Monday, February 11, 2013

Swan and Before They Were Separated Brethren

I came across the following article both on the blog and James Swan's blog, and it was intriguing enough to elicit a response from me.  Before I start, let us remind the reader - the text Swan has cited is not infallible, and is not wholly representative of Catholic teaching.  I recognize the intent of the article Swan posted (reposted) is to show that there was a different mindset regarding the "Separated Brethren" in the 19th century as opposed to the 21st century, but then again - there is a different mindset among Lutherans of the 21st century as opposed to Lutherans of the 16th century - and even to Luther himself.  I submit that this attempt at a reductio ad absurdem argument has backfired.  

Before We Were Separated Brethren...

02/04/2013 - James Swan
The Called to Communion blog recently presented a number of entries on "the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" following a webpage from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Maybe some Roman Catholics are interested in unity, but I guess it depends on exactly what you read.  For instance, consider the following excerpts from this book with the Nihil obstat and Imprimatur: Familiar Explanation of Christian Doctrine For the Family and More Advanced Students in Catholic Schools (1875) (pp. 70, 91-93, 97-98).

Q. Does the Lord make use of apostate Catholics, such as Martin Luther, Calvin, John Knox, Henry VIII., King of England, to reform the manners of the people?

A. The thought is absurd. The lives of those men were evil, and it is only the devil that makes use of them to pervert the people still more. The Lord makes use of His saints, such as a St. Francis of Assisium, a St. Dominick, a St. Ignatius, a St. Alphonsus, to convert the people and reform their evil manners by explaining to them the truths of faith, the commandments, and the necessity of receiving the sacraments with proper dispositions, and by setting them in their own lives the loftiest example of faith, purity, and all Christian virtues.

There is merit to this argument from 1875.  The question is not a very good one, but perhaps reflective of the time.  The real point of the answer is that we should look to the lives of Saints who followed Christ and how they lived their lives to be an example to us on how to live ours.  For a Catholic to turn to Luther, Knox, Henry VIII, etc. as an example is absurd when we have so many GREAT examples to follow - why look to someone who was an apostate or even a heretic?  Does that mean everything Luther, et. al., said was wrong?  By no means!  He/they had quite a few things right - but he/they also had many things wrong.  Stick to the Saints!
Q. Are there any other reasons to show that heretics, or Protestants who die out of the Roman Catholic Church, are not saved?

A. There are several. They cannot be saved, because

1. They have no divine faith.
2. They make a liar of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Ghost, and of the Apostles.
3. They have no faith in Christ.
4. They fell away from the true Church of Christ.
5. They are too proud to submit to the Pope, the Vicar of Christ.
6. They cannot perform any good works whereby they can obtain heaven.
7. They do not receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
8. They die in their sins.
9. They ridicule and blaspheme the Mother of God and His saints.
10. They slander the spouse of Jesus Christ: the Catholic Church.
Well, let me take these in order:
1. "No divine faith?"  What does that really mean?  Protestants who, through no fault of their own, are outside the One, True Faith, indeed have "faith," but what is this distinction of "divine faith?"
2. To be a "lie" it would have to be willfully done.  Most Protestants are not willfully opposing Catholicism, most, I would venture, have not even considered Catholicism - they just do what they know and practice in the traditions their parents brought them up in.  Others, however, are quite aware of Catholicism, have even studied it - some even have left Catholicism - toward those, I would say the response in this second statement applies.
3.  I give essentially the same response as I give to the first statement.  
4.  Again, some have - others are quite ignorant.
5.  The pride issue, I'm sure, is quite true.  I know it was for me when I was a Protestant.  It's hard to humble and submit yourself to an authority you previously rejected.
6.  The performing of good works is not how one obtains Heaven.  The argument, however, is that if one has True, Saving Faith - then good works WILL accompany this faith, it will not be a faith which is alone.  This author works from the premise that non-Catholics have no faith, and without faith there are no good works - and one does not reach Heaven without both.
7.  This is true, most do not even teach that they actually receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  Those which DO teach they receive the Body and Blood have no authority to consecrate the bread and wine into such - so, regardless of what they teach - they do not receive Him in their "communion."
8.  This may be true, since they have not the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation), however, the final judgment of those who may have died in a state of invincible ignorance MAY not be held culpable for those sins.  God alone is our Judge.  
9 and 10.  Again, some do - not all.  To paint with such a broad brush only nullifies the argument due to the invalid nature of it.        
Q. What is the act of faith of a Protestant?

A. O my God, I believe nothing except what my own private judgment tells me to believe; therefore I believe that I can interpret Thy written word the Holy Scriptures as I choose. I believe that the Pope is anti-Christ; that any man can be saved, provided he is an honest man; I believe that faith alone is sufficient for salvation; that good works, and works of penance, and the confession of sins are not necessary, etc.
Well, this is a matter of opinion, and not fact.  No Protestant sect has this "Act of Faith" - and again, while SOME non-Catholics hold to SOME of these statements, and I would submit there are NONE which hold to ALL of them.

Q. Have Protestants any faith in Christ?

A. They never had.
Again, they indeed have faith - but do not have a fullness of the Faith.  What they are lacking cannot be equated to "no faith," but a "lacking faith."  Their "faith" needs perfecting, and this can only be done through the graces received through the Sacraments given to us by Jesus Christ and His Apostles through the Catholic Church.
Q. Why not?

A. Because there never lived such a Christ as they imagine and believe in. 
They believe in Christ as best they can and again, if through no fault of their own that understanding is lacking then God, and God alone, will judge the culpability of what is lacking in their faith.  The more willfully they oppose the One, True Faith, the more likely they will be found culpable.
Q. In what kind of a Christ do they believe?

A. In such a one of whom they can make a liar, with impunity, whose doctrine they can interpret as they please, and who does not care about what a man believes, provided he be an honest man before the public.

This statement is absurd.  To "make (Him) a liar" just flies in the face of logic.  Now I'm sure this example of bigotry is precisely why Swan has selected this work of more than 100 years ago.  I'm also just as sure that Swan is aware of many of the statements of folks like Luther which are just as bigoted and hateful
Q. Will such a faith in such a Christ save Protestants?

A. No sensible man will assert such an absurdity.

And I, for one, will state that the "faith" this author attributes to Protestants does not exist in a single one of them.
A CTC blog entry from last year asks,  Do You Wan to Go to Heaven? which addresses, "So do you mean to say that if I decide to skip Mass on Sunday, and then drop dead on Monday, I will go to Hell?" Which, after various considerations, is affirmed (but not given the typical loopholes and qualifications that many other Roman websites do). The article presents an apologetic against "once saved always saved" etc. and explains to ill-informed Protestants why going to mass is so serious for Roman Catholics that if missed, qualifies as a mortal sin: "When we 'skip Mass' we are deciding that we would rather be elsewhere than in the presence of God the Father, with the angels and saints, in that perfect act of worship which is the presentation of the sacrificial Lamb of God to the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit."

Compare this to: Just Why Are Only 20% of Catholics Attending Mass? Here, a priest explains why only a small percentage of Roman Catholics actually go to mass (poor homilies, poor music, poor hospitality). "A Protestant once said: "If you Catholics really believed what the Church teaches about the Mass and the Most Holy Eucharist, your churches would be full and you would see Catholics crawling on their knees to attend Mass!"

Well, what this unnamed Protestant once said is absolutely true!  IF every single Catholic REALLY believed what the Church teaches about the Mass which is centered upon the Most Holy Eucharist, then yes - our churches would be not only full, but overflowing! 
Interesting. CTC is busy calling wayward Protestants to "communion," but 80% of their fellow brethren are in danger of hell. 
I would call it more ironic than interesting.  Yes, if the figures are correct then 80% of those who CALL themselves "Catholic" are indeed in danger of Hell.  What is interesting is that Swan does not seem to see the illogic of his own position!  If 20% are right, then he should embrace the 20%!  He should join us apologists who not only defend the Church against the errors of Protestantism, but also seek to help Catholics become better Catholics.
Most Protestants, according to a Roman paradigm, just don't know Rome is the true church. That is, many Protestants could at least make it to Purgatory due to ignorance. 
It should be pointed out, anyone who makes it to Purgatory IS "saved."  Not a single one who goes to Purgatory can be snatched from His hands - they WILL be in Heaven with Him.
This seems to me to be a poor strategy for CTC. Their goal: "Our aim is to effect reconciliation and reunion between Catholics and Protestants, particularly those of the Reformed tradition." Perhaps calling their fellow brethren to actually attend communion would be a more consistent use of CTC's bandwidth.
I cannot speak for CTC but for the apostolate of ACTS, which includes this blog, the goal is not merely to reach non-Catholics with the truth of Catholicism - but to help professing Catholics become better Catholics and to renew their faith.  Those Catholics who, for whatever reason or excuse, are not participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass need to 1) start attending Mass and 2) get to the confessional to restore their souls to the state of grace.  That being said, I am pleased that Swan appears to be so concerned for the mission of CTC. 



  1. I wouldn't have to go back to 1875 to find less-charitable criticism of the Church by Protestants.

  2. Hi Christian, yes - that was my point in that section. "Those who live in glass houses..."


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