Is the proverb still true? “All roads lead to Rome.” It had meaning when Caesar headed the Roman Empire. He thought himself worthy of worship as a god. In those days all roads connected themselves with Rome. At Caesar’s command the armies marched to preserve the Roman peace.
The Caesar’s are dead. But their ideal of universal world dominion is still very much alive. Our sons fighting the Communists know that the political expression of this ideal is very much alive. Protestant churches know too that the religious ideal of universality is much alive and still growing in the Roman Catholic Church. Today we still thank God that Luther, Calvin and others directed religious traffic away from Rome back to God and his Word. But Rome is not defeated. She wants all the roads of life to lead to the Vatican City. Today she is trying to re-route all of life back to what she regards as the true church, the Roman Catholic Church.
There are two books which pose the problem of the Roman Church in clear and cogent terms. One is written in English, published by the Beacon Press, written by Paul Blanshard and entitled, American Freedom and Catholic Power. In this book Catholic writers speak for themselves, and their words are shown to constitute a threat to our cherished American freedoms. Documented statements formulated in the spirit of sane judgment ought to arouse many to battle against Rome. The other book is written in Dutch, published by Kok Uitgevers, authored by G.C. Berkhouwer and entitled Conflict met Rome. In this book Catholic theologians and philosophers speak and by their words reveal that they are a threat to Reformation theology and faith. Berkhouwer analyzes the basic principles which move the Catholics to the type of action described in Blanshard’s book. Each book complements the other. Both together serve to give a realistic picture of Rome’s ambitions in our time.
Roads under Roman Patrol
Everywhere the agents or the Roman hierarchy are trying to direct the traffic of life to the city of the Pope. Nothing is left to the imagination. Rome’s organization is authoritarian, highly centralized, exclusively in the hands of the clergy. The Roman Curia consists of the Pope, the Sacred College of Cardinals, twelve Congregations, three tribunals and five Offices. The Sacred College chooses the Pope, and he in turn appoints Cardinals. Each Congregation controls some phase of Rome’s intricate life.
The Congregation of the Holy Office controls the faith of the Church, including such matters as miracles, the banning of books, medical practices of Catholic doctors, etc. Minute details of practice arc under its control. For example, what Sister Mary Beck says in her book, The Nurse: Handmaid of the Divine Physician. is under the final supervision of this congregation. While discussing the baptism of infants by nurses such details as this are recorded: “Not much water is needed, but there must be enough so that it can be said to flow. Milk, juice of fruits, oil, excretions from the body as tears, saliva, perspiration, etc., are not considered water.” Father MacFadden adds this detail in his book, Medical Ethics for Nurses: “The nurse may add a one-thousandth part of bichloride of mercury and still call it water.” Nothing is left to the imagination.
The Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith controls all missionary enterprises. The Congregation of the Religious controls the male and female orders in the Church. All aspects of life are directly controlled from Rome. Tightly organized, strictly a closed shop, the Roman Church works hard on every road of life trying to direct all men back to the mother of all believers, the Roman Church, headed by the father of the faithful, the Pope.
Rome’s Political Ambitions
Rome is politically minded. At the Holy See thirty-eight countries have their representatives. As head of the Vatican,a temporal state, the Pope signs treaties. The Lateran Treaty signed by the Pope and Mussolini in 1929 still remains as a blot on history’s page. Through this treaty the dictator received the measure of respectability he needed. Blanshard refuses to blush, and rightly so, when he claims that the Lateran Treaty aided Mussolini in his international aggression. We do not forget the religious sanctions applied against the Protestants in Franco Spain. Facist Franco and the Pope are politically related. Rome through her Secretary of State continues to translate her political ambitions into fact. Peron in Argentina has the blessing of the Pope. Americans ought not to fool themselves into thinking that the Pope is really interested in democracy. Rome has her designs on our American Constitution. She would enjoy nothing better than changing it to suit her own political views. Politically, Rome is ambitious.
Rome has her own system of education, and propagates it wherever she can. The end justifies the means. She wants public money to further her own cause. When Rome claims that parents ought to educate their children, she really means that the Church must tell the parents what to do and what not to do. Teachers under the direct control of the Congregation governing education filter into public schools to teach the Catholic way of life. Pressure groups converge on Washington to obtain federal aid for parochial schools. All the details of teaching, discipline and conduct are carefully prescribed. When it suits her convenience, Rome violates state laws of education. Read what Blanshard says about it.
Rome is afraid of no one. When the articles on which Blanshard’s book is based appeared in The Nation, the Catholics did their best to ban this periodical. By means of the Index of Prohibited Books Rome determines what should be read and what should not be read. The frightening thing is not that Rome wants to control the reading of Catholics. But she uses means of suppression which violate the rights of free men. Instead of using the sword of the Spirit, Rome uses the sword of the flesh to gain her ends. When the publishers wanted to advertise Blanshard’s book in The New York Times, they were refused three times. Why? Because Rome applied pressure.
Rome claims that all roads should lead to her. On the roadways of science and scholarship, politics and economics, education and culture are alert Roman agents directing traffic to Rome. She wants to control all men from the very moment of conception, past death into eternity. She is ambitious, well-informed, pretentious…the facts speak for themselves.
Rome Claims Absolute Authority
There is a reason, a fundamental reason, for this intense and universal action on the part of Rome. Of one thing she is convinced. The Roman Catholic Church is the only true Church. She claims that all other churches, especially those of Protestantism, arc heretical and schismatic (guilty of producing unnecessary separations in the church for sinful, selfish reasons).
As the only true Church, Rome claims the word of final authority in matters of Faith and practice. Once she decides, her decisions are not subject to recall. In point of fact, her authority becomes greater than that of the Bible. According to the Catholics, the Church does not derive her authority from the Word, but the Church declares that there is a Bible with divine authority. The Bible’s authority becomes subject to the infallible interpretations of the Church.
A fine illustration of this authority is seen in the action of the Pope on November 1, 1950. He declared the Assumption of Mary to be an infallible dogma. Before that declaration the matter belonged to the sphere of “pious opinion.” After the declaration by the Pope, all Catholics are required to hold the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary as infallible truth. In effect the “Thus saith the Church” takes the place of the “Thus saith the Lord.”
But, we ask, on what does Rome base her claims for such authority? Berkhouwer gives us a clear answer in his book, Conflict Met Rome. In the first chapter of his book he analyzes Rome’s conception of the Church. By allowing Catholic theologians to speak for themselves, he shows us that Rome believes that the Church is the continued incarnation of the Word. The Church is Jesus Christ living on earth. The Church is the living and progressively working Christ visible in space and time. There is a mysterious oneness between Christ and the Church. Catholics assert that Christ himself speaks in and through the Church that is, through the external teaching organ of his mystical body which is the Roman Church. Intimate but not Identical.
At this point we must distinguish carefully. As Reformed believers we claim that Scripture teaches a very intimate connection between Christ and the Church. But to say this is not saying that they are identical. Communion must not become identity. The Reformers confessed their faith in a living communion between Christ and his Church. Just read what Calvin says in his Institutes, Book IV, sections 1–4. In the commentary on Ephesians 5:29 Calvin calls this relationship a “mystical union,” We must not be deluded by the error that Rome alone gives true meaning to the living communion between Christ and the Church.
The point is this. Rome gives content to this communion in terms of identity, of oneness. Here lies the crux of the issue. If we are to correctly understand the relation between Christ and his Church, then we must carefully study such passages as Ephesians 1:22, 23; 4:16; Colossians 1:18 and others dealing with the Headship of Christ and the Church as his body. In our study of such passages we must always observe the boundary line between the Creator and the creature. Berkhouwer points out clearly that Rome fails faithfully to observe the real difference that always remains between Christ and his Church.
Rome’s Outstanding Error
Rome makes her big mistake when she refuses to take the Bible seriously. It is always fatal to allow the Church to stand above the Word. Genuine communion between Christ and his Church is experienced only in faith. We must believe the Word, the written Word. The Church, as the body of Christ, must always remain subject to the Scriptures. Communion remains communion only as long as the Church bows before the truth of the Word. To remove the Church from this subjection of faith to the Word is to make communion the same as identity, as oneness. If communion becomes oneness, if the Church is basically the continued incarnation of Christ, then the Church possesses absolute authority. Then she falls prey to those pretentions which characterize the principles and practices of Rome. Thus Rome is convinced that all roads ought to lead to her. Because she fails to honor the limits of the Word in interpreting the fact of communion, Rome claims absolute authority for herself in faith and practice.
If you are willing to follow this discussion a bit further, then we come face to face with Rome’s conception of God. As always, so here, the God idea determines everything else. Rome’s God is not the Sovereign God of the Bible. This Berkhouwer clearly shows. We would expect this to be true just because Rome docs not take the Word of God seriously. Rome so conceives of God that he somehow needs man, the creature, in his work. The creature keeps for himself a measure of self-sufficiency next to, alongside of God. From pagan philosophy Rome took the idea that man has a measure of self-rule, some degree of autonomy. The law of reason stands next to the law of the revealed Word. Now Rome conceives of God as needing that kind of creature who also has some degree of authority. Thus God cooperates with man, and man cooperates with God. We believe this to be Rome’s most fundamental error. The boundary between the Creator and creature must be consistently maintained. And this can only be done when the creature takes God at his Word. This is faith as implicit confidence in the Word of the Sovereign God.
Results of Rome’s Error
The results of such error are evidenced in all the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. All the chapters of Berkhouwer’s book give proof of this fact. Because Rome’s God needs man we discover the unbiblical character of Rome’s conception of grace. We call Rome’s conception semi-pelagian. Rome believes that God saves the sinner by grace. But she also asserts that man must add something of his own work to his salvation. This addition of man is just as necessary as the work of God. Putting the matter simply, we can say that for Rome salvation is one-half God’s work, and she believes this to be the most important half. But it is also one-half man’s work and Rome believes that man’s half is also necessary. Berkhouwer shows that God’s grace according to Catholic theology is conditioned by and in a measure dependent upon man’s weak but free will God needs man’s part in the program.
That is why a Catholic goes to confession. There the priest declares the promise of forgiveness to be applied, and the sinner must (notice the necessity) perform his works of penance. In the Church God gives grace through the sacraments, but God needs man, the priest in this case, to make the sacrament work properly. Because God needs man the creature, the human traditions of Rome, the declarations of the Roman Councils are placed on the same level of authority as the Bible. Berkhouwer shows how this view of God and man denies the redeemed sinner the joy of genuine assurance. Berkhouwer even devotes a chapter to showing the implications of this view for the Roman Catholic teaching concerning mother Mary.
Rome’s conception of God lies at the root of Rome’s untruth. Because God needs man, the Church and Christ can be identified. If that is true, then Rome must put her patrols on every road of life and direct all men to herself. If the God of heaven is the God as thought of by the Roman Catholic Church, then everyone must follow the advice of the Roman patrols. Thank God the Reformers brought us back in faith to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who remains sovereign in creation and redemption!
Roman Patrols and Protestants
All this means much for us. As believers we ought to do various things. First of all, each one of us ought to care enough to understand what we believe. We must become more conscious of the distinctive nature of our position. This will demand the energy of real study, serious meditation and creative discussion. Even though it means surrendering some coveted ease, we must readdress ourselves to the problem of coming to grips with our beliefs. This ought to be part of our duty as sons of God. The errors in the Roman Church involve the honor, the majesty of our Sovereign Father. From him comes the mandate to know his revelation.
We must put out Protestant patrols who know why the roads of life must not lead to Rome. Our homes, our churches, our schools all over the land must train such patrols. As parents we ought to pray that God will use our sons and daughters in the great battle for God’s truth. The battle increases in heat precisely because we live in a time when men are increasingly believing the lie. If all the forces of the Reformed heritage in our country could work and pray together unto this end, we might conceivably achieve a dynamic unity for the training and sending of such patrols.
One concrete way in which we can achieve a more vigorous and effective witness is to read the two books upon which this article is based. Both books are worth the energy spent in reading and understanding. Here the basic lines of battle are clearly drawn. After reading both books the reader realizes anew that there were clearly defined issues in the Reformation. And these issues are still alive today!
Alexander C. De Jong is pastor of the Boston Square Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids.