Monday, March 02, 2009

Which of the Seven Dwarfs Best Sums Up Protestantism?

Lutheran-turned-Catholic Louis Bouyer argues in his The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism that the expulsion of the Protestant Reformers from the Catholic Church was in no way a response to the "positive principles" of the Reformation such as Sola Gratia and the emphasis on divine sovereignty (principles which, according to Bouyer, had "the power to rejuvenate and restore traditional Christianity"). Instead, the Reformers were tossed out for "something else," namely, the unnecessary negative principles that were also insisted upon but were, Bouyer maintains, "so far from following from the principles already examined or from being necessarily implied by them or even useful or expedient."

The question that must be pondered, according to Bouyer, is not "If the positive principles of the Reformation are perfectly consistent with Catholic tradition, then why did the Church reject them?" but rather, "What was present in the Reformation that forced the Church to reject it despite its clearly orthodox positive principles?"

Before we look at the specific examples Bouyer cites, I'd like to examine his general claim. Is there a "mysterious fatality" resident within Protestantism that inevitably moves its adherents to attach a "negative significance" to its positive principles?

It's a good question.

Just answering the challenge in general terms, it seems necessary to insist that if A is true, then non-A must be equally false. That being said, however, is it absolutely necessary to say that if, say, the Bible is uniquely authoritative then the Church has no real authority beyond that which I attribute to it? Or is it inevitable that if salvation is a sovereign work of divine grace alone, and that works play no role in disposing God towards the sinner, that therefore all works are eliminated from the salvation equation altogether?

I guess what Bouyer is asking is, "Why do Protestants have to be so grumpy all the time?"