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Hodge on Newman and the Papacy

In an entertaining passage of the third volume of his Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge argues that John Henry Newman proves by his own principles that the papacy is the (really, an) Antichrist according to the Scriptural descriptions of that figure.

Hodge says of the popes:

They assume the honour which belongs to God not merely by claiming to be the vicars of Christ on earth, and by allowing themselves to be addressed as Lord and God, but by exacting the submission of the reason, the conscience, and the life, to their authority. This is the highest tribute which a creature can render the Creator; and this the popes claim to be their due from all mankind. They claim divine prerogatives as infallible teachers on all questions of faith and practice, and as having the power to forgive sin. And they exalt their authority above that of God by practically setting aside his word, and substituting their decrees and what they put forth as the teachings of the Church. It is a simple and undeniable fact that in all countries under the effective dominion of the pope, the Scriptures are inaccessible to the people, and the faith of the masses reposes not on what the Bible teaches, but on what the Church declares to be true.

He goes on to say that this exalted pseudo-divine position of the papacy is necessitated by Newman’s own claims in Essays Critical and Historical, volume 2, where he argues that the (institutional, hierarchical) church is the heir of the promises to Israel and Zion and is, moreover, Daniel’s fifth kingdom:

Even such a writer as John Henry Newman, in an essay written before his formal adhesion to the Church of Rome, uses such language as the following: The question is, “Has Christ, or has He not, appointed a body representative of Him in earth during his absence?” This question he answers in the affirmative, and says, “Not even the proof of our Lord’s divinity is plainer than that of the Church’s commission. Not even the promises to David or to Solomon more evidently belong to Christ, than those to Israel, or Jerusalem, or Sion, belong to the Church. Not even Daniel’s prophecies are more exact to the letter, than those which invest the Church with powers which Protestants consider Babylonish. Nay, holy Daniel himself is in no small measure employed on this very subject. He it is who announces a fifth kingdom, like ‘a stone cut out without hands,’ which ‘broke in pieces and consumed’ all former kingdoms, but was itself to ‘stand forever’ and to become ‘a great mountain,’ and ‘to fill the whole earth.’ He it is also who prophesies that ‘the Saints of the most High shall take the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever.’ He ‘saw in the night visions and behold one like to the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and there was given Him dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him.’ Such too is Isaiah’s prophecy, ‘Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, and He shall judge among the nations and rebuke many people.’ Now Christ Himself was to depart from the earth. He could not then in his own person be intended in these great prophecies; if He acted it must be by delegacy. According to the Romanists, therefore, these prophecies, relating to Christ and his kingdom, refer to the papacy. It is the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, which is to break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms; which is to stand forever; which is to fill the whole earth, to which is given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve. If this be not to put itself in the place of God, it is hard to see how the prophecies concerning Antichrist can ever be fulfilled.

Thus Newman himself proves that the papacy is Antichrist:1

No more conclusive argument to prove that the papacy is Antichrist, could be constructed, than that furnished by Dr. Newman, himself a Romanist. According to him the prophecies respecting the glory, the exaltation, the power, and the universal dominion of Christ, have their fulfilment in the popes. But who is Antichrist, but the man that puts himself in the place of Christ; claiming the honour and the power which belong to God manifest in the flesh, for himself? Whoever does this is Antichrist, in the highest form in which he can appear.

Newman attempts to deflect this line of attack with huffing and puffing about how this must make Protestants see all adherents of the Church of Rome as “enemies of God” and “children of Satan.” But before anyone can get his baptismal gown in a bunch, Hodge replies, “Not at all”; and does so in a way that is of extreme significance for ecclesiology and that, indeed, serves to point up the differences between a consistent Protestant and a Romanist ecclesiology, differences that allow Hodge to make precisely the distinctions he does–an avenue that was not, in fact, available to a consistent Romanist before the 1960s, if Unam Sanctam is to be believed (granting some qualifications as in, e.g., Pius XI’s Quanto conficiamur moerore, themselves inconsistent with Protestant principles).

Dr. John Henry Newman says, that if Protestants insist on making the Church of Rome Antichrist, they thereby make over all Roman Catholics, past and present, “to utter and hopeless perdition.” This does not follow. The Church of Rome is to be viewed under different aspects; as the papacy, an external organized hierarchy, with the pope, with all his arrogant claims, at its head; and also as a body of men professing certain religious doctrines. Much may be said of it in the one aspect, which is not true of it in the other. Much may be said of Russia as an empire that cannot be said of all Russians. At one time the first Napoleon was regarded by many as Antichrist; that did not involve the belief that all Frenchmen who acknowledged him as emperor, or all soldiers who followed him as their leader, were the sons of perdition. That many Roman Catholics, past and present, are true Christians, is a palpable fact. It is a fact which no man can deny without committing a great sin. It is a sin against Christ not to acknowledge as true Christians those who bear his image, and whom He recognizes as his brethren. It is a sin also against ourselves. We are not born of God unless we love the children of God. If we hate and denounce those whom Christ loves as members of his own body, what are we? It is best to be found on the side of Christ, let what will happen. It is perfectly consistent, then, for a man to denounce the papacy as the man of sin, and yet rejoice in believing, and in openly acknowledging, that there are, and ever have been, many Romanists who are the true children of God.

Nor, finally, does his claim mean that there is only one Antichrist:

Admitting that the Apostle’s predictions refer to the Roman pontiffs, it does not follow that the papacy is the only antichrist. St. John says there are many antichrists. Our Lord says many shall come in his name, claiming in one form or another his authority, and endeavouring to take his place by dethroning him. The Apostle John tells us this “is the last time” (1 John ii. 18) in which many antichrists are to appear. This 823“last time” extends from the first to the second advent of Christ.

It is worth noting that the position espoused by Hodge here regarding the status of the papacy, or something like it, was required by the original version of Westminster Confession of Faith 25.6: “There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.” The last clause, however, though retained in the American revisions to the Confession in 1788 and thus still in effect in Hodge’s day, was removed in further revisions to the Confession in 1903, a deletion that is retained by many contemporary Presbyterian bodies in North America.

  1. In the essay in question, Newman acknowledges that this would be the case, if “the Church” did not have the authority for acting as and in place of Christ, which, in his view, it does. He acknowledges no other distinctions between the acts of Christ and Antichrist, a topic for which space has not been reserved in this post.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

2 replies on “Hodge on Newman and the Papacy”

Excellent stuff, thanks for this!
And I’m sure you’ve seen it, but just in case you haven’t here’s Hodge’s rejection of the invitation he received to attend Vatican I.
I sort-of wish he’d gathered a cluster of Presbyterian and Baptist pastors and cleaned house there, but alas…

“…But although we do not decline your invitation because we are either heretics or schismatics, we are nevertheless debarred from accepting it, because we still hold with ever increasing confidence those principles for which our fathers were excommunicated and pronounced accursed by the Council of Trent, which represented, and still represents, the Church over which you preside…”

Yes, thanks! Hodge is one of that rare breed who are both catholic and principled.

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