Saturday, September 17, 2005

Can a Protestant attend a Mass?

In 1989 there was great media furore about the disciplining of Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the then Lord Chancellor, and elder of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland for attending the requiem mass funeral service of a Roman Catholic colleague.

The Lord Mackay case showed alarmingly how far removed even so-called Reformed Christians may be from the Reformation itself. The Reformers would have recognised Lord Mackay's dissimulation at the requiem mass as Nicodemism. The term "Nicodemites" was applied to those who had claimed to be Protestants but hid their convictions by still attending the Mass and Roman Catholic ceremonies. Afraid of persecution, these Protestants kept their faith secret and pretended in everything outwardly to be Roman Catholics. The Reformers refuted the Nicodemites, showing that they could not be undefiled by continuing to attend the blasphemous and idolatrous Mass. Farel, Bullinger, Bucer, Viret and Peter Martyr Vermigli, all wrote against Mass attendance and argued that merely to share the same space with a Roman Catholic idol or to be an observer at Mass was to allow oneself to be polluted. Calvinists were forbidden from attending Roman Catholic marriages, baptisms and funerals. Italian Reformers such as Francesco Negri and Caelio Secondo Curione and Pier Paolo Vergerio all wrote on the subject. The Reformers fled into exile rather than be forced into conformity with popery. In the Second Reformation, the Covenanter James Wood maintained: "The Mass is even upon the matter one of the grossest idolatries that ever was in the world. And for a man to go to Mass, when he pretends to protest to go against it, is to add, to commission of idolatry, mocking of God and sinning against light professedly." Samuel Rutherford interpreted Paul's prohibition against attending idol feasts as forbidding Mass attendance: "Paul forbids communicating with unbelievers at idol feasts,as the place will command us to separate from the Mass Service" (The Due Right of Presbytery, 1644)

Calvin's response to Nicodemism
The Nicodemites argued that bodily worship in terms of presence and posture could be distinguished from spiritual. Although they bowed down before idols, their hearts were not involved or engaged. Calvin argued that corporal worship could not be separated from spiritual attitudes. God is the Lord of the body no less than of the soul of the elect. The believer must honour God outwardly and publicly whether in life or public worship, and this included refusing to conform to the idolatries of popery. God requires more than secret worship and allegiance. If we are ashamed of Christ or His Word, He will be ashamed of us when He comes in judgement. We must glorify God in our bodies as well as spirits which are not our own but Christ's. We are to abstain from all idolatry and (as Calvin put it) remain "pure and immaculate before God, in soul as well as in body." Anything less is hypocrisy.
Perez Zagorin comments that Calvin "rejected the distinction between inner intention and outward conformity, insisting that God must be worshipped purely in body as well as in spirit because both were God's and the body must not be polluted by worshiping idols" (Ways of Lying, pp. 72-73). For Calvin, compromise with Baal was impossible. The Nicodemites were re guilty of unfaithfulness to God, they "either pretend to deny him, or openly shew that they consent to errors" (Commentary on Jer. 10:11). Daniel's three friends could have claimed their hearts were not engaged in idolatry of bowing down to the image and so escaped the fiery furnace. Calvin says: "If a man secretly mocks the idol, while pretending to honour it, he is still guilty of having transferred the honour of God to the creature" (Come out from Among Them, p.56).

"The mockery which worships God with nought but external gestures and absurd human fictions, how could we, without sin, allow to pass unrebuked? We know how much he hates hypocrisy, and yet in that fictitious worship, which was everywhere in use, hypocrisy reigned. We hear how bitter the terms in which the prophets inveigh against all worship fabricated by human rashness."

For Calvin the struggle over worship was at the centre of the Reformation: "For it is not true that we dispute about a worthless shadow. The whole substance of the Christian religion is brought into question." All Christians must struggle for the maintenance of pure worship: "There is nothing to which all men should pay more attention, nothing in which God wishes us to exhibit a more intense eagerness than in endeavoring that the glory of his name may remain undiminished, his kingdom be advanced, and the pure doctrine, which alone can guide us to true worship, flourish in full strength." "If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence amongst us, and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity: that is, a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained. When these are kept out of view, though we may glory in the name of Christians, our profession is empty and vain".

Attendance at the Mass shows the link between doctrine and worship because it is a silent acquiescence in blasphemy that denies and subverts the very gospel itself. As Calvin says: "True piety begets true confession." Religion is not merely an intellectual commitment to a collection of doctrines, but a way of worshiping and living to the glory of God. Because the proper end of human existence is knowledge of God and of ourselves, worship is the reason for human existence, the fundamental principle that alone can bring true fulfillment.

John Knox against the idolatry of the Mass
John Knox also wrote several public epistles condemning Mass attendance. He called the mass "the devil's sacrament" and regarded it as "abominable idolatry". He said "One mass is more fearful to me than if ten thousand enemies were landed in any part of the realm of purpose to suppress the whole religion. For in our God there is strength to resist and confound multitudes if we unfeignedly depend upon him; whereof heretofore we have had experience; but when we join hand with idolatry, it is no doubt but that both God's amicable presence and comfortable defence leaves us, and what shall then become of us? Alas, I fear that experience shall teach us, to the grief of many".

Knox was unequivocal: "The Mass is Idolatry. The Mass is invented by the brain of man, without any commandment of God; therefore it is idolatry"
"All the glistering ceremonies of the Papists are very dung, and abomination before God."
"All honouring or service of God whereunto is added a wicked opinion is abomination. Unto the Mass is added a wicked opinion. Therefore it is abomination."
" the great blasphemy of Christ's death, and open denial of his passion, it has been affirmed, taught, and believed, that the Mass was a sacrifice for the sins of the quick and the dead: which opinion is most false, vain, and wicked. And so, I think, the Mass to be abominable and idolatry no man of indifferent judgment will deny."
"For so odious and abominable I know the Mass to be in God's presence, that unless you decline from the same, to life can you never attain. And therefore, brethren, flee from that idolatry, rather than from the present death." (A Vindication of the Doctrine that the Sacrifice of the Mass is Idolatry, 1550).

John Bradford and 'The Hurt of Hearing Mass'
The English Reformer and Martyr John Bradford wrote a book on the "Hurt of Hearing Mass" and like all the martyrs sealed his testimony against the blasphemous mass with his own blood. Bradford maintained that the "mass is a most subtle and pernicious enemy against Christ, and that double, namely, against his priesthood and against his sacrifice...Christ's sacrifice once made by himself on the tree, on the mount of Calvary, is the full and perfect propitiatory sacrifice to the sanctification of all them that are and shall be saved, never more to be reiterated and done again, for that signifieth an imperfection." Bradford argues against attending mass from the second commandment: "this precept forbiddeth all kind of outward idolatry, as the first doth all kind of inward idolatry, to this end that God's true worship inwardly and outwardly be observed. But now the mass is an outward idol, and the service of God there used is idolatry. Therefore they which are present at the mass, honoring it with their corporal presence (as they do which being there do not in open and exterior fact publicly disallow the same), they, I say are open and manifest idolaters, and incur the danger of idolatry, that is God's heavy wrath and eternal damnation: which thing I trow be no trifle, but to fools which make sin a thing of nothing." (Hurt Of Hearing Mass in The Writings of John Bradford, Vol. 2, p312).
In his Letters Bradford writes vehemently against the Mass and attending it. Of the Mass he writes that "of all idols that ever was, the most abominable and blasphemous to Christ and his priesthood, manhood, and sacrifice; for it makes the priest that says mass, God's fellow, and better than Christ; for the offerer is always better or equivalents to the thing offered. (Heb. 5) If, therefore, the priest takes upon him there to offer up Christ, as they boldly affirm they do, then he must needs be better or equal with Christ."

"Let us reprove the works of darkness. Let us flee from all idolatry. Let us abhor the antichristian and Romish rotten service, detest the popish mass, renounce their Romish god, prepare ourselves to the cross..." "If God be God, follow Him. If the mass be god, let them that will, see it, hear or be present at it, and go to the devil with it...There is a sacrifice, yea, a killing of Christ again as much as they may. There is idolatry in worshipping the outward sign of bread and wine."

Bradford sees the fear of man as at the root of attending the mass. He counsels those who are tempted to this to look at the rewards of obedience and the fear of God rather than the fear of man: "look on the joys incomprehensible, which God has prepared for all those, world without end, who lose either lands or goods for his name's sake. And then reason thus: If we go to mass, which is the greatest enemy that Christ has, though for a little time we shall live in quiet and leave to our children what they may live by hereafter, yet we shall displease God, fall into his hands, which is horrible to hypocrites, and be in hazard of fading from eternal joy into eternal misery, first of soul, and then of body, with the devil and all idolaters."

Bradford does not mince words about those who bowed to the fear of man and self-love by attending mass. "The more part divide stakes with the papists and protestants, so that they are become mangy mongrels, and infect all that company with them, to their no small peril. For they pretend outwardly popery, going to mass with the papists, and tarrying with them personally at their antichristian and idolatrous service, but with their hearts, say they, and with their spirits they serve the Lord". Like Calvin, Bradford will not have any of this distinction between the body and the spirit in worship: "alas! shall not he have the service of the body, but it must be given to serve the new found god of antichrist's invention? Did not Christ buy both our souls and bodies? And wherewith? With any less price than with his precious blood? Ah! wretches then that we are, if we defile either part with the rose coloured harlot of Babylon's filthy mass abomination! It had been better for us never to have been washed, than so to wallow ourselves in the filthy puddle of popery. It had been better never to have known the truth, than thus to betray it. (Rev 18; 2 Pet. 2; Heb. 6 and 10; Matt. 12; Luke 11) Surely, surely, let such men fear lest their latter end be worse than the beginning. Their own conscience now accuses them before God if they have any conscience, that they are but dissemblers and hypocrites to God and man. For all the cloaks they make, they cannot deny that their going to church and to mass is of self-love; that is, they go thither because they would avoid the cross; they go thither because they would be out of trouble. They seek neither the queen's highness nor her laws, which in this point cannot bind the conscience to obey, because they are contrary to God's laws, which bid us often to flee idolatry and worshipping him after men's devices. They seek neither (I say) the laws, if there were any, nor their brethren advantage, for none comes thereby, neither godliness nor good example, for there can be none found in going to mass, etc. but horrible offences, and "woe to them that give them" but they seek their own selves, their own ease, their escaping the cross, etc."

Attending Mass is being ashamed of Christ, according to Bradford:
"For he that is ashamed of me, says Christ, and of my gospel, in this faithless generation, I will be ashamed of him before the angels of God in heaven. Oh! how heavy a sentence is this to all such as know the mass to be an abominable idol, full of idolatry, blasphemy, and sacrilege, against God and his Christ, as undoubtedly it is, and yet for fear of men, for loss of life or goods, yea, some for advantage or gain, will honest (make it appear, editor) it with their presence, dissembling both with God and man, as their own heart and conscience accuses them! Better it were that such had never known the truth, than thus wittingly, and for fear or favour of man, whose breath is in his nostrils, dissemble it, or rather, as indeed it is, deny it. The end of such is like to be worse than their beginning. Such had need to take heed to the two terrible places to the Hebrews, in the 6th and 10th chapters, lest by so doing they fall therein. Let them beware they play not willy-beguile (do not deceive themselves, editor) with themselves, as some do, I fear me, which go to mass, and because they worship not, nor kneel, nor knock, as others do, but sit still in their pews, therefore they think they rather do good to others than hurt.

But, alas! if these men would look into their own consciences, there should they see they are very dissemblers, and in seeking to deceive others, for by this means the magistrates think them of their sort, they deceive themselves. They think at the elevation-time, all men's eyes are set upon them to mark how they do. They think others, hearing of such men going to mass, do see or inquire of their behaviour there. Oh! if there were in those men that are so present at the mass, either love to God or to their brethren, then would they, for the one or both, openly take God's part, and admonish the people of their idolatry. They fear man more than Him which has power to cast both soul and body into hell fire: they halt on both knees: they serve two masters. God have mercy upon such, and open their eyes with his eye-salve, that they may see that they which take no part with God are against God: and that they which gather not with Christ, do scatter abroad. Oh! that they would read what St. John says will be done to the fearful! The counsel given to the church at Laodicaea is good counsel for such (Rev. 3:21)."

Lastly, there is a serious danger in attending the mass: "The devil would gladly have you now overthrow that godliness which you have long professed. Oh! how would he triumph, if he could win his purpose! Oh! how would the papists triumph against God's gospel in you! Oh! how would you confirm them in their wicked popery! Oh! how would the poor children of God be discomforted, if you should now go to mass, and other idolatrous service, and do as the world does!"

The development of Nicodemism
The development of Nicodemism proved its dangers. It began to wear an open, ecumenical face. Caspar Schwenckfeld was one of the most notable Nicodemists, he was a noble who visited the courts of Catholic princes and conversed freely with them and appeared to conform religiously. (cf. George Hunston Williams, The Radical Reformation, Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1992, pp.904-12). Nicodemism also developed into a radically spiritualist movement in countries such as Holland where David Joris and Hendrick Niclaes promoted the heterodoxy of the Family of Love. This aimed at an exclusively Quaker-type personal inward religion for which all ceremonies and outward forms of worship were a matter of indifference. Attending Mass out of deference to man shows an indifference to the blasphemy and idolatry that it represents, this indifference to true doctrine and worship and to the glory of Christ can only have seriously damaging consequences when it is either tolerated or encouraged in the Church.

Further Reading
What a Faithful Man . . . Ought to Do Dwelling Amongst the Papists (1543); Excuse to the Nicodemites (1544); The Necessity of Reforming the Church (1543)
Come Out From Among Them: Anti-Nicodemite Writings of John Calvin, Protestant Heritage Press, 2001.
John Bradford, The Hurt of Hearing Mass, Focus Publications.
The War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship From Erasmus to Calvin, Carlos M. N. Eire, Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Ways of Lying: Dissimulation, Persecution, and Conformity in Early Modern Europe, Perez Zagorin, Harvard University Press, 1990.