Historical Perspectives | The Reformation View of Roman Catholicism

From The Works of John Owen (1616-1683)

On supposition that the church of Rome is a church of Christ, it will appear to be the most schismatical church in the world. I say on supposition that it is a church, and that there is such a thing as a schismatical church (as perhaps a church may from its intestine differences be not unfitly so denominated), that is the state and condition thereof…Christ hath ordained no church that inwraps such interests as on the account whereof the members of it may murder one another. (13:114)

But what need I insist upon this supposition, when I am not more certain that there is any instituted church in the world, owned by Christ as such, than I am that the church of Rome is none, properly so called? Nor shall I be thought singular in this persuasion, if it be duly considered what this amounts unto. Some…men…grant that the Church of Rome doth not err in fundamentals, or maintained no errors remedilessly pernicious and destructive of salvation. How far they entangled themselves by this concession I argue not. The foundation of it lies in this clear truth, that no church whatever, universal or particular, can possibly err in fundamentals; for by so doing it would cease to be a church. My denying, then the synagogue of Rome to be a church, according to their principles, amounts to no more that this,--the Papists maintain, in their public confessions, fundamental errors; in which assertion it is known I am not alone. (13:115)

The truth is, the whole of it is but an imitation and exemplar of the old imperial government. One is set up in chief, and made in spirituals, as the emperors were in several things; from him all power flows to others…So that the present Roman church is nothing else but an image or similitude of the Roman empire, set up, in its declining, among and over the same persons in succession, by the craft of Satan, through principles of deceit, subtlety, and spiritual wickedness, as the other was by force and violence, for the same ends of power, dominion, flesliness, and persecution with the former. (13:116)

But we have forsaken the Church of Rome. But, gentlemen, show first how we were ever of it. No man hath lost that which he never had, nor hath left the place or station wherein he never was. Tell me when or how we were members of your church? (13:117)

We deny their church, as it is styled, to be the catholic church, or as such any part of it, as particular churches are called or esteemed; so that, of all men in the world, they are least concerned in this assertion. Nay, I shall go farther. Suppose all the members of the Roman church to be sound in faith as to all necessary truths, and no way to prejudice the advantages and privileges which accrue to them by the profession thereof, whereby the several individuals of it would be true members of the catholic church, yet I should not only deny it to be the catholic church, but also---abiding in its present order and constitution, being that which by themselves it is supposed to be,--to be any particular church of Christ at all, as wanting many things necessary to constitute them so, and having many things destructive utterly to the very essence and being of that order that Christ hath appointed in his churches. The best plea that I know for their church-state is, that Antichrist sits in the temple of God. Now, although we might justly omit the examination of this pretense until those who are concerned in it will professedly own it as their plea, yet…it imports no more but that the man of sin shall set up his power against God in the midst of them who, by their outward visible profession, have right to be called his temple, which entitles him and his copartners in apostasy to the name of the church as much as changing of money and selling of cattle were ordinances of God under the old temple, when, by some men’s practicing of them in it, it was made a den of thieves. (13:154)

But do we not receive the Scripture itself upon the authority of the church? I say, if we did so, yet this concerns not Rome, which we account no church at all. That we have received the Scriptures from the church of Rome at first,--that is, so much as the book itself,--is an intolerable figment. (13:155)

It is most ridiculous that they are this catholic church, or that their communion is comprehensive of it in its latitude. He must be blind, uncharitable, a judge of what he cannot see or know, who can once entertain a thought of any such thing. (13:161)

That their plea is so far from the truth, that they are, and they only, the catholic church, that indeed they belong not to it, because they keep not the unity of the faith, which is required to constitute any person whatever a member of that church, but fail in all the conditions of it; for,--
1.To proceed, by way of instance, they do not profess nor believe a justification distinct from sanctification, and acceptance thereof; the doctrine whereof is of absolute and indispensable necessity to the preservation of the unity of the faith; and so fail in the first condition of professing all necessary truths.

2.They discover principles corrupt and depraved, utterly inconsistent with those truths and the receiving of them which in general, by owning the Scriptures, they do profess.

3.That in their doctrine of the pope’s supremacy, of merits, satisfaction, the mass, the worshipping of images, they add such things to their profession as enervate the efficacy of all the saving truths they do profess and so fail in the third condition. (13:168)

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