Friday, July 06, 2007

Who Speaks For the Romanist?

Jason and Steve may find this discussion of interest as well. James Swan has also noted it.

"Again, I continue to be misunderstood about a fundamental point (something I’ve underscored over and over again): Just as an evangelical is not defined by majority opinion about what evangelicals believe, a Catholic is not defined by official pronouncements about what Catholics believe."

This seems muddled at best. This depends on whether we're talking about internally, or externally.

Catholicism is committed to a particular rule of faith. That rule of faith commits the individual Catholic to relying on his communion, not his private opinions. So, Mr. Wallace is making an illicit appeal to say this. In critiquing the Roman Catholic's beliefs, we're simply taking the claims of his own communion at face value. If he chooses to violate those claims, then that's fine, but let's be clear here, it is not illicit to use the official pronouncements of Rome as representative of the faith of Romanists, since Romanism is committed to that particular rule of faith.

On the other hand, from a Protestant perspective, we draw a distinction between a saving profession and a credible profession of faith. For purposes of church membership, cooperation with other denominational entities, etc., since we cannot know of a certainty who is or isn't saved, we only require a credible profession of faith. A saving profession of faith lies solely between an individual and God.

For example, a Catholic that affirms the current dogmas of Rome cannot offer a credible profession of faith to a consistent Protestant. But whether a Catholic can offer a saving profession of faith is a different question. The answer varies on a case-by-case basis. It is easier to say who isn't saved than to say who is.

To be a Christian is to be, among other things, a Christian believer. One must believe certain things, and not believe certain other, contrary things. On the one hand, some dogmas are damnable dogmas. On the other hand, the Bible lays out certain saving articles of faith. This is God's criterion, not ours. We did not invent it. By the same token, how God applies that criterion in any individual case is up to God, not to us. We are not the judge, God is the Judge. To take a concrete example, Scripture teaches Sola Fide (faith alone) (Romans; Galatians). An individual is saved by faith in Christ and saved by the sole and sufficient merit of Christ.

However, in Catholic dogma, one is saved by the merit of Christ plus the merit of the saints plus one's own congruent merit. And this results in a divided faith. That is why a Catholic cannot give a consistent Protestant a credible profession of faith. In fairness, Protestants are more prone to give a Catholic church member a pass on the credible profession of faith than they do a Catholic bishop or the Pope or some of their lay apologists, because they very clearly have bought into the full range of Catholic dogmas.

Any of the following creeds/confessions could supply the basis for a credible profession of faith:

1. The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Christian Religion

2. The Formula of Concord

3. The Baptist Faith & Message (any version)(

4. The C&MA statement of faith

5. The JFJ statement of faith (

6. The EFCA statement of faith (

7. The Campus Crusade statement of faith (

8. The AG statement of faith (

These are all broadly evangelical affirmations of faith. Notice, not all are Reformed. Some are Lutheran; some are Arminian. By contrast, Trent or Vatican II does not supply the basis for a credible profession of faith. Still, it is possible for a Catholic to be saved, unlike a Muslim or Mormon or other suchlike.

Protestantism, particularly the Reformed tradition and its close cousins (less so, historic Lutheranism) has a system for dealing with error of differing degrees. Romanism does not do this. In Romanism, saving faith is dogmatic faith. As Turretin says, they, like the Lutherans, err to excess.

Mr. Wallace is wanting to evaluate Roman Catholics on the basis of Protestant criterion. There's a sense in which there is some truth to that, but we should remember that if a Romanist is differing with the official pronouncements of his communion it is in spite of, not in tune with, the official pronouncements of his communion. It is not illicit to hold him to the standards of that communion's rule of faith, if only to, if he believes in something like justification through faith alone, move him to leave his communion, which is what he should be doing.


Jubilee wrote:

1, Nothing ever definitively taught as true by the Catholic Church–no dogma–
has ever been “taken back”. What might seem like a reversal is never such.
It will be a legitimate development (or further “unpacking”) of that doctrine
to meet development in the world’s needs/cultural shifts or to meet some new
heresy; it will involve a changed emphasis.

File this away for future reference.

If anybody here thinks the Catholic
Church has denied/reversed/abandoned anything she once definitively taught,
then you are always welcome to float a specific assertion to that effect in the
Apologetics Forum back where I come from, and the issue will be substantively

How about here at Triablogue?

A. Where has Rome infallibly defined and exegeted any text of Scripture? This would include those related to Petrine primacy.

B. Where and how did Ancient Church define Petrine primacy? There are multiple views in the Fathers on this subject. Which is definitive for the others?

C. Does Rome today credobaptize by immersion by thrice dipping?

D. What about the Marian dogmas? Please explain the Gelasian Decree.

That's just for starters.

Somebody is wrong on the anathemas. Both the Catholic and the Protestant
worlds have dropped their mutual anathemas.

This, of course, undermines the statement:

Nothing ever definitively taught as true by the Catholic Church–no dogma–
has ever been “taken back”. What might seem like a reversal is never such.
More on that in a moment.

Don’t know the Protestant
reasoning–and an anathema is not a teaching, so it can be dropped–the
Catholic Church sees the Reformation-generation Protestants as different from
contemporary Protestants.
And the reason the first sentence undermines Jubilee's first statement about is that this is a weasel of distinction to make. The anathemas of Trent were given on a doctrinal foundation and for a doctrinal, not an ethical reason. If that foundation has not changed, then the anathemas should not change either. And how are contemporary Protestants different? Doctrinally? Let's see what Jubilee says:

Luther et al rejected the body they
were born into, fueling the biggest schism ever. He et al broke Christian unity,
the unity Our Lord prayed to the Father for

This is question-begging. Where does the Dominical Prayer of John 17 refer to visible unity under the banner of Rome? Notice how Jubilee assumes what s/he needs to prove.

It would also mean that membership in the church is determined by the conditions of one's birth. Where is this to be found in Scripture?

But Protestants today are born into schism
through no personal responsibility for the original division; their role is quite
other, so the anathemas are inappropriate.

Then in that case that would apply not only to us today, but those Protestants alive after the first and second generation of the Reforrmation, wouldn't it? However, they were still under anathema. What Jubilee is doing is looking for some sort of justification for his/her position, but that's untenable If true, it would mean that anybody who crosses the Tiber today for Geneva would be rightly under an anathema, particularly if born into Rome. It would mean that those of us who cultivate our opposition to Rome are rightly under anathema as well, since we've cultivated it. So which is it?


  1. "While we, as Protestants, may interpret Trent and other official statements prima facie, we have to be careful not to require all Catholics to interpret their documents the way we do."

    We should require them to interpret Trent the way the Tridentine Fathers and Counter-Reformation theologians like Bellarmine and Stapleton did, as well as the papacy before modernism took hold in the 20C.

    "My point is that if Catholicism is changing (or, in their view, progressing), then why should we stand as guards at the gate and say “You cannot do this! You must interpret yourselves the way we interpret you and remain under your confessions the way we see them.” Isn’t change/progression what we want? Doesn’t this propose a hope that Protestants should desire?"

    i) No, not interpret Trent the way *we* do. Rather, we're taking our cue from Tridentine and post-Tridentine theologians. How *they* understood it. Original intent.

    ii) They are more than welcome to change. What they are not welcome to do is to simultaneously change while retaining their pretensions to a divine teaching office.

    "He was fascinated by CSNTM’s work of photographing ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts. And he was a good student of church history. This gentleman affirmed a lot of my most precious beliefs: Jesus Christ, the theanthropic person, died for our sins and was bodily raised from the dead; by putting our faith in him we are saved—indeed, we are saved exclusively by God’s grace; there’s nothing that we can bring to the table to aid in our salvation. The good doctor called himself an evangelical. And he also called himself a Roman Catholic."

    i) American-Catholics are often influenced by evangelicalism. Especially the laity.

    ii) Contemporary Catholic Bible scholarship undercuts these ringing affirmations.

    iii) Catholic soteriology is officially synergistic.

    "Protestantism has no central authority, leaving each denomination or, worse, each local church, to define truth and what it means to adhere to it. One of the things that is attractive to me about Orthodoxy is that it has a hierarchy of leadership which is responsible for maintaining true Christian belief and practice."

    i) And as a result, it has vicious turf wars over who is in charge, who speaks for Orthodoxy. Who's king of the hill?

    ii) And what if the hierarchs act irresponsibly?

    iii) There is no such thing as the Orthodox church. Only a set of semi-autonomous Orthodox churches.

    "There are no Lone Ranger leaders; each answers to someone up the chain."

    i) Wrong. There are no Lone Ranger laymen, but there are Lone Ranger *leaders."

    ii) Yes, each answers to someone "up" the chain. Accountability is a one-way street in Orthodoxy.

    "The Protestant Reformation gave impetus to the elevation of reason over revelation."

    It did?

    "An idea that in essence gave birth to the Enlightenment."

    One of the problems with this cliche is the facile equation of "the Enlightenment" with a particular school of philosophy.

    But let's remember that the Enlightenment also gave birth to Bach and Handel, George Whitefield and Charles Wesley, Rembrandt, Racine, and the Puritans, &c.

    "This has safeguarded the Orthodox branch from theological corruption that is especially the hallmark of Protestantism."

    Aside from certain corruptions inherent in Orthodox theology, that is only because, until fairly recently, Orthodoxy was ghettoized. But it's liberalizing, too.

    "Finally, there is a strong emphasis on rationalism within Protestantism vs. mysticism within Orthodoxy."

    I remember reading an autobiographical book by Nikos Kazantzakis in which he described Greek Orthodox hermits who would literally go mad due to malnutrition (part of their ascetic austerities), and jump off cliffs, hallucinating that they were winged angels.


  2. "Finally, there is a strong emphasis on rationalism within Protestantism vs. mysticism within Orthodoxy."

    This also too broad a brush.

    Is this "Protestantism" or is it "Baptistery, Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutheranism, etc.?" In short, which version of Protestantism is in view.

    What's more, is this true of Protestantism prior to ca. 1725 or after? Is he wanting to trot out the "justification by faith" is the rationalistic principle around which Lutheranism turns argument? Predestination for the Reformed? Libertarianism for the Arminian argument? If so, where is the supporting material?

    I'd add that Lutheran and Reformed historical scholarship has been rebutting that thesis for some time.

    If that's his thesis, it too smacks of rationalism, for what makes it "rationalistic" is to look for central theological or historical themes and then construct a theology or history or historiographical tradition around those themes.

    It seems to turn on an equivocation between that which is "rational" and that which is "rationalistic." The former simply means "systematic or reasonable, logical ordered." What's wrong with that? If Scripture shows that logic is an attribute of God (Frame) then shouldn't this follow in theology too? Shouldn't the Bible, when exegeted properly show that one doctrine logically dovetails with others. Doesn't the doctrine of God underwrite Scripture (the order of being) while Scripture underwrites the doctrine of God (order of knowing)?

    The former means "constructing a theology, around a central organizing priniciple, such as a priori ideas about justification or providence." Lutherans and the Reformed accept the former, not the latter. Arminians admit to using libertarianism in the former manner, so, at most, his argument would tack onto Arminianism, not the others.

    Rationalism did creep into Lutheran and Reformed theology post 1725, but it resulted in (a) a more radical biblicism in response in the local churches, while the consistories and academies reverted to (b) latitudinarianism. Rationalism got the Lutherans the radical skepticism of Continental Lutheranism, leading to liberalism and in the Reformed, Neo-Orthodoxy, but these aren't representative of evangelical Lutherans and the evangelical Reformed.

  3. Steve, I'm curious - have you ever had Roman Catholic apologists try to "weasel" (for lack of a better word) out of the implications of Vatican II by claiming that it's not an ecumenical council and therefore not infallible, etc.? I'm certain I've heard that argument at least once.

  4. Semper Reformanda said:

    "Steve, I'm curious - have you ever had Roman Catholic apologists try to "weasel" (for lack of a better word) out of the implications of Vatican II by claiming that it's not an ecumenical council and therefore not infallible, etc.? I'm certain I've heard that argument at least once."

    That's an argument which Gerry Matatics would use.

    Conservative Catholics are in a bind. They can either be consistent with the past, or consistent with the present—but they can't be both.

    On the one hand, Matatics has the better of the historical argument. On the other hand, he's trying to rescue the papacy from the pope, which is self-defeating.

  5. Gene,

    rationalism within Protestantism vs. mysticism within Orthodoxy

    I agree with you this is a wide swing of the ax. In fact in Evangelicalism there is quite some mysticism too, that is, the looking for subjective experiences.

    In Confessional Lutheranism, one is dissuaded in making doctrines out of deductions (rationalizations). You hear them speaking of command, example or explicit statements from Scripture as basis for faith/practice.

    It is at home in pleading ignorance and is less internally consistent logically speaking in preference to being Biblically consistent.