Monday, July 05, 2004

Discussion With a Reformed Protestant (Catholic) on Art, Early Protestantism, & Catholic Corruption (w/ Kevin Johnson)

Kevin replied to my post, Calvin, Calvinism, and Violent Iconoclasm, which was a follow-up of the related paper, The Early Protestant Attitude Towards Art & Strong Iconoclastic Tendency. His blog post was entitled, A Response to Dave Armstrong on Art during the Reformation. I reply to almost all of it below. Kevin's words will be in blue.

* * * * *

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for an (as always) amiable and well-stated expression of your perspective. Your reply gets into broad, general areas that require long discussions in and of themselves, but I will respond to the things that are a bit more specific.

Before I counter-reply, let me note for readers (since you are so keen on context), that the main (immediate) reason I did my last post chronicling Reformed iconoclasm was because it seemed to me that you wanted to shuffle the responsibility for most of that off onto the "Anabaptist" or "radical reformers," rather than (as you call it) the "classical Reformation." Thus, you wrote:
Many times this was the work of the radical wing of the Reformation—the Anabaptists and not classical Protestants.
I think we can safely say now (in light of all the documentation I produced -- if indeed it was even necessary) that this is a significant oversimplification. It is quite clear that iconoclasm was mainstream Reformed thought. I didn't even mention Beza or Bucer, who were both overtly iconoclastic and perhaps (judging by some tidbits of information I gleaned while doing my research) directly involved in riots of that sort.

As far as my present knowledge goes, I view Calvin's role in this as highly analogous to Luther's with regard to the Peasants' Revolt of 1525. He (i.e., Luther) didn't directly call for violence or condone it; yet much of his inflammatory teaching and rhetoric against Rome made such actions arguably inevitable among the less-sophisticated masses. We are responsible for what we say, which is why the apostle James warned, "let not many teach."

I argued this at length in a paper devoted to that topic. So if I were to delve into it in even more depth, studying Calvin himself concerning this matter, I suspect that would be my position as to his responsibility (it is now, as much as I know about it). One need only look at the subsequent development of art, imagery, symbolism, architecture, in Reformed circles to see what effect Calvin's teaching had (as the primary figure in the movement).

Just look at the Puritans, for heaven's sake, who would have banned Shakespeare if they had had their way. Calvin had no use even for organs (again, I thank God -- as a serious amateur musician and classical music devotee -- that Bach was born in Lutheran Germany). So this need not even be argued, or any more time taken up to belabor the obvious.

The main thing I was trying to get across (the idiocy and wrongness of iconoclasm) you agree with, so we need not beat that dead horse. I objected to your argument that this was mostly "radical reformers" doing this stuff, and that a lion's share of the blame must be laid on the Catholic Church's doorstep. That was our disagreement, as I saw it.

I continue to strongly disagree with your contention in that regard, simply because the artistic, visual, and iconic element of spirituality was something the Catholic Church "got right" -- even from a current Protestant perspective. Not one Protestant in a hundred today (I dare say) would try to disparage or tear down Chartres Cathedral. Its beauty, profundity, and sublimity is patently obvious. But Calvin and many of his followers quite likely would have (and in fact, did do this to many beautiful places of worship) take an axe to its altar, statuary, and stained glass. And this was my point.

If Protestants expect Catholics to look honestly at the "skeletons" in their closet, then they need to look at their own. That is, in fact, almost always my reason for presenting this sort of historical material. I want all Christians to be aware of ALL Christian history, whether good or bad, and to honestly face and accept it. The so-called "Protestant Reformation" was not a bunch of super-pious, goody-two-shoes holy men going around restoring the gospel which had been lost. Many Protestant historians, in fact, readily admit that the motivations were even primarily political, not spiritual.

Stealing hundreds of churches and convents and abolishing the worship which had been going on continuously for 1500 years is
not just some harmless, pious "reform." As I said, we all have our skeletons, and it is high time that Protestants better understand the full dynamics of what occurred in the 16th century, and why Catholics were compelled to fight for their most treasured beliefs, practices, and possessions (all of which -- where they differed from Protestants -- would have been annihilated, had Luther, Calvin and more radical "reformers" had their way).

----- sermon mode off. Thank you for listening. :-) -----

The reason my comments are important is because you have lifted the comments of Reformers and scholars of their activities and writings out of the original historical context and did not really address the full reasons behind them doing what they did.

One can only do so much in any given paper. This seems to be the Reformed Catholic mantra lately: always complaining about lack of "historical context." But I think it is an ultimately unrealistic demand. Papers (even most books) are devoted to limited subject matter. I was writing about iconoclasm. In such a treatment, I can't possibly get into every jot and tittle of Catholic corruption, as that is a different subject. Most people today understand (and I assume this) that iconoclasm is both wrong and wrongheaded. That is apparent and self-evident. So I don't really see the need to attach blame for these activities on the Catholic Church, when they were not the ones encouraging iconoclasm at all.

I suppose you could argue that "idolatry had become so bad that who can blame the 'reformers' for getting extreme and smashing all images whatsoever?", etc., etc., but that is, of course, yet another entirely distinct topic to be dealt with. My view would not be nearly as "cynical" or "critical" as yours. Protestants who (like Calvin) are inclined to view the Mass as an abomination and blasphemy, etc., will see things one way and we will differ fundamentally with them. For Calvin, the Mass is an abomination, blasphemy, idolatry, and sacrilege, that robs the very cross of Christ of its power, and makes a mockery of it. For us, it is the most sublime, moving, powerful, life-giving worship possible, short of being in heaven with Jesus, or having met and worshiped Him while He walked the earth. We view it as being present at Calvary; quite the opposite of any kind of idolatry.

In other words, if we want to talk "corruption," Calvin locates it right smack dab in our central act of worship. Thus, the discussion on corruption inevitably becomes one of theology (and historical theology, and development), by the nature of the case. This is precisely why I have been challenging reformed catholics as of late to face up to the implications of historical views concerning the Holy Eucharist (since you want to claim historical continuity with what came before), which (if you want historical -- or liturgical -- context), also includes adoration, the sacrifice of the Mass, and some notion of conversion of the elements into the literal Body and Blood of Christ. There is no middle ground. But reformed catholics are notably, markedly non-committal or of ambiguous mind concerning the sacrifice of the Mass. I asked one such person if he thought it was idolatry and he said "I don't know." What do you think, Kevin? Are you courageous enough to address that crucial question head on? :-)

It's not that what you are saying is illogical or that you've offered an argument that can't be made. It's simply that there is more to interpreting history than placing blame on the initial group of people committing the acts that you have been criticizing.

Again, one can always play the game of multiple causation. Who caused what? As far as I am concerned, iconoclasm offers a classic example of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." That particular extreme, might, I suppose, be blamed (on some logical plane) on those on the opposing side, but essential blame lies with the one who does it. For example, when more liberal and secular elements of American society succeeded in establishing a strict (blatantly unconstitutional) separation of church and state, including removal of prayer and the Ten Commandments from public schools, was that their fault for being historically-ignorant and dim-witted about the history of church-state interaction for the previous 300 years? Or was it more so or equally the fault of the Christians who perhaps committed some excesses when these things were permitted, alienating Jews or atheists or the occasional Muslim or Hindu?

Clearly the former. This is another baby/bathwater scenario. The fact remains that Calvin's theology (and much of Protestant theology, generally) lends itself to an iconoclasm, or at least a radical minimizing of symbolism and imagery, by its very nature -- being "Word"-based. Protestant altars oftentimes consist of a stand with an open Bible on it, or not even that: just a place for a pastor to place his sermon notes. The Word predominates. It's like the first part of the Catholic Mass without the second. This is why many Reformed Churches didn't even offer communion every Sunday. Obviously, it wasn't considered central to worship if it didn't occur but once a month. The sermon was the overwhelming emphasis.

In my opinion, you have over-simplified the matter especially because even now you still refuse to admit that the corruptions of Rome and her hierarchy had anything at all to do with the later actions of the Reformers and others who did endorse a sort of iconoclasm.

You are the one who has oversimplified, as I think I am demonstrating. I never denied all responsibility of Rome altogether. But in the present case, I am saying that iconoclasm cannot be laid at our door because we never espoused it. It was always a corruption of the East and of Protestantism. Rome never fell into that stupidity. At best, you can claim that we were guilty of rampant idolatry:
1. Catholics worshiped statues.

2. This dishonors Christ and is idolatry.

3. Therefore, it is perfectly right and proper to tear the statues down for the sake of souls and Christian truth.
The fallacy here is obvious. Even you agree that statues are not inevitably and necessarily idolatrous. But this was the reasoning of the Calvinist iconoclasts. Stained glass was wrong. Organs were improper in worship. Altars were idolatrous because the blasphemous sacrifice of the Mass took place on them, and the only altar now (post-Calvary) is in heaven, etc. Even crucifixes and crosses are evil (in many examples I gave yesterday, the mobs went after them, too). So again, the discussion necessarily descends into a discussion of things like:
1) what exactly is idolatry?,

2) Are all images necessarily idolatrous and graven images -- even those of our Lord Jesus, crosses, and crucifixes?,

3) Are the Sacrifice of the Mass and transubstantiation and adoration of the consecrated host all idolatrous by the nature of the case?,

4) Does stained glass and iconography aid or hinder worship?,

5) Is a clapboard, plain white church more conducive to reverence and worship than Chartres Cathedral?
It's all ultimately theological in nature. That's why I say the discussion must deal with all those sorts of issues, because this is what Calvin himself would argue: Catholic worship is by nature and essence blasphemous and idolatrous; therefore it is not wrong to abolish it or destroy the churches which foster and perpetuate it (by the sanctioned governmental authorities, of course, but still destroy them if at all possible).

In other words, you are providing all of us with an anachronistic and overly simplistic look at historical events without really explaining the why of the matter--or at least providing us with any sort of view that is something other than a full presentation of how one Roman Catholic might look at the matter.

I believe I am doing so now, in far more depth than you have dealt with it (I dare say -- look at all the historical material I produced in my last post -- whereas you provide nothing but your own bald opinions), and at much greater length. I'll discuss this stuff with you till we're both blue in the face, but I need you and your reformed catholic comrades to give straight answers to very important questions. I've been waiting over a week now for replies from both you and Josh, that you promised to give me, concerning Calvin's eucharistic theology (actually, weeks or months in some cases, where discussions end quite prematurely, just as they were possibly getting somewhere). Now we're off on another tangent.

I'm not sure you're willing to deal with all the facts.

Readers can judge that. They see what I write (and ask) and what you write. They see me answering all your questions in depth and you often passing over many of mine. Since you want to insinuate that I am the one unwilling to deal with facts, I must say this.

For example, you quote Kuyper briefly but you miss him crediting Christianity being of "invaluable significance to the development of art" as well as questioning the validity of blaming Calvin or his followers for devaluing art. You can quote Kuyper but you didn't really deal with the full force of what he said.

This gets old. No one deals with every jot and tittle of context of all that they cite. As I have said before, Internet link technology allows readers to go read all the context they wish. I provided that link. That's a lot different from citing books that most readers do not have available. So this is an empty complaint. Furthermore, I included several remarks that let Calvin off the hook (you overlook that entirely). I suspected that I would have to point this out, since the same charges would be made. Here are some of those:
Calvin himself did not support iconoclastic violence, but many of his associates and followers did (further reading: C.M.N. Eire, War Against the Idols [Cambridge, 1986]).

(Paul Corby Finney -- who looks to be a non-Catholic historian)

. . . For all of Calvin’s influence on the Protestant movement, however, he was not its sole opinion-leader, nor can its early history be written exclusively from Genevan sources, no matter how strong a pull they exercise because of their exceptional richness and accessibility. The fact that Calvin and the Genevan-trained ministers denounced or sought to remove pastors whose preaching encouraged unsanctioned iconoclasm demonstrates that some French ministers endorsed removing the ‘idols’ without tarrying for the magistrate.

(Philip Benedict, also, I believe, a non-Catholic)
You want more context? There it is: it was already there. But you overlook it and go on to make the same tired charge. I was being as fair as I could be to Calvin, just as I am with Luther in my papers dealing with him. I give him every benefit of the doubt and judgment of charity that I can. But some historical facts are undesirable and cannot be glossed over, no matter how charitable and unassuming we wish to be. You are quick to admit that early Protestants were not perfect men. Yet whenever one of us Catholics agrees with that and gets specific, then all of a sudden we haven't provided enough "context" and don't want to deal with all the facts.

C'mon. You can do better than that, and I think you know me better than that by now. You are familiar with folks who ignore facts, and they are on your own Protestant side (though not reformed catholics). You know who I am talking about. I need not mention them. The difference between their attitude to history and discussion compared to my own could not be any different than it is.

. . . to the extent that art was devalued during the Reformation or even after those who unjustly devalued it should be blamed.

Good for you. But then why are we having this discussion? Why am I spending 3-4 hours of my time on a would-be holiday to belabor the obvious? I submit that it is because you wished to (or seemed to wish to) place more blame on the Catholic Church than the early Protestants in your first response, and you sought to shift blame away from Calvin and the mainstream Reformed movement onto the radical Protestants. This is not historically-accurate; sorry. I am the one who brought a ton of historical documentation to the table. All you have given thus far are a bunch of claims. But you are not (as far as I know) an historian. I cited folks who are.

But, the historical context is bigger than that and the stakes are higher than merely leveling criticism at those who are immediately responsible.

I need not keep answering this. The discussion of corruption in the Church is one which needs to take place on its own. I have no problem with acknowledging any corruption. As an old pastor of mine used to say: "original sin is, of all Christian doctrines, the most obvious, just by observing human beings." But for the "reformers," much of what they thought was a "corruption" was simply Catholic doctrines that they no longer held.

And to be fair, Dave, I think you are glossing over some of the terribly corrupt behavior of the Church prior to the Reformation by merely labeling it "mostly sexual and power-play stuff". In point of fact the Church was so corrupt that even when popes, such as Adrian VI, tried to reform the Church they miserably failed. In Pope Adrian's case for example the indulgences offered by previous popes were done through payment plans that lasted several years and it was impossible for Adrian to alter such obviously absurd agreements without huge consequences to the Church.

Case in point: indulgences is another huge discussion that is multi-faceted itself. I can tell you, as a Catholic apologist, that not one Protestant in 200 has ever correctly explained back to me what the Catholic Church thinks an indulgence is. I highly doubt that you would be the exception (with all due respect). The first responsibility in any critique is at least accurately understanding and describing the viewpoint we are disagreeing with. That is Argument 0101.

To minimize this sort of corruption is not really dealing with the history of the matter and while it is convenient to criticize Protestants where criticism is due it certainly rings hollow when on the flip side you as a Roman Catholic are seemingly unwilling to face the stark reality and severity of the ecclesiastical corruption of the time.

On what basis do you conclude this? You are obviously unfamiliar with my writing regarding this topic. I have always freely admitted the widespread nature of Catholic corruption prior to Luther. I don't know any Catholic who would not do so. I agree with Karl Adam's view about medieval Catholic corruption. The following is from the first draft of my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, written in 1991 (um, that is 13 years ago):
Catholics today (more so than formerly) freely admit that the Church in Luther's time sorely needed reforming. The eminent German Catholic theologian Karl Adam, in his book The Roots of the Reformation (translated by Cecily Hastings, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1951 [portion of One and Holy, 1948] ), devotes nearly a third of its space to "weakness in the Church." He states that "the Renaissance Popes seem to have carried out in their own lives that cult of idolatrous humanism, demonic ambition and unrestrained sensuality" (p. 14). He quotes the words of Pope Adrian VI (1522-23), who in turn cited St. Bernard: "Vice has grown so much a matter of course that those who are stained with it are no longer aware of the stink of sin" (p. 20). He is quite frank and descriptive of other abuses:
The majority of this clerical proletariat had neither the intellectual nor the moral capacity to so much as guess the profundity of the questions raised by Luther . . . In this waste of clerical corruption it was impossible for the Spirit of our Lord to penetrate into the people . . .

There was no sacramental impulse towards an interiorizing and deepening of religion. So the attention of the faithful was directed towards externals . . . This hideous simoniacal abuse of indulgences corrupted true piety . . . indulgences were perverted to a blasphemous haggling with God. Night fell on the German Church . . . (pp. 22-26)
The whole of Europe could not have been turned upside down by the Reformation if there wasn't any real significant corruption.

I agree, but this proves no more than saying that Lenin's revolution in Russia improved what came before (and all agree that Czarist Russia was quite corrupt), or that the French Revolution improved the previous state of affairs (and all agree that the French monarchy and aristocracy were corrupt). I agree with Louis Bouyer: he holds that there were many positive, Catholic elements in "Reformation" thought which were praiseworthy and entirely good. But these were already present in catholic tradition (albeit poorly understood in many cases). In other words, the best of what the "Reformers" offered was already Catholic and had to merely be regained or re-emphasized, but the negative elements in Protestantism have been troublesome internally ever since (doctrinal relativism, sectarianism, anti-sacramentalism, anti-sacerdotalism, etc.).

Some day I'd like to see an entry by you and others that details out much of that corruption so that we can get to both sides of the story.

I have no problem with that, but my custom is to cite historians. They do, however, have a bias on both sides, to the extent that they have theological views which color their analysis.

But, back to art. The corruption of the Church is relevant to the Protestants' devaluing of art for several reasons: 1) If we grant your case concerning the nature of the Roman Catholic Church being the Church, then the ones who bear the larger responsibility for what happened during the Reformation are the very leaders in power at the time,

This is fallacious as well. That would be like saying that Arianism is the fault of Nicene Trinitarianism, or that Monophysitism was the fault of Chalcedonian Christology, or that Donatism and Montanism were the fault of those (including Calvin) who taught that the wheat and the tares were both in the Church. There is a sense of secondary cause, but when people do stupid stuff they are ultimately to blame themselves. This is true of all of us individually. We'll all stand before God one day and give account, and God won't settle for any of the customary human blameshifting.

2) You will forgive me for pointing this out I hope but it is no accident that the most corrupt periods of the Church also saw some of the greatest accomplishments in art. We should be asking ourselves why that is the case,

For the same reason that Richard Wagner was a scoundrel, liar, and cheat, but wrote, in my opinion, some of the most magnificent music of all time. This is the nature of the beast. Beauty (like truth) stands on its own, apart from the righteousness of those who create or financially support it.

and 3) Historically speaking, if there had been no corruption (morally or doctrinally), there would have been no Reformation. I don't see how you can deny this.

The Church always needs to be reformed. My argument here is: "what precisely is reform, and what is revolution? At what point is the line crossed?"

This does not deny the culpability of those who unjustly devalued art during the Reformation but it instead points to the fact that something, perhaps many things were wrong in the Church just prior to the Reformation and because the Church failed to correct what was ailing her, the Reformation took shape.

Okay, Kevin, I'll call your "bluff" (since you want to press this): what exactly do you think the Church should have done in order to prevent the excessive and extreme Protestant reaction of iconoclasm? You tell me. Not hire Michelangelo and Raphael? After all, Michelangelo's David is clearly an idol, right? The Pieta is even more so, since it depicts (GASP!) Mary as a goddess-figure. Right?

I do know one thing, Dave. The Church, whether Protestant or Catholic, is full of men. And men are not always doing the right things. And usually from what I see these days (and historically) often they are not interested in doing what is right for whatever reason. I do think that the Protestants, like their Roman brothers, have many things to 'fess up about and change. I do think we need to work harder to remove the shackles of our own almost ethnic prejudices from how we view the Reformation to how we view our Roman Catholic brothers--and certainly in terms of how we view art.

Amen! Thank you for this.

And, I wouldn't be interacting with you if I didn't feel there was some value in what you are saying.

Good, and likewise. I wouldn't spend all this time, either, if I didn't feel that way about your opinions.

The Protestant Church needs the flesh-and-blood reality of the Christian faith that it lost when she separated from her Catholic brothers during the Reformation. We could use a few statues to actually remind us that the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and even the Christ child himself were real.

Not to worry. You still have your statues of Luther and Calvin and John Knox here and there. :-)

We could use more churches that reflect the beauty and glory of the Sistine Chapel or the Cathedral at Chartres--a beauty and glory that as far as I am concerned is simply undeniable. We could use painters and other artists who are able to magnificently tell the stories of the Christian faith in a way that doctrine can't. These are things that, understood properly, could strengthen the Church and specifically strengthen who we are as Protestants.

Magnificently stated. I would, of course, have said exactly the same when I was Protestant. I loved all those things then as you do now. Francis Schaeffer was one person who helped me admire that artistic Christian heritage.

But on the flip side and one point the Reformers made--it is no good to think that these things are useful at all if there is no change of life based on the all-powerful work of the Holy Spirit through Christ our Lord, no purity in doctrine and in living (in fact, quite the opposite), and a reliance on the mere trappings of religion that marked the Church prior to the Reformation.

I agree wholeheartedly. I merely hasten to add that I would say this was the widespread practice; not necessarily the doctrine that the Church held. We were never dogmatically Pelagian or even semi-Pelagian. But in practice, many people certainly were, including even several of the prominent nominalist theologians, who had lost the classic Augustinian, Thomist doctrine of grace, and sola gratia. And as the iconoclasts went too far with regard to imagery, so Luther went too far in his soteriology, in reaction (so we would say), though we certainly understand the dynamics and sincerity of his passion for the doctrine of grace, given all that was going on at the time. Louis Bouyer and Karl Adam both freely and joyfully admit this.

The connection is simple. There needs to be a connection between the outworking of our faith in art and the actual reality of repentance and faith in Christ.

Absolutely! Amen! Preach it, brother!

To the degree that many Reformers eschewed the art of the high middle ages is directly due to the fact that there was the outward appearance of great faith in the Church through her works of art and other external trappings, but all along there was this hypocritical corruption, moral failure, and an overt reliance on what men accomplished for their salvation rather than what Christ accomplished.

To the extent that that was occurring in individuals or being falsely taught by teachers, I agree. But then the proper response is to restore the true doctrine, not invent new ones that were never held (not even by Augustine), and to teach a proper interpretation and use of images (teach about what idolatry is and isn't); not smash the images. In other words, you and I can agree on a lot of the corruption, but disagree somewhat as to the cure, and whether Protestant doctrine was indeed a reform which hearkened back to earlier purity, or a revolution in many respects, which overthrew precedent in an unacceptable way.

In some sense, the men of the Reformation linked those works of art quite rightly with the bedrock hypocrisy of those priests and bishops of the time and rightly so. It is no wonder, from this point of view, why they emphasized a faith quite apart from things such as art. Taking the next logical step and devaluing art was a mistake, in my opinion and certainly some during the Reformation made this mistake more severely than others (the Anabaptists come to mind).

Human beings, unfortunately, tend to go to extremes, in reaction. I've often noted this, in many areas of life, not just theology.

I am thankful we live in a day when such things can be examined again, when art can be valued and used in the Church in a way that pleases Christ and recognizes the gifts and talents He gives his Church through art, and where we can discuss these issues a bit apart from the heated rhetoric of past ages.

Yes; good point. Me, too. I think this is a most helpful discussion for both sides to engage in.

Here is what you will get from me, Dave. Men are men. Christ is God and He is working through His Church to call men to Him. I pray that all would answer His call even if some don't, be they Protestant or Catholic. Yes, Protestants have made mistakes and have sinned and have been hypocritical over the centuries and we lament that on our side as much as we lament the fact that it happens or has happened in Roman Catholicism. It has been given to us today to stand as others historically have stood--before our God and repent when we err as well as obey His commandments through Christ and by His Spirit. We can do no less if we are to be called Christian.

Yes. Again, I agree 100%, and eloquently stated.

. . . The Reformers were men, not gods. They had foibles, they made mistakes, they didn't always do the right things. We have no problems admitting this . . .

Well, sorry; it sure looks like you did in this case, by your unsuccessful attempt to distance Calvin and "classical Protestantism" from the bulk of the iconoclasm which occurred. Let's face it: the Anabaptists never had enough power, pure and simple, to do much more than local damage (and most of them were peaceful and anti-institutional and culturally-withdrawn, anyway). The Protestant power was held by Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anglicans. The Lutherans eschewed iconoclasm. Calvinists accepted it, and so they acted upon their convictions.

The Anglicans and later Puritans also did, in England, and we see the results: all images were banned in churches (in 1550, by law); plays were forbidden, etc. Note that in both cases, it was a resort to force: stealing and plundering and smashing, or gaining political power and quickly making such things unlawful. But so what? This doesn't make it right just because it becomes legal, any more than legal slavery or legal abortion are right.


and to the extent you point out these things, more power to you as long as they are historically accurate.

Hey, that's MUCH more than I have heard from many many of your friends! Good for you. History is what it is . . . an elementary truth. And we can learn from history. I hope we can all agree on that.

But, I hope you will note (and maybe someday you can blog about it) the positive contributions of the Reformers because if anything you must admit that they transformed European and Western society in ways that even they didn't conceive of when they worked to change the Church for the better.

In some ways, yes, absolutely. God works with anyone who sincerely seeks to serve Him. But of course, as a Catholic, you'll understand that I don't think any positive change comes from what I believe to be false doctrine. Whatever good Protestantism does has to come from truth. If it is true, then we already believe it (so I hold in faith, as a good Catholic).

What I have always said about Protestantism is that you guys (and I was one of you for 13 years as a committed evangelical missionary and apologist and pro-life activist) often excel Catholics in practice and in purity of life and morals. The obvious examples are Bible study, and probably prayer as well. I've noted this many many times. Protestants have done tons of good work, whether it be more basic apologetics or cultural transformation (the Schaeffer / Colson wing of "Christ as Lord of all of life") or pro-life activities, or a host of other things. What is true and good is that, whoever does it. I can acknowledge all this wonderful stuff, while maintaining a Catholic critique of doctrines which I feel diverge from Catholicism and historic Christianity.


And though I suppose you may disagree with me here, they did change the Church (and society at large) for the better.

I will simply appeal to the above paragraph. I think individual Protestants (e.g., Wesley, Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, various missionaries, etc.) have and continue to do lots and lots of great things for the Kingdom. Institutionally, however, the record is not so glowing or praiseworthy.

Just think about it...without the Reformation, the Council of Trent would never have happened. :)

That's correct. And without Arianism and Monophysitism, the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon would never have happened. It is always the corruptions which produce better developments. :-) Do you wish to pursue this analogy? LOL

You do see the Council of Trent as a positive development in Catholicism, don't you? :)

Yep, just as I see ecumenical Protestants like you thankfully reacting against the empty-headed anti-Catholicism of many of your Protestant brethren, and (here's the controversy again) that of Luther and Calvin themselves.

Thanks for the discussion!

In Him,

Dave

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