Thursday, January 12, 2017

Roman Catholicism: “simply making up things to justify pet doctrines and practices”

St Thomas the Train Wreck Aquinas
St Thomas the Train Wreck Aquinas
While our culture is talking about “fake” things, such as “fake news”, why not talk about “fake religion”?

R. Scott Clark, a professor of Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary, California, published an original piece of work dealing with Aquinas’s inability to find biblical evidence in favor of “images”. Perhaps he is still feeling the sting of a WSCal grad like Jason Stellman having turned “Drunk”, or maybe there is a “Reformed Thomist” somewhere in his life. Whatever the reason, in this blog post, Clark, who reads Aquinas in the original Latin, unloads with both barrels:

The Allure Of Unwritten Tradition:
The earliest post-apostolic Christians (some of whom are denominated the Apostolic Fathers) knew of an apostolic tradition but they did not know about a secret and unwritten apostolic tradition on the authority of which the church could justify virtually anything it wanted. Remarkably, however, over time this is just what happened in the life of the church. In preparation for the annual [“Is the Reformation Over?” conference] this Friday and Saturday (January 13–14, 2017) I have been looking at Thomas Aquinas’ appeal to an unwritten tradition to justify practices that he freely admits are not biblical. In Summa Theologica 1a2ae 25.3, where he was defending the veneration of the cross, he faced a very sensible and eminently biblical objection:

Further, it seems that nothing should be done in the Divine worship that is not instituted by God; wherefore the Apostle (1 Cor. 11:23) when about to lay down the doctrine of the sacrifice of the Church, says: I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you. But Scripture does not lay down anything concerning the adoration of images. Therefore Christ’s image is not to be adored with the adoration of latria. (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.)).

Remarkably, this is a fair summary of the approach employed both by Scripture and the early post-apostolic Christians to the question of faith and practice. The test used in Acts, in the Epistles, and by the early post-Apostolic Christians was: is it biblical? Is it commanded by Scripture? Scripture not only says nothing about the adoration of images it positively prohibits in in the 2nd commandment of the moral law and in countless other places.

To which Thomas replied:
Reply Obj. 4. The Apostles, led by the inward instinct of the Holy Ghost [Spirit], handed down to the churches certain instructions which they did not put in writing, but which have been ordained, in accordance with the observance of the Church as practised by the faithful as time went on. Wherefore the Apostle says (2 Thess. 2:14): Stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word—that is by word of mouth—or by our epistle—that is by word put into writing. Among these traditions is the worship of Christ’s image. Wherefore it is said that Blessed Luke painted the image of Christ, which is in Rome. (ibid.).

What Aquinas is citing here is a partim-partim view of Scripture and Tradition – (“divine revelation is found partly in Scripture, and partly in Tradition”), which Rome has since tanked, in favor of its “one common source ... two distinct modes of tradition” view.

Here’s the punchline:

The only way for Thomas to overcome the New Testament and the early post-apostolic Christian objection to the principle on which he wants to proceed is to invent an unwritten tradition for which there is actual no biblical evidence and for which neither he nor Rome can produce any actual evidence. Yet this is the faith, piety, and practice of millions of Romanists across the globe.

There is no other way to view Roman Catholic history from perhaps its inception around 350 through the beginning of Vatican II. They “invented unwritten traditions”. Fake traditions – many or most of which had their roots in the 3rd century Roman practices and piety – everything from the adoption of the Roman concept of “Pontifex Maximus” and the development of “canon law” through the use of vestments, processions, statues, and “holy water” – all of these things had deep roots in Roman culture and practice, and no roots in Scripture.


The great news about the Reformation is that the rediscovery of the principle of sola scriptura, i.e., that Scripture is the sole, unique, final authority for the Christian faith and practice, is wonderfully liberating. If you are looking for a connection to the most ancient Christian theology, piety, and practice you can find it in Scripture alone. Tradition has a place in the Christian faith and life but that place is always subordinate to Scripture. According to sola scriptura, the authority of the church begins and ends with God’s Word. The church is a minister of God’s Word, not the mother of God’s Word.

We are obligated to believe and practice what is explicitly revealed and what is necessarily implied but nothing else. This means that we are free from merely human tradition, however well intended it may be. It also means that confessional Protestants should not feel guilty about ignoring Roman claims about ancient, extra-canonical traditions. They are simply making up things to justify pet doctrines and practices. [Bold emphasis mine – JB].

Just below here, Steve called the Roman Catholic Church “a merely human organization that lacks foresight, making things up as it goes along, and having to abrogate established positions due to unforeseen circumstances, and replace established positions with new positions that were improvised on the spot.”

Our world today doesn’t need the “fake religion” that Roman Catholicism offers. The world genuinely needs a deep and abiding engagement with the One True God, whom we know through Scripture. It finds that in the Reformation traditions, but not in Roman Catholicism.

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