Benedict may say that divided Christians must “keep in view just how much we have in common . . . in terms of the great deposit of sacred Scripture and the early Christian creeds,” as Matthew Schmitz wrote yesterday, and some modern Lutherans may agree, but this is not universally held by Luther’s Protestant descendants. One knows this, of course, but relations between serious Evangelicals and Catholics have progressed so far even in the last decade that one assumes that now only the self-described Fundamentalists, at the margins even of their own world, insist on the extreme Protestant rejection of Rome.
You don’t assume that Timothy George and his peers in Evangelicals and Catholics Together speak for everyone on their side of things, but you do assume that the traditional sharp rejection of Catholics and Catholicism has died away. Our Protestant friends obviously think their Catholic friends very seriously mistaken on several very basic matters, but they don’t think of us as dangers to the Faith. Even if many conservative Protestants aren’t as generous as Timothy et al., he and his peers represent the largest application of a liberality now general among those Christians.
But then today, reading a blog written by serious and thoughtful Calvinists who haven’t in the past shown much interest in attacking the Catholic Church, I came across an item commending as thoughtful, worth engaging, etc., in a way that suggested the author thought the writer was on to something, a paper that described Catholicism as a religion competing with true Christianity and in fact deeply anti-Christian, a false religion that loudly repudiates the true Gospel and is as bad today as it was at the Reformation, an apostate body that tells infernal lies and has murdered true believers, a deep spiritual threat to all mankind, and finally, the Devil’s kingdom and the enemy of the Lord which he prays the Lord will quickly destroy. The writer is willing to say that the pope is not necessarily the anti-Christ but insists that he’s at least one of the anti-Christs. (He also insists, bafflingly to me, that abstaining from meat expresses a damnable heresy.)
One reads this with the surprise mixed with concern one feels upon watching a man betting all his savings on the Mets or the Pirates winning the 2013 World Series in four games. I’m certainly not offended, and respect the writer’s sincerity and consistency, and am not worried that the paper will have any effect, even to confirm the prejudices of the people who read it. It’s an echo chamber kind of paper.
But I am surprised by the recommendation, which was close to a commendation, coming from someone within the mainstream of the serious confessional Calvinist world. These are people with whom, I would have said from my own experiences with them, the Catholic can speak, but apparently not so freely or easily as I would have said, since some of them want the Lord to destroy our Church, now. It’s vexing. We have not moved as far as I had thought.
Later p.s.: This was purely coincidental, since I wrote this not knowing Timothy George had written an On the Square article for today, but for a contrast with the polemic described above see his Benedict XVI, the Great Augustinian. Timothy writes, for example, of “the Holy Father—we can still call him that until February 28.”