The More Things Change

The more apologists say they don’t.

Odd is the way that Protestants who notice changes in Roman Catholic life hear that they don’t have the correct paradigm for understanding the past. Odder still is that Roman Catholics who are in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome (and so have the right paradigm) don’t deny but notice changes:

Still, the Church of Pius was vastly different and I do not think there is any denying it. Great theologians, who would later play a key role at the Council, men like Henri de Lubac and John Courtney Murray, were silenced. Giovanni Battista Montini was exiled to Milan for his “liberalism”, and not given a red hat, but he would go on to become the greatest pontiff of the twentieth century. Pius’ obsession with communism muted his voice in denouncing the fascism of Italy and Germany and he was one of the few modern pontiffs not to issue an encyclical on social teaching. Even the visuals were vastly different: Compare this video of Pius’ coronation with a typical Pope Francis Mass.

Perhaps most importantly for the forthcoming discussion, there were obvious doctrinal developments, even changes, in the 74 years between 1939 and 2013. In 1939, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was a theological opinion, not an officially proclaimed dogma of the Church. There were no “Fortnights for Freedom” because the Church still officially condemned religious liberty. And, while the Church taught that marriage must be open to procreation, she did not yet teach that every conjugal act must be open to procreation.

If you were to count back 74 years from 1939, you would see a vastly different Church. In 1865, the papal states, though considerably shrunken in 1860, were still in existence and the pope was the sovereign of all Rome, living in the Quirinal, not the Vatican. The Syllabus of Errors, condemning all things modern, was only one year old. On May 16th of 1865, Pope Pius IX appointed the convert Henry Edward Manning as the Archbishop of Westminster, and Manning would play a key role in the development of Catholic social teaching. He also kept a fellow Anglican convert, John Henry Newman, under a cloud of suspicion. The Kulturkampf, with its persecution of the Church in Germany, and the First Vatican Council, with its definition of papal infallibility,were still a few years in the future. In France, the Church flourished with spiritual energy and Marian visitations. Six years prior, Charles Darwin had published his book Origin of the Species which was the challenge all religions in profound ways yet, drawing on her intellectual resources, it was the Catholic Church that fared better than most at integrating his seminal work on evolution with the biblical account of creation. That intellectual work had to wait until Pius IX went to his eternal reward.

In the United States, of course, the Civil War came to an end that year. The war had broken the nation’s three largest Protestant churches – the Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians – into northern and southern branches, but the Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church remained united. Bishop Patrick Lynch of Charleston, South Carolina, had conducted a diplomatic mission to Rome on behalf of the confederacy the year before and, in 1865, he was refused permission to return until his northern confreres secured a presidential pardon. Planning was underway for the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore. Canon law was still undeveloped in the United States and, so, there were no pastors with canonical rights, and the selection of bishops was still a complicated process beginning with the priests of a diocese and the suffragans of the ecclesiastical province both drawing up ternas of candidates for submission to Propaganda Fide. Yes, the Church in the U.S. was still governed through that congregation because we were considered mission territory.

Jump back another 74 years, to 1791, and we see a Church that was virtually prostrate. The popes had been forced to suppress the Society of Jesus, which had been the most stalwart support for papal authority, seventeen years prior. Pope Pius VI had gone to Vienna nine years earlier to cope with the spread of enlightenment ideas, sponsored by the Emperor Joseph II, but the trip had been a failure. And, of course, in France, the Assembly in 1791 mandated that all clergy take an oath to the Civil Constitution on the Clergy, adopted the previous year, provoking a schism that would last more than ten years and which laid the groundwork for the violence against the clergy that would commence in earnest in 1792 and last through the “Terror,” culminating with the suppression of the peasants in the Vendee. In the United States, on the other hand, our new, first bishop, John Carroll, was undertaking his first full year in office and, already, moving to help the Church engage the culture and avoid a sectarianism that he rightly feared would harm the Church in the U.S.

When you add that papal teaching (not dogma but infallible) comes precisely out of these changing contexts, you do wonder what the converts see who think they have escaped the fluidity and diversity of — yuck — Protestantism.

17 thoughts on “The More Things Change

  1. Can someone reming me again what this blog’s obsession with Catholicism is all about? Why isn’t there an analogous obsession with Orthodoxy? The LDS church?

    At least Rome isn’t giving its stamp of approval on the likes of Kevin Swanson.


  2. Because Rome’s influence is greater and its gospel false and perhaps even more dangerously false in some ways when compared to E.O. as well as the LDS because Rome’s gospel is very close to be being true.

    Plus ca change
    Plus c’est la meme chose


  3. evan773,
    Good question. Apparently it’s because of CtC and similar apologists. But CtC and the like and its narratives are irrelevant, naive, out-of-step and fringe according to the blog and neither the laity nor the hierarchy buy it. So why this blog would obsess and expend energy and time over something it deems so insignificant remains a mystery. I don’t see science blogs posting “Are the Flat Earthers paying attention?” articles every few days.


  4. James Young, and so why do you keep coming back to OL to do battle with separated brothers? Do you tire of having your comments moderated at CTC? Or is it that CTC really is the place for genuine Roman Catholics?

    You fudge just like Vatican 2.


  5. Cletus van Damme says: evan773,. So why this blog would obsess and expend energy and time over something it deems so insignificant remains a mystery.

    Not such a mystery really.
    It is possible that he could be jealous for the saints with a godly jealousy. For example, he may be disturbed to think some saints – reading this about Mother Teresa to be recognized as a saint September 4, after announcing in December she would be declared a saint when that second miracle was be attributed to her- they might be confused, dismayed, wondering…sheesh… will ‘they’ ever declare ME a saint worthy of honor or, for that matter, ever declare me a saint at all.


  6. evan777,

    It has mostly to do with CtC’s deceptiveness about the full mess that is RCism in order to win converts. That plus its triumphalism regarding the superiority of a paradigm that nobody except perhaps Bryan Cross can accurately describe without begging the question or being uncharitable.


  7. The ‘obsession’ is because today it really is either Rome or being Reformed. And Rome has conducted a huge smoke and mirrors campaign to deny change in doctrine, when its doctrine has most certainly and fundamentally changed.


  8. Robert,

    I took a look at the CTC blog. I see nothing there that ought to be a cause of angst for evangelical Presbyterians. It strikes me that DGH doth protest a bit too much.


  9. evan773,

    I took a look at the CTC blog. I see nothing there that ought to be a cause of angst for evangelical Presbyterians. It strikes me that DGH doth protest a bit too much.

    The issue is that CtC intentionally goes after professedly Reformed Christians, specifically ministers, and then parades them around like trophies when they convert. Look, it’s a free country and they’re perfectly within they’re rights to do so. The problem is that the case made for RCism there does not include any of the very significant warts of the system and is frankly dishonest when it comes to history. If CtC were simply a site touting the truth of Romanism while pointing out the very significant problems of the church to converts and actually dealing with history instead of ignoring what even RC historians and biblical scholars admit about the very tenuous nature of Roman claims, it would be one thing. They just don’t do that. The closest they’ve come is allowing Brandon Addison, who comments here somewhat often, to write an article for them. Kudos to them for that. But then they’re response amounted to thousands of words of criticizing Brandon for, essentially, not assuming RC theology and traditional views of Apostolic succession that no responsible historian can support anymore.

    The site is long on philosophy but very short on history, and there is a significant lack of epistemological awareness on the part of guys there who should know better. It’s deceptive in that way, as it comes across as a very learned, very comprehensive treatment of Roman Catholicism put together by guys who don’t want to make converts but just want to “dialogue.” That’s fundamentally dishonest. That is the problem.

    Darryl protests because there’s been guys from the Reformed camp such as Jason Stellman who were intentionally targeted for conversion and then paraded like a prize when they swim the Tiber, touting the superiority of Romanism. Darryl’s point is that an honest site would encourage people to consider the full gamut of Romanism and that it would be critical of so much of Rome’s liberalism. Instead, it promises that Roman Catholicism will solve all your theological and ecclesiastical problems. That’s something that Darryl never promises of the OPC. That’s the problem.


  10. Robert, there’s also the issue of Roman Catholicism and political conservatism in the U.S. (for mmmmmmeeeeeEEEEE). I really tire of the RC trope that without an adequate foundation for x, you’re left with nihilism and relativism. Hey, wait a minute. That sounds like neo-Calvinism. Nothing wrong with the anti-thesis. But it does nothing for participating in a common enterprise like the United States. We are united, right?


  11. Joe M.: “The ‘obsession’ is because today it really is either Rome or being Reformed.”

    GW: I bet confessional Lutherans (such as LCMS) and confessional Anglicans would beg to differ. And, actually, we in the confessional Reformed camp are relatively small in comparison with our Lutheran and Anglican brethren.


  12. How can doctrines change when ambiguity reigns?

    The Post-Synod Exhortation will not contain “any split” declares Alberto Melloni. The Pope, knowing well the tight boundary that separates heresy from orthodoxy, does not cross this red line, but places himself in a grey zone, avoiding that fatal step Melloni defines as “the breach”. However, for a document to be bad it is not necessary that it be formally heretical, it is sufficient for it to be deliberately ambiguous and, in its obscurity, near or inductive to heresy. Between truth and error, ambiguity does not constitute an acceptable tertium genus, but an obscure area which must be clarified and defined. A good document may contain some equivocal passage, which will need to be interpreted in the light of the general context, but if the obscure zones prevail over the light zones, the message can be nothing other than untrustworthy and unwholesome.

    Modernists never break with the past. They don’t have to.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.