The Roman Catholic “System”

I’ve wanted to get into the topic of “Roman Catholic ecclesiology” for some time now, but it is a massive topic, and there are always other things to be concerned with.

But just recently, a commenter at Green Baggins recommended a work by Dr. Leonardo De Chirico, who is now a commentator for Reformation21, entitled Evangelical Theological Perspectives on post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism (Religions and Discourse, V. 19).

Here are some selections from a review of that work:

Dr. de Chirico has recently completed his PhD studies at King’s College, London. His thesis was published last year by Peter Lang and is entitled Evangelical Theological Perspectives on post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism.

In our present-day context of increased doctrinal confusion, the blurring of historic formulations of faith and an apparently inexorable advancement in the Protestant-Catholic project of ecumenism, Dr. de Chirico persuasively presents the need for evangelicals to engage with Roman Catholicism in a more theologically-integrative way. This is evermore pressing in the light of varied developments within Catholicism since Vatican II (1962-5), which have prompted something of an international change in the way many evangelicals perceive the Catholic Church….

The work explores the way six evangelical theologians (Gerrit Berkouwer, Cornelius Van Til, David Wells, Donald Bloesch, Herbert Carson and John Stott), have grappled with and responded to developments within Roman Catholicism post-Vatican II, as well as summarising the ongoing international dialogue and debate between evangelicals and Catholics since 1965.

The author suggests that evangelicalism’s appraisal of Roman Catholicism has lacked systematic awareness, tending instead towards more episodic aphoristic criticism of Roman doctrine, which for all its truth lacks integrated analysis. With this in mind, Dr. de Chirico proposes a critique which (i) applies the category of ‘system’ or ‘worldview’ to Roman Catholicism, and (ii) perceives two foundational theological foci in Roman theology – the relationship between nature and grace, and the self-understanding of the Church….

I have tried to suggest something like this “integrated analysis” with blog posts here …

So you, my friend, according to Rome, are saved because “the Roman Catholic Church” is the “universal sacrament of salvation,” because “all grace of salvation is not only ordered toward [the Roman Catholic Church], but in some way comes fromand through the [Roman Catholic] Church. As a sign and instrument of all salvation, the church is not merely the goal toward which grace is directed, it is the channel or medium through which grace is given. You are in a “certain, though imperfect communion” already with the Roman Catholic Church.

… and here, for example.

In fact, in the Roman Catholic conception of “church”, all Protestants really are really just Roman Catholics who have become “separated” (as in “separated brethren”) – still under the visible headship of the pope and visible hierarchy [which is an integral, ontological part of the one body of Christ], yet “institutionally separate from the one Church”…

That’s why Rome can never give up. It’s own conception of itself is just too important in [its own] scheme of things. Rome has defined itself in as the most important element in the body of Christ. This is why I say, Rome is all about aggrandizing Rome.

And in comments over there, I said:

Vatican II ecclesiology has its roots in the writings of Johan Adam Mohler, who brought up the notion that the Roman Catholic Church is the “ongoing incarnation of Christ”. This is one source for the notions about panentheism. I’ve responded to Roman Catholics who tell me “the Church is Christ”. It is said to be a Christological rather than a pneumatological view of the Church.

This Vatican II ecclesiology has its roots in The Tübingen School, home of Ferdinand Christian Baur, in the works of Johann Adam Möhler (6 May 1796 – 12 April 1838), and particularly his 1825 work Unity in the church or the principle of Catholicism: presented in the spirit of the Church Fathers of the first three centuries (Die Einheit in der Kirche oder das Princip des Katholicismus, dargestellt im Geiste der Kirchenväter der drew ersten Jahrhunderte (Tübingen, 1825). English translation (1995): Unity in the Church or the Principle of Catholicism: Presented in the Spirit of the Church Fathers of the First Three Centuries, Peter C. Erb, trans., Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C.).

My hope is to begin to look at this work, and its setting in Tübingen, heavily influenced by names like Baur, Hegel, and Schleiermacher. Being primarily liberal, this work of Möhler’s was not widely accepted at first, although after Pius X’s dealings with modernism, he became very influential for other Roman Catholic theologians in the first part of the 20th century: Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, and perhaps even Herr Ratzinger.

David Wells, in his 1972 work “Revolution in Rome”, had noted this association between Vatican II and the liberal Protestants:

Present-day Catholicism, on its progressive side, is teaching many of the ideas which the liberal Protestants espoused in the last [19th] century. Though progressive Catholics are largely unaware of their liberal Protestant stepbrothers, the family resemblance is nevertheless there. Since these ideas have only come into vogue in Catholicism in the last two decades, they appear brilliantly fresh and innovative. To a Protestant, whether he approves or disapproves of them, they are old hat (pg. 8).

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll hope, Lord willing, to provide more background and details on this.

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2 Responses to The Roman Catholic “System”

  1. Richard Cronin says:

    Thanks again for getting into this John. I look forward to reading more of what you have to discover.

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  2. John Bugay says:

    Hey Richard, I’m definitely going to be publishing more on this topic in the near future, Lord willing. Stay tuned.

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