Monday, July 27, 2009

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

I was amused to note one example of Rome's improvisational informal magisterium at work to poach another Reformed slogan. It's not one of the slogans that the first generation reformers used (Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Deo Gloria), but one that became popular in the 17th century:

“Ecclesia reformata quia semper reformanda est” (“The Church is Reformed, because Always Reforming”) - Jodocus von Lodenstein (Dutch Reformed Theologian 1620-1677)

“Numquam reformata quia numquam deformata” (“Never reformed because never deformed”) - Pope Innocent XI (pope from 1676 to 1689) (speaking of the Carthusian order)

“Always reforming, always in need of reform.” - Steve Ray (calling it "One of the Church’s mottos")(source - H.T. to James Swan for pointing this out to me) (see also "The Catholic Church is in need of reform and always reforming." "The Church is like a roller coaster zooming through the centuries. There are high points and low points. The Church is always reforming and always in need of reform."

Steve Ray's main quotation is right, but only because he said "the Church" and not "Rome." It's a very popular motto of a number of the Reformed churches, especially the Presbyterian churches, which make up (together with all those churches that profess faith in Christ alone for salvation) the visible Church. It's not a particularly popular slogan among the popes, especially not Innocent XI.

Of course, obviously, "reformation" is not necessarily a dirty word in Catholicism. Trent's purpose was, among other things, reformation:
Doth it please you, --unto the praise and glory of the holy and undivided Trinity, Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost; for the increase and exaltation of the Christian faith and religion; for the extirpation of heresies; for the peace and union of the Church; for the reformation of the Clergy and Christian people; for the depression and extinction of the enemies of the Christian name,-- to decree and declare that the sacred and general council of Trent do begin, and hath begun?
They answered: It pleaseth us.
- Trent, Decree Touching the Opening of the Council.

To the extent that Mr. Ray was recognizing that his church is in need of reform, Praise be to God that he has recognized this and if God brings another great Reformation, we will rejoice!

Until then we will note that Rome's motto has been the false claim: Semper Eadem (Always the Same)

Whereas the Reformed churches have sought to have the motto: Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei - for it is Verbum Dei (the word of God) that is truly semper eadem (always the same), and men and churches need to submit to the Word of God and reform themselves to it, whenever they discover they have strayed from it.



BillZuck said...

Lets learn some Latin. Reformanda means being reformed. It is reformans that means reforming.

In the catholic understanding, the church always continues to labor to form Christ in her members as St. Paul put it (Gal.4:19). Jesus promised to be with His Church every day until the end of the world as it bound and loosed in His Name (Matt.18:17-20; 28:20).

Thus, the motto stands: ecclesia semper eadem, semper reformans.

All its members here on earth from the Pope on down are obligated by church law to regularly confess their sins to God in the sacrament and put on Christ.

The Church is semper reformans, her members are semper reformata.

Bill Zuck

Turretinfan said...


a) Let's learn some English. Yes, in Latin Reformanda is passive voice, but that does not necessarily entail translation into a passive voice in English, since the English word "Reforming" can have either passive, middle or active significance. If you simply mean that the more clunky translation "being reformed" would more expressly convey the underlying Latin tense, though, I agree.

b) "Roman Catholic" not "catholic"

c) Consider what the Vatican itself has to say about the topic: "Nonetheless problems remain. The main problem is whether the Catholic Church through dialogue with other churches can be open to criticism and change with regard to their binding tradition (dogmas). Here the Protestant churches and the Catholic Church have different convictions. While the Protestant tradition speaks of the ‘ecclesia semper reformanda’, the Catholic Church holds to the infallibility and irreversibility of dogmas. In this perspective, the question often arises as to whether there can be a true dialogue or whether dialogue for the Catholic Church is only a means of convincing and converting other Christians." - Cardinal Walter Kasper, Reflections on the Nature and Purpose of Ecumenical Dialog

d) I have yet to see someone point out "ecclesia ... semper reformans" as being an actual motto of Romanism. It would be interesting to find it.

e) It is kind of cute to see you try to rescue Mr. Ray in this way, and I think it is about the only way it could be done: namely by asserting that the church its is always going about the tasking of reforming the lives of its members, though it itself is not reforming.