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Sunday, August 4, 2019

More Confusion Over the Reformed Love for Aquinas

I previously wrote about the confusing doctrine of Purgatory. In getting there, I quoted one of the recent heroes of the Reformed movement, Dr. R.C. Sproul:

I, for one, am persuaded that the Protestant Church owes a profound debt to Saint Thomas and the benefit of a second glance at his contributions.... We need an Aquinas. We need a titanic thinker who will not abandon truth for safety. We need men and women who are willing to compete with secularists in defense of Christ and of his truth.
In this regard, the dumb ox of Aquino was heroic.

-R.C. Sproul on Thomas Aquinas

I went on to note Aquinas' view of Purgatory in light of Sproul's ringing endorsement. It should be seen as horrible heresy by any true believer. This is the man we defer to on doctrine? The excerpt is from an article of Sproul's about Aquinas titled, "Was He The Most Brilliant of All the Theologians?" Well, maybe he was, if gross heresy and error fall under "brilliant." I'm not doubting his intelligence, but we understand that intelligence, not informed by scripture and the new nature is a dangerous thing. No one doubts Satan is briliant, but that hardly makes him an arbiter of truth.

I revisit this topic because I recently received a fundraising letter from the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. In my previous life as a devout Roman Catholic, I supported them financially along with other conservative Catholic organizations. I still receive requests from several of these organizations despite having left the CC over a quarter of a century ago. I'm pretty sure I've responded to all of them with a short testimony and a gospel tract at some point... but still the appeals come.

Out of boredom or curiosity, I decided to read the appeal before I tossed it in the scrap bucket. And wouldn't you know it, it closes (in part) with this:

Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary provides a formation founded upon the sound teachings, principles, and methods of St. Thomas Aquinas, The Angelic Doctor of the Church.

I'm not suggesting either Aquinas or Sproul is guilty by association. Surely the CC takes scripture out of context which is no fault of scripture. But in the case of Aquinas, some of his teachings are presented as interpretations of scripture which are wholly opposed to sound Christian doctrine.  These teachings are treated on the level of scripture itself.We noted this in our previous study on Purgatory. In an case, we should never build anything on the non-inspired word of any man alone.

And just as the CC carries the authority of Aquinas too far, so would some in the true church.

The problem is not directly with Aquinas, it is the odd reverence men like Aquinas, Augustine, Cyprian, etc. receive from the Reformed movement. They treat the writings and opinions of these men almost as though they are scripture. They are called "Church Fathers" and "Doctors of the Church," yet they are no more authoritative than I am (than you are).

The Reformed movement embraces heretics like Aquinas while scoffing at and black-balling men like E.W. Bullinger. The Reformed churches are the worst, but it's not just them. I was in the dispensational Plymouth Brethren for ten years and many there warned of "Bullingerism." Meanwhile, they would not bat an eye at someone quoting Aquinas or Augustine. That is not universally true among the PB, but true in enough places.

If you not aware, the Plymouth Brethren trace their roots to John Darby himself and have produced many (classical) dispensational scholars and teachers. But even there, in some quarters, a "Church Father" has more respect than the great dispensational teacher, E.W. Bullinger. Again, I want to be careful. There are PB who recommend some of Bulliger's works, etc. I only use the presence of some angst among some of them in regard to Bullinger as a contrast to the relative acceptance of the "Church Fathers" across a wide range of Christian theologies.

A teacher may quote Augustine and have no negative reaction, but quote Bullinger and he risks blow-back. This is certainly true among the Reformed.

One of the most scathing "anti-Bullingerism" pieces you can find was penned by well-known dispensationalist Harry A. Ironside. I read it when I was trying to refute Bullinger's teachings, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out who Ironside was attacking! The paper is a tilting at windmills. He was attacking a straw man of his own making.

So it's not just a Reformed love of Aquinas that this ex-Catholic finds confusing, it's the admiration of the "Church Fathers" (not named Paul) in general by anyone professing the true gospel that troubles me.

PS: the only encouraging thing in the group's annual appeal is in the opening line: "The Catholic priesthood is in crisis." May it be so.