Saturday, November 10, 2012

Catholic Answers Explains The Inquisition

I recently came across the Catholic Answers tract: The Inquisition. This is actually an article of a better pedigree than most Roman apologetic stuff (the article has the NIHIL OBSTAT and IMPRIMATUR).

The article ends with the following:
"The fact that the Protestant Reformers also created inquisitions to root out Catholics and others who did not fall into line with the doctrines of the local Protestant sect shows that the existence of an inquisition does not prove that a movement is not of God. Protestants cannot make this claim against Catholics without having it backfire on themselves. Neither can Catholics make such a charge against Protestants. The truth of a particular system of belief must be decided on other grounds."
At first glance, this argument contains an appealing sense of balance. Certainly it's true that previous generations of Roman Catholics and Protestants understood that heresy was a so serious as to warrant the death penalty. I mean... why should we point fingers at each other? Our forefathers on both sides were guilty of cruelty and executions. One may be tempted to argue that because Romanism put more people to death, she's more guilty. True, but in fairness, the charges against Protestants utilizing the death penalty for heresy is not alleviated by such a response. Simply because they weren't as guilty doesn't mean they weren't guilty.

I can certainly appreciate the even-toned conclusion, "The truth of a particular system of belief must be decided on other grounds." I've argued similarly in regard to scandalous priest problems, much to the disapproval of  some of my Protestant friends (yes, it's a lonely position to hold!).  But, I don't think this argument really treats Romanism accurately. I'm sure the Inquisitors wouldn't be happy being thrown under the bus by Catholic Answers. I'm fairly sure the Council of Constance would be very confused by Catholic Answers, for they stated:
Sentence condemning J. Hus to the stake
This holy synod of Constance, seeing that God's church has nothing more that it can do, relinquishes John Hus to the judgment of the secular authority and decrees that he is to be relinquished to the secular court.
Now I imagine (though I'm not certain), Romanists have a way around how an infallible council sentenced a man to death, and how the conclusion of the Catholic Answers tract still follows. I'm sure there's a way to weasel out of this. I can't recall if it was Sungenis, Matatics, or Staples (in debate against Dr. White) who argued Constance didn't kill Hus, the secular authority did (I'm thinking it was Staples, Algo can correct or verify). Plainly though, Constance at least knew what their decision would mean for Hus, and if the bolded "Sentence condemning J. Hus to the stake" is part of the actual document of Constance, they certainly expected it. If an infallible council can sentence people to death, this certainly puts a different spin on things. In fact, it makes the conclusion of the Catholic Answers tract null and void.

Old Google Books can sometimes give a good snapshot as to how previous generations of Protestants understood Romanism. For instance, note the following from 1853 as to trying to figure out just what councils were said to be infallible:
This becomes still more palpably evident when we advert to the disputes among Romanists themselves, as to what the councils are that ought to be reckoned general and unerring. Most Romanists agree in maintaining, that there have been eighteen councils which were oecumenical and infallible; but they differ materially among themselves as to what particular councils are entitled to a place in this list. The Italians and Ultramontanists, that is, the immediate adherents, and the most servile dependents, of the Pope and the court of Rome, regard the councils of Lyons, Florence, and the fifth Lateran as oecumenical and infallible, while the French divines, who defend the liberties of the Gallican Church, deny to these three councils this exalted character, and substitute in their room the councils of Pisa, Constance, and Basle. Every Popish priest at his ordination swears to believe and maintain "everything delivered, defined, and declared by the oecumenical councils." It is to be presumed that when men take this oath, they have made up their minds as to what particular councils are oecumenical, and have satisfied themselves that all the decisions of these councils are just and accurate. Now, we would like much to know, whether, when the Popish priests of this country take this oath, they swear to adopt the French or the Italian list. They have never given us any information upon this subject, and probably most of them have never considered, and are unable to tell, what the oecumenical councils are, to which they intend to swear.


John said...

Not being Catholic or Protestant I can gloat at the both of you, but...

I'm pretty sure Catholics only claim councils as infallible when they are articulating the faith, not on every pragmatic decision they come to.

Algo said...

Yes James, it was Tim Staples that made that comment and tried to equate Constance with outlawing Abortion. That was in the fabulous debate "Papal Infallibility".

James Swan said...

Thanks Algo!

PeaceByJesus said...

the article has the NIHIL OBSTAT and IMPRIMATUR

And you know how much weight that has. If that assured veracity then RCs would have to relegate such historical stories such as Jonah and the whale to being fables, and Joshua's conquests under Divine mandate to being folk tales, among other things as per the official liturgical Catholic Bible for America (NAB)