More Unity than You Think

A response to Evangelicals, Catholics, and Unity by Michael Horton

The Good Points

This tract by Michael Horton has a good apologetic spirit: a genuine concern for telling the truth in love. There is an excellent and, I think, accurate summary of Rome's position viz ecumenism on page 38:
When the pope [Note: lower case!] prays for unity, what he is asking is that Protestants will cease to be Protestants, that the "separated churches" will at last recognize their heresy and schism and return to submission to his authority. This is not because the pope is arrogant or crafty, but because the Roman doctrine of the church requires this position. That position has been stoutly defended by the magisterium up to the present hour.
The logic of the paper is impeccable. The overall syllogism is:
PremiseScripture explicity anathematizes salvation by works
PremiseRome teaches salvation by works
ConclusionTherefore, Rome must be anathema.
Note that "anathema" is not a curse, but simply means "not in union with us".

I am writing this response because I see a problem with premise two. The arguments against the Magisterium also suffer from some false premises.

Does Rome teach salvation by works?

While arguing that Rome teaches salvation by works, Horton notes on page 25 that Rome successfully resisted Pelagianism in the fourth century. The implicit thesis here seems to be that Rome "fell away" from truth sometime before the Reformation.

On page 26, Horton outlines a shift in vocabulary that took place with the Latin Vulgate. However, when quoting the Council of Trent on the next page, he fails to note that substituting the shifted meaning of "justification" that he just described results in a completely different reading - one that does not so clearly support his thesis that Rome teaches "dikaiooo" by works. Take into account the different definitions of "faith", and the Council of Trent appears to match the very doctrines Horton is trying to defend.

The most egregious error, however, is on page 17. There Horton says that the Council of Trent "declared evangelicals to be anathema". The text he quotes (and the rest as well), however, does no such thing. It declares, "if anyone says that ... let him be anathema". It condemns evangelicals only if evangelicals are making the condemned statements. If we substitute what Horton recognizes as the Catholic definition of "justification" as "making righteous", and also "faith" with the Catholic meaning of "intellectual assent", we get:

If anyone says that the sinner is made actually righteous by intellectual assent alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace needed to become righteous . . . let him be anathema.
Does Horton disagree with that statement? I doubt it. If he does, he is condemned by Scripture [James 2] as well as Trent. Are doctrinal differences between Rome and evangelicals simply a matter of language? Maybe not, but teams of theologians have been unable to come to a definite conclusion - so the matter is hardly "clear" as Horton claims.

Does the Magisterium receive new revelation from God?

This is a Catholic FAQ - and Horton should know better. On page 22, Horton says that Rome, like radical sects, claims "ongoing revelation". On page 24, he gives a much more accurate description:
The purpose of tradition after the apostles is not to reveal new truths, but to illumine, defend, and confess that which has already been revealed, which is why the early church councils appealed to the authority of Christ, the prophets, and the apostles rather than to their own authority as support for their statements.
However, he presents this against his own conception of the Magisterium as "an evolving, post-apostolic, revelatory process." Now, it is alright to claim that in practice the Magisterium has become that (and Catholic apologists will make the same claim about Sola Scriptura) - but to suggest that the Magisterium is formally defined as such is flatly wrong.

[Insert example where Magisterium is defined as never contradicting Scripture or going beyond the teaching of the Apostles.]

In fact, Horton affirms on page 22 that Scripture is to be "interpreted communally and not individually". The real issue is whether the Apostles teaching is authoritative preserved in Scripture, Magisterium, or both.


In conclusion, Horton says:
Instead of trying to forge false unity by weakening the only basis upon which true unity may be built, can we not establish church-sponsored forums in which greater understanding and cooperation may be fostered?
This is exactly what Evangelicals and Catholics Together sets out to do. Michael Horton does a great service in dispelling the popular misunderstanding that ECT means "the issues that have separated the two communions for nearly five centuries were no longer obstacles to genuine unity and ... a shared understanding of the Gospel". However, much more progress needs to made on the "greater understanding" front - as his own misunderstandings of the Catholic positions show.