Former Free Church Moderator Rev Dr John Ross reflects on developments in the Roman Catholic Church in 2013
Over the last few months anyone following the British media will have been unable to ignore the Roman Catholic Church. It has been more or less constantly in the news.
In February the news broke of the tragic scandal in which it was said the Cardinal Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Keith O’Brien, was implicated.
In March, Roman Catholics ecstatically welcomed the Argentinian, Francis, as the first Latin American and Jesuit pope.
In August, in Scotland, at any rate, things spiralled downwards with breaking news of a child abuse scandal involving priests from the now defunct Fort Augustus Abbey school.
Then, just last week, the media being the media, speculated whether or not, during his visit to Umbria and Assisi, Francis might disrobe in imitation of the self-humiliation of Francis of Assisi.
Standing before his wealthy father, Francis of Assisi had removed his rich robes and donned sackcloth to live like the poor he sought to serve. Pope Francis denied he would divest himself of his clothing, but suggested ways in which the Roman Catholic Church might strip itself of worldliness.
He said that if the church did not it was in grave danger of producing ‘pastry Christians’, sweet, but not real. There was not too much in that to which a confessional Presbyterian might object.
But in Rome today (12 October) there is a complete farrago of nonsense. In the Roman Catholic calendar, October 12 is Marian Day, commemorating the final apparition of Mary at Fatima.
In celebration, a pilgrimage will take place to the alleged tomb of the Apostle Peter. Here, according to Vatican sources, the Pope is to ‘consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.’
Moreover he plans to do so in the presence of one of the most significant icons of Maryism, the Statue of Our Lady of Fatima, specially shipped to the Vatican from Portugal for the pilgrimage.
For the Reformers, the most objectionable thing about Roman Catholicism was the Mass with its denial of Christ’s completed work of redemption on the Cross, and its repeated offering and re-offering of Christ again on the altar.
Confessional Presbyterians reject other superstitions surrounding the Mass, especially the doctrine of transubstantiation (that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ, though retaining their pre-consecrated form).
But, that was before we witnessed the full blown development of Maryism, the doctrine that Mary is co-mediator, co-redeemer and co-advocate with Christ. Modern developments of this ancient error, include the promulgation, in 1854, of the doctrine of the sinless conception of Mary, followed in 1950 by papal confirmation of the belief that Mary’s body had not seen corruption, but had been directly assumed into heaven.
In the light of all that, we must assert two things. First, that to the extent Roman Catholics elevate Mary, they proportionally dethrone Christ in their own eyes.
Secondly, Scripture makes clear that “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15). This honour cannot be shared with another, even someone as devout and obedient as Mary of Nazareth.
Isaiah records the Lord as saying: “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.” (Isaiah 42:8)
Whilst we totally reject sectarianism, have no time at all for the folly of hurling gratuitous insults at Rome, and utterly deplore unkindness to Roman Catholics, we view these doctrines as unbiblical, and see the impact they have on millions worldwide, as a subversion of Apostolic Christianity and, therefore, perilous to the faith of men and women.
One of the Pope’s multitudinous titles is Pontifex Maximus, which might be translated, ‘chief bridge builder’. Many Protestants thought that after two very conservative popes, Francis would be different, that he would indeed build bridges towards confessional Christianity.
But far from bridging the gulf, the events in Rome this weekend confirm that there still exists oceans of blue water between Rome and Geneva.