Does relativism come from Protestantism?


#1

It seems like conservative Protestants and Catholics are united against the common enemy of relativism. But I’ve been noticing tiny threads of relativism wove in the Protestant theology and I am beginning to wonder if Protestantism isn’t the soil in which the seed of relativism sprouted.

For example: Lutheran belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist is that Christ is present, spiritually, at the time of receiving. It’s as if the presence of Christ or not depends on the disposition and attitude of the recipient. Christ is present because the recipient believes He is present. That’s relativism is it not?

Or: Protestants believe that all the other Christian denominations are fine. So long as Christ is God and Savior that’s all that matters. All the other “little” stuff just depends on how you think or feel. Sounds like relativism to me.

So then why is it a big suprise to conservative Protestants, who often subscribe to one or both of the above relativistic beliefs, when liberal Christians begin professing that sins can only be a sin if the person committing it thinks so?


#2

The Fathers of Vatican I seemd to think so:

  1. Everybody knows that those heresies, condemned by the fathers of Trent, which rejected the divine magisterium of the Church and allowed religious questions to be a matter for the judgment of each individual, have gradually collapsed into a multiplicity of sects, either at variance or in agreement with one another; and by this means a good many people have had all faith in Christ destroyed.

  2. Indeed even the Holy Bible itself, which they at one time claimed to be the sole source and judge of the Christian faith, is no longer held to be divine, but they begin to assimilate it to the inventions of myth.

  3. Thereupon there came into being and spread far and wide throughout the world that doctrine of rationalism or naturalism,—utterly opposed to the Christian religion, since this is of supernatural origin,—which spares no effort to bring it about that Christ, who alone is our lord and savior, is shut out from the minds of people and the moral life of nations. Thus they would establish what they call the rule of simple reason or nature. The abandonment and rejection of the Christian religion, and the denial of God and his Christ, has plunged the minds of many into the abyss of pantheism, materialism and atheism, and the consequence is that they strive to destroy rational nature itself, to deny any criterion of what is right and just, and to overthrow the very foundations of human society.

  4. With this impiety spreading in every direction, it has come about, alas, that many even among the children of the Catholic Church have strayed from the path of genuine piety, and as the truth was gradually diluted in them, their Catholic sensibility was weakened. Led away by diverse and strange teachings [4] and confusing nature and grace, human knowledge and divine faith, they are found to distort the genuine sense of the dogmas which Holy mother Church holds and teaches, and to endanger the integrity and genuineness of the faith.


#3

I agree. It seems to me that, historically speaking, protestantism in some respects paved the way for the popularity of relativism in the West. In other ways, relativism has been around since the fall of man.


#4

It is not fair to blame Protestants for all cases of relativism. There are plenty of Catholics who have been infected by relativism too. The secular society is to blame for this problem.


#5

I believe it is Satan that is the cause of this. He is the ruler of the earth right now. He is going to do whatever it takes to steer more people away from Jesus as he can.:frowning:
Just my opinion of course.


#6

Hey! :stuck_out_tongue:

It’s not Protestantism, and it’s not secularism. It’s a basic human desire to be right all the time, even when one would condemn another for the same actions. Like petty theft: ‘it’s okay for me, because (fill in the blank)’; but if someone steals from you, well, that’s just wrong.

Religions provide one answer to this through the ideas of a conscience and eternal consequences for wrongdoing. But that’s not the only answer to the problem of relativism.

[quote=Black Jaque]So then why is it a big suprise to conservative Protestants, who often subscribe to one or both of the above relativistic beliefs, when liberal Christians begin professing that sins can only be a sin if the person committing it thinks so?
[/quote]

There’s actually some truth to that, as far as Catholic teaching is concerned. It’s specifically mortal sin, though – full knowledge of the wrong and consent to it are prerequisites to facing eternal punishment for it. If one does not know that an action is mortally sinful, he or she isn’t morally culpable. It’s also why we have laws on the books distinguishing manslaughter from murder, for example.

However, back to Catholicism, if you mistakenly think something perfectly innocent is a mortal sin and do it anyway, that counts for full value.


#7

It is not fair to blame Protestants for all cases of relativism. There are plenty of Catholics who have been infected by relativism too. The secular society is to blame for this problem.

There’s a difference between blaming Protestants and blaming Protestantism. The belief system has relativism woven into it’s very fabric.

There’s actually some truth to that, as far as Catholic teaching is concerned. It’s specifically mortal sin, though – full knowledge of the wrong and consent to it are prerequisites to facing eternal punishment for it. If one does not know that an action is mortally sinful, he or she isn’t morally culpable. It’s also why we have laws on the books distinguishing manslaughter from murder, for example.

However, back to Catholicism, if you mistakenly think something perfectly innocent is a mortal sin and do it anyway, that counts for full value.

No. I think you misunderstand the difference between culpability and the essence of sin. The Catholic Church would say that a person who commits a mortal sin, commits a mortal sin, period. But once you’ve committed it, the question becomes are you then culpable for punishment? And, the Catholic Church even distinguishes between punishments and natural consequences. A person committing a mortal sin will be subject to all the natural consequences of that sin, although they may not be culpable for punishment.

This is VERY different from relativism. As you can see, it appears very similar, but on certain matters, being unable to distinguish small differences between false things and true things can be deadly. It’s like picking mushrooms. You’d better know how to distinguish a false morel from a true morel.


#8

Whether it is nor not, it is absolutely not what Lutherans believe. It is in fact diametrically opposed to what they believe. It is the thing that Lutherans particularly set themselves to oppose.

The view that Christ is only received by those who have faith (though of course He is objectively present anyway) was actually believed by many of the Church Fathers (certainly by Augustine) and according to Gary Macy by most of the medieval theologians up to the 13th century.

But it was NOT believed by the Lutherans.

If you want to argue that Protestants are relativists, you might want inform yourself in some elementary fashion as to what they believe. It would make your arguments a little more convincing!

Edwin


#9

Then the Lutherans believe in transubstantiation?


#10

No. They believe that Christ’s Body and Blood are present “in, with, and under” the bread and wine during the Liturgy. But this is not a subjective presence. It is received by anyone who receives the bread and wine, even unbelievers.

Edwin


#11

Ah. Thanks for pointing that out. I was perhaps misinformed.


#12

So, outside of the Liturgy, Chist is no longer present in the host?

Is that why Lutheran churches do not have tabernacles?


#13

Now back to your real argument: I think an interesting starting point might be what some scholars have called Luther’s redefinition of theology as an “ellipse with two foci.” I.e., Luther insisted that theology is not simply the study of God, but specifically the study of how human beings relate to God. I think that this led to a good deal of subjectivism in many forms of Protestantism–both evangelical and liberal.

Edwin


#14

Good point. In contrast, Edwin, wouldn’t you consider these statements to demonstrate a relativistic understanding of the Eucharist though?

  1. “We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts. Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him.”

  2. “Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.”

  3. “The Supper of the Lord is … a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.”

Indeed, isn’t there an ambiguity, or relativistic approach if you will, in the proclamation that Christ is present “for [his] people”, thereby suggesting that Christ is not present in the Eucharist for those who are not his people?


#15

I’m dubious about Jaques’ supposition that a presence “for us” or a presence only experienced by believers constitutes “relativism.” I think the word “relativism” is thrown around way too much on this forum without clear definition.

There appears to be abundant support in the Fathers and the earlier Middle Ages for the view that only believers receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. This in fact seems to be one of the few Protestant (specifically Reformed) ideas that really can claim a fairly impressive pedigree in the Tradition.

However, I agree that the language you cite is troubling inasmuch as it suggests that the bread and wine are not intrinsically the Body and Blood. (I do not think that is what the pre-Thomistic theologians Gary Macy wrote about believed.) And that brings us back to the point I raised about the ellipse–that Luther and to some extent the Reformed as well tended to be interested primarily in God as He relates to us. For instance, Martin Bucer redefined God’s goodness (in an early sermon) as God’s bestowal of goodness on others rather than (as in Aquinas) God’s intrinsic desirability (Aquinas certainly thought God was good in both senses, but he defined the Good primarily as that which is to be desired).

And certainly a case can be made that this definition of things (especially divine things) as they relate to others laid a foundation for some troubling modern developments.

Edwin


#16

They are “for His people” - not for dogs, pigs, angels, unbelievers, satanists, the saints in Heaven, or God; but for sin-prone Christians. Where is the relativism there ? If the wicked in the Church receive these gifts, they do so to their condemnation, & at their own risk; these gifts are for God’s people - & not for any one else. Jesus does not identify the “dogs”, “swine”, or “chosen” any more than that prayer does. Likewise St. Peter, St. John, & the rest.

  1. “Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.”

2. is not relativistic - though I don’t what you mean by the word; it is “thrown around” much too much :slight_smile: : to think 2. is relativistic, is to confuse personal religion with relativism, as though religion ought to be entirely impersonal. St. Paul thought otherwise:

Gal 2:20 - I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Christian faith is not addressed to stocks & stones - it is addressed to living men, & it calls for a response in faith. Objection to relativism has gone too far when once it implies that there must be no “personal address” in religion. We are not Stoics, suppressing our emotions - but Christians. Impersonality is not a Christian ideal ##

  1. “The Supper of the Lord is … a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.”

This describes what happens to people who by God’s grace have certain dispositions - specifically, disposition which are those of persons with faith. Which is the gift of God.

God gives grace through the sacrament to those to whom He has granted faith - it does not matter that man does not know who they are; for God does. Faith, the sacraments, election in Christ, the Church - these are His gifts. Man does not give them - the very idea is laughable.

How is that relativistic ? God cannot be kept tabs on - He does whatever He Wills in Heaven & earth, & none can gainsay Him. He is not accountable to us. So His gifts - such as faith - are always mysterious; to those who receive them especially. The Kingdom of God “does not come by observation” - as Jesus pointed out. ##

Indeed, isn’t there an ambiguity, or relativistic approach if you will, in the proclamation that Christ is present “for [his] people”, thereby suggesting that Christ is not present in the Eucharist for those who are not his people?

How, & where ?

He is “present for His people” in two senses at least:
[LIST]
*]As their Help against all dangers
*]For them, & not for those who are not His people[/LIST]##


#17

If you wish a real eye opener for the blame of relativeism to be rightly placed at the feet of Protestanitsm read this iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/web/nblty-03.html

CDL


#18

What is “relativistic” about this text? Half the time I can’t figure out what people around here mean by “relativism.” It seems to be a catch-all term for anything other than Catholic Truth.

Edwin


#19

Yes, it would be nice for those who believe Protestantism to be the seedbed of “relativism” first to define it and then to give at least a thumbnail of how they think Protestantism is responsible for it.

Otherwise it’s just grandstanding.


#20

Taxonomically, a better case might be made for William of Ockham a Catholic Scholastic being the inventor or first germinator of “relativism” and while it’s true that the Reformers were Nominalist in some ways, in many more important ways they were not.


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