Protestants come up with many and varied ways of opposing the Catholic Church. One of the recurring methodologies is to pit popes against each other and to play the game of characterizing popes a certain way, depending on the agenda of the person doing the "sizing up." The usual fashion in which this manifests itself is in the oft-stated perennial hope, wish, and prayer of Protestants and secularists alike, for the "next pope" to be a good pseudo-liberal or a good quasi-Protestant. They dream in vain that he will (finally!) wake up, come to his senses, and see how silly and outdated various Catholic dogmas are, and overturn them (as if such a thing is possible or within his purview in the first place).
The flip side of this altogether wrongheaded mentality (that reveals itself clueless as to how Catholic dogma and the papacy function) is to heap derision on popes who appear to directly counter this pipe dream, hallucinatory vision of how Catholicism "ought" to reform itself. Hence, due to a few of the actions and pronouncements of Pope Benedict XVI (notably, dealing with the Tridentine Mass and approval of a document reiterating that -- surprise! -- the Catholic Church is the one true Church), he now is being tarred and feathered as an "ultramontanist" and a throwback to the Middle Ages.
All sorts of nonsense is being spouted along these lines, at present. For the Catholic who knows his faith (and who is familiar with the beliefs of this pope and his magnificent predecessor), it is quite comical indeed to observe, but we must exercise patience and forbearance and attempt once again to explain how this thinking is far wide of the mark, and ultimately irrational. Protestants vociferously object to their own particular brands of Christianity being misrepresented and caricatured; Catholics (I can assure one and all) are no different in that regard.
I predicted all this in a lengthy commentary on what I perceived to be the "Mind of the Church" when Pope Benedict XVI first became pope, in April 2005. Readers who are at all interested in this topic are strongly urged to read that entire paper, but to sum up, here are portions particularly relevant to the present analysis:
Pope Benedict XVI['s] . . . emphasis will likely be more so as a "doctrinal watchdog" and a more stern disciplinarian, since that has been his role in the past 20 years or so. As Pope St. Pius X dealt with the modernists, who were just then trying to make serious inroads into the Church, at a time when Europe and Western Civilization was starting to forsake the Catholic and Christian worldview for the pottage of secularism (with the result being Naziism, Communism, the sexual revolution, the abortion holocaust, and the bloodiest century in history), so Pope Benedict XVI (I imagine) will decisively deal with the postmodernists in the Church, at a time when even the cultural remnants of Christianity are being ditched by Europe and Western Civilization (as he himself has written much about). Pope John Paul II laid the fundamental groundwork for the defeat of the liberal dissidents and their nefarious goals for the Church; Pope Benedict XVI may very well deliver the death-blow.All this has come to pass, in almost precisely the manner that I describe above, and in entirely predictable quarters (from those who labor under false preconceptions of how Catholicism works). For example, false premises are repeatedly expressed by Rev. Michael Pahls in a discussion thread on the ReformedCatholicism blog, entitled, The Latin Mass (7-14-07):
. . . I also believe that Pope Benedict XVI will probably be one of the most persecuted and even hated men in the world (the most hated since President Ronald Reagan). The liberals and secularists already take a very dim view of the man, because he is strongly orthodox and stands up for the truth. There is a place for this. All the early popes were martyrs. There is also a martyrdom of sorts which comes through slander and lying and severe opposition from the waves and currents of the presently fashionable zeitgeist.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is precisely the sort of man, I think, who is willing to suffer in that way, in order to strongly assert doctrinal, theological truth. It is good to be loved by the world, as Pope John Paul II was, if it is for the right reasons. The world saw the goodness and holiness in John Paul II. But it is also good to be willing to be persecuted for His name's sake, and to draw clear lines and boundaries. That is the other motif in the Bible, . . .
Ecumenism: reaching out to those of other faiths with a broader message (not to deny Catholic distinctives, but to emphasize common ground) will obviously hold more appeal to those outside of the Catholic faith. It's just human nature. Hence, Blessed Pope John XXIII was such a beloved figure among non-Catholics, just as Pope John Paul II was.
But if a pope's emphasis is on Catholic dictinctives and orthodox Catholic theology, in his words and speeches and so forth, in more direct contradiction of the world and non-Catholic Christianity, then he will have to take a great deal more heat, and be accused of being divisive or "triumphalistic" and so forth (which is equally human nature; people don't like disagreement, and they seem to think it is arrogant to ever say that anyone else is wrong).
Note, for example, how Pope Paul VI's famous 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which reiterated Catholic opposition to contraception, was received. It caused almost a wholesale revolution in the Church (at least in America), from those who had hoped to remake Catholicism into American Episcopalianism (which has excelled at following the spirit of the times and compromising historic Christianity again and again). But Pope Paul VI has turned out to be a virtual prophet. All his dire cultural predictions have come to pass, and then some.
. . . I've often noted through the years, how people assume that there is a huge dichotomy or contradiction between apologetics and ecumenism. This is untrue. They are perfectly compatible. One endeavor seeks to defend what one believes; the other seeks common ground with other Christian and even non-Christians, and seeks as much unity as is possible to achieve, without compromising one's own belief-system and principles. But the strong tendency is for "liberals" to despise apologetics (fundamentally misunderstanding it), and for so-called "traditionalists" to despise ecumenism (fundamentally misunderstanding it). Post-Vatican II Catholicism (which is the same Church it ever was; only more developed) fully embraces both.
Both the late great pope and this present one are in full agreement with both endeavors (as they are men of Vatican II). That said: there is a time to emphasize one or the other thing (while not denying the other). As Pope John Paul II was such a superb ambassador of the faith, an evangelist, even a "diplomat," if you will (in the very best sense of that word), so Pope Benedict XVI may very well be the upholder and champion (in a more direct, "disciplinary" way) of theological orthodoxy over against all the currents of error that we have to deal with in the modern world and (sadly) among certain rebellious sectors of the Church.
. . . Both things are good: ecumenism and doctrinal orthodoxy and/or apologetics (which seeks to defend same), but (broadly speaking) folks love one and despise the other. They seem to think that one person with one coherent belief-system cannot do both. Well, this is untrue. Pope John Paul II did both; Pope Benedict XVI will continue to do both. But as the former pope emphasized one, and that was his "image," so to speak, so this present pope will likely emphasize the other, and his "image" will have to take a lot of hits, and he will undergo much persecution for doing so.
That will not be because he is somehow more "orthodox" or "conservative" or less ecumenical than Pope John Paul II, but it will be because his emphasis clashes more with the world and other Christian belief-systems than ecumenism does. And he may be more personally assertive or "disciplinarian," as a matter of style, resolve, temperament, or other factors.
It doesn't make him "bad" and John Paul II "good" or vice versa (wrongheaded, sinful stereotypes according to the heterodox / liberal and quasi-schismatic "traditional" fringes of the Church and nutty, goofy, ignorant media analyses by folks who don't have a clue). All this is, is a balance: one good thing being empahsized, and then another good thing being emphasized, at particular periods of time.
One may speculate that the present pontificate of Benedict XVI represents an attempt to reassert an older, ultramontanist model of Roman Catholic identity, . . .
. . . the present [implied; deficient] pontificate is not a prima facia bellweather for the state of every Roman Catholic theological question.
I’m on record and will be in print, God willing, as being no friend of Ultramontanism. J23 was a better pope and better man than B16.
[O]ne can go a long way understanding Ratzinger the theologian by seeing his work as an attempt to establish an ultramontanist reading of Vatican 2. This is, of course, not the only possible reading and the eventual sense of the faithful will ultimately adjudicate that question. Ratzinger’s ultramontanism is presently in ascendancy, but ultramontanism has been driven back to the margins before.
Reformed Protestant (and so-called "Reformed Catholic") Kevin Johnson, heartbroken that Pope Benedict XVI approved a CDF document asserting the ancient Catholic doctrine (sanctioned again by Vatican II) that the Catholic Church is the one true Church, ignorantly implied (in a thread of 7-10-07) that this doctrine could change (the converse notion being that Benedict XVI is a hopeless triumphalistic reactionary for preserving it; note his polemical use of the description "hardened traditionalists"):
I by no means think the cause is lost for Rome to change here. Of course, hardened traditionalists will say otherwise but the record of history is clear to point out that the Church though slow to change does move in the warp and woof of history and as such is certainly capable of change. Add to that the sovereign will of God and the power of the Holy Spirit and revival could sweep the halls of such a broken communion.
There are those within Rome of course that feel equal need to see such a change take place. Just today, I read a fantastic appeal to the Pope by Aloysius Pieris, S.J. forwarded to me by a dear friend and brother in the Lord. So, even with this announcement we refer to above and a continued attitude of exclusivity there is still hope that God will change the hearts of men for His glory and their better in His mercy and grace.
Elsewhere, I have noted the sort of things that Fr. Pieris believes, and the silliness of appeal to Catholic dissident liberals as the "great hope" of Catholic "reform" (i.e., invariably, "Protestantization"). Earlier (2-2-06), Kevin had noted the sunny ecumenism of Pope Benedict XVI: in a post entitled "Five Point Ecumenism . . . or why Pope Benedict XVI holds great promise for evangelicals and Catholics alike . . .", citing ecumenical Baptist scholar Timothy George (who, coincidentally, endorses the ecumenical venture / video I am involved with, called Common Ground). Kevin had commended the new pope also in posts dated 10-7-05, 10-8-05, 10-25-05 and 11-4-05. And again, Kevin cynically pitted the pope against Catholic apologists and apologetics, as if the latter is on a different wavelength:
However, I believe in large part this sort of Christlike use of her authority is happening especially with the advent of Pope Benedict XVI and other men committed to a proper ecumenism devoid of the old partisan apologetic intent. I believe it signals that popular Roman Catholic apologetics is in serious need of an update (as well as corresponding evangelical and Reformed apologetics towards Rome) and that the days of the validity and usefulness of Mark Shea’s and similar approaches are certainly numbered.
Of course, the most ironic thing to me about this book is that it doesn’t fit with what the current crop of leaders from the top down are doing in terms of ecumenism and their work with other Christian groups. In large part, in my view it works against the current authority in place in today’s Roman Catholic Church and it makes me wonder just how important legitimate ecclesial authority is to the author and the other Roman Catholic apologists on the Internet or elsewhere that make similar claims.(10-18-05)
All this, yet let the pope dare to assert some time-honored Catholic doctrine that Kevin doesn't care for, and then Kevin will talk like this:
[I] denounce the continued arrogance of the communion of Rome in asserting herself as the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’. White quotes the document in full that of late makes it clear that neither Pope Benedict XVI nor the Roman Church is backing down on this point.
This is the one barrier that exists that keeps any real ecumenical progress from happening between Rome and the Protestant communions. Sad and terrible at the same time. May Rome repent of her arrogance!(7-10-07)
To top off the ludicrous folly, in comments for the same post, Kevin tries to separate Pope Benedict XVI from his approval of the monstrous CDF document that reasserted Vatican II and Tridentine ecclesiology (as if this makes any sense):
I didn’t call the Pope arrogant. I called the Roman communion arrogant.
Let's see if we can grasp this "reasoning":
1) To assert that the Catholic Church headed by the pope in Rome is the one holy catholic and apostolic church is "arrogance" and "sad and terrible".
2) But when, however, the leader of that Church affirms the same exact teaching, he is somehow excused from these negative characterizations.
3) Ergo, you have the following contradiction:
A) The Catholic Church [but who exactly does one mean by that, since the Church is comprised of people?] claiming it is the one holy catholic and apostolic church is "arrogance" and "sad and terrible".
B) The head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, expressly affirming the claim that the Catholic Church is the one holy catholic and apostolic church is NOT "arrogant" and [implied, by analogy] "sad and terrible".
What gives? Why is one thing arrogant and fit for derision and condescending blog posts, and the other identical thing not arrogant (not that I am at all surprised by radical inconsistency in one of Kevin Johnson's positions)?
C. Michael Patton, a Reformed Protestant (in a dialogue mentioned above), makes the same false dichotomy between John Paul II and Benedict XVI:
He is more hard-line than John Paul II was and demonstrated this yesterday . . . the supreme bishop of Rome does not want progression in the way it was seeming to head. This lack of recognition from the Pope does not reflect the spirit of either Evangelical or Catholic scholarship. It is a move backward into the darker ages. . . . My proposal has been that within the ranks of Catholic and Evangelical scholarship, attitudes have begun to change over the last 15 years. Doors were beginning to be opened. This proclamation is a strong attempt to shut these doors. . . . I put forth Peter Kreeft as a good example of one who had laid many planks of wood on this bridge that the Pope just set fire to again.
Well-known Southern Baptist Albert Mohler, on the other hand, gets it right. He understands that nothing has changed at all (post of 7-13-07):
Aren't you offended? That is the question many Evangelicals are being asked in the wake of a recent document released by the Vatican. The document declares that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church -- or, in words the Vatican would prefer to use, the only institutional form in which the Church of Christ subsists.
No, I am not offended. In the first place, I am not offended because this is not an issue in which emotion should play a key role. This is a theological question, and our response should be theological, not emotional. Secondly, I am not offended because I am not surprised. No one familiar with the statements of the Roman Catholic Magisterium should be surprised by this development. This is not news in any genuine sense. It is news only in the current context of Vatican statements and ecumenical relations. Thirdly, I am not offended because this new document actually brings attention to the crucial issues of ecclesiology, and thus it presents us with an opportunity.
. . . Evangelicals should appreciate the candor reflected in this document. There is no effort here to confuse the issues. To the contrary, the document is an obvious attempt to set the record straight. The Roman Catholic Church does not deny that Christ is working redemptively through Protestant and evangelical churches, but it does deny that these churches which deny the authority of the papacy are true churches in the most important sense. The true church, in other words, is that church identified through the recognition of the papacy. Those churches that deny or fail to recognize the papacy are "ecclesial Communities," not churches "in the proper sense."I appreciate the document's clarity on this issue. It all comes down to this -- the claim of the Roman Catholic Church to the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the Pope as the universal monarch of the church is the defining issue. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals should together recognize the importance of that claim. We should together realize and admit that this is an issue worthy of division.
. . . I do not see this new Vatican statement as an innovation or an insult. I see it as a clarification and a helpful demarcation of the issues at stake.
I appreciate the Roman Catholic Church's candor on this issue, and I believe that Evangelical Christians, with equal respect and clarity, should respond in kind. This is a time to be respectfully candid -- not a time to be offended.