"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reformed Catholic Spirituality against the Papists


Both Reformation Christians (Reformed/Lutheran) and Roman Catholics tend to speak of spirituality with reference to the means of grace. This is seemingly a point of commonality against Anabaptist, Pentacostal or anti-ecclesial Christians who would eskew mediums or means for immediate (no medium) religious spirituality. But Catholics and Reformation Christians are not completely together on this...

now, I have not posted a lot of things pointed directly against Roman Catholics. But
Andrew, a Catholic friend, is not shy to post Anti-Protestant material, so I thought I might share a piece from John Owen, where he explores why Catholics, though sacramental, err in their approach to spirituality by the means of grace:


"Now, the reasons why the Papists can never, with all their endeavours, truly mortify any one sin, amongst others, are, —

(1.) Because many of the ways and means they use and insist upon for this end were never appointed of God for that purpose. (Now, there is nothing in religion that hath any efficacy for compassing an end, but it hath it from God’s appointment of it to that purpose.) Such as these are their rough garments, their vows, penances, disciplines, their course of monastical life, and the like; concerning all which God will say, “Who hath required these things at your hand?” and, “In vain do ye worship me, teaching for doctrines the traditions of men.” Of the same nature are sundry self-vexations insisted on by others.

(2.) Because those things that are appointed of God as means are not used by them in their due place and order, — such as are praying, fasting, watching, meditation, and the like. These have their use in the business in hand; but whereas they are all to be looked on as streams, they look on them as the fountain. Whereas they effect and accomplish the end as means only, subordinate to the Spirit and faith, they look on them to do it by virtue of the work wrought. If they fast so much, and pray so much, and keep their hours and times, the work is done. As the apostle says of some in another case, “They are always learning, never coming to the knowledge of the truth;” so they are always mortifying, but never come to any sound mortification. In a word, they have sundry means to mortify the natural man, as to the natural life here we lead; none to mortify lust or corruption.

This is the general mistake of men ignorant of the gospel about this thing; and it lies at the bottom of very much of that superstition and will-worship that hath been brought into the world. What horrible self-macerations were practised by some of the ancient authors of monastical devotion! what violence did they offer to nature! what extremity of sufferings did they put themselves upon! Search their ways and principles to the bottom, and you will find that it had no other root but this mistake, namely, that attempting rigid mortification, they fell upon the natural man instead of the corrupt old man, — upon the body wherein we live instead of the body of death.

Neither will the natural Popery that is in others do it. Men are galled with the guilt of a sin that hath prevailed over them; they instantly promise to themselves and God that they will do so no more; they watch over themselves, and pray for a season, until this heat waxes cold, and the sense of sin is worn off: and so mortification goes also, and sin returns to its former dominion. Duties are excellent food for an unhealthy soul; they are no physic for a sick soul. He that turns his meat into his medicine must expect no great operation. Spiritually sick men cannot sweat out their distemper with working. But this is the way of men who deceive their own souls; as we shall see afterward.

That none of these ways are sufficient is evident from the nature of the work itself that is to be done; it is a work that requires so many concurrent actings in it as no self-endeavour can reach unto, and is of that kind that an almighty energy is necessary for its accomplishment; as shall be afterward manifested.

It is, then, the work of the Spirit ...(not man's wills)... "

-John Owen. Mortification of Sin.

3 comments:

Andrew said...

Which post did you find particularly Anti-Protestant?

I don't pretend I've always been charitable to Calvinism but I thought my post on what I appreciated about Reformed Theology was fine, and my 2nd most recent post was about the desire to stay away from polemics and bring about a more charitable theology.

It just seems like it's out of left field, especially for someone who has a link to an entire series against Catholicism.

Regarding the post, indeed many Reformed Christians (like yourself) are much holier than I and my fellow Papists. But I think it's exagerration to dismiss the entire monastic tradition as such.

Jared Nelson said...

What I meant as pointedly against Catholics was things that included old negative labels like Papists. Disagreeing with someone, in my opinion, is not mean but using labels like Papist may be unfair and Owen has the term a lot. But hey, it was the 1600s, Catholics and Protestants were killing each other in Europe so...

But I didn't like posting terms like that, but if you have called Calvinists heretics, I thought it wasn't that bad to use the term "Papist." It's not vindictive. Just self-justifying :)

But I think this selection is interesting because it is helpful in knowing the difference in a Reformed and Roman approach to means of grace. Ex Opere Operato turns sacraments into mechanical grace dispensors, and I think Owen does a good job of critiquing that.

Andrew said...

understood.