Thursday, October 14, 2004

To all the rest...

Speaking of Reformed Catholicism, I want to reassert a point I made a few months ago when I made the rounds (for a few weeks) on the Pontificator's, Dave Armstrong's, Tim Enloe's, Kevin's, Ref's, et aliae blogs. To wit, the closer to the Catholic truth Reformeds get, the less ground they have for maintaining their separation from Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The more we see (or claim to see) that Trent (and Orthodoxy's rejection of the Reformers) was based on "mere misunderstandings," and that everyone was saying the same thing "only in different words," then the less *fundamental* disagreement there is between Reformeds and the Catholic Church. If the Reformers and Rome were in agreement the whole time, what still legitimizes the separation from Rome?

By contrast, the deeper into Calvin's anti-Roman polemics you get, the less ground you have for reconciling with RC and Orthodoxy. This is why I am highly (but not zealously) skeptical of Ref Cath's two aims: ecumenism through catholicity. The (presumed) catholicity of the Reformers discredits their schismatic reforms; the (presumed) heresy of the Reformers, by contrast, discredits their claim to catholicity. We know Calvin et al condemned the Roman Catholic Church and, ultimately, eagerly cut themselves out of its ranks.

But what I hear more and more from Reformed catholics, for instance, is that the reformers begat all this naughtiness because they “misperceived” what the RCC was actually teaching. Far from a cognizant, schismatic rejection of actual Catholic dogma, they were “misled” by their nominalistic biases, various devotional abuses, infelicitous non-dogmatic comments about the Eucharist, etc. into calling the RCC the synagogue of Satan. If the differences are real, however, saying anything less than this hardly seems authentically Reformed. Saying the same, though, hardly leaves room for Reformed catholicism. Reformed ecumenism is Reformed retreat.

No matter how “catholic” the Reformers might have been, it remains clear they were not fully, catholically orthodox. No matter how close we (re)discover the reformers were to the Catholic Tradition, it is hard to deny they broke its bounds in novel ways and were thus legitimately condemned by the RCC. And even if we agree the Reformers should be pardoned for their dissent against the RCC because of their intellectual/ existential/ historical limitations, this only exaggerates the need for the Reformed world to redress its founders' withdrawal from the RCC and seek full communion again.

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