Are There Winds of Change in Rome?

Strange things are happening within the Roman church.

Today we witness a definitely medieval church trying to catch up with a modem world. But Rome is making this attempt in a unique way. Nowhere do we read of any repudiation of the principles which were championed for so many years. Instead, in carefully couched language leaders within that church seem to be ready to compromise with the temper of our time.

Perhaps this is nowhere more clearly in evidence than in the widely-acclaimed encyclical of Pope John XXIII, entitled “Pacem in Terris.” This document has been carefully scrutinized and evaluated by C. Gregg Singer in Christian Heritage. His lengthy and detailed article is necessary reading for theologians, sociologists and others interested in knowing the moves which Rome is making.

In the late pope’s first encyclical, “Mater et Magister,” there was clearly a good word for both free enterprise and collectivism, for the Russian East and the West, in practically every point in dispute between the two antagonists. Thus the way was paved for a possible modus vivendi (a way of living together) between Home and Soviet Russia. And the Soviets, quick to take advantage of such a possibility for the sake of their political advantage, did not hesitate to send at least an unofficial representative or two to the Holy See.


Not long ago the second encyclical appeared.

It is Singer’s considered opinion that the “new policy” inaugurated so circumspectly in the first encyclical has been continued in this second in a way “which spells disaster for the Roman Catholic Church if it intends to remain a Christian church, and for the West in general.” The tone here is “philosophical” rather than “theological.” Although references to the Scriptures and Roman Catholic theologians are made repeatedly, these “do not seem to furnish the foundations for this document; rather they are authorities to be claimed at significant places as the argument unfolds.” Above all. St. Thomas Aquinas does not “hold the commanding position one might expect in such a document.”

Singer finds “a rather subtle shift from Thomistic theology.” In the encyclical is a view of natural rights much akin to that “popularized by John Locke and basic to contemporary humanistic philosophy.” Throughout the document “the deteriorating influence of democratic philosophy on Roman Catholic theology becomes evident,” even though it “does not go as far as professional liberals would like it to go.”

What is really at stake is the proper Scriptural view of the state. A much broader role is assigned to the state here than Rome has in the past been willing to assign. Singer goes on to say, “It departs from Scriptural standards for the proper spheres of action for human government and gives to it both the power and the duty to promote the economic, social, cultural and educational life of its people to such an extent that, according to this position, the state must become an all-powerful instrument for the development of a collectivistic totalitarianism.” The writer, to be sure, acknowledges that it is far from easy to evaluate the document accurately and fairly. “Its language is somewhat ambiguous and its conclusions are not always spelled out in such a way that there is no doubt as to their meaning.” Yet Singer is convinced that “it may well come to be one of the most momentous pronouncements in the history of the ecumenical movement within Christendom.”

For the evangelical Christian this new trend within the Roman Catholic Church bears careful watching. Leisurely changes in its theology are now being accelerated. No longer can Rome “be counted on as a great bastion of support in a common battle against Communism. This encyclical should dispel any lingering optimism that Rome would not surrender to the enemy.” Singer is ready to affirm that this “portends a tremendous new threat to evangelical Christianity, for this new day dawning in the papacy indicates an eventual alignment of Protestant, Roman Catholic and secular liberalism into one all-embracing movement which will become increasingly friendly with Soviet Russia and willing to cooperate in a common policy for the common good. In ecumenical thought there are no logical limits to the ‘oneness’ which men may achieve in their pursuits provided it is not that oneness which true believers already possess in Jesus Christ their Lord.”

Small is the impact, we fear, that this and similar warnings will make in the ears of those already entranced by the siren song of the ecumenical enthusiasts. They see in Rome’s social and political liberalism, now much more clearly enunciated than ever before, a basis on which perhaps closer fellowship between Protestants and Roman Catholics may be successfully negotiated. All these seem to have stopped their ears to the plain warnings of the Scriptures. For the sake of achieving some practical ends in ameliorating inequities and injustices, they appear willing to give increasing powers to the state. They can’t and won’t believe that such a state will in time tyrannize over the lives of all. To all the lessons of history—even those so recently taught by the course of events in Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany and Krushchev’s Russia—they seem blind.

Meanwhile we as Reformed Christians seem to be sleeping at the switch. With our lips we profess that the principles of God’s Word are the sole guarantors of all our liberties—personal, social, economic, political and ecclesiastical. We even speak about applying these principles as Christian believers to the political order. But meanwhile we are satisfied with the present political structures and parties, fearing to raise our voices lest we become unpopular in our churches and communities. While the titanic movements in church and state are whittling away at our liberties today, we lull ourselves to sleep with the pleasant thought that at least tyranny won’t threaten us in our time. It is more than time that we begin to do something about organizing ourselves politically as Christians.

Well may we ask whether we are moving faster than ever before towards the fulfillment of John’s prophecy in Revelation 13:11f., “And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like unto a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the authority of the first beast in his sight. And he maketh the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast…”

“‘In Russia unhappiness is almost a national characteristic.’ So writes a young Soviet writer who uses the pseudonym Nikolai Gavrilov. ‘Even when Russia ceases to be impoverished: he continued, ‘it will still be unhappy.’

“Communism promises Utopia. Its propaganda dreams of revolutionizing man’s environment. But happiness does not feed on what is outside; it feeds on what is inside.

“The truth of the matter is that the American way of life cannot guarantee happiness either. Our Constitution speaks of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But it is the pursuit of happiness that is guaranteed, and not happiness itself…

“In the Upper Room Jesus told his disciples,‘These things have I spoken unto you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full’ (John 15:11). He further told them that his joy is one which cannot be taken away. No philosophy, no deprivation, no deep sorrow can dislodge it…It is true that the Christian’s happiness sometimes sinks below the waves of a turbulent sea, but underneath the surface is abiding joy…In Communist Russia ‘unhappiness is almost a national characteristic.’ In America happiness is a continual quest. In Christ, joy is a continuing reality.”

Today we are indeed witnessing an all-out pursuit of happiness on the part of Americans. In the worst sense of the word we have become a “pleasure-mad” people. Billions are spent on gambling, vacations to far-off places and luxuries we could well afford to forego. Securing status-symbols of one sort or another has become our mode of life. In this mad pursuit too many who name the name of our Lord Jesus Christ also seem to be swept up. And when their lovely little world—erected on the things which self has so selfishly acquired—tumbles in, they wonder why it is so hard for them to reach out and touch the healing hem of our Savior’s blessed promises and presence. Too long have they been majoring in the minors of life. They have cultivated fun at the expense of faith. Therefore they fail to experience the blessed joy of possessing him who never fails or forsakes.

Also the American way of life can make “unhappiness…almost a national characteristic.” Not the pursuit of happiness but the possession of Christ Jesus by faith is the guarantee of solid joy.


One of the most significant and surprising trends in Christendom today is the growing interest of the Roman Catholic Church in the ecumenical movement.

At its inception this movement was largely confined to the historic Protestant churches. Its leaders believed that doctrinal differences might not stand in the way of ecclesiastical union. Often the argument was used that Rome’s strong and solid organization demanded an all-out attack on the divisions and divisiveness of Protestantism. Recently several branches of Eastern Orthodoxy have aligned themselves more closely with the ecumenical movement, while still insisting that they were the true representatives of the undivided Christendom which supposedly existed in the early centuries of our era. Now the Roman Catholic Church is trying to get into the act.

This should not really surprise us. Rome has for centuries been a past master in the art of ecclesiastical diplomacy. Compared with her machinations, the cleverest Protestant efforts in this field are poor fumbling. Rome will walk along with others in one direction and on one road the road which at long last will bring everyone to her own threshold.

To all outward appearances Rome seems to be negotiating from a position of strength.

Repeatedly we are reminded that her adherents tota1 more than half a billion; that she is stronger now than at any time since the Refonnation; that her internal differences are by no means a crack in the huge monolithic structure which her servants have so carefully erected during the centuries.

We actually wonder whether this description of Rome—so uncritically accepted and propagated by the champions of the ecumenical movement—is accurate.

It is a well-known fact that in the United States, now confessed as the chief stronghold of that church, the number of conversions has slowly but steadily declined for a number of years. It is further admitted by the Roman hierarchy that Latin America, where lives the largest single bloc of her members, is the weakest link in the ecclesiastical chain. Here tens of thousands are forsaking that church and openly embracing the evangelical faith. It is acknowledged that the intellectual classes in traditionally Roman Catholic countries of Europe have for more than two or three generations been openly contemptuous of the church, even though they are baptized and married and even buried under ecclesiastical auspices.

One astounding fact concerning changes within the Roman church has been too often overlooked. Likely it is doing more to color Rome’s interest in the ecumenical movement than is usually recognized. We refer to the astonishing number of Roman Catholic clergy who annually break their vows and leave their church. No wonder the hierarchy is so worried about a growing lack of priests to serve the parishes spread over the face of the earth.

Time and again attention is ca1led to this fact in the excellent Dutch periodical, Tn de Rechte Straat. This magazine parallels Christian Heritage widely known and read in the English-speaking world.

Celso Muniz, himself a Spanish ex-priest and well acquainted with what is going on in the church to which he formerly belonged, has written the following in a recent issue. “The most striking was indeed the acknowledgement of the Catholic Illustrator of January 5, 1963, which estimates a total of 9,000 (priests who forsook Rome in the last few years). But also in other lands of Europe there are thousands of priests who could no longer remain in their own church. It is however significant that precisely in the lands of the popes the number of ex-priests is the largest.

“We do not have exact statistics for Spain, but also there the number of ex-priests is surely much higher than the Spanish people realize. Yet only a few can find a livelihood in Spain. Many are compelled to leave the country in order to find a future elsewhere in Europe or America. This is also one of the reasons why it is not easy to obtain specific information concerning the number of Spanish ex-priests. Probably most of them now live in the countries of South America. In the city of Buenos Aires there are more than two thousand. And this Hood of priests who leave Rome is not decreasing but increasing…”

There must be more than a little wrong with a church which suffers from such a steady exodus. We may well wonder what those who find themselves so strongly attracted to Rome’s ways hope to find within her walls.