Defending Ecumenism & Vatican II vs. Reactionary Catholics

Defending Ecumenism & Vatican II vs. Reactionary Catholics August 10, 2017


Straw man fallacy, anyone? Photograph by DomenicBlair (6-28-16) [Pixabay / CC0 Creative Commons license]


I posted an article called “A Biblical Approach to Other Religions” at National Catholic Register (8-9-17). In response, Oakes Spalding from the reactionary Tenth Crusade website posted the critical pseudo-“review”, “Can somebody explain this Dave Armstrong article to me?” (8-9-17). I was more than happy to grant his wish in the combox, and to respond to the host of distortions and false assertions therein. Misunderstandings of these issues among both reactionary and mainstream traditionalist Catholics are rampant, so it was a very welcome opportunity to clarify in some detail. His words and those of others in his combox, will be italicized.


Hi Oakes,

[Oakes Spalding] Dave Armstrong has done a huge amount of great work for the Catholic faith over the years, but with respect to him and the work he has done in the past, in his current crotchety and even slightly random seeming incarnation, he cannot be explained.

Thanks for your kind words regarding my supposedly now long-gone “past” work. Nothing whatever has changed. I’m the same old Dave Armstrong, apologist, who is also ecumenical, because that is what the Church and Bible teach. My views haven’t changed one whit since my conversion in 1990 (received into the Church by Servant of God, Fr. John A. Hardon, who enthusiastically endorsed my work and first book, in the Foreword). Apologetics and ecumenism aren’t mutually exclusive. They only are in the “either/or” Protestant-like mindset of reactionaries and traditionalists such as y’all on this site.

The big boogeyman Vatican II changed nothing in doctrine and dogma whatever, which is why Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal in 1985) stated that Vatican II had precisely the same authority as Trent. If one accepts Trent, they must also accept Vatican II.

I have defended “no salvation outside the Church” all along and ecumenism all along. In fact I did both yesterday in a dialogue with a Protestant on my Facebook page (now posted on my blog). Like you (because you guys think like Protestants, as I said), he was under the mistaken impression that Vatican II changed the entire way we view Protestants. I explained to him that the Church has since reiterated “no salvation outside the Church” in CDF documents dated 2000 and 2007, and that “separated brethren” was in use since Pope Leo XIII, and that Trent accepted the validity of Protestant baptism, making them regenerated Christians, and that ecumenism has strong roots in St. Thomas Aquinas and in Augustine’s acceptance of schismatic Donatist baptism.

You seem to think I am some kind of flaming liberal, syncretist modernist (a view I absolutely despised and condemned even as a Protestant). It would come as news to my Protestant friend that I have supposedly ceased teaching that the Catholic Church is the One True Church, since I wrote to him (excerpts follow):

We believe that if one truly understands Catholic teaching as true, and rejects it, that they cannot be saved. . . . And we believe that whoever is saved, is saved in some way through the Catholic Church, whether they are aware of it or not.

The person who converts to Catholicism does so because they have come to believe it to be the one true Church of the Bible, established by Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a change of rule of faith and view of authority (from sola Scriptura to Bible-Church-Tradition and infallibility of all three) and acceptance of all that Protestants reject (the saints, Mary, purgatory, the papacy, transubstantiation, infused justification, regenerative baptism, penance, absolution, sacramentalism, moral teachings such as contraception and prohibition of divorce, etc.). All of these factors are exactly the same, either before Vatican II or after it.

It’s the fullness of Christian truth, and going from “very good” Christianity to the “best” and most fully true and error-free version of Christianity.

Your eternal destiny would be on the line if you knew that our teaching was true, and you rejected it.”

[Y]ou have to decide whether to accept or reject the Catholic Church’s claims for itself: the one true Church of the Bible, established by Christ and institutionally continuous since His time. This would require you to change your notion of authority and the rule of faith, and renounce all in Protestantism that is contrary to Catholic teaching.

Only God knows for sure whether someone truly knows something to be true and is obstinately rejecting it. We believe that if a person does that with regard to Catholic claims, they would be damned.

That is Dave Armstrong (as of yesterday: there’s some “past” for ya): out there evangelizing Protestants and urging them to come into the fullness of the faith, just as I have these past 27 years. And I have about a dozen books directly refuting Protestant claims: two about sola Scriptura, two about Calvin, one refuting TULIP from Scripture, one about Luther, etc. Reports of my transformation into a “crotchety” wishy-washy liberal are greatly exaggerated (like the claims about the still-living Mark Twain). I’ve been directly responsible for more Protestants coming into the Church (by their report) than all of you here combined. You’re too busy bashing and complaining about the Church to do the mundane task of evangelism and apologetics.

Our Lord Jesus commanded you to go out and share the message, and Holy Mother Church urges you to explain and defend her as well. You do neither. You sit and bash the Church and one of her ecumenical councils, and fellow Catholics like me.

[Anonymous] What the heck is he attempting to say? Is there a point to his column? Does he get paid for this?

That ecumenism is biblical. That was my point. It’s not rocket science. My original title was “Biblical Evidence for Ecumenism.” NCR changed it. This was taken from my book, Revelation! 1001 Bible Answers to Theological Topics. It has a question-and-answer format; hence, my article. Each question is “answered” by a Bible passage. It’s like the game show Jeopardy: where you get the answer and then come up with a question.

I get paid, like all NCR writers do. Writing and teaching in the Church is labor, and the Bible says the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do you have a problem with that? I also have 2000+ posts on my blog that you can read for absolutely free, if you think I am making too much money in my profession (loud guffaws).

[Anonymous susan] His protestant roots are showing up more and more and more in his thinking and in his writing.

This is sheer nonsense. Nothing whatever has changed. This is simply run-of-the-mill reactionary anti-ecumenism. Anyone who is ecumenical is immediately caricatured and dismissed a a syncretist / relativist. It’s simply not true. If anyone is thinking like a Protestant, it’s reactionaries (in many ways).

Ecumenism is biblical (as this very article of mine showed), it’s patristic (especially Augustine), and medieval (Aquinas). It has developed more rapidly in recent years, for sure, but it doesn’t follow that it was absolutely nonexistent before. The Church emphasizes different things in different times.

I am being apologetical and ecumenical and reaching out to Protestants in terms they can relate to (just as Paul did, e.g., on Mars Hill in Athens: Acts 17). How many Protestants credit you with being a major influence in their becoming a Catholic? I can cite hundreds.

It’s also sadly common among reactionaries to be “anti-convert.” That makes it convenient to lie about a convert still having Protestant elements in his thought. It’s beyond bizarre to claim this about me, seeing that I have some thirty books that directly critique Protestantism, including two that dismantle their rule of faith and “pillar”: sola Scriptura.

Yeah, I’m really half-Protestant when I write two entire books that directly respond, point-by-point, to John Calvin’s Institutes [one / two] and also a book about Luther.

[TTC] I guess I’m really surprised that the editors are not editing for theological content. Maybe they are – maybe it was worse?!

My articles there are never edited; only the titles, occasionally, as with this one.

The article was, of course, 95% consisting of Bible passages. So if you are arguing with it, take it up with God and the inspired Bible writers (or with my interpretation). It’s easy to say stupid things about another’s stated arguments; quite another to actually make a rational counter-argument.

[Michael Dowd] Armstrong is closet supporter of Pope Francis and is attempting, like Pope Francis, to confuse folks in their faith by citing the spirit of Vatican II. Vatican II was a mass extinction event of Catholic faith. Anytime anyone cites Vatican II as a reason you know immediately that heresy can’t be far behind.

As a Catholic, I believe the pope is infallible when he meets the conditions for that, and that he is not a perfect man *anymore than St. Peter was).

I don’t cite the “spirit of Vatican II”: which is a liberal game. I defend the actual council, which is as orthodox and authoritative as Trent, according to Pope Benedict XVI and Pope St. John Paul II. There is no heresy in it. I have uttered no heresy.

But I know that you are lying when you accuse me of deliberately attempting “to confuse folks in their faith.” Bearing false witness of another is a mortal sin. That’s your (serious) problem right now, whereas I am no heretic.

The Catholic faith cannot be rendered extinct. Ever hear of indefectibility?

Now on to the original post, written by “TTC”:

Between the title of his article and the citations from the Bible, one is left with the impression Armstrong is suggesting that Scripture shows Christ embraced the concept of a schmorgasboard of religions to call and convert His own. That would be the complete opposite of the lucid conclusions one comes to after reading the Bible.

The correct spelling is “smorgasbord.” This has nothing whatever to do with my point. It’s simply your knee-jerk antipathy to any ecumenical expression, as a reactionary. So you impose onto my supposed opinions things I never expressed, and never would ever express (or even imagine).

I’m trying to show that Jesus and the apostles were tolerant of those in error, and didn’t immediately conclude that they were all hellbound and/or obstinate. There is a subjective element in belief and false beliefs, and there are different levels of culpability and ignorance.

The most striking example of this that I provided, was Jesus’ interaction with the Roman centurion. He wasn’t even Jewish, and was a pagan, or nonreligious altogether. Yet Jesus said of him, “I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Lk 7:9, RSV).

If Jesus can be that tolerant of, and praise a mere pagan (and Roman centurion), shouldn’t we be at least as charitable to Protestants, who are fellow Christians? It doesn’t follow that we accept any of their errors. We seek common ground, in order to build a bridge for them to embrace the fullness of Catholicism.

Dave asks: “Did St. Paul apply ‘Vatican II-like’ approaches to evangelism, by making his message more accessible?” The guy crucified upside down?

That would be St. Peter. St. Paul was beheaded (since he was a Roman citizen). You’re not impressing me with your Bible knowledge . . .

Just a little reminder of what St. Paul was teaching when he was kibbitizing with the people he was trying to convert: “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Yes, of course (he taught that in his overall teaching), but nothing I wrote denied any of that. It wasn’t my point. My point was that Paul used ecumenical approaches initially. He sought common ground. Any good, constructive discussion whatever requires that. If we hope to persuade anyone, we first have to establish what common premises we hold. Then we can move on to where we differ, and try to persuade and evangelize.

And so St. Paul did this approach in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 and on Mars Hill (Acts 17) which wasn’t even in my paper. On that occasion, he told the pagan Athenians, “I perceive that in every way you are very religious” (17:22). He cited two pagan poets / philosophers, in attempting to persuade them (Epimenides and Aratus: not named in the text).

Then he preached the gospel to them. The language you cite (1 Corinthians 6) was in his letter to the Christians at Corinth (not preached to unbelievers). The direct context was a strong rebuke of them for sin (just as he did with the Galatians, too). So you merely help prove my point. Rebuke of errant believers is not at all the same as evangelism of nonbelievers.

[citing me] “Did Jesus deal kindly with the Samaritan woman at the well?” The woman He sat down with to persuade her to stop sleeping around?

Of course He rebuked her for sin. But how does it follow that He was, therefore, not personally kind to her? You create yet another false dichotomy: as if being kind somehow precludes a rebuke for sin, or vice versa. Plain dumb! Illogical!

Drivel alert: [citing me] “Did St. Peter say that those of any nation could possibly attain acceptance with God and salvation?: Acts 10:34-35 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: [35] But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

This comes across to me like an attempt to cherry-pick citations from Scripture to make the case that a schmorgasboard of religions are salvific.

I said no such thing. You make out as if I am claiming that all religions are equally salvific. All I said was that nonbelievers who haven’t heard the gospel can “possibly” be saved [Romans 2 teaches the same concept]. Period. After all, you have to explain the text. It does say “accepted with him” and that means something. I’ve only talked about possibilities.

All I have asserted in the paper is what I include in the questions: no more, no less. Your silly extrapolation of your own foolish ideas onto what I wrote only proves that you are being illogical and uncharitable, and that you think in “either/or” dichotomous terms, like Protestants habitually do.

[commenter Howard in the NCR combox, cited in the article] The title of this article is “A Biblical Approach to Other Religions”, yet IT PROVIDES ABSOLUTELY NOTHING OF THE KIND, for the same reason that Matthew 21:31 does not provide “A Biblical Approach to Prostitution”.  Jesus was accepting of prostitutes, but they had to leave their prostitution behind; St. Paul was accepting of idol worshipers, but they likewise had to leave their idolatry behind.  The relationship of Christianity to, for example, Islam, is the relationship between truth and error; that is an entirely different thing than the relationship between a baptized Catholic and a lifelong Muslim.  You really, really, really need to keep straight the difference between ideas and people.

The citation from the combox at NCR simply repeats the same errors: false attribution to me of things I never argued (or ever have believed) and rather stupid false dichotomies: again making out that friendliness and ecumenism are somehow inherently antithetical to Church teachings, and “hard” moral teachings. They are not, and this hasn’t been shown: only asserted sans rational or biblical argument.

Thanks for a great new blog paper that I can now put together! There is nothing like reactionary over-reaction and dumbfounded miscomprehension, for the opportunity to clarify and nail down points ten times better than they were at first.

Your quasi-pharisaical spirit comes through loud and clear! You wanna lie about me and make out that I am a modernist? Very well: then I will tell the truth and proclaim that you’re expressing things very much in the way that the Pharisees did in Holy Scripture.

Thanks for allowing me to comment and disagree! Maybe next time you will notify me that I am being written about, too, so I have a chance to respond. :-)

[She didn’t — I found it in a routine Google search that I do every day – , and this seems to almost always be the case when folks want to severely criticize me. They appear to be deathly afraid of letting me know about it. Why that is, I’m happy to let readers discern]

[Michael Dowd] If your article was not confusing why have you expended so many words trying to defend it?

It always takes many more words to adequately defend a position against false accusations, than to make the stupid accusations in the first place. If I say, for example, “Michael is a Russian spy” that’s just five words. Do you think five words would be adequate to refute the charge? You can’t just say, “No, Michael is not a Russian spy.” You have to go into a dozen different things to blow it out of the water as groundless, and it would end up being probably a hundred or more times the amount of words as the accusation.

There were a ton here: from claiming that I have changed, to saying I was still half-Protestant, bashing of Vatican II, misguided uses of Scripture, claiming that apologetics and ecumenism are antithetical, charges that I am a heretic or no longer believe in no salvation outside the Church, etc. I use as many words as it takes to refute the false charge, and then I get this sort of silliness, too. The problem is the magnitude of errors in the accusations, not with my article.

Error is always droningly, repetitively boring and boorish. It’s the truth that is exciting and has many colors in its complexity.


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