Saturday, June 11, 2005

Defending Romanism --- Part 2

In the previous thread, I listed four major paths for Roman apologetics:

1) RCism is completely supportable from the OT and NT.

(2) RCism is not completely supportable from the OT and NT:
(a) RCism is not inconsistent with the Bible, being found in "seed" form, but needs extra-Biblical evidence
(b) RCism is not inconsistent with the Bible, not being found in "seed" form, but extra-Biblical evidence supports the Roman superstructure added to the Bible.

(3) Independently of scripture, Romanism is true because of certain philosophical a priori assumptions, which assumptions in the end make Romanism the only thing consistent with said assumptions.

(4) RCism is true by an experiential argument or some sort of mystical experience.

In the previous thread, I offered some stream-of-consciousness styled comments as to (3) and (4) that were based on my off-and-on encounters and dealings [both aggressive and passive] with Roman Catholics. The general conclusion that I drew was that RC apologetical approaches on the lines of (3) and (4) will, to the evidential Protestant, lack any sort of evidentiary value.

I'd like to discuss Prongs (1) and (2) mentioned above, and I'll try to outline what I see as the best way to defend Roman Catholicism in a way that solid Protestants can appreciate.

Prong (1)

I've come across the idea that Roman Catholicism is directly supportable by direct appeals to the OT and NT texts. We know the texts: Mt 16, 1 Tim 3, any passage dealing with Mary, etc. In a stunning feat of intensely derivative nature, I'll point out the problems with using the first two passages above as direct prooftexts for Roman claims. The idea is to present why these texts are rather nonplussing to a good educated Protestant.

Turning to Mt 16, a proposed papistic prooftext [alliteration unintentional here] under this framework, why doesn't this passage keep us up at night hiding under the sheets at the sheer force of its claims regarding the papacy?

The answer is simple: because there is nothing in the text that begins to clearly point towards the doctrines of the papacy, even if Peter is the referent for the rock on which Christ would build His church. Read the text yourself and ask yourself if, being free of any sort of Roman conditioning, one sees apostolic succession, papal infallibility, etc. I contend that the agenda-free answer is no. Growing up, I never saw anything remotely sympathetic to Romanism in this passage. The passage doesn't contradict Romanism explicitly, but, it certainly isn't an obvious prooftext for Romanism either.

The above paragraph is still too generous, for it is quite possible that Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ is the true referent of the passage, in which case the passage can't within the realms of exegetical decency even be considered as a papistic prooftext.

My opinion on the passage [offered without argument] is that it is more likely that
Peter is the referent. But, even then, it certainly does violence to the text to view this as a case-closed sort of passage for the papacy.

Certain people have advanced possible positive directly-scriptural reasons for a Petrine papacy. One particularly obnoxious example is given here where the term "grasping at straws" is instantiated quite nicely. Relative to the papacy as we know it, this is dim light from an even dimmer bulb. Now the thesis of a Petrine primacy advanced there has some support, but, even when we take the 50 poor arguments together, we still have nothing relative to the papacy as we know it. A collection of arguments, each of which is poor, does not become any stronger when one considers the arguments as a whole. The reader can see for himself whether his opinion matches mine.

In this incredibly brief whirlwind tour, let's turn to 1 Timothy 3:16. In my Scott Hahn tapes he mentions this to a Catholic audience with the tone of "Proof Positive!" for the Roman Catholic supremacy. There, St Paul tells Timothy that he's writing instructions in case of his delay so that people will know how to conduct themselves in the household of God, for this household of God is the church of the living God, the support and bulwark of the truth. In Hahn's tape, this is trumpeted triumphantly as some great prooftext for the Roman Church's primacy.

But why? Where does the passage say anything of the sort? Answer: it doesn't. We're merely told, among other things, that (a) the household of God coincides with the church of the living God, and (b) this church of the living God is the support and bulwark of the truth. I don't know of any good Protestants who would find this shocking or newsworthy! Under prong (1) somehow the terms "Roman Catholic Church" and "church of the living God" are united in a truly magical feat of equivocation. Where is any indication given in this passage that Paul is speaking as such? There isn't any such indication. How would somebody who hasn't crossed the Tiber going to see this as a prooftext for Rome? Answer: he won't. This passage has ex post facto confirmatory value for somebody who is already predisposed to Romanism, but it never rang a Roman bell in my mind growing up or even as an adult.

In examining the purported Marian and purgatorial prooftexts, the same phenomenon has arisen. In every case bar none, the passage does not directly deal with the distinctly Roman claim being made, but is only tangentially relative to the claim. Roman Catholics who follow Prong (1) will of course want to challenge this, but from the view of sober exegesis these passages do not say what the Romanists want them to say unless one is already predisposed to the idea that Romanism is directly verifiable from Scripture. In that case, these passages have to be shoehorned into the framework.

Let it be stated [again] that all of this is well-known, and there is nothing original about what I'm saying. On a personal note, I think Prong (1) is the most irksome type of Roman apologetic, because here, in my opinion, Roman Catholicism is completely out of its league when dealing with the notion that it is supportable sole by virtue of scriptural claims. On a positive note, at least this prong of attack recognizes the currency in which Protestants deal --- that of scripture --- so perhaps I'm being unfair in my personal opinion.

In closing, in the discussion of Prong (1), I'd like to think that if sound exegesis made Rome leap from the pages of the text I'd be a papist. But, Rome just isn't there if we limit things strictly to scripture. Therefore, if I'm correct, Prong (1) fails to make any inroads to an evidential-leaning Protestant.

3 Comments:

Blogger Kirk said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Saturday, June 11, 2005 9:03:00 PM  
Blogger Kirk said...

Hello PP,
I really enjoyed your part 1 and am looking forward to reading your part 2. One thought I had was how much we, on both sides of the fence, rely on presuppositions for defending our faith. (Of course I'm speaking in generalities, not any specific individuals.)
I think it's vital to step back and really put our faith, and theirs, to the test. I mean, if you can't defend your beliefs, then you really need to examine them. In so doing, I have been able to better appreciate my Reformed Prodestant beliefs.
Keep up the good work.

Saturday, June 11, 2005 9:05:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Well, this is really just an attempt to try to systematize my thoughts in a somewhat coherent form. If you get something out of it, so much the better. On the other hand, my stream-of-consciousness styled semi-rigorous posts may do more harm than good!

I usually end up biting off more than I can chew, trying to deal with complicated topics in the brief space of blogging.

PP

Sunday, June 12, 2005 12:07:00 AM  

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