Wednesday, December 05, 2018

"Anti-Catholic myths"

Catholic apologist Trent Horn responded to something John MacArthur said in a recent interview with Ben Shapiro:

On Sunday, Daily Wire host Ben Shapiro interviewed Protestant pastor John MacArthur for his radio show and podcast. A little while into the conversation, Shapiro asked MacArthur, “Do you think the Enlightenment was a good thing or a bad thing?”

In response, MacArthur gave a rambling answer that focused instead on the Reformation and the Catholic Church, in the process repeating numerous anti-Catholic myths.  

He began by saying we need to “look at the big picture” and remember that:

When Christianity comes and the Church is founded, the Church flourishes in the first century, and by the time you get to the third century, the time of Constantine, everybody’s gonna be a Christian so they baptize all the babies. And so essentially you have state-sponsored Christianity.

Many Protestants like to claim that fourth-century pagan converts ushered in a “great apostasy” when they allegedly joined the Faith for political expediency. Because of their pagan backgrounds and bad motives they soon introduced to the Church “man-made doctrines” that contradicted God’s revelation, leading to a repression of the pure gospel.

But not only does this tired claim lack basis in fact—it’s an assertion that can also be deployed against Protestantism. During the Reformation, most Protestant denominations became state-sponsored churches. In many cases it would have been politically expedient for a person to become a Calvinist in Geneva or an Anglican in England. But mere association with a secular government doesn’t disprove these churches’ teachings. Whether Catholic or Protestant, the teachings need to be evaluated on their own.

But that fails to answer JMac on his own grounds. Presumably, JMac rejects state churches in toto, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox. Trent's tu quoque only has traction for Protestants who support state churches. Perhaps, though, Trent is using a divide-and-conquer strategy. But to a great extent that's historically moot. 

MacArthur is also wrong about the historical origins of infant baptism. In the third century (over 150 years before Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire) the ecclesial author Origen wrote, “The Church has received the tradition from the apostles to give baptism even to little children" (Commentary on Romans 5.9). Even Protestant theologian R.C. Sproul says that by the middle of the second century infant baptism “is spoken of as the universal practice of the church. It appears to be occurring everywhere.”

i) It's true that JMac's statement is historically blurry. However, his point was about when Christianity became fashionable, not when it became official. 

ii) Since Sproul is not an early church historian or patrologist, his opinion is irrelevant. That's an illicit argument from authority. 

iii) Whether infant baptism is apostolic or a theological innovation is hotly contested. For the credobaptist side of the argument:

K. Aland, Did the Early Church Baptize Infants? (Wipf & Stock 2004)

E. Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Eerdmans 2013) 

T. Schreiner & S. Wright, eds. Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (B&H 2007)

H. F. Stander & L. P. Louw, Baptism in the Early Church (EP Books 2004)

D. F. Wright, Infant Baptism in Historical Perspective: Collected Studies (Wipf & Stock 2007)

MacArthur continued:

That launches a thousand years of the dark ages. Where religion and relationship to God is not personal. The Church is a surrogate for God. You connect to the Church. You don’t connect by faith. You don’t connect in your heart by loving the Lord or knowing him. . . . You have this institutionalized Christianity, that was dead, cold, and the Gospel was lost and truth was lost.

I agree with JMac!

Even before this time, Christians encountered God through the Church he gave us. St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote in the early third century, “You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother.” St. Ignatius of Antioch exhorted believers at the beginning of the second century, “Follow the bishop even as Jesus Christ does the Father.” 

i) Once again, that fails to engage JMac on his own grounds. Presumably, he doesn't view the church fathers as a trump card. So Horn is playing to the galleries. 

ii) Although I can't speak for JMac, I assume he'd say the attitude of Ignatius and Cyprian illustrates the very problem he warned about–where "the Church" becomes the mediator of salvation.

iii) There's also the problem of cherry-picking the church fathers, as if their views are monolithic, but as one scholar noted:

Despite the proximity in time between Ignatius and Polycarp, as well as the obvious affinity of their spirits in Christian fortitude, one recognizes in Polycarp a temperament much less oriented to ecclesiastical polity and possessing a much wider acquaintance with the New Testament. B. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament (Clarendon 1987), 60.

Likewise, Cyprian got into a shootout with the bishop of Rome over the issue of rebaptism. So I don't know why Catholic apologists quote him. Cyprian is like a double agent.

But MacArthur claims that this age of Church authority was the result of the Church’s suppression of Bible reading:

[The Church said], “Don’t put the Bible in their language. Don’t let them read it. The Church is the only interpreter of the Bible.” If anyone tried to interpret Scripture on their own, they would be murdered. We know the story of William Tyndale. What was his crime? He translated the Bible into English so that every plowboy in England could read the Scripture. That is a crime that brings down that kind of false system.

The Church did not oppose the idea of vernacular Bible translations as such; it opposed the idea of private individuals making their own translations of the Bible on their own authority, since they could mistranslate the Word of God and lead people away from the Faith (the Church still prohibits this, in section 825 of the Code of Canon Law). The Church took seriously its duty to protect the integrity of Sacred Scripture—something that any Protestant who loves the Bible should appreciate.

i) But the Vulgate is inaccurate in many respects, and its inaccuracies sometimes laid a foundation for theological errors. 

ii) Moreover, it's not a question of authority, but accuracy. Ecclesiastical authority doesn't make a translation accurate, while accuracy doesn't require ecclesiastical authority. Indeed, ecclesiastical authority is required to foist an inaccurate translation on the laity. 

In this case, the Church rejected Tyndale’s translation because he rendered words in a way that pointedly undermined Church teaching (like translating ekklesia as “congregation” instead of “church”). 

That's what a good translator ought to do. Replace a loaded word with a neutral word that doesn't have the extraneous connotations that built up due to subsequent theological usage. That forestalls the danger of reading later developments back into the text. 

The notes and prologues in his Bible also contained caustic attacks on institutions like the papacy. Protestant authors David Price and Charles C. Ryrie say of his translation, “Unquestionably, anti-Catholic outbursts are sufficiently numerous to make a strong impression on any reader.”

Compared to Exsurge Domine

It was the state that later executed Tyndale for his heresies that threatened to undermine its authority (the Church only disciplined Tyndale by publicly removing his priestly clothing). Heresy was considered a crime against the public order, which led to executions of both Protestants and Catholics throughout the Reformation. Matthew A.C. Newsome informs us:
Ultimately, it was the secular authorities that proved to be the end for Tyndale. He was arrested and tried (and sentenced to die) in the court of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1536. His translation of the Bible was heretical because it contained heretical ideas—not because the act of translation was heretical in and of itself. In fact, the Catholic Church would produce a translation of the Bible into English a few years later (the Douay-Reims version, whose New Testament was released in 1582 and whose Old Testament was released in 1609).

i) Do Horn's religious superiors regard Tyndale as a heretic? Does Horn's Diocesan bishop regard Tyndale as a heretic? Does the USCCB regard Tyndale as a heretic? Does the current Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regard Tyndale as a heretic? Does Pope Francis regard Tyndale as a heretic? 

ii) Didn't the Roman Catholic church collaborate with civil authorities to make heresy a crime against the public order? Isn't Horn's compartmentalization artificial? 

But it’s a complete falsehood that Christians had no “personal relationship with God” until the Reformation. Has MacArthur not read Augustine’s Confessions

I can't speak for JMac, but it wouldn't surprise me if he thinks Augustine's piety was smothered by his ecclesiology and sacramentology. 

The intimate writings of the mystics? 

i) I suspect JMac has the same view of mystics that he has of charismatics. 

ii) Mysticism doesn't single out Catholicism. What about Muslim mystics (the Sufi)? What about Hindu and Buddhist contemplatives? Or vision quests by American Indians? 

MacArthur is right about the importance of having a personal relationship with God but mistaken in thinking that this is mutually exclusive with the sacraments and an institutional Church.

From a Catholic standpoint, but that's the very issue in dispute. Once more, Horn fails to address JMac on his own grounds. I'm not suggesting the onus lies on Horn. In a debate between Catholics and Protestants, both sides have a burden of proof. But Horn's response is only persuasive to fellow Catholics. It stays within the Catholic hermeneutic the whole time. 

He’s also mistaken in thinking that a personal relationship, by itself, guarantees a Christian’s salvation. A person could earnestly claim to have a relationship with God derived from personal Bible study, but radically misunderstand either God’s nature (such as Mormons who deny the Trinity)…

The Mormon position doesn't derive from personal Bible study but Mormon "prophets". 

The Bible even says that there are passages in it that are confusing, passages that people twist to their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16), so it makes sense that God would give us a “pillar and foundation of truth,” the Church, to guide us through Scripture and lead us more deeply into a personal relationship with him.

I've discussed that misuse of 1 Tim 3:15 on multiple occasions. For instance:


  1. "But it’s a complete falsehood that Christians had no 'personal relationship with God until the Reformation. Has MacArthur not read Augustine’s Confessions? The intimate writings of the mystics? MacArthur is right about the importance of having a personal relationship with God but mistaken in thinking that this is mutually exclusive with the sacraments and an institutional Church."

    In addition to the mystics Steve pointed out, what about Jewish Kabbalah? Shamanism? Australian Aborigines on walkabout? W. African vodun and New World voodoo? Taoism and qi meditative practices? Greco-Roman mystery cults?

    I'd wager mysticism has existed in a majority of cultures past and present. Perhaps the secular West is a major exception, but still it's interesting many Western secularists have attempted to have mystical experiences via psychedelic drugs as well as various New Age techniques.

    I'd also wager a majority of these mystics didn't have a "personal relationship" with the God of the Bible! Hence I'm not sure how mysticism necessarily evidences a "personal relationship" with God. Is Catholic mysticism significantly different from other forms of mysticism?

  2. And what is the best defense of infant baptism in the Bible and Apostolic/Church Fathers?



  3. Here's a commentary from the 1599 Geneva Bible on 1 Timothy 3:15:

    "15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest yet know, how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the [a]house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the [b]pillar and ground of truth.


    1 Timothy 3:15 The Pastor hath always to think, how that he is occupied in the house of the living God, wherein the treasure of the truth is kept.
    1 Timothy 3:15 To wit, in respect of men: for the Church resteth upon that cornerstone, Christ, and is the preserver of the truth, but not the mother.

    I've also rebutted the Catholic misuse of that text:

  4. "a thousand years of the dark ages" - another myth. Rodney Stark's "The Triumph of Christianity" sets the record straight: those thousand years were remarkable for their progress in technology, society, arts, music, and architecture. It was during those years that slavery was eliminated in Europe. As Warren Hollister said in his address to the Pacific Historical Association in 1997, "anyone who believes that the era that witnessed the building of Chartres Cathedral and the invention of parliament and the university was 'dark' must be mentally retarded -- or, at best, deeply, deeply, ignorant."