Rev. Hanko is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington.
Has Rome Changed?
Has Roman Catholicism changed? Is it even possible for Roman Catholicism to change, in view of Rome’s insistence on the infallibility of the Pope? Rome’s own unofficial motto is Semper Idem, “Always the Same.” Yet, many point to the Second Vatican Council, held in 1962-1965, as proof of Rome’s willingness to change. A blurb on the back cover of a volume of the documents of that council calls Vatican II “the Ecumencial Council that changed the Catholic Church—and possibly all of Christianity—forever.”¹ To even a casual observer it seems as though Rome has changed and continues to change in many ways since the Reformation. What appear to be real changes in Romanism are used to justify ecumenical relations with Rome.² Where does the truth lie?
Romanism Essentially Unchanged
In its fundamental teachings and beliefs, Rome has not changed and will not change. Boettner says, and we agree:
What sometimes looks like change is merely a policy of caution which she has been forced to adopt because of public opinion. She changes her methods, but not her spirit. Her Canon Law has not undergone any essential change, nor has her ancient policy of suppressing or persecuting those who differ with her . . . .³
A good example of Rome’s unwillingness to change for good in any important matter is found in Vatican II’s “Decree on Ecumenism” (I, 3), in which Rome shows that her attitude toward Protestantism has not changed:
Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life—that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God.4
Rome still views itself as the only true and catholic church, and while Vatican II does not anathematize Protestantism as the older Council of Trent did, it nevertheless condemns Protestantism as being outside the true church and the means of grace and salvation.
On the mass, the seven sacraments, the authority of the pope, the immaculate conception and worship of Mary, the priesthood, purgatory, justification, tradition, celibacy, and many other key matters, Rome’s teaching has not changed one iota, but has been reaffirmed by Vatican II. The chameleon remains a chameleon even when the color of its skin changes.
Rome prides herself in being the same, and she finds in that sameness proof of her being the one true church of Christ. Rome’s arrogance on this point is unsurpassed. In reference to the seeking of ecumenical relations with Protestants, Vatican II in the Decree just quoted said (I, 4):
Such actions, when they are carried out by the Catholic faithful with prudent patience and under the attentive guidance of their bishops, promote justice and truth, concord and collaborations, as well as the spirit of brotherly love and unity. The results will be that, little by little, as the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion are overcome, all Christians will be gathered, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, into the unity of the one and only Church, which Christ bestowed on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time.5
Romanism Endlessly Adaptable
Yet in other respects Roman Catholicism is as variable and changeable as the color of a chameleon’s skin. Protestants are often puzzled by this and wonder how North American Roman Catholicism can be so different from South American Roman Catholicism, or European from African. Alan Morrison, in his book The Serpent and the Cross, recognizes this:
In many ways, it is impossible to identify, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, what the Roman Catholic religion actually consists of. It appears to be all things to all people, depending on what they want to believe and practice. It can be supportive of gun-toting guerilla warfare, arm-waving Charismatic ecstasy, or incense-burning, goddess-worshipping high priesthood!6
Nor is this a new phenomenon. J.A. Wylie, in his definitive work on the papacy, spoke of this more than 100 years ago, long before Vatican II:
In few things is the genius of Popery more conspicuous than in this combination of forces,—this combination of elements the most various; so that from the utmost diversity of action there is educed at last the most perfect unity of result, and that result is the aggrandizement of the Church. That Church provides convents for the ascetic and the mystic, carnivals for the gay, missions for the enthusiast, penances for the man suffering from remorse, sisterhoods of mercy for the benevolent, crusades for the chivalrous, secret missions for the man whose genius lies in intrigue, the Inquisition, with its racks and screws, for the man who combines detestation of heresy with the love of cruelty, indulgences for the man of wealth and pleasure, purgatory to awe the refractory and frighten the vulgar, and a subtile theology for the casuist and the dialectician. Within the pale of that Church there is work for all these labourers, and that too the very work in which each delights, while Rome reaps the fruit of all. . . . In this way the Church of Rome unites in herself all the strength of establishment and all the strength of dissent. With the utmost pomp of a dominant hierarchy above, she has all the energy of a voluntary system below.7
Charismaticism,8 evangelicalism,9 heathenism,10 open dissent with the Papacy on ethical and doctrinal matters,11 membership in the Mafia, freemasonry, practice of the occult,12 Marxism,13 Nazism,14 Liberation theology, left-wing radicalism, Zen Buddhism15 and Hinduism,16 Judaism,17 the Muslim religion18—Rome tolerates it all, though without necessarily approving of it all.
Rome is indeed a “syncretistic dustbin,” and to speak of “chameleon catholicism” is only to touch on Rome’s ability to adapt in different lands and circumstances to any and every situation.
Vatican II, in its “Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, 2,” officially declared that “there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father,” and that “the Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.”
Romanism Always Dangerous
There are both doctrinal and practical reasons why Rome is so adaptive and changeable in these ways. Doctrinally Rome’s Pelagian view of salvation, the teaching that men are able to take the initial and fundamental steps toward their own salvation, leads to a certain toleration of different practices and religions and Rome’s willingness to adapt. Practically, it is simply the case that Rome is interested in nothing so much as earthly supremacy and power. Her only real goal is “to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God” (“Decree on Ecumenism,” I, 3). For Rome that means everyone.
Such ability to adapt makes Roman Catholicism dangerous. She may be as adaptable as a chameleon, but she is by no means as harmless as a chameleon. She is as dangerous as the great dragon on which she rides in Revelation 17. In her tolerance (for everything but the truth), she is like the beast from the earth, who has the horns of a lamb but speaks as a dragon (Rev. 13:11). Her adaptiveness is dangerous exactly because it lulls those to sleep who ought to be afraid of her. Witness, for example, the attitude of Robert Schuller, who said at the time of the Pope’s visit to the USA in 1987, “It is time for Protestants to go to the shepherd and say, ‘What do we have to do to come home?'”19 He was not referring to our Savior, but to the Pope.
Who can forget the betrayal of those prominent evangelicals who signed “Evangelicals and Catholics Together”? Lulled to sleep by the assurance that Rome had changed and was willing to dialogue with Protestants, such men as J.I. Packer, Chuck Colson, Bill Bright, Richard Mouw, Mark Noll, Pat Robertson, Gerald Bray, and Max Lucado betrayed everything the Protestant Reformation stood for.
Surely this same ability to adapt has led to the defection to Rome of Protestant ministers and leaders such as Scott Hahn and John Richard Neuhaus. Rome has a place for anyone who will join with her in her opposition to the true gospel and in her efforts to establish her own supremacy. Anyone who will acknowledge her as “Mother Church” and who will bow to her authority, even while dissenting from some of her teachings, she welcomes.
It is only those who consider her to be chief in the kingdom of Antichrist, who rebuke her for her idolatry and heresy, and who will not submit to her deadly yoke, that she hates and persecutes. Nor must the smiling face of Rome, which she turns towards evangelicals to woo them under her wings, deceive us. She has never repented of her thousand-fold murders of the saints and of her endless efforts to root out the gospel. It is her willingness to adapt and to tolerate everything but true religion that will give Rome a prominent place in the end-times kingdom of Antichrist in which all nations will be gathered under one head and will together, Jews, Muslim, Christians, and heathen, worship the beast and persecute those whose allegiance and devotion is to Christ, the only head of the church.
1 Austin P. Flannery, ed., Documents of Vatican II (Eerdmans, 1975).
2 Mark Noll, one of the signers of the notorious document, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” published in 1994, justified his signing on grounds of “a greater tolerance in the area of theological issues.”
3 Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979), 447.
4 http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat ii_decree_19641121_unitatis redintegratio_en.html
5 http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat ii_decree_19641121_unitatis redintegratio_en.html
6 Alan Morrison, The Serpent and the Cross: Religious Corruption in an Evil Age (K & M Books, 1994), 582.
7 J.A. Wylie, The Papacy: Its History, Dogmas, Genius, and Prospects (Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1852), 413-15.
8 The charismatic movement, with its emphasis on the special gifts of the Spirit, was explicitly condoned by Vatican II in its “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 12.”
9 Cf. Stanley Mawhinney, “Evangelical Catholics, a New Phenomenon” (Christian Ministries, 1992). Evangelical Catholics claim to accept all the “evangelical” teachings of Protestantism while remaining Roman Catholics.
10 “The use of temples . . . incense, lamps and candles . . . the tonsure . . . turning to the East . . . perhaps the ecclesiastical chant and the Kyrie Eleison, are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption in the Church.” John Henry Cardinal Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (Pengiun Books, 1974), 369, quoted in Morrison, 562. Newman was a Roman Catholic cardinal who converted from Anglicanism.
11 The open dissent of American Catholicism, both lay people and clergy, on numerous issues, such as clerical celibacy, abortion, birth control, and marriage and divorce, is well documented.
12 For example, Umbanda, in Latin America and especially Brazil, is a combination of Catholicism and African spiritualism and occultism, and is widely tolerated among Roman Catholics.
13 Cf. the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit and Marxist.
14 For information on Roman Catholic support for the fascist and Nazi regimes of Hitler and Mussolini, cf. John W. Robbins, Ecclesiastical Megalomania (Trinity Foundation, 1995), 161-173, and John Cornwell, Hitler’s Pope (Viking, 1999).
15 The Trappist monk and popular writer Thomas Merton was champion of a mix of Zen Buddhism and Christianity.
16 Mother Teresa’s well-known “Universal Prayer for Peace” was published with the claim that it is “not confined to members of religions, but equally to humanists and agnostics and generally to those who believe in the power of positive thought” and was adapted from the Hindu Scriptures, the Upanishads, by a Hindu monk, Satish Kumar.
17 “Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues” (Vatican II, “Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, 4”).
18 “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God” (Vatican II, “Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, 3”).
19 Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Sept. 19, 1987.