Another blog is up and running and it targets yet again Calvinists for ecumenical dialogue with Roman Catholics (most of whom converted from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism). This ecumenical endeavor, however, is different from Bryan and the Jasons Called to Communion. In fact, Bryan Cross would likely be fairly dismissive of “Catholics and Calvinists” (CaC vs. CtC). Cross once identified two kinds of ecumenism, one false, and one true. The former is wrong because it is — well — liberal:
That is because it seems to seek its goal of achieving general agreement about doctrine by way of compromise. So those who think a particular doctrine is essential feel pressured to drop their belief that this doctrine is an essential doctrine in order to attain some unity with those who think that that doctrine is adiaphorous (i.e. indifferent, non-essential). The very nature of the goal of this type of ecumenicism makes this kind of compromise essential to ecumenical progress. As someone said to me a while back, “True ecumenicism means everybody has to compromise.” And the necessary result of such a methodology is a least-common-denominator minimalism regarding doctrine, an acceptance as sufficient of something far short of the unity in communion to which Christ calls all His people.
In contrast for Cross, true ecumenism comes from recognizing the truth and unity of Roman Catholicism:
. . .this ecumenicism has complete agreement on doctrine as its goal, or more precisely, complete agreement on what each person believes to be essential doctrine. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, it rejects compromise regarding what anyone believes to be truly essential as a means of achieving its goal. As a result, there is no pressure to compromise in order to attain this ecumenicism’s goal. Instead of proposing compromise as a means to reaching a watered-down unity, this type of ecumenicism recognizes that we are not fully united until we are doctrinally united on every doctrine about which anyone believes to be essential. In this ecumenicism we do not sweep our essential doctrinal differences under the rug. We even straightforwardly, and in genuine charity and sincerity, remind each other that the other person’s position, from the point of view of our own tradition, is nothing less than heresy.
That is not exactly a conversation starter and explains why discussions with Bryan and the Jasons generally descend to Dr. Dave Bowman’s conversation with H.A.L. 9000.
How then is CaC different from CtC? Put simply from this observer’s perspective, it’s the difference between the pre- and post-Vatican II church. While Bryan and the Jasons reflect a no-salvation/truth-outside-the-church outlook, CaC seems to embrace Vatican II’s ecumenism:
Our refusal to engage in “sheep stealing” is not merely a rhetorical front, as if that posture itself were a guise under which to carry on a still-deeper project of effecting conversions. It is also not a bracketing of theological questions for the time being, as if we will for a time carry on a project of “ground-clearing” only to then change gears and begin bringing in the sheep. We recognize that this a pervasive – and deeply problematic – style of Catholic and Reformed engagement, and we repudiate it in no uncertain terms.
Rather, our approach is rooted in the ecclesiological vision articulated by the Second Vatican Council and by other leading ecumenists that there are genuine gifts cultivated by the Holy Spirit outside the boundaries of those churches in communion with the Bishop of Rome that are genuinely beneficial to the churches which are in such communion, and which lead these churches into a deeper desire for union. We want to understand those gifts more clearly, and we want to help other Roman Catholics understand the under-appreciated richness of the Reformed tradition more deeply. We do this while seeking, of course, to have our own views as Roman Catholics – devoted first to Scripture and then to the Roman Catholic tradition expressed in such thinkers as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Henry Cardinal Newman, and the great theologians of the twentieth century – come to be better understood by our brothers and sisters in the Reformed tradition.
An initial observation is this: why don’t CaCers engage in dialogue with CtCers? After all, it sure looks like Roman Catholics are on different pages when it comes to church unity and what to make of Reformed Protestants.
That conversation might then include discussions of Vatican II and the apparent rupture of the church’s understanding of its relationship to those outside the church (both other professing Christians and non-Christians). In fact, since CaC is interested in the shared use of scholasticism by Roman Catholics and Protestants, the dialogue it promotes might include trying to reconcile a church that was for much of its modern intellectual history committed to Thomism and then after 1965 opened itself to non-scholastic methods (and more). In other words, I don’t understand (maybe a dumb Protestant) how you invoke both scholasticism and Vatican II on theological discussion since the former achieved remarkable clarity and the latter was purposefully equivocal.
That difference between Vatican II and scholasticism also brings up the tricky matter of the Council of Trent. Why is it that the church that relied on scholasticism as its method for articulating theological and dogmatic truth did not open dialogue with but condemned Protestantism? Trent was not an invitation to dialogue. It put an end to it. So the challenge for CaCers is how to read 16th- and 17th-century theological sources as a way to pursue what Vatican II had in mind when those old sources drew clear lines between truth and error and pursued ecumenism far more along the lines that Bryan Cross advocates than what Pope Francis embodies.
The larger point here is one about Roman Catholics understanding Roman Catholicism. Instead of trying to understand Calvinism, making sense of Rome’s fits and starts and changes might be much more useful for dialogue (whether ecumenical or academic). For Protestants like mmmmeeeeeeEEEE, Roman Catholicism looks like a moving target. That is a mystery that needs much more attention from Roman Catholics than appreciating Luther or Calvin. In fact, as Mark Massa has argued, it is a mystery up to which the post-Vatican II church is still catching:
. . . the widespread acceptance of the seemingly self-evident truth that things change will make it increasingly difficult to propound or defend Church teaching and practice by appealing to timeless, static categories of propositional truth. This applies most particularly to the intellectual tradition of scholastic natural law, which the Catholic tradition has relied on for presenting its most important teachings since the thirteenth century. The fractious nonrecption of Paul VI’s encyclical on birth control, if nothing else, illustrates this with startling clarity. Whatever the truth of Paul VI’s teaching, the massive noncompliance accorded his encyclical shows that the great majority of American Catholics did not form their consciences along the lines of such moral reasoning, and have not since. There are of course many possible reasons for this lack of compliance on the part of the vast majority of practicing Catholics on an issue that the hierarchical Church has termed “serious matter.” Some of those reasons may indeed involve personal ignorance, sinful willfulness, or just plain selfishness. But an important reason for that noncompliance, what I would label as the main reason, is that the classical unchanging world it presupposes no longer makes sense to the vast majority of the faithful in the United States. What Bernard Lonergan so elegantly called the “transition from a classicist world view to historical mindedness” in fact describes the intellectual revolution that mainstream Catholics underwent during the sixties.
Whatever the strengths of that older classicist worldview — and it served the Catholic Church extraordinarily well for centuries — it can no longer provide plausible explanations for Church teaching . . . . The older intellectual categories of scholastic natural law, first enunciated so brilliantly by St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, appear unable to accomplish that now. Perhaps the intellectual justification offered in its place to explain Catholic teaching will represent the most important long-term fruit of the intellectual revolution sponsored by historical consciousness in Catholic Christianity. Time will tell.
Some of us are still waiting for converts to Roman Catholicism to have a conversation with clergy and academics like Massa. It sure doesn’t seem like a meaningful conversation can take place between confessional Protestants and Roman Catholics as long as one side is so uncertain about that for which it stands.
Postscript: Comments should be open at a cite committed to dialogue.
45 thoughts on “The Mystery of Dialogue”
Another important Jesuit historian may offer a somewhat different portrait of the Council of Trent:
https://books.google.com/books?id=8-wH546BIsUC&printsec=frontcover&dq=john+o%27malley+trent+names&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi-uvb84uzMAhXMWx4KHeLJAtoQ6AEIHDAA#v=snippet&q=%22Reconciliation%20with%20%22The%20Lutherans%22%20was%20in%20the%20beginning%20a%20primary%20goal%20at%20least%22&f=false (p. 249)
Of course, many lines of discussion and compromise were closed by the Council of Trent’s decrees. But, besides the fact that circumstances have changed a good deal since the 1540s, it is noteworthy (for O’Malley) that Trent did not name names with its anathemas (as was customary). Moreover, Lutherans were invited to participate, though such discussions were obviously difficult to manage in the midst of military conflict, plague, mutual suspicion, hardening positions, and so on.
And I doubt that the fellows at CaC will sweep Trent under the rug as liberal ecumenists may tend to do. They have been quite explicit about taking Vatican II’s call to dialogue and ecumenism seriously (in a way that many traditionalists don’t), but they seek to engage in such an effort in a way that takes seriously the actual controversies and deepest theological concerns of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Western Christians. Do you have a better model for conversation on offer? I’m sure that they would be happy to hear about it.
Matt, and O’Malley has also written about Vatican II and he is closer to Massa on that council and its significance. So the question from this Calvinist’s perspective is how to reconcile Trent and Vatican II. From where I sit, the deepest theological concerns of the 16th century are not those of today. It’s hard for me to imagine any Roman Catholic or Protestant or scholar thinking Rome is today where it was at Trent.
So I’d really like to see where CaCer’s and CtCer’s are on Vatican II. That’s where Rome is today. As I’ve said, scholarship on the influence and legacy of scholasticism is one thing. Protestants talking to Roman Catholics about Roman Catholicism (contemporary) is another.
I would agree that the Roman Catholic Church is not occupied (in the same way) with the same theological and moral matters today as it was in the sixteenth century. But isn’t this the very recognition of historicity and change that Massa is asking us to make? It would be interesting for you to use CaC to have a discussion about the significance of history for ecumenical dialogue. As a first stab at the issue, I would argue (alongside the documents of Vatican II – see below) that contemporary Catholics should certainly not repudiate or dismiss the decrees of the Council of Trent. But we should acknowledge that much has happened in our understanding of the faith, our understanding of the deepest Protestant theological concerns, etc., over the past 500 years. And that understanding can deepen even further–in part because history is not necessarily a story of progress but can be one of forgetfulness, increasing ignorance about certain key matters, and so on.
One of the things that we should certainly recognize as Christians living in the 2010s is that something really did happen at the Second Vatican Council (to use O’Malley’s words). Indeed, based on O’Malley’s piece here (http://americamagazine.org/issue/423/article/style-vatican-ii), CaC seems to fit quite well into his conception of the Council’s key shift towards the style of invitation and dialogue (though I have some quibbles with his description of thirteenth-century scholasticism as focused on winning debates and proving one’s enemies wrong).
On that note, is there any basis for confusion about where CaCers are on Vatican II? The site has made sustained *arguments* about how a more careful examination of sixteenth-century and contemporary Reformed thought (alongside early-modern scholasticism, inter alia) might enrich Roman Catholic self-understanding and the Church’s dialogue with separated brethren. They would admit that these issues may not have been central to the concerns of Catholic theologians in the past fifty years, though, as you know, De Lubac, Von Balthasar, Ratzinger, John Courtney Murray, and others continued to use medieval and early-modern scholastics as points of departure, even if Cajetan, Suarez, Bellarmine, and others were often *criticized* by those twentieth-century theologians. CaC thinks that it is doing something fresh but something that is nonetheless faithful to what Vatican II and the post-conciliar popes have asked Catholics to do as lay scholars in ecumenical dialogue. So, all in all, I don’t think that there is as much room for confusion as you indicate in your original post or in this comment.
Perhaps the confusion is really just about the difference in tone between CaC and CtC. If so, couldn’t this be the very dialogue (subtle, implicit, etc.) with other Roman Catholics that you are asking for? Perhaps CaC is modeling a different kind of ecumenical dialogue (at least as far as the internet is concerned).
Last thing: here are a few passages from Vatican II itself to nail down the modest point that an affirmation of the Second Vatican Council’s significance would not mean some kind of repudiation of Trent:
1) This Sacred Council accepts with great devotion this venerable faith of our ancestors regarding this vital fellowship with our brethren who are in heavenly glory or who having died are still being purified; and it proposes again the decrees of the Second Council of Nicea,(20*) the Council of Florence (21*) and the Council of Trent.(22*) And at the same time, in conformity with our own pastoral interests, we urge all concerned, if any abuses, excesses or defects have crept in here or there, to do what is in their power to remove or correct them, and to restore all things to a fuller praise of Christ and of God. [Lumen Gentium]
2) Hearing the word of God with reverence and proclaiming it with faith, the sacred synod takes its direction from these words of St. John: “We announce to you the eternal life which dwelt with the Father and was made visible to us. What we have seen and heard we announce to you, so that you may have fellowship with us and our common fellowship be with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:2-3). Therefore, following in the footsteps of the Council of Trent and of the First Vatican Council, this present council wishes to set forth authentic doctrine on divine revelation and how it is handed on, so that by hearing the message of salvation the whole world may believe, by believing it may hope, and by hoping it may love. [Dei Verbum]
To expand upon one point, let me quote a lengthy passage from O’Malley’s article:
“A new papacy and a new papal style had come into being [in the nineteenth century] that emphasized, almost to the point of caricature, the authoritarian strains in the Catholic tradition and that set the church against and above almost every person and idea outside it. True, Benedict XV, Pius XI and Pius XII tempered these ideas and policies, yet basic elements of the style prevailed up to the eve of Vatican II. This style ignored or badly minimized the horizontal traditions of Catholicism that had made the patristic and medieval church such vibrant and creative realities. Respect for conscience, with its deep, even pre-eminent roots in the Catholic tradition, had been badly sidelined at the very moment when it was being emphasized by secular and Protestant thinkers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a change in this closed, ghetto-like, secretive, condemnatory, authoritarian style that the council wanted to effect. If the council was ‘the end of the Counter-Reformation,’ it even more immediately wanted to be ‘the end of the 19th century,’ the end of the ‘long’ 19th century that extended well into the 20th. The council did not want to change the church into a democracy, as its almost obsessively repeated affirmations of papal authority demonstrate beyond question. But it did want to redefine how that authority (and all authority in the church) was to function, for instance, with a respect for conscience that transformed the members of the church from ‘subjects’ into participants. This was a retrieval of that old principle of canon law: quod omnes tangit ab omnibus approbetur (what concerns everybody needs to be approved by everybody). Vatican II did not want the church to abdicate its privileged role as teacher of the Gospel, but it insisted that the church, like all good teachers, needed to learn as it taught.”
I can’t speak for CaC, but I suspect that its editors would largely affirm this narrative, even if it might use slightly different language. Perhaps one way of thinking about CaC is as a forum for asking, among other things, the question about the implications of our *current* historical situation decades after the Second Vatican Council (as described here) for discussions with the Reformed traditio3030303n. Based on O’Malley’s account, it would be unsurprising that Counter-Reformation and *especially* nineteenth-century Roman Catholic theologians would approach Protestantism in a different way than Catholics would after 1965. What CaC says, though, is that this effort to re-think the Roman Catholic perspective on Christians theologians like Calvin, Turretin, Bavinck, Hodge, and even John Piper in light of the *changes* in the church after Vatican II has not happened to the extent that it should. And when it has happened, it certainly hasn’t shaped discussions among Christians that occur on the internet!
Why is this the wrong thing for a few people to be doing?
Great quotation by O’Malley. I find it very helpful.
I think Darryl’s frustration lies in CTC’s 19th-century posturing, when we all know better. That’s it in a nutshell, I think, but I’m a rube. What I think Darryl wants to see is you and Bryan hashing out a Pre- and Post-Vat II understanding of these issues. If there are issues, then, according to Darryl (I think), there are inherent problems with CTC’s narrative. Ultimately, (again, I think), what Darryl sees happening is that in that imagined conversation either you will be beaten down logically to join CTC and agree that Post-Vat II the Catholic Church hasn’t changed one jot or tittle, or you will admit to some change (and perhaps that the 19th Century was the change and the aberration), and Darryl will be proven accurate in his estimation that Rome has changed her teaching. If the former, then Rome loses because she can’t give the historical certainty that converts desire; if the latter, then Rome loses because she has changed and has reneged on her original and ongoing claims. Then you guys get to argue over what development means.
So it seems you have to go with development of doctrine and demonstrate how Vat II develops out of Trent.
This is all way, way above my pay scale, and as you both know, I’m not equipped to deal with any of this. But from an ignorant outsider’s view this is where we are.
Wishing I were as knowledgeable as you guys,
Matt, I take your point that VatII affirmed continuity. Here’s the thing for confessional Protestants. That affirmation of continuity seems squishy when Rome seems to pull back from the hard line of at least post-French Revolution Roman Catholicism (though Trent and the Inquisition don’t look like walks in the part).
I think some of what I am coming to realize is that Protestants-turned-Roman Catholic don’t really understand the historical situation of Lutheran and Reformed communions. We are churches that still adhere to the confessions of the period of Lutheran and Reformed Orthodoxy (and we don’t see a lot of conversation partners — RC’s who still hold to Trent; yes, Latin Mass, yes, high papalism, yes, the sacramental system, but not the scholastic rigor of Trent’s theologians). In addition, our communions have set ourselves against efforts to modernize or adapt the faith. That has meant breaking with mainline Lutheran and Reformed bodies, and looking at evangelicals suspiciously. We are a skeptical bunch. And it seems that some Roman ecumenists now think its possible to open dialogue. Dialogue coming from a communion that anathematized Protestantism sounds suspicious.
And then we have the phenomenon of reform. As much as Protestants owe a debt to the middle ages, the reforms we desired — in teaching, worship, church government, and piety — have still not happened in Rome. To be sure, our own communions could be more faithful. But from our perspective, Rome has only become more expansive and tolerant since VatII. I don’t know if you think VatII was a kind of reformation. But by our standards, it softened, blurred, and equivocated what we used to regard as clear affirmations of things with which we disagreed but were easy to understand. In other words, if reform was necessary in the 16th century, how much more today. Sure, not Alexander VI’s around. But the Vatican curia seems as irreformable as the federal government. It’s like Hillsdale County trying to negotiate with Health and Human Services.
None of this means that Prot’s and RC’s can’t get to know each other better. But I do wonder if so many of the converts to Rome, having been Protestant, think they know the workings of Protestantism. Take it from me. It takes at least a decade to understand the OPC. So I wish we could back up a few steps before issuing invitations for ecumenical dialogue. I’d like to know how well RC converts know both Roman Catholicism (it’s a big church) and know Protestantism — there are so many communions. Understanding the 16th c. may be a start. But coming to terms with the PCUSA of the 1920s or Missouri Synod of the 1960s may be as if not more important.
I understand if ecumenists regard the concerns of OPC or Missouri Synod as parochial or even sectarian. But historical awareness of our situation does require familiarity with the ways that confessional Protestants negotiated the modern world. It resembled Roman Catholicism a lot (minus the papacy and curia) prior to 1962. And then VatII happened.
Matt, does rethinking Calvin, Turretin, Bavinck and Hodge mean justification by faith alone is back up for negotiation? I’m not trying to bait you. But O’Malley is talking a lot about church authority. Confessional Protestants have decent church polities that provide a measure of institutional coherence for us. But our bottom line has always been the gospel (as in justification). Would O’Malley have good things to say about Hodge’s systematic theology? Or (I suspect) would he look at that kind of theological style as a reflection of a different age and that Christians have moved beyond? Papal infallibility is after all dogma. And if you can chalk that up to historical circumstances, you can a theologian’s commentary on Romans.
[This ended up getting long. My apologies. I’ll blame you because you made quite a number of important points in your last two comments!]
I missed the last sentence of the second comment.
J’s analysis seems pretty sensible – what say you, Darryl?
I don’t think it’s fair to boil down my comments to a statement that VatII affirmed continuity. As always, things are more complicated; indeed, I thought that I was pretty clear that I was taking O’Malley’s line about a major change in style, at the very least.
Anyway, I feel as if I’m in a bind here. When I affirm Trent, you seem to suggest that I’m out of touch with modern Catholicism. When I talk about the significance of Vatican II, you suggest that I’ve lost contact not only with sixteenth-century Catholicism but also with the confessional Protestantism that is (somewhat paradoxically) comforted by the “clarity” of Trent’s anathemas. On that last point, you say, “But by our standards, it softened, blurred, and equivocated what we used to regard as clear affirmations of things with which we disagreed but were easy to understand.” To be honest, I don’t think that this is a healthy perspective. As much as I appreciate the fierceness of some statements from Luther and Calvin, I’m not *pleased* (at the end of the day) by the “clarity” with which they rejected views held, say, by Thomas Aquinas. I really want to understand why learned human beings who read Scripture with great care, who worshiped Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who believed themselves to be redeemed by the risen Christ that had spoken the words of John 17:11, who respected the ecumenical councils and Augustine, etc., etc., could disagree so deeply. I think that I’ve worked hard to find answers to that question. But I don’t see why those answers should be the end of a conversation among Christians who, while seeking to remain faithful to confessions and decrees of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, recognize that their own views of the faith (as well as the perspectives of our esteemed ancestors) are (or were) not comprehensive or final.
Again, I can’t speak for the Andersons, but I suspect that they’d want you to tell them what we need to know about the Missouri Synod in the 1960s and the PCUSA of the 1920s. When you talk about “stepping back,” I think that this is in part exactly what CaC has been talking about. We realize that ecumenical gestures from Rome have rarely taken American confessional Protestants into consideration, even though (in some respects) they are arguably speaking our language more than evangelical Protestants or liberal Protestants. Perhaps you are not talking about me when you say that Catholics don’t understand Protestantism, but, if you are, I’d like to hear more specifics about what I am missing. Everything that you say here about faithfulness to the confessional standards, suspicion of evangelicalism, and the rejection of modernism makes sense to me, but I’m sure that I have a lot more to learn.
To wrap up this point, I have acknowledged that we are not living in the sixteenth century. But I also don’t think that it’s a very controversial claim to think of Luther, Calvin, Trent, and the post-Reformation formulas and confessions as a point of departure for dialogue among Western Christians. This is not a peculiar view of mine. One can find the same perspective in Von Balthasar, Ratzinger, Rahner, O’Malley, and even Kung! Indeed, your reference to justification by faith alone is right on target. We agree that this was the fundamental issue of the sixteenth century. And I would agree with you that it remains the fundamental issue today between Magisterial Protestants and Roman Catholics who are paying attention. I’m pretty confident that there are aspects of the Roman Catholic teaching of justification by faith that you have not seen, just as I’m sure that there are elements of the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone that I could understand more fully. Why should we not talk about that?
And if you say that it isn’t worth talking about it because of the anathemas of Trent, I would respond that we need to look more carefully at what Trent did and did not say. And we also have to recognize, as A. N. S. Lane has, that Catholic reflections on justification have shifted over the past 500 years. For instance, if you look at Von Balthasar’s The Theology of Karl Barth, you will find remarkable efforts at rapprochement in the work of a Roman Catholic theologian widely acknowledged as being among the best of the twentieth century. I was actually astonished at the way that Von Balthasar handled the issue of simul iustus et peccator, something that even a wishy-washy (!) thinker like me has seen as a matter that would make any substantial convergence miraculous.
On another point from your post: I have found Hodge and Bavinck quite illuminating. They have often cleared up misunderstandings that I have had of the Reformed tradition. As you know, Augustine Thompson appreciates the Mercersburg theology. I think that more Catholics should be aware of these figures. Now, you are right that some post-Vatican II theologians and historians would see the debate between Bavinck or Hodge and the early-modern Jesuit Robert Bellarmine as outdated. But I think that this view is incorrect. I’m not sure that any theological debates are outdated in quite the way that old scientific debates might be. What view of history would allow for so strong of a claim? It is not a view of history that I hold, nor is it one, I suspect, that you hold. At the same time, we can say that many Roman Catholic theologians and clergymen–like Bavinck and Hodge–disagree with Bellarmine at this point in time. So, one could argue that, say, Hodge’s use of Bellarmine as a stand-in for Catholic theology might, in some way, be in need of revision or development. This is the conversation that CaC wants to have, as far as I know.
One final clarification: I certainly don’t think that Vatican II’s documents would have put the Magisterial Reformers at ease. Vatican II was not the Reformation that Luther and Calvin were asking for. This is exactly why CaC wants to listen anew to what their separated brethren have learned after centuries of studying the Scriptures and living out the Gospel as they understand it. But, while they think that it is still worth talking about the Council of Trent, they also think that their Protestant interlocutors should acknowledge that many of the sixteenth-century criticisms of the Church no longer apply. As a parting shot, I’ll quote a passage from Calvin’s Institutes (4.7.27) where he is making his argument that the Roman Church is not a true church:
“But if we come to individuals, it is well known what kind of vicars of Christ we shall find. No doubt, Julius and Leo, and Clement and Paul, will be pillars of the Christian faith, the first interpreters of religion, though they knew nothing more of Christ than they had learned in the school of Lucian [an ancient scoffer who was, during the Renaissance, associated with Epicureanism and atheism, as far as I know]. But why give the names of three or four pontiffs? as if there were any doubt as to the kind of religion professed by pontiffs, with their College of Cardinals, and professors, in the present day. The first head of the secret theology which is in vogue among them is, that there is no God. Another, that whatever things have been written and are taught concerning Christ are lies and imposture. A third, that the doctrine of a future life and final resurrection is a mere fable. All do not think, few speak thus; I confess it. Yet it is long since this began to be the ordinary religion of pontiffs; and though the thing is notorious to all who know Rome, Roman theologians cease not to boast that by special privilege our Saviour has provided that the Pope cannot err, because it was said to Peter, ‘I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not’ (Luke 22:32). What, pray, do they gain by their effrontery, but to let the whole world understand that they have reached the extreme of wickedness, so as neither to fear God nor regard man?”
So, while Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis might not be your favorite people, there are few who would even think of accusing them of atheism, of denying the basic facts of Christ’s life, or of rejecting the Last Things, which is exactly what Calvin is doing here with regard to the four popes who reigned before the time that he wrote the Institutes. In other words, it seems that progress can obviously be made beyond what we find in passages like this from the Institutes, let alone Luther’s woodcut designs. To conclude by acknowledging similar things on the other side, I don’t think that any Roman Catholic would seriously accuse Luther of starting the Reformation because he wanted to get married (as polemicists said back in the sixteenth century), nor would a serious theologian say (as many of the best theologians did at the Council of Trent) that Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone was just a cover for libertinism!
Have Roman Catholics and confessional Protestants really talked after such accusations were cleared out of the way? To be clear, I’m not saying that everything was caricature or misunderstanding. But I’d like to see what a conversation would look like that didn’t include *any* significant caricatures or misunderstandings. Instead of asking meta-questions about Trent and Vatican II or whether CaC is sufficiently representative of Catholicism (official or popular) or whether anyone has sufficient understanding of both Roman Catholicism *and* the evolution of confessional Protestantism (all interesting points, by the way), wouldn’t it be fruitful to deal with these issues in the context of a lively, serious, scholarly, fair-minded conversation about the fundamental issues? Instead of criticizing CaC from the outside and from above, why don’t you join their dialogue and model the kind of ecumenical or inter-confessional conversation that you wish that you would have seen during ECT (which you publicly criticized), the Joint Declaration, and so on?
First, thanks for engaging our work. I’m working on a post over at CaC on the question of continuity/rupture between Trent and Vatican II, so I’ll postpone that discussion for a bit.
Picking up your point: “I do wonder if so many of the converts to Rome, having been Protestant, think they know the workings of Protestantism. Take it from me. It takes at least a decade to understand the OPC. So I wish we could back up a few steps before issuing invitations for ecumenical dialogue.”
Certainly it’s true that it takes years and years (lifetimes, even) to ‘get inside’ a particular theological tradition, such that a person not only understands passively what the tradition’s beliefs and practices are, but can also contribute actively to the continuing life of that tradition. I most certainly do not understand the inner workings and deep history of the OPC or Missouri Synod. Pr. Rick Stuckwisch at Emmaus Lutheran here in South Bend apparently has the longest Notre Dame dissertation on record, 4 volumes, on various controversies in the LCMS over its liturgy that Mark Kalthoff could say way more about–you probably know more about it too. I can’t pretend to that kind of knowledge.
But me “knowing the workings of Protestantism” is only a claim I would want to make, and an impression I would want to give off, if I were taking an authoritative stance and pretending to teach Protestants about the insufficiencies of their own tradition. But that is not what I, Aaron, or CaC is doing. We’re not standing in judgment over Protestant traditions; rather, we are trying to learn more about them because we understand that we *don’t* know the inner workings of these various Protestant communions. We know that they are Christian bodies, and that there are deep, often painful divides–theological, historical, even personal. But engaging with those who are embedded in their own traditions is the only hope *anyone*, not just me or CaC, has for coming to know a tradition that he is not himself a part of. Surely it’s not an exercise in futility to try to understand and learn from someone whose life-story, habits, and views are different from my own? (I’d also affirm Matt’s question here: while it’s certainly necessary to work toward being informed about the tradition one is engaging, surely there are issues that are accessible to conversation by “the outsider,” like–as you mention–the gospel?)
On the flip side of this, it’s only too obvious to me that I have much to learn about my own theological tradition, Roman Catholicism. But it’s not as though I haven’t thought about it to a certain degree, and what thinking I did was in the context of my being connected with a Reformed evangelical movement and talking with other Protestants, confessional or otherwise. I don’t understand that ‘tradition’ as well as, say, John Piper, but that was the world I inhabited until I joined the Roman Catholic Church. There are opinions, suspicions, and (what I take to be) misunderstandings of Catholic theology that I experienced firsthand. I don’t disparage these things, but neither am I content to simply let them continue to exist when I think that I may have something to offer that would contribute toward resolution to some of those tensions. Someone like Chris Castaldo (interviewed at CaC) seems to share that perspective. By and large, we’re not trying to teach; we’re trying to learn from and engage with other Christian traditions while trying our best to speak from our own tradition–this, to me, seems to be what dialogue is about. We are not out to “correct Protestantism”, but to be aided by it (and, perhaps sometimes, do some of our own aiding). I found this passage from John Paul II helpful in shaping my thought here. In talking about the issue of Petrine primacy, JPII acknowledged that the way forward on this issue is not at all clear, and that he needed help from Christian churches not currently in communion with Rome: “This is an immense task, which we cannot refuse and which I cannot carry out by myself. Could not the real but imperfect communion existing between us persuade Church leaders and their theologians to engage with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject, a dialogue in which, leaving useless controversies behind, we could listen to one another…?” (UUS, 96).
“I think some of what I am coming to realize is that Protestants-turned-Roman Catholic don’t really understand the historical situation of Lutheran and Reformed communions. We are churches that still adhere to the confessions of the period of Lutheran and Reformed Orthodoxy…In addition, our communions have set ourselves against efforts to modernize or adapt the faith. That has meant breaking with mainline Lutheran and Reformed bodies, and looking at evangelicals suspiciously. We are a skeptical bunch. And it seems that some Roman ecumenists now think its possible to open dialogue.”
Again, you’re right that I don’t understand the inner life of the OPC (or like communions), having never participated in that communion. While I have read a little book called _The Lost Soul of American Protestantism_, which I thought was very good at highlighting the historical situation of these confessional Protestant communions and I think helped me understand those traditions better, and have interacted with several confessional Protestants, I only ever personally rode the New Calvinist train. That movement, while also taking a stand against modernizations/adaptations of the faith, is, as you know, still at quite a remove from the sacramental and ecclesiological thought of bodies like OPC and Missouri Synod. I think there is a certain historical/traditional integrity to the New Calvinist movement, but it clearly does not compare with the rootedness and integrity of confessional Protestant communions. I want to respect the integrity of those traditions, and don’t want to (a) flatten them out so that “after all, in the end, it’s all Protestantism!”, or (b) pretend that I can advise or give insight to their members. Again, I hope–not for the sake of CaC, but for any sort of inter-tradiational discussion–that this lack of personal experience, even when coupled with an awareness that one should not speak to what one does not know, should prove an ipso facto show-stopper for dialogue (as we’ve defined that term at CaC).
I think I understand some of the rational for the skepticism you mention, and I don’t discount it. But I think the situation is a bit different than implied in a statement like “And it seems that some Roman ecumenists now think its possible to open dialogue,” as if this were some inexplicable, historically naïve invention that “Roman ecumenists” that would be fun to take up, when the Catholic Church has been working out its ecumenical theology for a while now, and has acknowledged “the weaknesses of her members, conscious that their sins are so many betrayals of and obstacles to the accomplishment of the Saviour’s plan” (UUS 3) and that regrettably, there is certainly some justification among other Christians for being suspicious of the Catholic Church.
But one of the goals of CaC has precisely been to try to address this skepticism, to grant its legitimacy but work to overcome it. Certainly I hope the impression we’ve given isn’t that we are tapping our feet, impatient to have confessional (or evangelical) Protestants jump on board something that is *obviously* the self-evidently proper thing to be doing now. But neither do I think it’s right to portray attempts at discussion (whether CaC or otherwise) as presumptuous or too quick on the draw. The Catholic Church has been doing work on this for a while, and, as imperfect as are our own thoughts, so have we at CaC.
Matt, these exchanges are getting too long so I’m going to respond in several comments (dv). First you say:
Maybe that outlook isn’t healthy. People have accused confessional Protestants of being sectarian for a long time. But as you know there is Calvin’s consistory and there are the Anabaptists. If you’re trying to have a reformed church, which includes discipline of clergy and laity, you worry when you see equivocation or huge disparities say between Richard McBrien and Suarez. Plus, if folks want a conversation with people who take Calvin and Bavinck seriously, this is where WE are. If the conversation can only start by our adopting a “healthy” perspective, then, to repeat a good line from Walter Lippmann about 1920s Protestant controversies, “smile and commit suicide.”
Furthermore, I am not sure why it is hard to explain why Luther and Calvin disagreed with Aquinas or denigrated popes. They believed souls were at stake. I know, that sounds convenient. But it is at the heart of the Reformation and the reason for the narrowness of confessional Protestant communions. A proper understanding of salvation (justification by faith alone) along with the dangers of blasphemy and idolatry (sin leads to hell) are a pretty good explanation for why the stakes were so high and why people who confessed Nicea could disagree the way they did. RC’s believed Protestants were leading souls astray and vice versa.
And to repeat a point made already, a concern for leading souls astray does not seem to be the dominant theme of institutional Roman Catholicism. Yes, the sacramental system is still in place. But salvation happens elsewhere (separated brothers). The pope releases a prayer video that includes Muslims and Hindus. Mary is still venerated to degrees that are down right mystifying.
Matt, round 2. You say:
I would prefer the 16th c. to be a point of departure for understanding Roman Catholicism. It’s clear. But when I teach Religion in the U.S. I have to cover a lot more than Trent and a lot happens (especially after Vat II) that is hard to reconcile with Trent. I don’t mean to keep harping on this, but Roman Catholics seem to be a moving target and the 16th c. hardly resolves that problem. Development of doctrine? Don’t get me started. Conservative Presbyterians have heard that before — the Auburn Affirmation.
Again, an important bypass here maybe that you and I view changes in Rome differently. You think Calvin’s condemnation of Rome no longer applies. Okay, if we start with the 16th. c. it does, right? And then on top of that Rome has developed in ways that haven’t removed the “idolatry” of the Mass, the veneration of Mary, the not so holy methods (from even Roman Catholic sources) of making saints. From a confessional Protestant perspective, Rome started off behind the eight ball in the 16th c., went hard line and obsessive about the papacy between 1700 and 1950, and then lost control after Vat 2. That may be unfair. But it’s not as if people loyal to Rome don’t have versions of that kind of decline.
Matt, last one (for now). You write:
Understand or misunderstand, that is the question. Did Trent understand Luther? Did Calvin understand Sadeleto? That’s a sixteenth century perspective. Do I understand Commonweal or America? I’m not opposed to conversation, though I don’t think ecumenism happens at a blog or among lay people. I am unimpressed by Evangelicals and Catholics Together and the Joint RC-Lutheran statement is even more puzzling.
So this is where understanding needs to go both ways. What would a conversation look like if CaC thought Calvinists were as narrow as I make them to be? And how would conversation proceed if CaC understood that Calvinists don’t understand why contemporary Roman Catholicism recommends itself over and against confessional Protestantism? The elephant in the room here is conversion, I think. Some former Protestants left Protestantism for what they thought to be a better brand of Christianity. What makes Rome better is precisely what some of us struggle to understand. If it were only Suarez or Bellarmine or Aquinas, I get the intellectual clarity, plus some of the liturgical, historical, and aesthetic appeal. But again, it doesn’t look like we are anywhere near those RC theologians. Yes, they have respect the way that Calvin may get a nod or two at Princeton Theological Seminary. But they are hardly setting the theological agenda for Roman Catholics (in my opinion).
Trevor, thanks for commenting. A few responses. You write:
I don’t want to make this personal, but did not your conversion indicate some form of judgment over Protestant traditions as inferior? It’s a free country and all, so I’m not questioning the legitimacy of your conversion. But it does signify a form of judgment, and from a confessional Protestant perspective we are somewhat mystified. Rome isn’t Suarez anymore. It’s the communion that gives prominent academic appointments to Richard McBrien and Mark Massa. So where is the real voice of Rome if a conversation with CaC would look very different from a conversation with Massa? Can you at least appreciate my dilemma?
I hear you when you say you want to learn from Protestantism, though I also wonder why you didn’t stick around and learn as a Protestant insider (we really do need to talk about conversion sometime)? But as I asked Matt, what do I not understand about Rome’s teaching on justification, Mary, or the Mass? Isn’t it possible that I learned all I need to know from Luther and Calvin about those matters? Or, if they were wrong, what’s the point of starting with the 16th c. as a point of departure for dialogue? I am not trying to be difficult, but I am having trouble understanding the exact point of the conversation — other than a welcome and fairly commonsensical plea for avoiding caricatures. But then I read Commonweal and America and wonder how to avoid certain thoughts about liberal Roman Catholicism.
One last point. I hear a lot that Rome has acknowledged “the weaknesses of her members, conscious that their sins are so many betrayals of and obstacles to the accomplishment of the Saviour’s plan.” I wonder if converts to Rome were as aware as they are now of those weaknesses, betrayals, and obstacles, or whether the positive outweighed the negative. The problem though is that Protestants have been waiting for 500 years for more than acknowledgment of problems. We’d like to see reform. Is reform about the Mass, baptism, Mary, or justification (not to mention papal primacy or clerical celibacy) possible? Or is it simply an admission that no one is perfect. I actually think Calvin and Luther said that a long time ago, and implemented procedures for a discipline (reformed) church that seems (sorry) impossible in an episcopal-Romecentric system. Can Rome reform? Were you even thinking reform was desirable when you converted?
This is great stuff. I think that this is the dialogue that the Andersons and CaC want to have. They want this sort of dynamic conversation, an element often lacking with liberal Protestants, right? You should present your narrative of post-Reformation Catholicism on their website for continued discussion. We should also talk about coherent vs. incoherent models of development and what I believe to be the *huge* differences between post-Vatican II Catholicism and liberal Protestantism. And I think that CaC should take seriously whether talking about Trent and Suarez has any real bearing on post-Vatican II theological debates. I think that it does (read Ratzinger, De Lubac, Von Balthasar, Yves Congar, Avery Dulles, etc.), but you raise an important issue.
Three quick clarifications (because I think that you did not correctly re-state what I was saying on a few points – perhaps I was unclear):
1) The “unhealthy” perspective that I mentioned was not–I don’t know–having a strong view of Church discipline. It is almost reveling in (and being comforted by) the fact that Roman Catholics were stating their errors fiercely. I understand that you might admire clarity in how one of your Catholic friends might affirm errors at the outset, but I hope that you would prefer that that particular friend be open to hearing the truth as you understand it.
2) You know that I know (and strongly affirm) that the issues of the Reformation have almost everything to do with the fact that salvation is at stake for its participants. My point was that, as a Catholic, I do not revel–by contrast, I am challenged–by the fact that Luther and Calvin believed that medieval doctrines of salvation were false, the doctrines of Antichrist, etc. Instead of just drawing clear lines between the “true church” and the “heretics,” I think that our shared believe in the Trinity and Incarnation, etc., should make us want to continue the debate that the Reformers initiated.
3) I certainly don’t think that Calvin’s critiques no longer apply; I am strongly opposed to the idea that the Reformation controversies are outdated in the twenty-first century. You bring up the very issues necessary for future conversation (icon veneration, invocation of Mary and the saints, insufficient focus on justification, etc.) I was merely pointing out that his accusation of the popes being atheists obviously no longer applies, if it ever did.
Darryl said, “Isn’t it possible that I learned all I need to know from Luther and Calvin about those matters?” [I need to learn how to use WordPress keyboard shortcuts.]
My answer–if we privilege the word “all” in your statement–would be “no.” But instead of combing through Luther and Calvin for incomplete articulations of what became Roman Catholic teachings, I will turn to the other side. Domingo de Soto, perhaps the leading Thomist in the first phase of the Council of Trent and an important contributor to the decree on justification, said this at the very beginning of his 1547 work, De natura et gratia:
“But if [the acceptance of the Lutheran heresy by Germans, even the most learned and prominent ones] is not a miracle, where can a natural cause be found? They teach that one may do as he pleases.”
While Soto goes on to say some penetrating things about Lutheran soteriology, is such an account of the essence of the Lutheran teaching–i.e., libertinism or, at best, antinomianism–a good start for any examination? Should we be so confident about Trent’s capacity to get to the heart of the matter?
Not only do we have a rather profound mischaracterization here, but Soto says throughout his work that he is perplexed by the Lutheran teachings on soteriology:
“Even if the Church has on other occasions endured troublesome individuals who have fought their battles under the cover of perplexity and the obscurity of their diction, our adversaries now have been able to deceive the masses about this matter chiefly by the sheer thickness of their darkness.”
So, Soto thought that he was just starting to get to the bottom of Lutheran soteriology because of what he deemed to be early Protestantism’s obscure and novel use of terms, argumentation, etc. Of course, that doesn’t make his judgment correct, but it again gives us some insight about the state of things as the Decree on Justification is being drafted!
Besides, O’Malley in his book on Trent that there were explicit remarks about the decrees *not* being an interpretation of Luther’s teachings.
Matt, I take your point about misrepresentation mainly (because I’m not sure if you’re saying Calvin is guilty of misrepresentation the way Soto apparently is). But since you’re around, let me ask what you think of this (which gets at the issue of misrepresentation):
Do you think this is a misrepresentation of Roman Catholicism? I don’t ask to bait you. But it does raise the question of who is speaking for and interpreting Rome. I personally find this kind of directness refreshing and appealing. I know where I stand. With post-VatII RC’sm, I’m not so sure. Maybe I’m on the autism spectrum and need order to get through this veil of tears. But I don’t know how to reconcile CaC and Fr. Perone.
Yes, let’s talk conversion – I’ll let you know next time I’m in town. (Get the Freudian couch ready for me.)
Good questions, thanks.
1. As you say, it’s a “form” of judgment, and in this connection I think I see two types of judging: first, one can judge that X tradition is the Christian tradition that is in fullest continuity with Christ and the church he founded, and that one ought to join that tradition instead of another. In that sense, it’s true that one deems other traditions “insufficient” compared to the Catholic Church when he joins it.
But the second way of judging (which is what I meant in my initial comment – I should have clarified) is to take the position that one has the knowledge and acumen to critique the tradition (viz. a confessional Protestant one) itself. While I did choose the Catholic faith over other, Protestant communions because of what I took to be real, and preferable, differences that existed in the Catholic tradition, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t see anything of worth in the other traditions – in fact, I did, and want to continue to learn about them. I think identifying these different types of judging puts a finger on an important question vis-a-vis dialogue/changing-of-traditions, and is worth thinking/talking more about.
2. I can appreciate the dilemma regarding where/how one can pin down the “true teaching” of Rome, given the proliferation and/or shiftiness of its spokesmen. This is a worthwhile topic for more discussion; thoughts are forthcoming.
I like clarify and directness as well. But a directness that fails to take into consideration the complexity of the reality under examination is a fault. This is what I suspect counter-Reformation Catholicism and especially nineteenth-century Catholic authorities were often guilty of. The way that they rejected Protestantism and modern thought did not always take the authentic motivations, concerns, terminology, etc., into consideration.
Anyway, I still don’t think that it is a good thing to be comforted by other Trinitarian Christians saying that you are part of a false Church. And even if some did in the past and in the present, Vatican II, the post-conciliar popes, and the Catechism lay this issue out pretty clearly. It would be helpful for you to engage the arguments themselves rather than using disagreements among Traditionalists and Liberals as a way of suggesting that the documents themselves or the issues involved are profoundly ambiguous. I really don’t think that it is quite the fuzzy issue that you (or Traditionalists or Liberals) suggest it is. Anyway, when Trevor wrote his piece about the impossible conversation, he quoted the aforementioned documents at length; Fr. Perone did not. So, I think that you should see CaC’s perspective as a bit more weighty, unless shown otherwise.
But as far as “no salvation outside the Church,” a formula broadly endorsed (with obviously different conceptions of the nature of the Church) by Luther and Calvin, Dominus Iesus (a recent official document, but one not known for its ecumenical warmth) interpreted the formula in the following way:
The Church is the “universal sacrament of salvation”, since, united always in a mysterious way to the Saviour Jesus Christ, her Head, and subordinated to him, she has, in God’s plan, an indispensable relationship with the salvation of every human being. For those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, “salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit”; it has a relationship with the Church, which “according to the plan of the Father, has her origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit”.
Here is John Paul II:
“The Council states that the Church of Christ ‘subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him’, and at the same time acknowledges that ‘many elements of sanctification and of truth can be found outside her visible structure. These elements, however, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, possess an inner dynamism towards Catholic unity’. It follows that these separated Churches and Communities, though we believe that they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and value in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity put out a statement (also on the Vatican website) that helps us see how this conviction stated above about the relationship of the Body of Christ to the church governed by the bishops in communion with Rome does not immediately mean individual conversions going back and forth from confessions which nonetheless all claim, in different ways, to be closer in key respects to the truth revealed to us by Christ. I think that the quite “official” statement that follows pushes in a rather different direction from Fr. Perone, no? [the next three paragraphs]:
The Council speaks of “elementa ecclesiae” outside the Catholic Church, which, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.The concept “elementa” or “vestigia” comes from Calvin. Obviously, the Council – unlike Calvin – understands the elementa not as sad remains but as dynamic reality, and it says expressly that the Spirit of God uses these elementa as means of salvation for non-Catholic Christians. Consequently, there is no idea of an arrogant claim to a monopoly on salvation. On the contrary, both the Council and the ecumenical Encyclical acknowledge explicitly that the Holy Spirit is at work in the other Churches in which they even discover examples of holiness up to martyrdom. Similar declarations are made by the non-Catholic Churches. … The confessional texts of the Reformation also affirm that the true Church is present in them … Every Church that takes itself seriously, must start from the fact that – for all human weaknesses – the true Church of Jesus Christ is present in it. The Catholic Church takes the other Churches seriously precisely in that she does not even out the differences nor does she consider these differences as being of “equal value”, but she respects the other Churches in the otherness which they claim for themselves. In that sense she speaks with them “par cum pari”, on a parity level, “on an equal footing”.
Besides, the Council is aware of the sinfulness of the members of its own Church, and of sinful structures existing in the Church itself; and it knows about the need of reforming the shape of the Church. The Constitution on the Church and the Decree on Ecumenism state expressly that the Church is a pilgrim Church, an ecclesia “semper purificanda”, which must constantly take the way of penance and renewal. Thus, the ecumenical dialogue fulfils the task of an examination of conscience. Ecumenism is not possible without conversion and renewal. The Catholic Church too is wounded by the divisions of Christianity. Her wounds include the impossibility of concretely realizing fully her own Catholicity in the situation of division. Several aspects of being Church are better realized in the other Churches. Therefore, ecumenism is no one-way street, but a reciprocal learning process, or – as stated in the ecumenical Encyclical “Ut unum sint” – an exchange of gifts.
All this shows that the divisions did not reach down to the roots, nor do they reach up to heaven. The Council distinguishes full communion from imperfect communion. The aim of ecumenical work is the full communion and the fullness of unity, which cannot be a unitary Church, but a unity in diversity. The way to it is therefore not the return of the others into the fold of the Catholic Church, nor the conversion of individuals to the Catholic Church (even if this must obviously be mutually acknowledged when it is based on reasons of conscience). In the ecumenical movement the question is the conversion of all to Jesus Christ. As we move nearer to Jesus Christ, in him we move nearer to one another. Therefore, it is not a question of Church political debates and compromises, not of some kind of union, but of a reciprocal spiritual exchange and a mutual enrichment. The oikoumene is a spiritual process, in which the question is not about a way backwards but about a way forwards. Such unity is ultimately a gift of God’s Spirit and of his guidance. Therefore, the oikoumene is neither a mere academic nor only a diplomatic matter; its soul is spiritual ecumenism.
I find this problematic in manifold theological ways. Help me understand this: ” The aim of ecumenical work is the full communion and the fullness of unity, which cannot be a unitary Church, but a unity in diversity. The way to it is therefore not the return of the others into the fold of the Catholic Church, nor the conversion of individuals to the Catholic Church (even if this must obviously be mutually acknowledged when it is based on reasons of conscience). In the ecumenical movement the question is the conversion of all to Jesus Christ.”
***Unity in diversity is the use of Trinitarian language, but with a fractured Church? To find unity perhaps even in an improper Christology? What if the OPC (or Lutheranism or Anabaptist or Orthodox–you get the point) were semi-Nestorian (or full blown Nestorian)? Could there be unity in diversity in this way? What if they espoused Arianism? Docestism? Could there really be unity in diversity? Wasn’t this the stuff of the first seven Ecumenical Councils? It seems to be that someone’s understanding of Christ’s saving work (and not just the facticity of said saving work) is going to have to change, or else you find unity, hypothetically speaking, with what was formerly understood as heresy. Something above needs to be fleshed out, I think. We can all work in soup kitchen as Christians (or Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus), but these charitable acts are not about Christ’s saving works but about being decent humans. God didn’t become man to make bad men good; He became man to make dead men alive. He is the source of life, and communion with him is life. But that seems to be Christology 101.
Thanks, Justin. First of all, it might be useful to note that I quoted this passage mainly to show that elements of the CaC approach are more in keeping with Roman Catholic “officialdom” than the traditionalism that tends to dominate the blogosphere and conservative Catholic circles. I don’t *necessarily* mean it as a full endorsement. Here is the full piece: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/card-kasper-docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20030227_ecumenical-theology_en.html
And, yes, I know that Kaspar has had a rough couple of years.
But I think that I agree with the passage that I quoted and that you have criticized here. The Congregation for Christian Unity isn’t saying that we have this kind of hoped-for unity now. We don’t. We are “separated brethren.” He is describing the “future church,” the hoped-for church, not the church of today. If there are acknowledged heresies in a particular communion, etc., then full communion would certainly not be possible. But it is possible for there to be differentiation in the future, hoped-for unity. In this “future church,” the Roman Catholic church won’t look exactly the same in its concrete, historical manifestation, nor will the Reformed churches look the same. (Among other things, Kaspar says that any unity will be preceded by a deeper conversation of all such communities to Christ.) But each of these communities would still maintain continuity with those elements within them that were gifts of the Holy Spirit that would have been cultivated over the centuries with the help of divine grace. These continuities with their own past would be the source of the differentiation that Kaspar is describing.
When Kaspar says that the future church would not be a “unitary church,” remember that he is speaking in the Western, particularly Roman Catholic, context. We have perhaps had less practice with unity-in-diversity, collegiality, synodality than other Nicene Christians. He is clarifying especially for Protestant Christians that ecumenical efforts would not be merely absorbing non-Catholic Western Christians into the Roman Catholic Church as it currently exists. He is not saying that we merely tolerate our fractured condition, nor is he saying that we can tolerate error on fundamental issues. But we can share communion with people with whom we disagree about *certain* things. A future determination must be made about which differences are church-dividing and which are not.
The document is not aimed at Muslims or Buddhists but at other Nicene Christians (Eastern Orthodox and Protestant, especially Lutherans, Reformed, and Anglicans). If Protestants were Nestorians, the conversation would change in character. But even Counter-Reformation theologians agreed that Calvinists were not Nestorians. So, our shared Nicene commitments give us a concern for dialogue that is deeper than the conversations that we might have with, well, anyone else. The first paragraph of the document explicitly distinguishes between inter-religious (with Muslims, Buddhists, etc.) and ecumenical dialogue. (Forgive me for not linking to it in my last comment.)
Does that move the ball forward at all?
To support my reading of what he means by unity-in-diversity, it might be useful to point out a passage from another section of the document. Note especially the sentence that begins with “yet”:
“The actual breach [between East and West] occurred only with the conquest, looting, and destruction of Constantinople in 1204 in connection with the 4th crusade. But that had long antecedents. East and West had received differently the message of the Gospel, and they had developed different traditions; moreover, different forms of cultures and mentalities developed in the Eastern and in the Western spheres. Yet despite these differences, all were living in the one Church. But already in the first millennium, East and West grew increasingly apart, understanding each other less and less. This estrangement was the actual reason of the separation.”
So, he is pointing to first millennium as an example of sorts of the kind of differentiated unity that he envisions–with new challenges, etc., that are quite obvious–for the “future church.”
Thanks. A few thoughts.
“I don’t *necessarily* mean it as a full endorsement.”
***Got it. I’m familiar with the Kaspar piece. I don’t do ad hominem, so I take it at its face value. My questions were not about about Orthodox/Catholic discussion but about the CaC project and some of Darryl’s ongoing concerns. The rift between Orthodox and Catholic are fundamentally different theologically, I think, than the rift between Catholic and Reformed. But I’m generally ignorant post-1400. I guess I’m a bit sympathetic to the traditionalist cause as it’s being defined here.
“We are “separated brethren.”
***Sure, but I’m this with every human person–Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, Socrates, Plato, Virgil, Statius–by dint of being made in the image and likeness of God (see I can be both traditionalist and squishy-hippie).
“He is describing the “future church,” the hoped-for church, not the church of today. If there are acknowledged heresies in a particular communion, etc., then full communion would certainly not be possible. But it is possible for there to be differentiation in the future, hoped-for unity.”
***But, to cut to the chase, will that future church contain TULIP? Is TULIP too much of differentiation? I think this where darryl maybe prefers 16th-century interlocutors.
“In this “future church,” the Roman Catholic church won’t look exactly the same in its concrete, historical manifestation, nor will the Reformed churches look the same.”
***So how is TULIP navigated? Are there asterisks on every letter? It seems to me that this just leads to more divisions–on both sides. So there will be unity and diversity and then more outliers outside of unity in their diversity? Again, I can only ask these questions from my own tradition, and so I probably am just reacting in classic Orthodox stubborn, backwater fashion.
“The document is not aimed at Muslims or Buddhists but at other Nicene Christians (Eastern Orthodox and Protestant, especially Lutherans, Reformed, and Anglicans).”
***My use of these other religions was a distraction. My only point was that we can do the work of Christ with others and can agree that taking care of orphans and widows is a valuable endeavor, but that none of this actually makes them Christians. Christianity, as far as I can tell, isn’t about morality but about eternal life (which, of course, can’t be separated from a life of virtue). I was being hyperbolic. I knew you were talking about Nicene Christians. Sorry for the distraction.
“But even Counter-Reformation theologians agreed that Calvinists were not Nestorians.”
***Fair enough. I’m comfortable with these phrases as I write them: “God died.” “God suffered.” I don’t need any further parsing. Are you fine with these lines? Darryl, how about you? But you limit it only to Nicene Christians, but that includes the 7th Ecumenical Council? Was that Christological? I don’t ask any of these things to divide Christendom but only as examples of real theological questions, with real Christological implications. Do we give our Reformed brothers (and I mean this phrase sincerely) a pass on the 7th Ecumenical Council? Was it really not THAT important? Or are we assuming that maybe they’ll eventually come around to it? Or is it that this future unity can bracket that EC?
I agree that the differences between East and West are different than those within the West. But I think that the character of the relationship of East and West before 1204 or 1054 gives some limited sense of what Kaspar means by differentiated unity.
I think that issues like TULIP and icons are things that need to be discussed. How the lines ought to be drawn cannot be determined in some absolutely final way from the outset because we are dealing not just with fellow human beings but with our companions in the worship of the Trinity, redeemed by the incarnate Logos. This is why it is perhaps problematic to cut to the chase rather than working carefully from our shared belief in the Trinity and the Incarnation and the Passion and Resurrection to other theological matters. Perhaps you are right that our disagreements about these other theological matters reveals hidden Christological disagreements. But perhaps we do actually agree about Christology (as the Reformers all professed) and that this might be a fruitful starting point for a renewed examination of justification, the sacraments, icons, the invocation of the saints, ecclesiology, and so on.
TULIP is actually a good example of where progress might be made. It turns out, according to this eminent Reformed historian, that TULIP is a relatively recent invention: https://deovivendiperchristum.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/richard-a-muller-on-the-problem-of-tulip/. Certain supposed implications of TULIP that some modern Calvinists wear like a badge of honor–forgive the mixed metaphor–are actually difficult to locate in Calvin or the Reformed confessions. The Synod of Dort on reprobation is actually much closer to Aquinas than to the presentations of “double predestination” than one sometimes encounters in theological discussion today.
Again, this doesn’t mean that we will fully agree on predestination or eternal security. And perhaps issues like eternal security might mean that shared communion will never be possible. I’m not sure. But my point is that Roman Catholics have rarely engaged the best of Reformed theology since the seventeenth century. And the best Reformed authors at the turn of the twentieth century were still focused on polemicists like Bellarmine. Again, I don’t think that those earlier conversations are outdated or irrelevant, but Christians have continued to live out their new life in the Gospel since that time. Have we learned anything that would allow us to have the kind of conversation that did occasionally take place in the sixteenth century with surprisingly positive results (e.g., Colloquy of Regensburg). We should see what friends with a Nicene faith, engaged in a fair-minded discussion that is historically sensitive, theologically serious, and informed by the best of biblical scholarship might be able to bring to the table.
What is the alternative? It seems that being altogether *content* with the status quo is unacceptable (John 17:21). Nor is compromising our fundamental theological convictions. I think that Darryl and I–perhaps for different reasons–have been disappointed by aspects of most ecumenical dialogues between Protestants and Roman Catholics that have happened in the past several decades. Why shouldn’t we all play some small part in contributing to future efforts that might be more responsible, faithful, and so on?
And I’m not sure that someone who admires Levinas and Nietzsche as much as you can be a “traditionalist” in the way that I’ve been using the term! (That is a compliment, by the way.)
Good stuff, Matt.
“Perhaps you are right that our disagreements about these other theological matters reveals hidden Christological disagreements. But perhaps we do actually agree about Christology (as the Reformers all professed) and that this might be a fruitful starting point for a renewed examination of justification, the sacraments, icons, the invocation of the saints, ecclesiology, and so on.”
*** For me, theology begins with Christology. So that’s why I made this turn. Obviously, the filioque presents obvious Trinitarian concerns from the East, for example (though I don’t think so; see the Damascene), so when we keep invoking Nicene Christians and referring to them as Trinitarian, this assumes a lot. But this is neither here nor there. My only point is that Arius and his followers were Trinitarian and that Nestorius and his followers all believed in the divinity of Christ. But I think, as I know you do, that all theological discussions ought to begin with charity. It’s from a position of charity that real, true disagreements can begin.
“The Synod of Dort on reprobation is actually much closer to Aquinas than to the presentations of “double predestination” than one sometimes encounters in theological discussion today.”
***Yeah, well, that’s Aquinas’ problem. Hah!
“What is the alternative? It seems that being altogether *content* with the status quo is unacceptable (John 17:21). Nor is compromising our fundamental theological convictions. I think that Darryl and I–perhaps for different reasons–have been disappointed by aspects of most ecumenical dialogues between Protestants and Roman Catholics that have happened in the past several decades. Why shouldn’t we all play some small part in contributing to future efforts that might be more responsible, faithful, and so on?”
***I think the answer to this would be that we are properly Trinitarian and Christological. And maybe I’m simply the voice of the “traditionalist” here (whatever that means). But I think it dangerous to bend on Christological issues. I think this is one of the strengths of the Reformed (or other Protestant/Lutheran) “solas.” They know what salvation looks like and don’t swerve. There will be no icons, no invocation of Mary, etc. They’re wrong, but that stems from a deep love of Christ. But so has so many other misplaced loves of Christ. I guess my position is simple: why can’t I love Darryl as brother in Christ (not a separated brother, but a brother by dint of his being made in the image and likeness and even in his baptism in the Trinity [assuming this is what the OPC does]) and simultaneously see that he’s wrong in various theological ways. He may taste the eschatological fruits of his love of the divine (but not of his belief). As Saint Paul says, “For He says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that struggles, but of God that shows mercy” (Rom. 9:15-16).
So to sum up: I think you and I agree on a lot here. I just think Darryl’s right in wanting to see the stark differences. I get it. If we can disagree out of love, I see a lot of fruit born out of that. And I see a path of unity born out of clarifying differences–not complete unity, but real unity. And, yes, a lot of this is going to be a translation project (which I think is what you’re getting at)–translation not of languages but of theological narratives/exegesis. But perhaps disagreement out of love is precisely what is being advocated here by you, though I’m not sure that’s what I read in Fr. Perone’s writing.
And when is all said and done, there is always Bourbon and cigars. That’s a kind of unity, right? Right?
I think that sixteenth-century interlocutors were willing to make some concessions as well. Regensburg (1541) is, I think, a pretty interesting model for dialogue even today. Cajetan–one of most influential theologians of the period and a cardinal assigned to the Luther case at different points–has a whole guide for concessions in the early 1530s that is quite remarkable. On the other side, Theodore Beza’s address to the French monarchy at the Colloquy of Poissy (1561) reveals a deep concern about the divisions in the French church. Calvin’s successor has this to say:
“Do not feel that we are so presumptuous as to seek the ruin of what we know to be eternal–namely, the church of our God. Do not imagine that we seek to remake you in the image of our poor and vile condition, one in which, however, thanks be to God, we find a unique contentment. Our desire is than the ruins of Jerusalem be repaired, that this spiritual temple be raised up again, that this house of God built on living stones be returned to its original wholeness; that these flocks, so scattered and sundered by a just vengeance of God and the thoughtlessness of men, be rounded up and gathered into the fold of that one sovereign and unique pastor. That is our plan, that is our whole desire and intent, gentlemen, and if you have not hitherto believed this, we hope you will believe it when we have discussed in all patience and meekness whatever matters God will lay before us. And without proceeding farther, in place of opposing arguments, might it please our God that we should all sing a hymn to the Lord and stretch out our hand to one another, as has sometimes happened between armies and ranged battles even of unbelievers and infidels. it is a matter of great shame to us if we boast of preaching the doctrine of peace and concord and yet are the easiest to be separated and the hardest and most difficult to bring together. But what then? These things can and should be desired by men, but it is for God to grant them, as he will also do when he is pleased to cover our sins with his goodness and scatter our darkness with his light. […]
“There are those who think, and who would gladly persuade others, that we disagree on matters of little consequence, on matters of no moment rather than on substantial points of our faith. There are others, on the contrary who presume for lack of information about our beliefs that we agree on nothing at all, no more than Jews or Mohammedans. The intention of the former is as praiseworthy as the opinion of the latter is worthy of rejection, as we hope will become apparent through presentation of the statements. But certainly neither the former nor the latter show the way to real and lasting concord. For if the latter are believed, one of the parties cannot continue without destroying the other, something inhuman to consider and atrocious to carry out. And if the former opinion is received, it will be necessary for several matters to remain undecided, out of which will arise more dangerous and more harmful discord than ever. We confess, therefore–and we can scarcely say this without tears–we confess, I say, that just as we agree in some of the principal points of our Christian faith, so also we differ in certain of them.”
I think that we are asking for little more than a colloquy like the one described by Beza here. He speaks with some confidence, even though violence had already occurred in France and in Europe, more generally. A figure like Beza would be treated much better today than he was treated by his interlocutors back in the 1560s. We think that we should, like Beza, have difficulty restraining tears when we state the fact that we disagree with our fellow Christians. We think that we should hope–even if it seems impossible, even if it is something that could never be done by merely human effort, even while we remain faithful to the faith that has been passed down to us from our ancestors–that we might “sing a hymn to the Lord and stretch out our hand to one another.”
Fraternity (however described), bourbon, and cigars – that needs to happen.
Matt, thanks. I appreciate the effort to explain VII ecumenism. But at the risk of sounding uncharitable, I need to push back.
You say the “divisions do not reach down to the roots.” But if Rome proclaims a false gospel (which — surprise — I believe, sorry, but I wouldn’t be a Protestant if I didn’t think that), then we are down at the roots, in the realm of Galatians territory.
Yes, it’s not charitable to tell other Trinitarian Christians that you are part of a false church. But if you read the Bible, you have plenty of examples of prophets and apostles making exactly that claim. (I do wish Roman Catholics would discuss the Bible more and popes and councils less.) Just because Protestants and Roman Catholics (for most of their history) said other groups were false, doesn’t necessarily make it so. But again, the point of the sixteenth century was that root-level issues were at stake. Now we’re supposed to think it was not quite a misunderstanding but an understanding that failed to recognize the complexity of the issues at stake.
And if church office matters (does Fr. Perrone matter more than Trevor?), then our respective pastors and bishops said each other were anathema. My sense is that you think that was a bad thing, or a not great thing. But what kind of conversation are you willing to have with someone who believes that kind of conviction is a good thing?
This is why recognizing the orneriness of confessional Protestants is pretty crucial to the conversation CaC proposes. When I read popes or councils about the truth outside the church, I think liberal Congregationalists and Presbyterians (and I’m pretty sure Pius X would have thought the same). Is that a ghetto-like approach to the church or Christian truth? Maybe. But it also characterized Christianity of most stripes down to the age of ecumenism (which coincided with the period of modernism). So a conversation including confessional Protestants will need reassurances that the other side is not modernist (which is how I and some traditionalist RC’s read the post-VatII church). Again, I know it doesn’t sound charitable. But if we’re going to talk, we need to be able to talk.
Trevor, thanks. So you judged Rome to be the fullest Christian tradition. But how could that be if it’s spokesmen are shifty? I’m not trying to catch you. But this is a real gap in the RC conversion narrative. If Rome is the church Jesus founded, then why is the contemporary church so diverse? I would have thought that the coherence of Rome would trump the diversity of Protestants. But if Rome has gone wobbly since VatII, then the converts may be converting to a church that no longer exists. Again, I see the appeal of Suarez and Bellarmine. McBrien and Massimo Faggioli not so much.
Justin, I wouldn’t use a bumper sticker with “God died” on it. But I could affirm with proper explanations. And of course, I’m an iconoclast, but appreciate the Christological concerns of the iconodules (I understand that could sound patronizing). On the other side, if the human mind is a factory of idols (putting the T in TULIP), then for devotional reasons we don’t picture sacred matters.
Matt, I’d really be careful about saying TULIP is a recent innovation. Here’s what Muller wrote about total depravity:
Dort is more measured that Calvin? Would you affirm this from Dort?
Justin, disagreement out of love? I keep trying that on Ann. She’s not buying.
“On the other side, if the human mind is a factory of idols (putting the T in TULIP), then for devotional reasons we don’t picture sacred matters.”
***Agreed. But why stop with pictures? I know, the Ten Commandments, but that’s been covered over and over. Words, Scripture itself, will do the idolatrous trick. Heck, Trinitarian formulations such as God the Father will do the trick. It’s not inherently an idolatrous formula, but like you said the human mind is a factory–in bono et in malo. But I imagine this why one has both apophatic and catophatic theological traditions. It keeps us in check. But, again, all this is neither here nor there. It was all covered in the 8th Century (and then relived under various Muslim occupations). I assume most Christians understand the terms of the council and simply reject them. I’ll invite you to our first Sunday of Lent next year–the Triumph of Orthodoxy, wherein everyone marches around the Church with icons in hand in celebration of the return of icons to worship. I think you’d really enjoy it 🙂
“disagreement out of love?”
***Love allows us to disagree without enmity. Ask Peter and Paul. But, yeah, Jena insists that we disagree out of stupidity and stubbornness–my own. She’s probably right.
D.G. Hart says: But if Rome proclaims a false gospel …
…speaking of love…. apparently, it is suggested to do that proclamation only if asked to proclaim the gospel, because to proclaim the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ without ‘being asked’ first is ‘unloving’ and is not seeking another’s ‘wellbeing’
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is advising Christians not to talk about their faith unless they’re asked to do so. ….”I draw a pretty sharp line, it is all based around loving the person you are dealing with which means you seek their wellbeing and you respect their identity and their integrity.
I didn’t find your response uncharitable. In most respects, this is exactly what CaC wants us to be talking about.
1) You must be more specific than “truth outside the Church.” Patristic, medieval, and post-Reformation writers all certainly believed that those outside the visible Church believed true things. If you mean “salvation outside the visible boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church,” Pius IX did speak about implicit faith and invincible ignorance (and this was in reference to non-Christians, not Protestants who are obviously in a different situation, even from the perspective of nineteenth-century popes). Now, he also condemned the following in his Syllabus of Errors: “Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian religion, in which form it is given to please God equally as in the Catholic Church.” Despite my criticisms of nineteenth-century Catholicism in earlier comments, I would not affirm what Pius IX has rejected here. So, no worries – I’m not a modernist.
2) Old Catholic Encyclopedia: “Since that time [1200s] there has been no difference between major excommunication and anathema, except the greater or less degree of ceremony in pronouncing the sentence of excommunication.” You affirm the condemned statements of Trent; you are not in visible communion (out of communion – ex communicatio) with the bishops in communion with the bishop of Rome. My post-Vatican II ecumenism doesn’t have a big problem with that way of thinking about things. Anathema doesn’t meant that you are wrong about everything, nor does it mean that you are definitely going to hell (and that was true even in the sixteenth century – I can provide evidence). Indeed, your affirmation of the condemned articles of Trent is part of the explanation of the “separated” in “separated brethren,” though I think that you would have to be a member of the visible Church in communion with the bishop of Rome to be formally anathematized.
3) Perhaps I wouldn’t use the image (as Kaspar did) of “roots.” The Gospel is arguably the (a?) root. Of course, what he meant is that the root is our knowledge and love of a Trinitarian God and the incarnate Word, who suffered, died, and rose again for our salvation. But I’ll grant that this is a problematic image. It probably does obscure the fact that, in the conversation with confessional Protestants, we are dealing not just with a few things here or there. As you have said, “salvation is at stake.” We agree about the importance of this point. And while I knew that this was the case long before this conversation, I am coming to understand more clearly why offers of ecumenical dialogue are almost inherently problematic for many confessional Protestants. And this worry is something that official ecumenists in the Curia rarely encounter. But this realization doesn’t mean that we should stop talking. Indeed, I think that this realization should motivate us to work out a vocabulary for how to think about theological discussions between confessional Protestants and post-Vatican II Catholics who continue to admire scholasticism. That is a small group of people, but it is something, no?
All I want is for you to affirm the modest sort of thing that Beza was saying back in 1561 (where he finds a middle ground between “this is all just a big misunderstanding” and “you might as well be Muslims”), which is why (even in his mind) a conversation was and is worth having.
Perhaps you are just asking me to show my cards; perhaps you are frustrated by the asymmetry involved in your having to condemn my views, while I am inviting you to have a dialogue. If so, I’ll say here that I think that you are wrong about original sin remaining after baptism, the role of love in justification, iconoclasm, the invocation of the saints, bishops, etc. Unlike some other Christian groups (and this might, I admit, include some RC ecumenists), we actually know what the Reformation was about. But I want to show you that some clarifications did occur after the Reformation. I think that I can show that the early Protestants were not always treating their opponents fairly (and it is quite obvious that Luther and Calvin were not always taken seriously by their opponents). I think that we can reflect more deeply about how we can agree about the Trinity and the Incarnation and disagree about what I take to be implications of those doctrines (a point that Justin has been raising here).
It would be absurd for me to think that we can end the Reformation (whatever that would even mean) or mend the Western Churches. But I think that you have things to teach me as an Augustinian Christian. And I think that there are things that I can show you about Catholic theology that you would find interesting–things that might change the state of the conversation as it exists in the present. As I will indicate below, CaC is thinking about recasting itself so that it is framed in a more appropriate way to learn from confessional Protestants who hold the very convictions that you have expressed here.
4) To be clear, no one said that Roman Catholics can affirm everything about Dort. I mentioned reprobation, not total depravity. But what you have quoted seems to me to be a firm statement of the doctrine of original sin and a rejection of Pelagianism. Again, working out the details of the relationship of Thomism and Dort is the sort of thing that would be a key part of the dialogue that we want to have, a conversation between people who know the pre-Reformation tradition, Calvin, WCF, Dort, Bavinck, Hodge, Edwards, and Piper (with all the differences here) and those who respect those figures and know about Aquinas, Trent, Suarez, Newman, Vatican II, Benedict XVI, and De Lubac (with all the differences here).
Perhaps Calvin and Trent understood all that they needed to understand to make the moves that they did. But I’m not convinced that you understand my theological perspective. And I’m sure that I don’t fully understand yours. We’ve talked for years about some of these matters, but I think that putting some of it in writing might be fruitful for registering where advances in mutual understanding have been made. My sense is that CaC is also making adjustments partly in light of this conversation. Instead of asking CaC whether it is representative of all of Roman Catholicism (which forces it to quote popes and councils rather than the Bible and the theological tradition, along with those sources), why don’t we just talk about the stuff rather than talk about talking and consider the arguments on their merits? Of course, we can also consult the official sources to make sure that the views that we are endorsing are not formally condemned by the RCC or the WCF, etc. But just because a certain view is atypical doesn’t mean that it is un-Catholic.
And this point leads to another admission that you seem to be looking for: I think that CaC and I would admit that our perspective on many things is not sociologically significant, if that is a term. You apparently see American Catholicism in terms of the fundamentalist vs. modernist divide, and perhaps you are right to do so. CaC doesn’t fit well into either of those categories. I don’t fit well into either of those categories. Instead of spending all of our time showing that our views have official endorsement and then having to explain everything in those official documents, could we just admit that our way of thinking about confessional Protestantism is a bit strange and move forward?
On the point from before about mischaracterizations, Calvin himself often stated that he thought Trent missed the point (not in all instances, just in some):
CANON 21: No one says so. The Fathers, therefore, are anathematizing their own figments, unless perhaps they are offended because we deny that Christ as a lawgiver delivered new laws to the world. That he did so they imagined foolishly. […]
And I can show you Tridentine theologians who described (rightly or wrongly) Calvin, Melanchthon, and others as mischaracterizing some of Trent’s decrees. So, it is noteworthy that our sixteenth-century ancestors did *not* think that everything was quite clear and that everyone should just go their separate ways because of a beautifully stated, final disagreement. On many issues, both sides felt as if they were being mistreated, etc. Once again, this is not true on every (or even most) issues; this is not the whole story. But this one element is something about the sixteenth century that we often forget. And when we remember it, it might create a space for some progress to be made in discussions between Nicene Christians.
Matt, this is helpful.
For what it’s worth, my take on converts to Rome is that those who do so have not had to struggle/contend/reckon with modernism vs. fundamentalism. Young evangelicals have no idea of the controversy. Mainliners were on the wrong side and then when their churches ordained women and gays, Rome looked like a better option. But why Roman Catholics don’t still have the orthodox vs. modernist binary in view is a mystery since it dominated recent Roman Catholicism in ways more profound than even Bob Jones University (think Syllabus of Errors and anti-modernism). But I do get why it doesn’t make sense to Roman Catholics today — Vat II. Ottaviani understood the danger. He lost at Vat II.
By “truth outside the church” I mean saving truth/knowledge. Are Orthodox and Roman Catholic Trinitarian? Probably but we have modern ways of “interpreting” those dogmas. But you may affirm Jesus Christ as the second person and eternal son of God and still miss what he accomplished.
On Beza, yes a middle ground of seminar room but not an ecumenical meeting. Both of us have officers for that. And in the seminar room we have to allow that we will leave with a better sense of our disagreement than with an awareness of common ground. (What do you think of Evangelicals and Catholics Together? Is that enough for you?)
On anathema, I’m not sure why contemporary Roman Catholics have trouble going all the way with the teaching of their church about no salvation outside the church. I understand in a way. Who wants to condemn (except spouses)? But I don’t think I’m in a good spot according to your theology. I don’t have invincible ignorance. I’m not in subjection to the pope (maybe even proudly). I don’t follow the magisterium. And I’ve never been to confession for mortal or venial sins. And yet we don’t know where I’ll be? Julia Marchmain had a pretty good idea what would happen to her if she married Rex (in Brideshead). Why not follow through with the implication of our theologies? (And I’ve never understood why Roman Catholics can be so joyous about the canonization of saints but then get squeamish about the other side of the coin of the keys of the kingdom).
So it may be a good time to bring out a comment that came to me from a reader via email (sorry if I appear to be aping Rod Dreher):
I include that comment because it puts these conversations again in the context of salvation of souls, which we both concede is the most important consideration.
For what it’s worth.
1) You seemed to have changed the terms of our discussion: from modernist vs. fundamentalist to modernist vs. orthodox. You must realize that this significantly changes the substance of what I was saying.
2) In light of your apt point about the seminar room vs. official ecumenical meetings led by clergymen, I think that CaC may be changing its focus from ecumenism to scholarship, as you have suggested. Perhaps this will put your interlocutor at ease as well.
ECT probably did get ahead of itself and was far from touching upon the fundamental issues of the Reformation (which, as we’ve suggested throughout this conversation, was often, not always, way ahead of us in terms of mutual understanding). Nonetheless, because of ECT’s audience, a statement that the Catholic Church actually believes in Jesus (even if in erroneous ways) would perhaps still move the ball forward.
3) The comparison of joy regarding people being in heaven to clarity about who will be in hell is quite strange, in my view. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding your point. We believe that we have been directed towards heaven (even though we obviously cannot meet this end by our natural powers, powers that were either destroyed or wounded by sin). But heaven is our supernatural end. So, hell is a failure, if you will; getting to heaven is not. The two destinations are not symmetrical in this respect.
Reformed people believe in “no salvation outside the Church” too, right? Again, I think that it would be fruitful to get down in writing some of the medieval ways of framing this teaching that were not quite as fierce as you (for some reason) want them to be. I’ll work on it. Vatican II does not come out of nowhere; generosity towards non-Catholics is not merely a concession to liberal, modernist, post-Enlightenment tendencies in the West. If I were able to provide some evidence for this claim, would that help at all? But, whatever the results of that inquiry, I will certainly admit that – prior to the conversation that I’d like to have where a clearer grasp of the issues would take place – auricular confession and a sacramental priesthood would help your chances, just like (I suspect) you would say that my affirmation of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness would help mine. OK, we said it. Now what? (See, I’m not being quite as coy and shifty as was implied by your e-mail interlocutor.)
4) Speaking of which, this person’s statement perplexes me somewhat. First of all, those issues have already been touched upon here a number of times. Secondly, official documents and scholars have addressed these topics at great length. He or she can’t possibly expect that we would cover all of these issues here with sufficient depth.
But to get to the substance of what he has said about justification (not about the bishop of Rome, which has to be a subject for another time, though dialogues with the Orthodox might clarify matters for him or her), there has been movement among Roman Catholic theologians about how to think about the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone. Read Anthony Lane’s book on the issue. As one example, von Balthasar has a rather subtle and astonishingly positive gloss of “simul iustus et peccator” in The Theology of Karl Barth. I’m not saying that this involves total agreement, nor am I saying that Von B’s position is the “official” one, nor am I saying that Lutherans would be happy with his account, but it shows that there has been movement among leading Catholic theologians since Domingo de Soto was writing at the Council of Trent. (By the way, Von B is never compelled by his account to say that Trent was simply wrong in its formulations.) A *completely* static conception of our understanding of the Gospel (not the Gospel itself) doesn’t seem sufficiently attentive to the role of history in Christianity. If we can agree on that point, does an acknowledgment that Trent was not the absolutely final word–even if “irreformable” in its essential teaching–mean that the Church is “not who she has said she is for centuries.” I wouldn’t say so; I have a hunch that Guardini, Congar, De Lubac, Ratzinger, and Von Balthasar have a better idea of what the Church has claimed about itself than this person.
5) Sheep-stealing needs to be defined with more care, I think. If you tell me why you believe in the perdurance of original sin in the justified, I don’t think that it is sheep-stealing. If I tell you why I believe in works of satisfaction, it is not sheep-stealing. Right? It might be useful at some point to lay out what sorts of actions amount to inappropriate sheep-stealing.
Matt, don’t let fundamentalism throw you. Fundamentalists were orthodox — virgin birth, infallibility of Scripture, deity of Christ, the vicarious atonement. They just had a short list. I still think conservative Roman Catholics could have a greater awareness of the dangers of modernism and doctrinal equivocation (as if they don’t know about Kung or McBrien). So I am surprised that Roman Catholics seem to be taken aback by confessional Protestant doggedness.
On heaven and hell, I still think it’s odd that Roman Catholics celebrate and defend the keys of the kingdom but seem squeamish about the hellish implication of the gate that separates heaven from not being in heaven. I don’t think anyone needs to be joyful about eternal damnation (though some Calvinists could be more sober about it). But shouldn’t you, believing what you do about sin and grace as taught by Rome, try to evangelize me (more than have a conversation)? Or is the conversation a way to evangelize?
And I think that was the point of the anonymous comment? If Rome still believes what it has taught for centuries, Protestants are in trouble. If Protestants are no longer in trouble, then what the church taught for centuries is untrue (or at least unreliable). And if the church has changed, then why convert to a recent fullness of truth? Maybe the truth will change again?
I know that’s a tad simplistic. But sin being what it is, and hell being the consequence for it, it does seem that we skirt that by talking about ways we misunderstand each other. It doesn’t matter as much, as I’m sure you’d say, whether I understand you or you me. What matters for you is whether I understand Rome’s way of salvation. And what matters to me is whether you understand what the Bible teaches about salvation (as Reformed Protestants understand it).
I was almost content to let you have the last word in this thread. But I think that your final paragraph reveals in a rather clear way what *might* account for the (occasional) lack of mutual understanding throughout this conversation. You say, “What matters for you is whether I understand Rome’s way of salvation.”
What matters to both of us is that the other understands and is seeking Christ. At this moment, we both agree that the other is seeking Christ in a way that is either wrong or incomplete. But what your formulation is missing is my assertion throughout this lengthy exchange that it is *possible* that the formulations of the Reformation period (say, Trent and WCF), while definitive in certain respects, were not final. That view may be mistaken, but it would be difficult for you to make a determination until you’ve seen the evidence.
Oh, and this lack of finality in our understanding of Christ is rooted in Christ’s own infinitude.
Matt, I see your point. But for the sake of understanding, people need to know that Reformed folks (of my stripe) look at WCF as final because it is based on God’s word. (Well, isn’t that convenient.) I’m not sure what other evidence we would need to understand Paul, though I am aware of the variety of interpretations. If sin is as catastrophic as Scripture shows — am reading Jeremiah these days and sin is very bad and God is not happy about it — then an alien righteousness does seem like the only possible remedy. To borrow a phrase of one of our favorites (Machen), no hope without it.
BTW, Machen dealt with lots of liberals who said the WCF wasn’t the last word. Their “developments” weren’t at all encouraging.
What would dialogue sound like if RC interlocutors started with this?
“But this is exactly what the devil wants.”
During her second apparition, November 27, 1830, Our Lady stood on a globe, with her feet crushing a serpent….
In her hands she held a small golden globe. Rays of light came from her hands and lit up the globe on which she was standing. As a circle in the shape of a medal formed around the vision, the letters were written, “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” At the same time Catherine heard a voice say, “Have a medal struck after this model. All who wear it will receive great graces; they should wear it around the neck. Graces will abound for those who wear it with confidence.” As the medal turned, Catherine saw the other side. The initial M was surmounted by a cross, with the Sacred Heart of Jesus crowned with thorns and the Immaculate Heart of Mary pierced with a sword underneath. Twelve stars encircled the picture. Within a short time after the medals were made and distributed, many miracles, conversions, and healings took place. The “Miraculous Medal,” the name later attached to it, has earned the reputation of converting the hardest of hearts. “Even though a person be the worst sort, if only he agrees to wear the medal, give it to him…and then pray for him, and at the proper moment strive to bring him closer to his Immaculate Mother, so that he have recourse to her in all difficulties and temptations.” St. Maximilian Kolbe http://www.thecatholictravelguide.com/MiraculousMedal.html