Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Some Things Never Change: Reformed Theologian R.L. Dabney's 1894 Analysis of Protestant Defections to Catholicism and Protestant-Catholic Differences

Image:Robert Lewis Dabney.jpg

Robert Lewis Dabney (1820-1898)

Thanks to the source where I discovered this information.

Reformed pastor Steve Schlissel (see my previous interactions with his materials: one / two / three / four) has written about 19th century (anti-Catholic) Presbyterian theologian Robert Lewis Dabney's explanations of why so many Protestants were converting to Rome (and they still are doing so, of course). He correctly identifies many legitimate reasons, and the similarity to the continuing situation today is quite striking. The following excerpts are from his article, cited in the above-linked post (bolded emphases my own):

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In 1894, . . . Robert Lewis Dabney, aimed his x-ray vision at a subject which troubled him deeply: the defection of large numbers of Protestants to Rome. His essay, “The Attractions of Popery,” which appeared in the April issue of The Presbyterian Quarterly, made it clear he was no friend of the trend. Dabney regarded “the popish system of ritual and doctrine” to be “the most skillful and pernicious system of error which the world has ever known.”

Yet in setting about to explain why Protestants were becoming Romanists—a trend he predicted would grow—Dabney at times sounded like an apologist for Rome. This is because his Presbyterian convictions were so firmly rooted, he enjoyed the luxury of giving full credit to all the advantages of his opponent. A review of Dabney’s insights concerning Rome’s allure to Protestants has become, if anything, more relevant as we witness in our own time what seems to be an increase in defections from truth to error.

. . . Dabney admitted what many Protestants still fear to admit: that the Protestant assertion of liberty of conscience had run amok and become innumerable assertions of true, though contradictory, private judgments. “Rationalistic and skeptical Protestantism now claims, instead of that righteous liberty, license to dogmatize at the bidding of every caprice, every impulse of vanity, every false philosophy…The result has been a diversity and confusion of pretended creeds and theologies among nominal Protestants which perplexes and frightens sincere, but timid, minds.”

Against this creedal chaos, Rome could come forward to say, “You see what Protestantism leads to? We told you so! Come back to the foundation where infallibility extends from Scripture to history!” When an inquirer decides to be a Roman Catholic, his creedal choices have been reduced. When he decides to become a Protestant, his creedal troubles have just begun.

. . . Against the growing theological liberalism of the nineteenth century, Rome had remained quite stable. While European and American Protestants were rejecting the inspiration of Scripture, vicarious atonement, the Trinity, and even the idea of the supernatural, Rome maintained all these.

. . . As church discipline was disappearing from Protestant churches, the confessional, for all its abuses and despite its invitation to spiritual tyranny, nevertheless remained “a strong organ of church discipline, and is employed as such in every Romish chapel.”

. . . Rather than the holiness of its members, American Protestantism—under the sway of revivalism which relied “upon all species of vulgar claptrap and sensational artifice…instead of the pure word and spirit of God”—became obsessed with the number of its members. Thus, revivalism, just as is the case with its modern daughter-movement called “church growth,” succeeded in destroying churches by substituting body-count for holiness. Scores of thousands of dead souls were stuffed, by trick and trade, into the churches. “Meantime, Rome gets up no spurious revivals; she works her system with the steadiness and perseverance which used to characterize pastoral effort and family religion among Presbyterians.”

. . . This led to a very stark contrast between the character of the Romish service—which appeared sober and reverent—and the character of the American Protestant service, which was often flippant, arrogant, proud and cheap, like a New Orleans whore. This contrast has accelerated over the last 107 years: Rome’s attraction on this score alone is proving irresistible to multitudes. Rather than the beauty of order, God is mocked in American evangelical (and many Reformed!) churches, where every innovation is introduced in an effort to make worship into a live television event, in order to gain audience share. It is nothing less than organized blasphemy. Who can wonder over a movement toward Rome in such an environment?

. . . While much could be said against the rote prayers of the papists, the rote prayer of Rome beats the “no prayer” of lapsed Protestantism. While Rome may celebrate too many days, Dabney gave them an advantage over Protestants who did not honor even the Lord’s Day. It’s bad to adore Mary, but it’s worse to adore nothing but self. “The Romanist’s machine prayers and vain repetitions have, at least, this tendency, to sustain in the soul some slight habit of religious reverence, and this is better than mere license of life.”

. . . Dabney saw Rome’s insistence upon religious schools, over against secularized State education, as a strong advantage for the pope. By embracing public schools, the “bulk of Protestants in the United States have betrayed themselves…to an attitude concerning the rearing of youth which must ever be preposterous and untenable for sincere Christians,” which must regard secular education as thoroughly wicked and destructive. Had “the statesmen and divines of the Reformation, the Luthers, Calvins, Knoxes, Winthrops, and Mathers…been asked, What think you of a theory of education which should train the understanding without instructing the religious conscience; which should teach young immortal spirits anything and everything except God; which should thus secularize education, a function essentially spiritual, and should take this parental task from the fathers and mothers, on whom God imposed it, to confer it on the earthly organism, expressly secular and godless? they would have answered with one voice, It is pagan, utterly damnable.”

Against the trend to secularize education, “the chief, the only organized protest heard in America (came) from the Romish Church.” American Protestants who groveled before the State while insisting they were sons of the Reformers, took aim against Rome which ironically stood alone in being loyal to the very principles of the Reformers! Advantage: Rome.

. . . Dabney admitted Rome erred in making marriage a sacrament, but recognized her superiority in maintaining it as a divinely ordered and religious institution, whereas “Protestant laws and debauched Protestant thought tend all over America to degrade it to a mere civil contract.” Compare the ease of divorce in the respective camps.

. . . Protestantism increasingly favored the mindset that would limit family size, even to the employment of intrusive measures, while “Romish pastors (stood) almost alone in teaching their people the enormous criminality of those nameless sins against posterity at which fashionable Protestantism connives…Their houses are peopled with children, while the homes of rich Protestants are too elegant and luxurious for such nuisances.”

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