Friday, January 06, 2006

Schaff against Rome or against Geneva?

Rick Phillips at Reformation 21 gives us a quote from Philip Schaff about the evils of Popery or Romanism, and how it is not Catholicism. Schaff compares Catholicism to Judaism. Judaism pointed the way to Christ, and then after Christ became something altogether horrible. For Schaff so too did Catholicism. It pointed the way to the Reformation, and at Trent it became something horrible. It became Popery. While I agree Popery is wrong, I disagree with the reasoning Schaff gives. Schaff states, Popery never forgets and never learns anything, and can allow no change in doctrine (except by way of addition), without sacrificing its fundamental principle of infallibility, and thus committing suicide. It seems to me that Schaff is saying that Popery is wrong because it does not change its doctrines. Do we as Protestants want constant change in our doctrine? We ascribe infallibility to the Bible alone, but do we really want to say a church that refuses to learn and change is a church that is dead?

Rick Phillips seems appreciative of the quote because it does not pander to Romanism, which he thinks is a growing error in the church today. I believe this a somewhat thinly veiled reference to ECT and the Reformed Catholics of today’s churches. Yet, is this quote not exactly the sort of thinking that has led to Reformed Catholicism, and Federal Vision movements in today’s churches? Historically speaking Schaff and Nevin pandered to Rome by changing Protestant doctrines into more Roman Catholic ones. They argued for altar based liturgies, they did a lot of what could be considered pandering to Rome. I believe Rich Phillips has mistaken Schaff’s refusal to pander to the Pope and mistaken it for a refusal to pander to Rome. Perhaps even worse, he has missed the endorsement of Historical and Theological Development that is Schaff’s critique of the Pope. Unless we as Protestants are willing to sign on to Schaff’s ever changing doctrine as the principle of Protestantism, as he suggests, then we need to throw out Schaff’s critique, and hopefully one day clarify a better Protestant historiography


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughtful critique. You may be right. I certainly would not want to convey that the only, or even the essential problem with Roman Catholicism is papal infallibility. I was more motivated by the comparison of post-Tridentine Rome to post-Christian Judaism. Again, thanks for the interaction.

Rick Phillips