Arminian Chronicles: A kinder, gentler anathema?



My friend over at Arminian Chronicles takes great issue with the Church’s authority to excommunicate members of the Church. Below, is the text of his response to a post in wherein I re-blogged a list of Protestant divisions theorized by Catholic Nick to be caused by the man-made doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Let us examine the post and I will respond in kind:

A kinder, gentler anathema?

I had claimed, and still do, that Rome’s anathemas needlessly divide the body of Christ; far more than sola scriptura does. For example, Rome (not scripture) anathematizes those who think indulgences are worthless. So Rome causes divisions that scripture alone does not.

This is not just in theory but in practice. Joseelcarpintero commented in a way that lumped me in with the unsaved false teachers in 1 John 2:19. And that’s not the only time people have tried to scare me into the Roman Catholic Church. Of course, Rome is not the only group to anathematize me. With everyone thinking they alone have found the one true way, the only thing I know to do is turn to Christ and put my trust in Him.

Now consider the reverse. I don’t consider joseelcarpintero a false teacher. I don’t know him but I hope that he is trusting in Christ for his salvation. So which is causing division, sola scriptura or Rome’s anathemas?

My friend tried to soften the blow of anathema by saying:

“Anathema is actually a very formal, fancy and public way of showing that X person incurred latae sententiae or automatic excommunication. The Anathema itself was done away with in 1983. Excommunication, however, remains. Keep in mind that excommunication does not damn one to hell – it is simply a formal state of being way out of communion with Rome and is very severe because if one is totally out of communion with Rome, one is out of communion with Christ.”

And also:

“this is not a judgment against the person’s heart and mind. It is a judgment against the person’s actions in relation to what the Church, under the guidance/protection of the Holy Spirit (God), has stated.”

But to cause division, one does not need to be God and condemn his opponents to hell. Rather, by not treating ones opponents as Christian, they cause division. So Rome’s anathemas do cause division. Think about it – Rome calls councils ecumenical, even if they don’t include Protestants and Eastern Orthodox. That’s division. Rome considers itself the one true church to the exclusion of all others. That’s division. Catholics threaten Protestants with hell. That’s division.

It should be clarified that Trent’s anathemas do not simply mean you can no longer attend mass but you can go across the street to an EoC or Protestant church and we will still consider you Christian. An anathema is a curse. Consider Paul’s use of anathema in Galatians 1:9:

If any one preach to you a gospel besides that which you have received, let him be anathema.

Consider the formula of Rome’s old anathema ceremony:

“Wherefore in the name of God the All-powerful, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of the Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the saints, in virtue of the power which has been given us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth, we deprive N– himself and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate” (link)

That’s division.

Now perhaps modern Catholics have a new and softer understanding of anathema or have even layed down a power inherent to the apostolic office. That’s good but not relevant because it’s anachronistic to apply a novel understanding of anathema to either Paul or Trent.

Posted by Godismyjudge

Now, in full disclosure, Joseelcarpintero is actually my father. And being my father not only will he defend his Catholic faith but in part, he will defend me so many times his tone will come off as a bit harsher than what I know him to actually be stating. This is a similar case but he recites one of his favorite passages 1 John 2:19 – and rightly so. Of course, not intending to lump my friend specifically as a false teacher but more implicating Protestant Reformers as false teachers, which to a very large degree, I agree.

On Indulgences and Excommunications

These men teach falsely because they were neither given the authority nor do they have the right to interpret, teach or define doctrine outside the Church that Christ establish. This is an affront to the sovereignty of God and His decision to establish a visible Church with a steward, a body of shepherds and the authority to bind and loose and heaven and earth (Mt. 16:18-19, 18:18).

Okay, so how does this fit into today’s discussion. Well, very simply. Anathemas (Greek – literally, placed on high, suspended, set aside) were again a rite of formally excommunicating an individual for the most grevious offenses. Indulegnces are included because the Church infallibly defined the pious use of indulgences, as Pope Paul VI states, “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain defined conditions through the Church’s help when, as a minister of Redemption, she dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions won by Christ and the saints” [Indulgentarium Doctrina 1].

What does that all mean? Well, it means that, under the authority granter her by Christ, the Church has the ability to remit some of the temporal penalties of sin despite already receiving forgiveness. The principle of temporal punishment due to sin is something that is completely supported by Scripture (read A Primer on Indulgences by Jimmy Akin for more information). Those who do not believe what the Church teaches on indulgences and other infallible declarations is clearly out of communion with the Church and thus subject to whatever canonical penalty she deems appropriate. This is her right per Jesus Himself. So to anathematize/excommunicate any person for their disbelief in the infallible is more a matter of disobedience to the Church and subsequently God (Lk 10:16) rather than on understanding. That is what faith is all about. I have faith in Christ and His Church yet I do not understand everything about either – thus the phrase, “the mystery of faith.”

Another thing to note about excommunication is that this is a canonical penalty that only the Church can give out. That means that one must be a formal member of the Church to receive such a penalty. The first Reformers were all Catholic and thus subject to such penalties. But subsequent persons who know nothing of the Catholic faith are not necessarily subject to these same penalties. That would be unjust and unnecessary.

On the Catholic Church as the Cause of Disunity

Above my friend mentioned a solid truth about a root cause of division among Christians in general, “by not treating ones opponents as Christian, they cause division.” This goes for all sides – if we as Christians do not see the image of God in each person no matter the faith then we are doomed to fail in our intereactions with them. I want to add though, that although I know that my friend knows that I am a Christian, he is one of the few Protestants I know that actually considers Catholicism a Christian denomination. So to reiterate what he said about treating opponents as Christians…

To move on, my friend makes the case for Rome and her excommunications as a cause of division. To a certain degree this can be seen as true. Hoever, the more accurate manner of looking at comes from Jesus Himself who stated:

“He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke (RSV) 10:16) 

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  (Matthew (RSV) 16:19)

“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew (RSV) 18:18)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s foes will be those of his own household.” (Matthew (RSV) 10:34-35)

These are all divisive sayings. Clearly Christ knew that His Gospel of Salvation would divide families, friends and even persons within His Church. Yet He always made it clear that those who truly believe in Him will stick with Him despite all of these divisions and losses. Why? Because He is the “the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by [Him]”  (John (RSV) 14:6). These divisions are not caused by Christ or His Church, they are caused by the light of Truth case upon the darkness that already exists thus illumining these divisions making their existence evident.

So when the Church calls for an ecumenical council she rightly calls for all validly ordained bishops from within the Church. Priests and bishops from the Eastern Orthodox Churches are certainly invited to attend, once of course, they come into communion with the One True Church just as many of the other Eastern Rites have already done. As for Protestants, none exist as a “Church.” Communities where Protestants gather to praise the Lord are more rightly defined as ecclesial communities rather than churches because none of their faith traditions were established by Christ, His Apostles or any subsequent validly ordained bishop, etc. Then communities where established solely by men and cannot trace their ecclesial history back father than Luther – who excommunicated himself by his disobedience to the Church and God. So in this, she does not cause division, the division already exists and was caused by men seeking to undercut the Church’s God-given authority for their own man-made attempt at it.

The power binding and loosing remains with the Catholic Church. This has always been the case since A.D. 33 and will not change until Christ’s return. Thus, the verse found in Galatians 1:9, that my friend quotes above, speaks directly to the inherent problem of Protestantism – they do not preach the full Gospel of Jesus Christ and thus are already anathema from the beginning. Protestant faith traditions are outside of communion with Christ because they are outside of communion with the Church.


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