Charles Hodge: "That many Roman Catholics, past and present, are true Christians, is a palpable fact."

"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.' 1 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" (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Volume 3, p. 822).

1 The Protestant Idea of Antichrist, in vol. ii. of his Essays Critical and Historical, p. 148.


Chris Duncan: I suppose that for Charles Hodge, the "palpable fact" is that there are "inconsistent" God-hating Roman Catholics who are basically God-hating Arminians who are "inconsistently" affirming salvation by grace and human effort (or something along those heretical vein).

Marc D. Carpenter: "... this seems to be a common view of Calvinist theologians.  Yet many still try to say that the institution and the formal doctrines of the Roman Catholic church are anti-Christ.  But what would happen if they were pressed?  How would they have answered the question 'Are you sure that the current pope is unregenerate?'?  Or 'Are you sure that all the previous popes were unregenerate?'?  I think there would have been a lot of hemming and hawing.

Hodge also implied that those who say that no Roman Catholics have ever been children of God are not saved:  '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?'  Yet because Hodge was spineless, he could not bring himself to openly state what he implied.  If pressed with the question, 'Are you sure that all who profess Christ who also believe that there are no regenerate Roman Catholics are unregenerate?', he could not say that all such people are unregenerate.  He could only say that it is a 'great sin.'  Yet, since Hodge would concede that many Christians sin 'great sins,' there’s no way that he could say that such people are unregenerate, even though he must conclude this if he were logical.  According to Hodge, if we call children of God unregenerate, we hate and denounce them.  And to hate and denounce them is to not love them.  And to not love them is to show that we are not born of God.  Thus, all who call children of God unregenerate are not born of God.  Since many Roman Catholics are the children of God, all who call them unregenerate hate and denounce them and do not love them, and all who do not love these children of God are not born of God.

Anyone could make the same argument about judging any other professing Christian to be regenerate and saying that those who judge any other professing Christian unregenerate are in sin.  The argument is circular.  It is begging the question.  Take Mormons [or Open Theists--CD] as an example.  The argument is this:  Many Mormons are Christians because they bear Christ’s image and Christ recognizes them as His brethren.  And since it is a palpable fact that many Mormons are true Christians (after all, they bear Christ’s image and Christ recognizes them as His brethren), it is a sin against Christ not to acknowledge as true Christians those who bear his image and whom He recognizes as His brethren.  (Then, of course, one could go further and say that since we are not born of God unless we love the children of God, then all who judge all Mormons to be unregenerate are not born of God.)

Chris Duncan: I wonder if Charles Hodge was thinking of the necessary implications of 1 John 3:14-15 when he penned that.

"We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brothers. The [one] not loving the brother remains in death. Everyone hating the brother is a murderer, and you know that every murderer does not have everlasting life abiding in him" (1 John 3:14-15).