R.L. Dabney on the Mass as “the Most Impious and Mischievous of All the Heresies of Rome.”

In his Systematic Theology, R. L. Dabney discusses the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Mass as a sacrifice. He first describes the Roman Catholic view, and then goes on to critique it.

First, he describes it, saying,

“Rome asserts most emphatically that the Lord’s Supper is a proper and literal sacrifice; in which the elements, having become the very body, blood, human spirit, and divinity of Christ, are again offered to God upon the altar; and the transaction is thus a repetition of the very sacrifice of the cross, and avails to atone for the sins of the living, and of the dead in purgatory.” (p.814)

Here we see that the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is connected to the doctrine of the Mass as a proper and literal sacrifice. In order for the Mass to be considered an actual sacrifice of Christ, the outward elements of bread and wine would then need to somehow be physically changed into the actual body and blood of Christ.

That idea, as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, “is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthroweth the nature of the sacrament, and hath been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yea, of gross idolatries” (29.6).

This is why in Reformed or Protestant churches, we typically speak of a table and not an altar. The basic Protestant view of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is that it is a commemoration and a covenantal meal, not a sacrifice.

Dabney goes on to roundly and sharply criticize the Roman Catholic view:

“The great necessity of the human soul, awakened by remorse, or by the convincing Spirit of God, is atonement. By making this horrible and impious invention, Rome has brought the guilty consciences of miserable sinners under her dominion, in order to make merchandise of their sin and fear. While nothing can transcend the unscripturalness of the doctrine of Transubstantiation, I regard this of the sacrifice of the Mass as the most impious and mischievous of all the heresies of Rome.” (p.814-815)

Dabney goes on in that section to say that the real motivation behind the Roman Catholic doctrine of viewing the Mass as a sacrifice was “to make merchandise” of (or to capitalize upon) the sin and fear of guilty consciences. In other words, it makes people utterly dependent upon the church for atonement and forgiveness. And in doing that, it then brings those same people “under her dominion” or control.

No wonder Dabney regarded the Mass as “the most impious and mischievous of all the heresies of Rome.”

 

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