Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What is Roman Catholicism? Part 2: “The System”

The “catholicity” of Rome
What is Roman Catholicism in our day?

One of the key terms is “catholicity”, which is defined as “universal” but in multiple directions. It does not simply now mean “geographically” universal, as it did in the Gospels (“from every nation under heaven” Acts 2:5). That is certainly still one dimension, but it has since taken on other meanings.

The late Avery Cardinal Dulles, for example, saw “catholicity” encompassing what is “above” (“The Fullness of God in Christ”), “from below” (“The Aspirations of Nature”), in terms of “Tradition and Development”, “Sacramental and Hierarchical”, and also, not to be missed, with “Roman Primacy” at the center (“The Catholicity of the Church”, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).

This is one of the reasons why De Chirico looked at the systematic nature of Roman Catholicism:

This systemic approach, necessary because Catholic theology is a coherent, all-encompassing system, owes much to the original and insightful conviction of Leonard De Chirico. His modified doctoral dissertation, entitled “Evangelical Theological Perspectives on Post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism”, evaluates several evangelical theologians and evangelical-Catholic dialogues and underscores that their appraisals of Catholicism suffer from an exclusively or nearly exclusively atomistic approach to Catholicism—an evaluation of individual doctrines and practices viewed as discrete issues.

He considers the advantages of a systemic approach to be the following:

(1) It permits an evangelical assessment of Catholic theology that views the latter as a “stable yet dynamic pattern which enables the system to hold together different elements which other theological orientations [such as evangelical theology] consider to be incompatible”; and

(2) it prepares an evangelical appraisal to “address it as Roman Catholicism, i.e. a religion enjoying or claiming to enjoy Catholic breadth and vision as well as institutional and historical particularity.”

When viewed from a systemic point of view, the assumption is that Catholic theology is “a complex unity, it really has a central core and its vast phenomenology [concrete manifestations] expressed by it can be legitimately thought of in terms of this core element.”

De Chirico convincingly demonstrates that Catholicism as a system is unified but not uniform; indeed, as he underscores, within the systemic unity of Catholic theology an amazing degree of diversity exists and flourishes.

Because of its unity and diversity, Catholicism is a dynamic system that is able to assimilate new ideas, increase in complexity, hold in tension disparate elements, and significantly develop without altering its basic unified identity. Moreover, Catholicism is global, or all-encompassing, in nature: it is driven by its project of furthering its catholicity or universality, seeking to address, influence, and incorporate the whole of reality.

Putting together these two elements of unity and universality, De Chirico explains, “In the Roman Catholic understanding, catholicity is a nuanced term and has to do simultaneously with unity and totality which the Church already enjoys and is called to increase. The basic premise is that the whole of reality, which is already one in essence, though this protological [divinely purposed] unity is marred by sin, should be brought into a Catholic unity.”

At this point, the firm conviction that “since catholic unity can be achieved, it must be achieved and eventually will be achieved through the work of the system,” takes over and becomes the goal of the system, with the key to this unity— the Catholic Church— at its center.

Allison, Gregg R. (2014-11-30). Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Kindle Locations 844-867). Crossway. Kindle Edition, pgs 43-44 in the printed edition.

One point to be made here is that Rome has purposefully set itself up to be able to absorb new cultures and ideas into itself – not only turning the Neoplatonic aspects of the early Greek culture into “dogma”, but also later Neoplatonism (such as Pseudo Dionysius) and Aristotle – and turning these things into the very substance of “Divine Revelation” through the Roman principles of “Tradition” and “Development”.

In Roman Catholicism, anything now can have the blessing of being “special revelation” once the Magisterium blesses it.

But this Roman practice clearly makes light of the actual “special Revelation” that God gives.

This is where the Protestant principle of “Sola Scriptura” needs to come into focus.


  1. When referring to the Roman communion instead of "catholicity" the descriptor should be "syncreticity".

    1. We have to start with the terms that they use, and then dismantle those terms in the senses in which they use them.