Saturday, December 07, 2013

Why We Reject the Council of Trent

The Council of Trent
Earlier this week, the Council of Trent had something like a 450th anniversary of its closing date, and Steve Hays linked to a piece by Joe Carter entitled “9 things you should know about the Council of Trent”.

In the comments, a Roman Catholic writer named Erick Ybarra left a long and convoluted plea in favor of “the Tridentine doctrines”.

I’m responding here at length (in one long blog post), while responding over there to his individual comments individually, with essentially the same responses.

Erick Ybarra said:

I am not quite sure why many of you [have] an issue with the Tridentine doctrines.

Then you fail to understand the history of it, at the very least. Philip Schaff, who was perhaps one of the more irenic Protestant writers, said in his “Creeds of Christendom”:

The Protestant doctrines [which Trent opposed] are almost always stated in an exaggerated form, in which they would hardly be recognized by a discriminating evangelical divine, or they are mixed up with real heresies, which Protestants condemn as emphatically as the Church of Rome [condemns them] (“vol 1, pg 94).

Even a committed Roman Catholic like J.R. Neuhaus agreed that Trent either misunderstood or misrepresented what the Protestants were saying. He said (in his in his contributing essay for the book “Evangelicals & Catholics Together”):

Trent’s Decree on Justification does declare: “If anyone shall say that by faith alone the sinner is justified, so as to understand that nothing else is required to cooperate in the attainment of the grace of justification, and that it is in no way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will: let him be anathema.” The fathers of the council … thought that the sola fide formula promoted in the Reformation era was, among other things, a denial of human moral agency, a rejection of the role of the God-given capacities of reason and will in coming to faith, a repudiation of sanctifying grace, and an invitation to antinomianism.

Did the council fathers at Trent misunderstand what the Reformers meant by sola fide? Most scholars, whether Catholic or Protestant, agree that they did not understand the Reformers, especially Luther and Calvin, adequately.

So there’s that: the so-called “infallible Church” misrepresenting their opponents on doctrinal issues. But then there are the doctrines themselves, which I’ll explain further below.

Erick Ybarra said:

At the end of the day, we all agree that without holiness, no one will enter the kingdom of God. Jesus taught us only those who are practicing righteousness and who do the will of God will be worthy of the kingdom of God.

Yes but at the beginning of the day, we don’t define “holiness” in the same way, Protestants accepting the holiness of Christ, and Roman Catholics seeking “intrinsic” holiness. Protestants accepting forensic justification and the righteousness of Christ alone, while Roman Catholics are seeking to present their own “grace-assisted” works as the basis of this holiness.

Erick Ybarra wrote:

The death of Jesus Christ brings man into the life of the Holy Spirit, and such life must be preserved by mortification (Rom 8:13). What else could it mean when Paul says "If you live according to the flesh (the practice of sin), you will die, but if by the Spirit, you mortify the works of the flesh, you will live".

You get this (Romans 8:13) completely backwards. While Roman Catholics have in mind here the “mortifications” such as pope John Paul II’s self-flagellation efforts, they (and you) forget that that verse is the close of a passage which begins “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus …” Christ enables what he requires. And thus you miss the whole import of the passage. As Douglas Moo puts it in his commentary on Romans:

Paul insists that what God has done for us in Christ is the sole and final grounds for our eternal life at the same time as he insists on the indispensability of holy living as the precondition for attaining that life (pg 495).

So when you say “such life must be preserved by mortification,” you must be aware that such “preservation” forces the Roman Catholic to go a-breast-beating into a confessional to beg for a forgiveness which Christ gives freely without any such trappings.

In this way, you deny and trample upon the all-encompassing saving work of Christ.

Consider this: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).”

Erick Ybarra wrote:

The divine life of the Holy Spirit brings in a participation with God's life which fills the resurrected body of Christ Jesus. Us being mysteriously baptized in union with this risen Christ are thus filled with the same life of God, the very interior life of the Trinity, which is perfect love.

Protestants don’t deny “Union with the Risen Christ”. What we deny is that such a thing ought to tie us to the servitude of Roman “sacraments”.

Erick Ybarra wrote:

However, the grace of which Paul speaks does not allow for passivity, but an active reception of the individual and the working out of that grace, something which can be quenched and terminated through serious sin (Ephesians 4). There is no other purpose of warning already justified people of the coming wrath of God upon the works of iniquity. Such indicates that each baptized disciple must steer clear of re-entering into the state of sin, where there is a sure expectation of judgement.

Your lack of clarity here fudges several important concepts. (And this is typical of Roman Catholic apologetics).

You clearly, first of all, set up a straw man (“the grace of which Paul speaks does not allow for passivity”), while conflating the actual recommendation with “following Roman doctrine”, when throughout Paul’s letters, an exegetical treatment of that and similar phrases (“the working out of that grace” see Peter O’Brien’s discussion of Phil 2:12, for example) denies the need for such a thing.

“It is God or Christ who is the ultimate source of the work carried out …” and “the validation of the message and person of the apostle [is] by the wonderful acts of power wrought by God” and just so there is no mistake about it, he adds that “Self-evidently God is also the One who effects all the gifts of salvation”.

Thus Rome, relying on its own authority, and not actually upon what the Apostle says, places burdens upon the Roman Catholic that the Apostles never placed upon believers.

Your reference to Ephesians 4 (“quenched and terminated through serious sin”) is broad enough to be meaningless. While Paul is ultimately concerned that Christians behave in a manner that is worthy of the Christian name, he in no way allows that a Christian’s eternal life will be “terminated through serious sin”.

Erick Ybarra said,

Finally, St. James could not be anymore clear that in the life of the justified, their works contribute to that state of justification. Works are working together with faith, so that one is justified by faith together with works.

But this too is a false understanding of what James is saying. Take a look at an exegetical treatment of James:

Yes, it is true that “For James, good works are the necessary fruit of the faith that justifies. They are required for the demonstration of righteousness, and without them a purported faith is, in fact, no faith at all.”

But no, there is no “increase” of justification at all. Because of such a concept, Roman Catholics the world over try to out-do the sacrifice of Christ. Trent’s addition of this unbiblical concept served only to further enslave Roman Catholics to the Roman Catholic priesthood and sacramental system, placing genuine good works vs the “Precepts of the Church”.

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