Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Guest Blog: Thoughts on “The Examination of the Council of Trent”
By Frank Marron
The Title "Sceleratissimus Lutheranus" (meaning "the most villianous Lutheran") was "awarded" to Martin Chemnitz by his Roman Catholic adversaries after the publication of his exhaustive critique of the Council of Trent.
In response to the 16th century Reformers’ Confessions, which are contained in the Book of Concord, the Roman church conducted the Council of Trent(COT). This council formalized the set of beliefs which established the Roman Catholic Church, in addition to attempts at refuting the claims of the Reformation. Upon the death of Martin Luther, the Roman church had high hopes that any problems in the provinces would soon come to an end and things would return to normal.
However, that was not to be the case. Martin Luther had predicted that upon his death men would attempt to tear apart the Reformed churches by attacking the key biblical doctrine of Justification by Grace through Faith in the atonement of Christ ALONE. As predicted, there arose disagreements over doctrinal issues and various factions indeed threatened the unity of Faith within the Reformed churches. Fortunately, God was at work in the hearts and minds of several eminent Reformed theologians to ensure the continuity of what began under the leadership of Luther.
One such giant of the Faith was Martin Chemnitz. The Roman Jesuit order was totally surprised at the caliber of this theologian and it is often said “if Martin Chemnitz had not come along, Martin Luther would hardly have survived”. Among Chemnitz’ various responsibilities was to be the official observer and respondent to the claims of the Council of Trent. His 4 volume treatise “Examination of the Council of Trent” contains the theological exegesis and historical analyzes rebutting the claims of the Roman church. Volume I of the Examination addressed the key theological issues of Holy Scripture, Traditions, Original Sin, Free Will, Justification, Faith, and Good Works.
Upon reviewing the section of the Examination dealing with Traditions, I noticed parallels with statements contained within the Catechism of the Catholic Church dealing with salvation of pagans. Chemnitz clearly laid out the historicity of a proper use of traditions as compared to an improper use: all traditions are to be compared against the Word of God to determine the appropriateness of retaining them. Of course the Roman church disagreed, contending that many “unwritten traditions” pertaining to both faith and morals and which cannot be proved with any testimony of Scripture may also be received with the same authority of Holy Writ. The Roman church claim was that many unwritten traditions were handed down over the ages beginning with men who knew Christ and the apostles from first-hand experience.
Chemnitz brilliantly demonstrates the folly of this approach by illustrating how men such as Polycarp maintained orthodoxy by submitting every tradition to a Scriptural test, while Papias advocated many unwritten traditions resulting in the establishment of all sorts of corruptions, abuses, and superstitions, such as chiliasm. As Chemnitz put it: “…because of the admiration of the unwritten traditions certain seeds about a more perfect knowledge than is delivered in the Scripture clung also to great and learned men in the church.”
Other false teachings based upon spurious teachings concerned the critical doctrine of Justification. Clement of Alexandria was one who embraced many secret, or mystical unwritten traditions still present in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Clement believed rightly, as the Scriptures say, that the Law of God was a custodian to the Jews until Christ appeared. However, Clement also taught that human philosophy was the vehicle by which Greeks were justified!
Upon closer examination, one can see here the beginning of errant beliefs contained in the RCC Catechism, such as paragraph 847 which states that pagans who have not heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ can achieve eternal salvation merely by following their consciences to the best of their ability. I recall reading an article in the December 2005 edition of the Roman Catholic periodical “This Rock”, in which similar claims were made. The article was titled “No Salvation Outside the Church” and was written by Fr. Ray Ryland, an Episcopal Priest holding a PhD in theology from Marquette University. Fr. Ryland quotes the Catholic Catechism:
“Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it can be saved. ..”
Fr. Ryland continues to emphasize “That which opens the salvation of Christ to them is their conscious effort, under grace, to serve God as well as they can on the basis of the best information they have about him.”
Now, as a Lutheran I could not merely read this article without a comment. For one thing, as Chemnitz demonstrated in his Examination, the word “Grace” in Scripture refers to the attitude of God towards sinners on account of the atonement of Christ. It does not refer to any “infusion” of power by which a man can live a God-pleasing life, primarily because only the sacrifice of Christ is meritorious for the forgiveness of sins and this Righteousness is imputed to men through the vehicle of faith, a gift from God. Consider the following interchange between “This Rock” and myself on the issue:
Fr. Ryland’s article “No Salvation Outside the Church”(December 2005) raised questions in my mind. He made the point that the Catholic Church consists of believers and all those ignorant of Christ who “seek truth”. But Holy Scripture says that no man is “good”, no one seeks truth, and all have turned to their own way(Psalm 53:2-3; Is 53:6). Ryland also makes the point that when Christ says he has “other sheep that are not of this fold”(John 10:16), he is referring not only to future believers but also to those who will never hear the gospel. If this is the case, why would the Catholic Church be concerned with missionary activities? After all, if unbelievers who “seek truth” can be saved, why jeopardize their chances of salvation by presenting the gospel, which they could reject, thereby risking their salvation?
This Rock Response:
“Fr. Ray Ryland replies: Thank you for your question. Responding to it enables me to make further distinctions that perhaps should have been in the article itself.
The quotations from Psalm 53 and Isaiah 53, in my opinion, are somewhat hyperbolic, intended as such to make a strong point. Sin is indeed universal, which means all of us repeatedly-but not always-turn to our own ways. Though the human race has not sought truth as assiduously as it should, great numbers of people have indeed sought the truth as best they could in their circumstances.
Vatican II and recent pontiffs have taught that the Church by its very nature is inherently missionary-oriented. The primary reason is because our Lord categorically commanded it(Matt. 28:20).
Unbelievers who truly seek the truth need and have a right to hear the gospel for several reasons. The gospel properly proclaimed to them can put the truth they have received in proper context and point that truth toward Christ, who is the fullness of truth. Another reason is that proclaiming the gospel can enable the “unbelievers” to sift the truth they have received from the error they have unwittingly embraced along with the truth. Moreover, hearing the gospel puts them on notice that as human beings they must do the best they can to order their lives in accord with the will of their Creator.”
Concluding Comments by Frank Marron
You the reader can judge whether of not “This Rock” adequately responded to my initial question. In my opinion they did not. Fr. Ryland merely restated his original arguments and never responded to the illogical position confronted by my letter. To any serious student of Scripture, all men are born totally spiritually depraved and it is impossible for them to please God, contrary to what Fr. Ryland says. He would do well not to discount Scripture and consider the fact that God says what is required is a New Creation entirely, not a man who searches after truth. The Old Adam must be buried in Baptism and an entirely New Creation conformed to Christ must emerge. It is easy to see how embracing “unwritten traditions” and the thoughts of men(Vatican II) over the clear Word of God, can result in weird and inconsistent theology. The false teachings of human philosophy and elevation of so called “unwritten traditions” that Martin Chemnitz confronted centuries ago is alive and well in the 21st century.
Other articles by Frank Marron:
Guest Blogger: Frank Marron (Lutheran)
Guest Blog: Law & Gospel
Guest Blog: The Word Of The Lord Endures forever, Not The words Of Martin Luther!
Guest Blog:Why Are There So Many Christian Denominations?
Guest Blog: Bondage Of The Will