Tuesday, February 17, 2015

When did Rome leave the church?

Hardline Protestants like me say Rome is not a Christian church. Rome left the church. That sometimes provokes the question, "When did Rome cease to be Christian?"

Although that's a natural question, it contains a dubious assumption–as if that has to be a punctiliar event. But unlike individual apostasy, the church of Rome is a collective. Many moving parts. And some parts move at different speeds than other parts. Some parts are catching up with other parts.

It's like asking when did a marriage end? Legally, you could say the marriage ended when the divorce papers were signed. But that's a formality. And divorce is the effect of preceding events. One thing had to happen before another thing could happen. 

Often, a marriage dies in stages. Did divorce end the marriage, or did an affair end the marriage? Before the divorce was the affair. That was a precipitating event.

But we can go back another step. Extramarital affairs don't necessarily happen just out of the blue. Sometimes one or both spouses begin to stray psychologically before they stray physically. They lose their commitment to the marriage. They become restless. They want out. They explore escape routes. They may deliberately go places where singles hang out. They arrange "chance" encounters. Although they just happened to meet someone else, they didn't just happen to be there.  

Or sometimes a spouse will intentionally say or do something so hurtful, so unforgivable, to provoke divorce. To cross a line of no return. 

Some people say a marriage ends when love ends. When one or both spouses fall out of love.

Yet there are couples who soldier on through the dry seasons of marriage, and emerge with a stronger marriage at the other end of the ordeal.

A dying marriage is a chain of events. Turning points. The death of a marriage may not be irreversible at any particular stage. If there's willingness on both sides, it's usually possible to restore the relationship.

But when a marriage fails, it's usually not just one crucial event, but a cumulative series of often small incidents that chip away at the foundation until that finally washes away. 

Conversely, little acts of consideration can build a marriage. The dynamic goes both ways. 

Because denominations are collectives, dying denominations tend to die a slow death. An incremental process. But there's a point at which you can look back and say, absent divine intervention, that's a lost cause. Too few of the faithful remain to reverse course. 


  1. Lots of denominations have departed from the faith once and for all delivered unto the saints.

    Rome isn't alone.

    1. But Rome is unique in that it was the first, most prideful, and most harmful.

  2. It does seem like a long, painful, drawn-out departure. I'm going to say that incipient Romanism was the acceptance of the Western traditional hermeneutic. Augustine is the example at this point where he had pretty good theology with a bad hermeneutic. Antioch is the counterexample with a good hermeneutic and Nestorianism. But I think it was the application of the four-fold hermeneutic of Rome to the ends of sola ecclesia that ultimately did them in, for therein is the means by which all the doctrinal and functional abuses were ushered in.

    1. 2000 years is a long time Jim!

    2. Yes it is although I'd place it closer to 1700 years ago. The seed of the problem was planted by then if the manifestation if the theological errors and practical abuses had centuries yet to develop. The Western Church certainly contributed positively, but I'd say the hermeneutic and subsequent stand on revelation were the start of it.

      The Reformation started by changing in the reverse order: the abuses were noted, the stand on revelation addressed, and a better hermeneutic developed that was more like that of the Antioch of old. It's fair to note that the abuses couldn't have been noted without something of a corrective on the other two already brewing in the back of the Reformers' minds, but it could also be noted that these weren't so much developed at that time as it was simply obvious that Rome's teaching and practice didn't match any sort of reading of scripture. So I'm using the corrective characteristics of the Reformation as my cue as to where Rome departed.

    3. Jim are you suggesting that Augustine believed in Sola ecclesia? All the evidence shows that he was a firm believer of testing every doctrine against scripture, even though he was not always consistent in carrying this out.

    4. No. I don't think Augustine believed in sola ecclesia. He did, however, hold to the Western four-fold view of scripture. (Ligon Duncan pointed out that Augustine responded to Manichees by appealing to it.) This Western hermeneutic eventually led to sola ecclesia.

  3. Blaming Gregory VII is much tidier though. In creating a power that could oppose imperial interference in ecclesiastical matters and go on a clean-up of the preceding couple of centuries of flagrant abuses he created a doctrinal monster.

  4. My reply to the question "When did Rome cease to be Christian?" is when was Rome ever Christian? "Prior to the invention of the Papacy" won't suffice since "Rome" was never Rome without it.