This the seventh in a series reviewing John C. Wright’s A Universal Apologia for the Catholic Church.
While I work on the larger posts in this series (on Communion/Eucharist, church history, divisions, historicity, sacraments, etc.), I’m going to take another break and focus on smaller comments from Wright’s apologia. After this, there will likely be much longer time gaps between posts.
I did not, for example, demand a sign from the Lord as to which denomination is correct. My very strong intuition and inspiration, amounting to a personal dogma, is that the Lord of Light is more concerned for whether a man is helping the poor, visiting the prisoner, aiding the widow, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and baptizing the lost, that He is concerned about our opinions about mysteries the human mind is not constructed to be able, in this life, to understand. I am convinced that the Lord regards discussions of the differences between denominations with hatred. I expected no sign.
This is a good summary of the Anabaptist doctrine. It is why so many Anabaptists are mission-focused, adopt orphans, plant churches, or evangelize. It is why I generally don’t care what denomination a Christian is a member of and why I could worship in so many different ones.
Nonetheless, thanks to the followers of Christ who ignored and betrayed Christ’s last prayer spoken on Earth, which was for radical unity between His followers, I nonetheless had to choose between the denominations.
There is nothing wrong with having to choose a local group of believers to worship with. One does not have to choose a denomination to do so, especially if one chooses a non-denominational church, which Wright personally objects to.
I decided at once not to heed any argument about non-essentials, that is, arguments which, even if proved true, would not change the verdict on the merits.
The problem is that Wright and I do not agree on the essentials. He doesn’t see that if the RCC’s authority is illegitimate, it means the claim that the Pope (or Papacy) is anti-Christ is true by definition. So for me this is an essential point. So to if the “Real Presence” is the mark of the beast, this is hardly a non-essential point. I know of no way to resolve this difficulty.
The claim made by the ancient Churches, the Catholic, the Orthodox, and the Coptic and Syriac and Malabar, is that the Church was founded by Christ Himself, and that He gave to the Apostles something they were charged to pass along to their disciples and hence to us.
The church is the group of believers. The Bible speaks of the church in many different metaphors (stone in the foundation of a building, parts of the body, bride and groom, family). In none of those metaphors can it be passed along to another, nor is authority a proper attribute in these metaphors.
The church is Christ’s bride. The disciples did not pass Christ’s bride along. They, uh, sort of added more brides by making more disciples? Made the bride more beautiful by adding more ornamentation? There is a limit how far this analogy can be stretched. Either way, the bride wasn’t transferred.
The church is like a building, with Jesus as its cornerstone. The disciples did not pass the building along, they added more stones to it by making more disciples.
The church is a body, with Jesus as the head. The disciples did not pass the body along, they added hands and feet.
The church is a family, with Jesus as its patriarch. The disciples did not pass the family along, they added adopted family members by making more disciples.
Even if “what was passed along” is authority (see the next section), it makes no sense to say that the body of believers (the RCC) passed on authority. To whom? To what? The body of believers hasn’t passed anything on, as there is no separate body of believers to receive it: the body has never ceased to be and still is. It has merely grown. The authority of believers has not changed. “Church authority” is a contradiction in terms.
The ancient Churches (Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic) claim that they are authorized by the authority of Christ who is authorized by God Almighty.
All are in error, while logically at least all but one are. The church claims that it has the Word of God which leads to salvation. It shares this freely, as a gift. It is not a peddler in authority. The Word of God is its own authority.
it is clear as a matter of logic that the claim of a denomination voted into existence cannot be inferior to the claim of the ancient Churches.
It is not a matter of authority.
Any historical fact which was disputed, I held in abeyance.
I have already challenged this with regards to the canon, upon which virtually all of Wright’s arguments rest. Were he to hold in abeyance that the church had the authority to define canon on the basis of historical contradiction, then his case would collapse. I believe this to be the case.
Ninth tenths of the enmity between Protestant and Catholic is concerned in non-serious but very bitter arguments of exactly this type, where the Protestant is uttering some slander against Catholicism that can with equal justice be turned against the Protestant
I’ve had arguments with Catholics, but I hold no bitterness in my heart for any of them. They are deceived, yes, but so have all men been at one time or another. It is the human condition. If what I write is slander, I am unaware of it.
Denunciations of Medieval Popes or Renaissance Antipopes have no persuasive value whatsoever to me. If anything, it proves the claim that the Church is preserved from error by the Holy Spirit—because if those crooks could not ruin the Church, no one can.
Alas, this begs the question. In a logical world, the acts of medieval and renaissance popes would be evidence that the denomination was not preserved from error and reason not to trust it. After all, if the denomination could change away from those bad popes, then that is proof that it needed changing: thus in error. That’s not preservation, even if it is eventually repaired. Besides, what do you tell those people who suffered and died due to those errors? Whoops?
And I solemnly assure any of my historically illiterate readers out there that the Romans were worse, far worse, when they were pagans.
Jesus said that Christians would be persecuted, hated by men to the point of death. He said that the way to salvation was narrow and that few would find it. Paul said that suffering built character. Indeed, when the Romans were brutalizing Christians, they spread like wildfire. I wonder if the Anabaptists would have been as successful if they had not been—literally—tested with fire.
This does not sound like the majority of modern Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. If anything, you would have to accurately say “the way is wide and many have found it.” That does raise some serious red flags, doesn’t it?
Reading the promises of suffering, it is hard not to conclude that it would be better that the government brutally persecute God’s people than God’s people persecute God’s people, no matter how bad the government was.
holy wars are the only wars worth fighting
There are no wars that are holy. The next holy war will be after Jesus returns and calls his followers to arms.
it is clear enough that no Christian can be a pacifist, not and heed Our Lord’s command to sell our coats and buy swords.
During the last supper, Jesus told his disciples to sell their coats and buy swords. They bought two. Jesus said that was sufficient. Sufficient for what, exactly? It wasn’t sufficient to defend themselves, but it was sufficient for Jesus to demonstrate in front of everyone that violence was not the answer:
“Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” — Matthew 26:52
It was also sufficient for the purpose it was designed for:
“For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the criminals.’” Luke 22
They needed swords so that he would be guilty-by-association with the criminals (those armed men), to fulfill Isaiah’s prophesy.
But more to the point, Pope Boniface VIII referenced this passage in papal bull Unam sanctam, stating “”We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal.” referring to the temporal and spiritual authority of the RCC. Even the RCC does not view this as a literal call to arms.
Jesus also used the sword metaphor to say he came to bring division (not literally violence) in Matthew 10:34:
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send [or bring] peace, but a sword.”
At this point in my investigations, I ran into a very odd and unexpected problem. The people to whom I turned to help me in this search—and I freely confess that I merely mean average amateurs like myself, not professors of theology—knew nothing about the history of the matter.
This is largely true. Most Christians are not scholars, and if you don’t think the early church writings were the Word of God as part of the deposit of Faith, then why would you spend large amounts of time on them that would be better spent, say, studying the Bible?
This then is a bit of a circle. If you don’t accept the axiom of the Bible as the Word of God, then you will not accept it as the Word of God, no matter how far and wide you search for the truth. Wright was almost obligated to choose Roman Catholicism because of his chosen axiom, though it isn’t clear if he even realizes what that axiom is.
I am claiming however that historicity is natural to Catholics by the nature of their Catholicism, that is, by the nature of their extraordinary claim to be the one, true, holy, apostolic and universal church reaching back to AD 33; whereas ahistoricity is natural to Protestants by the nature of their claim to be rebelling against an apostate Church and returning to a cleaner and clearer form of primitive Church. But the nature of the claim, everything between the fall of the primitive church and the restoration of the reformer was an era of darkness and deception.
I am not obligated to accept the inclusion of the so-called church fathers into the so-called deposit of faith in order to prove that they are not part of the deposit of faith (which is just the Bible). Though I have much more experience with the historical material than most Christians, that still doesn’t mean I treat it as extremely important. It certainly doesn’t refute the Reformations.
However, one interesting fact about Anabaptists is how relatively knowledgeable they are about church history. Here is an article from 2014 in Anabaptist World, a Mennonite Magazine which traces its ancestry back through the Mennonite World Review, The Mennonite, and the Gospel Herald, which cites 1 Clement, Ignatius (bishop of Antioch), Bishop Polycarp (of Smyrna) and Origin.
They had never heard of the council of Nicaea, or regarded it as insignificant.
The Christians who formed the Protestant and Anabaptist churches were not so uninformed. Part of the problem is that modern churches do not teach that the Roman religion is false, that it’s power isn’t legitimate, and that it logically follows that it is anti-Christ. They teach a type of uniformity instead. I know Wright didn’t experience this, and I’m unsure why, but few Churches will criticize RCC dogma anymore. Wright should be pleased at their historical ignorance, which if they studied it, would result in fewer RCC converts.
Did you know that many now teach that the doctrines of justification between the RCC and the Protestants are actually identical, that they are merely two sides of the same coin? This is logically impossible, but that’s because they are either ignorant or teaching heresy to the RCC.
For most Protestants and Post-Protestants I read or met, the period of time between the visions of St John during his exile on Patmos, and the moment Luther nailed his thesis to the doors of the Wittenberg Church, was simply a long, blank emptiness where nothing of any concern to the faithful Christian had happened.
This is, of course, an error. A not insignificant reason for the Protestant Reformation and the Radical Reformation was because of all the errors that occurred during that period of time, errors that the RCC embraces as dogma.
None of them seemed to know where the doctrine of the Trinity came from
I do, but both Protestant and Catholic Trinitarian apologists argue that it came from Jesus himself and is attested to quite explicitly in the Bible, regardless of what any church fathers allegedly had to say. What Wright accepts so easily—that it was formulated in the 4th century AD—is considered very nearly heresy by almost everyone I have ever met. Wright and I are extremely rare to hold this view. In fact, I made the case that logical Protestants would either convert to Roman Catholicism or give up the doctrine of the Trinity. I fully expect no one to agree.
You do not need to know the name of a single martyr to be a good Methodist.
Because none are saved except by the blood of Jesus. Knowing who the martyrs are is unimportant, and that’s especially ironic coming from me.