholic system but reserves judgment as to the salvific condition of the individual; interacts with opponents respectfully

This gets to the question of subjective vs. objective criteria of what a Christian is. Because the Protestant believes that salvation is already attained, most will want to surmise whether this momentous event has happened in the life of a person. Then the Calvinist / Arminian thing comes into it, too. I understand this. I, too, had a radical life-changing experience in 1977, and again in 1980, when I was, I firmly believe, further filled with the Holy Spirit. Catholics believe that baptism regenerates: a real change takes place: one is incorporated into the Body of Christ. So these are all big discussions.

I think in the end we can only sensibly discuss the issue across the board on a more objective, theological basis: on the creedal level. I usually use the Nicene Creed as a criterion for the definition of a Christian. On this basis, Catholics clearly would be Christians. You said this yourself, so you clearly accept it. But if we speculate on the present spiritual state of individuals, we have no certainty, and it goes round and round. John Calvin said we cannot be certain who is of the elect; even ourselves. Luther struggled with that, too. And both believed in assurance of salvation in some sense, over against an Arminian / Catholic / Orthodox understanding.

When a Calvinist clearly forsakes the Reformed faith, and is deeply into sin and outward rebellion against God, Calvinist theology requires that he or she is now defined as having never been a Christian or saved or justified or regenerated at all. But it then follows that those who thought he or she was in the past were wrong, and did not have certainty at all. So we just don't know with absolute certainty. We can only go, therefore, by what a person claims to believe, in judging whether they are Christians.

2) one opposed to the Roman Catholic system and who sincerely believes Catholics cannot, in any way, be Christians; interacts with opponents respectfully

This is what I would consider the central definition. The categories forbid Catholics from being Christians. A consistent, obedient, orthodox Catholic cannot possibly be a Christian. To be a good Catholic is to be no Christian. To be a Christian is to be a bad (heterodox) Catholic. Most anti-Catholics, following Calvin and Luther, will leave a tiny loophole for the Catholic individual to have a chance to still be saved. But this is virtually despite the Catholic Church. If one is a Catholic and understands Church teaching and adheres to it, they are out of the fold, by this mentality. Some (like an Baptist preacher friend of mine I once worked for briefly, and another guy: one of my best friends), will contend that a former evangelical Protestant like myself was clearly saved, and so therefore (from eternal security) could not have fallen away, even having become Catholic.

3) one who believes Catholics are not in any way Christians; one so opposed to the Roman Catholic system and the individuals involved in it that he actively bears false witness against them and behaves in a disingenuous, bigoted or slanderous way toward them

My own definition of anti-Catholic has no connection whatsoever to behavior. It is strictly theological. Historically and in scholarly circles, the term is often used of intolerant people, Know-Nothings, advocates of violence and denial of Catholic rights, etc. But scholars also use it in a strictly theological sense, as I do.

That said, most anti-Catholics I have met have been extremely rude and insulting, and in my opinion, very bad witnesses of Christ in terms of outsiders observing how they act, because they exhibit so little love and attempted understanding of others. That's my experience, but I still don't take any of that into account in my use of the word "anti-Catholic." One could be an anti-Catholic Protestant who is a perfect gentleman, or an ecumenical Protestant who is an arrogant jerk; human beings always being subject to sinfulness and temptations to insult those who differ.

Now that I understand that the term can be used in different ways at different times depending on the context, I'll be less inclined to be taken aback by it until I get further along in discussion with that person, at which time I can make a judgement.

I think context is supremely important, yes, and a person's self-report. I have discussed this issue for many years now, and have explained my position countless times. But those who are already hostile don't care. They don't want to hear it, and they remain hostile, and misrepresent my own oft-stated opinions. I can't prevent that, but I can make it easy for anyone to find out what my true position is.

I don't mind being called anti-Catholic if the person saying it has definition no. 1 in mind; at least, that's what I would like to think about myself.

I think it is an unhelpful, improper use. I don't think you are one at all.

But it can be very difficult to tell in talking to a theological opponent, especially in the online environment.

Asking one to define their terms is quite necessary, especially in this case.

I also think that these definitions can apply equally to the term anti-Protestant, given the proper revision of the wording.

Most "anti-Protestants" in an analogical sense to my definition of anti-Catholic, are "traditionalist" Catholics, who wrongly think that Catholicism requires such a view; also some are "traditionalist" Orthodox.

There is, however, an additional element involved in the Catholic Church's official pronouncements regarding Protestantism. And there remains for me a tension between the anathemas of Trent and the "separated brethren" language of Vatican II so that I don't really know for certain where I stand in the eyes of the RCC.

This is very poorly understood also. See my papers:
"The Catholic Understanding of the Anathemas of Trent and Excommunication"

"How Catholics View Protestants"
Your comments regarding Joseph were also helpful. Unfortunately, his comments only served to solidify what I thought the only definition of anti-Catholic could be: Catholics think Protestant theological opponents, in general, hate them, think them fools and idiots, and are out to deceive them at every turn. Joseph seemed unprepared for any other contingency and so could not accept any kind of sincerity on my part. As you can see, I finally had to drop the issue entirely and move on.

He does not accurately represent authentic Catholic thought on this topic at all. Go with what Theo and I are expressing to you. It's infinitely more hopeful and "sunny" and it is the Mind of the Church. Ecumenism has developed rapidly in the last 50-100 years and I am delighted to see that.

I do think it has been useful to talk about these matters, especially considering that there seems to have been a good deal of bad blood on the blogs over the years.

Me, too. This has been one of the best dialogues I've had the pleasure to participate in, in memory.

May the Lord use whatever may be good and right in our conversation to the edifying of His people.

Amen and Amen!

* * * * *


Martin said...

You can file for future reference that David Waltz seems to know a lot about mormonism. interesting post up now about why mormon baptisms are invalid.

BTW: nice conversation. I have to give John Doe a nod for letting that happen. Never on TAO's blog.

Dave Armstrong said...

Well, I was careful to preserve it, lest it disappear in the future. :-)

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