Thursday, February 8, 2007

When is a Roman Catholic a "papist"?

Sometimes, I like to observe the RC and EO polemicists go back and forth, each asserting that the Fathers certainly back either RC or EO claims to be "the" one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. What I fond so interesting is the fact that RC and EO apologists like to claim that if we only followed Tradition, there would be no divisions in the Church--unlike the prots, who's different interpretations of Scriptures are proof positive that the Scriptures are not clear without an infallible interpreter. Somehow, different interpretations of Holy Tradition don't really prov anything.

So, that is the background. Recently, I was involved in a discussion where an EO believer kept calling the RC believers "papists" instead of Roman Catholic--because it is "accurate" to cal them papists, which the RC believers found offensive. Now, I understand the need to stop someone from merely asserting the correctness of his position by attempting to control vocabulary. But it seems to me that we should not be needlessly offensive. For instance, if someone said "I saw the pope on TV today", it might not be a good idea to say "Do you mean the very Antichrist?" here is enough offense to be given by the Gospel, I don't think we need to add to it.

Now, having said that, there is a place for using "strong" language. I believe we should avoid needlessly offending others though. There is plenty of offense in the Gospel itself.


Chris Jones said...

Christian charity and simple politeness tell us that we ought not to use terms that give offense, so no, we shouldn't call them "Papists" if they object to it. But what I do not understand is why they object to it. Surely the distinguishing characteristic of a Roman Catholic is that he or she is required to, and does, respect and obey the authority of the Pope. The term "Papist" simply refers to that distinctive.

Of course, in my discussions with Roman Catholics, I generally refer to them simply as "Catholics". That is simply using the English language as it is; but when I use that term, I am not granting that they have any better claim than I do to being a Catholic Christian. Quite the contrary.

Perhaps that is the reason they don't like being called "Papists". By being called "Catholics" they are rhetorically stealing a base: if they are the Catholics, we must be the heterodox, the schismatics. If we won't call them "Catholics" we are not admitting that we are schismatics. And calling them "Papists" suggests that what they belong to is not the Catholic Church, but the Pope's sect.

Edward Reiss said...


I basically agree with you. And I even think that "Papist" does refer to their most distinctive doctrine, but I think oftentimes the term will not be used for accuracy, but as an inverse of their use of the term "Catholic" to refer to themselves.

Unfortunately, our Lutheran forefathers lost the "definitions" game, and we are now "Lutheran", which puts at a rhetorical disadvantage. I suppose that is why some theologians like terms like "Evangelical Catholic" to refer to Lutherans.

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