Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Roman Catholic Shell Game: Now You See It, Now You Don’t

Leonardo De Chirico has posted an article at Reformation21 that is (finally!) uncharacteristically blunt and honest in its portrayal of the dangers of Roman Catholicism, illustrating one not-so-subtle practice that Roman Catholicism is guilty of: re-defining a word (or concept) when no one is seemingly looking.

Francis Turretin long ago commented on this characteristic of Rome’s attempting to re-define words (or concepts in its own favor. Turretin said that his opponents would not actually discuss facts, but “to this day … (although they are anything but the true church of Christ, they) still boast of their having alone the name of the church and do not blush to display the standard of that which they dispose. In this manner, hiding themselves under the specious title of the antiquity and infallibility of the Catholic church, they think they can, as with one blow, beat down and settle the controversy waged against them concerning the various and most destructive errors [which they] introduced into the heavenly doctrine” (Vol 3, pg 2).

Now De Chirco says that Rome is doing that very same thing with their “New Evangelization” – a phrase coined by John Paul II, among other places, in the apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineute, in an effort to its latest effort to try to expand the boundaries of the Roman church. The way that JPII put it, he “insist[s] that we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardour of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost. We must revive in ourselves the burning conviction of Paul, who cried out: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel’ (1 Cor 9:16)”.

It seems fairly certain to me that this effort will fail, given that Rome does not actually “preach the Gospel”. What it preaches is itself and its sacraments, which are not “the Gospel”.

However, Roman Catholic writer George “I-had-dinner-with-the-pope” Weigel is attempting to take that one step further with what De Chirico blatantly calls an attempt at a re-definition of “Evangelical” in his work “Evangelical Catholicism”.

As I mentioned above, De Chirico is uncharacteristically bold in his description of this attempt of Weigel’s:

The recent book by George Weigel, Evangelical Catholicism (New York: Basic Books, 2013) is a clever attempt to re-engineer the word by overlooking its Biblical focus, by severing its historical roots and replacing them with other roots, by changing its doctrinal outlook, by staffing its experiential ethos differently, and by renegotiating its religious use. In other words, this is a genetic modification of a word.

The basic thesis of the book is that Evangelical Catholicism (EC) is a qualifier of present-day Roman Catholicism as it stemmed from the magisterium of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903), was expounded by Vatican II (1962-1965), found its champion in John Paul II (1978-2005), and was again reinforced by Benedict XVI (2005-2013). It is a new account of the word Evangelical. Whereas previous scholarship referred to this time in Catholic history as marked by "ressourcement" (i.e. re-appropriation of sources: Scripture and Tradition) and "aggiornamento" (i.e. update of approach, not of doctrine), Weigel calls it "Evangelical" Catholicism.

According to Weigel, Evangelical is a qualifying adjective, not a noun. The noun which carries "thick" meaning is Catholicism. Curiously, what used to be termed as "Roman Catholicism" is now shortened to "Catholicism" alone. All the Roman elements of Roman Catholicism are nonetheless part of EC: sacraments, Mariology, hierarchy, traditions, papacy, devotions, etc. To this "Catholicism" Weigel adds the adjective "Evangelical," which basically refers to the depth of convictions and the passion to make them known. EC is a full orbed Roman Catholicism practiced with strong impetus and missionary zeal. Catholicism is the doctrinal and institutional hardware, while "Evangelical" is the sociological and psychological software. While doctrine deeply remains Roman Catholic, the spiritual mood is called Evangelical.

As I said, whereas there may be some bold Roman Catholics (like the CTC gang) who are “evangelical” (“qualifying adjective”) in their efforts, most Roman Catholics just won’t “get it”. Rome simply doesn’t preach “the Gospel”, it preaches “sacraments, Mariology, hierarchy, traditions, papacy, devotions”.

Weigel, as well, seems to be out of touch with the things Pope Bergoglio is saying and doing, actually seeking to “re-define” “Church” in a way that’s more Eastern Orthodox than Roman Catholic.

On the other hand, confessional Protestants are fond of criticizing modern Evangelicals. They had better be careful of assisting Rome in its efforts to re-define the word.


  1. John, what leaps out to me is that biblical Christians (aka conservative Protestants) rightly take to task the Liberal Protestants who play linguistic word games with theological concepts and with irresponsible eisegesis.

    Chirico and other biblical Christians are now decrying the same tactic that's being employed by some Roman Catholics.

    It's somewhat amusing because I have seen conservative Catholics decry liberal Catholics for eviscerating traditional Catholic dogma and practices with their word games.

    1. Hi Truth, I am of the opinion that, given the way that information may be disseminated quickly over the internet, that more and more people over time are going to understand this process, and over time, the truth of things will become more evident to more people. Now, the question is, will enough people pay attention to this enough to care about it (and more, to do things about it)? I tend to think so -- the "invisible hand" and all ... people who are being deceived in this way (who care about being honest) will come to their senses about all of this. But you just don't know what God has in mind, what he has willed in all of this.