I don’t understand why Roman Catholics will not be real Catholics. They claim to be this. But they obviously fail, not just because some of them follow the Roman rite, but because they cannot stand the accepted test of the Vincentian canon. Roman Catholicism does not teach what has been believed always, even by all Roman Catholics. It does not teach what is believed everywhere, for throughout the world there are confessing Christian churches which resist its innovations. It does not teach what is believed by all, unless it wishes to restrict the “all” to its own members. Necessarily, to claim to be “catholic” it has to say that only Roman Catholics are catholic. Even then history refutes its claim. For many of those whom it regards as orthodox did not accept such doctrines as papal infallibility and the assumption of Mary. Why will it not face up honestly to what is involved in being catholic?

I don’t understand why Roman Catholics will not be genuinely apostolic. They set great store by historical descent from the apostles, and especially from Peter. They are anxious to claim the privileges and prerogatives of apostolic descent. They grasp at the peculiar functions of apostolate which they cannot have. But when it comes to the real tests of apostolicity they do not even seem to try. Apostolic doctrine is no great mystery. The Holy Ghost himself has caused it to be embodied in the New Testament Scriptures. The apostolic ministry is no great mystery. It finds equally plain expression, not only in Christ’s commissioning, but in statements of the apostles themselves. The apostolic manner of life, whether in respect of ministers or people, is clearly laid down in both precept and example. But in Roman Catholicism there seems to be anxiety to have the external rather than the internal substance, the power to legislate doctrine rather than to be true to it, the privilege of rule rather than of service, the adornment of pomp rather than of humility. Both history and present practice display such a discrepancy between the claim to apostolicity and the evidences of true apostolicity that we are left in a state of bewilderment. To take a simple example, the doctrine of justification need raise no great difficulties if we are all willing simply to search out and follow the teaching of the apostles. The conflict has arisen because this is what the “apostolic” church would not do. Why will not the Roman Catholic body face up to the implications of being genuinely apostolic?

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I don’t understand why Roman Catholics create difficulties of Christian fellowship by insisting on rules of the church which are either plainly anti-biblical or negatively unbiblical. The refusal to allow ministers to marry is a fine example. It has neither Scripture nor early history in its favor. In addition to the havoc caused in Roman Catholicism itself, it has made an artificial and unnecessary division with other bodies. Why cannot Roman Catholicism openly admit that those who began it made a mistake, that they did what they should not have done? Why cannot it graciously remedy the position? The same is true of withholding the cup from the laity at Communion, or of refusing to allow parents to be sponsors for their own children, or of trying to give the validity of law to monastic vows. No Protestant will deny the right of a church to take order in many matters of inner life and worship and discipline. No Protestant will deny the Roman church the right to follow its own conscience in these matters. But all catholic and apostolic and evangelical Christians must insist that their own and other churches do not legislate that which is against Scripture, or try to hold their position in face of Christian history. Why does the Roman church do these things? Why does it resist so fanatically the principle of reformability?

I don’t understand why Roman Catholicism, with its wonderful contribution to many branches of theological learning, will not be truly scholarly in certain areas. Is there any real basis for according almost canonical status to the Vulgate? Does Aristotelianism have to be sanctified in the way that is customary with so many Roman Catholic dogmaticians? Can it be laid down in advance what has to be proved in certain areas of, for example, New Testament studies? Even some modern Roman Catholics have been restive in this field. The vicious attacks on Tyndale’s corrupting the Bible by translating “repentance” instead of “penance” have yielded at last to a scholarly acceptance of the correctness of Tyndale. But Roman Catholics are still taught to suspect Protestant translations of Scripture as corrupted and heretical books. Points of doctrine may still be argued from a fallible, if magnificent, Vulgate. The whole substructure of Roman Catholic dogmatics still involves the sanctity of Scholastic Aristotelianism. Why will not Roman Catholicism face up to the fact that the achievements of the fathers and the judgments of the church cannot escape the relativizing of scholarly enquiry? Why will it not look for supreme authority to the Word of God alone rather than trying to set up subsidiary infallibilities?

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I don’t understand why Roman Catholics do not see how muddled their view of the Church is. Today they rightly point out that heretics are not necessarily excluded from salvation. They may even be advanced to the status of separated brethren. The rigid, if logical, exclusivism of Cyprian is not accepted. We accept this. We may be grateful for it. Yet it is hard to make much sense of it. How can we be of the Church and yet not in it? It is also hard to see where it is going to lead. Obviously, Protestants can be both of and in the Church if they will accept Roman Catholicism. But what line of advance is open if they will not? Can there be a measure of unity with separated brethren even if they remain separated? Is the Church so tenuous a body that it can have members who are not members? Is there a difference between the family and the Church? I don’t understand why Roman Catholicism will not work out the facts of the present situation in terms of a distinction between the Church as the body of believers, on the one side, and the organized churches, of which Rome may be the largest, on the other. Surely history itself forces us to the truth of the biblical position unless we are prepared to try to resist both history and the Bible with rack and fire and sword, with bell, book, and candle. Why will not Roman Catholicism face the implications of this fact? Honest consideration of its own ambivalence at this point would do as much for Christian unity as the whole Vatican Council.

I don’t understand why Roman Catholics do not state clearly in principle their attitude to such matters as toleration if they have really abandoned their former teaching and practice. We recognize that many American Roman Catholics sincerely endorse the principle of non-persecution, and would continue to do so even if they became the majority group in the United States. But is this the position of worldwide Roman Catholicism, or is it in the eyes of the Roman church at large a mere application of the claim for toleration in a minority situation? As recently as the late nineteenth century Roman Catholicism defended the right and even the duty to restrict non-Roman Catholic activity when in a position to do so. As recently as the sixth decade of the twentieth century there have been examples of such restriction in Spain and Latin America. I don’t understand whether American Roman Catholics are right when they claim that these are relics of a bad past, or whether we do not have here the real mind of the Roman Catholic Church, namely, that toleration is finally to be claimed only for this church itself. Why cannot the Pope make an infallible pronouncement on the subject? Or why cannot he at least abrogate the less infallible decisions of some of his predecessors? Why is there any basic difficulty in any case? Is the apostolic church an intolerant and persecuting church? I don’t understand the tortuous logic which could lead earlier, and some modern, Roman Catholics to argue that they must always be tolerated and yet owe no duty of toleration to others.

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Perhaps I really do think I understand many of these things. Perhaps this is why an article of this kind seems inevitably to take on a polemical and negative rather than a positive and irenic edge. Yet in conclusion there really is one thing I don’t understand, and here we are brought into the sphere of the more spiritual and fruitful. For I don’t understand how the Holy Spirit can and does bring forth so many fruits of life and thought and activity out of the Roman Catholic Church. Whatever Roman Catholics may think, this is certainly not due to any specific purity or historical validity in their communion. On the other hand, the amazement expressed is certainly not that of superiority, as though it could be taken for granted that our evangelical churches should show forth similar fruits. What I don’t understand is the grace and power and patience of God that even in the most earthen and unworthy vessels there may be the treasure of the Gospel and its operation. Can Roman Catholics join us in this very catholic and apostolic and evangelical amazement at grace? If they can, there is hope that at this starting-point we may begin to think through the other incomprehensible things which are mostly associated with the earthen vessels—of which, after all, the Roman Catholic Church is only one, and not necessarily the least earthen. But if Roman Catholics cannot join us here, if they insist that it is all a matter of the vessel rather than the Gospel or the Spirit, if they must insist that theirs is the only and most serviceable and indeed flawless and irreformable vessel, so that treasures will necessarily and automatically be found there, then I really don’t understand them, and no amount of discussion, however amicable, can take us further.


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