The Patriot Post
Patriot Vol. 07 No. 28
Digest 113 July 2007
The reformation was preceded by the discovery of America, as if the Almighty graciously meant to open a sanctuary to the persecuted in future years, when home should afford neither friendship nor safety.”
Catholi c v. catholic?
Joseph Alois Ratzinger became the 265th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church on 19 Apri l 2005 , taking the name Benedict XVI, which is Latin for the blessed.”
In the two years since his election to lead the largest denomination of Christians in the world, Benedict has been outspoken in his decrial of theological relativism and has been a strong advocate for the authority of Scripture.
The Pope has been resolute in his discernment of controversial social issues, especially his denunciation of the killing of unborn children and the normalization of homosexuality.
We praised Benedict last September when he boldly and rightly called attention to Islam and its history of violent conversion. Although Benedict was quoting a 114th century Byzantine emperor when making his case, the Muslim “street’ responded all too predictably---—with violence.
A week later, Benedict retracted his rhetorical critique of Islam, stating, “These in fact were quotations from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.” He added, “I would like today to stress my total and profound respect for all Muslims.” Benedict even made an appearance in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, where he prayed with the Grand Mufti.
Giving him credit where due, however, Benedict is a man in pursuit of reconciliation among all people, and his retraction indicates that he is called to make peace with Muslims, not condemn them.
In 2005, Benedict proclaimed, “I place my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony among peoples, profoundly convinced that the great good of peace is above all a gift of God, a fragile and precious gift to be invoked, safeguarded and constructed, day after day and with everyone’s contribution.”
Admirably, the Pope has taken steps to heal the 1054 schism between Catholics in the Roman Church and those in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the 1517 schism between Catholics and believers in the Protestant Reformation Church.
Arguably, the most significant doctrinal difference between the Catholic Church and the Protestant and Reformed churches is that the Catholic Church has proclaimed itself, as an institution, the intercessor between laity and God, while Protestant Reformation churches promote individual relationships with Jesus Christ.
Breaking with tradition, however, “Friendship with Jesus Christ” has been thematic in many of Benedict’s homilies and sermons. “We are all called to open ourselves to this friendship with God... speaking to Him as to a friend, the only One who can make the world both good and happy... That is all we have to do is put ourselves at His disposal.” In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict’s underlying theme is “to help foster [in the reader] the growth of a living relationship [with Jesus Christ].”
On the subject of unity, Benedict noted in a recent sermon, “The divisions which exist among Christians are a scandal to the world.”
Indeed they are—which is why I take exception to the Pope’s recent reaffirmation of an edict proclaiming the primacy of the Catholic Church. In doing so, Benedict served no purpose other than to widen those divisions between Catholics and Protestants.
On 29 June 2007, the canonical Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a 16-page decree titled “One Church “on the approval of Benedict XVI “because some contemporary theological interpretations of Vatican il’s ecumenical intent had been ‘erroneous or ambiguous’ and had prompted confusion and doubt.”
Vatican II (1962-1965) was the 21st ecumenical council by the Roman Church, and though its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church states that “the sole Church of Christ... subsists in the Catholic Church,” it noted, “Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines.”
Catholic Iegalists protest that the Second Vatican Council, and subsequent interpretations of its decrees, undermined the certainty that the Catholic Church was and remains the one and only true Christian church as founded by Jesus Christ.
In response, the latest decree restates the key sections of a 2000 text the Pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, Dominus Jesus, and notes in part that “Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century... do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense,” or “how the title of ‘Church’ could possibly be attributed to them.”
In other words, “the full identity of the Church of Christ... established here on Earth” is the Roman Catholic Church, and Protestant and Reformed congregations do not constitute churches, because the Catholic Church alone has “the fullness of the means of salvation.” Notably, however, the decree does concede, “The Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church.”
To comprehend Benedict’s divisive decree, one must have some understanding of events leading up to the Protestant Reformation.
The word “catholic” is from the Greek meaning “universal,” and the earliest surviving reference to the “Catholic Church” appears in a letter from Saint lgnatius, Bishop of Antioch, to Christians in Smyrna (AD 107). In context, lgnatius used the term to reference the whole Christian Church.
Continuity in the early church was based on apostolic succession beginning with Simon Peter, Apostle to Jesus, whom Jesus called upon (as recorded in the Gospel of John 21:15-19), to “Feed my lambs... Take care of my sheep.” In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
In AD 380, the term “Catholic” was defined under Roman Imperial law by Emperor Theodosius in an edict declaring Catholic Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire—what many theologians would argue was an unfortunate wedding of church and state.
In the centuries that followed, doctrinal and papal authority disputes resulted in splits from the Roman Church, and the establishment of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and the Assyrian Church of the East.
However, the most significant split was the Protestant Reformation, beginning with Martin Luther’s 1517 posting of his “Ninety-Five Theses On the Power of Indulgences” to the Wittenberg Castle Church door. Luther’s objective was not to divide the church, but to call attention to its gross pontifical and institutional corruption, particularly malpractices and false doctrines like the teaching and selling or indulgences, the practice of buying and selling church positions and the Church’s doctrine on purgatory.
Other notable reformers like Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin followed Luther’s lead.
But in the century that followed, it became clear that “Catholic Reform” was not possible, given that the Church of Rome would not divest itself of corruption and false doctrines related to purgatory, particular judgment, devotion to Mary, the intercession of the saints, sacramental rituals with no biblical basis, and papal authority.
As a result of the Protestant Reformation, which was cemented in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia, the Roman Church declared that apostolic succession could not be claimed by the Protestant Church. Consequently, Pope asserts that the administration of the sacraments is not authentic or legitimate, and thus no church really exists outside the Roman Church.
The World Alliance of Reformed Churches issued rebuttals calling into question “whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity,” and concluding the “exclusive claim that identifies the Roman Catholic Church as the one church of Jesus Christ....... goes against the spirit of our Christian calling toward oneness in Christ.”
In the current Protestant and Reformed theological vernacular, “catholic” with a lower-case ‘c” connotes oneness—the full Body of Christ” —all believers united as one church—as it was used in the early church. “Catholic” with a capital “C” refers to the institution of the Roman Church.
The question remains, “Is the Pope, first and foremost, a Catholic or a catholic?” A more essential question might be, Which would Jesus be?”
(Note: Mark Alexander is a fifth-generation Episcopalian, who broke with his beloved church in 1994, when it became clear that the Episcopal Church USA would not reform its heretical teachings . Today, ECUSA is considered heretical by most of the World Anglican Communion. Currently, Mr. Alexander is a “permanent visitor” with a Presbyterian Church in America congregation.)
Quote of the week
“[The Pope’s decree is] clearly part of an overall pattern, of a clear move.., toward muting the effects of Vatican II.”
--- —Georgetown University theologian Chester Gillis
“It would be completely sufficient if it were to be said that the reforming churches are ‘not churches in the sense required here’ or that they are ‘churches of another type’ but none of these bridges is used [in the decree].”
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