To Hell With…

Our brother over at 1517 says this:

Unfortunately, [Catholics] believe that sincere believers in all religions will be welcomed into heaven. The problem is that Rome has never officially repudiated all the anathemas declared in years past against Protestants. For instance, according to official Catholic teaching I am bound for hell because I deny such doctrines as transubstantiation and papal authority. What is more, I am also hell bound because I administer the Lord’s Supper and am not an ordained priest in the Catholic Church. I could go on and on.

We’ve already discussed the issue about whether the Catholic Church has actually condemned all Protestants to everlasting hellfire.  We’ve also seen the curious tendency to not check the basic elementary facts about what the Church teaches when discussing what the Church teaches, all of this by people who are obviously very devoted to Christ and very intelligent.  And furthermore, the strange habit of refusing to listen to any answer you might give that doesn’t fit the pre-determined paradigm.  Again, very good, very likable, very intelligent people.  Very cuddly, gooey and delicious 🙂

What is more interesting to me in the quote above is the curious notion that the Catholic Church teaches that sincere Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Pagans, etc will go to heaven, while any and all Protestants are condemned to eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth.  It is all the more curious, as it is something that I have encountered elsewhere before (my friend’s church’s or pastor’s websites provide great blogging material):

We ought also to be thankful for the Pope’s teaching that other religions do not offer a way to God, though his suggestion that the mystery of Christ and the Church is some how a means by which many of these in the end will be saved, is very troubling.

But to embrace fully Pope Benedict XVI’s doctrine is to place Protestants outside the kingdom of God, and until this belief changes, the theological divide of the last 500 years will continue.

Here again, we see the curious confusion that the Church teaches that those of other religions may be saved, while Protestants are “outside the Kingdom”.  Obviously, these views are a confusion of Church teaching, which is that Protestants are Christians, separated brethren, and that, despite some of their doctrinal errors, they possess elements of sanctification and truth, and our Lord uses their communities as means of salvation.  As for people of other religions, “what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to [St. Paul’s] gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”  In other words, God judges us by what we have known and what we have done with what we were given.  Sections 836 to 856 of the catechism explain all of this (and some of its implications) in excruciatingly gory detail.

Admittedly I only have a n=2.  That is to say, two data points does not a trend make.  But the common thread between the two quotes above is that both authors are steeped in the Reformed tradition of Protestantism.  This is not the case for most Protestants.  And I suppose, this is a bit of a two edged sword.  It is certainly true that the roots of Protestantism lie in the early 16th century, and that if one wants to understand the history of the movement, one must know its roots.  Furthermore, to the extent that Protestants take a look around at their surroundings, many conclude that the movement has strayed a long way from its foundations, and seek to reform it by bringing it back to its root principles.  This is all good, as far as it goes, and certainly the best way to do this is to steep oneself in the 16th century writings (or associate yourself with a denomination such as the PCA), and to call people back to what they said.

A potential unexpected (or not) side-effect of being so steeped in the 16th century writings is that the 16th century was a very different time period.  People wrote differently, thought differently.  More importantly, people were embroiled in a bitter controversy over the fate of Christendom.  So steeping yourself in such writings may lead to some Protestants drinking in with the pure Reformed doctrine some of the mindset of the 16th century.  Which is to say, some seem convinced that the heated debates of the 16th century are still on-going.

Certainly, to the extent that there is one truth and much disagreement over that truth, there remains the task of working to understand each other’s positions, and trying to convince the other side that, ultimately, “we’re right!”  All true.  But I must confess, I am glad that the Catholic Church left the 16th century (with all its bitterness and anger) behind in the 19th century. 🙂  After all, we now live in the 21st century.  To be sure, truth still matters.  But the situation has greatly changed.  The 16th century vitriol was over the fate of Catholic Europe.  Understandably, the Church was very strong in defending its truth claims against those who believed otherwise.  And just as understandbly, those who believed otherwise were very strong in their apologias.  But the situation has changed today.  The Catholic Church is no longer battling European Catholic heretics (or their pretty immediate descendants), but rather European post-Christians.  The Church, in a real sense, lost the 16th century battle, and has therefore moved on to the task at hand; namely, converting Europe (again).  And also, obviously, the world.

To a certain extent, I think those who hold on to the polemics of the 16th century are fighting an imaginary opponent.  There is no Catholic Church that is still lobbing Holy Hand Grenades over at our Protestant brethren, however much they (and some Catholics too!) may want to believe it.  We have moved on.  I know this is hard to admit, judging by the either/ors of “tell me I’m damned” or “tell me you’re a mealy-mouthed two-face” comments.  It must be a great motive force to think you are fighting a mighty enemy, that it’s life or death, heaven or hell.  That if you don’t get us, we’ll get you (probably through the Jesuits somehow).

But we’ve laid down our weapons.  The war is past. The Catholic Church lost. Done deal. Certainly, combat our “traditions of men”. But the notion that this need be done within the context of an on-going war is so yesterday. 🙂 Or rather, so 1517. 🙂

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~ by Rob on November 12, 2008.

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