The Point of Contact: Romanism

“In the question of starting point it is all-important that we have a truly Christian doctrine of man. But this Rome does not have. Without going into details it may be asserted that Rome has a defective doctrine (a) with respect to the nature of man as he was created and (b) with respect to the effect of the entrance of sin upon the nature of man. “The importance point of difference is, “says Charles Hodge, “that Protestants hold that original righteousness, so far as it consisted in the moral excellence of Adam, was natural, while the Romanists maintain that it was supernatural. According to their theory, God created man soul and body. These two constituents of his nature are naturally in conflict. To preserve the harmony between them, and the due subjection of the flesh to the spirit, God gave man the supernatural gift of righteousness. It was this gift that man lost by his fall; so that since the apostasy he is in the state in which Adam was before he was invested with this supernatural endowment….

Suppose then that a Romanist approaches an unbeliever and asks him to accept Christianity. The unbeliever in his eyes, is merely such a one as has lost original righteousness. The image of God in him which, according to Romanism consists as Hodge says, “only of the rational, and especially the voluntary nature of man, or the freedom of the will” (p. 103) is thought of as still intact. That is to say, the unbeliever is, perhaps barring extremes, correct in what he himself thinks of the powers of his intellect and will. There is not necessarily any sin involved in what the unbeliever, or natural man, does by way of exercising his capacities for knowledge and action. On this view the natural man does not need the light of Christianity to enable him to understand the world and himself aright. He does not need the revelation of Scripture or the illumination of the Holy Spirit in order that by means of them he may learn what his own true nature is….

It appears then that there is a fundamental difference of opinion between Romanism and Calvin on the origin and nature of the “disturbance” in human nature. The view of Rome is essentially the same as that of the Greek philosophers: in particular that of Aristotle. According to this view the disturbance is endemic to human nature because man is made up, in part, of non-rational elements. To the extent that man consists of intellect he does not and cannot sin. The “disturbance” in man’s make-up is not due primarily to any fault of his own. It is basically due to “God” who “made” him….

Still further as the “philosophers” and Calvin differ on the source and nature of the “disturbance” in human nature so they also differ on the remedy to be employed for the removal of that disturbance. According to the philosophers man does not need supernatural help for the removal of the disturbance within his being. According to the Greek view, so largely followed by Rome, man’s intellect has within itself the proper set. The fall has not disturbed the set of the saw and therefore there is no need of the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to reset it. The nature of the intellect and its activity is almost unaffected by what happens to man in the course of history….

We conclude then that it is natural and consistent for Roman Catholic apologetics to seek its point of contact with the unbeliever is a “common area” of knowledge. Roman Catholic theology agrees with the essential contention of those it seeks to win to the Christian faith that man’s consciousness of himself and of the objects of the world is intelligible without reference to God.

But herein precisely lies the fundamental point of difference between Romanism and Protestantism. According to the principle of Protestantism, man’s consciousness of self and of objects presuppose for their intelligibility the self-consciousness of God. In asserting this we are not thinking of psychological and temporal priority. We are thinking only of the question as to what is the final reference point in interpretation. The Protestant principle finds this in the self-contained ontological trinity. By his counsel the triune God controls whatsoever comes to pass. If then the human consciousness must, in the nature of the case, always be the proximate starting-point, it remains true that God is always the most basic and therefore the ultimate or final reference point in human interpretation.

This is, in the last analysis, the question as to what are one’s ultimate presuppositions. When man became a sinner he made of himself instead of God the ultimate or final reference point. And it is precisely this presupposition, as it controls without exception all forms of non-Christian philosophy, that must be brought into question. If this presupposition is left unquestioned in any field all the facts and arguments presented to the unbeliever will be made over by him according to his pattern. The sinner has cemented colored glasses to his eyes which he cannot remove. And all is yellow to the jaundiced eye. There can be no intelligible reasoning unless those who reason together understand what they mean by their words.

In not challenging this basic presupposition with respect to himself as the final reference point in predication the natural man may accept the “theistic proofs” as fully valid. He may construct such proofs. He has constructed such proofs. But the god whose existence he proves to himself in this way is always a god who is something other than the self-contained ontological trinity of Scripture. The Roman Catholic apologete does not want to prove the existence of this sort of God. He wants to prove the existence of such a God as will leave intact the autonomy of man to at least some extent. Rome’s theology does not want a God whose counsel controls whatsoever comes to pass.

It is natural then that Rome’s view of the point of contact with the unbeliever is what it is.”

(Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 69-78)

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