Charles Hodge, the Roman Catholic Church, Apostasy and Baptism
“The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error: and some have so degenerated as to become apparently no Churches of Christ. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to his will. ” – WCF Chapter XXV, V
In 1845, Charles Hodge objected to the decision of the Presbyterian General Assembly which denied the validity of Roman Catholic baptisms. Hodge alludes to Calvin stating that: “…those circumcised by apostate priests under the old dispensation, were never recircumcised, or treated as not having received that rite by the inspired prophets…”
Participants in the current ‘reformed Catholic’ conflagration have turned to Hodge’s words as a source for the legitimacy of their claims. It is most certainly true, that Hodge believed in the validity of ‘Romish’ (his term, not mine) baptisms… and the basis for his acceptance of their validity is directly related to the fact that Hodge believed Roman Catholic priests to be appointed and recognized presbyters in a community professing to believe the scriptures.
“We maintain that as the Romish priests are appointed and recognized as presbyters in a community professing to believe the scriptures, the early creeds, and the decisions of the first four general councils, they are ordained ministers in the sense above stated; and consequently baptism administered by them is valid. It has accordingly been received as valid by all Protestant churches from the Reformation to the present day.” – Charles Hodge, “Do Roman Catholic Clergy Count as Ministers of the Gospel?”, Princeton Review, 1846
In so writing, Hodge has Calvin on his side in that Calvin often wrote similarly. Yet Calvin likened the Roman Catholics to the Edomites, who though circumcised rejected God through their father Esau. Thus, it seems, Calvin taught that the baptized Roman Catholic and the baptized Protestants were ‘brothers’ in the same way the Jews were brothers of the Edomites, with reference to Deuteronomy.
“You shall not abhor an Edomite; because he is your brother! You shall not abhor an Egyptian; because you were a stranger in his land!” – Deuteronomy 23:7
Dr. Francis Nigel Lee, in his 1990 work, “Calvin on the Validity of ‘Romish’ Baptism” writes of this, “Calvin argues that baptized Protestants are now far closer to baptized Romanists than either of them are to unbaptized Moslems.”
Lee seems not to notice however, that Calvin was quick to point out that the Catholic was not, by virtue of his baptism saved, nor even in the Church of God proper, but rather was connected to God by the promise of baptism. “Let us therefore diligently note here of the children of [the circumcised] Esau…that if any of them would renounce his own kindred” — as converted Papists should their kindred Romanists — “he would be accounted in the number of this blessed flock” of God’s True People.”
Thus regardless of the Edomite’s circumcision or the Romanist’s baptism they are brothers only in the sense of the flesh, as much as Paul’s Jewish brethren that he lamented over in Romans 9 and elsewhere. But we must recall what he said about them.
“…who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises… But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.”
Therefore, apart from their abandonment of the apostate system, both the Edomite’s circumcision and the Romanist’s baptism were of no regard, and, as Paul writes “your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” (Rom 2:25)
At what point then did Judaism become heretical, rather than simply apostate… that is, when did we cease considering Jews our brothers? Or does Judaism remain orthodox? If it is apostate, at what point and by what means would Rome incur the same judgment stated in the WCF as to be considedered “so degenerated as to become apparently no Churches of Christ”?
During the height of the 1846 debate within the Presbyterian Church, Hodge wrote that he believed the Roman Catholic Church was part of the ‘visible church’ but also pointed out that “the true, or invisible church consists of true believers”. Hodge also stated, “That Romanists as a society profess the true religion, meaning thereby the essential doctrines of the gospel, those doctrines which if truly believed will save the soul, is, as we think, plain.” (Is The Church of Rome a Part of the Visible Church?, Charles Hodge, Princeton Review, April 1846)
Some 26 years later, Hodge’s Systematic Theology was published and therein is found:
“The doctrine of the sacrificial character of the Eucharist, is an integral part of the great system of error, which must stand or fall as a whole. Romanism is another gospel. It proposes a different method of salvation from that presented in the word of God.” Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Part III, Ch.XX, Remarks 5. 1871~2
“The ritual system [in the Church of Rome] is utterly inconsistent with the whole genius of Christianity… The idea that a man’s state before God depends on anything external, on birth, on membership in any visible organization, or on any outward rite or ceremony, is utterly abhorrent to the religion of the Bible. It did not belong to Judiasm except in the corrupt form of Pharisaism.” – Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Part III, Ch. XX, The Sacraments. Their Necessity
Can it be said that a church whose system is “utterly inconsistent with the whole genius of Christianity” and which teaches “another gospel” and a “great system of error” also “profess the true religion, meaning thereby the essential doctrines of the gospel, those doctrines which if truly believed will save the soul”? Can a system “utterly inconsistent with the whole genius of Christianity” remains a truly Christian church?
I can’t help but wonder if Hodge, later in life, found his previous views irreconcilable with the facts, or if the current users of Hodge’s words aren’t reading more into Hodge than he intended.
Finally, in his Systematic Theology, Hodge writes:
“In like manner, baptism does not make a man a Christian. It is the appointed means of avowing that he is a Christian; it is the badge of his Christian profession before men, it secures for him the privileges of membership in the visible Church, and it is a pledge on the part of God that, if sincere and faithful, he shall partake of all the benefits of the redemption of Christ.” – Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Part III, Ch. XX, Baptism is a Condition of Salvation
(As a baptist, I find that admission quite sweet…) During the recent discussions there have been those who have quoted B.B. Warfield in support of their views, as one of my previous posts indicates, Warfield did not agree with everything I believe they intended to make him say… likewise those who have quoted Charles Hodge should clearly note what Hodge was intending and admit what he said in his Systematic Theology when (and if) it contradicts with their views. Plus, it might be improper to import the quotes from the battles of 19th century into our current ones without proper context.