Twin Scourges: Thoughts on Anti-Catholicism Book Summary

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Title: Twin Scourges: Thoughts on Anti-Catholicism and Theological Liberalism
Author: Dave Armstrong

TLDR: This book explores the fallacies and harmful effects of both anti-Catholicism, which denies the Christian status of Catholicism, and theological liberalism, which deviates from historic Christian orthodoxy. Armstrong argues that both ideologies stem from faulty logic, misrepresentation, and a lack of genuine faith. He defends Catholic teaching while calling for increased understanding and charity between Christians.

Chapter I: General Observations

This chapter introduces the reader to the core arguments and common strategies employed by anti-Catholics. Armstrong starts by dissecting Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylons, a highly influential book in anti-Catholic circles. He exposes the faulty logic behind Hislop’s central premise: any superficial resemblance between Catholic practices and paganism automatically signifies that Catholicism is essentially pagan. This approach, Armstrong argues, ignores Catholicism’s syncretistic nature, which embraces good elements within paganism and seeks to “Christianize” existing customs.

Armstrong then moves to Loraine Boettner’s Roman Catholicism, a modern iteration of anti-Catholic thought rife with blatant falsehoods and uninformed pronouncements. He exposes the book’s lack of scholarly rigor and its reliance on absurd claims and subjective judgements about the inner lives and motivations of Catholics.

The chapter then turns to the extreme, farcical representation of anti-Catholicism found in Jack Chick’s comic booklet Alberto. Armstrong exposes the fraudulent claims of Alberto Rivera, the purported ex-Jesuit priest who narrates the comic, and highlights the absurdity of the conspiracy theories presented within its pages.

Armstrong emphasizes the frustration experienced by Catholics facing such persistent misrepresentation, drawing on observations by prominent Catholic converts like Sir Arnold Lunn and Louis Bouyer. He concludes the chapter by addressing the crucial difference between respectfully disagreeing with Catholic doctrines and outright denying the Christian status of Catholicism, a distinction frequently blurred by anti-Catholics.

Chapter II: Martin Luther

This chapter examines the role of Martin Luther in perpetuating anti-Catholicism. Armstrong doesn’t deny Luther’s significant contribution to the Reformation, but focuses on his controversial methods of argumentation, which relied heavily on distorting Catholic doctrines, resorting to personal attacks, and portraying the medieval Church as wholly corrupt and devoid of true Christian faith.

Armstrong cites various historians, including Protestant scholar Johann von Dollinger, who condemned Luther’s often dishonest and malicious attacks against the Catholic Church. He presents examples of Luther’s inflammatory rhetoric and his unfounded claims about Catholic beliefs and practices, highlighting the lasting damage these pronouncements inflicted on Catholic-Protestant relations.

Chapter III: Is All Opposition to Catholicism “Anti-Catholicism”?

This chapter clarifies the crucial distinction between legitimate critique of Catholic doctrines and outright anti-Catholicism. Armstrong reiterates his definition of an anti-Catholic: someone who denies the Christian status of the Catholic Church, claiming that individual Catholics can only be true Christians by rejecting core Catholic teachings.

He emphasizes that simply disagreeing with one or several Catholic doctrines doesn’t constitute anti-Catholicism. He differentiates between engaging in constructive theological debate and the harmful, unfounded attacks characteristic of anti-Catholic rhetoric.

Chapter IV: Protestantism is Christian and Catholicism is Not?

This chapter tackles the inherent logical inconsistency of anti-Catholicism. Armstrong argues that if Catholicism, with its long and continuous history extending back to the apostles, is deemed non-Christian, then no form of Protestantism can claim the title either. He dismantles the anti-Catholic argument by highlighting its glaring historical and theological flaws.

He questions the arbitrary point in history where Catholicism supposedly became apostate, noting the lack of any definitive answer provided by anti-Catholics. He exposes the hypocrisy of relying on early Church Councils while ignoring later ones and the inherent contradiction in claiming the Catholic Church corrupted the Bible while simultaneously relying on its canon as defined by that same Church.

Armstrong further employs the argumentum ad absurdum to demonstrate the inconsistencies within the anti-Catholic position. He uses the example of a Calvinist apologist who denies the Protestant status of Arminians due to their rejection of certain Calvinistic doctrines, ultimately highlighting the illogical conclusions one reaches when applying the same stringent criteria to defining Christianity itself.

Chapter V: The Gospel and Faith and Works

This chapter addresses the anti-Catholic misrepresentation of Catholic soteriology (theology of salvation). Armstrong clarifies that disagreeing with specific aspects of Catholic teaching on justification or salvation doesn’t automatically make one an anti-Catholic. However, denying the central role of grace in Catholic soteriology or accusing Catholics of Pelagianism (belief in salvation through human works alone) crosses that line.

He differentiates between “the gospel” – the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection – and the individual response to it (faith, repentance, conversion). He argues that equating the Protestant doctrine of sola fide (faith alone) with “the gospel” is unbiblical and illogical, further exposing inconsistencies within the anti-Catholic approach to Scripture.

Chapter VI: “Debates” and “Dialogues” With Anti-Catholics

This chapter delves into the challenges and pitfalls of engaging in public debates and dialogues with anti-Catholics. Armstrong contends that such encounters rarely produce fruitful results due to the inherent complexity of Catholic teaching and the sophistical tactics often employed by anti-Catholic apologists.

He argues that the intellectually dishonest nature of anti-Catholicism and its reliance on misrepresentation and slander make it unworthy of being granted the platform of a public debate. He further cites biblical examples of Jesus and St. Paul, who both engaged in fruitful debate when appropriate but also refrained from engaging with obstinate and hard-hearted individuals, even recommending shunning in certain cases.

Armstrong advocates for a more thoughtful and nuanced approach to discussing theological disagreements, suggesting that the complexity of Catholic teaching is better conveyed through extended written exchanges or a series of debates covering various interconnected topics. He concludes by advocating for a more respectful and charitable approach to dialogue, even when faced with hostility and misrepresentation.

Chapter VII: Does the Term Anti-Catholic Involve a Double Standard?

This chapter addresses the perceived double standard inherent in using the term “anti-Catholic” while simultaneously objecting to terms like “papist” or “Romanist” used by some Protestants. Armstrong defends the use of the term, arguing that it is a descriptive label referring to a specific theological position: opposition to the Christian status of the Catholic Church.

He compares it to terms like “anti-abortion” or “anti-Communist,” where the “anti” prefix signifies opposition to a specific ideology or entity, not necessarily personal hatred towards individuals who adhere to it. He further clarifies that the term “anti-Catholic” differs significantly from pejorative labels like “papist” or “Romanist,” which are intentionally used to denigrate and dismiss Catholics.

Armstrong highlights the double standard exhibited by some Protestants who insist on using the term “Roman Catholic” while simultaneously objecting to the term “anti-Catholic.” He concludes by emphasizing the importance of mutual respect and courtesy in denominational address, advocating for using preferred self-titles whenever possible.

Chapter VIII: Towards a Psychology of Anti-Catholicism

This chapter explores the underlying motivations and psychological framework of anti-Catholic thought. Armstrong contends that most anti-Catholics are sincere in their beliefs, viewing themselves as righteous crusaders fighting against a perceived threat to true Christianity. He argues that their hostility stems from deeply ingrained misinterpretations of Catholic doctrine and a distorted historical perspective.

He introduces the concept of “plausibility structures,” the framework through which individuals interpret and harmonize their beliefs. For the anti-Catholic, this structure is built upon a deeply ingrained distrust of the Catholic Church and a conviction that it represents a dangerous counterfeit of Christianity.

Armstrong analyzes the “war” mentality prevalent within anti-Catholic circles, where Catholics are viewed as enemies rather than fellow Christians, leading to a dehumanized and demonized perception. He suggests that the best approach to breaking through this ingrained prejudice is through persistent, patient refutation of their arguments, coupled with unwavering charity and a willingness to understand their perspective.

Chapter IX: Anti-Sacramentalism

This chapter examines the anti-Catholic rejection of sacramentalism. Armstrong argues that this position, when consistently applied, would exclude not only Catholics and Orthodox from Christianity but even many Protestant denominations. He cites examples from Luther and Calvin, who both affirmed the efficacy of sacraments, particularly baptism and the Eucharist, directly contradicting the claim that sacraments “replace the grace of God.”

Armstrong once again utilizes the argumentum ad absurdum to expose the inconsistencies within the anti-Catholic approach, demonstrating how their rejection of sacramentalism would lead to branding even their own cherished Protestant reformers as non-Christian. He concludes by advocating for a more nuanced and historically informed understanding of sacraments, emphasizing their role as divinely instituted means of grace within the Christian tradition.

Chapter X: Heterodox Catholics and Liberal Protestants

This chapter addresses the issue of theological liberalism and dissent within both Catholic and Protestant communities. Armstrong acknowledges the presence of liberal Catholics who reject certain Church teachings, but argues that their dissent doesn’t invalidate the Church’s authority or the clearly defined body of Catholic doctrine.

He contrasts the nature of Catholic dissent with Protestant denominationalism, highlighting the difference between individual Catholics rejecting official Church teaching and Protestants institutionalizing their disagreements by forming new denominations. He argues that the Catholic Church, with its magisterium, apostolic Tradition, and papal authority, possesses a clearly defined mechanism for determining orthodoxy and addressing dissent.

Armstrong further contends that the Catholic Church has weathered the storm of theological liberalism and is experiencing a resurgence of orthodoxy, pointing to the influence of Pope John Paul II, the new Catechism, and the growing apologetics movement. He concludes by highlighting the cyclical nature of religious fervor and corruption within Christian history, emphasizing the enduring strength of Catholic orthodoxy despite challenges and setbacks.

Chapter XI: Nominal, Ignorant, and Sinful Catholics

This chapter tackles the Protestant critique of Catholicism based on the perceived ignorance and moral failings of many Catholics. Armstrong acknowledges the validity of this observation, admitting that the practice of Catholicism often falls short of its ideals. However, he argues that this doesn’t invalidate the truth claims of Catholicism or disprove its theological foundations.

He emphasizes the distinction between judging a belief system based on its “books” – its official doctrines and teachings – and judging it based on the behavior of its adherents. He argues that ignorance and nominalism are present in all religious communities and don’t necessarily reflect the inherent truth or falsity of their beliefs.

Armstrong discusses the cyclical nature of revival and decline within Christian history, citing examples from both Catholic and Protestant traditions. He concludes by emphasizing the importance of judging Christian denominations based on their official teachings and doctrines rather than relying on the subjective and often misleading “argument from ignorance.”

Chapter XII: Practical Problems Due to the Modernist Crisis

This chapter addresses the practical challenges and shortcomings within Catholic communities, particularly in areas of fellowship, social engagement, and biblical literacy. Armstrong acknowledges the strengths of evangelical Protestantism in these areas, but argues that these practical issues don’t justify rejecting the Catholic faith.

He discusses the historical and sociological factors contributing to the decline of the traditional parish community and the impact of theological liberalism on Catholic education and catechesis. He encourages Catholics to learn from the strengths of evangelicalism, advocating for increased Bible study, stronger fellowship, and a more vibrant faith life.

Armstrong concludes by reiterating his central argument: while acknowledging the practical problems and shortcomings within Catholicism, he contends that these are neither insurmountable nor compelling reasons to abandon the faith. He emphasizes the importance of prioritizing doctrinal and moral considerations when choosing a religious affiliation, recognizing that all Christian communities struggle with human failings and imperfections.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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