Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: 18.14

Fourteenth Question – Can the church of Rome of today be called a true church of Christ? We deny against the Romanists.

Turretin does not mean to discredit every local church throughout time and space that was ever connected to Rome. He has in mind specifically the Roman church of his day. Furthermore, Turretin notes that we can think of the Roman church in terms of two aspects. If it is considered insofar as it is Christian, Turretin is not ready to discount it altogether; if it is considered insofar as it is papal, Turretin finds little but fault. In terms of the former aspects, Turretin gives three ways in which “it can still improperly and relatively be called a Christian church.” (p. 121) First, there are or may still be members of the elect within it; second, it still retains a number of the proper external forms; third, there are a number of doctrines that remain intact, such as the Trinity, the incarnation, two-nature Christology, etc. But, at the same time, Turretin judges that “the doctrine of the Roman church in many most important articles is diametrically opposed to the Scriptures.” (ibid)

With this introduction in place, Turretin launches into an eight-point discussion of the ‘shortcomings’ (to put it nicely) of the Roman church, a sketch of which is provided below:
  1. “It is not only not built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles, nor rests upon it alone as the true church of Christ, but in various ways strikes against it, both by addition and by subtraction.” (p. 122) I’m sure you could guess some of the different things that Turretin includes here in both categories, and he doesn’t include anything surprising.

  2. “She is apostate and heretical…” (p. 123) Again, no surprise. Turretin also deals with a few possible objections to his position here.

  3. “[S]he is idolatrous and superstitious…” (p. 124) Turretin treats prayer and adoration addressed to the saints, concluding as we would expect that they are unacceptable.

  4. “Because her doctrine is doubtful and opposed to the certainty of salvation and peace of conscience.” (p. 127) Three sub-points that undermine the certainty of salvation are mentioned: first, the supposed infallibility of the church; second, the necessity of a minister with correct intent for the efficacy of the sacrament; third, and less explicitly, the necessity for confession and absolution.

  5. “[S]he is in many ways opposed to piety and good morals by the various dogmas which are repugnant to virtue and open wide the door to sin.” (p. 128) Eight sub-points: (1) clergy prohibited to marry, (2) monastic vows, (3) auricular confession, (4) equivocations and mental reservations {note: this seems to be a legal matter, but it isn’t very clear}, (5) not keeping faith with heretics {note: this has to do with violence toward believers who are taken to be heretics, but who really are not), (6) the power of the pope over oaths and other matters where the legal is intertwined with the religious, (7) the power of the pope to make special dispensations, (8) the economizing of sacred things. Turretin also has a few remarks for the brothels in Rome and the Jesuits.

  6. “[S]he is opposed to the liberty which Christ acquired for us, by the cruel tyranny which she introduces and exercises over bodies as well as over souls.” (p. 132)

  7. “Antichrist sits in her…” (p. 133)

  8. “[S]he is the mystical Babylon…” (ibid)

Turretin concludes with a few notes on various matters and by citing a few sources, etc.

PLEASE NOTE: I posted about the return to Rome of Francis Beckwith, who at the time was serving as the president of the Evangelical Theological Society. As is no surprise, this story has been getting a lot of blog coverage. I am saddened by much of what has been said about the Roman catholic church of today by certain evangelicals / fundamentalists / ‘Calvinists’, etc. As I have commented elsewhere, while I think that there is significant hope for eucharistic communion to be established between the Reformational churches and Rome, I am far from convinced that Rome is a superior form of Christianity. At the same time, I would never (as Turretin does) say that the Roman catholic church is a false church, the seat of the Antichrist, or the whore of Babylon. I am happy to regard Roman catholics as brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a shame that the Roman church has a tendency to treat we Protestants more like children than like brethren.

Comments

D.W. Congdon said…
The "mystical Babylon" -- that's fantastic! If nothing else, Turretin has some great lines.
WTM said…
Indeed! And even more fortunate for those who, like me, read Turretin - it is not the case that there is 'nothing else'! :-)

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