Don’t Sweat that History Stuff …

Carl Trueman expresses his frustration with attempts to force Roman apologists to confront history:

Thus, as all sides need to face empirical facts and the challenges they raise, here are a few we might want to consider, along with what seem to me (as a Protestant outsider) to be the usual Roman Catholic responses:

Empirical fact: The Papacy as an authoritative institution was not there in the early centuries.
Never mind. Put together a doctrine of development whereby Christians – or at least some of them, those of whom we choose to approve in retrospect on the grounds we agree with what they say – eventually come to see the Pope as uniquely authoritative.

Empirical fact: The Papacy was corrupt in the later Middle Ages, building its power and status on political antics, forged documents and other similar scams.
Ignore it, excuse it as a momentary aberration and perhaps, if pressed, even offer a quick apology. Then move swiftly on to assure everyone it is all sorted out now and start talking about John Paul II or Benedict XVI. Whatever you do, there is no need to allow this fact to have any significance for how one understands the theory of papal power in the abstract or in the present.

Empirical fact: The Papacy was in such a mess at the beginning of the fifteenth century that it needed a council to decide who of the multiple claimants to Peter’s seat was the legitimate pope.
Again, this was merely a momentary aberration but it has no significance for the understanding of papal authority. After all, it was so long ago and so far away.

Empirical fact: The church failed (once again) to put its administrative, pastoral, moral and doctrinal house in order at the Fifth Lateran Council at the start of the sixteenth century.
Forget it. Emphasise instead the vibrant piety of the late medieval church and then blame the ungodly Protestants for their inexplicable protests and thus for the collapse of the medieval social, political and theological structure of Europe.

(complete post here)

Sadly, I’ve seen these or similar responses myself. Moreover, we can continue a lot of these empirical facts (mutatis mutandis) down to the present time.

One other point. Trueman says:

I am confident that my previous writings on Roman Catholicism and Roman Catholics indicate that I am no reincarnation of a nineteenth century ‘No popery!’ rabble-rouser. I have always tried to write with respect and forbearance on such matters, to the extent that I have even been berated at times by other, hotter sorts of Protestants for being too pacific.

“Berated” may be a strong term, but I have been among those who have criticized him for being too soft on Rome. Thus, I was particularly happy to see this post from him.

-TurretinFan

10 Responses to “Don’t Sweat that History Stuff …”

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