Friday, June 14, 2013

Anglicanism and the Roman Catholic Church: The Case of Protestant Historicism

The reader is most certainly accustomed to hearing discussions of the Roman Catholic Church in their parish church, perhaps by learned priests or vestrymen. The author was privy to a discussion once of a parish church that was sadly dissolving, due to inadequate funding and attendance. After divine service, the author overheard discussions from various members of the congregation as to what they planned to do, in regards to the nurturing of their piety, and one of the most common responses was to join the Roman Church. Yet, these discussions were not the first instance of equating the English Church, and her daughter Churches, with the Church of Rome, it is an often heard thing. This eventually leads to a discussion on the nature of the Roman Catholic Church and its relation to the Anglican communion.

First, we must compare the teachings of each respective Church, using our own Formularies as a base for our own teaching and what they say of Romanism.

In relation to our salvation, the Articles could not be clearer. The total depravity of man is affirmed in Art. IX, his lack of free will in Art. X, his justification by faith alone in Art. XI, the denial of good works as having any relation to our salvation in Art. XII, and subsequently the condemnation of the doctrine of the "School authors" of the nature of good works before justification and the (so-called) works of supererogation.

Art. IX declares, "As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith."

A host of Roman doctrines are condemned in Art. XXII, "THE Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saint, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture; but rather repugnant to the word of God."

"IT is a thing plainly repugnant to the word of God and the custom of the primitive Church, to have public prayer in the Church, or to minister the sacraments in a tongue not understanded of the people." (Art. XXIV)

The five rites, "commonly called sacraments" are not to be counted as sacraments, " Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not the like nature of Sacraments with Baptism and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God." (Art. XXV)

"Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of bread and wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions." (Art. XXVIII)

The doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass is condemned in Art. XXXI, "THE offering of Christ once made is the perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual, and there is none other satisfaction for sin but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said that the priests did offer Christ for the quick and the dead to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits."

The denial of the cup to the laity is condemned in Art. XXX as well as clerical celibacy in Art. XXXII.

"The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England." Art. XXXVII

This goes to show the anti-Romanist teaching of our Formularies (with little mention of the Homilies, which add further fuel to the fire in condemning Romanism). We can quite clearly see that the teaching of Romanism is condemned by our Formularies. The question remains, is that the only manner in which our Reformers condemned Romanism?

It is often said that the Reformation was about finding Christ and subsequently Antichrist. The rediscovery of the true gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone was a sweet discovery after over a thousand years of corrupted teaching. The teaching of Scripture about salvation was directly contradictory to the teaching of Rome. The Reformers noted this and headed back to their Bibles. They saw their own work being foretold of in the chapters of the Bible dealing with prophecy and also of the Roman Church. Let's see what our Reformers had to say about the matter:

"I know how the Antichrist hath obscured the glory of God, and the true knowledge of His Word, overcasting the same with mists and clouds of error and ignorance through false glosses and interpretation...The Antichrist of Rome... hath extolled himself above his fellow bishops, as God's vicar, yea, rather as God Himself; and taketh upon him authority over kings and emperors, and sitteth in the temple of God, that is, in the consciences of men, and causeth his decrees to be more regarded than God's laws; yea, and for money he dispenseth with God's laws, and all other, giving men license to break them." 
"Whereof it followeth Rome to be the seat of the Antichrist, and the Pope to be the very Antichrist himself. I could prove the same by many other scriptures, old writers and strong reasons."Thomas Cranmer

Many of the Reformers were burnt at the stake for their condemnation of Romanism, for example, John Bradford was condemned "for not acknowledging the Antichrist of Rome to be Christ's vicar - general and supreme head of the Catholic and universal church" and in admitting that, ""undoubtedly that great Antichrist, of whom the apostles do so much admonish us." John Hooper was condemned because he would not accept the "wicked papistical religion of the bishop of Rome."

The overtness of the Formularies is striking. All of these references come from the Books of Homilies (1547 and 1571), which are equally binding for us Anglicans as theological and liturgical formularies, which can be ascertained from Article 35.
"The Bishop of Rome teaches, that they that are under him are free from all burdens and charges of the commonwealth, and obedience towards their prince; most clearly against Christ's doctrine and St. Peter's. He ought therefore rather to be called Antichrist, and the successor of the scribes and pharisees, than Christ's vicar, or St. Peter's successor; seeing that, not only on this point, but also in other weighty matters of Christian religion, in matters of remission and forgiveness of sins, and of salvation, he teacheth so directly against both St. Peter, and against our Saviour Christ" (Homily on Obedience, Part III). 
"The scriptures have for a warning hereof shewed, that the Kingdom of Antichrist shall be mighty in miracles and wonders to the strong illusion of all the reprobates" (Homily against the Peril of Idolatry, Part III). 
"Such sumptuous decking of images with gold, silver, and precious stones, be a token of Antichrist's kingdom, who, as the prophet foreshows, shall worship God with such gorgeous things" (Ibid.). 
"After this ambition, [to be head of all the church, and lord of all kingdoms,] the Bishop of Rome became at once the spoiler and destroyer both of the Church, which is the kingdom of our Saviour Christ, and of the Christian empire, and all Christian kingdoms, as an universal tyrant over all" (Sermon Against Willful Rebellion, Part V).  
"In king John's time, the Bishop of Rome, understanding the brute blindness, ignorance of God's word, and superstition of Englishmen, and how much they were inclined to worship the Babylonian Beast of Rome, and to fear all his threatenings and causeless cursings, he abused them thus, and by their rebellion brought this noble realm of England under his most cruel tyranny" (Ibid.).

This identification of Rome even made its way into other confessional documents, for instance, the Irish Articles of Religion of 1615 say:
79. The power which the Bishop of Rome now challengeth to be supreme head of the universal Church of Christ, and to be above all emperors, kings, and princes, is a usurped power, contrary to the Scriptures and Word of God, and contrary to the example of the Primitive Church; and therefore is for most just causes taken away and abolished within the King's Majesty's realms and dominions.
80. The Bishop of Rome is so far from being the supreme head of the universal Church of Christ, that his works and doctrine do plainly discover him to be that man of sin, foretold in the holy Scriptures, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and abolish with the brightness of his coming.
Other Reformers note the same teaching. For instance, Nicholas Ridley notes that, "the head, under satan, of all mischief is the Antichrist and his brood." and subsequently notes where this is to be found, "the seat of satan; and the bishop of the same, that maintaineth the abominations thereof, is the Antichrist himself indeed." Nicholas Ridley

"We desire of our heavenly Father, that the Antichrist with his kingdom, which hath seduced, and daily doth seduce... may shortly be slain and brought unto confusion'with the breath of the Lord's mouth'...that 'that sinful man, the son of perdition, which is an adversary, and is exalted above all that is called God, or that is worshipped' may no longer 'sit in the temple of god, boasting himself to be God'." Thomas Becon

The primary thought which should be gathered from these assertions is the idea that the Christian faith is an eschatological one and the Reformation was not any different. The identification of the Pope as Antichrist is part of a system of prophetic interpretation known as historicism, which sees fulfillment of prophecy occurring through out the Church's history. It has a long history in the Church, notably attributed to Joachim of Fiore. It is also associated with the Protestant Reformation and subsequent Protestant eschatology until the publication of the Schofield Reference Bible, which popularized Rev. Darby's fanciful system of dispensationalism. Historicism is contrasted with preterism, which sees most of the Bible's prophecies as being fulfilled around 70 AD and futurism, which sees most of the prophecies of Revelation (and elsewhere) as future events. 

What follows is a brief discussion of the places in the Bible which deal with this subject.

The word "antichrist" is actually not used regularly in the Bible, only by the Apostle John in his letters. He notes that at the time of writing antichrist was still to come, yet there had already been many antichrists (1 Jn 2:18; 4:3, 2 Thess 2:7). The antichrist is to rise up from within the Christian community (19). Paul also references the antichrist, under the terminology, "man of sin". There will be a falling away and the rise of the antichrist (2 Thess 2:3), this must happen before the return of Christ, "The Lord will not come till 'the swerving from faith cometh': which thing is already done and past...The Antichrist is known throughout all the world" (Hugh Latimer). He will sit in the "temple of God" (2 Thess 2:4), which is identified as the Church (1 Cor 3:16). The man of sin will not be revealed until the "restraint" is removed, which is identified as the Roman Empire, "Paul saith, the Antichrist shall not come yet; for the emperor letteth him: the emperor shall be removed; and then shall the Antichrist come." "He meaneth not, therefore, that the Antichrist shall be any one man only, but one estate or kingdom of men, and a continuance of some one power and tyranny in the church" (John Jewel).

Daniel 7:3-8 speaks of four beasts which are to rise up. These have variously been identified with the four great empires of the ancient world: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The last beast has ten horns, which have been identified as the ten kingdoms which derive from the fall of Rome. The fourth beast also had a "little horn" which had "eyes like the eyes of man" and a "mouth speaking great things" (verse 8). Later in the chapter, a "beast" is identified with a kingdom (v 18, 23). The little horn will arise from the fourth beast and its ten horns but it will be "different from the former ones" and it shall put away "three kings" (v 24). Lastly, Daniel reveals that the little horn will make war with the "saints of the Most High" and prevail against them for a time (later identified as 1,260 years). 

The two beasts of Revelation 13, one of the sea, and one of the earth, which are described in this chapter, are variously identified with papal Rome (or pagan Rome with the beast of the sea and papal Rome with the beast of the earth) by various interpreters.

[Other characteristics of historicism include the "year-day" principle (Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6) which states that each prophetic "day" is equal to a "regular" year. This is useful in understanding some nuances of an historicist interpretation of prophecy, such as the 1,260 days (=years), which are usually interpreted as the elevation of the Papacy by Emperor Justinian in 538 AD to the end of the Papal States in 1798 AD by the attack of Napoleon. Most historicists see the material in Revelation 9 as referring to the Islamic conquest of the 7th and 8th centuries. It is also to be noted that historicism was the only and definitive system of prophetic interpretation in Protestantism until the publication of the Schofield Reference Bible which popularized John Nelson Darby's system of dispensationalism.]

The point of this is not to provide a systematic, historicist interpretation of the Book of Daniel or Revelation, neither to convince you to become historicists (nor even to convince you that historicism was the "norm"). Rather, the point I wish to make is to point out the attitude towards Rome as found in our Formularies and in the works of the Reformers, in contrast with the attitude towards Rome, as found in modern documents, such as ARCIC. Sure the disparity between these documents should cause a "red flag" to appear in the mind of the reader. Our Reformers noted the bad theology associated with the Roman Church and rightfully rejected it. That theology has not changed since that time and we must examine the Scriptures to condemn them in our own age.

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