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Rome and the Reformation

Father’ Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household since 1980, participated at the inauguration of the Church of England’s Tenth General Synod in Westminster Abbey in November 2015. The Catholic Herald reported that Cantalamessa praised the “theological and spiritual enrichment” of the Reformation. Fine words – but was this really the thrust of his message? Is Cantalamessa’s address indicative of a new dawn in the Vatican? Is there to be, at last, acknowledgement of the errors that prompted Luther to make his monumental protest? We must set the headline in context, and allow the essence of Cantalamessa’s speech to be heard. During his homily, delivered in the presence of the Anglican Primate and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, he said this:

The Christian world is preparing to celebrate the fifth centenary of the Protestant Reformation. It is vital for the whole Church that this opportunity is not wasted by people remaining prisoners of the past, trying to establish each other’s rights and wrongs. Rather, let us take a qualitative leap forward, like what happens when the sluice gates of a river or a canal enable ships to continue to navigate at a higher water level.

This does not mean ignoring the great theological and spiritual enrichment that came from the Reformation or desiring to go back to the time before it. It means instead allowing all of Christianity to benefit from its achievements, once they are freed from certain distortions due to the heated atmosphere of the time and of later controversies. (Emphasis mine)

Clearly Cantalamessa is not arguing for an embracing of Reformation truth, Bible truth! The fact is, the Reformation occurred because of the clash between right and wrong. Either Luther was right, or Rome was right, but not both. Either we believe that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and that this is the message of the Scriptures, or we do not. It is not about establishing “each other’s rights and wrongs” or clinging to “certain distortions” – it is about affirming the message of the Gospel, and announcing that message, untainted and unembellished, to a lost world!

Cantalamessa continued…
Unity is not a simple matter. One has to start with the big Churches, those that are well structured, putting together that which unites them, which is vastly more important than what divides them; not imposing uniformity but aiming at what pope Francis calls “reconciled diversities”…The Anglican Church has a special role in all of this. It has often defined itself as a “via media” (Middle Way) between Roman Catholicism and Reformed Christianity. From being a “via media” in a static sense, it must now become more and more a via media in a dynamic sense, exercising an active function as a bridge between the Churches. The presence among you of a priest of the Catholic Church, in circumstances of such special significance, is a sign that something of the kind is already happening. (Emphasis mine)

This is the classic approach of the ecumenist, arguing that what divides is of little significance in comparison with what unites. But it is a fallacy, if the matter at issue is of the very essence of the Gospel – and there is nothing more important that the question of how lost sinners may be reconciled to a holy God! Incidentally, readers may be interested to learn that Cantalamessa, together with RC Primate of England and Wales Cardinal Vincent Nicholls, was one of the keynote speakers in last May’s Alpha Leadership Conference in London – but then we have long recognised the ecumenical agenda of Alpha and its misrepresentation of the Gospel!
In view of the presence of the monarch at the General Synod, Presbytery mandated its Clerk, Dr Ian Brown, to write to Her Majesty expressing its concerns. The text of the letter follows…

It was with immense sorrow and alarm that we learned of this recent visit when Raniero Cantalamessa sought to advise your Gracious Majesty on the matter of Justification by Faith.  It is a matter of concern to learn of the manner in which he abused this opportunity to misrepresent and redefine Martin Luther’s position at the Reformation on the matter of Justification by Faith ALONE in Christ ALONE.  In doing so, he was promoting the persistent error of Roman Catholicism before and since Reformation times and was articulating a false gospel as judged by the definition of Galatians chapter 1.

May Your Majesty be pleased to note that our Lord Jesus Christ stated the true position respecting salvation in St. John chapter 14 verse 6 when He said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life:  no man cometh unto the Father but by Me,” that is, salvation is by Christ alone.

It is also evident from this speech given by Cantalamessa that his key objective was to promote Union with Rome.  This is hardly surprising given the fact that Cantalamessa is subject to his master, Pope Francis, who as a Jesuit is sworn to oppose the Reformation.  However, it is a prospect that should be anathema to Your Majesty and to the Church of England.  It is regrettable that in pitching for this unbiblical unity he has found common cause with some who occupy the highest positions within the Church of England, although any such person, of whatever rank he may be, is an unreliable witness to the truth of God’s Word and treacherous to the position to which the Church of England and Your Majesty should be fully committed.

It is also a cause for sadness that on this occasion Your Majesty’s response included a favourable reference to current major advances in ecumenical unity.  The catalogue of “progress … in pursuit of Christian unity” which you outlined bears no reflection to the perfect unity that is expressly defined by our Lord Jesus Christ in St. John chapter 17 verses 20-23.  The piecemeal efforts indulged in by the ecumenical movement in their current journey are as diverse from the unity that exists between the Father and the Son as darkness is from light (cf. 2 Corinthians chapter 6 verses 14-18).

We would respectfully remind Your Majesty of the position you professed at your coronation when you nobly took your stand with William III and, like him, stated regarding the Protestant Faith, “This we will maintain.”  With prayerful concern we plead that God will have mercy upon you and give Your Majesty His grace to absent yourself from the path of false ecumenism which betrays the glorious Gospel of the blessed God and to give direction to our nation to follow our only Saviour to His Father’s house through faith alone in Christ alone.

It is to be hoped that Queen Elizabeth will have had opportunity to read this communication, and that, though late, she will be alerted to the dangers of unbiblical ecumenism, which has long been the tool of the Roman Catholic Church in its endeavours to bring ‘errant souls’ back to the fold of ‘Mother Church’. We can, and we must, pray to that end.

Dr Ian Brown.