Wednesday, May 22, 2019

They Who Speak Falsely

There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing. These millions can hardly be blamed for hating Catholics because Catholics “adore statues”; because they “put the Blessed Mother on the same level with God”; because they say “indulgence is a permission to commit sin”; because the Pope “is a Fascist”; because the “Church is the defender of Capitalism.” If the Church taught or believed any one of these things it should be hated, but the fact is that the Church does not believe nor teach any one of them. It follows then that the hatred of the millions is directed against error and not against truth.

—Fulton J. Sheen in Preface, Radio Replies, volume 1

Reading Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, I find more evidence of something I’ve long noticed: the modern anti-Catholics of today are merely repeating the false statements that the Reformers of the 16th century taught about the Catholic Church as if they were fact. Take this sample, for example:

In fact, the distinction between latria and dulia, as they called them, was invented in order that divine honors might seem to be transferred with impunity to angels and the dead. For it is obvious that the honor the papists give to the saints really does not differ from the honoring of God. Indeed, they worship both God and the saints indiscriminately, except that, when they are pressed, they wriggle out with the excuse that they keep unimpaired for God what is due him because they leave latria to him.

—Book I, Chapter XII, #2

Notice that Calvin isn’t just saying that some Catholics fell into an error of “worshipping” saints and angels (a charge we absolutely deny). He accuses the Church of inventing an excuse to justify worshiping them. That is a serious charge, requiring evidence—first that we do these things, second evidence of the “invention.” He provided none. Instead, he piled up false statements, committing the fallacy of equivocation on Latin and Greek terms [§] and cited Scripture to “prove” we were wrong to do things we never did in the first place.

This is a serious matter. What Calvin said was FALSE. He either knew what he said was false (which is calumny) or he assumed Catholics must have believed that without determining that his assumption was true (which is rash judgment). Whichever one it was, it was bearing false witness against Catholics, and that evil has spread for over 400 years (there were multiple versions of Institutes spread out over 30-odd years). Anti-Catholics believe and repeat these  (and many other) falsehoods, and Calvin bears responsibility for their attacks. He either lied or he failed to determine if his accusations were true before presenting them as true.

I bring up Calvin, not to bash Protestants or invite others to do so. Rather I do so to bring up a modern parallel showing up in the Church today: The problem of certain Catholics who are alienated by the Church, falsely claim she is teaching error—whether through calumny or rash judgment—and quote Scripture or past Church teaching [#] to prove the Pope is guilty of teaching something he never said. Whether they failed to determine whether their accusations were true before spreading them or whether they knew it was false, they spread falsehoods about the Church.

In other words, they—who think of themselves as the defenders of the true Faith—commit the same errors as Calvin (who thought he was defending the true faith) did in attacking the Church, and do the same damage, leading people to believe falsehoods and hate the Church for not being the fictional image they think it was.

This faction of Catholics (which has a strong antipathy towards Protestantism in general and the Reformers especially—to the point of using “Protestant” as an epithet against Catholics they disagree with) are guilty of the same things. If Calvin was wrong, so are they. If Calvin caused harm, so do they. Considering the imprecations they hurl against men like Calvin and Luther... well they might want to consider Matthew 7:2. “For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” We don’t know how God will judge Calvin or his level of culpability. We do know that the Church (Lumen Gentium #14) warns us:

He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart.” All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

We should think about that seriously when we are tempted to condemn the shepherds of the Church as teaching “error” simply because their approach is different than our preference.


[§] In one particularly risible example, to “prove” his point, he translates Galatians 4:8 as “they exhibited dulia toward beings that by nature were no gods.” The actual translation was “you became slaves to things that by nature are not gods”. The man apparently either confused doula (in the form of [ἐδουλεύσατε] edouleusate) meaning “to be a slave” with a form of dulia (which is sometimes spelled doulia) which means to honor, or else based his falsehood on a bad copy of the Greek. Sometimes an iota (“i”) of difference is substantial. (I consulted the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament 28th edition for reference)

[#] Often relying on their own bad translation of Latin documents with results similar to Calvin’s error described in the endnote above this one.

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