Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Is "anti-Catholicism" offensive?

Many modern-day Catholics take umbrage when Calvinists say the church of Rome is an apostate church. In the ecumenical spirit of our age, they act as if that's an outrageous thing to say about professing believers of another communion. After all, aren't we all one big family?

However, what's ironic about this indignant reaction is that it cuts both ways. Offended Catholics seem to be oblivious to what their own denomination thinks of Protestant believers. Here's a case in point:


Various heretics have founded sects, St. Thomas says, but these sects do not belong to the Church. They may very well have been founded by well-intentioned persons; perhaps none of these founders of sects thought they were heretics, or that they were making a schism. But, says St. Thomas, these sects do not belong to the Church. They were founded by mere men. The Church, by contrast, was founded by the incarnate God-man, Jesus Christ. Only by remaining in the Church Christ founded do we truly participate in the supernatural unity Christ imparted to His Church. The sects show that they are not united, by their many divisions. The Church, by contrast, cannot be divided; unity is one of the four essential marks of the Church, because the Church’s unity is Christ’s unity, and Christ cannot be divided. (1 Cor 1:13) Schismatics and dissenters can separate themselves from her in various ways, but they cannot divide her.

We can learn something about the unity of the Church by studying the sin against that unity. Strictly speaking, says St. Thomas, the sin of schism is one in which the person willfully and intentionally separates himself from the unity of the Church.3 The person who does so in ignorance or unintentionally, is less culpable (if culpable). But the person who discovers himself to be in schism, even if born into that schism, is culpable if he does not seek to cease to be in schism. To willfully remove oneself from the unity of the Church, or to willfully remain in schism from the Church, is to sin against charity. As heresy is a sin against faith, so schism is a sin against the charity which “unites the whole Church in unity of spirit.”

What does it mean to be in schism? Some Christians think that so long as they love other Christians, they are therefore not in schism. But St. Thomas explains that the unity of the Church consists in two things: the mutual connection of the members of the Church, and the subordination of all the members to the Church’s visible head, who represents Christ. So there are two ways to be a schismatic, according to St. Thomas. One way is to refuse to hold communion with other members of the Church. The other way is to refuse to submit to the Sovereign Pontiff. Both forms of schism are sins against charity, for they both act against the charity by which the whole Church is held together in love.


  1. Couple of thoughts on that Steve:

    1. Aquinas was not playing with a full deck. From Pseudo-Dionysius, who he treated as a contemporary of Paul's (rather than a sixth century neoplatonist), to some of the other papal forgeries like the Donation of Constantine and the Pseudo-Isidore Decretals, Aquinas had some very faulty starting points. So he's really much less of an authority than anyone should think he is.

    2. The attitude he espoused is still official. It's not just un-sanctioned self-important commenters like Bryan Cross who go on about this, but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. See this 2007 document:


    Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of “Church” with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?


    According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense.

    I know that I've posted this link before, but Protestants everywhere need to understand that this is the official posture that Rome takes even toward evangelicals like Timothy George and Chuck Colson, all the while persuading them to compromise the Gospel in the name of ecumenism.

  2. I agree that we can cut Aquinas some slack given his historical situation.

  3. "Is "anti-Catholicism" offensive?"

    Q for Q: "Is "anti-Protestantism" offensive?"

    Q: What and who defines "anti-Catholicism" or "anti-Protestantism?"

  4. TUAD,

    Dave Armstrong defines "anti-Catholicism." He's the Pope of lexicography!

  5. Dave Armstrong defines "anti-Catholicism."

    (1) Yes, he probably does. But it's quite likely that his definition is subjective and relative. I.e., anti-Catholicism is in the eye of the beholder.

    (2) Would he stipulate, then, that there might be (or are) Protestants who, using their own subjective and relative tastes (just like he does), who would deem many of his posts as being offensive "anti-Protestantism" rants?

    (3) What if anti-Catholicism simply distills to an ad hominem attack as a rhetorical method to divert attention away from arguments showing that some Catholic doctrine is silly, wrong, poorly reasoned, lacking evidence, self-refuting, or just plain wrong?


    Dear John Bugay,

    FWIW, I have no problem with devout Catholics regarding Protestants as rank heretics. This is how they should think. My reaction is the same as Rev. Albert Mohler's when he heard that the RCC refers to Protestant churches as "ecclesial communities": A shrug of indifference.

    And I have no problem with devout Protestants regarding Catholics as rank heretics.

    But when we start slinging around labels of "anti-Catholicism" or "anti-Protestantism" to casually and easily dismiss arguments of the loyal opposition, well, that's what I find offensive.

    So if Dave Armstrong, Scot Windsor, the Called to Communion guys, et al are unthinkingly slopping around the "anti-Catholicism" canard to avoid dealing with the defects of Catholic doctrine, then they should understand that they are doing themselves no favors.