Jack Chick, Anti-Catholcism and the Creed
Chick publications, the "ministry" of Jack T. Chick, has long been know as the lunatic fringe of anti-catholicism*. They've recently given their web page a re-vamp. I've got to hand it to them, the new site design is more visually appealing and more user friendly. It also makes it easier to find certain pieces of absolute rubbish about catholicism. A great example is this article "Purgatory, Gold Mine of the Priesthood". Seriouse question, how many blatant falsehoods can you find in this article? Their are monets when I can't help wondering if Chick's works aren't some kind of amazing hoax. I mean, Chick can't really believe that he is helping his side's cause by printing such misrepresentations of his opponent's beliefs and practices, can he?
I pointed this out to my friend Heather who blogged on it here. Now I certainly share Heather's feelings of anger and frustration towards Mr. Chick, but her frustration seemed to be as much directed towards his view that Roman Catholics aren't Christians as towards the misinformation and distortions he uses to support his view. I don't share this view. As a good tyke myself I obviously think we are Christians, but there are protestants (mostly of the Calvinist variety) who make out a cogent case for the contrary view, and they make it on the basis of what we actually believe, not on Chickesque distortions. Actually, some of my favourite blogs are written by such people, Phillip Johnson of Pyromaniac being a good example.
I'm also a little concerned about what I understand to be Heather's main argument for Catholics being Christians which revolves around the Nicean Creed. Now don't get me wrong, the creed is a great treasure of the church which I value greatly and which I love to recite or sing in the liturgy but I think it dangerous to set it up as the defining point of what a Christian is. The Fathers of Nicea and Constantinople wrote the creed to refute certain then problamatic heresies, heresies which primarily dealt with the nature of God and the relationship of the Divine Persons. That is why the question of what we need to do to be saved, a majour concern of the New Testament is hardly mentioned in the creed.
Heather also has quite a bit to say about the "truly ecumenical" nature of the creed. A couple of points need to be made here. Firstly, there is the point of the "filoque" controversy. The creed we got from the councils called the Holy Spirit "the Lord, the Giver of Life, who procedes from the Father". It was some time later, that a pope, acting on his own authority and with no counciliar aproval, added the Latin word fillioque, "and the son". Today, western tradition Catholics as well as most Protestants say the creed with the added words, eastern tradition Catholics and the Orthodox say the original version. I don't think this is a big problem, the two can be theologically reconciled, but it is worth noting.
Of much bigger concern, can we be said to be affirmin the same creed when we say the same words but give those words different meanings? That this is the case can easily be seen if we read the exposition which the Tridentine Catechism gives of the phrase "one, holy, catholic and apostolic". The catechism, whose primary author was St. Charles Borremeo and which was promulgated by Pope St. Pius V (my all time favourite Pope) explains that when Catholics speak of one church, we mean, amoung other things, that it is one by "Unity of Government". It goes on to explain this as:
"The Church has but one ruler and one governor, the invisible one, Christ, whom the eternal Father hath made head over all the Church, which is his body; the visible one, the Pope, who, as legitimate successor of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, fills the Apostolic chair.
"It is the unanimous teaching of the Fathers that this visible head is necessary to establish and preserve unity in the Church."
So, how many of our Protestant and Orthodox friends speak of "one church" meaning a oneness that comes from the government of the Pope?
With regards to the catholicity of the church, the catechism states:
"Unlike states of human institution, or the sects of heretics, [and I don't think there can be any doubt that by "sects if heretics" is primarily meant the protestant churches] she is not confined to any one country or class of men, but embraces within the amplitude of her love all mankind, whether barbarians or Scythians, slaves or freemen, male or female. Therefore it is written: Thou . . . hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and hast made us to our God a kingdom."
If you surveyed a group of modern Protestants as to what they mean when they say they a believe in a "catholic" church, you'd get a wide variety of views, some closer to the view propounded above, some further away, although I doubt any would agree with that exact definition.
And of the apostolicity of the the church, we read:
"That all, therefore, might know which was the Catholic Church, the Fathers, guided by the Spirit of God, added to the Creed the word Apostolic. For the Holy Ghost, who presides over the Church, governs her by no other ministers than those of Apostolic succession."
Since the vast majourity of Protestants reject the historic doctorine of apostolic succession, they will obviously not agree with us here.
The difference is even more noticable when we turn to the creed's confession of "one baptism for the forgivness of sin." The meaning given to this statement by the Catholic Church is clear. We mean that the sacrament of water baptism actually effects the remmision of both original and actual sin. Now, a large strain of protestantism historicaly and probably a majourity of protestants today outright reject the catholic belife in this matter, insisting that baptism (like the eucharist) is purely symbolic. What they mean when they say those words of the creed, I have no idea, I suspect many of them have never thought about it.
It seems clear to me, therefore, that the ecumenical nature of the creeds is a largely a mirage. We have a set of words that everyone can agree to, but only because we give some of those words radically diffferent meanings. It's almost like a group of people got together and signed a statement extolling the virtues of democracy and declared this an agreement, while half of them were using the word "democracy" to mean the sort of government that existed in the former "democratic republics" of Eastern Europe.
I should add a few disclaimers to the above. First, the term anti-catholicsm is a some-what controversial one. For purposes of this post, I simply mean a Christian who does not regard us papists as christians. I should make clear that I'm using it simply as a descriptive term, not as a term of reprobation.
Second, nothing in the above should be read as denying the teachng of Vatican II that Christians of other denominations are turly our brothers in Christ.
Third, In my comments on the creed I am simply attempting to prove that different Christians understand the words differently to a degree that renders any claim to real agreement highly problematic. I am not, at this point, trying to prove the Catholic understanding better or worse than another, which is not to deny that I'd be willing to debate that question if anyone's up for it.