Reviewing Wright’s Universal Apologia: Part 2

Crucifixion Crosses

This is the second in a series reviewing John C. Wright’s A Universal Apologia for the Catholic Church. See the index.

In this part, we compare the Roman Catholic and Anabaptist canons. The idea that a canon need not be fixed is introduced. Anabaptist views are explained and contrasted with the Roman Catholic positions, in particular contrasting their respective policies on state violence in the name of religion.


Because Wright writes primarily against the Protestant and few are familiar with Anabaptists, it seems fitting to start there: explaining how Anabaptism begins to interact with his thesis. That thesis is rooted in the concept of authority and best summarized in his own words:

Namely, one cannot argue that the books of the Bible are canonical and argue at the same time that neither the Church nor any one has the authority to canonize them.

Or, you cannot have a canon unless the church (at some point since its founding) or an individual (perhaps a prophet) has the authority. He also believes that it is an error to reject some books of the Bible if you reject the RCC’s authority:

Based on some (rather technical) reasoning about the intentions of the king which is not reflected anywhere in the written message, they both discarded certain parts of their message, including Tobit and Maccabeus and Wisdom. [..] And the written part of the message is lacking several books. The Protestants claim that they rejected parts of the message which they thought were added by the Romans.

Anabaptists, unlike Protestants Luther and Calvin, did not reject the deuterocanonical books or otherwise alter the canon. They rejected the authority of the apostate church, accepting the canon as-is.[1] The deuterocanonical books  were used heavily, including many quotes in the Martyr’s Mirror. However, Anabaptist use of the deuterocanonical books faded organically when the majority of English-speaking Anabaptists in America didn’t have access to English translations. This was, perhaps, the correct outcome. Like the early church, Anabaptists had accepted scripture without relying on the church’s authority to rigidly define it as canon.

During my discussion with Tyler Journeaux on the topic of hell, I suggested allowing the deuterocanonical books to be included as evidence in debate, stating:

I have no qualms with using the deuterocanonical books in this discussion. I don’t think this is nearly the roadblock between us that you assume. If your case is strong, then you’ll be able to use it persuasively. That doesn’t frighten me at all. I’d be equally comfortable going the other direction and arguing the same position while excluding both the OT deuterocanonical books and Luther’s NT non-canonical books. If a critical core doctrine requires one or two specific books to show it, then I’m highly skeptical that it should be considered core doctrine. Similarly, if a doctrine is contradicted by adding more canonical books, that also indicates a [possible] problem.

I do not find fluidity in the canon to be the issue that my Roman Catholic brothers do, nor do I have a problem—at least in principle—with the church using the deuterocanonical books. It didn’t bother the church before the 4th century or the Anabaptists during the 16th century, so why should it bother me? What bothers Anabaptists—among whose core tenants includes biblical nonresistance—is the RCC’s propensity towards violence for centuries:

Those whose main resentment against the Catholic Church is her medieval assumption of secular powers [..] I have even heard faithful Catholic lament the assumption of Constantine to the Purple, on the grounds that the establishment of the Catholic Church as the official state religion of the empire corrupted her.


While a mystic of an Oriental discipline that preaches a purely individual relation to God, and has no communal rites or stances whatsoever, could make this argument, no Protestant can. In the early days, Lutheranism, Anglicanism and Calvinism denominations were national churches in precisely the fashion that the Catholic Church after Constantine was not. While a man whose religion has no organization and no leader can mock the idea of having a Pope or a supreme Archbishop without hypocrisy, he cannot whoever is a member of a church whose official theology is that the King of England is the supreme head of the church, or various German princes, and so on.

Early Anabaptist[2] doctrines were laid out in the Schleitheim Confession of 1527, including the principle of non-resistance. It wasn’t that Anabaptists believed violence could never be valid, but that non-resistance was required by Christ until Christ himself returned and commanded His followers to take up the sword in His name.

In 1534, after Melchior Hoffman failed to predict Christ’s return, some of his disenchanted followers engaged in the Münster Rebellion. Like Hoffman, his followers were in error. The rebellion failed badly.

Anabaptists would not take the sword again.  A subsequent church council led to a more formal agreement not to use violence and eschatological Anabaptism faded away[3] and the remainder unified under non-resistance.

If only the barbarism had ended there. Though repentant of the deeds of a few, the Anabaptists as whole got a very bad reputation and were heavily persecuted by the RCC and Magisterial Protestants. They did not merely state that they believed in non-resistance, they lived it out and thousands went to their death without a hint of violence.

Any Anabaptist can make the argument that the RCC was corrupted by taking on secular powers in the 4th century. Moreover, not only did the Anabaptists repent of their violence, they stood before Roman Catholic and Protestant magistrates and declared to their faces the illegitimacy of the church in that secular role, even as they called out its other transgressions. For this they were imprisoned, tortured, burned, and drowned for heresy.

When the Anabaptists called the RCC and Magisterial Protestants to repentance for various sins, they refused to repent. Most never would. As one whose family is directly descended from early Anabaptist groups, my personal faith’s chain-of-authority is, at least in this, arguably purer than the Catholic can claim, assuming the fruit of one’s ancestor’s faith matters in terms of one’s authority to represent Christ.[4]

[The Eastern Orthodox], who could show apostolic succession and make other profound claims to being the original and true Church, is precisely their lack of international and independent character.

It is difficult to complain that Anabaptists are not making enough of an international impact when the RCC and Magisterial Protestants were responsible for the deaths of their members in the thousands, and most of their founders in particular. Jesus stated that “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” On its own, the Roman religion is the largest religion in the world. It cannot legitimately be said that few have found it. If we are not going to consider inferences such as this, then rejecting appeals to “international character” is warranted. I will nevertheless note that Anabaptists are known for their international responses to disaster relief and other charitable work.

During the Radical Reformation, the RCC and most Protestants proved themselves to be apostate churches run by persons who did not act like apostles. The claim that a church could be both apostate and maintain apostolic succession through its apostolic character is questionable at best and a complete contradiction at worst. The entire concept of “apostolic succession” and the “true church” is logically suspect. If the RCC is truly the very best candidate for “the true apostolic church”, then we have sufficient grounds to abandon the concept without even addressing Wright’s claim.

But let’s address the claim directly anyway. The Roman Catholic Church is dominate in North America, Europe, and Latin America. Protestants are predominately found in North America and Europe, with evangelicals found mostly in North America. Charismatic, Pentecostal, and Protestants dominate in Asia and Africa. It is clear that different flavors of Christianity find root in different contexts.

More than one Protestant friend of mine urged me that God desired and condoned this separation of the denominations, on the grounds that each denomination has specific characteristics needed to allure back to the faith the many lost souls whose various needs and longings differ sharply from each other. The argument is illogical in the abstract: those for whom the truth is an insufficient warrant to select whom to serve are moved by fad or fancy or some trivial external detail, like a man who selects a bride based on the brightness of her clothing rather than the rightness of her character. Such creatures are allured to serve God with their lips only, and there is no love of truth in them.

Human differences are not trivial, nor is truth simplistic. Wright and Ramsey value appeals to reason, but many others do not. Each person is shaped differently by their genetics and through the experiences they have. Some respond to song, others preaching, others service, others touch, others healing. Each member of the church has different gifts (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). The truth is not a single thing, but vast in scope. Whatever truth God uses to reach one man may be completely different than truth that God uses on another. Some men require acts of miracles, while others need only faith without sight, merely being told the word. Were that all would believe after merely being presented the Word of God, but this is just not the case.

The Bible itself describes different reactions to different cultures. Early Jewish and Gentile Christians had different religious practices. It was okay then and it is okay now. It is more important to live in peace and unity than to practice uniformity. For this reason  I have attended many different congregations in many different denominations, meeting brothers and sisters in Christ everywhere I go. I found the love of God to be common to them all (John 13:35).

The primary issue is not whether people come to faith by different means. The issues is (1) whether God wants people to come to faith even if it means they reject certain doctrines and (2) whether God would prefer everyone to unify under the uniformity of one denomination, the RCC. These questions will be addressed in future parts.


[1]  Its use preceded the Roman councils that formally defined it and so do not rely on church authority.

[2] Anabaptists were named after adult baptism and re-baptism. Although eventually more well-known for non-resistance, the name has stuck.

[3] Unlike much of American Evangelical Christianity, eschatology plays a comparatively minor role in Anabaptism.

[4] It is a dubious claim and not one which I put faith in.


  1. Pingback: Reviewing Wright’s Universal Apologia: Part 3

  2. Pingback: Reviewing Wright’s Universal Apologia: Part 4

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *