Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Article 22: 'Of Romish Doctrine'


Today's Article does not get more Anti-Catholic and Anti-Eastern Orthodox than this:


XXII. Of Purgatory
The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.


So, in one swoop, the Anglican church bemoaned the manifold sins and wickedness of the doctrines of Purgatory, Pardons (and indulgences which we have already discussed), and Worshipping and Adoration of Icons and Holy Relics and the broadly vague "invocation of Saints."  That is so broad a swath of theological topics that Puritans were obsessed with that I am not sure where to begin. I suppose going in order is the best manner.


So, batting lead off: Purgatory. This is a particularly vexing doctrine for many Protestants, and I think also for some Catholics because the Church mishandled the teaching of it on a practical parish level for so many years. This is another one of those theological instances of Christians talking past each other and making assumptions on what another church teaches. Often when this occurs, the assumptions made are generally only half true at best and flat out wrong to the point of being intentional falsehoods at worst. 


This is still an issue that people get bent all out of shape about, and I have never quite understood why exactly. I was at a Ministerial Association meeting a few years back, and this topic came up in conversation . And a local Non-Lutheran mainline pastor absolutely went ballistic about the subject. Praying to saints and all just really set this pastor off. "It's not in the Bible!"


Well...that's not exactly true. This is one of those instances of "What Books are in the Bible?" Some of what the Catholic church teaches on praying to Saints and Purgatory is based on what the Protestants call the "Books of the Apocrypha." Thus, in the Early Reformation, you have the Catholic Church saying, "Okay, you want to play the Sola Scriptura game, fine. Here are the Scriptures on which which we base this. See 2 Maccabees 12: 42-46." To which the Protestants responded, "Well, we'll just tear out those books from the Old Testament! Voila! See you have no Scriptural Warrant!" At which point, the conversation broke down. 


The doctrine has roots in some strands of Judaism. In Judaism, Gehenna is a place of purification where, most sinners spend up to a year before release. This was based on non-Apocryphal scriptures like 'refine them as silver is refined, and try them as gold is tried' (Zechariah. 13: 9.) and 'He [the Lord] bringeth down to Sheol and bringeth up again'" (I Samuel 2: 6). Also some of the Psalms seem to refer to some place that is neither heaven nor hell.

Of course, none of this is convincing to Protestants who made up their theological minds before consulting Scripture. Once people do that, cries for basing everything on Holy Writ become basically meaningless exercises in polemics. Scripture should mold us, not the other away around. At the very least, for this Article to say that Purgatory is repugnant to scripture is simply wrong. You can argue that maybe these verses do not support the doctrine of Purgatory, but the Bible never clearly says Purgatory is a repugnant doctrine unto the Lord. At best, it is a stalemate.

The second issue of Pardons (i.e. indulgences) is a concept and dilemma that I talked about in a previous article here. I won't rehash that discussion again.

The third doctrinal issue here is a classic Puritanical railing against "Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques." Two things to note here: Worship and Images. I take the clause "as well of Images as of Reliques" to mean holy images like stained glass windows, statues, and icons (and etc.) as well as holy relics, which is a different beast altogether. A relic comes from the Latin word reliquiae, meaning "remains" or "something left behind" (the same root as 'relinquish').

It may seem odd to the modern Christian why some people have issues with something as seemingly benign as a stained glass window or an Icon in churches. This is basically because Western Christianity never really dealt with the Iconoclastic Controversy that evolved the Eastern Church for some centuries. (Western Christianity got to deal with Saint Augustine, who never really 'happened' in the East, as he wrote only in Latin, which was no longer used in the East at the time.)

The Roman Catholic Church adopted the view of the 2nd Council of Nicea, which was largely the end of the issue in the West until the Reformation. The East went on for centuries debating and refining the theology of icons as "windows" into the divine.

Basically Catholic (Eastern or Western) theology has no problem with holy images. There is a difference in moral theology between Veneration of a holy object and Worship, which is due to God alone. Veneration is a special act of honoring holy images and saints and relics. This is tied up with the idea of the sacred (that which is consecrated to God) and the profane (profane meaning common or vulgar). God is worshiped through veneration by the giving of respect to that which God has made holy. Veneration is not worship. Only God is properly worshiped.

Many Protestants, unmoored from Catholic teachings during the Reform, lost virtually all of this understanding, and ended up largely conflating the ideas of veneration and worship, so that anything that was venerated was being worshiped. As such, this was flat out idolatry and to be condemned. This led, particularly the Puritans into fits of icon smashing and busting up of relics and stained glass windows, basically recreating the early stage of Iconclasm which the Church has dealt with centuries before. Take for instance the following pictures I have taken:


This the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral in England. The exterior is seen below. This Cathedral was a few blocks from the house of Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan Lord Protector, who overthrew the monarchy in the 1650s. The statue of Mary is a relatively modern addition. Notice the various recesses behind the altar, on the walls, and on the exterior above the entrance below.

Before the Puritans, all those recesses and alcoves would have held statues of saints. The Puritans, in fits of ant-Catholic rage, stormed the Cathedral during the Civil War and smashed all the statues, sacrilege based on the very reasoning of the above article.


Ely cathedral decided years later to never replace the statues, as a monument to how we are all impoverished when religious fervor goes to far.

I will let the above images speak for my opinion of this article.



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