N T Wright on Protestantism’s Advantages Over Rome

When asked to respond to the neo-Catholic converts who are claiming him as inspiration for their decision, N T Wright pleasantly defends Protestantism.  He writes:

“Sacramental, transformational, communal, eschatological”? If you gave me that list and said “Where in the Christian world would you find that?” I could easily and truthfully answer:

  • (i) in the best of the Reformed tradition — spend a couple of days at Calvin College, or read Jamie Smith’s new book, and you’ll see;
  • (ii) in much of the best of the charismatic movement, once it’s shed its low-church prejudices and discovered how much God loves bodies;
  • (iii) in the best of… dare I say it… Anglicanism… ;
  • (iv) in some bits (not all) of the Emerging Church movement . . .

Trent said both much more and much less than this.

  • Sacramental, yes, but in a muddled way with an unhelpful ontology;
  • Transformational, yes, but far too dependent on unbiblical techniques and practices;
  • Communal, yes, but don’t let the laity (or the women) get any fancy ideas about God working new things through them;
  • Eschatological? Eschatology in the biblical sense didn’t loom large, and indeed that was a key element in the Reformers’ protest: the once-for-allness of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection as producing, not a new system for doing the same stuff over and over, but a new world.

Trent, and much subsequent RC theology, has had a habit of never spring-cleaning, so you just live in a house with more and more clutter building up, lots of right answers to wrong questions (e.g. transsubstantiation) which then get in the way when you want to get something actually done.

In particular, Trent gave the wrong answer, at a deep level, to the nature/grace question, which is what’s at the root of the Marian dogmas and devotions which, despite contrary claims, are in my view neither sacramental, transformational, communal nor eschatological. Nor biblical.

He also gives a pretty brilliant line about Rome’s view of authority:

Rome is a big, splendid, dusty old ocean liner, with lots of grand cabins, and, at present, quite a fine captain and some excellent officers — but also quite a few rooms in need of repair. Yes, it may take you places, but it’s slow and you might get seasick from time to time. And the navigators have been told that they must never acknowledge when they’ve been going in the wrong direction . . .

Now this is basically what my friends have been saying for some time now.  If you wanted liturgy, you wouldn’t have gotten much in old Rome.  It was fairly exclusive to the clergy and rather dead (Catherine Pickstock’s hypothesis that “mumbling” was an attempt by the finite to express the infinite through apophatic ecstasy to the contrary…).  If you wanted sacraments, again, you probably wouldn’t have gotten much of it in old Rome.  If you wanted tradition, you would have only gotten it as mediated by the magisterium.

The Reformation was about all of these things.  And yes, there was something to the nature/grace opposition as well.  Rome’s view of “holiness,” as well as their political theory betrays their commitment to grace superseding nature.  The Prots were all over that from the start.

The new Catholicism is simply trying to pass Protestant teachings off as its own.  You know, like Scott Hahn does.

Now we just need to get Bishop Wright straight on philosophy and the medievals…