2007July24, Tuesday

Is the Pope *REALLY* Catholic?

Posted in Pet Peeves, The Church at 21:07 by Trey Austin

I’m sure you’ve at least heard about the Pope’s recent statement reaffirming Roman primacy and attempting to disabuse anyone of the notion that either Protestants or the Orthodox of the East are either simply defective churches or otherwise true churches in any sense. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about Roman dogma. It is the typical rantings of the egocentristic Roman Church that haven’t fundamentally changed since the Reformation.

Well, my very good friend Tim Bayly has posted a short statement giving a shrug to the statement that the Roman Bishop made, or rather reiterated, recently. One of the commenters even said, “One must expect the Pope to be a Catholic.” That just rubbed me the wrong way, though, when i read it. That’s why i offer here a few thoughts on the issue.

Let me say this to start with: i don’t have a problem with the Bishop of Rome being true to his convictions. I respect anyone with convictions. In an age when men are as weak as water, and none of them are willing to say anything with any strength of conviction, it is a warm sight to see someone be true to what he believes and say, basically, “Yeah, that’s what i believe! What of it?” We ought to love each other and talk about our disagreements without getting heartburn over them, but we shouldn’t abandon our convictions in the name of love, which is no love at all.

Having said that, though, i must say that the comment, “The Pope is Catholic,” (or even the old rhetorical question, “Is the Pope Catholic?”) is, precisely because of the content of this statement and what the Roman Church has always held, fundamentally contradictory. No, the Pope is *NOT* Catholic any more than Landmark Baptists are Catholic! That’s why I never use the term “Catholic Church” to refer to the Church who willingly submit to the See of Rome; i don’t even use the term “Roman Catholic,” because that is self-contradictory. I always say “Roman Church,” “Romanist,” or, to be a bit less offensive than that last term, “Roman Christian.” It throws people off at times, but it really it a pet peeve of mine, so i’ve filed this post not only under “The Church” but also under the category “pet peeves,” because one of my greatest ones is that people refer to the Roman Church (a single denomination of Christianity) as *THE* Catholic Church.

Let me explain the problem i have: Catholicity is the core Christian belief, summarized in the ecumenical creeds of the Church, that that all Christians everywhere are united to Christ in the one body which is the Church. Even Presbyterians affirm in the WCF that the visible Church is catholic under the Gospel administration and that all those who profess the faith of Christ along with their children are part of that one, holy Catholic Church (in case you’re wondering, i capitalize the term because it is a proper noun, not because i’m referring to the Roman Church). However, in his recent statement (and i’m not complaining about it, but i am expressing what is wrong with it from a Christian perspective, not why he’s a good denominationalist) he said that Protestants are *NOT* fundamentally part of Christ’s body the Church. In other words, he’s doing what the Second Helvetic Confession says that the Roman Church has always done: that is to claim to itself, a portion of Christ’s Church, what belongs only to the whole Church, namely catholicity. As Bullinger said in the Second Helvetic Confession, “We, therefore, call this Church catholic because it is universal, scattered through all parts of the world, and extended unto all times, and is not limited to any times or places. Therefore, we condemn the Donatists who confined the Church to I know not what corners of Africa. Nor do we approve of the Roman clergy who have recently passed off only the Roman Church as catholic.” In one stroke, he rightly condemns the schismatic Donatists as well as the schismatic Romanists, because both claimed to themselves the validity of only their clergy, both claimed to themselves the validity of only their sacraments, and both claimed to themselves the validity of only their Church. One can hardly deny the the parallel. It is precisely on the ground of catholicity that the Church could condemn the Donatists; it makes no sense, though, to me, then to have the Roman Church turning around and claiming the very thing that the Church Catholic rightly condemned in the Donatists.

What i’m saying is this: it is precisely *UN*catholic (regardless of how prevalent it is erroneously to call the Roman Church the “Catholic Church”) to claim that any one portion of the Church *IS* the sum total of the Church of Christ apart from all the other parts. As Paul said, one part cannot say that because i’m not that other part, i’m not part of the body. But i don’t think it is any better to say that because that other part isn’t what i am, then it’s not part of the body? Well, that’s the heart of schism! That’s not catholicity!

That is, though, just one thing that makes the Roman Church so unhealthy. For my part, i tend away from talk of “true church” or “false church.” I much prefer the Westminsterian langauge of more pure or less pure. I also agree with Charles Hodge that, notwithstanding all its corruptions and problems, the Roman Church is still a part of the visible Church of Christ, which is why we can recognize her baptism as a valid Christian baptism. I’d say quite clearly that the Roman Church is a *VERY* impure church, but its impurity has not (yet, at least, and trust it won’t) made it no church at all, otherwise we’d be in the boat with the Thornwellians denying Roman baptism is Christian baptism.

So, sure, the Roman Bishop’s statement is very good denominationalism; it’s very good schism and factionalism, but it’s not good catholicism or catholicity, because, so long as that word “catholic” has any meaning at all, it will mean what the Creed has always meant by it: Christ’s whole body on the earth and in heaven together as we commune together through the mystical union we have in union with Christ.



  1. Trey,

    Great post bro. I agree, this should be a pet peeve of all who love Christ’s church.

    Blessings in Christ,
    Terry W. West

  2. Steve said,

    So would you say that there’s nothing a group could do to warrant considering them not fully a part of the church? Or to consider them not part of it at all?

    If there is something which would put them over the line, then it’s not the principle that you object to, but where the line is drawn…

  3. Trey Austin said,

    Well, if you mean, Steve, do i think that there are people who *ARE NOT* members of the Church? Yes, i do (we all believe that). But i hardly see how that’s the same thing as unilaterally excommunicating from the body of Christ entire branches of Christ’s vine.

    You’re right; it has alot to do with where you draw the line. However, my principle is to include, as far as possible, all people who could possibly be considered Christians. The Romanist and Landmarkist principle (which is the principle of all Separatists) is to include only those who are like me. Fundamentally, that principle is different–and uncatholic.

  4. Sean Gerety said,

    What i’m saying is this: it is precisely *UN*catholic (regardless of how prevalent it is erroneously to call the Roman Church the “Catholic Church”) to claim that any one portion of the Church *IS* the sum total of the Church of Christ apart from all the other parts.

    Ironically, it is also UN catholic to call Romainsts “Roman Christians” as you have done – even implying that the pope of Rome, which the Confession historically acknowledged as “that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God,” is a Christian.

    The Confession also states (and without any amendment) that the Catholic or visible church “consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion.” Now, unless you’re willing to defend the proposition that Roman church/state professes the true religion, then it would follow that the Pope of Rome and his subjects are neither Christian nor Catholic.

    I also agree with Charles Hodge that, notwithstanding all its corruptions and problems, the Roman Church is still a part of the visible Church of Christ, which is why we can recognize her baptism as a valid Christian baptism.

    Hodge was wrong. I recommend you read Thornwell’s reply where he obliterates Hodge’s specious arguments reprinted in Sacramental Sorcery.

    The Roman state/church is completely apostatized and has been for a very long time. If you cannot see this so-called “church” is what the Confession had in mind when it called such a complete departures from “the doctrine of the gospel” not a church at all but rather a “synagogue of Satan, then there is no water coming from this particular rock.

  5. tempe said,

    Trey, not to be picky, but how would you deal with the comments of several of the Reformers, who were decisively anti-schismatic (e.g., Calvin’s comments in book 4 of the ICR) but yet intimated that Rome was a “false church” because the word was not rightly preached and the sacraments not rightly observed (comments that were mirrored in several confessional statements in the 16th century). IMHO, I don’t see either of those “marks of the true church” (to which we might add church discipline, per the Scots and Belgic Confessions) having changed in the modern Romish church.

    Perhaps now I’ll go an make a similar post: Is the Pope REALLY the Antichrist? 😉

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