Archive for the ‘Francis Beckwith’ Category

Built on the Wrong Foundation

January 21, 2011

Francis Beckwith explains (in a blog entry / column titled: “Transubstantiation: From Stumbling Block to Cornerstone“):

The Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is a real stumbling block to some Protestants who are seriously considering Catholicism. It was for me too, until I explored the subject, historically and scripturally.

Transubstantiation is one of those Roman dogmas that spectacularly fails the tests of history and Scripture, so it was interesting to read what Beckwith wrote. It was particularly interesting because Beckwith views transubstantiation as a cornerstone, whereas for us (Reformed), the cornerstone of our theology is the Word of God.

Beckwith begins by allegedly setting for the doctrine of transubstantiation:

Catholicism holds that bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ when they are consecrated by the priest celebrating the Mass. Oftentimes non-Catholics get hung up on the term transubstantiation, the name for the philosophical theory that the Church maintains best accounts for the change at consecration.

There’s a tiny problem that Beckwith hasn’t accurately represented his church’s position. The position of Rome is that:

And this faith has ever been in the Church of God, that, immediately after the consecration, the veritable Body of our Lord, and His veritable Blood, together with His soul and divinity, are under the species of bread and wine; but the Body indeed under the species of bread, and the Blood under the species of wine, by the force of the words; but the body itself under the species of wine, and the blood under the species of bread, and the soul under both, by the force of that natural connexion and concomitancy whereby the parts of Christ our Lord, who hath now risen from the dead, to die no more, are united together; and the divinity, furthermore, on account of the admirable hypostatical union thereof with His body and soul. Wherefore it is most true, that as much is contained under either species as under both; for Christ whole and entire is under the species of bread, and under any part whatsoever of that species; likewise the whole (Christ) is under the species of wine, and under the parts thereof.

And because that Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which He offered under the species of bread to be truly His own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.

– Trent, Session XIII, Chapters 3-4

Notice what is actually involved:

1) The bread becomes not just the body of Christ, but the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, and no longer remains bread.

2) The wine becomes not just the blood of Christ, but the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, and no longer remains wine.

These can perhaps be seen in the first three canons that Trent set forth in the same session:

CANON I.-If any one denieth, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue; let him be anathema.

CANON II.-If any one saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood-the species Only of the bread and wine remaining-which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation; let him be anathema.

CANON III.-If any one denieth, that, in the venerable sacrament of the Eucharist, the whole Christ is contained under each species, and under every part of each species, when separated; let him be anathema.

Notice that is not simply viewed as “the best explanation.” It’s so central to the Roman faith that if you deny it, you are under Trent’s anathema. It’s as central as the divinity of Christ is, to a Christian.

Beckwith argues:

There are several reasons why it would be a mistake to dismiss transubstantiation simply because of the influence of Aristotle on its formulation. First, Eastern Churches in communion with the Catholic Church rarely employ this Aristotelian language, and yet the Church considers their celebration of the Eucharist perfectly valid. Second, the Catholic Church maintains that the divine liturgies celebrated in the Eastern Churches not in communion with Rome (commonly called “Eastern Orthodoxy”) are perfectly valid as well, even though the Eastern Orthodox rarely employ the term transubstantiation. Third, the belief that the bread and wine are literally transformed into Christ’s body and blood predates Aristotle’s influence on the Church’s theology by over 1000 years. For it was not until the thirteenth century, and the ascendancy of St. Thomas Aquinas’ thought, that Aristotle’s categories were employed by the Church in its account of the Eucharist. In fact, when the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) employed the language of substantial change, St. Thomas had not even been born!

I answer:

First, the primary reason to reject transubstantiation has nothing to do with Aristotle. The primary reason to reject transubstantiation is that it is not taught by Scripture. In fact, the teachings of Scripture contradict transubstantiation.

Second, it is unclear what relevance Beckwith thinks that the approval of Eastern-rite liturgies that don’t use the term “transubstantiation” is. Even the Latin-rite New Order of the Mass doesn’t use the term “transubstantiation.” (as can be seen by reviewing this pdf). Those points are totally irrelevant to the question.

Third, yes – the term “transubstantiation” (transsubstantiatio) was used by the 4th Lateran Council, 10 years before Aquinas was born. But the 4th Lateran Council affirmed much less than what Trent affirmed:

There is one Universal Church of the faithful, outside of which there is absolutely no salvation. In which there is the same priest and sacrifice, Jesus Christ, whose body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine; the bread being changed (transsubstantiatio) by divine power into the body, and the wine into the blood, so that to realize the mystery of unity we may receive of Him what He has received of us.

(Fourth Lateran Council, Canon 1)

Notice that there is nothing there about each species being the whole Christ, nothing there about the soul and divinity being present, and nothing about the substance of the bread being absent. No doubt the teachings of the Fourth Lateran Council were in error, but they were not as extreme as Trent was.

As for the claim about “1000 years,” it’s a hollow claim. He continues that claim this way:

It was that third point that I found so compelling and convinced me that the Catholic view of the Eucharist was correct. It did not take long for me to see that Eucharistic realism (as I like to call it) had been uncontroversially embraced deep in Christian history. This is why Protestant historian, J. N. D. Kelly, writes: “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood.” I found it in many of the works of the Early Church Fathers, including St. Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 110), St. Justin Martyr (A.D. 151), St. Cyprian of Carthage, (A. D. 251), First Council of Nicaea (A. D. 325), St. Cyril of Jerusalem (A. D. 350), and St. Augustine of Hippo (A. D. 411) . These are, of course, not the only Early Church writings that address the nature of the Eucharist. But they are representative.

The problem is that Beckwith has been convinced to accept the Roman view despite the evidence. The evidence of “Eucharistic realism” is one thing, and perhaps it is an important thing to the Roman position.

Nevertheless, there is no teaching during the first 800 or so years of the church that has these characteristics:

1) The bread becomes not just the body of Christ, but the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, and no longer remains bread.

2) The wine becomes not just the blood of Christ, but the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, and no longer remains wine.

Yet that is what Trent teaches and makes central to the Roman faith. You may find fathers who echo the Scriptural metaphor of the bread being the body and the cup being the blood. You may even find some fathers who go further, and insist that the relationship is more than a mere symbol, but instead is a symbol with power. You may find fathers that talk about a spiritual presence. But you won’t find what Trent teaches.

I openly challenge the Roman apologists to bring forth any example of a church father who says that after the consecration the bread is the blood of Christ, much less any church father that teaches both (1) and (2) as explained above. In short, any father of the church that teaches what Trent makes central to the faith.

Two of my favorite example of the metaphors of the fathers are from Ignatius:

You, therefore, must arm yourselves with gentleness and regain your strength in faith (which is the flesh of the Lord) and in love (which is the blood of Jesus Christ).
Greek text: Ὑμεῖς οὖν τὴν πραϋπάθειαν ἀναλαβόντες ἀνακτίσασθε ἑαυτοὺς ἐν πίστει, ὅ ἐστιν σὰρξ τοῦ κυρίου, καὶ ἐν ἀγάπῃ, ὅ ἐστιν αἷμα Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.

See J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, eds. and trans., The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their Writings, 2nd. ed., The Letters of Ignatius, To the Trallians, Chapter 8 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), p. 163.

And again:

Ignatius (@ 110 AD): I take no pleasure in corruptible food or the pleasures of this life. I want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ who is of the seed of David; and for drink I want his blood, which is incorruptible love.
Greek text: Oὐχ ἥδομαι τροφῇ φθορᾶς οὐδὲ ἡδοναῖς τοῦ βίου τούτου. Ἄρτον θεοῦ θέλω, ὅ ἐστιν σὰρξ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, «τοῦ ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυίδ», καὶ πόμα θέλω τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ, ὅ ἐστιν ἀγάπη ἄφθαρτος.

See J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, eds. and trans., The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their Writings, 2nd. ed., The Letters of Ignatius, To the Romans, Chapter 7 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), p. 175.

And, of course, there are fathers who seem to have taken a view that is inconsistent with the crassly carnal view of Rome, such as Tertullian:

Then, having taken the bread and given it to His disciples, He made it His own body, by saying, ‘This is my body,’ that is, the figure of my body.

ANF, Vol. 3, Against Marcion, 4.40.

Beckwith doesn’t really make a Biblical argument. He does reference the Bible though, and he does so in this way:

This should, however, not surprise us, given what the Bible says about the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples (Mt. 26:17-30; Mk. 14:12-25; Lk. 22:7-23), which we commemorate at Holy Communion, he referred to it as a Passover meal. He called the bread and wine his body and blood. In several places, Jesus is called the Lamb of God (John 1: 29, 36; I Peter 1:19; Rev. 5:12). Remember, when the lamb is killed for Passover, the meal participants ingest the lamb. Consequently, St. Paul’s severe warnings about partaking in Holy Communion unworthily only make sense in light of Eucharistic realism (I Cor. 10:14-22; I Cor. 11:17-34). He writes: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? . . . Whoever, therefore eats and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” (I Cor. 10:16; 11:27)

But, of course, nowhere does Scripture confuse the symbols and call the bread his blood or the cup his body. Nowhere does the Scripture deny that the bread is still bread or that the cup still contains actual food.

Moreover, Scripture is rich in metaphor – including metaphor:

  • in which the body of Christ is called “true meat” and his blood is called “true drink” (John 6:55 For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.)
  • in which Christ is called the “bread from heaven” (John 6:32 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.)
  • in which Christ is called the “bread of Life” (John 6:35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.)

as well as other metaphors in which Jesus is a vine (John 15:1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.), a door (John 10:7 Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.), and a shepherd (John 10:11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.). But, of course, no amount of evidence that metaphor is abundant or that exactly the opposite metaphors are also used, will persuade those who seek to impose their heretical doctrine on Scripture.

Beckwith concludes:

In light of all these passages and the fact that Jesus called himself the bread of life (John 6:41-51) and that he said that his followers must “eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood” (John 6:53), the Eucharistic realism of the Early Church, the Eastern Churches (both in and out of communion with Rome), and the pre-Reformation medieval Church (fifth to sixteenth centuries) seems almost unremarkable. So, what first appeared to be a stumbling block was transformed into a cornerstone.

Notice how blindly Beckwith cites John 6! That metaphor (“Bread of Life”) is exactly the opposite of the metaphor (“This is my body”), but yet Beckwith seems to easily grasp one metaphor while stumbling over the other as though it were intended quasi-literally (I don’t say “literally” because literally that would mean that both the accidents and substance of a body were present – this “substance-only” idea is not “literal”).

Beckwith fails to consider that Jesus explains his hard words that he uttered in John 6:53, only a few verses later:

John 6:61-63
When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

And if Beckwith had studied Augustine more, he would have seen that Augustine explains this the same way:

It seemed unto them hard that He said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, ye have no life in you:” they received it foolishly, they thought of it carnally, and imagined that the Lord would cut off parts from His body, and give unto them; and they said, “This is a hard saying.” It was they who were hard, not the saying; for unless they had been hard, and not meek, they would have said unto themselves, He saith not this without reason, but there must be some latent mystery herein. They would have remained with Him, softened, not hard: and would have learnt that from Him which they who remained, when the others departed, learnt. For when twelve disciples had remained with Him, on their departure, these remaining followers suggested to Him, as if in grief for the death of the former, that they were offended by His words, and turned back. But He instructed them, and saith unto them, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth, but the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I have spoken unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” Understand spiritually what I have said; ye are not to eat this body which ye see; nor to drink that blood which they who will crucify Me shall pour forth. I have commended unto you a certain mystery; spiritually understood, it will quicken. Although it is needful that this be visibly celebrated, yet it must be spiritually understood.

NPNF1: Vol. VIII, St. Augustin on the Psalms, Psalm 99 (98), §8.

So, while there may be some vague “Eucharistic realism” out there in the fathers, that does not convert Jesus’ metaphors into the Tridentine absurdity, in which the bread is said to be not only the body of the Lord, but his blood, soul, and divinity as well – and not at all to be bread, except as to appearances. Had Beckwith founded himself on the Word of God, rather than on the traditions of men, he would not be led into this error. Since he has rejected, however, the Word of God, he has a new cornerstone for himself.


Francis Beckwith and Black Popes

February 3, 2010

I realize Francis Beckwith is just trying to fit into the modern culture of political correctness and to honor the contributions of those of the black race, but his recent post titled: “The Catholic Church’s Black Popes” is a bit off the mark (even beyond calling the Roman church the “Catholic Church.” (link to post)

First, the term “Black Popes” usually refers to the head of the so-called Society of Jesus (Jesuits), currently Adolfo Nicolás (who is apparently the 30th such head of the Jesuits)

Also, while there were three African bishops of Rome:

Pope St. Victor I (allegedly from 186-197 A.D.)

Pope St. Militiades (allegedly from 311-314 A.D.)

Pope St. Gelasius I (allegedly from 492-496 A.D.)

They were all North Africans, not Sub-saharan Africans and consequently were no more “black” than other notable African Christians like Augustine, Tertullian, Origen, or Athanasius.


P.S. Yes, I realize that he’s quoting from Dr. Camille Brown

for much of his post, but her doctorate in education (source) seems to have left her sadly unaware of the racial distinction between north Africans and sub-Saharan Africans.

P.P.S. I don’t mean for this post to suggest that I approve of the polarizing tradition of having a “black history month,” nor to suggest any approval of disparagement of the black race.

Beckwith’s Bait and Switch

January 20, 2010

Francis Beckwith has a recent blog post entitled, “Sola Scriptura and the canon of Scripture: a philosophical reflection” (link). Let’s take a look at his reflection.

Beckwith begins:

Because the list of canonical books is itself not found in Scripture—as one can find the Ten Commandments or the names of Christ’s Apostles—any such list, whether Protestant or Catholic, would be an item of extra-Biblical theological knowledge.

There is a rather obvious problem with this claim. Given Scripture (as Beckwith does for the Ten Commandments or the names of Christ’s apostles) a list of canonical books is readily derivable from the Scriptures. As a thought experiment, one could imagine receiving a Bible with the table of contents accidentally smudged beyond recognition. That table of contents could be easily restored from the text in a matter of moments. Given Scripture the list of canonical books, while not found as such, is easily derived.

Of course, if one doesn’t grant that we already have the Scriptures, as such, the matter of creating a list becomes more difficult. But that’s not a challenge facing sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura begins with the reader possessing the Scriptures. It is a given of the system.

After his initial reflection, Beckwith provides an historical anecdote:

Take for example a portion of the revised and expanded Evangelical Theological Society statement of faith suggested by the two ETS members following my return to the Catholic Church. (The proposed change failed to garner enough votes for passage, losing by a 2-1 margin). It states that “this written word of God consists of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments and is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behavior.”

I think we all understand the intent behind this sort of amendment, whether or not it was needed for the ETS statement of faith. But let’s see what Beckwith’s reflection on this anecdote is:

But the belief that the Bible consists only of 66 books is not a claim of Scripture—since one cannot find the list in it—but a claim about Scripture as a whole.

One cannot find the list in it, only in the sense that one cannot find the list of Psalms in the book of Psalms. In other words, the list is not given as such. However, a list may readily be generated from the Bible or from the book of Psalms.

Beckwith continued:

That is, the whole has a property—“consisting of 66 books”—that is not found in any of the parts.

At this point, Beckwith is actually discussing something different than his initial claim. Even if Revelation stated, “And by this book I mean these sixty-six books,” and then proceeded to list them, it would still be the case that the book of Revelation would not have the property consisting of sixty-six books.

In fact, it is frequently the case that the whole set of anything has a property relating to multiplicity that the parts individually lack. Thus, for example, the set of all breeds of cats has the property “consisting of X number of breeds” whereas no individual breed has that property.

To take a more topical example, “consisting of 150 psalms” is a property of the Psalter, but not of any individual psalm. This reflection of Beckwith’s may be an interesting pastime for his students. On the other hand, for the reasons explained above (i.e. since it would be true even if the Bible had an explicit table of contents) it is actually irrelevant.

Beckwith concluded:

In other words, if the 66 books are the supreme authority on matters of belief, and the number of books is a belief, and one cannot find that belief in any of the books, then the belief that Scripture consists of 66 particular books is an extra-biblical belief, an item of theological knowledge that is prima facie non-Biblical.

This has essentially been addressed above. Given the Bible, we can easily sit down and count the number of books. The fact that it is not explicitly part of the text of the Bible is actually a quite trivial point, if we are given the Bible.

What Beckwith’s argument essentially asks the reader to do is to derive the belief about the number of books of Bible without the Bible. Then having taken away the Bible, Beckwith claims that the number of books can’t be determined. But this is simply a game of bait and switch. Beckwith lures the reader in with a proposal to derive something from the Bible but then takes away the Bible.

Finally Beckwith asks:

Where have I gone wrong in this reasoning?

To which we may reply that he went wrong when he made the switch from letting us have the Bible to taking it away from us. If we have the Bible, we can easily tell you the number of books, even if the table of contents is missing. If we don’t have the Bible, we’re not dealing with Sola Scriptura any more.


Responding to Beckwith on Aquinas

December 31, 2009

Francis Beckwith has responded to my earlier post on Aquinas and the rule of faith in a way that does not meet the challenge. But it is a response that Prof. Beckwith seems to think worth noting, so I’ll provide it and a brief rebuttal:

Yikes, I thought his name was “TurnitinFan,” a booster of the anti-plagiarism software. Boy, am I out of the loop. :Smile:

Oh, by the way, my friend Ralph McInerny answered TF over 14 years ago: (link)

(source – the “:smile:” was a graphical smiley and the link was a link – also note that if what I’m writing is the funniest stuff Shea has been reading this week (as he says), he should check out Dave Barry)

The entirety of Ralph McInerny’s presentation, however, is to do exactly what my challenge forbade, namely to simply try to say what Aquinas was not saying. The article never explains what Aquinas meant by saying that the Scriptures are a/the rule of faith. If McInerny were actually responding to the challenge (he’s not, obviously, this was written well before the challenge) we would say he failed to provide an appropriate response.

But what about what McInerny says? Are his comments as they stand accurate? Here’s the most relevant part of the presentation from McInerny:

Does Thomas say that Scripture alone is the measure of our faith? The words Gaboriau has quoted are from Thomas’s commentary on John’s Gospel, Super Evangelium S. Ioannis Lectura, ed R. Cai, OP, Marietti: Roma, 1952, n. 2656. Thomas is commenting on John’s peroration, “This is the disciple who bears witness concerning these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his witness is true. There are, however, many other things that Jesus did; but if every one of these should be written, not even the world itself, I think, could hold the books that would have to be written. Amen” (John 21: 24-25). In the paragraph Gaboriau cites, Thomas is concerned with “and we know his witness is true.” Here is the text:

“It should be noted that though many might write concerning Catholic truth, there is this difference that those who wrote the canonical Scripture, the Evangelists and Apostles, and the like, so constantly assert it that they leave no room for doubt. That is what he means when he says ‘we know his witness is true.’ Galatians 1:9, “If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!” The reason is that only canonical Scripture is a measure of faith. Others however so wrote of the truth that they should not be believed save insofar as they say true things.”

It is clear that Thomas is contrasting canonical and apocryphal works and saying that only the former have credence for Christians. The issue Gaboriau is interested in simply does not arise in this passage.

Note, however, that “apocryphal works” are not something that Thomas discusses. In fact, there’s nothing in the context that limits Thomas contrast to apocryphal works. It is about others in general who write “concerning Catholic truth.” Given the very broad nature of Aquinas’ claim, one would expect a response to be in the form of alleging that somewhere in his voluminous writings Aquinas had once referred to someone else’s writing as the rule of faith.

Furthermore, note what the immediate context is:

Preceding context:

[1] It should be noted that though many might write concerning Catholic truth,
[2] there is this difference that those who wrote the canonical Scripture, the Evangelists and Apostles, and the like, so constantly assert it that they leave no room for doubt.
[3] That is what he means when he says ‘we know his witness is true.’
[4] Galatians 1:9, “If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!”
[5] The reason is that only canonical Scripture is a measure of faith.
[6] Others however so wrote of the truth that they should not be believed save insofar as they say true things.

Note that the statement of interest is [5]. Item [1] introduces the distinction (many other write about the Catholic truth) then item [2] draws the distinction (there is no room for doubt about the content of Scripture). Then item [3] reinforces [2] by emphasis (there is no room for doubt about Scripture) and item [4] reinforces [2] by contrast (but there is room for doubt about teachers). [5] is our statement, and [6] softens the impact of the distinction by noting that we can accept the true things (impliedly measured by the rule of faith) in those other writers about the Catholic truth.

McInerny’s error is an understandable one. He has mistakenly emphasized “canonical” thinking that it means “belonging to the canon.” Instead, as explained in the prior post, Aquinas calls Holy Scripture canonical, because it serves the purpose of guiding and directing us into the faith and life of Christ.

With all due respect to Prof. Beckwith, his friend has misunderstood Aquinas.


Steve Hays Responds to Francis Beckwith

October 28, 2009

I enjoyed this article (link) from Steve Hays on Francis Beckwith and his (Francis’) peeve about the label “Roman Catholic.”

Catholic or Roman?

October 27, 2009

John Z at The Boar’s Head Tavern writes:

[Francis] Beckwith seems to think that his particularly vocal Protestant apologist detractors are using the prefix “Roman” as a pejorative instead of being merely descriptive. This is probably true to a certain extent, because I’m sure many of them have no use for the word “catholic” themselves.


I certainly can’t speak for all of Beckwith’s detractors, but many of us take being catholic (in the true sense of the term) seriously. For us, to be “catholic” means to have the universal (that’s what “catholic” means) faith. It means to believe in the gospel. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. Rome is not a part of that church. The Roman church is not a catholic church because it has anathematized the gospel. The way of salvation that Rome teaches will not lead one to heaven, but to hell. It is, therefore, misdescriptive to call the church of the pope, “the catholic church.”

John Z continued:

I have no problem if Beckwith and other Roman Catholics want to identify themselves as just simply “Catholic.” The terminology has evolved in such a way that it’s the first thing people think of when they hear the word. However, in the comment box, people are gently pushing back, reminding him that the creed talks about the “holy catholic church” and that there are plenty of Protestants (myself included) that are perfectly comfortable using the term for themselves in the sense that it means in that context. In this sense the “Roman” prefix would not be a pejorative but would rather be descriptive of what sort of “catholic” you are talking about.

There seems to be something of a dichotomy here. We don’t use the term “Roman” to specify which sort of “catholic” a person is, but to indicate that the term “catholic” is not being used in its ordinary sense, but as part of a sectarian designation.

There are other ways we can designate members of that sect: “Romanist” and “papist” are two that have been in common use among the Reformed churches for centuries. Both of those terms are descriptive labels relating to the ecclesiology of Rome (“papist” referring to being an adherent to the papacy, and “Romanist” referring to being an adherent of the bishop of Rome). When folks like Beckwith complain that there are many rites of Roman Catholicism and that the Latin rite is just one of those rites, it encourages folks like me to use the term “papist” to avoid any confusion over the fact that I don’t mean “Latin rite” by the term “Roman.”

Of course, the term “papist” tends to ruffle the feathers of Roman Catholics worse than any other descriptive term, so we sometimes try to minimize needless (even if it is unjustified) offense by using the term “Roman Catholic” or “Romanist” instead of “papist.”

After a brief quotation from Beckwith (which we’ll address last) John Z concludes:

Beckwith is my brother in Christ (internet apologists send in the attack dogs!), but I think this is kind of an immature response. In my opinion, he ought to be pleased that more and more Protestants are seeing the necessity to call themselves “catholic” with all it entails (first and foremost that we don’t think that centuries went by without any true church).

Francis Beckwith is an apostate evangelical. We have no good reason to think that he has saving faith in Jesus Christ. Folks who view Beckwith as their “brother in Christ” seem to have either a different notion of the gospel itself (which I am inclined to suspect is the majority of the cases), a very different notion of who should be called a brother in Christ (perhaps some of the Federal Vision folks would fit in here), or perhaps a different experience with Beckwith (after all, just because someone is a member of an apostate church does not guarantee that the person themselves is a full adherent to their church’s teachings).

I doubt many folks would be willing to call Bart Ehrman, another and more famous apostate evangelical, their “brother in Christ.” But if you claim to be an evangelical Christian, why would you accept one apostate and not the other? Do you think that the legalism of Rome saves? Do you think that adherence to the Roman pontiff is a true way to the Father?

I realize that John Z may be a very kindhearted person who does not like to judge someone. Yet there are some times when judgment is necessary and appropriate:

1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Furthermore, I think John Z must be a bit naive. Why would Beckwith be pleased that those he must view as “heretics” (though perhaps Beckwith does not view them as Trent did) want to consider themselves “catholic”? We who view Rome as a proponent of heresy are not happy that Rome is attempting to call herself “catholic” – why would Rome be happy to have heretics apply that label to themselves? But John Z does not view Rome as heretical, so it is not so obvious to him. Hopefully, he recognizes that Mormonism is heretical. If so, is he happy when Mormons refer to themselves as Christians? I would hope not.

But it is worse than simply being a misdescription or simply a matter of Beckwith being grousy over a term that he should be happy for evangelicals to appropriate. Here is the final piece of John Z’s comment including his blockquotation of Beckwith:

Beckwith concedes this point but doesn’t seem to take it too seriously, finally saying:

I guess it should not surprise me that a Protestant would not only protest against the Catholic Church but also the Catholic Church’s use of the word Catholic. He’s not pleased with just leaving our church and having his own church; he wants to take our name and give us a new one. So much for the “priesthood of all believers.” :-)

Does Francis Beckwith really think we consider him a believer? We don’t. Surely Beckwith is aware of this.

But worse than that, notice that Beckwith claims that “catholic” is “our name.” He’s not only using a term that’s misdescriptive of his sect, but trying to claim exclusive use of the term for his sect. Rome and her pontiff try to claim universal dominion over Christianity. That is, after all, one of the reasons that the Reformers identified the office of Roman pontiff with the man of sin:

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.

Even Arminius understood this:

It is demonstrable by the most evident arguments that the name of Antichrist and of The Adversary of God belongs to him. For the apostle ascribes the second of these epithets to him when he calls him “the man of sin, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” (2 Thess. ii. 3-8.) It was he who should arise out of the ruins of the Roman empire, and should occupy its vacant digaity. These expressions, we assert, must be understood, and can be understood, solely respecting the Roman pontiff. But the name of “The Antichrist” belongs to him pre-eminently, whether the particle anti signifies opposition, or the substitution of one thing for another; not indeed such a substitution as is lawfully and legitimately made by Him who has the power of placing things in subordination, but it signifies one by which any man is substituted, either by himself or by another person through force and fraud. For he is both a rival to Christ, and his adversary, when he boasts of himself as the spouse, the head, and the foundation of the church, endowed with plenitude of power; and yet he professes himself to be the vicegerent of Christ, and to perform his functions on earth, for the sake of his own private advantage, but to the manifest injury of the church of Christ. He has, however, considered it necessary to employ the name of Christ as a pretext, that under this sacred name he may obtain that reverence for himself among Christians, which he would be unable to procure if he were openly to profess himself to be either the Christ, or the adversary of Christ.

– Arminius, Disputation 21, Section 12

These days, however, folks have lost sight of what matters – of the importance of affirming sola fide against the legalism of Rome. Arminius was wrong to treat faith as he did – and his errors were serious errors. Dordt was right, but Arminius looks positively orthodox against the backdrop of the broad landscape of contemporary evangelicalism and especially the “ecumenical” segments thereof.


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