Karl Adam, in his book Roots of the Reformation, offers an honest summary of the state of Christendom at the end of the 15th century: “[A]mongst the common people, a fearful decline of true piety into religious materialism and morbid hysteria; amongst the clergy, both lower and higher, widespread worldliness and neglect of duty; and amongst the Shepherds of the Church, demonic ambition and sacrilegious perversion of holy things….”
The argument from some of Rome’s defenders goes like this: certainly there were church abuses during the sixteenth century. But Luther went too far. This new Roman convert thinks that things may have turned out differently had Luther “kept his ecclesiastical cool in the midst of the desperate need for moral reform.” If there was ever a statement ignorant of history, this would certainly be a perfect example. It assumes that a corrupt institution would actually politely take any sort of correction from an obscure monk. The facts of history show quite otherwise: the Luther situation was riddled with subterfuge and obfuscation, this coming from Rome herself. Luther was given a bogus hearing in which he was ultimately told to simply recant… or else. This new convert went to a Reformed seminary in which details of this trial were readily available. The details of Luther’s kangaroo court hearing were no doubt presented in a class specific to Reformation Church History (CH 313). Unless the requirements are now different, in order to graduate from Mid-America Reformed Seminary this class on Reformation history was required. In other words, this new Roman convert has no excuse for such an ignorant portrayal of Reformation church history. The legalities of sixteenth century Romanism were not simply “keep your ecclesiastical cool.” No, you could find yourself executed quite easily and also find that the means of getting you to the point of execution weren’t always fair. That Luther was never put to death for heresy could be the miracle that qualifies him for saint status in Romanism!
This section quoted from from Roman Catholic historian Karl Adam raises an interesting issue. After describing the abuses present in the church, Adam states: “In this waste of clerical corruption it was impossible for the spirit of our Lord to penetrate into the people, take root there and bring true religion to flower.” It appears that for Romanism (as explained by Adam), God promises to preserve the papacy, and “papacy” equals “Church.” The Spirit, according to Karl Adam can be blocked by the papacy herself from reaching the people? Even though the papacy was severely corrupt (as described by Adam), the gates of Hell didn’t prevail against her. In other words, some Roman Catholics view the possibility of the gates of Hell prevailing over the papacy as similar say, to a square circle. It’s presupposed beforehand that it’s an impossibility for the papacy to ever be that corrupt that the gates of Hell prevail against her. Their entire argument about the preserved-from-error-papacy is simply a faith claim in which history needs to be tweaked to fit this presupposition.
Now compare this to what the Roman convert states:
“…moral abuses (as scandalous as they are) do not equal doctrinal error. Christ promised to preserve his Church in the truth of the gospel. And so he has, does, and will. Such a profound promise is consistent with the fact that men are not always morally faithful to the graces God gives them. Despite the weakness, frailty and sinfulness found within the Church, there is the divine guarantee that God, by his Holy Spirit, working in the college of bishops in union with the pope, will preserve his Church from teaching and believing that which is false in regard to the gospel.”
This convert is likewise functioning with the church = papacy paradigm. There’s another presupposition here though that needs to be scrutinized: “Christ promised to preserve his Church in the truth of the gospel. And so he has, does, and will.” Here’s what isn’t stated: previous to Trent there was not any official dogmatic statement as to what exactly the Gospel “is”, certainly in regard to justification:
“Existing side by side in pre-Reformation theology were several ways of interpreting the righteousness of God and the act of justification. They ranged from strongly moralistic views that seemed to equate justification with moral renewal to ultra-forensic views, which saw justification as a ‘nude imputation’ that seemed possible apart from Christ, by an arbitrary decree of God. Between these extremes were many combinations; and though certain views predominated in late nominalism, it is not possible even there to speak of a single doctrine of justification.” [Jaroslov Pelikan, Obedient Rebels: Catholic Substance and Protestant Principle in Luther’s Reformation (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 51-52].
Pelikan says elsewhere:
“All the more tragic, therefore, was the Roman reaction on the front which was most important to the reformers, the message and teaching of the church. This had to be reformed according to the word of God; unless it was, no moral improvement would be able to alter the basic problem. Rome’s reactions were the doctrinal decrees of the Council of Trent and the Roman Catechism based upon those decrees. In these decrees, the Council of Trent selected and elevated to official status the notion of justification by faith plus works, which was only one of the doctrines of justification in the medieval theologians and ancient fathers. When the reformers attacked this notion in the name of the doctrine of justification by faith alone- a doctrine also attested to by some medieval theologians and ancient fathers- Rome reacted by canonizing one trend in preference to all the others. What had previously been permitted (justification by faith and works), now became required. What had previously been permitted also (justification by faith alone), now became forbidden. In condemning the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent condemned part of its own catholic tradition” [Jaroslav Pelikan, The Riddle of Roman Catholicism (New York: Abingdon Press, 1959), pp. 51-52].
Once again, what’s needed to be proven by Roman converts is simply assumed. It’s assumed that the same “Gospel” decreed at Trent was the same “Gospel” previous to Trent. The comments over at CTC will reach into the hundreds. For those of you that think you’ll actually get somewhere in some sort of dialog with these new converts, you probably won’t. Presuppositions are truths the heart believes without proof. If you don’t first expose the unproven presuppositions, you’re probably wasting your time.