In response to a comment I made about Christianityâ€™s cultural accomplishments, Darryl Hart writes: “Who is this ‘we,’ white Calvinist man (read: Andrew)? Could it be that the we is Roman Catholicism? And could it be that all those good things in Rome came with the cost of missing what was most important â€” how we are saved and how we respond to God in worship?”
I should have given a more representative sampling of Christianityâ€™s cultural achievements. Not all such achievements are â€œRoman Catholic.â€ I could have listed the practice of family life among Christians that became envied by Romans prior to Blessed Constantine. I could also have listed the laws against abortion, infanticide, and exposure of the elderly enacted by Constantine. Post-medieval accomplishments would include contributions made to emerging European languages by Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer, as well as the abolition of slavery (Wilberforce, John Newton) and racist law (the civil rights movement). And though I am unfamiliar with many of the details concerning Christian contributions to science, George Washington Carverâ€™s well documented love of God and creation led to amazing discoveries and applications in the agricultural field. In recent times, the ID movement has been busily preparing Darwinismâ€™s interment. Once evolution loses its grip on the popular mind, the cultural fallout will be astronomical.
Very well, letâ€™s talk about Rome. Despite all her sins and failures, she shows no sign of diminishing as the pre-eminent Christian voice. For good or ill, Rome continues to set the standard for how Christianity represents Christ to the world, and even how different Christian bodies relate to one another. We all live in her shadow. We are constantly reacting to all that Roman Catholicism is and does.
Darryl, you are fond of saying that we can learn from pagan wisdom on how to live in the world; I suggest that we can also learn much from Rome. Over the centuries, what Rome has achieved is nothing short of breathtaking. From her missions of charity to her church councils and official pronouncements, from her remarkable personalities to her institutional procedures, Rome consistently demonstrates amazing competence in her affairs. Through her Distributist economic theory, her moral theology, and her world class theologians, philosophers and legal thinkers, Rome shows every sign of dominating the worldâ€™s intellectual future.
Finally, the traditional Roman liturgy and churchly (some would say–medieval) aesthetic is the standard by which all Christian worship in the west measures itself. A few Protestants claim to follow the â€œbiblical pattern,â€ but the NT does not provide us with a description of early Christian worship. The essential elements are present, of course, but Scripture is silent as to how it all fits together. The Bible is not a book of church order.
Romeâ€™s greatness and longevity can only be attributed to special divine care or satanic ingenuity. The latter might be argued, but I am inclined to doubt that God has allowed Satan such power over his people for so long. There are a billion Catholics in the world, far more than any other Christian body, and odds are that the majority of the regenerate are enfolded in the Roman communion.
Letâ€™s talk about why a Reformed church council, much less a Protestant one, is inconceivable. Letâ€™s talk about why the disciplinary actions of one church are (or even should be) rarely honored by other churches. Letâ€™s talk about how seminaries substitute insufficiently for official teaching magisteria. Letâ€™s talk about how ad hoc committees make insufficient substitutes for standing administrative bodies. Letâ€™s talk about why every Protestant denomination has been unable to last longer than fifty years without falling into an irreversible decline in vitality. Letâ€™s talk about why so few Protestants care about sacraments, faithful preaching, reverent worship, or Christian unity.
Perhaps we have tried so hard to be â€œnot-Romeâ€ we have suppressed the obvious truth that all we have came through her and all we will be (historically) is either positively or negatively dependent on her existence.
What if Rome redefined herself? What if she were able to jettison papal infallibility in favor of a less rigid conception of papal authority? What if she were able to repeal the anathemas of Trent? What if St. Thomasâ€™ thought was assigned a less authoritative role? You might think these developments impossible. However, is it not our responsibility to constructively engage with our Catholic and Orthodox brethren on these matters? How is it not our responsibility?