Spooftexting the Reformation

I saw this quote from Charles Hodge on another blog, and thought it merited some comment.

Dr. John Henry Newman says, that if Protestants insist on making the Church of Rome Antichrist, they thereby make over all Roman Catholics, past and present, “to utter and hopeless perdition.” This does not follow. The Church of Rome is to be viewed under different aspects; as the papacy, an external organized hierarchy, with the pope, with all his arrogant claims, at its head; and also as a body of men professing certain religious doctrines. Much may be said of it in the one aspect, which is not true of it in the other. Much may be said of Russia as an empire that cannot be said of all Russians. At one time the first Napoleon was regarded by many as Antichrist; that did not involve the belief that all Frenchmen who acknowledged him as emperor, or all soldiers who followed him as their leader, were the sons of perdition. That many Roman Catholics, past and present, are true Christians, is a palpable fact. It is a fact which no man can deny without committing a great sin. It is a sin against Christ not to acknowledge as true Christians those who bear his image, and whom He recognizes as his brethren. It is a sin also against ourselves. We are not born of God unless we love the children of God. If we hate and denounce those whom Christ loves as members of his own body, what are we? It is best to be found on the side of Christ, let what will happen. It is perfectly consistent, then, for a man to denounce the papacy as the man of sin, and yet rejoice in believing, and in openly acknowledging, that there are, and ever have been, many Romanists who are the true children of God.:”(From Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology)”:

Contrast this balanced statement with the way men such as Luther, Calvin, Hodge, Warfield, Machen, Bahnsen, etc. are often quoted by Protestant apologists. How often are instances of bombastic rhetoric against Rome cited, while passages like the above are simply passed over? More to the point, why are passages like the above simply passed over in favor of the others? Passages like the above provide much needed, sober-minded context for traditional anti-Roman polemics. When those traditional polemics are cited without any context, the result is not honest reporting of Reformation concerns but instead an atrocious spooftexting of them.

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2 Responses to Spooftexting the Reformation

  1. Reginald says:

    Mr. Enloe,

    Given that the quotation from Hodge comes from a page in which he rather violently condemns the papacy as Antichrist, I find it hard to believe that these words are much more than a token acknowledgment of the bare possibility that I might be a Christian. On the basis of what he says there, I seriously doubt that Professor Hodge would have granted his approval to a man who self-consciously affirms all that the Magisterium proposes for belief to the faithful Catholic. Not that I would ever bother to seek the approval of a man who held such nauseating opinions of the Holy Father.

    Perhaps I misunderstand your purpose, but it seems ironic for you to use this quote to condemn a lack of context in Internet discussions, when in fact the context of your own quotation itself provides exactly the sort of context that makes charitable discussion difficult.



  2. Tim Enloe says:

    Reginald, thanks for your comments. I had something particular in mind by bringing up the Hodge quote. I had in mind contemporary Protestant polemicists who frequently quote ONLY passages from past polemicists which seem to support current polemical excesses. For instance, someone will quote some Big Name of Protestant thought fulminating about how Rome “anathematizes the Gospel,” and that person will then say something like “See, Charles Hodge [or whoever] agrees with my very radical perspective on Rome, and anyone who doesn’t agree with my very radical perspective on Rome is going against the grain of traditional Protestant thought.”

    That’s obviously wrong, as the quote I produced shows. I don’t think you should be surprised that Hodge goes on to lambaste the papacy. Such has been a staple of Protestant theology and apologetics for a long time, much like lambasting Protestantism has been a staple of Catholic theology and apologetics for a long time. I didn’t claim Hodge was a lovey-dovey Rodney-Kingesque ecumenist, did I? Nevertheless, at least from Hodge (unlike his blitheringly anti-Catholic contemporaries like Thornwell), you will get the admission that Catholicism has not destroyed the Gospel, that the Gospel is still found in her preaching, and that many true Christian believers are within her fold. That would be a refreshing admission, I would think, for a Catholic to find in a stalwart Protestant theologian.

    And just so you know, I generally do not enjoy the 19th century Presbyterian theologians, even Hodge. They’re too rationalistic for my tastes, and generally don’t have much good to say about the Medieval Church–the study and constructive illumination of which is a great passion of mine. The point of me quoting Hodge here is merely to show that it is possible to be quite traditionally Protestant in terms of critiquing the papacy while yet not surrendering to some of the more crass forms of anti-Catholicism that so many Protestants today do. Of course, I think it’s also within the pale of catholic thought to critique the papacy, but that’s another story–and one with which not many Catholic apologists today would agree.

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