Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Sincerity is not Same as Accuracy

When I read Luther and Calvin in their attacks on the Catholic Church, two things become clear: First, that they were probably quite sincere about opposing what they thought was wrong. Second, that despite their sincerity, what they wrote to justify rejecting the Catholic Church was absolutely false and harmful. This brings us to something that should be remembered when people today launch attacks against the Pope or the Church: just because an attacker is sincere, it doesn’t make him or her right. What matters is if the actual evidence supports the allegations, not the accusations themselves.

Luther and Calvin confused their own interpretation of Scripture, St. Augustine, Church Councils, etc., with what was actually said. When the Catholic Church held a position that ran counter to their interpretation, the Church was declared guilty of Pelagianism, of inventing new teachings and so on. The problem was the interpretation is not necessarily the actual meaning. Both men cited Augustine and argued that his refutation of Pelagius was also a refutation of Catholic teaching on grace. But the Catholic teaching on grace does not allow for the Pelagian views of merit that these two men accused the Catholic Church of holding. So, even if they were sincere# in their refutations, they were still wrong because their accusations were simply untrue. If they had considered the possibility of being mistaken, they might have looked more closely and realized their accusations were false.

I could also bring up Calvin’s interpretation of the Patristics in trying to argue (book IV of the Institutes of the Christian Religion) that the primacy of Rome was a later innovation. Calvin confused his interpretation of the texts with what the actual texts said§. The result is a “history” that merely reflects his unproven belief that the early Church could not possibly have had a Pope*.

This is why I warn about the modern anti-Francis Catholics falling into the same errors as Luther and Calvin. No, their theology is not the same. But their tactics are. That’s why the modern critics are in danger. The difference between the founders of Protestantism and those leading the Catholic reform of the time is this: the members of the Catholic Reform gave religious submission of intellect and will to the teachings of the magisterium while the leaders of Protestantism rejected it.

But before a critic argues, “But that was different! We’re rejecting errors!” remember that this is what men like Luther and Calvin said too. No matter how sincere the modern critics might be, they are causing the same turmoil and using the same tactics.


(§) Modern religious software like Verbum or Logos allows for instantaneous investigation of the cited works. This lets us discover things taken out of context, paraphrases, and injected editorial comments that mix with or even replace the actual words of the early Church Fathers. Luther and Calvin went beyond what the anti-Pelagian writings actually said.

(#) It is not for me to judge their culpability. But, sincere or not, they were wrong.

(*) Begging the question is a fallacy that gets used frequently by anti-Catholics outside the Church and dissenters within the Church.

(€) Many of the critics are “cradle Catholics,” but it would be interesting to do a study to see if there are any residual assumptions among converts who are also anti-Francis Catholics. Unfortunately, I don’t have any way of conducting such a study to test the idea for accuracy.

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