Thursday, December 13, 2007

Worst Blog Post Title of the Month

It has to be this: "Just Say No to Ecumenism".

Because of course Jesus was just kidding when he prayed that we might be one (and for those who want to pretend that some ridiculous "invisible" oneness is sufficient for this, the Lord went on: "that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.")

Shame on all of us for our disunity, but shame, shame on anyone for actually preferring that disunity!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Catholic Theology is not Protestant Systematic Theology

The subject of this post may seem like a no-brainer, but I'm not specifically talking about a comparison of the content of the two different types of theology.

When I came in the course of reading the Summa Theologica to the discussion of transubstantiation in the Eucharist, I realized something about the nature of Catholic theology. I found St. Thomas' explanation of this subject to be either absurd or - more likely - incomprehensible. But does my inability to grasp his explanation mean that the doctrine is false? By no means. The doctrine is true regardless of my ability understand it, and - more to the point of the present post - it is true regardless of my ability to understand the explanation by St. Thomas. It is true regardless of whether he was able to explain it in a fashion that I could have grasped.

And so I realized that Catholic theology is different than Protestant systematic theology in a significant way. Catholic theology is an attempt to make sense out of the truth: to explain it in comprehensible terms. This is one reason, it seems to me, why modern Catholic theology can differ so dramatically from (for example) the Scholastic attempts, and yet still be entirely orthodox.

Maybe that sounds dumb, or trivially obvious to brighter wits than mine or to life-long Catholics. But for this convert it was something of an epiphany. Because this is not how theology is done in the circles whence I came. Among Protestants (at least of my old stripe) theology is primarily "systematic" - that is, it consists of systematizing the Bible by collating various related verses in order to present what the Bible teaches on some given subject(s) or other. This is rather different from the Catholic model of explaining the Faith, but perhaps the difference makes sense. For the Protestant there is no rule of faith except the Bible, and so if you want to know what the truth is on a given subject, you must resort to ... collating the various verses that seem to relate to it: in other words, systematizing them.

Now whereas the Catholic theologian attempts to explain the Faith, the Protestant theologian's task seems to be more along the lines of (so to speak) defining the faith. What I mean is that since the Bible is "raw material" that doesn't exactly present its doctrine in a systematic fashion, that becomes a primary task of the theologian. The problem is, of course, that different theologians will differ on how things ought to be systematized. They will select different verses and passages as being of greater or lesser importance; they will declare one passage rather than another to be the keystone by which other verses ought to be understood; etc. The consequence is that "the faith" - meaning the system of doctrine - that they find in the Bible will vary considerably, depending upon the personal commitments of the theologians (are they Calvinist? Methodist? Anglican? Lutheran?).

In contrast you have Catholic theologians, who agree (presuming that they are orthodox) on the content of the Faith but who sometimes disagree on how to explain it. Thus you may have the theology of St. Thomas on the one hand, and you can have (for example) the theology of Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict on the other. Both are orthodox, and yet their theologies are dramatically different. I think that at least partly this can be explained on the basis of their different audiences. St. Thomas wrote for new students of scholastic theology; the Pope writes for 20th/21st century men. How their audiences think about things vary wildly; consequently how the two theologians present the faith to them also must be very different.

I was inspired to write about this subject by something the Crimson Catholic wrote today. It wasn't the primary purpose of his post, which has to do with differences between Byzantine and Latin theology, but in the course of it he said this:
In that regard, ISTM that the whole West (e.g., Ambrose, Hilary, Simplicianus, Jerome) followed Origen in method but not conclusions, examining the applicability of philosophical concepts to Christianity but also being willing to admit where the concepts were inadequate. If they reached a wrong dogmatic conclusion, rather than discarding the method entirely, the West was content to point out that they had made an error or taken some particular idea too far. In other words, if some philosophical approach reached a wrong conclusion, they were content to discard the approach. Because they weren't married to this one notion of philosophical knowledge, they could be eclectic in philosophy. That versatility, perhaps best exemplified by Augustine, characterized Western Christian thought and (I would argue) Western scientific thought all the way to the present day.

What that enabled theologically was exposition of dogma. The theological conclusions had authority, so the Fathers were authorities regarding their conclusions, but like Aristotle with Plato, their philosophical explanations could be criticized and improved, opening the possibility of development. Hence, you could have disputations with authorities; even respected authorities were not immune to dialectical criticism. There was a Glossa Ordinaria; there were commentaries on the Sentences. In the case of theological authorities (like Scripture or the Pope), there was still utility in theological method in terms of conceptual improvement of one's own understanding, effectively giving more clarity or effect to the theological authority. ... In short, there was a gap between how something was examined qua theological authority and how it was examined qua philosophical authority, and the philosophical understanding was always revisable even if the fact of the dogmatic authority was not, much like the way one can revise a scientific explanation without changing the fact of the experimental data. Note that this is a separate issue from the formality of dogmatic authority addressed by the canonists; the interaction (and confusion) of those concepts is a whole 'nother can of worms.
Exactly! Or rather - this is exactly the sort of thing I mean. Dogmatic authority is distinct from philosophical authority. So the terms on which St. Thomas described the Faith - a scholastic, Aristotelian framework - can differ from the terms employed by Ratzinger (I hope it's fair to describe them summarily as philosophically modern - whether that is correct or not, it seems very clear to me that apart from some Thomoistic sympathies, Ratzinger's philosophical framework is emphatically not Thomistic).

Now I think it's likely that some Protestants suppose that the philosophic framework used by Catholic theologians cannot change: so that some of them might suppose that the Vatican II/post-Vatican II Church has broken with the past (as Turretinfan suggested in discussion) because the way that the Church explains the Faith has changed in some ways. No. The Faith has not changed. It is the same. The language has changed, and in some cases the understanding of some things may have advanced, and the way that the Faith is explained may be different, but the Faith itself is the same. Failure to understand these things is fundamentally a failure to understand Catholic theology and its relationship to the Catholic Faith.

Perhaps it is understandable in a certain fashion when they make this mistake, because conservative Protestant theology has (again, in the tradition of which I was part at least) a rather rigidly specified philosophical outlook. You have to get your theology from the Bible; you have to use a particular hermeneutic (grammatical-historical) when getting it from the Bible. When you read a theology, you are reading someone's attempt at spelling out what he thinks the teaching of the Bible is. But you can't approach Catholic theology like that. Catholic theology doesn't define the Faith in the way that we might say that Protestant theologies "define the faith". Catholic theology explains the Faith. Some explanations are better than others, and some explanations may be better suited to one era than another. In either case, the Faith itself remains unchanged.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Last Call (for now) on Vatican II's Continuity (with Leo)

I think that the fundamental bone of contention might possibly be found in this nugget, mined from here:
If a MAN is validly baptized AND accepts the Catholic Faith, then he is a Catholic, and thus a Christian, but only Catholics are Christians as already explained, so that only those adults who both have baptism and hold the Christian faith can be rightly called Christian.
Leo says this in response to my point 4 here. His argument (as he elucidates more fully in the comment; and if I misrepresent him here, I trust that he will chime in and correct me!) is that a baptized non-Catholic either becomes a Catholic by seeking out a true knowledge of the Faith and converting, or else he ceases to be a Christian.

I deny this.

This subject is intrinsically related to the question of invincible ignorance. It seems to me that Leo's comments (not just the snippet above, but generally on this subject) make no allowance for the subjective reality of where people find themselves. In the first place, the Catholic faith does not oblige anyone to be an expert in doctrine. This is the whole point of implicit faith. How can an uninformed Catholic remain a Catholic in good standing if he remains uninformed? It would seem that Leo allows for them to be saved despite their material ignorance, but he does not extend this same charity to the non-Catholic Christian. I submit that this is a distinction without a difference when it comes to ignorant believers, and consequently it is an invalid distinction. Hence, if Catholics may be saved while ignorant of Catholic doctrine, so may Protestants. We are not saved by by right belief per se, but by Christ. And just as there are ignorant Catholics who nevertheless would believe the truth if they knew it, there are Protestants who are zealously and singlemindedly devoted to the pursuit of truth - who just happen to be badly mistaken. And it is an error to suppose that true devotion to the truth absolutely, positively results in acquisition of the truth always and every time. Witness: St. Thomas, who got the Immaculate Conception wrong just because he considered only the theories of grace before conception and after conception, but not at the moment of conception.

[EDIT: I am not saying above that what we believe does not matter. If I believed that I would not be Catholic! But there is a valid distinction to be made between the efficient cause of our salvation - which is Christ - and the material causes, like our holding to the Faith and living a holy life. If material right belief is a prerequisite, then implicit faith is destroyed and even St. Thomas is doomed since he denied the Immaculate Conception!]

But if St. Thomas of all people can get it wrong on something, despite being fully qualified in both theology and philosophy and the doctrine of the Church...then I think it is a certainty that the far less educated Protestant of today can likewise have a zealous devotion to the truth while at the same time coming to wrong conclusions.

In the second place, the average Protestant today is entirely and completely ignorant of what the Catholic Church teaches. Leo suggests that this ignorance is inexcusable (ibid., point seven), but that is so only if they know that they should not be. Two subpoints here. A: They have been taught an entirely different concept of salvation, and that concept does not in any way include the Catholic Church. So how are they supposed to get the idea that they are obliged to learn about the Church in order to be saved??? B: They have been taught, negatively, that the Catholic Church teaches a false gospel. So how are they supposed to get the idea that this isn't true?

One answer to that is that some Catholic or other must tell them. But what if these Protestants don't have contact with Catholics? And what if the Catholics they meet do a lousy job of trying to persuade them? Or what if the Catholics do a reasonably good job, but the Protestant can't understand because he is incapable of grasping the Catholic's arguments? What if the Protestant has counter-arguments ready to hand that he sincerely thinks entirely refute the Catholic's view? None of these circumstances mean in any way that the Protestant is insincere, or that he would hate the truth if he knew it. It simply means that he doesn't know it.

Even the brightest minds can miss the truth (again: witness St. Thomas and the Immaculate Conception). But if sincere and gifted people can miss the truth without condemnation, then how much more those who are less gifted? How much more those who simply don't have time to seek out the truth because they work two jobs, or are single parents, and who only barely manage to make it to their congregation on Sundays for worship? It's not credible to say that such people are guilty in their circumstances of failing to seek out the truth. They do the best that they can...or at any rate, that is how we ought charitably to assess their situations, it seems to me, until we have definite evidence to the contrary.

But Vatican II demands no more than this: the presumption that Protestants are fellow Christians until proven otherwise. Material heresy does not ipso facto exclude them, and ignorance of their error does not ipso facto condemn them.

And this is precisely why I say that Vatican II is consistent and continuous with the prior Magisterium: it affirms the distinction of material vs. formal heresy; it affirms the validity of heretical baptism; it affirms that people may be invincibly ignorant. None of these are "new" ideas.

And that is all I've got to say about this subject for the time being, other than to thank Leo for his gracious bearing (outstripping my own, for which I apologize) during our conversation.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Trying to Resolve the Issue With Leo

My perspective on the subject of Vatican II's declarations concerning Protestants may be defined this way:
  1. Material heretics are not under the same condemnation as formal heretics (see here, for example, where it says of formal heretics that they are subject to damnation, while material heretics are not, as indicated by the accompanying quotations from St. Augustine and Pope Pius IX and as discussed earlier here). This distinction is confirmed in the words of Vatican II quoted here: "The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation..." (UR 3), which is really nothing more than a restatement of the policy identified by St. Augustine in the quotation from the Catholic Encyclopedia; hence it seems that to deny the validity of the distinction between material and formal heresy would be contrary to the practice of the Church over the last 16 centuries.
  2. Valid baptisms occur outside the Catholic Church. This should be completely non-controversial.
  3. A valid baptism outside the Catholic Church accomplishes what a valid baptism within the Church does. If it did not, it would not be valid in the first place; in the second, the Church would not accept the Trinitarian baptisms of heretics as valid. But the Church has done so since at least the Donatist controversy in the 4th century, so that to deny this would be to deny 17 centuries of Church teaching and practice.
  4. If a man has been validly baptized, then he is a Christian: after all, this is precisely what baptism accomplishes. If he is not a Christian, then he has not been validly baptized - which would be a contradiction of point three.
  5. Protestants today are material heretics, not formal heretics. This should be obvious from the fact that they cannot be formal heretics by virtue of the fact that they have never been under the formal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church. Simply holding to an error that contradicts the faith does not ipso facto make one a formal heretic. Again, see the Catholic Encyclopedia discussion above, which (among other things) clearly establishes that material heretics are not formal heretics even under color of ecclesiastical law (and if they were, the distinction between the types of heresy would be destroyed - which would be irrational).
  6. Virtually all Protestants today are validly baptized. There are exceptions among some groups, I think but there is no credible reason to dispute the validity of the general validity of their baptisms. Of course it may be true in any specific instance to have doubts, but that has no bearing upon the validity of the presumption that, generally speaking, Protestant baptisms are valid.
  7. Because they are not formally heretical, and because they are validly baptized, there is absolutely nothing that prevents them from being understood to be Christians, and consequently it is certainly valid to make the presumption that they are in fact Christians - and consequently our brothers in Christ.
That's basically the substance of my argument. As far as I can tell, it is consistent with what Vatican II has said. The two points that it hinges upon are that Protestants are not formally heretical, and that their baptisms are valid. There is no valid reason to doubt either of these points - not rationally, and not in the Church's history, either.

Perhaps the sticking point is that historically Protestantism presents something that had never occurred before in the Church's history (assuming that I know enough history to be speaking accurately here): prior to the Reformation, heretical groups who were expelled from the Church vanished. But that is not the case with the Protestants. They haven't vanished. And if St. Augustine's rule about how to treat the children of heretics had validity with the first generation of children, how much more would it be valid with subsequent generations even more distantly removed from the original formal error? I contend that it is an error to consider them to be formally heretical - and Vatican II denies that they are. But if they are not, then it would be an error to treat them as though they were formally heretical - and Vatican II affirms that they should not be.

My affirmation is that Vatican II was a valid ecumenical Council. On the particular point of the Catholic's relationship to Protestants, I believe that the Council's teaching is rational, coherent, and consistent with the Church's teaching throughout the ages - as demonstrated above. Anything that seems to suggest otherwise must be talking not about material heretics, but rather about those who are formally heretical - and consequently it does not apply to Protestants.

Ratzinger - Luther and the Secularization of Love

Here is a striking passage from Cardinal Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity. Before I go too far, I should mention that you can read this passage online here (it starts on p. 208 and concludes on p.209, though I'm not reproducing all of it in this post); I'm astonished that Ignatius has given permission to Google for this. So you can read this portion at Google, but the book is excellent enough that you ought to buy it.

It has to do with one of the effects of Luther's soteriology, and I think that it goes to show that ideas have consequences.
The profession of faith in Christ demanded by the Lord when he sits in judgment is explained as the discovery of Christ in the least of men, in those who need my help. From here onward, to profess one's faith in Christ means to recognize the man who needs me as the Christ in the form in which he comes to meet me here and now; it means understanding the challenge of love as the challenge of faith. The apparent reinterpretation here - in Matthew 25 - of the christological profession of faith into the unconditionality of human service and mutual help is not to be regarded, after what we have said, as an escape from otherwise prevailing dogma; it is in truth the logical consequence of the hyphen between Jesus and Christ and, therefore, comes right from the heart of Christology itself. For this hyphen - let me repeat - is at the same time the hyphen between faith and love. Therefore it is also true that faith that is not love is not really a Christian faith; it only seems to be such - a fact that must redound both against any doctrinalistic misunderstanding of the Catholic concept of faith and against the secularization of love that proceeds in Luther from the notion of justification exclusively by faith (p. 209, bold added; italics in original).
Yowza. But what does he mean by this "secularization of love" that is a consequence of Luther's soteriology? He explains a bit more in the footnote.
Hacker shows there with an abundance of textual references that Luther as a reformer (i.e., from about 1520 onward) assigns love to the "outward life", to "the use of the second table", to life not with God but "with men", and thus to the realm of the profane, to what is called today "pure worldliness", and therefore to the "righteousness of the law". He thus secularizes it and excludes it from the realm of grace and salvation. Hacker is thereby able to demonstrate convincingly that Gogarten's [Gogarten was a German theologian - RdP] program of secularization can quite rightly claim to be based on Luther. It is clear that at this point Trent had to draw a firm dividing line and that where the secularization of love is retained the dividing line continues to run as it did before (emphasis added).
Now if I understand him correctly, he's saying that with his doctrine of justification by faith alone, and a concomitant denial of the necessity of love for neighbor, Luther moved the theological virtue of charity to the category of "righteousness of the law" - and consequently divorced it from having any essential significance with regard to salvation. I don't know anything about Gogarten, but here is a brief article about him from Time magazine in 1966; in it Gogarten is said to have appealed to Luther as the forerunner of his secular theology. It seems clear from the above that Ratzinger considers Gogarten's work to be contrary to the Catholic understanding of the faith, inasmuch as it (apparently) wrongly drives a wedge between what we believe as Christians and our relationships with our fellow men. If love for God and neighbor are the two greatest commandments, then I can perhaps understand how Luther might get the idea - if they are reckoned to be commandments - that they fall under the division of the "righteousness of the law" that he rejects; but it seems rather clear from Mt. 25 (as the cardinal indicates above) that this charity is rather more important than an option, but rather is at the root of the judgment that we shall face. Our actions matter.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Continuity of Vatican II

Recently Leo disagreed with my statement that the average Protestant must be understood to be the Catholic's brother in Christ. This is really nothing more than a rough quote from Unitatis Redintegratio 3:
The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church-whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church-do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.
It seems to me that what I've previously written on the subject of formal vs. material heresy is entirely consistent both with this quotation and with what has been held throughout the Church's history. UR 3 here is really not saying anything different about the children of formal heretics than was said by St. Augustine. The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917 says essentially the same thing about material heretics, as I pointed out in that post.

Leo objected again - apparently rather strongly, though I meant no offense by it at all - when I pointed out that his opinion seemed to be contrary to what VII says in UR 3 and asked whether he agreed with the latter. I deliberately used the word "seemed" because I have no certain idea whether he agrees with VII on this or not. There are at least two ways that confusion could be generated here: either I could have misunderstood him, or he might have - quite unintentionally - either presented his view in a confusing or incomplete manner, so that it might seem to suggest that he believes something that he really doesn't. Hence my question.

Leo's response was to unload a large batch of quotations from various popes and theologians and to try and turn my question back upon me, suggesting that I was at variance with them.

Unfortunately this wasn't really an answer to my question, although perhaps one may infer an answer from it (and in the absence of a further clarification from him, I have inferred that he disagrees with UR 3; I would be happy to be mistaken about that).

But the issue that arises from Leo's comments has to do with the continuity of Vatican II with the teaching of the Catholic Church throughout history. It appears (and I will say no more than that it is an appearance, absent a clear statement from him about it) that Leo thinks that Vatican II has broken with the past, so that its doctrine (on this point at least) runs contrary to what the Church has always taught.

I disagree with that idea. In the first place, I think that my heresy post and my comments attached to it adequately show the continuity of Vatican II with the past. Secondly, I think that the whole subject raises the question: who is the authentic interpreter of the Magisterium's declarations? The answer must be that the Magisterium is its own authentic interpreter: it must tell us what it means by what it has said, and that goes not only for modern or recent times but for anything it has ever said. This should be entirely non-controversial for the Catholic.

The consequence of this in the present context is that if it seems to me that some past statement of the Magisterium is in conflict with a new one, either I have failed to properly understand things, or I'm missing some facts, or I am simply wrong. I do not possess either the competence or the authority to dictate for myself whether the Magisterium has been consistent with itself. Indeed, the very question is absurd: the Church as the living voice of Jesus Christ, with Christ her Head forming the totus Christus, cannot possibly err on matters of faith and morals. So I am forced inevitably to conclude that of course Vatican II is continuous with the Church's past, and if it seems otherwise to me, then of course I am mistaken, either through inadequate or erroneous understanding of the facts, or through fallacious reasoning.

I do not offer this post in the hope of influencing Leo's outlook on things (in fact, since I'm not even sure what his view is on the matter of Vatican II's continuity apart from some explicit statement by him, it might be totally unnecessary even to try to influence him). I'm not going to try and work through the quote-dump contained in his comments. He seems to think that they contradict Vatican II, and apparently he prefers to conclude that Vatican II is somehow wrong on the matter. I deny both of these ideas (whether they represent his position or not). I refer the reader to Dr. Michael Liccione's article "Development and Negation", perhaps especially the section "Extra ecclesiam nulla salus", for more on this subject.

Divine Simplicity

I've read (which is to be distinguished from having completely understood) a number of disputes about this topic between Catholics (who affirm it) and Orthodox (who, if I understand them correctly, deny it). The fact that I am posting on this subject should not be construed to suggest that I comprehend it very well, and if someone wishes to quarrel about it, they're going to get a better debate partner from someone like Dr. Michael Liccione. Nevertheless, St. Thomas' account is compelling to me, and of course I'm happy to stand with the Catholic Church on this question :-)

Now, with that disclaimer out of the way...

God is absolutely simple: he is not a composite being possessed of anything that might be construed as "parts". This is no new idea with St. Thomas; it is discussed by St. Augustine in De Trinitate VI (it might be worth noting that the New Advent page to which I'll be linking preserves an apparent typo in the edition of ST that they use; it refers to Book IV of De Trinitate for a quotation used by Aquinas, but it seems that it should have been Book VI: a simple transposition).
The absolute simplicity of God may be shown in many ways.

First, from the previous articles of this question. For there is neither composition of quantitative parts in God, since He is not a body; nor composition of matter and form; nor does His nature differ from His "suppositum"; nor His essence from His existence; neither is there in Him composition of genus and difference, nor of subject and accident. Therefore, it is clear that God is nowise composite, but is altogether simple.

Secondly, because every composite is posterior to its component parts, and is dependent on them; but God is the first being, as shown above (2, 3).

Thirdly, because every composite has a cause, for things in themselves different cannot unite unless something causes them to unite. But God is uncaused, as shown above (2, 3), since He is the first efficient cause.

Fourthly, because in every composite there must be potentiality and actuality; but this does not apply to God; for either one of the parts actuates another, or at least all the parts are potential to the whole (ST Q3 A7).
By way of observation on just one of the implications of this: we must understand all passages of the Scripture which speak of God's "wrath" as speaking figuratively. For if our actions can really cause God to become angry, then he stands in some sort of potentiality towards the creation, so that our actions would constitute a cause eliciting an effect in God - to make him angry. But that is absurd. So we have be cautious in what we attribute to God from our reading of the Bible.

Existence and Essence in God

To talk about what I am is different than to talk about the fact that I am. In philosophical terms, this is the distinction between essence and existence. But this distinction does not hold when we talk about God, as though they are actually separate things in him the way that they are in us.
God is not only His own essence, as shown in the preceding article, but also His own existence. This may be shown in several ways.

First, whatever a thing has besides its essence must be caused either by the constituent principles of that essence (like a property that necessarily accompanies the species--as the faculty of laughing is proper to a man--and is caused by the constituent principles of the species), or by some exterior agent--as heat is caused in water by fire. Therefore, if the existence of a thing differs from its essence, this existence must be caused either by some exterior agent or by its essential principles. Now it is impossible for a thing's existence to be caused by its essential constituent principles, for nothing can be the sufficient cause of its own existence, if its existence is caused. Therefore that thing, whose existence differs from its essence, must have its existence caused by another. But this cannot be true of God; because we call God the first efficient cause. Therefore it is impossible that in God His existence should differ from His essence.

Secondly, existence is that which makes every form or nature actual; for goodness and humanity are spoken of as actual, only because they are spoken of as existing. Therefore existence must be compared to essence, if the latter is a distinct reality, as actuality to potentiality. Therefore, since in God there is no potentiality, as shown above (Article 1), it follows that in Him essence does not differ from existence. Therefore His essence is His existence.

Thirdly, because, just as that which has fire, but is not itself fire, is on fire by participation; so that which has existence but is not existence, is a being by participation. But God is His own essence, as shown above (Article 3) if, therefore, He is not His own existence He will be not essential, but participated being. He will not therefore be the first being--which is absurd. Therefore God is His own existence, and not merely His own essence (ST I Q3 A4).
We have to be careful about the way that we talk about God. St. Thomas points out (ST I Q3 A3 ad 1) that we the way that we acquire knowledge - from composite beings like ourselves - means that our language lends itself to talking about things as composite beings. But this is not true of God. He is not a composite being. He is absolutely simple. So although we may talk about what God is like in ways that might suggest that he has attributes and accidents after the manner of created things, we must remember that this is not how he is really.

God is a Spirit

Of course we know this most truly and certainly because it is the teaching of Scripture: "God is spirit, and they who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24 CCD). But this is a truth that may also be arrived at by way of reason.
It is absolutely true that God is not a body; and this can be shown in three ways.

First, because no body is in motion unless it be put in motion, as is evident from induction. Now it has been already proved [ST I Q2 A3], that God is the First Mover, and is Himself unmoved. Therefore it is clear that God is not a body.

Secondly, because the first being must of necessity be in act, and in no way in potentiality. For although in any single thing that passes from potentiality to actuality, the potentiality is prior in time to the actuality; nevertheless, absolutely speaking, actuality is prior to potentiality; for whatever is in potentiality can be reduced into actuality only by some being in actuality. Now it has been already proved that God is the First Being. It is therefore impossible that in God there should be any potentiality. But every body is in potentiality because the continuous, as such, is divisible to infinity; it is therefore impossible that God should be a body.

Thirdly, because God is the most noble of beings. Now it is impossible for a body to be the most noble of beings; for a body must be either animate or inanimate; and an animate body is manifestly nobler than any inanimate body. But an animate body is not animate precisely as body; otherwise all bodies would be animate. Therefore its animation depends upon some other thing, as our body depends for its animation on the soul. Hence that by which a body becomes animated must be nobler than the body. Therefore it is impossible that God should be a body (ST I Q3 A1).

From this we see that it is not merely blasphemous and profane to say that God is or has a body. It is irrational.

Francis Schaeffer and Aquinas

Francis Schaeffer rather famously (well, among at least some evangelicals anyway; okay, maybe that doesn't exactly qualify as "famously", but work with me here) claimed that the descent of philosophy into existentialism and irrationality began with St. Thomas. We can see Schaeffer's idea summarized here:
Aquinas separated nature from grace in theology. The spiritual world and the earthly world became separated. The earthly world became what was "real" and the spiritual world was the "hypothetical."
The largest problem with this is that it's just plain nonsense. St. Thomas said nothing of the sort, and I can't conceive of any way that what he did say could rationally be construed like this. In the first place, he was an orthodox Christian, and to separate nature from grace smacks of Pelagianism. Secondly, it's irrational: God created us freely and without compulsion; hence creation was an act of grace from start to finish.

Thirdly, it seems that Schaeffer never bothered to read as far as the sixth article of the first question of the Summa Theologica. Because if he had, he would have realized that his construal of Aquinas was wrong.
The principles of other sciences either are evident and cannot be proved, or are proved by natural reason through some other science. But the knowledge proper to this science [theology] comes through revelation and not through natural reason. Therefore it has no concern to prove the principles of other sciences, but only to judge of them. Whatsoever is found in other sciences contrary to any truth of this science must be condemned as false: "Destroying counsels and every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5) (ST I Q1 A6 ad 2).
St. Thomas says here that because the knowledge that is the subject of theology comes by revelation from God, it is consequently superior to the other sciences in the sense (among other ways that it is superior) that it is more certain. We attain to knowledge in the other sciences only with great difficulty: we may make errors of reason, so that we reach incorrect conclusions; on the other hand, we may draw valid inferences that are nevertheless false because the evidence we have at hand is inadequate. But revelation suffers from neither of these defects, and because it comes from God it cannot possibly be false because God does not lie, and his knowledge is perfect. This being the case, it rightly serves as the standard by which all the other sciences must be judged: so that, as he says, "Whatsoever is found in other sciences contrary to any truth of this science must be condemned as false." This being the case, it seems to me to be silly to say (as Schaeffer did) that Aquinas separated grace from nature. Nature is subject to judgment by revelation, as the saint says here.

Nevertheless, it must still be said that St. Thomas affirmed that reason can arrive at truth, and that it is not dependent upon theology to do so. To be sure, it is limited as to the scope and extent of the truth it can discover. Reason cannot discover those things that can only be known by faith, such as the fact that God is triune. It seems ridiculous to say that this affirmation of reason's (limited) power to discover truth in any way divorces nature and grace. To the contrary: what this means is that God has created us in such a way that we are well-suited for life in the world. Our senses and our minds reliably allow us to understand creation.

Far from being "hypothetical," one would be closer to the truth if he said that Aquinas considered the spiritual world to be more real than the physical world. To assert the contrary about him is either grossly ignorant or downright slanderous. Modern philosophy started with Descartes' rationalism, not with St. Thomas.

Minor Point of Historical Clarification

This may not be all that important a thing to point out, but it's still interesting to me. It has been common to suppose that the expert opinion of the Middle Ages held that the earth was flat. Well, here's St. Thomas, reporting a conclusion of science in the 13th century:
For the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion: that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e. abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself (ST I Q1 A1 ad 2).
Yes, I know that they didn't have things straight about the earth's position relative to the sun, the galaxy, and so forth. Their science was flawed, but not quite as badly as many folks erroneously assume. On the one hand, they can certainly be excused: science is a cumulative enterprise, and it's unfair to criticize prior generations for failing to have grasped everything that we know today. On the other hand, it's worth noting that modern scientific knowledge is beholden to the experts of the past. "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants," said Isaac Newton. And does it need to be said that even our modern understanding of creation is both flawed and partial, however much we have corrected the errors of the past?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Question for Turretinfan - Vatican II and History

Turretinfan says:
I don't think V2 is consistent with historical Catholicism.
I don't want the thread in which he said this to be diverted from its topic, which is different. However, I am curious what he means. If you're interested, Turretinfan, I invite you to spell out your view a bit more - either in comments attached to this post, or perhaps on your own blog - whichever you prefer. Thanks.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Catholic View of Protestant Christians

It has scrolled off the main page, but Turretinfan has engaged my post on formal vs. material heresy, in which I argue (contrary to what he seems to think) that the Church's teaching obliges the faithful Catholic to consider Protestants to be his brothers in Christ, on the basis of their valid baptism. That post was inspired by an earlier post by him on his own blog in which (if I understood him correctly) he suggested that the opposite is true: that we are obliged to consider them to be under the anathemas of Trent. I argue that on the contrary the average Protestant today certainly cannot be held to be guilty of formal heresy, and therefore cannot be held to be under those anathemas.

I'm not entirely certain we haven't strayed a bit off course, but I thought I might mention the ongoing conversation on the off-chance that my few readers might be interested.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ratzinger - God and the World: Worth Reading

I have to say that this was very valuable reading for me. Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict has a remarkable intellect. The book takes the form of an extended conversation between the Cardinal and a German journalist. They discuss a wide range of issues related to Catholicism today, from ethical matters to the liturgy and various difficult issues of the Faith. Ratzinger's replies are clear and helpful, and often quite illuminating to me.

It seems to me that a distinctive feature of Catholic theology, as opposed to that which I knew as a Reformed Protestant, is that its focus seems to be entirely different from the Protestant venture. Protestant theology is especially systematic theology, characterized by gathering together various related teachings from the Bible and systematizing them. But Catholic theology is different. For Ratzinger as for St. Thomas, though, the task is to explain the Faith - to try and make sense out of it. Having believed the faith, the Catholic theologian now sets out to understand it: fides quaerens intellectum, or faith seeking understanding, as St. Anselm put it.

Now I have to say that I prefer St. Thomas to Cardinal Ratzinger (at least as far as he has presented himself in this book): I have more affinities of disposition, it seems, with the Saint than with the Pope. But that doesn't mean that I consider Ratzinger's work in this book to be poor - by no means. Now, having had a bit more exposure to his work than previously - when I was pretty disappointed - I might have to re-think my earlier criticism, and so I have removed that post as being possibly too ill-informed.

In any case, I think this book is a good introduction to the Holy Father's thought, in a style that is more readable than the average theological work precisely because it is a conversation.

[UPDATE] I almost forgot that one word of criticism is necessary. This book has no index! 460 pages, and no index! What was Ignatius Press thinking??? That's just an inexcusable omission from a book of this sort.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ratzinger - On the Feeding of the Five Thousand

I've never thought of this before, but the erstwhile head of the CDF tells us that the feeding of the five thousand is a miracle with Eucharistic significance.
One on hand [sic], we have the facts; on the other, a deeper dimension of symbolism in this story. People expected that in the messianic age the miracle of the manna would be repeated. The Messiah, so they believed, would prove his identity in that everyone would have enough to eat and bread would once more come down from heaven.

Jesus' intention is to transfer this manna miracle onto a different plane. And to do it with the Eucharist. With the bread in which he gives himself, and in which accordingly the multiplication of loaves takes place henceforth throughout history, down to our own day. He can, in a certain sense, be shared with others to an infinite extent (God and the World, p. 246f).
If five loaves and two fish can be miraculously multiplied so that they feed five thousand, it is no more miraculous that Christ can give us His Body and Blood throughout history. Amen!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Long Knives

Once upon a time a man named Kevin Johnson popped in here at The Supplement to register his disagreement with those who consider converting to Catholicism to be intellectual suicide. At that time, Mr. Johnson said:
I want to first register my disagreement with such a comment as well as let your readers know that such a reaction is not the only way our contributors react to such moves to Rome.
Whether that is true of Mr. Johnson's fellow contributors or of the general readership of his blog is one thing. But recently Mr. Johnson has provided personal testimony that - whatever others at "Reformed Catholicism" may think about it - he does indeed seem to consider conversion to the Catholic Church to be an act of intellectual penury at best, and maybe worse.
In my view, converting to Rome is the most Protestant of all acts. Returning to Mother Church in America is a return to the fundamental identity of Protestantism for it is only in a conscious turning of the mind toward Rome that one fully realizes the power of what some have termed "private interpretation" (source).
Now how can one be exercising an act of intellectual integrity if - according to Mr. Johnson - at the very moment when he is rejecting private interpretation in converting to the Catholic Church, he is nevertheless performing "the most Protestant of all acts" and "fully realizing" its "power"? Fine, Mr. Johnson. It may not be intellectual suicide by your lights, but your supposed irenicism flies out the window when you paint the convert as ignorant or cognitively dissonant (or both) - and that is exactly what your view expressed above does.

But even worse than this, in the same post (and in the ensuing comments) on his blog Mr. Johnson goes on to describe the abomination of the pedophile scandals as being perpetrated "by the authority of Rome."

At least we understand things - or rather, we understand Mr. Johnson - a bit more clearly. But an abuse of authority is a usurpation of authority, not an exercise of it. And notwithstanding the disgusting, revolting, vile, blasphemous evils that have been done by some in positions of authority in the Catholic Church, it is no less absurd to condemn the Church as an institution for this evil than it is to condemn the United States government as an institution because of the evils perpetrated by some of our leaders. It would be no less absurd to condemn Mr. Johnson's congregation or his session or his presbytery or his denomination as irrational because of the silly things he just said as a pastor of that congregation, and as an elder in that session and presbytery and denomination.

Maybe it's too much to hope for, but I'd like to think that we can move on from silly Donatism like this, where we imagine ourselves as somehow holier than others, and where we fancy that some group of Christians larger than none can be free of sin. The question has to do not with whether there is evil to be seen here or there. Whether we see it or not, it's probably there in some form or other, to some degree or other, wherever we loook. The question has to do with Christ and salvation and truth.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Maritain - Knowledge and Being

From Existence and the Existent:
[K]nowledge is immersed in existence. Existence - the existence of material realities - is given us at first by sense; sense attains the object as existing; that is to say, in the real and existing influence by which it acts upon our sensorial organs. This is why the pattern of all true knowledge is the intuition of the thing that I see, and that sheds its light upon me. ... Sense delivers existence to the intellect; it gives the intellect an intelligible treasure which sense does not know to be intelligible, and which the intellect, for its part, knows and calls by its name, which is being (p. 21, emphasis in original).
Our knowledge begins with sensory input, and it is true to the extent that it conforms to that which is perceived by the senses - to reality ("the pattern of all true knowledge is the intuition of the thing that I see"). Contrast this - that truth resides in the conformity of our thoughts to reality - with the presuppositionalist idea that truth consists in the interpretive grid that we impose upon the world around us. One ready example (and I don't mean to pick on the author of it, but this is the first instance of the sort of thing that I mean here that I could think of, and it was easier to find than googling something else up) may be found here, where the author writes:
Ah well, the problem with evidence is that one needs a framework in which to view it.
Well no. One obvious implication in the present context is that truth is subjective: it's a question of your perspective or framework. So how does one know that his framework is correct? That author will say that it his is true because it is (or is based upon) divine revelation. That's fine, but how does he know that he has received divine revelation? One option is that he perceives it by means of his senses, in which case his interpretive framework is initially non-existent (since it would have to be drawn from that external revelation, and he would not possess it until he had drawn it out). But if it is initially non-existent, then (according to the notion he presents above) he would need some other framework in which to view it. How does he know that other framework is reliable for drawing a new, divinely revealed framework out of the revelation? And if that other framework is reliable for that, why is it not generally reliable?

The other option I can imagine would be that this framework is directly revealed to him by God. But how does he know that God (rather than a demon, for example) has revealed it? This is intrinsically subjective - which is precisely my point.

So in the end this seems to be an inherently irrational position. Far better, it seems, is to trust the necessary reliability of our senses, which are our only source of information about the world around us. Far better to say that truth consists in conformity to reality.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

On "Form" Prayers

I saw this post over at Turretinfan's but wasn't terribly interested, because I consider the issue to be pretty insignificant, and I think that the Protestant arguments that I've seen on the question are pretty weak. But I took a few minutes to read it today, and decided that it might be worth a few minutes after all.

The first thing that must be said is that Catholics by no means reject extemporaneous prayer. It is perfectly valid - as are "form" prayers (I'm not sure that "form" is the best word to use to describe prayers that one either reads or has memorized, but I'll go with it in the absence of something better). The more important thing is that we pray. The question isn't "either-or" but rather "both-and" from the Catholic's perspective. So this post isn't intended to reject the way that Protestants pray, nor even to criticize it per se (although, as will be seen, a thing or two can be said about that, too). So this isn't a "my dad can beat up your dad" post, and I'm going to pass over without particular comment on his justification of extemporaneous prayer, since we Catholics don't have a problem with it.

Turretinfan's first justification of extemporaneous prayer is Scriptural example. But the Psalms are not just Israel's song book; they are also Israel's prayer book. So we have 150 examples of form prayers in the Bible. I'll also say from personal experience: I was quite fond of praying (not just singing) the 23rd psalm. And it was extremely common in the PCA congregations of which I was a member for the corporate prayer of confession to be the 51st (or portions of it). Now I don't know what Turretinfan's experience has been in that regard, but if he has never had the opportunity to do that in corporate prayer, then I'd say he has been sadly deprived :-)

Anyway - given that Psalms are a prayer book, and not merely a song book, I'd have to say that the "tale of the tape" for his first argument is a wash: Extemporaneous 1, Form 1.

His second point is that the Our Father/Lord's Prayer
is not presented in Scripture as a form prayer to be prayed as such, but as a template for prayer. It is pray "like this" not pray "these words."

Matthew 6:9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

Luke 11:2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.

(the more specific - Matthew, providing the interpretation for the more general, Luke)

The Greek word in Matthew is ουτως = thus, like this, in this way
The Greek word in Luke is λεγετε = lay out, relate

"Say" is not a very precise translation, even though it is accurate. In short, the point of both Matthew and Luke is to provide a template...
Okay, he lost me there :-)

In the first place, to say that it is a template absolutely does not exclude the perfect legitimacy of praying the template. Again, appealing to my own PCA experience: we prayed the Our Father/Lord's Prayer often. I may indeed be mistaken, but I would consider it to be quite shocking if Turretinfan has never prayed it himself - both privately and in public worship. And I seriously doubt that his experience could reasonably be considered typical for Reformed types; as I've said, it was a regular part of all the PCA congregations of which I was ever a member.

So the silence here is as telling as anything (and that goes for the Psalms-as-prayer book, too). Maybe Turretinfan's own congregation never prays the Lord's Prayer, and maybe they never pray the Psalms, but I doubt it. Of course, it doesn't help you to make your case against form prayers if you have to concede that you use them yourself... :-)

In the second place, the Greek doesn't require that the prayer as recorded be understood exclusively as a "template" at all, and given that Israel had a prayer book, it seems absurd to suggest that the Lord meant it as no more than a template: that would have been contrary to the experience of his people.

"After this manner" in Mt. 6:9 seems to me to be a fairly self-serving (by the KJV's translators, not by Turretinfan) interpretation. The RSV has "like this". The NASB has "in this way". The NIV has (in its dynamically equivalent fashion) "This, then, is how you should pray". Maybe the KJV was less biased-seeming in its day, but it has the whiff of an attempt to avoid legitimizing form prayers - something that was a live issue in their day, no doubt. The other versions I've mentioned seem more honest, and more consistent with what Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich say as to the meaning of ουτως when it precedes that to which it refers: "in this way, as follows" - which has no hint of this "template-only" idea. For those who are interested: the Confraternity edition has "In this manner"; the JB has "like this". Yes, it certainly can be used as a pattern as a template. No, this is certainly not its exclusive intent in Matthew - and it hasn't even been treated that way among modern Reformed Christians, either (the PCA being a good example of its continued use as a form prayer).

The same sort of thing must be said - and more emphatically - about Turretinfan's treatment of Luke 11 and the Greek there. He says, "'Say' is not a very precise translation" and would prefer "lay out" or "relate". Well, good for him. Except that the only place I could find that sort of thing as a "base" translation for λεγω is in Strong's Concordance. Even the NASB exhaustive concordance has "to say". Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich have "utter in words, say, tell, give expression to". Machen's grammar (I used this in seminary) has "say". I know my first Greek grammar (I think by Hale) had "say, tell". So unless Turretinfan is using Strong's as a lexicon, I have no idea where he's getting the idea that "lay out" or "relate" is a better translation of λεγω than "say". I would say that if the goal is to throw up a roadblock in front of using the Our Father/Lord's Prayer as a form prayer, then his suggested rendering is maybe more serviceable - but it seems to me that the Greek doesn't require that at all. The translators of the KJV, NASB, RSV, NIV, JB, and CCD all agree: "say".

In short: there is no reason based on the text to shun the use of the Our Father/Lord's Prayer as a form prayer. It is consistent with the fact that the Psalms are a song book and a prayer book, and there is certainly no good reason why it could not be done. Again, I repeat: this is not to say that it doesn't also serve as a template. But to say that it does no more than that seems silly to me.

Turretinfan's third argument:
The analogy to sermons/homilies. Just as a pastor tailors the sermon or homily for the congregation, applying the truths of scripture to his flock, the man praying applies Scriptural principles of prayer (such as the template of the Lord's Prayer) to the situation at hand.
Of course, this is fine. And we have no objection to it. But it's just crazy to suppose that literally no one in the history of God's people has ever been in a situation like mine - like ours. So of course those prayers that they've given us in writing are perfectly appropriate, particularly when they are truthful and beautiful. Is David's prayer of confession in Ps. 51 not perhaps the most perfect form of confession there is? Why on earth would I not want to use it? That would be ridiculous! It's beautiful, it's heartfelt, and it expresses exactly how I feel when I have sinned against my Lord. Yes, extemporaneous prayers are often great. And Yes, the prayers of God's people from past ages, and the prayers of the saints, are just as valuable. They give us a sense of solidarity with our fellow believers from past ages in a way that extemporaneous prayers never can.

Turretinfan's last (and possibly most disappointing) point:
Last, but certainly not least, the specific Scriptural admonition against rote prayers:

Matthew 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Have you ever witnessed a Roman Catholic praying a rosary, especially a non-Latin speaking Roman Catholic praying a Latin rosary, and most especially a very experienced and devout Roman Catholic senior citizen doing so with something to be done afterwards, or while engaged in something unrelated, such as driving?

Would you like to try to tell me that those prayers are not vain repetitions just like the prayers of the heathen? They are certainly repetitious, and they certainly seem to be based on a theory that if you say the prayer a lot you will be heard.
First off, Matthew 6:7 has nothing to do with rote prayers. It has to do with what it says: "vain repetitions" (KJV) or "empty phrases" (RSV) or "multiply[ing] words" (CCD) or "meaningless repetition" (NASB) or "babble" (JB) or "babbling" (NIV). The very fact (which I keep repeating) that the Psalms were Israel's prayer book makes this notion of a condemnation of "rote prayers" ridiculous. Should we not pray the Psalms? Is it a bad thing to be able to pray Ps. 23 from memory?? Of course not! So it's not rote prayers that are the problem.

Second, the issue cannot be with the repetition, either. Counter-example Number One: Psalm 136, where every one of all twenty-six verses repeats the statement, "for his mercy endures forever" (CCD, but something similar in any version). Now we may say that it was intended to be antiphonal (which seems a reasonable guess), or that it was "meant" to be used in public worship. We may even concede that it was primarily sung.

What then? It's okay to sing repetitively to God, but not to pray repetitively? What's the gigantic difference? Are not both directed to God? Of course they are! So it's not repetition that is a problem. Period.

In short, then, it's not praying by rote, and it's not repetition in prayer that is a problem. Well, if it's not repetitive rote praying that's the problem, then Turretinfan's argument is DOA. Sorry. :-)

So we see that Turretinfan has simply not made anything like a strong case against repetitive prayers, nor against form prayers. But something more may be said about extemporaneous prayers. I have already said that Catholics have no problem with them, and I want to repeat that now. But if Turretinfan thinks that Protestants don't pray "repetitively" when they pray extemporaneously, then I submit he has either not been paying attention or he has a rather small sampling of examples. Because I listened to what my fellow prayers said, and I know for a fact that they all - and I mean all - had habits of thought and speech that were characteristic of their prayers. This is not a bad thing. It's how we are made. We are creatures of habit. But it's just crazy to pretend that it doesn't happen. Does Turretinfan not teach his children little form prayers for meals? I'll bet he does (and if he doesn't, there are plenty of Protestants - yes, including Reformed types - who do). There is nothing wrong with this.

Well, perhaps Turretinfan will say that to pray the Psalms repetitively is only to pray Scripture repetitively. But of course, if he says that I will immediately respond that we pray the Our Father repetitively - so that this defense is a non-starter. But if he says that we should only pray Scripture, then he would be demolishing his argument against form prayers, and would be demolishing extemporaneous prayers as well. Now if he says that it's okay to pray Scripture as a form but not the prayers of godly men and women through the ages...well, I'd say that's a silly distinction without merit.

Friday, November 2, 2007

St. Augustine, Scripture, and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

I haven't been paying attention to Carrie's blog here lately, for two reasons. She has been doing most of her controversialist posting over at Beggars All, where the level of discourse is such that I can't imagine ever bothering to take the time to get involved. Consequently on her own blog she has been posting less, and the posts have consisted more of flat quotations from Catholic sources - quotations of such a sort that I really don't see the need to quibble with them, since they have seemed to be reasonably honest quotations which fairly present what the Church teaches.

Recently though, she posted a quotation from St. Augustine, and I thought I'd take a look. And the first thing I discovered is that her link to the source for the quotation is wrong. (Sigh) This is not the first time she has done this by any means. I wish that she would demonstrate a little more regard for her sources than this. A correct link to the letter of St. Augustine to Volusianus is here. Aside from the fact that St. Augustine did not believe in sola Scriptura, as has been repeatedly demonstrated to Carrie to no avail, let's see what we can learn from the broader context of this letter.

One interesting thing is that St. Augustine freely quotes from the book of Sirach, calling it Scripture:
For such is the depth of the Christian Scriptures, that even if I were attempting to study them and nothing else from early boyhood to decrepit old age, with the utmost leisure, the most unwearied zeal, and talents greater than I have, I would be still daily making progress in discovering their treasures; not that there is so great difficulty in coming through them to know the things necessary to salvation, but when any one has accepted these truths with the faith that is indispensable as the foundation of a life of piety and uprightness, so many things which are veiled under manifold shadows of mystery remain to be inquired into by those who are advancing in the study, and so great is the depth of wisdom not only in the words in which these have been expressed, but also in the things themselves, that the experience of the oldest, the ablest, and the most zealous students of Scripture illustrates what Scripture itself has said: "When a man has done, then he begins" (1:3, emphasis added; quoting Sirach 18:5 - not 18:6 as the New Advent page says).
So St. Augustine here recognizes as Scripture a book that Protestants reject. Interesting. But even more interesting is that in this same letter St. Augustine affirms and defends the Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady. In 1:2 he quotes Volusianus, who asks about this very subject, so we can expect that St. Augustine will in fact defend it. He does.
The body of the infant Jesus was brought forth from the womb of His mother, still a virgin, by the same power which afterwards introduced His body when He was a man through the closed door into the upper chamber. Here, if the reason of the event is sought out, it will no longer be a miracle; if an example of a precisely similar event is demanded, it will no longer be unique. Let us grant that God can do something which we must admit to be beyond our comprehension. In such wonders the whole explanation of the work is the power of Him by whom it is wrought (2:8, emphasis added).
The saint defends the Perpetual Virginity by comparison with Our Lord's action in passing through the closed door of the upper room (Jn. 20:26). Now this leaves the Protestant Carrie who wants to claim St. Augustine as one of her own in a bit of a jam. Either she must concede that he did not believe in sola scriptura, in which case her appeal to him in defense of it is ridiculous; or she must say that she is wrong herself in denying the perpetual virginity of Mary, which St. Augustine has defended by the Bible ( chance of this, I suppose); or she must say that St. Augustine got the perpetual virginity wrong - but if he got this wrong, there is no reason that he could not be wrong on sola scriptura as well, and so the appeal to him as an authority is demolished on her own terms - so if she intends to use him as an "authority" to her Protestant friends, she has failed; and clearly she has failed if her intent is to "prove" something to Catholics.

Indeed, the only way that I can imagine that such quote-ripping would be useful is if context just simply doesn't matter - if only the forms of words matter. This seems pretty nominalist. It reminds me of a girl I knew back in the 80s who upon seeing a logo for a Van Halen concert (sorry, that's the best image of it that I can find) suggested that perhaps the fact that the character was holding up one finger was meant to imply that there is only one way: Jesus. Heh. Then again, maybe not. But the same adolescent, uneducated context-ripping that attempts to find references to Christ in a 1980s Van Halen logo is really indistinguishable from the context-ripping by Protestants who attempt to find Protestantism in the Church Fathers. It's just not there, and only by a ridiculous nominalistic abuse of words can they even pretend otherwise.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Even More About Sola Gratia

I took my eye off the ball in my last post and left out one thing that I think is important. But it was getting long anyway, so maybe this is better since it's something of a different approach.

Since, as we have seen, Trent has taught that all the causes of our salvation are from God and not from man, there is at least one more observation that may be made. With respect to the question of human merits (as discussed previously), these can only be described as effects of divine grace rather than as causes per se of our salvation. This accords well with what St. Augustine said (as quoted previously):
[W]hat else but His gifts does God crown when He crowns our merits?
Think about it. The causes are all from God, says Trent. Consequently our merits as discussed by Trent can only be effects of the divine causes of our salvation. Hence, as St. Augustine says, God crowns his own gifts when he crowns our merits.

Furthermore, it ought to be blindingly obvious that an effect simply cannot call forth its own cause. The very idea is silly! The thunder can't make the lightning; the fire can't strike the match that lights it. And so too we do not merit our salvation in any way that "causes" God to save us, because God is the cause of our salvation just as Trent declares. He is the cause of it in every way. This being the case it is simply ridiculous to claim that Trent repudiated sola gratia.

I think another interesting point can be made, and I was reminded of it while reading Vignaux today (p. 121):
St. Thomas's point of view was the following: 'God by himself can produce all natural effects; that other causes may also produce them is not however superfluous. This does not in fact result from a lack of power, but from an immensity of goodness: as a consequence of goodness, God wished to communicate His resemblance to things, to such a degree that they not only exist, but that they are also in turn causes.' ... His goodness explains why He bestowed efficacy on other beings. To deprive creatures of an activity that is theirs, is to slight the Creator: ... 'To take from things their proper actions is derogatory to divine goodness.' (emphasis in original)
Now the subject, properly speaking, of this passage is philosophical; yet the similarities to what we have been discussing seem obvious to me. Just as we have to till the soil (and yet God causes the grain to grow), and just as we must work for a living (and yet every good and perfect gift comes from God, who provides all that we have), so too we must obey our God (and yet He saves us through Christ). Nothing that we do can compel God to cause the wheat to grow. Nothing that we do can compel God to give us the means to provide for our families. Nothing that we do can compel God to sacrifice His Son for us as He did. Our food comes from God. Our homes and other necessaries come from God Our salvation comes from God. And yet he rewards the grace he gives us to love him.
[W]e must believe that nothing further is wanting to the justified, to prevent their being accounted to have, by those very works which have been done in God, fully satisfied the divine law according to the state of this life, and to have truly merited eternal life, to be obtained also in its (due) time, if so be, however, that they depart in grace: seeing that Christ, our Saviour, saith: If any one shall drink of the water that I will give him, he shall not thirst for ever; but it shall become in him a fountain of water springing up unto life everlasting. Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own as from ourselves; nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated: for that justice which is called ours, because that we are justified from its being inherent in us, that same is (the justice) of God, because that it is infused into us of God, through the merit of Christ. Neither is this to be omitted,-that although, in the sacred writings, so much is attributed to good works, that Christ promises, that even he that shall give a drink of cold water to one of his least ones, shall not lose his reward; and the Apostle testifies that, That which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; nevertheless God forbid that a Christian should either trust or glory in himself, and not in the Lord, whose bounty towards all men is so great, that He will have the things which are His own gifts be their merits (Council of Trent, Session VI, Decree on Justification, Chapter XVI; emphasis added).
What we do matters - but when we do good, it is thanks to the grace of God.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Clearing Up Still More Misunderstandings About Grace

In my last post about sola gratia, I said that what is taught in Chapter VII of Trent's Decree on Justification must be understood as the background behind anything that is said about us doing works of "merit". I'd like to expand on that a bit more.

A good place to start would be with Chapter VIII of the same decree, titled "In what manner it is to be understood, that the impious is justified by faith, and gratuitously."
And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: (source; emphasis added)
The first thing we see is that Trent flatly affirms that there is a sense in which we may be said to be justified by faith! How can this be?!? We're told constantly that we deny any such thing! Well, no. What the Church rejects is the Protestant error on this matter.

But Chapter VIII says more.
but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace (ibid.)
Why is it said that we are justified freely? Because nothing that precedes that justification in any way merits it. It is sheer grace.

So what about our merits? They come from Christ.
For, whereas Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified,-as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches,-and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God... (ibid., ch. 16)
See? Any good works we do are preceded by grace, and accompanied by grace, and followed by grace, and apart from grace "could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God".

But there is more.
Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own as from ourselves; nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated: for that justice which is called ours, because that we are justified from its being inherent in us, that same is (the justice) of God, because that it is infused into us of God, through the merit of Christ (ibid; emphasis added).
Again: no merit on our part except that merit which we have from Christ. And this is consistent with what St. Augustine says (Letter 194).
But, have the just no merits at all? Certainly they have, since they are just; only, there were no previous merits to make them just. They became just when they were justified, but, as the Apostle says, 'They are justified freely by his grace.' ...

What merit, then, has man before grace which could make it possible for him to receive grace, when nothing but grace produces good merit in us; and what else but His gifts does God crown when He crowns our merits? (emphasis added)
So: just as Trent says, St. Augustine says also. We have merits (after we have been justified) - and God rewards them - but these merits are themselves gifts from God. So there is no room for boasting. It is grace, from start to finish. Anyone who says otherwise just doesn't understand what we believe.

Formal vs. Material Heresy

It appears that Turretinfan has misunderstood the distinction between formal and material heresy. Either that, or he has misunderstood how the Catholic Church views Protestant errors today. Or, possibly, he misunderstands both.

I suspect that he misunderstands one or both of these issues because of things he has said recently on his blog.
Is the official position of Rome (as Dave asserts) that heretics condemned by Rome and subject to the death penalty at the hands of the state for their heresy can still properly be considered Christians? Can anyone claim that they have read any history of the Spanish Inquisition and conclude that Rome's position was that heretics were Christians that just seriously disagreed?
The error here is in supposing that the condition of Protestants today is the same as that of heretics 500 years ago. That this is the error he is making seems to be even more clear from the fact that he seems to want to apply the words of the following from the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia to Protestants today:
Distinguishing between formal and material heretics, she applies to the former the canon, "Most firmly hold and in no way doubt that every heretic or schismatic is to have part with the Devil and his angels in the flames of eternal fire, unless before the end of his life he be incorporated with, and restored to the Catholic Church."
In the first place it is not possible for a Protestant to be a formal heretic (unless he is a Catholic who left the Church, and even then it would not apply to 100% of such people). Unfortunately, Turretinfan stopped quoting a little too soon, because the paragraph in the Catholic Encyclopedia article above continues:
No one is forced to enter the Church, but having once entered it through baptism, he is bound to keep the promises he freely made (ibid.)
So: since the average Protestant today was never formally a part of the Catholic Church, that which applies to formal heretics simply does not apply to him.

This is not to say that they are not in error on some things. They certainly are. But theirs can only be a material heresy, since they were never formally Catholics. Material heresy is a matter of error that is not culpably held: it is to hold to an error without knowing better, or without realizing that it is an error. And concerning this the same Catholic Encyclopedia article - and the same paragraph Turretinfan already quoted - continues thusly:
Towards material heretics her conduct is ruled by the saying of St. Augustine: "Those are by no means to be accounted heretics who do not defend their false and perverse opinions with pertinacious zeal (animositas), especially when their error is not the fruit of audacious presumption but has been communicated to them by seduced and lapsed parents, and when they are seeking the truth with cautious solicitude and ready to be corrected" (P. L., XXXIII, ep. xliii, 160). Pius IX, in a letter to the bishops of Italy (10 Aug., 1863), restates this Catholic doctrine: "It is known to Us and to You that they who are in invincible ignorance concerning our religion but observe the natural law . . . and are ready to obey God and lead an honest and righteous life, can, with the help of Divine light and grace, attain to eternal life . . . for God . . . will not allow any one to be eternally punished who is not wilfully guilty" (Denzinger, "Enchir.", n. 1529). X (ibid.; emphasis added).
So: the fact that one is a Protestant today does not imply ipso facto that one is a formal heretic. Consequently, as material heretics only, they simply are not subject to condemnation for their theological errors.

A further part of the usual canard about this is not merely that the Church thinks they "deserve" to go to hell (which is false), but also that the Church thinks it is a competent court for them as well. Once again, the same Catholic Encyclopedia article clears the matter up in the very next paragraph:
The fact of having received valid baptism places material heretics under the jurisdiction of the Church, and if they are in good faith, they belong to the soul of the Church. Their material severance, however, precludes them from the use of ecclesiastical rights, except the right of being judged according to ecclesiastical law if, by any chance, they are brought before an ecclesiastical court. They are not bound by ecclesiastical laws enacted for the spiritual well-being of its members, e.g. by the Six Commandments of the Church (ibid.; emphasis added).
So we see that because they are not a part of the Catholic Church, Protestants are not formally subject to the ecclesiastical laws and courts of the Catholic Church, although because of their baptism they are (to borrow from the words of Vatican II and the Catechism) in a certain "imperfect communion with the Church because they are baptized. This is in keeping with current canon law, which says:
By baptism one is incorporated into the Church of Christ and is constituted a person in it with the duties and rights which are proper to Christians in keeping with their condition, insofar as they are in ecclesiastical communion and unless a legitimately issued sanction stands in the way (Canon 96; emphasis added).
Protestants are not in ecclesiastical communion; consequently they are not subject to the duties that belong to Catholics, even though they are part of the Church of Christ.

Can this be any clearer? Goodness! So we are perfectly within our rights to refer to Protestants as our brothers in Christ, by virtue of their baptism.

Now the case would be different for those who - as Catholics back in the 16th century - abandoned the Catholic faith for Protestantism. As Catholics, their heresy would have been both formal and material, and so far as I can tell they would have been subject to the condemnations of Trent (as would, presumably, any modern Catholic who abandons the Church for Protestantism). More information on "anathemas" may be profitably discovered here.

Now Turretinfan would have us believe that he knows what Catholics believe. Unfortunately, this is the second occasion recently where he has resorted to ripping quotations from Catholic sources out of context - a context that would have amply demonstrated the error of his conclusions about what we believe (See here for the other example I have in mind). I certainly believe that Turretinfan is a very intelligent person, and I respect him both for that and for his typical sense of decorum and his sincerity, but if he continues to take bits and pieces out of Catholic documents, he is going to make more mistakes.

[Update, just a few minutes later...] It seems peculiar for Turretinfan and others to just flatly insist, despite Catholic protestations and doctrine to the contrary, that the Catholic Church condemns them. Why would one want to believe that others think badly of him, even when they deny it?? It seems very bizarre to me, even setting aside the silliness of them supposing that they know better than we do what Catholics believe (when they obviously don't). I don't get it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

He does not seem to understand what we believe

It appears that Turretinfan is declining Dave Armstrong's debate challenge/offer (well, maybe not quite in so many words, but personally I'd say that's the substance of it). I confess to being disappointed, but only in the sense of an unfulfilled prospect for a spectacle. Frankly I don't think debates are worth the time or energy, although some may judge my opinion by the fact that I don't feel particularly qualified to engage in them. In the first place, debates don't "prove" anything, particularly if one participant is especially stronger than the other. But even granting equal capacities on both sides, it seems to me that their usefulness is limited: truth is not contingent upon the outcome of a debate.

Mr. Armstrong is a big boy and can certainly handle the parts of Turretinfan's response that are directed towards him. There are some things there, though, that catch my eye and seem worthy of a paragraph or three here.
Trent denied Sola Gratia by Denying Sola Fide
His objections notwithstanding, this is precisely the sort of thing we are talking about when we say some Protestant or other doesn't understand what we believe. At the same time, too, this statement is dependent upon a question-begging definition of "sola gratia" that not only hasn't been established, but is also entirely unnecessary.

As to the first - whether the Council of Trent "denied Sola Gratia:" I can hardly do better than to quote from Trent itself again, from the Decree on Justification:
The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ... (Chapter V, emphasis added)
Okay, so at the beginning of our Justification we find Trent saying that it comes from God's grace alone (now some silly people might object to the ellipsis there; I will come back to that, I promise).
Now they (adults) are disposed unto the said justice, when, excited and assisted by divine grace, conceiving faith by hearing, they are freely moved towards God, believing those things to be true which God has revealed and promised,-and this especially, that God justifies the impious by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus... (Chapter VI, emphasis added)
Here we see again Trent declaring that God justifies us by His grace through Christ.
Of this Justification the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting...(Chapter VII, emphasis added)
Now we come to the meat of sola gratia. And the very first thing that must be said is that if you don't understand scholastic (and in particular Thomistic) philosophy, or even Aristotelian philosophy at least, and if you don't understand their notion of causation, then you are in no position to judge what Trent says here, and once again we are back to what Turretinfan seems to dislike so much: you don't understand what we believe. And I don't pretend to be an expert on St. Thomas nor on the scholastics, but I can at least see that you don't understand Trent apart from them.

The first and most important cause is the final cause: that is, the end or purpose of the thing that is done. And the purpose of our justification is God's own glory. But whose purpose or end is it? It can be none other than God's, because he is the First Cause, and because he is the one who at the beginning of justification gives grace (see above), and who justifies us by his grace (see above). Now this cause above all is the most important, and it comes from God alone, and it finds expression in all the other causes, all of which are dependent upon this one, and apart from which they would never have come to pass. So here we see at the very outset that according to Trent, it is impossible for our salvation to be caused by anything other than grace, properly speaking: because God purposes it from the outset.
while the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance;... (ibid., emphasis added)
The efficient cause is that which actually performs the action. Wikipedia puts it this way:
This is the agent which brings something about, for example, in the case of a statue, it is the person chiseling away, and the act of chiseling, that causes the statue. This answers the question, how does it happen? It is the sort of answer we usually expect when we ask about cause; the thing which happened to bring about certain results (emphasis added).
And, from a presumably more academic source:
[T]he efficient cause: the means or agency by which a thing comes into existence (a potter is the efficient cause of a bowl);... (emphasis added)
So here we see again: We are saved by a "merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously" - that is, graciously. But if the cause of our salvation, "the sort of answer we usually expect when we ask about cause," is God's gracious action, then it has nothing to do with us. It is by grace alone: sola gratia.
but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father;... (Trent, loc. cit.; emphasis added)
Now this really ought to lay to rest all the nonsense about whether Trent taught sola gratia. Because for the Protestant, all their insistence upon sola fide has to do with whether one merits his salvation in any way. But here we see it clearly and unequivocally stated: the meritorious cause of our salvation is Jesus Christ himself. It is not anything I do. It is not anything you do. It is Christ. Alone. He merits our salvation. All clear now? Good.

But wait. There's more.
the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified...(ibid.; emphasis added)
The instrumental cause has to do with the tool used to perform an action. A hammer is the instrumental cause when driving a nail; for the Protestant, the instrumental cause of salvation would be faith. It is the instrument by which an effect is brought about by the efficient cause for the sake of the fulfillment of the final cause. And even here, we see that only in an instrumental sense can human action be said to be involved: because it is God who makes use of Holy Baptism as the instrument by which we are saved. So once again we see that our salvation is wrought by God alone.
lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills...(ibid.; emphasis added)
The formal cause is like the blueprint or model for the thing. Again, see here and here. And once again, we see that this cause has nothing to do with us. It is all from God, and consequently all of grace.

Now it ought to be obvious that anything said in Trent about man's activity within the process of our justification simply has to be understood with the foregoing in the background. Anything less would be to completely misunderstand what the Fathers at Trent meant. You can't have human merit being a factor apart from grace, because Christ is the meritorious cause of our salvation. You can't have human merit be the start of our salvation, because the final cause of our salvation is God's glory. You can't have merely human righteousness as sufficient cause for salvation, because the formal cause of our salvation is the justice of God whereby "He maketh us just" (ibid). It's grace, from start to finish.

Once upon a time I came across Turretinfan making this sort of argument:
Legalism => Salvation by works
Denial of Sola Fide => Salvation by works
(Or - in the form he gave it later in the same combox:)
The comment ought to have read:

Salvation by works => Legalism
Denial of Sola Fide => Salvation by works

Denial of Sola Fide => Legalism
It ought to be obvious that this begs the question, and (as his interlocutor at the time pointed out) it really amounts to nothing more than a bald assertion. Now we may perhaps wish to be more charitable than Fred was, and say that what it amounts to is a rather limited notion of the alternatives to sola fide. For the only way that such an argument could possibly work is if it were actually the case that only works salvation is an alternative to sola fide. As we have seen, however, Trent has absolutely no difficulty in acknowledging God's sovereign grace as the entire basis of our salvation, while at the same time affirming that our salvation calls for us to obey God.

Towards the end of his post declining Mr. Armstrong's debate challenge, Turretinfan says:
What is more significant, though, is that we reject the gospel of Rome, because it is not the Gospel of Christ: the answer to "What must I do to be saved," is not simply "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house" in official Roman Catholic soteriology.
This is handy-dandy proof-texting, but he's going to have a hard time dealing with St. Peter's Pentecost sermon. When he was asked, "Brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37, emphasis added), we find perhaps the most spectacular occasion in practically the whole Bible for making the case for "sola fide." It's the first sermon of the Christian era. His listeners are Jews - Jews who legalistically suppose that they must earn their salvation by their works. And they've asked the question, "What shall we do?" Now if there was ever a perfect time and opportunity for a sola fide response, it was right then. If there was ever a better setup question, a better moment for declaring the Protestant gospel than this, I don't know what it would have been.

But St. Peter didn't give them that. He didn't say anything like this: "You don't have to do anything. Just have faith in Christ, and you will be saved, because the only way you can be saved is by faith in Christ alone." No. He didn't say that. Instead, he told them what they must do.
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; emphasis added).
And notice what he did not include in this list of things to do: he doesn't even mention faith. Now of course it would be absurd to suggest that St. Peter was preaching a gospel of works, and I don't mean to say that he is. And of course faith is necessary. But the real question is this: is it not entirely incongruous for St. Peter, on an occasion like that, to say nothing explicit about salvation by faith alone if the gospel really is "sola fide"? In my judgment it is. It's preposterous even to suggest.

We are saved by grace alone, as the Catholic Church has always taught. Anyone who says otherwise just doesn't understand what we believe, and they demonstrate their incomprehension just by denying that Trent taught something other than sola gratia.