Monday, January 30, 2006

Fun With Words

Alvin Kimel of Pontifications noticed my last thread, “Earning ‘Free Grace’?”. In that post, I had stated that the “Free Grace” position has an extremely misleading name. Half-jokingly, I used the Roman church and its labeling itself “Catholic” as an example. While this wasn’t the purpose of the post, my utilization of Roman Catholicism as an example was genuine. Catholic entails universality, it entails singularity, and it entails truth. A church cannot be the “Catholic” church unless it is the one true universal church. My commitment, of course, is not to the word Catholic. But it is to the Biblical, New Testament church. My problem, however, is when the Roman church uses the word “Catholic” as a spring board to launch their position as being the true, early church. This is what we call an anachronism. RC apologist will see the word “Catholic” or the phrase “bishop of Rome,” and then what immediately comes to mind is their conceptions of the modern Roman church, with her current doctrine and practices. Such argumentation is silly and fallacious. Anachronistic argumentation could be used to prove anything, and we must reject it on logical grounds. What is both funny and ironic is that when a Roman Catholic is accused of being anachronistic, he will use an anachronism to show that he isn’t being anachronistic! We have seen that in my interaction with John Salza.

Al Kimel defends the Roman church’s labeling itself “Catholic” in his latest post. But he, I must say, utilizes anachronistic argumentation:

I suppose it must seem unfair that the word catholic is the proper name of that communion of Churches united to the bishop of Rome. Nobody legally registered the name. It just happened. And it happened fairly quickly. We see the beginnings of this development in St Ignatius of Antioch (”Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be, even as where Jesus may be, there is the catholic Church”).

Let’s remember that Kimel is not simply trying to tell us the origins of the word “Catholic.” If that is his goal, then I have no problem with his using Ignatius of Antioch as an example. However, Kimel is taking this to the next level. He is telling us how the modern, Roman church became associated with the word “Catholic.” In using Ignatius as an example, he is associating him with the modern Roman church. But on what basis does Kimel associate Ignatius with the modern Roman church apart from the fact that Ignatius used the word “Catholic”? Kimel assumes, without benefit of argument, that Ignatius was “Catholic” in the modern, Roman sense, that Ignatius affirmed the same doctrines and practices that the modern Roman church does. But we simply don’t see this in the writings of Ignatius. Therefore, Kimel here commits an anachronism. He sees the word “Catholic” in the writings of Ignatius, but falsely associates Ignatius with the modern Roman church. The assumption in the arguments of all RC defenders starts with the presupposition that the modern Roman church equals the one true church. This presupposition is evident in all of their arguments concerning church history, as is displayed here.

By the latter half of the third century, we see St Pacian of Barcelona defending the pronominal status of Catholic Church against the Novationist bishop Sympronian. Pacian readily concedes that the term is not found in the New Testament. He acknowledges that the appellation arose because of the need of the Catholic Church to identify itself over against heretical churches.

…Observe how Pacian delights in the fact that the Catholic Church is not named after any specific teacher. Moreover, Pacian tells Symphronian, the use of Catholic Church as a proper name has been consecrated by the saints, confessors, and martyrs of the Church. It is not lightly dismissed or amended

Again, we must ask Kimel, what does this have to do with the origin of the modern Roman church’s labeling itself Catholic? Again, on what basis does Kimel associate Pacian with his church other than the fact that Pacian uses the word “Catholic”? Does Kimel make his connection on the basis of documenting Pacian’s beliefs, showing that they match that of the modern Roman church? Or does he simply commit yet another semantic anachronism? It is evident that the latter is the case.

Certainly that which has stood through so many ages was not borrowed from man. The name may not have been appointed by Jesus or his Apostles, yet who dares deny that the Holy Spirit has conferred this name upon the Church of Christ? Saints Cyril of Jerusalem and Augustine of Hippo also explicitly referred to the pronominal status of Catholic Church in their writings. “Even the heretics call catholic church only what is in fact a catholic church,” declared Augustine.

There is nothing new here. Yes, the true church is the Catholic church, by definition. Yes, Augustine and Cyril labeled themselves “Catholic.” But this tells us nothing concerning the modern Roman church. Why should the modern Roman church be called “Catholic”? Is it Biblical? Is it historical? Is it the one true church? Kimel makes no effort to tell us here.

Here is one of those simple facts that are so hard to argue away. It will not, I know, persuade anyone who is not open to persuasion, yet it stands before us and demands our attention. Just as Rome has the bones, as Fr Scott Newman likes to say, so Rome has the proper name by which the Church of Jesus Christ has been known for almost two millenia. The power of Catholicism is its historical facticity. Stanley Jaki observes that heretics have always preferred ideas, their own ideas, to the simple facts of the Catholic Church.

And here Kimel makes his big mistake. He connects the information that he previously presented (involving the early church and the word “Catholic”) with the modern Roman church. This is a dogmatic connection, not a scholarly one. It is a tradition-based assumption, not one that is justified with immediate Biblical and historical evidence. Where have you shown that the Roman church is identical with the early church on matters of doctrine and practice? That is what must be shown. To simply make a connection on the basis of the word “Catholic” simply does not cut it.

My father moved from North Dakota to Washington, D.C. in 1934. He got a job working for Sears and eventually worked his way up to manager of their furniture department. In 1943 he and a man named Cedric Barnes started their own furniture store. Eventually they built four stores in Northern Virginia. Their company was named Barnes & Kimel. In the late ’50s, Mr. Barnes decided that he wanted to dissolve the partnership. They split the assets of the company down the middle, each taking two stores. My father kept the proprietary appellation Barnes & Kimel. Barnes named his new company C. L. Barnes & Son. Question: Which company was the continuation of the original company? Which was its rightful successor? In the eyes of the public, the answer was clear—the company with the old name. A few years later my father, in a moment of vanity, changed the name to Kimels Furniture. He later admitted this was the single greatest blunder of his business career!

Once upon a time, there were a group of associates. These associates called themselves “The Cool Dudes.” They wrote this name in documentation, and everyone knew that this was their name. Their beliefs were clear: chocolate ice cream is superior to vanilla ice cream. But as hundreds of years passed, their beliefs changed. Along the way, some people were equating vanilla ice cream with chocolate ice cream. Eventually, the people who came up in this group (the founding fathers and their beliefs having long died) believed that vanilla ice cream was superior to chocolate ice cream, the direct opposite of what the original “Cool Dudes” taught! Yet these people still called themselves “The Cool Dudes.” However, then came a man by the name of Marvin Lonestar. Marvin had read up on the history of “The Cool Dudes.” He read their original documents, and realized that the modern “Cool Dudes” were not teaching what the original cool dudes believed. He called for a Reformation, to go back to the beliefs of the original Cool Dudes. His group was eventually simply known as “The Dudes.” To this day, however, the modern “Cool Dudes” argue to “The Dudes” that they are the true Dudes, simply because they use the original name. The response of “The Dudes,” however, is “You may call yourselves ‘The Cool Dudes,’ but you don’t believe and practice the same things that they did, and that is simply not cool.”

So why does the Catholic Church get to call herself the Catholic Church? Perhaps because she is.

The Catholic church is, by definition, Catholic, just as the one true church is, by definition, unique and true. But what does this tell us about the modern Roman church? Why hasn’t Kimel made the effort to show that the doctrine and practices of the Roman church are historically and Biblically based? It is because Kimel’s initial assumption is that the modern Roman church equals the one true church.

Evan May

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