Communism, Democracy and Catholic Power, by Paul Blanshard. Published by Beacon Press, Boston, Mass. 340 pp.
This is a valuable book. Its argument is well documented, and the notes reflect wide sources of information. Written by the well-known author of American Freedom and Catholic Power (reviewed in a previous issue of Torch and Trumpet), the book gains meaning on the premise that the Roman Catholic Church is more than a church, more than a religious system; that it is, in fact, a system of world-wide political power.
We shall allow the author’s own words to present his main thesis:
Catholic and Communist Dictatorship
“The two patterns of power (that is, of Communism and Catholicism) are as alike as the two poles of the earth. They occupy the opposite extremes of our moral universe but they represent the same type of intellectual climate, the climate of authoritarian rule over the human mind.
“The contrasts between them are self-evident, and the battle between them is one of the irrepressible conflicts of our time. One is fighting on our side in the east-west struggle, and the other is fighting against us. One is a messenger of personal gentleness and love; the other represents ruthlessness and force. One respects the traditions and values of our economic society; the other insists on complete economic and political revolution. One teaches faith in a personal God and hope for personal immortality; the other is hostile to all the central tenets of orthodox religion.
“But these contrasts represent differences in aim and purposes, or differences in temporary alignment, not differences in the permanent politics of power. As institutions in this world, the Kremlin and the Vatican are far more conspicuous in their. similarities than their differences” (p. 287).
“The Vatican and the Kremlin are both dictatorships. That simple and unpleasant fact, which is as obvious as the sunrise, is so consistently avoided by most ‘responsible’ journalists in the west that millions of people have never faced it. The two dictatorships, of course, have many contrasting features. One is very old and the other is very young. One emphasizes the goals of the next world, the other of this. One is soft and the other is hard. But they are both dictatorships, and no cloudy ecclesiastical effusions can quite conceal that basic fact.”
Kremlin and Vatican, Foes of Liberty
One could take exception to the statement that the Romish dictatorship is “soft.” It has often proved itself as hard as any Communist secret police. Similarly, the assumption that Rome emphasizes the goals of the future world is also subject to reconsideration in the face of abundant historical evidence of lust for earthly power that puts the Politburo to shame. But, as general statements, we may let them stand, and Mr. Blanshard presents abundant evidence in his book that would substantiate our revised estimates of Romanism’s “softness” and other-worldliness.
The basic thesis of the book, that as systems of political power, as dictatorial slave-masters, the Kremlin and the Vatican have much in common, even though they are outwardly opposed to one another, is well established. The author establishes his point by analyzing Catholic power and Communism from a series of seven parallel viewpoints. The structures of power are similar. The technique of making virtual gods of their leaders, their systems of thought control, their opposition to free public education, the discipline and devotion demanded by them, the ways in which they manipulate truth to suit their own ends, and their strategy for penetrating any existing social and political structure, all proclaim that these two systems of power have very much in common, and that one is as dangerous a foe of liberty as is the other. This interesting parallelism is adroitly set forth by the author and established by a wealth of valuable and informative material about the inner workings of both of these world-embracing movements. As a sourcebook of information alone, the book is worth its price.
What is Liberty?
These two systems of power, one centered in the Kremlin, the other in the Vatican, arc dealt with as foes of the American ideal of liberty. And in saying this, I believe we set our finger upon the most serious weakness in the book. The only antidote that the author seems to know of, to offset these two dictatorial systems, is an ideal of liberty that is no more than negative absence of any restraint. Once and again, the words of Thomas Jefferson are quoted: “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” If Jefferson really meant that he had taken this oath upon the altar of God, then the oath is itself a contradiction. For once we take our stand at the altar of God we have, of course, accepted at least the “tyranny” of God’s Word as supreme over the mind of man. If the mind of man must be utterly free, then there is no point in talking about the altar of God.
It is this typically American negative, neutralistic conception of liberty that is defended as an ideal in Blanshard’s book. And that kind of liberty cannot stand long because it simply has nothing to stand on. An apple that is cut off a tree must be content to rest upon the ground. It cannot long remain in the air. A freedom that is cut loose from human tyranny and is unwilling to come to rest upon divine sovereignty cannot long endure; it simply hangs in air.
“Neutral” Education, a Formless Freedom
There is no point at which the author’s bias proves weaker than when he discusses Catholicism versus the public school. Blanshard apparently believes that the state should carry on education, that public education is an ideal, precisely because it is public. On page 151 he quotes at length from a Catholic editorial, “Stop Favoring Atheism,” in which the Catholic author states that as matters stand now, public education discriminates against religion and favors atheism and Communist-tainted teaching. Mr. Blanshard scores the editorial as an example of “the standard blend of passion, prejudice, and logic in the Catholic hierarchy’s attitude toward public education” (p. 150) and calls such writing an “attack on public education . with an oblique appeal for public money for Catholic schools.”
Now, it is quite possible that the editorial in question and which is quoted is an oblique appeal for public funds, but it does not say so, and if the editorial in question is an example of “passion and prejudice,” then everyone who has pleaded for Christian education and has condemned the unneutral “neutrality” of modern public education stands similarly condemned. The antidote to Catholic pressure tactics is not the formless, absolute freedom of public education-a freedom which, precisely because it lacks content, so easily falls prey to every form of denial of the truth, while affirmations of the truth are forbidden. The antidote lies rather in a recognition that not the Roman Catholic Church as an organization, not a religiously noncommittal government, but the Church as an organism Christian parents, freely devoting themselves and their children to God—is the divinely ordained educator of the coming generation.
Communism and Catholicism arc both genuine threats to liberty. That cannot be denied. But merely shouting “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” in the spirit of the French Revolution, will not stop the threat. Only genuine, consistent, historic, Bible-centered Christianity can do that. Here, too, it is true: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
The Sermon on the Mount by Arthur W. Pink. Published by Bible Truth Depot, Swengel, Penna.
Of all the sayings of Jesus, there are perhaps none better known, and at the same time more grossly distorted, than those contained in the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5 to 7. To the Modernist, the Sermon on the Mount is the very essence of religion. He finds, instead of doctrine, great ethical teachings. The atonement through the blood of Christ. which he abhors, is not mentioned. This suits his fancy. Because this great discourse of Jesus is ostensibly at variance with the Old Testament Law (which is Jewish and antiquated according to these proponents of the social gospel), it is superior to the Old Testament.
On the other hand, the dispensationalist—and in varying degrees the Fundamentalist—takes a different position. To him the Sermon on the Mount does not apply to the “church age,” but will be the law of a future dispensation. Jesus, it is claimed, came to preach the gospel of the Kingdom, but since the Jews rejected that Kingdom, it has been postponed to a future age. The Sermon on the Mount is intended for that future age.
A Sermon for Today
After reading Arthur W. Pink’s book, one has little difficulty in perceiving the fallacies of both these positions. The author from beginning to end maintains the position that the Bible is one book; that God makes no essential distinction between Jew and Gentile; that the law and the gospel are neither antithetical nor mutually exclusive; that there is gospel in the law and law in the gospel. Christ came not to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill (Matt. 5:17). This means that he did not merely come to tell us how to live, or to set a good example only, assuming that there was enough good in man to follow him; but it means that he took our place as a divine Savior and satisfied the justice of God in his own body, so that we are righteous before him and through the operation of the Holy Spirit can increase in sanctification .
The Sermon on the Mount was intended for us. It does not mean that the moral law was abrogated. On the contrary, it teaches us that the law is more than a rigid set of rules, to be construed very literally, to govern specific outward acts. The law is spiritual essence. The law governs not only the acts of our hands and the words of our lips, but thoughts and motives must be governed by the law which must be emblazoned upon our hearts. This is Mr. Pink’s premise, and it is a sound one; hence the book is sound.
When others outside of our circles testify to the same truths we hold, it encourages and reassures us. Very little emphasis is placed upon the law in our day. The law, to the Modernist, is not an infallible guide because the Book is not infallible. To him, truth is not eternal and universal but changeable and provincial in its application. The Fundamentalist says we arc through with the law; we arc now under grace. Outside Reformed circles, one rarely hears the law read in divine services.
The Need of Sermons on the Law
In view of this situation it is gratifying .that the author presses home the need of more sermons on the law. This is what he says: “During the past hundred years Christendom has probably heard fifty gospel sermons or addresses to one on the law, and the consequence has indeed been disastrous and deplorable: a light and backboneless religion, with loose and careless walking. Therefore when a servant of God is expounding, consecutively, any portion of the Scriptures, and in the course thereof arrives at a passage upon the law, it is now (more than ever before) his bounden duty to tarry there find press its claims upon his hearers or readers” (p. 55).
It is the opinion of this reviewer that the author correctly sets forth the background of the Sermon on the Mount. Any seeming conflict between what the law said and what Jesus said will disappear when we bear in mind that the expression, “It was said” (Matt. 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43), does not exclusively have reference to the Mosaic law. The author repeatedly points out that the scribes had added their own precepts to the law, and in cases where they did not, they so dogmatically superimposed their own interpretation on the laws of the Old Testament, that these were in effect their own laws, and not God’s.
For example, when Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy,” we immediately conclude that this is not a law given by God through Moses, or any other prophet, but a precept of man, and a fallacious one at that. It was at this abuse and distortion of the law that Jesus hurled his piercing shafts. This is what the author says this particular verse: “ … our Lord was not engaged in pitting himself against the law of Moses, but rather…he was concerned with the refuting and rejecting of the deadly errors of the Jewish teachers. T he Pentateuch will be searched in vain for any precept which required the Israelites to entertain any malignity against their foes: thou shalt ‘hate thine enemy’ was a rabbinical invention pure and simple” (p. 129).
What is the Kingdom?
The author’s definition of “the kingdom” is a good one: “Strictly speaking the Greek word basileia has reference to sovereignty rather than to territory, to dominion rather than to a geographical sphere. The ‘kingdom of God’ signifies the rule of God and therefore, in its widest latitude, takes in the entire universe, for the Ruler of heaven and earth governs all creatures and things: angels and demons, men elect and reprobate, animals and fishes, planets and the elements” (p. 251).
Perhaps more could have been said about the relationship of the citizen of that kingdom to the kingdom itself. A proper exposition of “the kingdom” is essential to any treatise on the Sermon on the Mount. Unless we grasp its comprehensiveness, unless we visualize and recognize a great kingdom spanning centuries, including nations and continents and transcending earthly empires and spheres of men, this kingdom will not gain and hold our allegiance. Even more important: the sovereign God of this kingdom, who is righteous and holy, must rule our lives. It is against this general background that the author treats such subjects as prayer, fasting and anxiety.
The author is very careful to interpret a given text in the light of its con· text, both immediate and remote. As an example I refer to Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (pp. 260–273). This text is greatly abused. Some people, when some obvious sin in their lives is pointed out, like to turn the tables and piously say, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” implying that the one who seeks to help an erring brother or sister is the more guilty.
But we cannot wrest a text from its context. Mr. Pink first points out that the prohibition in Matthew 7:1 must be interpreted in the light of its broad context. Jesus had in mind the Pharisees, concerning whom he said, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). These Pharisees made it their business to criticize everyone but themselves. Jesus had them in mind when he spoke these words. When we bear in mind this broad context, and then also include the immediate context (Matt. 7:2–5), we have gone a long way toward understanding this particular verse. He also points out the distinction between ecclesiastical judgment, magisterial and private judgment. If we follow this rule we shall easily silence those who glibly misquote Scripture and we shall be more effective in teaching others.
The author does not spare the Dispensationalists For their so-called “rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” He shows the inconsistency of their position, for example, in their explanation of Matthew 6:14, 15: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” He quotes the Scofield Reference Bible as follows: “This is legal ground. Compare Ephesians 4:32, which is grace. Under the law forgiveness was conditioned upon a like spirit because we have been forgiven.”
This is Pink’s comment on this method of exegesis: “This is a fair example of the vicious method followed by ‘Dispensationalists’ who…delight in pitting the Old Testament against the New, and lowering the standard of Christianity, presenting a fictitious ‘grace’ which docs not ‘reign through righteousness.’ “The author refutes the error that under the law forgiveness was conditioned upon a like spirit in us, while under grace we are forgiven for Christ’s sake. He points out that under no dispensation has God bestowed mercy upon any who maintained a vindictive spirit. Throughout the whole of the Old Testament economy penitent souls were pardoned for Christ’s sake, as truly as believers are today” (p. 167).
This reviewer believes Mr. Pink gives a sound interpretation of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. The text discussed is printed at the head of each division. Each division is, in turn, subdivided into chapters. The form of explanation is in the nature of lectures, but this does not mean that any of the text is lightly passed over; as a whole, the material is treated in great detail. At times, however, one would appreciate an even more thorough study of the text itself. I for one would have appreciated an explanation of the omission, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever. Amen,” from the American Standard Version. The author quotes the Standard Version and says nothing about this difference in the text.
Mystical Conception of Numbers
It is also observed that the author has a rather mystical conception of the numbers found in Scripture. In the introduction (p. 9) we read, “Matthew reveals God appealing to and dealing with his Old Testament people. The numerical place of Matthew in the divine library confirms this, for being the fortieth book, it shows us the nation of Israel in the place of probation, being tested by the presence of Jehovah in their midst.” To attach such significance to the numerical place a certain book has in the canon is, I think, dubious practice. One soon falls into the error of arranging certain number combinations to suit a preconceived opinion. I wonder if the author is not guilty of this when on page 161 he divides the Ten Commandments into two tables, each consisting of five commandments? This is his explanation: “… the first five treating of our duty Godward (in the fifth the parent stands to the child in the place of God), the last five our duty manwards.”
We appreciate the wealth of practical material woven throughout the book. Thus it should be in such a great practical discourse. Jesus obviously intended that his disciples throughout the ages should live this sermon, not merely believe it theoretically. I think we must be careful, however, in judging such matters as dress. Notice the author’s interpretation of Matthew 6:28a, “And why take thought for raiment?” In his application of this statement, Mr. Pink points out that people today (especially women) take too much thought for raiment. No doubt this is true. And then he wonders why the pulpit has for so long maintained a criminal silence, instead of condemning this flagrant sin. He asks the question: “Was it the sight of their own wives and daughters in silk stockings, fur coats and expensive hats which hindered them?”
Perhaps there is some truth in this. However, where would one’s wife get anything but silk (or nylon) stockings today? We agree that in matters of dress we must not imitate the world, but, on the other hand, we can be so out of style that we may be more conspicuous than those who follow the latest style. At the root of being different from others may lie the sin of pride. Some of these specific applications may lead us into Pharisaism, which was exactly what Jesus opposed in this Sermon. These peculiarities lead me to believe that the author tends toward Puritanism. This is confirmed by the many references to such men as Thomas Boston and John Owen.
Considering its exhaustiveness (442 pages) and its soundness, I know of no better book on the Sermon on the Mount. Considering, too, the importance of the Sermon on the Mount, this book would be a valuable addition to every Bible student’s library.