Reading Church History as a Protestant: The Early Church, Apostolic or Apostate?

Duccio, Appearance of Christ to the Apostles (1311)

Appearance of Christ to the Apostles (fragment) (1311), by Duccio. (WikiPaintings.org)

I suppose there are only two or three ways for the Protestant reader of Church history to understand the Early Church (by which I mean the subapostolic Church, the Church of the first several generations of Christians after the Apostles). The inherent thesis of the Protestant Reformation is that the changes brought about by the Reformers in the sixteenth century were a reformation of the Church, a return to the true faith and doctrine of Christ that had been lost. So then, in reading the history of the Early Church, the Protestant can either view it as apostolic in nature: as the true, original Church, essentially as it had been received from Christ and the Apostles only years before, alive and vibrant in freshness and purity of belief, practice, and doctrine. Or, if the Protestant reads this Church and finds that it does not resemble his own church at all — that it is not the Church to which the Reformers believed they were reformingthen he must assume that the Early Church had already fallen away from the Truth; she must have already lost the true faith.

An Un-Protestant Church

El Greco, St. Paul and St. Peter

St. Paul and St. Peter (c. 1595), by El Greco.

The problem with this latter proposition is that even the earliest documents of the Church present a very un-Protestant Church. The very earliest Christian writers after the Apostles express faith in a sacramental economy, in the necessity and efficacy of baptism, in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They appeal to authority not in Scripture alone, but in an apostolic succession of bishops and a faith having been received by tradition. They evince trust from the very beginning in the intercession of saints, the primacy of the bishop of Rome, the perpetual virginity of the Virgin Mary. So if the Protestant cannot discover a time when the Church did not clearly hold these doctrines the later Reformers considered “corruptions” — what does this mean for the belief that the Reformation was a return to a lost “purity” of faith?

The Protestant, not finding Protestant doctrine in the Early Church, must then ask: Did the Early Church fall away from apostolic truth immediately? — before even the earliest extrascriptural Christian writings? To assume this begins to stretch the limits of historical credulity. If not a single extrascriptural writing clearly supports one’s interpretation of Scripture, and one must conclude that the Church apostasized even before this time — then the Protestant is forced to denounce the earliest Christians, and every Christian since, as unfaithful to the teachings of our Lord: so unfaithful, in fact, as to have turned aside from the plain teachings of their apostolic teachers before even the death of the last Apostle. (The Apostle John is believed to have lived until around the turn of the second century, while the earliest extrascriptural documents can be dated to the A.D. 70s.) In this extreme case, is it not more feasible to consider that one’s interpretation of Scripture might be mistaken?

Looking for Proto-Protestants

Saint Augustine in His Study, by Botticelli.

Saint Augustine, a favorite candidate for being a proto-Protestant.

I do not think many Protestants come to these conclusions — that is, and remain Protestant. The far more common tack is to equivocate: to avoid reading very deeply into the Church Fathers, and when one does, to gloss over the differences; to evade the necessity of declaring either that the Fathers were explicitly Protestant (which they clearly were not) or that they they were distinctly un-Protestant. Instead, the Protestant looks for seeds of Protestant belief: if the Church Fathers were not full-blown Protestants, then they must have at least been proto-Protestants, holding nascent doctrines that would someday flower into the Reformation — in a way suspiciously similar to the Catholic conception of the development of doctrine which the Protestant would otherwise reject. Protestant apologists have collected an arsenal of quotations, taken out of context, that appear superficially to support such doctrines as sola scriptura and sola fide — and this is an easy matter to do, since both doctrines take genuine truths that were always present in the Church and carry them to unwarranted extremes. Certainly Sacred Scripture is the very, infallible, inerrant Word of God, and the Church has always held it as the highest authority; but she never held it to be an authority to stand alone. Certainly justification is by faith, and no human work can merit our salvation or even bring us closer to God apart from His grace; but no Church Father ever held that we could be justified by faith alone, with no works accompanying. Since the Fathers often emphasize both the authority of Scripture and the power of saving faith, it is an easy matter to find isolated quotations and read these errors back upon them. But no one could ever come to the conclusions of these doctrines by reading the Fathers in their full context.

A Gradual Decay

St. Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent de Paul (1581–1660), a great Catholic saint of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

A more moderate understanding of the Church’s corruption is similarly equivocal: the reader imagines that the corruptions of doctrine that brought about the Reformation were gradual, subtle, and evolving — a view that is supportable, since, it’s true, doctrine did develop. This allows the Protestant to admire and keep the many great Christians of the ages, all the martyrs and theologians and Church Fathers — finding in them many virtues and qualities of true faith, even if, and despite, their doctrine being gradually corrupted. The problem, then, becomes one of demarcation: When, if ever, did the Church become so corrupt as to be no longer viable as Christian — as to warrant a radical schism? Was it after the second, or third, or fourth ecumenical council? Was it after Saint Augustine, the doctor of grace? Or after Saint Bernard, the last of the great Church Fathers? At whatever point the Protestant draws the line, he must reject all else that follows. The earlier he draws the line, seeing less and less Protestant sentiment and more and more corruption — just as the Protestant who decides the Church was apostate from the very beginning — the more praiseworthy Fathers, teachings, and events he must cast away. The later he draws the line, the more and more development he must accept as validly Christian, the closer he brings this corruption of the Church to the time of the Reformation, and the more he must wonder why such a Reformation was justified at all. If, mere centuries or decades prior to Luther, the Church was still bearing good fruit in holy men and women, bringing them in faith to sanctification and glory, thriving in good works, even if only at the branches — what could justify uprooting and rending the entire tree? Once again, most Protestants who take this view equivocate: since they are unable to draw the line at all, they mentally place it sometime “after the last great Catholic Christian” and “before Luther.” Realizing that there continued to be great Catholic Christians complicates the Protestant’s justifications even further.

Ultimately, the Protestant is forced back to the initial question: was the Early Church apostolic or apostate? If, embracing the many great Church Fathers, he accepts that the Early Church was apostolic, then eventually he is forced to admit that the doctrines of the Reformation, to which the Reformers claimed to be returning the Church, were never apostolic at all — in which case, to what did the Reformers turn her, if not to innovation?

The Work of Christ, an Abject Failure

Christ on the Cross (1665), by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Christ on the Cross (1665), by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (WikiPaintings)

If, on the other hand, the Protestant believes that the Church was apostate from the very beginning, he is forced to question the fundamental nature of the faith he has received: If this Jesus is God Incarnate, how could His Church — against which He promised the gates of Hell would not prevail (Matthew 16:18); which He promised His Spirit would guide into all truth (John 16:13) — have fallen away so completely and immediately from the faith having been delivered to the saints (Jude 3)? If we are to believe that Jesus the God-Man took on human flesh to live, die, and be resurrected for the salvation of all humanity, and returning to the Father, charged His Apostles to make disciples of all nations — only for those Apostles and their disciples to immediately abandon His saving messagewe must, in all honesty, call our Lord’s salvific mission — foreordained from the beginning of the world; the culmination of ages of preparation and prophecy — a complete and utter failure. And how can we ascribe such an abject failure to God Himself?

I have heard many a Protestant claim that even though the Church of God fell into apostasy, God always preserved His true and untarnished Word in Scripture. But that begs the question: through whom did God preserve Scripture? How can the Protestant in good faith believe that the Christian Church faithfully preserved and transmitted the Scriptures, free from error and corruption, for 1,500 years, if she could not even faithfully keep the purity and sanctity of Christ’s doctrine of salvation? And if God could miraculously preserve the truth and indefectibility of Scripture for all that time, even in the hands of such a corrupt institution — why could He not also have preserved the Church?

32 thoughts on “Reading Church History as a Protestant: The Early Church, Apostolic or Apostate?

  1. Pingback: Reading Church History as a Protestant: The Early Church, Apostolic or Apostate? | The Lonely Pilgrim

  2. This logic very much reminds me of the book “If Protestantism Is True” which has been a pivotal book in my journey so far. This post is quite helpful as well. I will pass it along.

    • Thank you. :) I did read that book and found if very powerful, too, though it’s been a while, and I wasn’t thinking of that when these thoughts occurred to me. Protestant claims, when examined logically, do very easily reduce to absurdity.

  3. Oh, how well I remember the pincer move of Church History. My “date” kept getting later and later. First the 4 ecumenical (oops, that included Theotokos), then the 7 (but oh, what about the icons!?), then pre-Scholasticism, then the night of 30th October 1517… At which point I realised something was up! :p

    • For me, as I’ve written before, it was Bernard. And I was able to hold that as long as I never looked at anything later, and never examined the Catholic Church today. The Jesuits, after all, were dark assassins and Holy Ghost ninjas. And I’d never been charmed by any Little Flowers. God bless you!

  4. See, this argument is very unconvincing to me. Basically, it says, “Protestants must somehow come up with an explanation for how things changed from the early church until the Reformation.” I see no reason for any necessity to do any such thing. As regards the past, some things just remain hidden.

    One thing that I can and must do is to compare scripture with the practices and teaching of various churches.

    • Well, yes. That is something you should have to do. The Reformers tell you that they want to return the Church to the true doctrine of Christ and the Apostles and the Early Church, who, they say, held sola scriptura and sola fide, among many other things. So, in all fairness, that shouldn’t be “hidden” at all. If the Early Church believed such things, you should be able to find them in the writings of early Christians. Otherwise you are faced with only one of two possibilities, as discussed above: either the whole, entire, universal Church promptly fell away from those truths, even before the earliest extrascriptural writings of the Church (that is, even before the death of the last Apostle) — or else they never held those things to begin with.

      The essential problem with what you propose, reading Scripture alone, apart from the context of other contemporary writings, is that it’s very subjective. We must admit that the Reformers based their whole doctrine of justification on their interpretations of only a few, isolated verses of Scripture, mostly in Romans and Galatians, severed from the teachings of Jesus and even from the larger argument Paul was trying to make. We must admit that they based the idea of sola scriptura on — well, what did they base that on? Reading Scripture alone now, in the self-assurance of 500 years of Protestant interpretation, ensures that you will read and be confirmed in your Protestant interpretations. But historically, we must remember that the Church had been reading those same Scriptures for 1,500 years and had never come to those interpretations before. Protestants allege that the Church was full of ignoramuses who either didn’t read Scripture at all, or who reading Scripture, somehow missed seeing the noses on their faces. But even a glance at the history of the Church, at the massive, voluminous output of writers and theologians and scriptural commentators, assures one that that is far from the case. So, then, if your (Protestant) interpretations of Scripture are the correct ones, only one of two cases could be true: Either these were the correct interpretations, taught by Jesus and the Apostles and passed down to the Early Church — in which case these doctrines should be plainly held and evident in the writings of early Christians — or else these aren’t the correct interpretations at all. This is not something can be “hidden”: either they are there, or they are not there. And if they are not there, either the Early Church held these things and promptly lost them, or they never held them to begin with.

      Thanks for the comment! His peace be with you!

    • Or, more succinctly: If the claims of the Protestant Reformers were true, then the Early Church should resemble in some way a Protestant church. And if you find you have to “explain” why it doesn’t, well, that’s a problem.

  5. hello! good post, very interesting read, and yes I think is a lot of self discovery (or at least discovery about our christian beliefs) on the early church fathers, I don’t see how one can just simple disregard such an evidence just because it didn’t make it or it wasn’t finish on time for the NT (some other books that actually made into the bible were cut down or altered by reformers anyway). It seems the position of some Christians is to better be saved by what they can know for sure (just the bible and their on accord (faith)) than to accept something that may be “tainted” by CC lies…

    Anyways, I’m really enjoying your readings and way of thinking, you will make a great seminarian and scholar you are already doing a great job, thank you

    PS. I will like if you could expand into the verse on “the gates of hell” since I think is another turning point of the discussion, being in a way “downgraded” or belittle by apologetics, and finally, you should post something about the “Didache” or have you already?

    Saludos!

  6. Pingback: Neither black nor white | All Along the Watchtower

  7. Joseph, I think a rebuttal to Geoffrey’s post on AATW might be something you might want to do. Just giving you a shout out and bring your attention to his post which is his answer to this post.

  8. I appreciate a good argument; it can clarify matters.

    But I am not sure why the fact that the Early Church taught “faith in a sacramental economy, in the necessity and efficacy of baptism, in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist” marks it as un-Protestant; those were all doctrines taught by no less a Protestant than Martin Luther. Indeed, Luther held the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist to be so essential that he refused to recognize Ulrich Zwingli as a Christian on the basis of it.

    On the other hand, I’ll admit that in my readings of the second-century fathers, I don’t recall seeing evidence for “the intercession of saints, the primacy of the bishop of Rome, the perpetual virginity of the Virgin Mary.” On the primacy of the bishop of Rome, there is the caveat that Irenaeus Against Heresies 3.3.2 gives either amazingly strong support for Roman supremacy or a theory of church-state relations which militates against papal primacy, depending how one renders some ambiguous Latin. Of course, neither do I see polemics against these doctrines in the second century; one would not expect to see polemics against something before it was proposed. It just seems to me that these doctrines developed later (although it has been many years now since I last read through the second-century fathers, so perhaps I missed something). I would appreciate if you can clarify whether I misunderstood your point here.

    On whether any church father taught “that we could be justified by faith alone, with no works accompanying,” a lot depends on when the accompaniment is expected. If one expects the works before the justification, Augustine certainly taught that God’s grace justifies us not on the basis of our works. But if one means that works do not follow, John Calvin denies such a doctrine of sola fide, since in his view good works necessarily follow from justification. He cites the apostle Paul regarding the “fruit of the Spirit.” What do you see as the difference between Augustine’s teaching regarding justification by faith and Calvin’s?

    I’m not a very Protestant Protestant, but the crux of the matter as I see it is your question, “When, if ever, did the Church become so corrupt as to be no longer viable as Christian — as to warrant a radical schism?” That happened when, and only to the degree, that the Church rejected necessary reforms. In the late 1400s and early 1500s, there were dozens of leading theologians and churchmen all across Europe who agreed that the Church needed reform. It had come out of the papal schism of 1378-1417 very battered, and when the Renaissance papacy outflanked and then banned conciliarism, it cut off one potential avenue for reform. Pope Julius II was elected on the promise of convening an ecumenical council for reform, and almost a decade later he did so (only after a group of cardinals started a council elsewhere), but the Fifth Lateran Council was widely regarded as reforming nothing that mattered. Luther sparked wildfire mostly by accident, and the “radical schism” which resulted was neither desired nor intended by Luther himself. Rather, when the papacy reacted with retrenchment and expelled most reformers (though not all; the 1537 Consilium de Emendanda Ecclesia advocated reform), the reformers continued to practice their Christianity. Most of them would have preferred not to be expelled, but for the papacy to accept their reforms. But most of them did not regard the demands that were placed upon them for obedience to the papacy as consistent with the demands of Christ, so they chose Christ over the papacy.

    But being expelled by an organization does not mean that one must reject every good thing later to be found in that organization. Hence I deny that one need reject everything that follows any proposed date. Many Protestants would argue that the good that one sees in the Roman Catholic Church is not due to the papacy or the Roman magisterium, but due to the Holy Spirit of God. I argued on my blog at the end of April that Protestants and Roman Catholics can gladly accept certain post-1517 authors with a clear conscience (I’ll share C. S. Lewis if you’ll share Brother Lawrence). If you disagree, I’d be interested to know why.

    • Hello, and welcome! Thanks so much for the thoughtful and thought-provoking comment.

      In response I say:

      I am not sure why the fact that the Early Church taught “faith in a sacramental economy, in the necessity and efficacy of baptism, in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist” marks it as un-Protestant; those were all doctrines taught by no less a Protestant than Martin Luther. Indeed, Luther held the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist to be so essential that he refused to recognize Ulrich Zwingli as a Christian on the basis of it.

      Insofar as Luther didn’t reject these things, he has a valid claim to maintaining at least some part of the Apostolic Tradition and the faith of the Early Church. My argument, especially this part of it, goes to those Protestants (especially my Evangelical kin) who would reject those things — Zwingli and his doctrinal descendants being a case in point.

      On the other hand, I’ll admit that in my readings of the second-century fathers, I don’t recall seeing evidence for “the intercession of saints, the primacy of the bishop of Rome, the perpetual virginity of the Virgin Mary.”

      While I admit that these doctrines were not as pervasive among the earliest Fathers as they later became, the fact that they can be found at all is sufficient to disprove the notion that these were later “inventions” or “corruptions.”

      On the intercession of saints:

      Having ourselves been eye-witnesses of these things [i.e. the martyrdom of Ignatius], and having spent the whole night in tears within the house, and having entreated the Lord, with bended knees and much prayer, that He would give us weak men full assurance respecting the things which were done, it came to pass, on our filling into a brief slumber, that some of us saw the blessed Ignatius suddenly standing by us and embracing us, while others beheld him again praying for us, and others still saw him dropping with sweat, as if he had just come from his great labour, and standing by the Lord. When, therefore, we had with great joy witnessed these things, and had compared our several visions together, we sang praise to God, the giver of all good things, and expressed our sense of the happiness of the holy [martyr]… (Martyrdom of Ignatius 7, widely held to be a contemporary account; if so c. A.D. 107)

      On the perpetual virginity of Mary:

      And the midwife cried out, and said: This is a great day to me, because I have seen this strange sight. And the midwife went forth out of the cave, and Salome met her. And she said to her: Salome, Salome, I have a strange sight to relate to thee: a virgin has brought forth—a thing which her nature admits not of. Then said Salome: As the Lord my God liveth, unless I thrust in my finger, and search the parts, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth. And the midwife went in, and said to Mary: Show thyself; for no small controversy has arisen about thee. And Salome put in her finger, and cried out, and said: Woe is me for mine iniquity and mine unbelief, because I have tempted the living God… (Protoevangelium of James 19–20. Though apocryphal, the text is generally dated to c. A.D. 120–150 — verifying that the idea of Mary’s perpetual virginity was not a later “invention”. Purportedly by James the Just, the “brother” of the Lord, it claims that James was the son of Joseph but not Mary, the half-brother of Jesus.)

      Tertullian argued against the perpetual virginity of Mary — which indicates that it was already an belief that many people held. Clement of Alexandria supported it. Origen argued for it quite strongly, in addition to referring to Mary as Παναγία (Panagia), “All-Holy.”

      On the primacy of the bishop of Rome, there is the caveat that Irenaeus Against Heresies 3.3.2 gives either amazingly strong support for Roman supremacy or a theory of church-state relations which militates against papal primacy, depending how one renders some ambiguous Latin.

      Ad hanc enim ecclesiam [Romae] propter potiorem principalitatem necesse est omnem convenire ecclesiam. While the nuances and precise meaning of the phrase may be a subject for debate, I’ve never heard, nor can I conceive, any sort of interpretation that would give “a theory fo church-state relations which militates against papal primacy.” It seems clear enough that necesse est (it is necessary) that omnis ecclesia (every church) convenire ad hanc ecclesiam (convene/come together with/assemble/unite/agree with this Church [at Rome]). The niggling seems to mostly be over the precise sense of convenire that is meant here, and what precisely is meant by propter potiorem principalitatem. In the context (the praise of the Roman Church [“very great, very ancient, universally known”] and the Apostles Peter and Paul [“the two most glorious”]; the narration of the apostolic succession from Peter and Paul to the present in III.3.3), there can be little doubt what argument Irenaeus is making here: it is necessary, for the sake of orthodoxy and unity, that all churches guide to Rome.

      And this is not an isolated text. The episode of the Quartodeciman controversy and Pope Victor’s excommunication of Asian bishops — and especially the fact that other the churches, both in Asia and Europe, took him seriously — demonstrates that the notion of Roman primacy was already widely held. St. Cyprian argued it quite firmly less than a century later.

      Of course, neither do I see polemics against these doctrines in the second century; one would not expect to see polemics against something before it was proposed. It just seems to me that these doctrines developed later (although it has been many years now since I last read through the second-century fathers, so perhaps I missed something). I would appreciate if you can clarify whether I misunderstood your point here.

      You didn’t misunderstand. :) These doctrines were clearly there. Together with the lack of polemic against them, there seems no doubt that these were not “later developments.”

      On whether any church father taught “that we could be justified by faith alone, with no works accompanying,” a lot depends on when the accompaniment is expected. If one expects the works before the justification, Augustine certainly taught that God’s grace justifies us not on the basis of our works. But if one means that works do not follow, John Calvin denies such a doctrine of sola fide, since in his view good works necessarily follow from justification. He cites the apostle Paul regarding the “fruit of the Spirit.” What do you see as the difference between Augustine’s teaching regarding justification by faith and Calvin’s?

      Perhaps my argument was a little weak here. Certainly no one receives the initial grace of justification on account of works. In a certain sense, justification is by faith alone: if one is referring to the initial gift, in our baptism and regeneration; or if one is referring to faith working in love (Galatians 5:6). But Luther and Calvin, as I understand it, both argued that works play no role in justification at all. Protestants fashioned this idea of justification being a mere forensic imputation, and a one-time event at that, after which one’s sins, past, present, and future, are “covered”; and (after the death of Luther, I believe) made a definite distinction between justification and sanctification. None of these ideas are consistent with the beliefs of the Early Church or with Augustine. Augustine certainly believed that we play a role in our justification, that God does not save us without the assent of our own will, and that after our initial justification, we cooperate with God’s grace from then on to bring the work to completion. For a fuller and deeper examination than I can give, I would highly recommend Alister McGrath’s study on the subject, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. Here is a brief post summarizing what I found to be some of the most compelling differences between Augustine’s thought and Protestant theology, per McGrath’s examination.

      I’m not a very Protestant Protestant, but the crux of the matter as I see it is your question, “When, if ever, did the Church become so corrupt as to be no longer viable as Christian — as to warrant a radical schism?” That happened when, and only to the degree, that the Church rejected necessary reforms.

      That seems to be contrary to the claims of the Reformers themselves:

      But as soon as falsehood has forced its way into the citadel of religion, as soon as the sum of necessary doctrine is inverted, and the use of the sacraments is destroyed, the death of the Church undoubtedly ensues. … Again, if the true Church is “the pillar and ground of the truth,” (1 Tim. 3:15,) it is certain that there is no Church where lying and falsehood have usurped the ascendancy. Since this is the state of matters under the Papacy, we can understand how much of the Church there survives [i.e. none at all]. … Wherefore, in declining fatal participation in such wickedness, we run no risk of being dissevered from the Church of Christ. (Calvin, Institutes IV.2.1–2)

      However, lest there be silently ascribed to us the condemned errors of the above enumerated factions and sects, of which evil the papistic tyranny, which persecutes the pure doctrine is the chief cause — which as is the nature of such spirits, for the most part, secretly stole in at localities, and especially at a time when no place or room was given to the pure Word of the holy Gospel, but all its sincere teachers and confessors were persecuted, and the deep darkness of the Papacy still prevailed, and poor simple men who could not help but feel the manifest idolatry and false faith of the Papacy, in their simplicity, alas! embraced whatever was called the Gospel, and was not papistic, — we could not forbear testifying also against them publicly, before all Christendom, that we have neither part nor fellowship with their errors, be they many or few, but reject and condemn them, one and all, as wrong and heretical, and contrary to the Scriptures of the prophets and apostles, and to our Christian Augsburg Confession, well grounded in God’s Word. (Melanchthon et al., The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord XII.7–8)

      I’m not going to take a lot more time than that to dig for quotations, but I think by the second generation of Reformers and probably beginning with the first, this was the attitude that prevailed toward the larger Church from which they had broken. The reason should be clear: If the Church from which they’d broken was in any way, shape, or form, the true Church of Christ, they were guilty of heresy and schism; therefore, in order to justify their actions, it was necessary to present that Church as not being the Church at all. This returns to my reasoning above: At what point did the Catholic Church cease to be “the Church”? If the claims of the Reformers were true, then the former Church was dead, corrupt, broken. Neither salvation, nor sanctification, nor truth, were in it any longer; and thus, in all good conscience the Protestant must reject everything subsequent to the Church’s “death.” And this is in fact the approach that many Protestants, especially those of the Calvinist tradition, take.

      If your more moderate argument — that the Church only fell “when, and to the degree that [she] rejected necessary reforms” — were true, then the very existence of the Council of Trent belies the necessity of schism: for the Church did, in time, address matters of reform. Fewer than thirty years passed between Luther’s initial protests and the far-reaching reforms of Trent. In the grand scheme of history, and considering that the Church, by nature and design, is a conservative and traditional institution, slow to move and slow to change — only thirty years is paltry. Yes, an argument can be made that reform might not have happened so quickly if not for the state of emergency created by the Protestant schism: but certainly no legitimate argument can be made that the Church was unwilling to address reform. If Luther and the Protestants had been more patient, more cooperative and less confrontational — more willing to address necessary reforms with charity and good will rather than promptly denouncing the papacy as unbiblical, or worse, antichrist — then perhaps reform could have been brought about peacefully and without schism. Again, if your suggestion were true — that Protestants only viewed the Catholic Church as fallen because of her slowness to address reform — then why were Protestants not willing to return to the Church after Trent, or even to participate at Trent? (They were invited.)

      … Most of them would have preferred not to be expelled, but for the papacy to accept their reforms. But most of them did not regard the demands that were placed upon them for obedience to the papacy as consistent with the demands of Christ, so they chose Christ over the papacy.

      Make no mistake. In rejecting the authority of the papacy, the Reformers were not just “being obedient to the demands of Christ.” The pope had been the highest authority in the Church of the West for 1,500 years. They were consciously choosing to defy that authority and to break ties of ecclesial communion with the Catholic Church. It sounds nice to say that they were “choosing Christ over the papacy,” but the radical reality is that they chose schism, as it had been defined in the Church since the beginning. It sounds nice to say that “they would have preferred for the papacy to accept their reforms”; but what they really wanted was reform, right then, their way. Nearly from the very beginning of the Reformation, the Reformers’ demands included direct challenges to the authority of the papacy. It is a common Protestant tack to claim that the Reformers did not break away from the Church, but were “expelled”: but they rejected the authority of the Church and the papacy first. Yes, technically, the Reformers were excommunicated: but they were excommunicated for pertinaciously defying the authority of the Church and the pope, by their own deliberate actions and teachings — the only outcome of which could have been excommunication.

      But being expelled by an organization does not mean that one must reject every good thing later to be found in that organization. Hence I deny that one need reject everything that follows any proposed date. Many Protestants would argue that the good that one sees in the Roman Catholic Church is not due to the papacy or the Roman magisterium, but due to the Holy Spirit of God. I argued on my blog at the end of April that Protestants and Roman Catholics can gladly accept certain post-1517 authors with a clear conscience (I’ll share C. S. Lewis if you’ll share Brother Lawrence). If you disagree, I’d be interested to know why.

      I certainly agree that the Protestant need not reject everything about the Catholic Church — but again, this attitude is inconsistent with the claims and teachings of the Reformers. If the Catholic Church did continue to bear good fruit — and it certainly did — then the claims of the Reformers were false. If the Catholic Church did reform herself, did continue to produce holy men and women and great works of love and mercy, did continue to be a vessel of salvation — then Protestant claims that the Church under the papacy was dead or corrupt — which were the primary justification for the permanence of their schism — can hold no weight. And I would suggest that a Protestant with such a conciliatory attitude toward the Catholic Church ought to seriously examine the foundations of his Protestantism: Why does his church exist? Does it have a real justification for being? Is it truly part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?

      • Thank you for taking the time to bring together all these quotations! I wish I had time to respond in any substantive way right now, but I’m moving, so I’ll have to pick up some of these threads on my own blog in a few weeks, once I’m connected again. A Roman Catholic commentator on my blog has also been pressing me with the argument from similarity, so I have ideas brewing there.

        With regard to just your last question, the answer depends a lot on the scope of a few words. I don’t feel that I am in a position to judge whether any given congregation has a justification for existing. The Protestant reformers, of course, did not see themselves as founding new churches, but as reforming or restoring the one true Church founded by Christ. Even Henry VIII did not think he was founding a new church, although historians and students often speak sloppily as if he did; he thought he was restoring the ecclesia anglicana known to Bede, before four centuries of papal tyranny were inaugurated by Thomas Beckett (his view, not mine). So, larger than the local congregation, the only Church to which I claim to belong is the Only, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic one founded by Christ. Some people, mostly eastern Orthodox and traditionalist Catholics, may disagree with my claim to be part of Christ’s Church, but I have received divine confirmation that I belong to Christ.

        • Thanks. I’ve followed your blog, and will be glad to engage any thoughts you’d like to share.

          I make a distinction, as the Church has, between individual believers, having been baptized into Christ, being part of the Body of Christ, and their ecclesial communities being true churches. So I would completely affirm that you, as a true, baptized believer in Christ, belong to Christ — but I would not equate that proposition with your church being part of the One Church.

          Since the very earliest days of the Church (cf. Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyon), the most important mark of belonging to the Church was being in communion with the bishop, who has a valid succession from the Apostles, and shares in communion and tradition with all the other bishops of the Church. Many of the Protestant Reformers, especially not Zwingli or Calvin, don’t seem to have been particularly concerned, or at all, with maintaining that succession or that communion or even the episcopate. So, then, theirs was a radical new understanding of what it meant to be “the Church.” If “restoration” was their goal, they seem to have been quite anxious to jettison the historic truths of the Church.

          I would contest whether the Reformers truly “thought” they were not founding a new Church, or whether that was merely their justification — because it is quite evident to historians, as it should have been to them, that they in fact did found a new church. The understanding of the Church of Christ as a spiritual reality somehow distinct from the established foundation of the Apostles was a Reformation novelty, and certainly an extension of their attempts to justify their schism. No one had ever conceived of “the Church” in such a way before; and in addition to needing to justify their separating themselves from the “dead” Church and her tradition, they needed to justify their re-establishing (“restoring”) a church apart from the historic foundation.

          Henry VIII, I’m sure you’re aware, was quite keen to defend the Catholic truth and even the papacy, until it was no longer politically expedient to do so.

          Peace be with you!

  9. Joseph writes
    ,
    “The problem with this latter proposition is that even the earliest documents of the Church present a very un-Protestant Church.”

    Says you, Joseph. But you are treading on ground that has been thoroughly plowed by far greater scholars.

    You wrote, further: They appeal to authority not in Scripture alone, but in an apostolic succession of bishops and a faith having been received by tradition.

    But that is just as wrong as it can possibly be.

    For example, Prof. Michael A.G. Haykin notes that,

    “For Basil, “Scripture alone represented the true rule or law for life.”

    Scripture alone, Joseph.

    Professor Robert Louis Wilken notes the following about Origen
    “How presumptuous, says Origen. Is the gospel to be judged by a criterion external to itself? The “gospel,” he responds, “has a proof that is proper to itself and is more divine than the dialectical arguments of the Greeks.” This more divine proof, he adds, is called “proof of the Spirit and of power” (i Cor. 2:4) (The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God. Yale University, 2003. Kindle Book, loc. 381-384)

    No criterion external to itself = Scripture alone = sola scriptura.

    Now to juxtapose those sentiments with the Renaissance Roman Church which distanced itself from the Bible to the greatest extent possible and the modern American Catholic Church which has gone to civil court to have the Bible removed from public schools is to show just exactly what the Reformers were fighting for.

    Can you imagine Joseph, even in your wildest imaginings that Jesus and the Apostles – or any of the Early Church Fathers you prefer – would actually go to civil court to keep the Bible away from children? It is truly unfathomable. And yet, that is what Rome has done – and continues to do and which you support!

    Think about that for a while, Joseph. And then ask yourself whether denominations that affirm God’s words are closer the Apostles than a denomination that restricts access to Christ’s words.

    Peace.

    • Dear Paul,

      I wonder if you even read my whole post this time? You are doing the very thing I suppose in my post that most Protestants do: Cherry-picking a few quotations from the Fathers out of their proper context and presenting them as purportedly supporting Protestant doctrine, but ignoring all else that those men wrote and stood for. What is more, you do not even bother to quote the Fathers directly here! Quoting secondary, evangelical historians (i.e. Haykin) does not carry very much weight and is unpersuasive to me. I do not even know for certain which Basil he is referring to. Presuming this is Basil the Great — Haykin’s claim is very well belied by the obvious fact that Basil was himself a bishop, standing upon and arguing from the authority of Apostolic Tradition, and both upholding and contributing to the Church’s rich liturgical and theological deposits.

      I do not have the work from Wilken you are citing in front of me, but I am a bit puzzled by the conclusion you draw from it. Even most Protestants understand “the gospel” as referring to the “good news” of Christ, His saving message — not as a reference to Scripture (the written books called “Gospels” are usually addressed specifically or else in the plural). The gospel (Christ’s saving message) having a proof in “the Spirit and power” seems even less fitting as a reference to Scripture. I completely agree that the proof of the gospel of Christ is the Spirit, God dwelling within us, and the gospel’s power to save, heal, and change lives. I do not see “sola scriptura” here at all, let alone anywhere else in Origen.

      You do not address any of the very un-Protestant doctrines each of these men held, which Protestants later alleged were late “inventions” and “corruptions.” It does not take a great scholar to observe obvious facts — while many great scholars can ignore them or gloss over them.

      And I frankly have no idea what you are talking about when you allege that “the American Catholic Church … has gone to civil court to have the Bible removed from public schools.” The two landmark cases most relevant to the removal of prayer and the Bible from public schools were Murray v. Curlett and Abington School District v. Schempp, brought by Unitarians and atheists, and Engel v. Vitale, brought by Jews. I can’t tell that any Catholic organization had a thing to do with any of these cases, not even to file as an amicus curiae. This is not one of those wild-eyed conspiracy theories about the Jesuits being behind every evil from atheism to liberalism to Islam, is it?

      Regarding the Catholic Church and Scripture: we have barked up and down that tree several times already.

      I hope, if you are going to argue with my posts, that you can bring some actual facts. I sincerely would like to discuss these things with you, Paul, but let’s have an actual conversation, not an occasional back-and-forth volley.

      Peace but with you.

      • Hi Joseph,

        I’m sorry for my earlier haste and the delay in this response. Perhaps I can be more diligent this time.

        I suppose the first thing that strikes me about your post is that you seem to equate “Reformers” with “Protestant” in the 16th century. But well into that century all the “Reformers” were Roman Catholics. That means that all of the initial investigations into how the Church of Rome had strayed from the Early Church were done by Roman Catholics who realized that Rome had left its Christian roots. So what you term a “return to the true faith and doctrine of Christ that had been lost” was initiated from within the Church of Rome by those who looked to the Early Church and found that Rome had strayed widely from it. “Protestants” in the most widely used meaning of the term did not arrive on the scene until well after Catholics had done the investigating and made their findings.

        The next observation I have Joseph, is that you errantly try to put Protestants in a box:

        “if the Protestant reads this Church and finds that it does not resemble his own church at all …then he must assume that the Early Church had already fallen away from the Truth; she must have already lost the true faith.”

        But surely that’s not the only conclusion we are left with. We might assume that our current church has strayed. Or we might assume that those were “different times” with “different needs”. Or we might assume that the Holy Spirit is working differently today or any of a hundred other things none of which is “necessary”. To try to boil the issue down to a binary alternative Joseph, strains credulity.

        Going further, I glean from your post Joseph that you think the Early Church was homogeneous. In other words, I take your meaning to be that you can point back to the 1st to 4th century and say, “Ha, that’s the Eucharist” or, “Ha, there’s confession!” or, “There goes the pope!”, and have your recollection resemble what Rome looks like today. But that simply is not possible if for no other reason that Eastern and Western churches were separate and autonomous and they both constitute the “Early Church”.

        Consider this example with regard to the Eucharistic celebration in the 4th century:

        “Another difference of practice was that in the East it was usual to have only one celebration of the Eucharist under the bishop on a Sunday; in the West there gradually spread from the city of Rome the practice of holding celebrations taken by presbyters in suburban parish churches, which in fourth-century Rome were called ‘title-churches’ because they bore the names of the original donors of the title to the property and provided for the maintenance of the clergy by their endowments.” (Chadwick, Henry. The Penguin History of the Church: The Early Church, v.1. Kindle loc. 4185-4188.)

        So Joseph, to use your paradigm, let’s look back at the 4th century and evaluate your church with regard to the Eucharist. The Roman Church today seems to more closely resemble the Eastern Church in this regard while my church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, resembles the early Roman church. What would you have us do now? Will you admit that your church has adopted Eastern practices and therefore is not the historic standard bearer for worship? Or will you seek to conform your church to be more like mine in its Eucharistic celebration since we are more aligned to Early Rome? (I am very anxious to know your answer to that.)

        And I agree with you about reading primary sources first. But I suspect that neither you nor I are Greek or Latin scholars so we are necessarily dependent upon secondary sources in translation, at least. But I would encourage you to read more widely among those who have already studied the early church. They will keep you from the pitfalls that previous generations tripped on. And they provide invaluable understanding into what the Fathers meant in their own context by the terms we still use today.

        I have read your post and there is more to note, Joseph. But that is enough for now.

        I wish you every blessing in your continued studies.

        Paul

        • Thanks for the response, Paul.

          I suppose the first thing that strikes me about your post is that you seem to equate “Reformers” with “Protestant” in the 16th century. But well into that century all the “Reformers” were Roman Catholics.

          By “Reformers” (note the capital), I mean the Protestant Reformers (as the whole of my post addresses Protestants). You are making a false distinction: “Protestant Reformers,” in my definition, are those who chose to unfaithfully separate from the Catholic Church. Those who urged the Church to reform but remained faithful to her are not included in my characterizations.

          That means that all of the initial investigations into how the Church of Rome had strayed from the Early Church were done by Roman Catholics who realized that Rome had left its Christian roots…

          I wonder who it is you’re referring to? Of course, many in the Church realized the need for reform long before Luther and the Protestant schism. But in my post, I am referring only to the Protestant schismatics.

          The next observation I have Joseph, is that you errantly try to put Protestants in a box…
          “if the Protestant reads this Church and finds that it does not resemble his own church at all …then he must assume that the Early Church had already fallen away from the Truth; she must have already lost the true faith.”
          But surely that’s not the only conclusion we are left with. We might assume that our current church has strayed. Or we might assume that those were “different times” with “different needs”. Or we might assume that the Holy Spirit is working differently today or any of a hundred other things none of which is “necessary”. To try to boil the issue down to a binary alternative Joseph, strains credulity.

          I think you’ve failed to read my sarcasm, Paul. Of course I presumed (sarcastically) that no Protestant could admit that his own church had strayed from the truth. I am glad you are willing to consider this possibility.

          By the “Early Church not resembling” Protestant churches, I mean more than “different times” with “different needs” or “different moves” of the Holy Spirit: I mean what the Protestant Reformers themselves declared (and as you yourself have often declared to me), that the Catholic Church had fallen away from true apostolic doctrine and was teaching falsehoods.

          Going further, I glean from your post Joseph that you think the Early Church was homogeneous. In other words, I take your meaning to be that you can point back to the 1st to 4th century and say, “Ha, that’s the Eucharist” or, “Ha, there’s confession!” or, “There goes the pope!”, and have your recollection resemble what Rome looks like today. But that simply is not possible if for no other reason that Eastern and Western churches were separate and autonomous and they both constitute the “Early Church”.

          As I believe I said in another comment, no, these are not things I mean to imply at all. I am explicitly referring to the subapostolic Church, the Church of the earliest Church Fathers, prior to any disunity.

          So Joseph, to use your paradigm…

          What paradigm?

          And I agree with you about reading primary sources first. But I suspect that neither you nor I are Greek or Latin scholars so we are necessarily dependent upon secondary sources in translation, at least.

          I wouldn’t place myself on the level of any great scholar, but I am decent enough at Latin and can hold my own in Greek.

          But I would encourage you to read more widely among those who have already studied the early church. They will keep you from the pitfalls that previous generations tripped on. And they provide invaluable understanding into what the Fathers meant in their own context by the terms we still use today.

          Oh, I don’t ignore or discount secondary historians. But many, especially those approaching from Protestant commitments, read the Fathers through a Protestant lens and draw unwarranted assumptions and conclusions. As I did in my attempt at a papal compendium, I prefer to return to the sources and show exactly how this is so. Thankfully most reputable historians today give helpful citations to their source material.

          God bless you also, and His peace be with you.

  10. I only have time for a quick reply (have to get out to a visit this afternoon), and it is going to be scattered thoughts.

    I think you are doing some straw-man work again. From a very thin cherry-picking of Protestant thought, you are drawing some very specific conclusions. Things are very rarely clear-cut, with simple explanations.

    Doctrine, and the church, did develop over time. As one example, even in your own post about Peter as the first Pope, you acknowledge that the position and the understanding of it evolved over centuries. May I then, by your logic, look at the papacy 1800 years later, compare it to the subapostolic understanding, find the two to be quite different, and therefore declare the current papacy invalid based on the testimony of the church fathers? I cannot. It is, of course, not that simple.

    Was the a specific time at which the corruption of the church became too much that the Reformation had to happen? That is a black and white question that cannot have an answer. You assume that everything developed clearly, that the corruption was easily spotted the moment it occurred, and that swift action must surely have followed. As a historian, you know this to be untrue. In recent history, was not the American Revolution a culmination, a result of centuries of European policy in the Americas? Did the Civil War start overnight? Didn’t it take decades for the Roman Catholic Church to even acknowledge the abuse of minors among the clergy, and longer to do something about it? That, especially, is a clear-cut case of corruption in the ranks that should have been addressed immediately, without question, but it was not. The church (not just Roman Catholic, but the entire community of faith) has always, always, always been slow to address corruption. The Reformation did not happen because an event suddenly forced the Reformers to believe, “Oh, NOW the church needs to be reformed”, but because centuries of factors and variables mixed at just the right time for such an event to take place.

    Your argument is also based on one of those tenets on which Roman Catholics and Reformation-descendants cannot ever agree, which I have talked about before; that the Roman Catholic church cannot ever be wrong, nor acknowledge its mistakes (which is, itself, a straw man of the same manner to the Protestant ones you build). If the church cannot be wrong, then all attempts at Reform are inherently sinful, period.

    Again, scattered thoughts, so sorry about the disconnectedness of all of that.

    • Hi, Ken, and thanks, as usual, for the thoughtful response. I’ve been expecting it, ;)

      I do make some pretty broad generalizations here, I agree, but I don’t think any are made of straw. I do draw some binary contrasts, but I don’t think I am unjustified in doing so: these are the same distinctions the early Church drew, e.g. that one is either in communion with the Church or out — or the Reformers drew, e.g. painting the institutional Catholic Church as completely fallen and corrupt. The early Church Fathers argued that unless one is in communion with one’s bishop, he is outside the Church; and similarly, unless one’s bishop is in communion with the bishop of Rome. This is a binary not of my making, but one the Reformers decided, after 1,500 years of tradition, was no longer important. Many of the Reformers (I admit not all) argued, as a justification for schism, that the Catholic Church under the papacy was “completely corrupt” — completely “black.” I am only following that argument where it goes.

      I acknowledge that doctrine develops. But it develops continuously and organically, in a straight line. To demonstrate that something is invalid, one much show a break — though I grant that many Protestants argue otherwise, which is exactly what I am talking about here. But I ask the question, if there was no break with apostolic tradition, what could have justified schism? Or, if there was a break, at what point was there a break? Validity and invalidity are binary states; there is no in-between. To argue that something is now invalid, it follows that it must have become invalid at some point. To argue that about the papacy, at what point would you say it became invalid? Or, to acknowledge that the Church never was invalid, why break from it rather than working within it for reform?

      I do not argue that everything concerning the corruption of the Church was immediately obvious and clear cut; yes, it was a culmination; but when the Reformers finally “had enough” and did react, arguing that the Church as it stood had become invalid, they must have had an understanding of what made it invalid, and at what point, retrospectively, it had become invalid. Yes, this is a black-and-white question, but it is a black-and-white claim. Why can it not be answered?

      Per your counter-example, yes, where priests and bishops have abused children or harbored abusers, their wrongdoing is clear-cut, and though it has taken several decades for those cases to come to light, we do have records of when this wrong-doing began and took place. But since this is not a doctrinal issue in the Church, we can draw no wide conclusion about something being corrupt in the priesthood as an institution.

      And yes, the Church has always been slow to address corruption. Usually dramatic change does not occur until it is motivated by a great and charismatic reformer, leading the Church to change by example of love and humility. But in the Reformation, that characteristic slowness met impatient and intolerant demands, and instead of a patient and loving reformer, firebrands and radicals. Protestants behave as if Luther’s demand for “reform” was an eminently just cause for which he was unjustly persecuted, but unlike other times in the past when the Church was reformed, calls for reform were mixed with radical theology and challenges to the authority of the Church. And unlike other times, when the so-called Reformers met reluctance, they opted to leave the Church and start over. Speaking of breaks in tradition: this was a break in and from tradition.

      I’ve never argued that the Catholic Church cannot be wrong (or are you saying that claim is a straw man?). Being indefectible does not mean the Church cannot be wrong; it means only that the Church will never fall completely — just as Jesus promised us, and contrary to what many of the Reformers claimed. Certainly the Church, and especially her individual members, have been wrong many times in the past, and certainly there were legitimate needs for reform. Certainly many mistakes have been made in many matters, and in the matters where reform was legitimately needed, reform was addressed. There are only a few cases in which the Church cannot be wrong: when the whole magisterium, in concert with the bishop of Rome, speaks with one voice on matters of faith or morals; or when the pope alone, out of his office as pope, speaks infallibly on the same — which is not always.

      Now, I think you have another comment to reply to also so I will look at that one now. Peace be with you!

  11. Oh, I guess I should state my position along the spectrum you condensed into three positions. If you couldn’t guess, I am in what you call the “moderate” camp. That over time, some (by no means all, or most, or many) practices of the Church were no longer doing God’s work. The early Reformers, while professing unity with the Church on matters of faith and doctrine, sought to address abuses being performed by members of the Church that the Church was not addressing. The Augsburg Confession lists seven (only seven!) issues that needed to be dealt with. Of those seven, I have read–I do not have the book on me–that the Roman Catholic Church has addressed at least five of them:

    1) Taking of the Lord’s Supper in both kinds (addressed)
    2) Marriage of Priests
    3) The selling of Masses (addressed)
    4) Confession as a means of fear (addressed)
    5) Distinction among foods (addressed)
    6) Monastic vows (I’m not sure on this one)
    7) Power of bishops (addressed)

    The Reformation was not about saying that the Church was lost, unsaveable, or that it even needed to be saved, as if it had fallen far from the word. It was about addressing abuses that needed to be addressed, while still proclaiming that the Church was the Church of God, holy, blessed, and in God’s hands.

    • Oh man, botched that third sentence: “That over time, some (by no means all, or most, or many) practices of the Church were no longer doing God’s work. The early Reformers, while professing unity with the Church on matters of faith and doctrine…” Changes the meaning ENTIRELY.

    • (Sorry it has taken me so long to get through this comment. I’ve been distracted.)

      Okay, so I just scanned through the Augsburg Confession. I need to read through it more carefully, but it was a very informative, and I must say, moderate document (and with good reason, since it is basically an argument to the Catholic argument, “Please don’t kill us!”).

      Yes, I thought of you specifically when I wrote the section covering the “moderate” position. ;) The essential problem with arguing that the Reformation was only “about addressing abuses that needed to be addressed” is that nobody stopped there. If Luther had only clamored for a reform of indulgences, he would never have been excommunicated. But his demands for reform became a platform for his radical theological reimaginings. If he had remained merely an academic and published only radical theological reimaginings, without calling the established teachings of the Church satanic or the pope an antichrist, he similarly would probably not have been excommunicated. But he put way too much in one bucket, as if once he got started, he had no restraint: he wanted the whole Church to be re-created according to his own conceptions. “Oh yeah, and while we’re at this ‘reform’ thing, we might as well go all the way, and take care of everything we don’t like.” This is not the way one goes about “reforming” an institution, if one expects to remain in it, and it remain in one piece.

      Protestants behave as if all Luther wanted were reasonable, moderate reforms — but stand back and look at it from a Catholic position, from a position of an established tradition that moves and develops very slowly. These are not all areas of “abuse” that needed “reform,” but points of legitimate theological dispute. The definition of “heresy” is for one, knowing the established teaching, to choose to teach his own understanding pertinaciously, in defiance and opposition of established authority. Protestants today can, just as Protestants then, dispute the validity of that established authority — but it is without question that that authority was established, and that the Reformers chose to defy it.

      I would grant that “some practices were no longer doing God’s work” as well as they should: not because there was anything wrong with the practices that do God’s work (i.e. the Sacraments), but because they were not being applied as well as they should have been (and there were certainly marginal practices that were not doing God’s work at all). The Council of Trent brought about great reforms in practice, a reinvigoration of pastoral care and education — but no change in the fundamental nature or theology of those Sacraments. As a moderate, you accept that there was no fundamental or thorough corruption of the Church that necessitated a schism; and certainly you acknowledgement of the good fruit that has proceeded from the Catholic Church since the Reformation verifies this; but the fact is, a schism did result. If, as a moderate, you acknowledge that the Catholic Church did “get its act together,” should the Protestant churches not have then striven to reconcile with the Church then? Should they not now?

      It seems to me that Protestants today, heeding our Lord’s call to unity, should consider these questions. If the Catholic Church was not fundamentally corrupt, were the reasons for the Protestants’ complete and final schism valid? If there were valid reasons for resisting to the point of schism and setting up new churches, have those reasons been addressed? Even Protestants of a moderate view accept, by default, the Reformers’ premise that the Catholic Church was not the one, true Church of Christ, and that it was licit to separate from it and continue separate as new churches. But does this premise not rest on their denunciation, that it was not the true Church because it was corrupt?

      I’d be interested in reading the book mentioned that discussed (from a Lutheran view) whether the Catholic Church had addressed the demands of the Augsburg Confession. Reading that document, it seemed to me that the chief complaint against monastic vows was that they were binding and required for admission into the various orders. But unless I’m misunderstanding something, such vows seem basic and inherent to the definition of monasticism. The definition of a religious order is its rule: becoming a monk, by definition, seems to be taking vows and binding oneself to a rule. Did the Lutherans expect that monks ought to be able to come and go as it suited their fancies? Certainly, monks and nuns are free to cast off their vows and leave their orders, and always have been (Luther did, and so did his wife!). But the definition of religious life (in the Catholic sense of “religious”) is living by an rule; and life in a religious order, especially communal life, is defined by being bound by that order and to that community; otherwise, the community would have no security, no discipline, no permanence. These are not “developments,” but are basic tenets of the Rule of St. Benedict. Taking religious vows is analogical to taking marriage vows: and what is a marriage vow that isn’t binding?

      Regarding marriage of priests: It’s a straw man. I’ve never met a dedicated priest who wanted to be married; and I’ve never heard of a priest who complains about celibacy who was all that dedicated to the Catholic faith. If a married man feels called to be a priest, then he has options. Married men are ordained all the time in the Eastern Catholic Churches. If there is ever any reform of requirements for priestly celibacy — and there very well can and might be — it will be to allow married men to be ordained. Allowing single men to be ordained priests without an oath of celibacy is an all-around bad idea. We have already witnessed the terrible problem of abuse caused by priests who reject that oath, by pastors who take advantage of their position. Allowing an openly non-celibate priest to have the most intimate access to parishioners in the confessional, to exercise pastoral authority, over women he could legitimately (?) want to date or marry, is a bad idea for the same reason it’s a bad idea for doctors to date their patients or teachers to date their students or employers to date their employees.

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