"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Charge of Idolatry

I already mentioned here my recent discussion with Jeff Myers prompted by his claim that the Catholic Church is "guilty of serious liturgical idolatry". Two days ago Doug Wilson, in his post "The Ur-Puritan", spoke of "the need for the Vatican to repent of her idolatries". In a later post defending his own Federal Vision position, Doug wrote: "Being a full-tilt superstitious sacramentalist is a problem; looking like a superstitious sacramentalist to a typical American evangelical isn’t." I replied:

Your token call for "the Vatican to repent of her idolatries" could be benefited by your own observation: "Being a full-tilt superstitious sacramentalist is a problem; looking like a superstitious sacramentalist to a typical American evangelical isn’t."

Doug replied:

Bryan, I don't think it can be called a "token call" if I really believe it. But I also believe, as I noted, that true ecumenism will only be accomplished if repentance occurs across the board, and it would include us repenting of our sins. If I take your point, I would be the typical American evangelical looking at Rome and seeing superstitious sacramentalism where there isn't any, but then we would have to explain how it is that I (being so typical) manage to get myself accused of creeping Romanism so often.

I sent a reply, but the moderator (understandably, given the context) decided not to post it. So I e-mailed it directly to Doug. Here's what I wrote:


Thank you for your reply (on De Regno Christi). I fully agree with your claim that ecumenical unity must be preceded by repentance by all sides. I also believe, with Peter Kreeft and with you, I think, that ecumenical unity has to be based on truth, not compromises that sacrifice truth, or misconceptions concerning the truth.

By 'token' I didn't mean to suggest that you don't believe your claim about the Vatican. I meant only that it is the kind of claim that is frequently repeated within a particular community or tradition as an obvious given about another community or tradition, but almost never substantively defended in genuine ecumenical dialogue with informed representatives of that other community or tradition. In that way it is a kind of "ghetto-talk". Catholics do this too; we do it without realizing we are doing it. We 'get away with it' by talking only in our ghetto. New forms of communication, such as De Regno Christi and the internet in general, are bringing Christians from various traditions into greater social proximity, and forcing us to be more self-conscious about our basic presuppositions regarding those Christian communities from which we have long been estranged. On the whole I think that is a good thing, even though I disdain the impersonal and entirely formal (as opposed to material) nature of electronic communication.

As for how you can be accused of "creeping Romanism", when I was a child there was a garbage truck that regularly drove by my house having the following slogan painted on its side: "Your garbage is our bread and butter." You can imagine how I interpreted that as a child. There are degrees of Catholicity. It is not all or nothing. Your being accused of creeping Romanism is fully compatible with your 'seeing' idolatry in the Vatican when in actuality what you are seeing is not idolatry. Your rightful opposition to gnosticism is another man's "creeping Romanism". But the seventh Ecumenical Council's decisions regarding iconoclasm are, to another man, endorsements of "idolatry". "Idolatry" and "Romanism" simply become terms describing any position more Catholic and sacramental than one's own. What is needed instead, in my opinion, is an open ecumenical discussion aimed at revealing, explaining and evaluating the principled reasons underlying the differences between our respective conceptions of idolatry.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

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