Sunday, June 06, 2004

I Like and Appreciate "Reformed Catholicism" a Lot, BUT . . .

. . . my friend, "Pontificator" (a traditionalist Anglican [Fr. Al Kimel: who later became a Catholic] ) has made, I think, some important criticisms of the movement, with which I largely agree. They deserve careful consideration from those in the self-titled "Reformed Catholicism" movement. This present paper of mine -- I hasten to add -- does not at all undo or clash with the expressly ecumenical effort of my recent post responding to (indeed, mostly loudly applauding) Joel Garver. He was dealing mostly with soteriology. In that area, I think there is remarkable existing agreement, and great potential for more as discussions continue. But -- sadly --, other issues do not present such a bright and rosey prospect for actual agreement.

I am both ecumenical and an apologist for Catholicism (a religious point of view that we don't feel needs any qualifier: people know what you are talking about when you say simply "Catholic"). That makes me distinct from "Reformed Catholicism" or "Anglo-Catholicism" or any other "x-Catholicism" that exists (either with a big "C" or a little "c"). But I am happy to find whatever common ground I can with all these brothers and sisters in Christ. People seem to be enamored with this word "Catholic" (and well they should be, because it implies a oneness and universality of the Church. This is the biblical and historic Christian concept).

The two endeavors do not contradict at all (as I have been arguing for 13 years now). They are not mutually exclusive (much as many people -- caught up in an "either/or" mentality and modality -- would like to believe). One can adhere to one set of beliefs and defend them against all comers, and also simultaneously seek unity with other Christians of different stripe, insofar as possible without denying one's own theological and doctrinal identity and distinctives. Apologetics is good, and unity and appreciation with other Christian traditions is good; I refuse to dichotomize the two).

With that disclaimer out of the way, I shall now post Pontificator's paper on his blog: “Reformed” + “Catholicism”–Water and Oil? in its entirety, with my responses in blue:

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It’s been a pleasure discovering various sites on the internet devoted to the advancement of catholicity among the Protestant churches.

Indeed; I am quite pleased about this development also.

I’m not just talking about Anglo-Catholic groups within Anglicanism, but catholic groups among real Protestants.

So Anglicans are "unreal" Protestants? Just teasing . . .

Pontifications readers are probably already quite familiar with the splendid work of Thomas Oden. Oden is an evangelical Methodist who is seeking to reground Protestantism within the consensual tradition of the Church. Given the Anglican sacramentalism of John Wesley, and given Methodism’s distance from the 16th century Reformation, I have not found it surprising to find Oden and other Methodists (Geoffrey Wainwright immediately comes to mind) recalling the Church to its patristic roots.

One would hope they would be consistent with the roots of their own heritage, beginning with John Wesley (one of the Protestants in history I admire the most, particularly for his extraordinary evangelistic zeal), so this shouldn't be surprising at all (at least among those more historically-minded and -conscious within Methodism, which tends to be the scholars). But Protestant denominations have a bad habit of developing in directions quite foreign to the conceptions and goals of the founders of said groups.

But I admit I have found it surprising to find a Reformed Catholicism movement within the churches of Geneva. Reformed Catholicism? Is it an oxymoron? The Reformed-catholics obviously do not think so.

One could quibble with the category distinctions in play here, but beyond that, I think it is commendable to build bridges between these two camps, since historically there has existed such extreme antipathy between them.

It’s clear, however, that what these catholic reformers mean by catholicism is very, very different from what Orthodox and Catholic Christians–and even Anglo-Catholics–mean by that word.

Well, I agree. The goals may be very laudable, but when one gets down to closely analyzing terms and definitions, then one runs into (in my opinion) several thorny issues which can hardly be resolved by simply using words which "the other guy" tends to use more than our own tradition.

The contributors of Reformed Catholicism are emphatic in their insistence that Reformed Christianity is catholic, not sectarian; but I wonder what historical ecclesial reality they are speaking about. It’s not a matter of counting up the number of times the word catholic is used in the Reformed catechisms and confessions. It’s a question of the compatibility of Reformed teaching with the historic beliefs and practices of catholic Christianity.

Exactly. Well stated. This has long been a criticism of mine against certain sectors of this movement. It seems to me to make little sense ultimately unless there is some concrete, institutional, historically-continuous body or communion where it is embodied and instantiated. This is where the Catholic or Orthodox views are, I think (agree or disagree), far more internally coherent. And this criticism would apply to Anglicanism as well (as Pontificator is painfully aware, as a traditionalist in a rapidly liberalizing denomination, which shows itself presently excited about compromising with the blatantly non-Christian cultural zeitgeist).

It’s a question of what kind of churches actually emerged from the theologicical and ecclesiological teachings of Calvin & Company.

Bingo! Sorry for my Catholic bias in terminology there . . .

Isn’t “Reformed Catholicism” talking about an idealized church that has never existed?

Quite arguably, yes. I would like to hear their responses to this criticism, which has very much been my own, when the (wishful) attempt is made to find a supposedly close affinity between historic, patristic, medieval Catholic Christianity and later Protestantism.

Double predestination, the denial of the Eucharistic real presence and sacrifice, the restriction of the number of the sacraments to baptism and the Supper, the abandonment of the historic Episcopate and the apostolic succession of the ordained ministry, forensic justification, sola scriptura, the denial of the infallibility of the Church, the rejection of the veneration of images, the rejection of the invocation of the saints–these characteristic teachings of the Reformed tradition all dramatically depart from the faith of the Fathers.

Sadly so. And the fact that a small number of high-minded, well-intentioned, ecumenical Reformed Christians seek to modify some aspects of some of these tendencies or dogmatic positions, does not, and cannot alter or alleviate this huge difficulty of historical continuity and grounding in the Fathers. They are betwixt and between as long as they follow this course: the majority of their own Calvinist brethren will reject much of what they say, and their beliefs can never become identical to Orthodoxy or Catholicism or even Anglo-Catholicism in some respects. I hate to come off sounding like a naysayer, but what can I do? This is my sincere opinion.

The appeal to the Vincentian canon rings hollow on Reformed lips.

When closely scrutinized, I agree. Cardinal Newman couldn't even synthesize St. Vincent with Tractarian Anglicanism, let alone "Reformed Catholicism."

The Calvinist Reformation was not a conservative return to Patristic Christianity; it was a revolutionary recreation of Christianity–with the consequent destruction of Catholic culture–in the futile attempt to bypass fifteen hundred years of Church history to repristinate an apostolic Church that never existed.

This might be a harsh way of describing it, but I essentially agree. I think that Luther and Calvin were by essence revolutionaries, not "reformers." They maintained some things, true, but in many many respects they were novel innovators. And I don't simply state that because I am a Catholic. My apologetic writings have, I think, demonstrated the factuality of these contentions time and again. Most of what was distinctive in Luther and Calvin and other early Protestants was an innovation and a novelty in terms of previous Church Tradition. What was not an innovation was simply a preservation of what already existed (thus they deserve no particular credit for that). So the distinctives that make Protestantism what it is cannot be accepted by Catholics and Orthodox because they clash with received Tradition and apostolic succession. Protestantism was simply a different animal, because they had "switched the rules" whereby theological and doctrinal truth are determined.

Particularly unconvincing, I’m afraid to say, is the interpretation of Calvin’s doctrine of Eucharistic presence as catholic. While I readily grant that John Calvin’s understanding of the Eucharist is superior to the views that became representative in the Reformed churches, it still denies the fundamental Eucharistic realism that is found in the Fathers–and that includes St Augustine, who is perhaps closer to Calvin than the other Church Fathers. Contra Mr. Johnson, Calvin certainly cannot be rightly interpreted as being an authentic return to the Eastern view of Eucharistic transformation as found in St Cyril of Jerusalem.

I agree. I have written about that already on my blog, in a general sense (and dialogued with some reformed catholics), and I hope to soon examine the eucharistic theology of St. Cyril of Jerusalem and compare and contrast it with that of Calvin, since this particular claim has been made. From what I have seen in briefly examining St. Cyril, it looks like the claim will be shown to be insufficiently established.

For the Orthodox Christian, the consecrated elements are the Body and Blood of the Lord and are thus worthy of true adoration. For the Reformed, such a belief, and certainly all acts of prayer and adoration directed to the elements, is idolatrous.

Yes. Calvin has some very choice words for the Mass, which would hardly be able to be harmonized with the Fathers.

Darwell Stone’s A History of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist remains the classic treatment in English on this subject. And if I may, I also refer the brethren to my own humble attempts to discuss this subject, Eating Christ and Sacrament of Presence.

Thanks for the references.

I applaud the intent of these catholic-minded Reformed reformers–may their tribe increase!

As do I.

–but their project is unconvincing and doomed. Catholic movements within Protestantism have always been short-lived. The Mercersburg theology of Nevin and Schaff is a good example. The Tractarian movement was a different kind of movement, because it lacked all sympathy for the Reformation and sought to recall Anglicanism to a pre-Reformation identity; but it too failed.

History seems to show this, yes. Again, it is not pleasant to have to be a "prophet of doom", so to speak, but I am skeptical that our friends will succeed in changing much. If anything, they will (ironically) simply succeed in creating yet another denomination which will itself undergo the usual process of decay and revival and more decay, which has typified virtually all Protestant movements for 500 years. But having said that, I do commend them for their ecumenical effort, for the seriousness with which they approach Christian history and things like baptism and the Eucharist, and for their refreshing ecumenical attitude towards Catholics and welcome opposition to the massive structure of Protestant Anti-Catholicism. I would like to personally thank them for these things and more, and they have my deep respect.

To be Protestant is by definition to be non-catholic.

I agree with this. It is, after all, built into the very word, isn't it? What are they protesting? Well, obviously Catholicism. A Protestant might object: "No! Not Catholicism, but the corruptions which crept into Catholicism over hundreds of years." But once one analyzes what those corruptions are considered to be, it is clear that most of them are part and parcel of Catholicism, so that, in the end, it is the Catholic system which is being attacked or rejected, in those areas where Protestants dissented. This is easily demonstrated in particulars.

To be Protestant is to be a denomination, ruled by private judgment. That is part of the Protestant DNA. Whether that is a good or bad thing each person must decide for himself.

I agree again. It has not been demonstrated to my satisfaction, over the course of many dialogues on this general topic of authority, for almost 14 years now, that Protestantism can overcome its inevitable recourse to private judgment. It is part and parcel of what it is. There are only so many options in matters of authority. If you reject episcopacy, apostolic succession, councils, the papacy, a binding Tradition, and the Rule of Faith as practiced by virtually all Christians for the first 1000 years and (if we exclude the papacy) by all for another 500 after that, then necessarily the final court of appeal winds up in the individual. People can protest and complain about that characterization all they want, but I have not seen any cogent disproof of that scenario. The last time I discussed it, I was told by two people that they intended to reply. They have not as of yet. I hope they do, because I consider this the most damaging argument against their claims.

* * * * *

[The following will be my words, in black, unless otherwise noted]

Another Anglican friend of mine, Edwin Tait, responded in the comments section of this post:
Pontificator, I’m not sure I accept your definition of “Protestant DNA,” or even that there is such a thing as “DNA” in Protestantism. By definition, Protestants have altered their DNA once in becoming Protestants. There is nothing necessarily preventing Protestants from altering their “DNA” again in a more Catholic definition, it seems to me. I admit that in practice this is a very difficult project–more so among the Reformed than among Anglicans or Methodists (the two Protestant traditions with which I currently have the most contact). But I wonder what solid basis you really have for dismissing it as impossible? This is a very live issue for me. If the project of “reformed catholicity” in its Anglican and Methodist variants is an impossible one, then clearly I must become Catholic or Orthodox. And I recognize that you’re facing a similar situation as you work through these issues.
If there is a "DNA" in Protestantism, then it is sola Scriptura and private judgment, since these are the aspects that all Protestant groups I am aware of hold in common. To yield up these principles of the rule of faith would be to cease to be Protestant. It would be like trying to play baseball without a bat. It is simply too central. If there is nothing at all which can be regarded as a "non-negotiable" in Protestantism, then we are really talking about nothing. But we are talking about something that exists: this thing called Protestantism.

Meanwhile, Paul Owen, over on the Reformed Catholicism blog, cites Luther and Charles Hodge saying nice stuff about the Catholic Church. This is all well and good (and I'm glad to see it); however, I myself do not understand how it is possible to synthesize these remarks with many others by Martin Luther which suggest quite otherwise. I have compiled many of them in my paper:

Did Martin Luther Regard the (Roman) Catholic Church as a Non-Christian, Apostate Institution?: Featuring dozens of citations from Luther's own writings; particularly On the Councils and the Churches (1539) and Against Hans Wurst (1541)

Perhaps someone can help me understand this. The same would apply, of course, to John Calvin. I see the reformed catholics citing his positive remarks about Catholic baptism and so forth, but I have seen much else where he excoriates the Catholic Church in the most offensive terms (especially when dealing with the Mass, which is, after all, our central act of worship every Sunday).

In the fourth century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem speaks of "the spiritual Sacrifice, the bloodless worship," and the "propitiatory victim." (Catechetical Lectures, 23, 8, 10) St. Ambrose believed that "It is He Himself that is offered in sacrifice here on earth when the Body of Christ is offered." (Commentaries on Twelve of David's Psalms, 38, 25) And later in that century, and early in the fifth, St. John Chrysostom writes:
Have reverence before this table, of which we all participate, before Christ, who was slain for us, before the sacrifice, which lies on the table.

(Homilies on Romans, 8, 8)

Do we not offer daily? Yes, we offer, but making remembrance of His death; and this remembrance is one and not many . . . Since the Sacrifice is offered everywhere, are there, then, a multiplicity of Christs? By no means! Christ is one everywhere . . . So too is there one Sacrifice.

(Homilies on Hebrews, 17, 3. See also The Priesthood, 3, 4, 177; Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 24, 2)
The venerable St. Augustine taught that "Christ is both the Priest, offering Himself, and Himself the Victim." (City of God, 10, 20) He applies Malachi 1:11 to the Mass, calling it the "Sacrifice of Christians," and also cites the precedent of Melchizedek. (Sermon Against the Jews, 9, 13. Cf. Questions of the Hepateuch, 3, 57) Referring to this priest-king of Salem in his famous work, The City of God (16, 22), he writes: "The sacrifice appeared for the first time there which is now offered to God by Christians throughout the whole world."

Martin Luther, although accepting a weakened form of the Real Presence, relegated the Mass (somewhat inconsistently) to the status of a mere memorial. As usual, he made a number of polemical remarks on the subject, calling the Mass "the abomination standing in the Holy Place." (Against Henry VIII, [1522]; referring to Daniel 9:27) Luther's successor Philip Melanchthon felt certain that "the cruel raging of the Turks is inflicted now as a punishment for the idolatry in the Mass." (Loci Communes, 1555 ed., chapter 22. From translation of Clyde L. Manschreck, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982 [Oxford Univ. Press ed. of 1965], 221).

John Calvin, arguably more influential for later Protestantism than Luther himself, unleashed his full fury against this longstanding Christian belief:
The height of frightful abomination was when the devil . . . blinded nearly the whole world with a most pestilential error - the belief that the Mass is a sacrifice . . . It is most clearly proved by the Word of God that this Mass . . . inflicts signal dishonor upon Christ, buries and oppresses his cross, consigns his death to oblivion, takes away the benefit which came to us from it . . .

This perversity was unknown to the purer Church . . . It is very certain that the whole of antiquity is against them . . . Augustine himself in many passages interprets it as nothing but a sacrifice of praise . . . Chrysostom also speaks in the same sense . . .

But I observe that the ancient writers also misinterpreted this memorial . . . because their Supper displayed some appearance of repeated or at least renewed sacrifice . . . I cannot bring myself to condemn them for any impiety; still, I think they cannot be excused for having sinned somewhat in acting as they did. For they have followed the Jewish manner of sacrificing more closely than either Christ had ordained or the nature of the gospel allowed . . .

The Mass . . . from root to top, swarms with every sort of impiety, blasphemy, idolatry, and sacrilege.

(Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1559 ed., Book IV, chapter 18, sections 1, 9-11, 18. From translation of Ford L. Battles [edited by John T. McNeill], Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 2 volumes, 1960, vol. 2, 1429-1430, 1437, 1439-40, 1446)
How can one consider another a Christian "brother" when that person's weekly worship is regarded as "abomination," "blasphemy," and "idolatry"? Calvin even errs on the
plain facts of early Church history, as demonstrated in the proofs from the Fathers presented above. These are some of the many questions I would (with all due respect and appreciation) ask "Reformed Catholics."

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