William Perkins on Keeping it Catholic

William Perkins on Keeping it Catholic

According to Perkins, a Reformed Catholic is “anyone that holds to the same necessary heads of religion with the Roman Church; yet so as he pares off and rejects all errors in doctrine whereby the said religion is corrupted.”[4] For Perkins, doctrines such as justification, sanctification, and the sacraments are clear points for paring, yet there are many other issues (e.g. the Trinity, the two natures of Christ) that we can find true agreement on. These are doctrines that have not been wrecked by Trent’s touch.

Reformed Catholicity. Depending on where you are in the Reformed-Evangelical world, this label may prompt songs of joy or cries of disdain. Those who adopt the term for themselves wish to retrieve the best of the catholic tradition, or perhaps seek to confess doctrinal truths with the Great Tradition. Against this view, some have begun to adopt the label of “Reformed Biblicism.” A Reformed Biblicist is typically suspicious of the Great Tradition and of men like Thomas Aquinas. To them, the theology of Thomas led to the Council of Trent, and therefore he must be rejected. Among those who count themselves as reformed Biblicists, there is a growing concern over the loss of sola scriptura and a fear of losing the truths recovered during the Reformation.[1]

How should we approach Aquinas (and others like him) in light of Trent? It’s a fair question, and to answer it we need look no further than the father of Puritanism, William Perkins.

Perkins himself wrote polemically against Trent, recognizing just how much corruption had seeped into the Catholic church. Writing to Sir William Bowes, Perkins states that “it is a notable policy of the devil” to have men think that the church of Rome and the Protestant faith “are all one for substance; and that they may be reunited.”[2] All throughout his works, Perkins goes to great lengths to show the various blasphemies and errors of Tridentine theology. This Puritan pulled no punches, declaring that the church of Rome had turned Jesus into a “pseudo-Christ and an idol of their own brain.”[3]

Yet the purpose of his treatise was not just to show the errors of Rome, but also to show where there may be agreement.

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