Jame’s White: Hypocritical Use of “Roman Catholic Church”

Jame’s White: Hypocritical Use of “Roman Catholic Church” November 11, 2019

Reformed Baptist anti-Catholic apologist Bishop “Dr.” [???] James White is hung up on double standards, as regards religious titles. He bristles at being called an “anti-Catholic” while at the same time he couldn’t care less about calling other Christians what they prefer to be called.

I’ve written about the massive rationale for the description “anti-Catholic” many times. But it’s not “either/or.” Note how I refer to White (as I often have done) in both ways above: his preference (“Reformed Baptist”), and mine (“anti-Catholic”). But I recognize his own title, even while also using another (legitimate, massively substantiated) secondary title.

White, alas, doesn’t extend such courtesies to his theological opponents. He often uses “anti-Calvinist” and “anti-Reformed” and “anti-Protestant” etc. That’s okay and fine and dandy. That’s the parallel to our “anti-Catholic.” I have no objection to it per se (only to his internal double standards in using them).

What he consistently refuses to do is simply use the titles “Catholic” or “Catholic Church.” He virtually always will attach “Roman” to it, or use “Roman” (or, “Romanist”) alone. He knows full well that most Catholics would object to that, but he simply doesn’t care. He would rather deliberately goad and provoke than extend rudimentary Christian charity.

I freely grant that there is some complexity to the semantic issue. It is indeed true that many Catholics have referred to themselves as Roman Catholics throughout history. But there are good reasons to refrain from this usage: especially once one understands the polemical and agenda-driven usage of Roman Catholic by Protestants.

In particular, the early and present Anglicans used and use it precisely to maintain the pretense that there are supposedly branches in the universal Catholic Church, and that they are one of them (Roman Catholic thus becomes merely one branch: equivalent to Anglican Catholic). I’ve addressed the issue twice at length:

Catholic or Roman Catholic? (Proper Titles) (w J. Akin) [1996]

On the Use of the Titles Catholic & Roman Catholic [10-20-17]

In the first paper, I cited fellow Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin, writing on James White’s own mailing list (where I was also posting) on 7-26-96 (yes, I was already online way back then!):

One can detect the pejorative usage whenever a Protestant refuses to use the word Catholic without the Roman adjective or when they parallel talk about Roman Catholics with talk about RomanistsRomanism, or the Roman Church.

When an anti-Catholic (someone who refuses to acknowledge the Christianity of Catholicism) [decides to] inflexibly use the term Roman whenever the word Catholic appears, to refuse to use just the term Catholic when asked to do so, and to accompany it by terms like RomanismRomanist, etc., then this term is patently offensive. . . .

I said [to another Protestant participant in the list discussion], “Look: I am doing something that annoys you. Okay, fine. You are doing something that annoys me. You stop doing the thing that annoys me, and I will stop doing the thing that annoys you even though I still believe it to be accurate.” And I was and am SERIOUS in this offer. If [name] will chill out on the term Roman, I will stop calling him an anti-Catholic.

That’s not a joke or an insincere offer. I mean it. If we are both doing things that annoy each other, I am willing to drop it if he is. But I am not going to accede to his demand while he is being insulting, especially when what I am saying is accurate, meaning I would be going out of my way to do him a favor by dropping it.

The other person, of course [I think it was Eric Svendsen, but I’m not certain], flatly refused: thus rather spectacularly proving Jimmy’s (and my present) point.

Now, in Bishop White’s article, “An Appropriate Reformation Day Post” (10-31-09), he writes about this issue, and goes after Francis Beckwith, who had complained (as cited in this piece):

I still call what Luther wrought the “Reformation,” even though I don’t think it actually reformed anything. Yet, I use the term “Reformation” out of respect for my Protestant brothers and sisters.

I too am proud to be a “Roman Catholic.” But my dislike of the incessant use of “Rome” and “Roman” by critics is how they apply it as a slur. The guy who cannot write “Catholic” without saying “Roman” in front of it every single friggin’ time is probably not going to be swayed by appeals to charity.

Again, James White not only refuses to return such favors (which I myself have also requested that he do in the past — in which case I would also cease calling him an anti-Catholic — , to no avail), but he engages in blatantly dishonest research methods in order to supposedly refute our point of view from our own magisterial Catholic sources. Let’s look at his polemics and his “argument” in this piece (his words in blue):

There are some topics that really do not require much effort in the way of argumentation. Frank Beckwith’s recent “pet peeve” article about the use of such terms as “Roman church” and “Roman Catholic church” is so easily refuted from Rome’s own official documents that it is amazing the discussion is still going around the net. . . . let’s start with a simple experiment. Open up www.papalencyclicals.net and use the search function. Let’s just search for “Roman,” shall we? And lets just look at, say, Vatican I, given that this was the Council that proclaimed Papal Infallibility (over against the witness of history itself). Did the Council share Dr. Beckwith’s “pet peeve”? Do we find them sticking solely with the term “Catholic”? Let’s see:

And so he goes searching through the documents of Vatican I (1870), and he comes up with “Roman Church” (4), “Roman pontiff[s]” (11), and “Roman see” (1): the latter two usages utterly unobjectionable to Catholics, because, yes, both things are in Rome, Italy. This is what he considers a knockout argument, and so he triumphantly concludes:

In any case, we see that Dr. Beckwith’s call for “respect” on the part of us non-Roman Catholics by asking us to refrain from using terminology drawn from the dogmatic documents of his own communion is indefensible. Rome’s self-exaltation precludes the exclusion of her own name in making reference to her arrogant claims and her false gospel.

Now, the dishonest part of this is what White omits ininforming” his readers, concerning Vatican I ecclesiological terminology. He doesn’t tell them (because it wouldn’t fit very well with his agenda) that the same search yields not a single example of either “Roman Catholic Church” or “Roman Catholic.”

He also doesn’t tell them (because his argument would fall flat and self-destruct) that the same search yields eleven instances of “catholic church” and fifteen occurrences of “catholic” (apart from “church” and sometimes before “faith” or “doctrine” etc., and not including “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”).

So (with all this relevant data considered: from the same document and search page that White used), does this look like the preferred usage among Catholics is to be called “Romans” or “Roman Catholics”? Not at all. The standard term is “Catholic” (see, for example, the use of “Catholics” in section 3, part 6).

So why does White refuse to do so: all the while repeatedly demanding with great vigor and clear anger, at not being called a “Reformed Baptist” or being described (accurately) as an “anti-Catholic”?

Moreover, if we actually come up to our present time (language, of course, being malleable and subject to constant evolution over time), rather than almost 150 years ago, we find the same dynamics. In the 1954 edition of the Baltimore Catechism, we search in vain for Roman Catholic or Roman Catholic Church, whereas Catholic and Catholic Church are all over it.

Likewise, the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, in its section on the Church (#748-945) mostly uses simply Church, and occasionally Catholic ChurchRoman Catholic Church is nowhere to be found. Glancing through the whole work, we can scarcely find Roman Catholic at all.

There is one reference in the index, on p. 757, with regard to celibacy requirements in the Latin Rites, and in that instance it is referring to the Western Rites only, not the entire universal Catholic Church, . . .

It’s utterly obvious, then, that our self-title of choice is Catholic. What I and others object to is the specifically, deliberately pejorative and falsely defined use of Roman Catholic, and the outright refusal to use our preferred description. The “battle” over words and titles and their meaning, and respectful and courteous address is a very important one, I think.

In any event, it helps no one on either side of this pseudo-debate to enlist dishonestly and cynically selective methods in citing documents of one’s opponents. White has revealed himself yet again as the sophist that he is in “debate.” How pathetic and atrocious it is . . . Yet a mere nine days earlier, White made the following ironic comment (irony is never far away when dealing with Bishop White): “There are few things more disgusting to me than unwillingness to be honest and forthright in your faith.” 

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Photo credit: from the book, Errors of the Roman Catholic Church, or, Centuries of oppression, persecution and ruin (1899) [Wikimedia Commons / no known copyright restrictions]

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