It has become routine in October for some Christian schools to send out letters warning parents about the evils of Halloween, and it has become equally routine for me to be asked questions about this matter.
“Halloween” is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word “hallow” means “saint,” in that “hallow” is just an alternative form of the word “holy” (“hallowed be Thy name”). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.)
In the First Covenant, the war between God’s people and God’s enemies was fought on the human level against Egyptians, Assyrians, etc. With the coming of the New Covenant, however, we are told that our primary battle is against principalities and powers, against fallen angels who bind the hearts and minds of men in ignorance and fear. We are assured that through faith, prayer, and obedience, the saints will be victorious in our battle against these demonic forces. The Spirit assures us: “The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20).
The Festival of All Saints reminds us that though Jesus has finished His work, we have not finished ours. He has struck the decisive blow, but we have the privilege of working in the mopping up operation. Thus, century by century the Christian faith has rolled back the demonic realm of ignorance, fear, and superstition. Though things look bad in the Western world today, this work continues to make progress in Asia and Africa and Latin America.
The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.
The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.
What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.
(The tradition of mocking Satan and defeating him through joy and laughter plays a large role in Ray Bradbury’s classic novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is a Halloween novel.)
The gargoyles that were placed on the churches of old had the same meaning. They symbolized the Church ridiculing the enemy. They stick out their tongues and make faces at those who would assault the Church. Gargoyles are not demonic; they are believers ridiculing the defeated demonic army.
Thus, the defeat of evil and of demonic powers is associated with Halloween. For this reason, Martin Luther posted his 95 challenges to the wicked practices of the Church to the bulletin board on the door of the Wittenberg chapel on Halloween. He picked his day with care, and ever since Halloween has also been Reformation Day.
Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even – Hallow-E’en – Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ – we have NO FEAR!
I don’t have the resources to check the historical origins of all Halloween customs, and doubtless they have varied from time to time and from Christian land to Christian land. “Trick or treat” doubtless originated simply enough: something fun for kids to do. Like anything else, this custom can be perverted, and there have been times when “tricking” involved really mean actions by teenagers and was banned from some localities.
We can hardly object, however, to children collecting candy from friends and neighbors. This might not mean much to us today, because we are so prosperous that we have candy whenever we want, but in earlier generations people were not so well o_, and obtaining some candy or other treats was something special. There is no reason to pour cold water on an innocent custom like this.
Similarly, the jack-o’-lantern’s origins are unknown. Hollowing out a gourd or some other vegetable, carving a face, and putting a lamp inside of it is something that no doubt has occurred quite independently to tens of thousands of ordinary people in hundreds of cultures worldwide over the centuries. Since people lit their homes with candles, decorating the candles and the candle-holders was a routine part of life designed to make the home pretty or interesting. Potatoes, turnips, beets, and any number of other items were used.
Wynn Parks writes of an incident he observed: “An English friend had managed to remove the skin of a tangerine in two intact halves. After carving eyes and nose in one hemisphere and a mouth in the other, he poured cooking oil over the pith sticking up in the lower half and lit the readymade wick. With its upper half on, the tangerine skin formed a miniature jack-o’-lantern. But my friend seemed puzzled that I should call it by that name. `What would I call it? Why a “tangerine head,” I suppose.’” (Parks, “The Head of the Dead,” The World & I, November 1994, p. 270.)
In the New World, people soon learned that pumpkins were admirably suited for this purpose. The jack-o’-lantern is nothing but a decoration; and the leftover pumpkin can be scraped again, roasted, and turned into pies and muffins.
In some cultures, what we call a jack-o’-lantern represented the face of a dead person, whose soul continued to have a presence in the fruit or vegetable used. But this has no particular relevance to Halloween customs. Did your mother tell you, while she carved the pumpkin, that this represented the head of a dead person and with his soul trapped inside? Of course not. Symbols and decorations, like words, mean different things in different cultures, in different languages, and in different periods of history. The only relevant question is what does it mean now, and nowadays it is only a decoration.
And even if some earlier generations did associate the jack-o’-lantern with a soul in a head, so what? They did not take it seriously. It was just part of the joking mockery of heathendom by Christian people.
This is a good place to note that many articles in books, magazines, and encyclopedias are written by secular humanists or even the pop-pagans of the so-called “New Age” movement. (An example is the article by Wynn Parks cited above.) These people actively suppress the Christian associations of historic customs, and try to magnify the pagan associations. They do this to try and make paganism acceptable and to downplay Christianity. Thus, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, etc., are said to have pagan origins. Not true.
Oddly, some fundamentalists have been influenced by these slanted views of history. These fundamentalists do not accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of Western history, American history, and science, but sometimes they do accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of the origins of Halloween and Christmas, the Christmas tree, etc. We can hope that in time these brethren will reexamine these matters as well. We ought not to let the pagans do our thinking for us.
Nowadays, children often dress up as superheroes, and the original Christian meaning of Halloween has been absorbed into popular culture. Also, with the present fad of “designer paganism” in the so-called New Age movement, some Christians are uneasy with dressing their children as spooks. So be it. But we should not forget that originally Halloween was a Christian custom, and there is no solid reason why Christians cannot enjoy it as such even today.
“He who sits in the heavens laughs; Yahweh ridicules them” says Psalm 2. Let us join in His holy laughter, and mock the enemies of Christ on October 31.”
God Almighty owns everything. This is the biblical view: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1); God says, “[E]very beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all it contains (Psa. 50:9-12).
God created mankind in His own image. Man reflects God’s character and order. Just as God owns everything, God delegated the stewardship and dominion of property to His image, mankind (Gen. 1:26-28), and thus humans have the capacity and calling to act as private owners. God planted a special garden—the Garden of Eden—and placed man in it to till it, and to guard its boundaries (Gen. 2:8, 15). When Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s law-order, God kicked them outside of those boundaries, and placed a “no-trespassing” sign in the form of an angelic guardian at their gates (Gen. 3:23-24). Adam and Eve very quickly learned the ins and outs of private property.
This doctrine continued as God’s way of ordering and prospering society, and we see this in the fact that God’s fundamental laws for living—the Ten Commandments—include the prohibition of theft (Ex. 20:15). No man or group of men can take another man’s property—by individual act, legislation, petition, conspiracy, or appeal to the “common good”—in disregard for God’s law. The Old Testament frequently refers to the moving of a neighbor’s landmark (a property corner) in order to increase one’s own property (Deut. 19:14; 27:17; Job 24:2; Prov. 22:28; 23:10; Hos. 5:10). The references forbid or condemn the act as an attack on inheritance and possession (Deut. 19:14).
The same doctrine holds in the New Testament. In the early Church in Acts 5, as many Christians voluntarily sold their goods and gave to the poor among them, one couple sold some land and laid only a portion at the apostles’ feet pretending they had given all. Nevertheless, even for these corrupt-hearted individuals, Peter up-held the doctrine of private property: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?” (Acts 5:4). God punished them, not for not giving all, but for lying about what they gave.
Other apostles upheld the doctrine as well: Paul preached against theft (Eph. 4:28), as did Peter (1 Pet. 4:15) and James (Jam. 5:4). Not to mention that Jesus saw the command as quite relevant as well (Matt. 19:18).
The biblical witness is clear: God believes in private property, and He not only desires us but commands us to live by that rule as well. Under this system, our rights and freedoms come from God. No man can take them away. He who tries must answer to the law, and ultimately to God.
Socialism is the belief that individual private property is a bad idea. It is thus an anti-Christian and anti-biblical belief. Socialists believe that governments should own most or all property and distribute it out as government experts, scientists, politicians, or occasionally voters see fit. Under socialism, the State puts itself in the place of God and says, “The earth is the State’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” Under this view, the individual has no protection from his neighbor if his neighbor is in the majority, or if the State somehow deems his neighbor as needful in some way; the State simply uses force to take that individual’s property and give it to someone else. In this sense, the State moves landmarks every day. In this view, the State determines our rights, and gives us our freedoms; here there is no appeal beyond the State.
Socialism is the belief, therefore, that stealing is acceptable as long as another man or group of men says so. Socialism believes in theft by majority vote, or theft by a majority of representatives’ votes in Congress. Socialism is the belief that armed robbery is OK as long as you do it through proxy of the government’s gun. Socialism places man, and ultimately the State, in the place of God. Man becomes owned by other men, instead of by his Maker. Socialism is an entirely humanistic, God-denying, God-usurping belief.
Between these two beliefs—private property and socialism— there exists fundamental conflict. They represent contradictory views of sovereignty, man, law, society, and inheritance. They are fundamentally rival religious systems. Choosing one, you reject the other; service and honor to God, or servitude to fellow men. Either God commands and judges man, or man commands and judges man.”
The clash between Peter and Paul at Antioch is one of those back-water biblical incidents that changed the world. It’s ancient history, but it’s as relevant today as it was in the first century, if not more so. Paul recounts the incident in the second chapter of his letter to the Galatians, his main epistle against the “Judaizers.” According to some Jewish converts in the early church, Gentiles could not become full disciples of Jesus without first becoming Jews. They had to be circumcised, observe Jewish purity laws and dietary restrictions, and follow Jewish rules about table fellowship if they were going to be full members of the Christian community.
The battle between Paul and the Judaizers focused on table fellowship. Initially, Peter didn’t require Gentiles to “judaize” but ate openly with uncircumcised Gentiles. Pressured by believers from the Jerusalem church, though, he withdrew and refused to share meals with Gentiles anymore. Whether these were common or sacred meals, the same logic would apply to both: If Peter wouldn’t eat common meals with unclean Gentiles, he certainly would have avoided the contagion of Gentiles at sacred meals. For Paul, this wasn’t a small or marginal issue. In Paul’s judgment, Peter was “not straightforward about the gospel” and his actions undermined justification by faith. Unless Jews and Gentiles share a common table, Paul insisted, the Gospel is compromised.
At the center of Paul’s message was the announcement that Israel’s hopes had been fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because of those events, Torah no longer provided access to God. Torah belonged to the age of the flesh, and now the age of the Spirit had come. Thus, the badges and boundary markers that once marked Israel as the people of God no longer did so. Jews were free to keep Torah in respect for their ancestors, but Gentiles were grafted in as full members of Christ’s body without observing Torah. Faith in Jesus was now the sole badge of membership, faith ritualized by baptism. When Peter implicitly demanded that believing Gentiles observe Jewish ceremonies, he turned back to the age of Torah. Peter obscured the gospel because he acted as if Jesus had never come.
For Paul, Christians should share meals with any and all who confess faith in Jesus, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, and this unity should be especially evident in the Eucharistic meal that is the high point of Christian liturgy. One Lord must have one people sitting at one table. Any additional requirement beyond faith in Jesus betrays the Gospel.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Some profess Jesus but betray him with their lives. Jesus and Paul both teach that impenitent sinners and heretics should be excluded from the Church and from the table of communion. As Reformed Protestants say, the table must be fenced.
Even with that crucial qualification, Paul’s assault on Peter poses a bracing challenge to today’s church. It is common in every branch of the church for some believers to exclude other believers from the Lord’s table. Some Lutherans will commune only with Christians who hold to a Lutheran view of the real presence. Some Reformed churches require communicants to adhere to their Confessional standards. The Catholic Mass and the Orthodox Eucharist are reserved, with a few exceptions, for Catholics and Orthodox.
I cannot see how these exclusions pass the Pauline test. Catholics will say that they don’t add anything to Paul’s requirements. They exclude Protestants from the Mass because Protestantism is (at best) an inadequate expression of the apostolic faith; for Catholics, a credible confession of Jesus must include a confession of certain truths about the Church. Lutherans and some Reformed Christians will point to Paul’s warnings about “discerning the body” and ask Amos’s question: “Do men walk together unless they are in agreement?” All this avoids the central question: Do Catholics and Orthodox consider their Protestant friends Christians? Do Lutherans consider Reformed believers to be disciples of Jesus? If so, why aren’t they eating at the same table? Shouldn’t the one Lord have one people at one table?
I have shared meals in diners, French restaurants, and at Indian buffets with Rusty Reno, David Mills, David Bentley Hart, Francesca Murphy, Matt Levering, Robert Louis Wilken, Vigen Guroian, George Weigel, and Robert George. At those tables, we were family, and I am exceedingly grateful for that warm expression of communion in Christ and in one another. Such friendships are a heartening sign of ecumenical progress.
But when we assemble as Church, in the place where our brotherhood should be most evident, some of us eat while others watch. If Jesus showed up as host, wouldn’t he invite Timothy George, Alan Jacobs, Robert Jenson, and Gilbert Meilander to share his table along with Reno, Hart, Mills, and all the rest? If Jesus showed up, wouldn’t he want all of us to join him at his table? And, doesn’t Jesus show up?
The Catholic World Report recently posted an op-ed entitled “Why is Jerry Sandusky Guilty?”. It is one of the best things I have read online in a long time. The author may be roman catholic, but he functions in this article as a presuppositionalist of the highest order. I cannot commend this article enough.
“There is no doubt that Jerry Sandusky is guilty, the real question is why? Why is it that we, here and now, would send a man to prison for molesting boys? Why is the public reaction one of both deep disgust and quite visceral anger? Just canvass a few opinions about what people would like to be done to punish Sandusky if they were the judge.
But why? What is the cause of this deep disgust? This seething anger?
There is only one cause: Christianity. We still have minds, consciences, and hearts, and hence a legal system, historically formed by Christian moral principles. There is no other reason. Allow me to explain, beginning first with the “that” of his guilt.
Jerry Sandusky has been declared guilty of 45 of 48 counts of child sexual molestation. The coaching hero of Penn State used his status to draw in young boys through his Second Mile charity, “a statewide, nonprofit organization for children who need additional support and who would benefit from positive human contact” (so the website maintains). The “positive human contact” Sandusky had in mind occurred in locker rooms, motel rooms, his basement, and who knows where else. He molested (at least) one of his adopted sons.
This is 2012. Turn the historical clock back 2000 years, and find yourself in the pagan Roman Empire before Christianity arose, i.e., before the Christianization of the West. In Rome, as in ancient Greece, homosexuality was completely acceptable. To be more exact, homosexual activity was frowned on (but not very diligently) when it occurred between two free-born men, but it was cheerfully affirmed between a master and his slave, and even more, a man and a boy between the ripe ages of about 12 to 17—just the target age of Sandusky. The man generally presented himself as a kindly benefactor to the boy, taking him under his wing, so to speak, and (in return for sexual favors) helping him up the social ladder. Just like Sandusky.
If Sandusky would have lived 2000 years ago, he would not have been found guilty of anything. He would not even have been noticed. His actions would have been entirely unremarkable. There would have been no disgust, no anger. The verdict would have been innocent, and in fact, the notion that he was guilty of anything would have been unintelligible.
There is one and only one reason, 2000 years later, that Sandusky is guilty now. Unlike everyone else around them, Judaism rejected homosexuality, including man-boy sex. Christianity came from Judaism, and carried that moral rejection forth amidst the pagan Roman Empire, the Greek East, and everywhere else its missionaries roamed in search of converts. Today, there are about 13.5 million Jews, but over 2 billion Christians. Christians are demographically responsible for carrying forth the Judeo-Christian moral view, and with it, the moral disgust and anger—and guilty verdict—at what Sandusky did.
That is the why of Sandusky’s guilt. Our consciences, our minds, our hearts, our legal system in America have been formed by Christian moral teaching about sexuality. Subtract Christianity from history, and we would be back in Rome. In pagan Rome, Sandusky would be innocent.
To make the point even more pointed, no other attempted modern substitute for Christianity could find Sandusky guilty without surreptitiously borrowing from Christianity.
Thomas Hobbes’s invention of modern natural rights, set forth in the mid-17th century, declared that by nature there was no right and wrong, just or unjust; all moral and hence legal rules were artificial.
Utilitarianism declares that morality must be reduced to what provides the greatest pleasure for the greatest number—not exactly a strong defense against pedophilia.
Darwinian evolutionary ethics doesn’t distinguish between right and wrong; notions of right and wrong are simply effects of ingrained responses that are somehow calibrated to the survival of a particular human population. As long as that population continues to breed successfully, particular sexual actions are not “condemned” by natural selection.
Democracy itself can’t rescue us. The notion that the majority determines the moral outlines of the legal system doesn’t help much, given that the majority of Greeks and Romans affirmed Sandusky-like behavior, and since we ourselves are in a period of secularization with the Christian moral hold on society becoming ever-weaker, it is unclear how long our majority will continue to feel either anger or disgust. Many things used to fill us with moral disgust—e.g., abortion—which we now regard with a live-and-let-live attitude, or even affirm as a right.
Freud thought that the desire for incest was natural, so there’s little help there either. Contemporary psychologists following Freud, don’t talk about something being wrong, but about the ill-effects of repressed desires. Sandusky’s defense was toying with the possibility of getting him declared not guilty through claiming he had a mental disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder.
Even the stern philosopher Kant would be of no service. He tried to root morality in the so-called categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” Here’s the problem: if I’m an ancient Greek or Roman, I want everyone to affirm pedophilia. I want it to be universally accepted. A modern pedophiliac wants the same thing—just ask the North American Man-Boy Love Association.
So we’re back to—or backed into—the conclusion that the only reason Sandusky is guilty, the reason we feel anger and disgust, is the historical influence of Christianity in forming our consciences, our minds, our passions, our laws. Christianity is “guilty,” we might say, of finding Sandusky guilty.
But again, here’s the problem. Our society is being successively and successfully de-Christianized. The moral formation is wearing off rapidly. Now that we’ve answered the why of Sandusky’s guilt, we’ve got one more question to ask: How long will we continue to feel guilty?
Here’s the solution. We must recognize that Christianity was and is right. There is something fundamentally, morally disgusting about a man who would sexually molest boys, whether anyone happens to feel moral outrage or not. It is not just disgusting, but evil, wherever and whenever it occurs. It was evil in Greece, whatever the Greeks felt about it. It was evil in Rome, whatever the Romans believed. It was evil when Catholic priests did it, who had every reason to know it was evil.
And it was evil for Sandusky. Christianity is right. Sandusky is guilty.”
My friends tell me that my name has been invoked in various web skirmishes concerning Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism, sometimes by people, including friends, who claim that I nurtured them along in their departure from the Protestant world. My friends also hinted that it would be good for me to say again why I’m not heading to Rome or Constantinople or Moscow (Russia!), nor encouraging anyone to do so. Everything I say below I’ve said before in various venues – on this blog, in First Things, in conference presentations. But it might be useful to put down my reasons fairly concisely in one place, so here tis.
One of the major themes of my academic and pastoral life, and one of the passions of my heart, has been to participate in the healing of the divided church. I have written and taught a great deal on ecclesiology; I participate in various joint Protestant-Catholic-Orthodox ventures (Touchstone, First Things, Center for Catholic-Evangelical Dialog). I consider many Catholics and Orthodox friends as co-belligerents in various causes, and I think of Catholicism and Orthodoxy as allies on a wide range of issues, not only in the culture wars but in theology and church life.
This isn’t just a theological niche for me. It’s a product of a deep conviction about the nature of the church. I still remember the pain I felt when I first understood (with James Dunn’s help) what Paul was on about in Galatians 2, when he attacked Peter for withdrawing from table fellowship. The division of the church, especially since the Reformation, has largely been a story of horror and tragedy, with the occasional act of faithful separation thrown in. I regard the division of the church as one of the great evils of the modern world, which has seen more than its share of evils (many of which are, I believe, quite closely related to the division of the church). What more horrific sight can we imagine than to see Christ again crucified? Christ is not divided. I think our main response to this half-millennium of Western division, and millennium-plus of East-West division should be deep mourning and repentance.
My Protestantism, my reformed catholicity, isn’t at all in conflict with that passion for church unity. There is no tension at all. On the contrary, it’sbecause I am so passionate to see the church reunited that I, not grudgingly but cheerfully, stay where I am. My summary reason for staying put is simple: I’m too catholic to become Catholic or Orthodox.
I agree with the standard Protestant objections to Catholicism and Orthodoxy: Certain Catholic teachings and practices obscure the free grace of God in Jesus Christ; prayers through Mary and the saints are not encouraged or permitted by Scripture, and they distract from the one Mediator, Jesus; I do not accept the Papal claims of Vatican I; I believe iconodules violate the second commandment by engaging in liturgical idolatry; venerating the Host is also liturgical idolatry; in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, tradition muzzles the word of God. I’m encouraged by many of the developments in Catholicism before and since Vatican II, but Vatican II created issues of its own (cf. the treatment of Islam in Lumen Gentium).
I agree with those objections, but those are not the primary driving reasons that keep me Protestant. I have strong objections to some brands of Protestantism, after all. My Protestantism – better, reformed catholicity – is not fundamentally anti-. It’s pro-, pro-church, pro-ecumenism, pro-unity, pro-One Body of the One Lord. It’s not that I’m too anti-Catholic to be Catholic. I’m too catholic to be Catholic.
Here’s the question I would ask to any Protestant considering a move: What are you saying about your past Christian experience by moving to Rome or Constantinople? Are you willing to start going to a Eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome? How is that different from Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentiles? Are you willing to say that every faithful saint you have known is living a sub-Christian existence because they are not in churches that claim apostolic succession, no matter how fruitful their lives have been in faith, hope, and love? For myself, I would have to agree that my ordination is invalid, and that I have never presided over an actual Eucharist. To become Catholic, I would have to begin regarding my Protestant brothers as ambiguously situated “separated brothers,” rather than full brothers in the divine Brother, Jesus. To become Orthodox, I would likely have to go through the whole process of initiation again, as if I were never baptized. And what is that saying about all my Protestant brothers who have been “inadequately” baptized? Why should I distance myself from other Christians like that? I’m too catholic to do that.
Catholicism and Orthodoxy are impressive for their heritage, the seriousness of much of their theology, the seriousness with which they take Christian cultural engagement. Both, especially the Catholic church, are impressive for their sheer size. But when I attend Mass and am denied access to the table of my Lord Jesus together with my Catholic brothers, I can’t help wondering what really is the difference between Catholics and the Wisconsin Synod Lutherans or the Continental Reformed who practice closed communion. My Catholic friends take offense at this, but I can’t escape it: Size and history apart, how is Catholicism different from a gigantic sect? Doesn’t Orthodoxy come under the same Pauline condemnation as the fundamentalist Baptist churches who close their table to everyone outside? To become Catholic I would had to contract my ecclesial world. I would have to become lesscatholic – less catholic than Jesus is. Which is why I will continue to say: I’m too catholic to become Catholic.
One final reason has to do with time. I cut my theological teeth, and still cut them, on James Jordan’s biblical theology. At the end of Through New Eyes, Jordan argues just as the temple was unimaginable to Israelites living through the collapse of the tabernacle system, so the future of the church is unimaginable to us. We can’t see the future; we can’t know how God is going to put back the fragmented pieces of His church. We can trust and hope that He is and will, but all we have access to are the configurations of the past and present. It’s tempting to imagine that the future of the church will be an extension of some present tradition – Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Anabaptist, whatever. But the future never is a simple extension of the past and present (how can it be, with the massive surge in Christianity in the global South?). So I remain contentedly and firmly in my reformed catholicity, but I remain also eager and impatient for the church to come. Of that church we know nothing except that it will be like nothing we know. We worship a living God, which means (Jenson tells us) a God of constant surprises.”
The text of a letter written by Charles Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary on behalf of the two General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, explaining why the Pope’s invitation to Protestants to send delegates to the first Vatican Council of 1869-70 was being declined.
To Pius the Ninth, Bishop of Rome,
By your encyclical letter dated 1869 you invite Protestants to send delegates to the Council called to meet at Rome during the month of December of the current year. That letter has been brought to the attention of the two General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Those Assemblies represent about five thousand ministers and a still larger number of Christian congregations.
Believing as we do, that it is the will of Christ that his Church on earth should be united, and recognizing the duty of doing all we consistently can to promote Christian charity and fellowship, we deem it right briefly to present the reasons which forbid our participation in the deliberations of the approaching Council.
It is not because we have renounced any article of the catholic faith. We are not heretics. We cordially receive all the doctrines contained in that Symbol which is known as the Apostles’ Creed. We regard all doctrinal decisions of the first six ecumenical councils to be consistent with the Word of God, and because of that consistency, we receive them as expressing our faith. We therefore believe the doctrine of the Trinity and of the person of Christ as those doctrines are expressed in the symbols adopted by the Council of Nicea AD321, that of the Council of Constantinople AD381 and more fully that of the Council of Chalcedon AD451. We believe that there are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are the same in substance and equal in power and glory. We believe that the Eternal Son of God became man by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, and so was, and continues to be, both God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever. We believe that our adorable Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the prophet who should come into the world, whose teachings we are bound to believe and on whose promises we rely. He is the High Priest whose infinitely meritorious satisfaction to divine justice, and whose ever prevalent intercession, is the sole ground of the sinner’s justification and acceptance before God. We acknowledge him to be our Lord not only because we are his creatures but also because we are the purchase of his blood. To his authority we are bound to submit, in his care we confide, and to his service all creatures in heaven and earth should be devoted.
We receive all those doctrines concerning sin, grace and predestination, known as Augustinian, which doctrines received the sanction not only of the Council of Carthage and of other provincial Synods, but of the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus AD431, and of Zosimus, bishop of Rome.
We therefore cannot be pronounced heretics without involving in the same condemnation the whole ancient church.
Neither are we schismatics. We cordially recognize as members of Christ’s visible Church on earth, all those who profess the true religion together with their children. We are not only willing but earnest to hold Christian communion with them, provided they do not require, as conditions of such communion, that we profess doctrines which the Word of God condemns, or that we should do what the Word forbids. If in any case any Church prescribes such unscriptural terms of fellowship, the error and the fault is with that church and not with us.
But although we do not decline your invitation because we are either heretics or schismatics, we are nevertheless debarred from accepting it, because we still hold with ever increasing confidence those principles for which our fathers were excommunicated and pronounced accursed by the Council of Trent, which represented, and still represents, the Church over which you preside.
The most important of those principles are: First, that the Word of God, contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. The Council of Trent, however, pronounces Anathema on all who do not receive the teachings of tradition pari pietatis affectu (with equal pious affection) as the Scriptures themselves. This we cannot do without incurring the condemnation which our Lord pronounced on the Pharisees, who made void the Word of God by their traditions (Matt. 15:6).
Secondly, the right of private judgement. When we open the Scriptures, we find that they are addressed to the people. They speak to us. We are commanded to search them (John 5:39), to believe what they teach. We are held personally responsible for our faith. The apostle commands us to pronounce accursed an apostle or an angel from heaven who should teach anything contrary to the divinely authenticated Word of God (Gal. 1:8). He made us the judges, and has placed the rule of judgement into our hands, and holds us responsible for our judgements.
Moreover, we find that the teaching of the Holy Spirit was promised by Christ not to the clergy only, much less to any one order of the clergy exclusively, but to all believers. It is written, ‘Ye shall all be taught of God.’ The Apostle John says to believers: ‘Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things . . . but the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you; and ye need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him’ (1 John 2:20,27). This teaching of the Spirit authenticates itself, as this same apostle teaches us, when he says, ‘He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself (1 John 5:10). ‘I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth’ (1 John 2:21). Private judgement, therefore, is not only a right, but a duty, from which no man can absolve himself, or be absolved by others.
Thirdly, we believe in the universal priesthood of all believers, that is, that all believers have through Christ access by one Spirit unto the Father (Eph. 2:18); that we may come with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16); ‘Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water’ (Heb. 10:19-22). To admit, therefore, the priesthood of the clergy, whose intervention is necessary to secure for us the remission of sin and other benefits of the redemption of Christ, is to renounce the priesthood of our Lord, or its sufficiency to secure reconciliation with God.
Fourthly, we deny the perpetuity of apostleship. As no man can be an apostle without the Spirit of prophecy, so no man can be an apostle without the gifts of an apostle. Those gifts, as we learn from Scripture, were plenary knowledge of the truth derived from Christ by immediate revelation (Gal.s 1:12), and personal infallibility as teachers and rulers. What the seals of apostleship were Paul teaches us, when he says to the Corinthians, ‘Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds’ (2 Cor. 12:12). As for prelates who claim to be apostles, and who demand the same confidence in their teaching, and the same submission to their authority, as that which is due to the inspired messengers of Christ, without pretending to possess either the gifts or signs of the apostleship, we cannot submit to their claims. This would be rendering to erring men the subjection due to God alone or to his divinely authenticated and infallible messengers.
Much less can we recognize the Bishop of Rome as the vicar of Christ on earth, clothed with the authority over the Church and the world which was exercised by our Lord while here in the flesh. It is plain that no one can be the vicar of Christ who has not the attributes of Christ. To recognize the Bishop of Rome as Christ’s vicar is therefore virtually to recognize him as divine.
We must stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. We cannot forfeit our salvation by putting man in the place of God, giving one of like passions with ourselves the control of our inward and outward life which is due only to him in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead.
Other and equally cogent reasons might be assigned why we cannot with a good conscience be represented in the proposed Council. But as the Council of Trent, whose canons are still in force, pronounces all accursed who hold the principles above enumerated, nothing further is necessary to show that our declining your invitation is a matter of necessity.
Nevertheless, although we cannot return to the fellowship of the Church of Rome, we desire to live in charity with all men. We love all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. We regard as Christian brethren all who worship, love and obey him as their God and Saviour, and we hope to be united in heaven with all who unite with us on earth in saying, ‘Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen’ (Rev. 1:6).
Signed on behalf of the two General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church in the US of America