“An Examination of Roman Catholicism”

Lane Keister over at Green Baggins has posted “An Examination of Roman Catholicism,” in which he lists a few items of Catholic doctrine, a response from the Reformed Confessions, and then some scripture verses. The purpose is “to have a handy chart for easily comparing the Reformed faith with official Roman Catholic teaching on a number of doctrines”.

Comparing some of these individual doctrines is helpful, but the real heart and soul of the divide lies in the subject of “authority”.

With that in mind, here are a couple of topics that I believe need to be explored:

1. Everything at this thread: the compatibility of authority structures of Trent with the “developed” authority structure put forth at Vatican II. This leads to a discussion of whether only “the precise words” of the councils should be taken into account, or whether the “conscious faith” of the attendees matters. The two are in grave conflict.

2. The history of the early papacy. Documents as recent as Vatican I (see Session 4 Chapter 2) and the papal encyclical Satis Cognitum essentially posited the papacy as haven been “immediately given” (“He also determined that the authority instituted in perpetuity for the salvation of all should be inherited by His successors, in whom the same permanent authority of Peter himself should continue.”)

It is this link to “successors” that has been essentially found to be “not there,” as there was no monarchical bishop in Rome up until about the year 175. The following works of the past 50 years have put a great deal of historical presure on Rome (and also describe this “not there-ness”) with a great deal of detail:

Oscar Cullman: Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr
Google book does not seem to be available.

D.W. O’Connor: Peter in Rome: Literary, Archaeological, and Liturgical EvidenceGoogle Book does not seem to be available.
Peter Lampe: From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries
There’s a fair preview in the Google Book. See especially chapter 41.

I’ve posted a review of Lampe’s work here.

As a result of such work, I believe that Rome has recently admitted to “development” of the papacy for the very first time.

This document was issued in conjunction with a symposium following the papal encyclical “Ut Unum Sint,” which Pope John Paul “in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.”

This is a groundbreaking admission; so far I am not aware of Reformed efforts to address this “new situation,” but I believe it is ripe to be exploited.

For more information, see here and here.

3. Closely following on this, the Ratzinger-approved document “Responses to Questions on the Doctrine of the Church” denies that good Reformed Reverends such as yourselves do not enjoy “do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders” and thus your churches “cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense.”

One of the defenses of this “Succession of the Sacrament of Orders” is John 20:22: “he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” In context, however, Carson holds that women are in the room with the disciples, and that this episode authorizes all to forgive sins by preaching the gospel. But Rome has drawn the “authority” line at the place of “a succession of orders,” and it is here that Reformed research would bear a great deal of fruit.

4. The Council of Ephesus (the third council, 431 ad).

Samuel Hugh Moffett, writing in “A History of Christianity in Asia,” describes this council:

“On Easter Sunday in 429, Cyril publicly denounced Nestorius for heresy. With fine disregard for anything Nestorius had actually said, he accused him of denying the deity of Christ. It was a direct and incendiary appeal to the emotions of the orthodox, rather than to precise theological definition or scriptual exegesis, and, as he expected, an ecclesiastical uproar followed. Cyril showered Nestorius with twelve bristling anathemas…As tempers mounted, a Third Ecumenical Council was summoned to meet in Ephesus in 431 … [it was] the most violent and least equitable of all the great councils. It is an embarassment and blot on the history of the church. … Nestorius … arrived late and was asking the council to wait for him and his bishops. Cyril, who had brought fifty of his own bishops with him, arrogantly opened the council anyway, over the protests of the imperial commissioner and about seventy other bishops. … “They acted … as if it was a war they were conducting, and the followers of [Cyril] … went about in the city girt and armed with clubs … with the yells of barbarians, snorting fiercely … raging with extravagant arrogance against those whom they knew to be opposed to their doings, carrying bells about the city and lighting fires. They blocked up the streets so that everyone was obliged to fee and hide, while they acted as masters of the situation, lying about, drunk and besotted and shouting obsceneties… (Moffet 174).

The anathemas of this council were directed at Nestorius; they ratified 12 “anathemas” that, as Moffett relates, had nothing to do with Nestorius’s actual teachings.

This is a travesty of church authority, and yet as Moffett and others have written, this schism was far greater extent than either the 1054 split with the EO’s or the Protestant Reformation. In this split, (effected by Cyril’s armed thugs and a council that bore false witness against Nestorius), the entire eastern portion of the church (farther east than Jerusalem) was cast off and later left to die at the hands of Islam. Yet this church was far larger in numbers and scope than the churches surrounding the Mediterranean see. For more information, see:

Philip Jenkins: The Lost History of Christianity

Mar Bawai Soro: The Church of the East: Apostolic and Orthodox

I believe firm and steady pressure from the Reformed community on these topics will be able to force many concessions both from popular Roman Catholic apologists as well as from “official Rome” itself. And I believe that conservative Reformed scholars and pastors, armed with such knowledge, can really put the Reformation (and the need for it) back into perspective.

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