Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Planting Confessional Reformed Churches in Italy

Believe it or not, there is now a total of one Confessionally Reformed church in Italy.

It's a church plant from Christ United Reformed church in Santee, CA. And they're telling the story of their effort.

Pastor Andrea Ferrari is a missionary and pastor ordained in the United Reformed Churches in North America. He is an Italian national and serves as pastor of Chiesa Evangelica Riformata ‘Filadelfia’ (CERF) in Milan (Novate), Italy.

Pastor Ferrari has begun a series of short biographical posts based on what appears to be a book about the life of John Diodati (1576-1649) and his doctrine of Scripture. The first two posts are here and here.
The nature of Geneva’s Academy casts much light on Diodati’s life and work. Its basic aim was declared in 1637 by the pastors and professors of Geneva, among whom was Diodati: ‘It is not good that our students should be vain disputants, or that they should be learned in a theory without savour or strength. The true aim which we should set before ourselves . . . is to provide a holy nursery-garden of devout pastors, pure in their faith, strong in their zeal to teach, well conducted and sober, keeping guard with a clear conscience over the grand mystery of piety, and administering with justice the Word of Truth.’ This statement reflects perfectly the original vision of John Calvin himself. According to the Ecclesiastical Ordinances of 1541, the College he wished to see established was to serve the purpose of preparing children ‘for both the ministry and civil government.’ …

Both at the College and the Academy, young people were educated in the so-called humanities. Although ‘the education offered in the College and Academy was in many ways typically humanistic’, from the very beginnings, in Geneva as in Calvin’s own life, ‘humanistic studies were to be directed to the service of the Word of God.’ Calvin did not disregard ‘secular’ human learning, as is evident from reading his Institutes and commentaries. One of the sources of the Reformation had been the scholarly, critical study of the Bible, and each Calvinist minister was expected to be well equipped for the continuing task of biblical study and exegesis . . . Only a man with a high degree of linguistic and philological ability could be entrusted with the task of interpreting to less learned and otherwise occupied people the very words of Almighty God.
I hope you'll take a few minutes to check out this tremendously bold work (both in the 16th century and today).


Andrew said...

I have a preacher friend who does missionary work in Italy. He isn't reformed, but he says Italy is almost totally dead spiritually. This is good news indeed.

John Bugay said...

Thanks Andrew -- I'm convinced that the ongoing Reformation will be able to gain more traction in our day than it did in its own day, largely because of efforts like this one. Rome was able to quash the Reformation in its own time with the use of such ungodly means as repression and misinformation. Those means are not available to them today.

Rhology said...

I support a missionary in Rome. Ditto - dead spiritually. But he's faithful, thankfully.

John Bugay said...

Fascinating where "missionary territory" crops up.

Matt said...

I don't know exactly what it means to characterize a city or a country as "totally dead spiritually." I mean, you could easily characterize Amsterdam, Augsburg, London, Boston, or New York City in the same way, no? As such, one hopes that you can't use such characterizations to dismiss entire confessions/denominations...or we're all in trouble, I would think.

Incidentally, I go to a church here in Rome and it is quite lively. In your view, it is teaching a false doctrine, etc., etc. Fine. But I'm not sure that you could, without a very powerful theological lens, characterize it as "dead". And--as another incidental remark--you'd imagine that Protestant missionaries aren't regularly bumping into the faithful church-attenders. Such people (admittedly) are far too few here, as in the rest of Europe! But that can't be easily attributed to the Roman Catholic Church.

Matt said...

Mr. Bugay, as you probably know, there was much more to the Counter-Reformation than repression and misinformation, though there was certainly (admittedly) too much of those things, at least the latter. You might enjoy the works of historians like Simon Ditchfield, Robert Bireley, Eric Cochrane, Ronnie Hsia, and John O'Malley, etc., etc. Who knows?

Matt said...

Oh, let's not forget about Jedin! :-) Oldie but goodie...

John Bugay said...

Matt -- Since you go to a lively church in Rome, why don't you share the identity of that church? I'm sure, if you are an American in Rome, what's the likelihood that you're out mixing it up with the common folk, and what's the likelihood that you're at some super-premium church that can afford to buy some "liveliness".

Mr. Bugay, as you probably know, there was much more to the Counter-Reformation than repression and misinformation, though there was certainly (admittedly) too much of those things, at least the latter.

I'm glad you admit that. Let me ask you, why did it take repression and misinformation for the "one true church" to succeed at beating back a bunch of rag-tag Reformers?

Regarding Jedin, I've enjoyed quite a bit of Jedin here at Beggars All:

Matt said...

Here in Rome, I've been going to a mendicant-run church, if that is informative enough. I mean, normal people are definitely there. It's not like I'm going to St. Peter's or something. But, admittedly, I'm not in the suburbs of Rome.

However, I was in a pretty suburban church in northern Italy that wasn't special in any way--it was actually extremely ugly architecturally. I was surprised there to find more young people and community (even "evangelistic") activities and clearer, quite inspiring homilies than I expected. (My expectations were quite low largely because of the documented influence of secularism in Europe...)

And as for repression in the early modern period, I (like recent popes, etc.) don't believe that it was right. But the idea that "truth wins out" through a natural process of persuasion and diffusion of ideas is not true in your theological or historical perspective either, I would assume. I believe that the Catholic Church took the wrong approach in dealing with that fact. Brad Gregory deals with this issue rather effectively in his work.

But let's also be frank that the Reformers weren't "rag tag", in any sense of the term that I'm familiar with. If they were, things would have turned out quite differently. Having multiple German princes, the Scandinavian kings, and eventually the English monarchs on your side isn't so bad...

And I go along with recent Catholic historians in recognizing the genius of Luther and Calvin--it wasn't all political. They had powerful ideas, at least in part because of their clear statement of Pauline-Augustinian themes against certain theological perspectives that were insufficiently Augustinian soteriologically (like Biel's nominalism, even certain versions of Scotism), even if (in my judgment, as a Catholic) the Reformers partly betrayed that inheritance.

John Bugay said...

Matt -- We'll allow then that there may be some "liveliness" in some of the churches in Italy, but I'll also feel free to believe the reports of the commenters here who report "spiritual deadness."

Recent popes may not be in favor of repression, but there were quite enough of them who were. It was pure self-defense on the part of the Reformers to try to enlist the help of kings and magistrates. We saw what happened when they weren't successful at that.

If you do believe that the Catholic Church took the wrong approach, you could do a lot worse than setting that record straight with some of your fellow Catholics, beginning with some of those who comment here.

Matt said...

Mr. Bugay,

1) There is no doubt that Italy is not generally in great spiritual health. But that, as I said, is not an unambiguous indictment against Catholicism vis-a-vis Protestantism since secularism is, all in all, less advanced in traditionally Catholic countries (over against traditionally Protestant countries), if we are to believe certain (quite problematic) statistics in regard to such things. But there is probably no need to trade statistic back and forth, partly, inter alia, because of how problematic they are. It seems like we can agree that most traditional bastions of Western Christianity aren't doing too well, including our own nation. However, I will acknowledge, following the arguments of Nathan Hatch, that a certain baptistic ecclesiology and the absence of "state churches" that it encouraged (among other factors)--for whatever problematic revivalistic, individualistic, chiliastic, etc., tendencies that it brings forth-- may account for the greater religious vitality of the United States vis-a-vis Europe. But unless you want to define Protestantism extremely narrowly, this isn't all that relevant to the argument that we are having.

2) Yes, most churchmen before this century held a different view on religious toleration, as is well known. John Courtenay Murray is probably still one of the interesting voices on this topic. No disagreement here.

3) Let's beware of thinking that all historical error comes from the Catholic side of things, a view which occasionally rears its head on this blog (which, rightly, attempts to set the record straight re: Martin Luther, etc.). Let's be more open about the fact that Protestantism (esp. extremely conservative evangelicals in America, no?) has its fair share of people who use (and have used) outdated and erroneous myths to advance their confessional agendas. Or am I mistaken? As for professional historians, Catholics are doing extremely well, as this blog shows (all the way back at least to Lortz and Jedin, to McSorley, to Jared Wicks, etc.)

--are there really people posting here who defend the use of capital punishment against heretics? If so, I'd be glad to discuss the topic with them.

4) I'm not sure what you mean by saying that Protestants using monarchs was "pure self-defense." Some (not all) Protestants articulated rather robust and sophisticated accounts of how it was the prince's duty to enforce at least certain aspects of religion. [I mean, Thomas Erastus was a Protestant!] You certainly wouldn't say that early Protestants were far ahead of their times in articulating doctrines of religious toleration, right? And let's also not forget that Protestant regimes didn't lack for repressive measures. I'm not interested in doing a point-by-point comparison of Protestant and Catholic Europe... The only point is that the historical record doesn't bear it out that Protestantism was purely the victim, running to the "secular arm" out of pure desperation... That's all.

John Bugay said...

Matt -- I'm familiar with how statistics can work, but they have a legitimate use, too. For example, there is a well known "Catholic convert" industry, and sometimes statistics are a useful way to keep things in a proper perspective.

I don't want to define Protestantism narrowly. I realize that there have been problems. But this is not the place to discuss those problems. I'm interested in looking forward -- I do believe that the next seven years and beyond will represent a tremendous teaching moment, and that a broad discussion of the issues and theologies that came out of the Reformation can have a tremendously positive effect.

Let's beware of thinking that all historical error comes from the Catholic side of things, a view which occasionally rears its head on this blog

Well, prior to the Reformation, any historical error that existed, DID come from the Catholic side of things. And that's from an institution that has claimed, quite boldly, that it has never erred.

I'm sure that we'll do our share here to correct "erroneous myths" that have come out on our side. But on your side, as James has demonstrated, guys like Lortz are shouted down by some of the others.

The only point is that the historical record doesn't bear it out that Protestantism was purely the victim, running to the "secular arm" out of pure desperation...

Ok, I shouldn't have used the word "purely." But largely, the alliances that the Reformers made with various governments did (a) help save lives and (b) create environments in which "repression and misinformation" weren't quite so rampant, allowing those "powerful ideas" to get an open airing in some quarters.

Matt said...

1) No, I will not accept the statement that Joseph Lortz is shouted down "by some of the others." I believe that this has to be a debating tactic and little more. Any Catholic historian worthy of note is at least as ecumenically-minded as Joseph Lortz. In fact, most scholars today dealing with that subject matter (say, Denys Janz) say that Lortz did not go far enough. Please don't put Lortz and some of the angriest people who comment on your blog, etc., on the same level. They are not parallel. It would be like throwing--I don't know--Dave Hunt in the face of Heiko Oberman or Richard Muller and then say that the latter great men can't count as being characteristic of the Protestant "side", if you will. I will let the best of the Reformed tradition characterize it, if that makes sense. That is how the Catholic scholars that I admire have taught me to deal with those with whom I disagree. At any rate, I think (hope) that James Swan will agree that it is easy to distinguish the overly defensive, agenda-driven hacks from the real scholars. And doing real scholarship made people like Jedin, Lortz, and Wicks no less Catholic...

2) I look forward to seeing more Protestant myths about Catholics exposed in future weeks on this website. That will be an encouraging development.

3) But, wait, you want to look forward, at the same time as you respond to my statement about relative "myth-making" among Protestants and Catholics by pointing to things that happened before the Reformation? I was clearly not referring to the Middle Ages! Well, let's put that aside for the time being. As for the future that you point our eyes to, I'll definitely be back in seven years, and we'll see how "the spirit has blown where it lists," if you will. I do hope that God stirs up the "spiritual deadness" across western Europe and the USA by any means that He deems fit.

John Bugay said...

Matt -- No, I will not accept the statement that Joseph Lortz is shouted down "by some of the others." I believe that this has to be a debating tactic and little more. Any Catholic historian worthy of note is at least as ecumenically-minded as Joseph Lortz.

just a simple click on the Lortz tag brought up this:

"[Catholic historian joseph Lortz] was a Nazi just like Adolph Hitler. Both of them were Luther fans."

"You know, come to think of it, If Mr. Swan rally thinks that being a Nazi doesn't disqualify Fr. Lortz as a Luther expert, why doesn't he go right to the top and advocate the opinions of Adolph Hitler himself!"

"Mr. Swan wants us to believe that a man like Fr. Lortz who held to these "lofty ideals" can be trusted to interpret Luther correctly! Frankly, I would be embarrassed to be associated with him."

Not to say that this individual is a "Catholic historian worthy of note," but he is fairly well known and has a following.

You may have noticed this, but I'm not a person who has any interest in saying, "ooh, poor Roman Catholicism, we need to be charitable and give an old lady some slack…"

I'm firmly convinced that the Roman Catholic Church is not what it says it is:

Matt said...

Wow, well, I'm going to go and enjoy my weekend.

But by way of conclusion, I hope that it is clear to you that the exchange to which you refer (and James Swan himself!) make the point better than I did originally. [I was aware of this exchange and Sippo's erroneous perspective already since I commented on that thread, as you can see. That fact doesn't undermine the point that I was making.]

It is impossible to present Sippo in a way that is parallel or equivalent to Lortz. You can't use Sippo (rather than Lortz, Jedin, or Wicks) to characterize the Roman Catholic "side" or an RC hermeneutic of history or anything of that sort when Lortz is, among other things (!), backed up by the would-be pope as the father of Luther studies, etc. It just doesn't make sense.

If you want to play that game, I'm sure we could easily find a bunch of Dave Hunts and even Jack Chicks or whomever it may be to characterize "Protestantism" but that would be foolish and wrongheaded and unfair.

I'm not asking you to feel sorry for Catholicism or give it "slack". I'm just asking that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We could at least agree on that, right? At the very least, it's rhetorically ineffective to pick on the weakest arguments of your opponents (or the weakest individuals from among them.) Is it really asking the blogosphere too much that we do better than this?

John Bugay said...

Matt -- I think you misunderstood what I was saying with the Lortz/Sippo comment.

I wasn't positing Sippo as anything like a parallel or equivalent to Lortz. (Although Sippo was clearly placing himself as a judge over Lortz.) I was actually saying that having someone like you here was a step up from some of the usual riff raff.

You can rest assured that neither Hunt nor Chick will get a hearing here. But that doesn't stop the Catholic scoffers from showing up and presenting their take on Catholicism as THE OFFICIAL Catholicism. But someone like you is in a position to say something genuinely meaningful to them.

I have no intention of "picking on the weakest arguments" of Catholicism, but of looking it squarely in the face. (On my own blog, I was in the middle of a series analyzing Ratzinger's "Called to Communion" before James asked me to be a contributor here.)

I wanted to comment on something else that you said:

But, wait, you want to look forward, at the same time as you respond to my statement about relative "myth-making" among Protestants and Catholics by pointing to things that happened before the Reformation? I was clearly not referring to the Middle Ages!

No, but the tail end of the Middle Ages just happened to be what was going on just prior to the Reformation. The goings-on of the world at that time have to be taken into account. We need, today, to understand that world, if we're to understand the Reformation properly, and especially if we're to understand the lessons of the Reformation in the context of today.

Too often a Catholic will anachronistically apply today's dogmas back into the events of history. But that's not the way to understand history. We have to ask, "what did they know, and when did they know it?" That's the only way to evaluate history. It's the only way to understand whether "developments" were legitimate or not.

Matt said...

Thank you, Mr. Bugay. I'm very heartened and encouraged by your response. You are correct that I must have misunderstood your penultimate post. I believe that I agree with everything that you say here and with the approach that you have articulated in this comment both in regard to history and to your challenge of Roman Catholic teaching and practice.

I do hope, as it seems you do as well, that the historical research of the individuals that we have mentioned, like Wicks, Jedin, etc., as well as great, relatively recent Protestant historians like Oberman, Richard Muller, and others will begin to become more central to such debates on the blogosphere. Any contribution that I can make to that end (besides starting a blog of my own, at least at this time) would be a great blessing for me.


James Swan said...

I'd have to go through my photocopied files buried deep in the Swan basement vault (LOL), but somewhere I have a few articles in which it's argued Lortz wasn't really all that much different than those Roman Catholic interpreters of Luther that preceded him.

The biggest difference I've found with Lortz and those which preceded him is his blatant acceptance of Roman Catholic guilt for the Reformation. He doesn't simply just say, "we're guilty." Rather, he painstakingly shows why the Roman Church was guilty. That acceptance of guilt would have a devastating effect on current trends in pop-Romanist apologetics, so I doubt they'll ever use Lortz. Imagine if a Tim Staples or Karl Keating would say something like, "Yes, Lortz proved the absolute mess Roman theology was in previous to the Reformation, it's no wonder the Reformation happened."

Lortz's acceptance of responsibility clearly informed his perspective on Luther- provoking him to approach Luther differently than most of those who preceded him. However, I've found much of his evaluation of Luther is fundamentally based on his understanding that Luther was a victim of subjectivism. When one reads Lortz critiquing Luther, sometimes it can be very reminiscent of those earlier Roman Catholic vilifications. Lortz still finds Luther to be a heretic. That's why a Roman Catholic like "Ben" who posts comments to this blog could read Lortz's History of the Church and mine out ammo. Had Sippo actually read Lortz, he likewise would find nuggets of mud to hurl at Luther. Unfortunately, Sippo never makes it past the misconstrued slander that Lortz was a lifelong Nazi.

I can though still appreciate Lortz. That he's a consistent Romanist and finds Luther to be in gross error doesn't deter his value in the field of Luther studies. As to Luther's subjectivism, it's an interesting irony that counter-positions were put forth by other Roman Catholic writers.

Matt said...

Thanks James!

Absolutely, as I mentioned up front, most scholars today who are addressing these questions think that Luther didn't go far enough in his "appreciation" of Luther, to over-simplify a bit. At the same time, Protestant scholars like Oberman and even McGrath have, with reservations, argued that 15th century theology (even nominalists like Biel) was clearly not as "bankrupt" or even as semi-Pelagian as Lortz may have led us to believe. Pretty complex stuff.

But I don't know how you can look at, say, Pope Alexander VI as a Catholic and not acknowledge the share of blame on the part of the late-medieval institutional church... Oh well. Just read the cries for Reform at the Fifth Lateran Council, which ended in 1517!

Anyway, that attitude is what I meant before by over-defensive. Whoever these people are have an ecclesiological position that is not only incoherent historically but also quite spiritually dangerous. But that is another story, I guess.