Saturday, October 16, 2010

In Many Bookshops with Pastor Charmley: St. Paul's, Westminster

Last time I was in London, I sang the praises of the Catholic Truth Society Bookshop. This time it is the turn if its near neighbour in Westminster Cathdral's piazza, St. Paul's Bookshop.

St. Paul's is a proper bookshop, though it does sell other items, such as vestments and church furnishings (including some very nice lecterns, if you're looking for one that doesn't look like a music stand and have a spare three hundred quid or so). Refreshingly there was no canned music in the shop, which is dominated by towering bookcases arranged in an attractive number of spaces, so that the main shop feels like a maze of books - though an easy one. This shop feels like a serious bookshop, and is all the better for it. It also sells serious books, though of course there is some popular stuff in there. It had in the sets of the Church Fathers published by Hendriksen, and the sort of serious books that the student will welcome. Of course it is a Roman Catholic bookshop, and the stock is slanted towards Roman Catholicism. But on the other hand, it is serious Roman Catholic material, and not all of it is Roman Catholic. Visiting bustling London, I was very glad to be out of the bustle for a while in this literary oasis. The atmosphere of the shop is enough to lead the serious student to enter St. Paul's and to wonder why on earth there aren't more bookshops like this in the world? I suspect the answer is economics, and the relentless dumbing-down of Christianity in this country.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Review: 'The Trail of Blood'

J.M. Carroll: The Trail of Blood (Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, Lexington, KY)

This booklet of 55 pages is famous. It has practically given its name to the whole Baptist Successionist dogma, and is referred to by just about everyone in that context. But how good is this booklet? Frankly, I was disappointed. There is no detail at all given of the supposed 'ancient Baptist groups', they are assumed, not proven - and yet no reputable historian today would agree with this. In fact, outside of a very small group of fundamentalist Baptists, no-one today would agree with the Successionists - and that includes many, many Evangelical Christians, even the Baptist writer N.R. Needham. Successionists like Carroll rely on a highly speculative historiography that is based in particular on works written before the 1890s.

Carroll's work contains no original research - and avowedly so, it is after all a record of a course of popular lectures, not an historical work. Yet even so, the work is lacking in details of the 'ancient Baptist groups'. In fact he has assumed that practically every heretical group from the early Church through the Middle Ages rejected infant Baptist, and that these groups were connected. So on P. 19 we read of "'Montanist,' 'Tertullianists', 'Novationists', 'Paterines,' etc." Now these are three different groups (no-one today thinks that a group called 'Tertullianists' ever existed). The Montanists were a charismatic group that taught the continuance of prophetic gifts, all centred on Montanus, their founder, who was regarded as a prophet. The Novatian Schism, on the other hand, was over the question of church discipline - Novation refused to re-admit those guilty of 'Mortal Sin' to the Church on profession of repentance. Both of these groups may have re-baptized, but that would have been because they did not recognise 'Catholic' baptism as valid! 'Paterines' is another name for the Medieval Bogomil movement. They were dualists of a sort, who believed that Jesus was the brother of Satan, and whose'baptism' was being patted on the head with a copy of John's Gospel! Thus each of the three groups mentioned here that actually existed were very different theologically.

More seriously, Carroll's understanding of the history of the Church is rather sketchy at times. He writes: "The fourth [ecumenical council] met at Chalcedon, AD 451, and was called by Emperor Marian; 500 or 600 bishops or Metropolitans... were present. During this council the doctrine of what is now known as Mariolatry was promulgated. This means the worship of Mary, the mother of Christ" (P. 21). In fact Chalcedon was called to correct mistaken view of the person of Christ, and the title 'Theotokos' applied to Mary was Christological in intent - to emphasise that the one born of Mary was indeed God. Only later was the Chalcedonian declaration used to glorify Mary herself (see K.S. Latourette, A History of Christianity [London, Eyre and Spottiswoode Ltd., 1964] 171-2 and Harold O.J. Brown, Heresies [Peabody, Mass., Hendrickson, 2003] 172-3). Harold O.J. Brown writes: "The term theotokos originally was intended to affirm the deity of Christ, but it gradually came to be a title of honour for Mary." Mariolatry was not imposed at Chalcedon - it arose as a corruption in popular piety.

On P. 23 we have another catalgue of names by which 'True Baptist Churches' were called: "Donatists, Paterines, Cathari, Paulicians... Petro-Brussians, Arnoldists, Henricians, Albigenses, and Waldenses." Who were these groups? The last was indeed an orthodox evangelical group - but today is rather inconveniently paedobaptist! The Donatists, like the Novatians, rejected all Catholic Baptism, but were not necessarily anti-paedobaptist! They could also be quite violent against Catholics. Paterines, Paulicians, Cathari and Albigenses are all names given to Medieval dualist groups. The Petrobrussians were the followers of Peter of Bruys, an ascetic who burned crosses and opposed the Catholic Church. He was, however, the originator of his party, not a member of an existing group. The Petrobrussians did not last long after Peter's death - unsurprisingly, really. The Arnoldists and Henricians were similar groups, also about the same time. All of these thrived in the 12th century, but they all have the same problem - they do not emerge from existing groups, but begin with a charismatic, ascetic leader. They were reactions against the corruptions of the Catholic hierarchy, and certainly de Bruys and his followers rejected infant baptism. It seems, however, that Henry of Lausanne, founder of the Henricians, and Arnold of Bresica, did not. Henry did however reject all sacraments administered by corrupt priests as invalid - so that he would re-baptize his followers if he had any doubt about their baptisms!

Waldensianism seems to have begun a little later, as a lay-renewal movement in the Catholic Church. Originally it was accepted, but in 1179 the 3rd Lateran Council refused to authorise them, and they were excommunicated in 1184, after which they merged with an Italian group called the Humiliati, who had broadly similar aims. Unlike the Petrobrussians they were not violent, and unlike the Arnoldists they did not ally themselves with political dissidents. As a result they remain in existence to this day. They sought to follow the New Testament. Although at first they tried to remain within the Medieval Catholic Church, they were finally forced into a separate existence. Persecution finally restricted them to the valleys of the Italian Alps, where they remained until the Reformation. Since at least some of them held, with the Henricians, that sacraments administered by corrupt priests were invalid, many joining the movement were re-baptized. The Waldensians themselves did not oppose infant baptism if performed by godly clergy.

Baptist successionism relies on the idea of an unbroken 'trail of blood' through the centuries. The book The Trail of Blood fails to establish such a trail - and indeed Carroll admits that he is assuming, against the evidence, that these groups were all orthodox!

On Pp. 32-33 we read, "During all these hard struggles for Reformation, continuous and valuable aid was given to the reformers, by many Ana-Baptists, or whatever other name they bore. Hoping for some relief from their own bitter lot, they came out of their hiding places and fought bravely with the reformers." This makes for good rhetoric, but is unfortunately untrue - I have been unable to discover references to any pre-existing baptistic groups who joined with the Reformers. All of the Reformation-era Anabaptist leaders, Balthasar Hubmaier, Conrad Grebel, Hans Denck, Menno Simons, were former Catholics. Hubmaier and Simons were both former priests, and they were by no means alone among Anabaptist leaders in being so. Grebel and Denck were both humanist reformers who rejected infant baptism. It is a fact that not one Reformation-era Anabaptist leader was from a pre-existing group, or gained his views from one.

In short, Baptist successionism is a speculative dogma, not a proveable historical fact. It is therefore something that should not be stated as such, and certainly cannot be the basis of any doctrine of the Church, any more than the dogma of Apostolic succession.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Utter Silliness!

Editing my review of Bennett's Catholicism: East of Eden, I came across this quotation from Faber's History of the Ancient Vallenses and Albigenses on P. 67. My reaction was one of disbelief followed by deep disquiet that this sort of thing is still believed by a worryingly huge number of Protestants. I quote:

"The Albigenses were a group of Christians, influential for their godly lives, who were condemned by the Church of Rome. George Stanley Faber, writing in 1838 provides an example of papal work, 'Avcording to the plan adopted by the inquisition of Langedoc, it was morally impossible for any of the accused Albigenses to escape [the charge of Manichaeanism]... No rational being can, by any conceivable possibilty, believe a syllable of the tales of Manicheism related of the Albigenses, when those tales rest upon such a foundation as that which has been laid by the Council of Narbonne..."

Note well. What Faber is in fact saying is that, because of the methods adopted by the Roman Catholics, we should discount all the evidence then available as to what the Albigenses believed. Faber's method utterly amazes me. Remember, the only actual evidence of the beliefs of the Albigenses (otherwise known as Cathars) available to Faber was found in the registers of that inquisition. Yet Faber decided to discount that, and amazingly to assume that in fact these people were "Protestants before the Reformation', on the basis that the Roman Catholic Church persecuted them. Yet we know that the Roman Catholics persecuted Jews in Europe and Muslims in Spain. In other words, merely being persecuted by Rome is no sign of orthodoxy! At most, therefore, all Faber should have been able to conclude is that the charges of dualism against the Albigenses were not proven. Instead he assumes them to be false, and projects onto the Albigenses the character of the Waldenses, an entirely different group!

Historians can only work with what exists, not with what does not, but Faber in effect reverses this procedure. Rome cannot be trusted, Rome says that the Albigenses were dualists, and therefore the Albigenses were in fact orthodox Protestants. Such reasoning condemns itself.

Contrast this method with the account of Albigensianism given in Harold O.J. Brown's magisterial Heresies Pp. 256-261. In brief he shows its links with Eastern dualistic groups, from which it derived its ordination. He writes: "As far as the Bogomils and Cathars are concerned, the testimonies that attribute moral purity to the leaders, but license to the generality of followers, are too numerous and unanimous to suppose them all to be hostile fabrications" (P. 257). This is the historical method - we use what sources we have, not uncritically, but with care. As far back as the 18th century, the Lutheran historican von Mosheim affirmed that the Alibigenses were dualists, and as Church history moved into the 20th century, so did other writers, for example the Frenchman Andre Lagarde, in his The Latin Church in the Middle Ages (Edinburgh, T. T. Clark, 1915), and Principal Adeney of Manchester in his The Greek and Eastern Churches (Edinburgh, T. T. Clark, 1908). By the time of K.S. Latourette's A History of Christianity (London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1964), a clear distinction is made between the Albigenses and the Waldenses. A modern work by a conservative Reformed Christian, N.R. Needham's 2000 Years of Christ's Power takes this line as well - one now taken by all but a few who cling to works that are derived from such unhistorical writings as that of Faber.

Thus we see (or ought to see) that the whole 'Trail of Blood' theory is based on writings that simply do not take history seriously!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Don't Call it Persecution!

What is religious persecution? Le me state what it is not. It is not religious persecution to say that another person is wrong, and that their religion (or lack of it) will land them in hell if they do not repent. Sadly some people seem to think that is the case. Let me be a little more provocative - it's not even rudely telling someone that their religion (or lack of it) will land them in hell if they do not repent. That's just bad manners, but it's not persecution. It's my opinion that Christians ought to politely disagree with people. I have been trying to model that with a Jehovah's Witness on my doorstep recently. We finally parted still disagreeing, but amicably, and with him saying that we could be friends if it was not for the fact that we disagreeon some fundamental issues. But the people who rudely told him to push off were not being persecutors!

No, religious persecution means (as the dictionaries say) "to oppress or harrass with ill-treatment" for religious reasons. Ill-treatment is important. In a world where people are routinely killed for their religious convictions, to call being insulted by some witless fundamentalist hell-bent on living up to Lord Soper's definition "persecution" is an isult to those rotting in prison for the sake of Christ. The funny mentalist may be rude, he may be obnoxious, but he's not a persecutor. I speak as one who has been on the receiving end of King James Onlyism! Let's reserve 'Persuction' for the real thing, and adopt 'Religious irritation' for everything else. I speak as a former rligiously-irritating student! Not that I am any less outspoken - I'm just generally more polite!