Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Recommended Reading: My Way of Life

I've just finished reading My Way of Life. It is subtitled The Summa Simplified for Everyone, and I would say that the authors (Farrell and Healy) have admirably accomplished that goal. It is a fine distillation of the theology and philosophy of the Summa Theologica, written at a level that is more accessible to the modern layman and greatly condensed (604 small pages, compared to the 3000+ quarto-sized jam-packed pages of the full Summa). I commend it to you as an excellent summary of Catholic doctrine. It is a bit dated in certain respects; it was written before Vatican II and consequently is occasionally out of sync with the changes in Church Law that have taken place since then. But this is a quibble.

A second quibble is the occasionally florid prose of Father Farrell, who wrote the first part of the book (Dr. Healy completed the rest of the work upon Farrell's death). At times he seems to me to write in overly grandiose terms, but this may simply be a matter of personal taste.

In any case, the book is well worth its price and the time invested in reading it.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Charity, Interpretation, and Pope John Paul II

Carrie has a post or two up at her place which constitute almost a textbook example in how to think the worst of someone else. I'll grant that certain infelicitous declarations by some bishops unfortunately muddy the waters, so that there is a sense in which the question has been confused. But it is pretty clear that the Catholic Church just can't win with her.
In the first place, she points us at the unfortunate story of the Dutch bishop who thinks we ought to start calling God "Allah". She goes on to quote CCC 841, as if to suggest that the Church teaches that Muslims can be saved without converting.

I should like it very much if the Church's critics could make up their minds. On the one hand they often (and falsely) say that the Church teaches that you must be Catholic in order to be saved. On the other hand, they do things like Carrie has done: ignore that the CCC also says that "The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation" (1257), so that they may (falsely) suggest that the Church teaches Muslims can be saved without converting. Which is it? The Church can't be both universalist and exclusivist at the same time. It's irrational, and anyway both are false since the Church is neither universalist nor exclusivist.

Carrie would apparently also like us all to be shocked by the fact that Pope John Paul II had charitable things to say about Islam. But being charitable is not the same as saying that they can be saved without being converted (see above). Approving of the true things in Islam is simple decency. We ought to approve the fact that they say that God is merciful. We ought to approve the fact that they say murder and stealing are evil. To approve these things is not the same as saying that Islam is good as a whole, nor that Muslims necessarily always set a good example of these things in action (that they do not live up to the demands of their religion is a criticism that may also be made of Christians at times as well).

All truth is God's truth. We ought to commend it wherever it may be found - even if truths be uttered by non-Christians (I suppose I ought to add - by way of avoiding the charge that I am being a relativist! - that what is true must be measured by the truth God has revealed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as interpreted by the Magisterium, so that not everything that man says is true really is). This is all the more necessary in cases where one is attempting to be diplomatic, as the Pope undoubtedly was. You don't have to say everything that you think at all times and in all circumstances. There is a time and a season for everything. Again, this is all the more needful if you are the Pope, and you are concerned for the well-being of Christians who live in Muslim countries.

Update: Carrie's answer to what kmerian and I said in response to these posts. Aside from availing herself yet again of the help I gave in fixing a post or otherwise improving her blog (not for the first time), what we received answer.

She says that I should read her "posts and comments" on "the Muslim thing" in order to learn what her "issues" bother her. There are just a couple problems with that, though. First of all, to my knowledge she never posted anything whatsoever on the topic of "the Muslim thing" before 15 August 2007. At this writing there are two such posts, and they are precisely the posts that kmerian and I have been challenging. But if kmerian "missed her point", as she would have us believe, there is no obvious indication of what exactly her point was supposed to be, and aside from saying he "missed" it, she gives us no hint in her single comment on that post as to what the "point" is supposed to be.

In the other post, she has a quotation from a bishop with a history of dissidence from Church teaching, followed by a quotation from the CCC (ripped from context so as to make it seem that the dissident bishop is actually not dissident on the subject in question). That's all. So if there is a "point" here (other than to make it seem that the Church thinks it would be a good idea to do what the Dutch bishop says), it is left up to the mind of the reader, since (aside from the post title) there is not a single word of Carrie's in it. Likewise in the comments, where before I joined the thread, her single comment on the topic of the post was to deny the idea that Muslims worship the same God as Christians. Of course, if that is her point in her "posts and comments" on "the Muslim thing", it is utterly absent from the two posts, and it's not really a "point" so much as an "assertion": she never defends this "point" at all in either of the two posts or their comments.

So how it can be said that I have "missed" her point and can have things cleared up by reading the same two posts and their comments again...well, it escapes me.

Lastly though: if there have been other posts by her in the past on this subject, it would be non-trivial to discover them, since she has no labels related to Muslims. And I see no reason why I should have to dig around to figure out what her point is. If she has a point, she ought to say what it is outright.

I have grown weary of attempting to reason with Carrie. She is not objective. She is not even-handed. There is only one point at her blog, and that is that her mission there is to paint the Church as a non-Christian institution. But this "point" is blindingly irrational.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Healy on Grace II

We do not merit because of anything that we do ourselves, but because of God's grace. God, in his grace, rewards us because of the grace that he has given us.
Grace leads to glory. It leads ultimately to the vision of God. In God's plan grace enables man to merit the vision of God. The vision is the reward for grace. (My Way of Life, 306).
There is no work of man, however great or noble, which would give man a right in justice to the vision of God. But God has made grace the meritorious principle or source of eternal life. In God's plan human acts performed with and through habitual grace will merit the vision of God for men. ... Grace is the power of God moving us to the vision of God (ibid., 307; emphasis added).
And this is what the Catechism says as well.
This vocation to eternal life is supernatural. It depends entirely on God's gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself. It surpasses the power of human intellect and will, as that of every other creature (CCC #1998).
God saves us. We do not save ourselves. We must not and dare not rely upon "living a good life" as the basis of our hope for salvation. Our hope for salvation is the grace of God in Jesus Christ. When we obey God - as we must if we hope to attain to the beatific vision - we do not do so in our own strength, but only by his grace.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Healy on Grace and Virtue

Martin Healy was professor of dogmatic theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, NY. With William Farrell he wrote My Way of Life: The Summa Simplified for Everyone. Here is what he has to say on the supernatural virtues (following St. Thomas).
The supernatural virtues, whether theological or moral, cannot be acquired through nature or natural human action.
They must be infused into man's soul by God. The infused theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, have God Himself - as He is in Himself - for their immediate object. Since this Object - God as He is in Himself - is beyond the natural powers of man, the virtues which unite man to this Object are also beyond man's powers to acquire. God Himself must give virtues to man (My Way of Life, p. 243).
Sola gratia indeed.

When God by his grace gives the Protestant the gift of faith - which he exercises - that is sola gratia. But when God by his grace gives the Catholic the gift of the theological virtues...that is "obviously" the work of man. Sure. The source is the same, and both result in the exercise of the gift by the recipient (the Protestant believes - which is a human action; the Catholic exercises the virtues - which are human actions).

I do not understand why one is (in some people's eyes) sola gratia, and one is not; I merely report.

Bahnsen on sola scriptura

The late Greg Bahnsen was a man that I revered when I was a Protestant. I did not agree with everything that he said, but I believed that he was a faithful and godly man who did his best to serve God.

Today I came across a link at Carrie's place labeled "A Biblical Defense of Sola Scriptura." The link is to a transcript of a speech given by Bahnsen titled "Is Sola Scriptura a Protestant Concoction?" Earlier today I worked through it. I don't know if the title on that page is one that he gave this talk or not. I must say that I am rather disappointed with the quality of Dr. Bahnsen's argument. If it had not been a speech but rather an essay, perhaps it would not suffer from the defects that it does. My notes are somewhat lengthy, but here is a distillation of them.

He has two or three main points (two if you judge from how they are numbered on that page, but it seems to me that there are really three).

The first point is that we must not rely upon human wisdom when it comes to our understanding about God and how we are to live. Instead we must rely upon God's revelation of himself. This is really a point that any Christian can readily concede, and I certainly do. Dr. Bahnsen makes a good case for this point from the Bible. The only question that might arise is: where may we find this revelation?

[Update 2007-08-28: I would like to qualify what I said in the previous paragraph. If Bahnsen wants to say (as he probably would have done) that there is absolutely no place for reason in coming to an understanding of God, but that we are completely dependent upon reason, then I would have to disagree. See: Summa Contra Gentiles. I will readily concede that we need God's revelation of himself to us, along with his grace, if we are to achieve our last end. It is not the case that we can say nothing about God from reason; it is not the case that we know literally nothing about God from reason. It is that reason is insufficient by itself. - RdP]

[Update 2008-01-04: I would like to thank "Anonymous" for pointing out the typo in the update from 8/28 above. The second sentence should read: "If Bahnsen wants to say (as he probably would have done) that there is absolutely no place for reason in coming to an understanding of God, but that we are completely dependent upon revelation, then I would have to disagree." - Sigh. It's pretty pathetic when one injects fog when attempting to add clarity! - RdP]

His second point attempts an answer. Divine revelation, he says, was found in both oral and written form. He argues this on the basis of 2 Thessalonans 2:15, "So then, brethren, stand firm, and hold the teachings that you have learned, whether by word or by letter of ours." Now of course Dr. Bahnsen has no choice, historically speaking, but to acknowledge this point, as surprising as it might superficially seem in coming from a Protestant. Because, after all, the revelation preceded the scriptures of the New Testament by a number of years. So this is not really much of a concession. To the contrary, he would have insuperable difficulty in explaining the growth of the Church after the Resurrection of Christ until the time that the New Testament was written (to say nothing of the additional time until it was recognized as God's Word). But now he has conceded what Catholics have always said. How then will he disqualify what the Church teaches about Tradition?

This is what he says. First, he says that the content of oral and written revelation was identical. Secondly, he says that we no longer have access to the oral tradition, because the apostles are dead.

With regard to the first point, it has to be pointed out that Bahnsen makes no argument for this whatsoever. He simply asserts it to be so, on the basis of 2 Thess. 2:15. Of course, that is simply absurd. The very most that one could possibly get from the text of that verse as written is that oral and written traditions are of equal authority: again, something that the Catholic Church has always maintained. But it simply does not follow from what St. Paul wrote that the two are co-extensive. To the contrary, I can readily say this about the passage by way of interpretation: it doesn't matter whether you heard something from us when we were there in Thessalonica, nor whether you learned something from what has been written down: it is all God's revelation. This makes no less sense (and, it seem to me, it actually makes more sense) than what Bahnsen suggests. I would also point out that on the basis of what John wrote in his gospel (21:25), we already know that we don't have a written record of everything that Jesus said or did. It's simply question-begging to say that in spite of this fact we do have a written record of everything that he taught (and, indeed, it stretches credulity to suggest it, since "not even the world itself...could hold the books that would have to be written" to contain the full record of all that Jesus did). So not only does 2 Thess. 2:15 not prove that oral and written tradition were identical, but we have good reason for believing that the oral tradition contains things not found in the Scriptures!

But as I say, Bahnsen addresses none of this. He settles for a bare assertion, and a thoroughly unsubstantiated one, when he says that the two are identical.

Moving on to his second point: that because the apostles are dead, we no longer have access to the oral tradition. Unfortunately, Bahnsen has once again resorted to bald assertion rather than to argument. Because rather than proving that we no longer have access to it, he simply repeats over and over: the apostles are dead. The apostles are dead. Of course, this is no argument. And in particular it is no argument against the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession, which explains exactly why and how Sacred Tradition has been preserved from the Apostles' day down to our own. In fact, he never even mentions apostolic succession. How then can it be said that he has proven anything? Obviously it can't, because he hasn't.

Having completed his argument, Bahnsen goes for his conclusion: since we cannot trust in human wisdom, and since the oral tradition (which was identical, he claims, to the written one) is no longer accessible, we have no choice but to resort to the Bible for our access to divine revelation.

But of course his conclusion depends entirely upon the second and third points (and really upon the third). But he made no argument in defense of them. He merely asserted them. But these are precisely the issues on which he should have devoted most of his time (rather than on irrelevant sniping at Catholics as he occasionally does on the speech, or on arguments about whether Peter is the rock or not - where, by the way, his argument does not shine, either). Rather than developing these things, though, he simply assumed them.

In sum: this is not Dr. Bahnsen's best work. One wonders, as I said at the outset, whether he might have made a more thorough case if this argument had started life as an essay rather than as a speech. As it is, the Catholic doctrine is quite unscathed by anything that he has said here, and the only way that this article could possibly qualify as a biblical defense of sola scriptura (pace Carrie) is if one has already made the same assumptions as Dr. Bahnsen. But we have no rational basis for doing that.

Resisting The Urge To Comment

I said I was going to take a break from commenting at Carrie's place, and despite her best efforts to lure me in, I am not going to do it.

In the comments for her post titled "Augustine Canon Distinction," I said that "the relevance of a canon was not the same for St. Augustine as for us" because of his perfect willingness to say (in On Christian Doctrine, Book II, Chapter 8, 12) that Christians must "judge" among the canonical Scriptures. No Protestant would say such a thing. No Catholic would say such a thing today. Whatever his exact meaning, then, it seems clear that his view of what a canon actually is differs from the way that Christians view it today.

I then go on to point out that in paragraph 13 of the same chapter of On Christian Doctrine, the list of canonical scriptures given by St. Augustine is identical to the canon defined by Trent, with the exception of his omission of Baruch and Lamentations (an omission which I suggest may be explained by an assumption on St. Augustine's part that these two books are part of Jeremiah - a reasonable assumption, given that Jeremiah wrote Lamentations and Baruch was closely associated with him).

However, Carrie seems to think I have argued poorly. She says, "You defeat your own argument."

Really? I'm a bit perplexed. She ripped two sentences out of my comment. Neither of them was an argument. They were observations. My argument, if it may even be said that I made one in that post, is contained in the last paragraph, which she has ignored:
Now, whatever his reasons for "judging" among the books of the canon, it is indisputable that he held that there actually was a canon - and he identifies it. And it is the Catholic one.
Perhaps she thinks my observations - which she quotes - defeat my argument. But that is absurd. In the first place, my observation that Augustine's view of the canon was different from ours has no bearing on the assertion that he held that there actually was a canon, nor that it was the Catholic one. In the second place, my observation that the canon St. Augustine lists in On Christian Doctrine Book II is the very basis of my assertion that he held that there actually was a canon (in spite of Carrie's quixotic attempts to suggest that the canon was up in the air).

I do not know why she thinks that I have defeated my "argument". But let's look at the rest of what she says.
Obviously Augustine's definition of the word "canon" was not the same as our definition today. So the fact the Augustine's canon appears to be the same as Trent (although you have admitted you can not account 100% for Baruch) is meaningless since Augustine was supplying a large collection of books which MAY be canonical.
"Obviously" he didn't mean what we mean. But what are the "obvious" consequences? For one, it means that he did not have a Protestant view of Scripture, which completely demolishes the idea that St. Augustine in any way believed in sola scriptura. On the other hand, such a flexible (for want of a better word just now) idea of the canon in no way undermines the Catholic doctrine of divine revelation, nor the idea that St. Augustine was in fact a faithful Catholic. Once again we see that the only ways that Protestants can possibly "claim" this Doctor of the Church as one of their own are by selectively ripping quotations out of the context of his entire life and work in order to falsely "prove" that he believed Protestant things which are false, or by showing that he believed things on which Catholics and Protestants agree (and then perhaps denying that the Catholic Church believes them - an approach born in ignorance and out of a futile hope to drive a wedge between the Church and one of her Doctors). The fact remains, however, that St. Augustine was Catholic.

Moving on.

Carrie then suggests that I've got a problem because I can't "account for" Baruch in St. Augustine's list. Of course, I did make a suggested accounting, and more to the point she can't account for the omission of Lamentations. So it really seems a poor tactic to suggest I have a problem when the same text creates a problem for herself - a problem that she doesn't even attempt to account for.

However, it is vain to suggest that my account is a poor one. No less a Protestant light than F.F. Bruce understands St. Augustine's list of OT books just as I have done:
Lamentations, Baruch, and the Letter of Jeremiah (which in the Latin Bible is counted as the sixth chapter of Baruch) are included with Jeremiah (The Canon of Scripture, p. 96).
So it would seem that the one who cannot account for St. Augustine's list is Carrie herself, unless we are to take her word above Dr. Bruce's. But there again, if we do so, we are left unable to account for Lamentations.

As an aside, it's interesting to note that despite Carrie's attempts to throw doubt upon the canon, Bruce suggests otherwise. He points out that the Council of Hippo in 393, the third council of Carthage in 397, Pope Innocent I in 405, and the sixth council of Carthage in 419 all include the Catholic canon of the OT (ibid., p. 97). So much for uncertainty. Furthermore, it is irrational to suppose that St. Augustine, a faithful Catholic who says that he only believed the gospel because of the authority of the Church, would ignore the authority of that very Church in his own lifetime when it came to declarations about the canon.

But I digress.

Carrie says that St. Augustine's list was only a list of possible canonical books. This is absurd on the face of it, given the testimony of Bruce above, and the decrees of Pope and Council during his own lifetime. The man who said "Roma locuta est; causa finita est" would not have ignored the rulings of the Church. The canon he lists reflects the teaching of the Church at his time, and it would be preposterous to assume that he would not accept its authority in this matter.

In short then: Carrie has proved nothing, and I did not defeat my own argument.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Incoherence of the Protestant Method

If the Protestant is honest, he will agree that the sacraments matter. Well - even if he doesn't functionally think very highly of the Eucharist, a high opinion of the value of Baptism is pretty-near universal among them (and this is a good thing).

However, if the Protestant is honest, he will also have to agree that he and his fellow Protestants have radical disagreements about the sacraments. We need not rehearse these disagreements here, having done so in other posts; besides, these are fairly well known.

A question arises on account of these disagreements among Protestants over things that (as they agree) matter: how reliable is their method for arriving at certainty about what God has revealed, if it does not result in agreement among them about things that (as they agree) definitely are matters of importance? It's one thing if there is disagreement about food and drink, as may be argued from Romans 14. It's quite another when there is disagreement (as there certainly is) about things that certainly do matter, like the sacraments (for example).

The first observation that I'd like to make here is that if their method for extracting truth from the Bible fails so badly that they do not and cannot agree about important things like the sacraments, then it is an inherently unsafe method. We need to know beyond question what it is that God would have us believe and do when it comes to matters of importance like the sacraments. Because the Protestant method does not deliver this certainty to us, it cannot be correct. It is a false method.

The second observation I'd like to make is that if their method demonstrably fails in these areas where their disagreements are embarrassingly obvious, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to believe that the same method has been successful in those areas where they happen to agree. After all, if it fails to provide certainty in the one case, and the same method is used in the other, we have to concede - unless the truth is a matter of majority vote! - that it cannot provide certainty in any case. At any rate, on their own terms they have no basis for knowing whether it has successfully delivered the actual truth (unless the truth is a matter of majority vote!).

Actually, if the Protestant could demonstrate (using this same method) that the two cases actually are different in some significant way, then he could perhaps save the case where they all agree. But I see no way that this could actually be possible: there will be no way for them to demonstrate, without question-begging, that the case where they all agree is actually different from the case where they disagree.

For these reasons it is an incoherent (and therefore invalid and false) method, which does not and cannot deliver certainty.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

"I don't see it that way"

Over at Carrie's blog we're discussing St. Augustine's view of Scripture. Early on in the discussion, kmerian pointed out what the great saint famously said in Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental:
For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church (5:6).
For my part, I pointed out what St. Augustine said in On Christian Doctrine:
a man who is resting upon faith, hope and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others (I, 39:43).
And I went on to say:
So on two scores it's clear that St. Augustine did not treat the Bible the same way as Protestants do. For him, the holy Catholic Church was the authority when it comes to matters of salvation. And if you're asking me whether I would agree with St. Augustine about this, then I most certainly do.
Carrie replied:
I don't see it that way. Certainly not the way the RCC portrays it today.
My reply seems rather obvious:
But you disagree with what seems to me to be the rather obvious sense of this sentence: I would not believe in the gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so.

If by this he does not mean that the authority of the Catholic Church was pivotal in his decision to become a Christian - in moving him to become one - in such a way that apart from the Catholic Church's authority he would not have become a Christian, then what do you say that he meant by that sentence?
Is it not rather obvious what St. Augustine is saying? Particularly within the context of what he's writing? Notice what he says just before that famous confession:
Let us see then what Manichæus teaches me; and particularly let us examine that treatise which he calls the Fundamental Epistle,in which almost all that you believe is contained. For in that unhappy time when we read it we were in your opinion enlightened. The epistle begins thus:—"Manichæus, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the providence of God the Father. These are wholesome words from the perennial and living fountain." Now, if you please, patiently give heed to my inquiry. I do not believe Manichæus to be an apostle of Christ. Do not, I beg of you, be enraged and begin to curse. For you know that it is my rule to believe none of your statements without consideration. Therefore I ask, who is this Manichæus? You will reply, An apostle of Christ. I do not believe it. Now you are at a loss what to say or do; for you promised to give knowledge of the truth, and here you are forcing me to believe what I have no knowledge of. Perhaps you will read the gospel to me, and will attempt to find there a testimony to Manichæus. But should you meet with a person not yet believing the gospel, how would you reply to him were he to say, I do not believe? For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church. So when those on whose authority I have consented to believe in the gospel tell me not to believe in Manichæus, how can I but consent? Take your choice. If you say, Believe the Catholics: their advice to me is to put no faith in you; so that, believing them, I am precluded from believing you;—If you say, Do not believe the Catholics: you cannot fairly use the gospel in bringing me to faith in Manichæus; for it was at the command of the Catholics that I believed the gospel... (Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental, chapter 5).
Can anything be more clear? St. Augustine's appeal is clearly to the authority of the Catholic Church!

Now, if Protestants cannot simply acknowledge the clear statements of one of their putative favorites among the Fathers, it seems quite obvious that questions of interpretation are of fundamental importance. And if hermeneutical questions are so important with respect to understanding a Father of the Church, how much more important are they with respect to the Divine Revelation contained in the Bible? Once again we see, it's a matter of authority. Carrie is perfectly happy to say "I don't see it that way," as if that matters. But in her Protestant framework, the bottom line is: "I don't see it that way" is all that matters.

But there's more, in this same text of St. Augustine.
For in the Catholic Church, not to speak of the purest wisdom,... which you do not believe to be in the Catholic Church, there are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate. And so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. Such then in number and importance are the precious ties belonging to the Christian name which keep a believer in the Catholic Church, as it is right they should, though from the slowness of our understanding, or the small attainment of our life, the truth may not yet fully disclose itself (ibid., chapter 4:5; emphasis added).
Can anything be clearer? Can it be plausibly maintained even for a moment that St. Augustine was not Catholic? Nonsense.

God, Infalliblity, Sola Scriptura, and The Church

Carrie has a post up in which she quotes St. Augustine as saying,"God alone swears securely, because He alone is infallible." She interprets this (apparently, anyway - given the title of her post: "Early Church Father [sic] on Sola Scriptura") as an argument in favor of sola scriptura.

She also has another post: "Augustine on Scripture". In this post, she quotes St. Augustine as saying:
The faith will totter if the authority of the Holy Scripture loses its hold on men. We must surrender ourselves to the authority of Holy Scripture, for it can neither mislead nor be misled.
Unfortunately, the reference she gives as her source for this quotation is a poor one for the person who is interested in valid attributions. It's taken from a book of Christian quotations, and only says that Augustine wrote it - but not where.

A quick search does not turn up a source for that exact statement. We do find something somewhat similar, though, in Book I, Chapter 37 of On Christian Doctrine:
Now faith will totter if the authority of Scripture begin to shake. And then, if faith totter, love itself will grow cold. For if a man has fallen from faith, he must necessarily also fall from love; for he cannot love what he does not believe to exist. But if he both believes and loves, then through good works, and through diligent attention to the precepts of morality, he comes to hope also that he shall attain the object of his love. And so these are the three things to which all knowledge and all prophecy are subservient: faith, hope, love.
Now obviously this is not at all the same as what Carrie provided us. So it appears to be a convenient conflation of two separate statements by St. Augustine. We'll see if she can give us a better source.

But before we move on, it's worth pointing out that there are some other very interesting things in Book I of On Christian Doctrine. Like this, for instance, in chapter 39:
And thus a man who is resting upon faith, hope and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others. Accordingly, many live without copies of the Scriptures, even in solitude, on the strength of these three graces. So that in their case, I think, the saying is already fulfilled: "Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away" (emphasis added).
Does that sound like the words of a Protestant? Does that sound like something that we should expect to hear coming from the mouth of any well-informed Protestant? By no means!

And again - before we move on, it's worth looking at something else in Book I of On Christian Doctrine - this time from chapters 17 and 18:
Further, when we are on the way, and that not a way that lies through space, but through a change of affections, and one which the guilt of our past sins like a hedge of thorns barred against us, what could He, who was willing to lay Himself down as the way by which we should return, do that would be still gracious and more merciful, except to forgive us all our sins, and by being crucified for us to remove the stern decrees that barred the door against our return?

He has given, therefore, the keys to His Church, that whatsoever it should bind on earth might be bound in heaven, and whatsoever it should loose on earth might be loosed in heaven; that is to say, that whosoever in the Church should not believe that his sins are remitted, they should not be remitted to him; but that whosoever should believe and should repent, and turn from his sins, should be saved by the same faith and repentance on the ground of which he is received into the bosom of the Church. For he who does not believe that his sins can be pardoned, falls into despair, and becomes worse as if no greater good remained for him than to be evil, when he has ceased to have faith in the results of his own repentance.
Here St. Augustine says that our guilt, which "like a hedge of thorns" barred our way to heaven, is forgiven by Christ's death for us. And he says that therefore he gave the keys to his Church, so that what it binds on earth will be bound in heaven, and what it looses on earth will be loosed on heaven, and he goes on to unequivocally link the forgiveness of sins with this exercise of the keys!

Now, by way of a digression, it should be pointed out that no Protestant in his right mind would believe such things. And it's true that they have no problem in saying that St. Augustine was wrong when he said this. But it also ought to be said, and unambiguously, that it is a grotesque misrepresentation of Augustine's faith as a Catholic to rip quotes out of his writings which (superficially and out of their full context) seem to suggest that he held to any Protestant doctrine on which Protestants are in error. Period. Agree with the man according as you honestly and accurately represent what he taught, but please stop with the textual abuse. Thank you :-)

But back to our topic.

Apart from the fact that what St. Augustine says in chapters 17-18 clearly requires that the keys remain with the Church, and did not pass from this earth with St. Peter and the other Apostles, and apart from the fact that this strongly implies the fact and necessity of apostolic succession, something important is required by the fact that God has given the keys to the Church. If, as Christ said, what the Church binds or looses on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven, and if, as he said, sins will be forgiven or retained on the word of the Church, then one of two things must be true. Either Christ has bound himself to confirm in heaven the errors of sinful men, or Christ has bound himself to ensure, somehow, some way, in some circumstances or other, that the Church will act infallibly. The first is impossible. Therefore the second must be true.

And the Catholic Church claims no more for itself than that: that God has given a certain specific charism of infallibility to the Church. As I have pointed out in another post, this may also be seen as a natural conclusion of the fact that, with Christ her Head, and as his Body, the Church and Christ "make up the whole Christ". The Church's union with Christ is mystical but real, not merely symbolic. If the Church with Him are one Christ, then to say that the Church can err with regard to faith and morals is tantamount to saying that Christ himself may err, and that is blasphemy.

The Church does not possess infallibility on its own. It is a gift from God, and flows from her union with Christ.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Be careful what you ask for

A couple of weeks ago I defended St. Thomas against the claim, asserted here, that he believed in sola scriptura. Of course, it may be justly claimed that such a defense was like shooting fish in a barrel.

What I'd like to do in this post is examine St. Thomas's Exposition of the Angelic Salutation - which might be better described as his commentary on the Hail Mary.

First, he argues from Scripture that no one had ever before in history been greeted with reverence by an angel, and that the reason for this was that the Blessed Virgin was greater than he (the angel):
It was written in praise of Abraham that he received angels hospitably and that he showed them reverence. But it was never heard that an angel showed reverence to a man until he saluted the blessed virgin, saying reverently, Hail.

The reason why in antiquity the angel did not reverence man but man the angel is that the angel was greater than man, and this in three respects. First, with respect to dignity, since the angel is of a spiritual nature. Psalm 103,4: "who makes: the angels spirits". But man is of a corruptible nature, hence Abraham said (Genesis 18:27): "I will speak to my Lord, whereas I am dust and ashes."

It was not then fitting that a spiritual and incorruptible creature should show reverence to a corruptible creature, namely, man. Second, with respect to familiarity with God. For the angel is a familiar of God, as assisting him. Daniel 7:10: "thousands of thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before him". But man is like an outsider, put at a distance from God through sin. Psalm 54:8: "Lo, I have gone far off, flying away." Thus it was fitting that man should reverence the angel as one close to and familiar with the king. Third, he was
preeminent because of the fullness of the splendor of divine grace: for angels partake most fully of the divine light. Job 25:3: "Is there any numbering of his soldiers, and upon whom shall not his light arise?" Therefore he always appears with light. But men, although they partake something of the light of grace, it is but little, and with obscurity. Therefore it was not fitting that the angel should show reverence to man until someone should be found in human nature who exceeded the angels in those three respects. And this was the Blessed Virgin. In order to signify that she exceeded him in these three things, the angel wished to show her reverence; hence he said, "Hail." So the Blessed Virgin exceeded the angels in these three. First, in fullness of grace, which the Blessed Virgin has more than any angel. It was to indicate this that the angel showed her reverence, saying, "full of grace," as if to say: I will show you reverence because you excel me in the fullness of grace.
Next, Aquinas discusses the fact that she was sinless:
He says that the Blessed Virgin is full of grace with respect to three things. First, with respect to soul, which has every fullness of grace. For the grace of God is given for two reasons, namely, in order to act well, and to avoid evil. And with respect to these two the Blessed Virgin had most perfect grace. For more than any other holy person save Christ alone she avoided all sin. ... Hence the Canticle of Canticles 4:7: "Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee." Augustine in "On Nature and Grace" writes: "The holy virgin Mary excepted, if all the holy men and women were here before us and were asked if they were without sin, they would cry out with one voice: 'If we should say we have no sin, we would delude ourselves and the truth is not in us.'" ...

Second, she was full of grace with respect to the overflow of soul to flesh or body. For it is great thing for the saints to have enough grace to sanctify their soul; but the soul of the Blessed Virgin was so full that from it grace flowed into her body, in order that with it she might conceive the son of God. Thus Hugh of St. Victor says: "Because the love of the Holy Spirit burned so ardently in her heart, she was able to do wonders in the flesh, so that from it might be born God and man." ...

Third, with respect to [grace's] distribution to all men. For it is a great thing in any saint that he has so much grace that it suffices for the salvation of many, but when enough is had for the salvation of all the men in the world, this is the greatest, and so it is with Christ and with the Blessed Virgin.

For in any peril you can obtain salvation from this glorious Virgin. Hence the Canticle of Canticles 4:4: "a thousand bucklers" (that is, protection against dangers) "hang upon it." Again, in every work of virtue you will find her ready to help. Therefore, she herself says in Ecclesiasticus 24:25: "In me is all the grace of the way, in me is all hope of life, and of virtue". She is full of grace, therefore, and exceeds the angels in fullness of grace, and because of this she is fittingly called Mary which means illumined in herself, hence Isaiah 58:11: "and will fill the soul with brightness; and she will be a light for others", meaning the whole world; and therefore she is likened to the sun and moon.
So this is the first way that she is full of grace.

The second way was in her familiarity with God.
Second, she excels the angels in divine familiarity. As an indication of this, the angel said: "the Lord is with thee," as if he said: therefore I show reverence to you because you are more familiar with God than I, for the Lord is with thee; Lord, he says, both Father and the same Son, something no angel nor creature has. Luke 1:35: "And therefore the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. Isaiah 12:6: Rejoice and praise, O thou habitation of Sion: for great is he that is in the midst of thee, the Holy One of Israel."

The Lord is with the Blessed Virgin differently than he is with the angel; he is with her as her son, but with the angel as Lord: the Lord the Holy Spirit, as in the temple, hence she is called the temple of the Lord, the sacred place of the Holy Spirit, "who conceived of the Holy Spirit" (Luke 1:35 ): "the spirit of the Most High shall come upon you." So it is that the Blessed Virgin is more familiar with God than the angel, because with her is the Lord Father, the Lord Son and the Lord Holy Spirit, that is, the whole trinity is with her. Thus it is sung of her: noble resting place of the whole Trinity. To have said of her, "the Lord is with thee," is the most noble thing that could be said of her. Rightly then does the angel revere the Blessed Virgin, because she is the mother of the Lord, and therefore mistress herself. The name Mary thus becomes her and in the Syrian tongue it means mistress.
Next he says that she exceeds the angels in purity:
Third, she exceeds the angels in her purity, for the Blessed Virgin was not only pure in herself, but she also obtained purity for others. For she was most pure with respect to guilt, because neither mortal nor venial sin could be imputed to this virgin, and she was equally pure with respect to punishment.

Three curses come to men because of sin: the first to woman, who will conceive with stain, bear with heaviness and give birth in sorrow. But the Blessed Virgin was immune to this, because she conceived without sin, bore in comfort and joyfully gave birth to the Savior. Isaiah 35:2: "It shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise." The second curse is the man's, who must earn his bread with the sweat of his brow. The Blessed Virgin was immune to this, because as the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 7:32: "He who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord." The third is common to men and women, namely that into dust they shall return. The Blessed Virgin was free of this, because she was assumed in the body into heaven. For we believe that after death she was raised up and borne to heaven. Psalm 131:8: Arise, O "Lord, into thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy majesty."
So those are the ways in which she is full of grace, as the angel said.

Then he addresses the fact that she was also called "blessed among women":
Therefore she was immune to every curse, and thereby blessed amongst women, for she alone put away the curse and carried the blessing, and the door of paradise opened; therefore the name Mary becomes her, which is interpreted Star of the Sea, because just as sailors are directed to port by the star of the sea, so Christians are directed by Mary to glory.
Lastly he addresses the fact that the fruit of her womb is blessed.
The sinner sometimes seeks in a thing what cannot be attained there, but the just man attains it. Proverbs 13:22: "the substance of the sinner is kept for the just." Thus Eve sought in the fruit and did not find there all the things that she desired, but the Blessed Virgin finds in her fruit everything that Eve desired. For Eve desired three things from the fruit. The first what the devil falsely promised her, that they would be as gods, knowing good and evil. You will be, that liar said, like gods, as is read in Genesis 3:5. And he lies because he is a liar, and the father of lies. Eve was not made like God when she ate the fruit, but unlike, because by sinning she receded from God her salvation and was expelled from paradise.

But this is what the Blessed Virgin and all Christians find in the fruit of her womb, because by Christ they are united with and made like unto God. 1 John 3:2: "when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him just as he is." The second thing that Eve desired in the fruit was pleasure, because it is good to eat; but she did not find it and immediately knew that she was naked, and felt sorrow. But in the fruit of the Virgin we find sweetness and salvation. John 6:55: "he who eats my flesh has life eternal". Third, the fruit of Eve was beautiful in appearance, but more beautiful is the fruit of the Virgin on whom the angels desire to gaze. Psalm 44:3: "Thou art beautiful above the sons of men"; this is because he is the splendor of his Father's glory.

Eve could not find in her fruit what no sinner can find in his sin. Therefore, what we desire, we should seek in the fruit of the Virgin. Here is a fruit blessed by God, because he has so filled him with every grace that it comes to us by showing him reverence. Ephesians 1:3: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing on high in Christ." By the angels, Apocalypse 7:12: "Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength to our God." The Apostle, Philippians 2:11: "and every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father." Psalm 117:26: "Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord."

So therefore is the Virgin blessed, but far more blessed is the fruit of her womb.
As we can see, nowhere in this commentary does the Angelic Doctor appeal to Sacred Tradition. Rather, he confirms and validates Sacred Tradition from the Scriptures. One wonders whether our Protestant blogger would approve of such exegesis! Well, no. Actually one doesn't wonder that. Of course she would not. But in point of fact St. Thomas did not invent his method of interpretation himself. The Church had always done similarly. The Fathers did so as well. If the Protestant wishes to say that his hermeneutic is superior, one must ask: on what grounds? Surely the Church throughout history has more authority and credibility than such johnny-come-latelies as the Reformers!

But I digress.

Our purpose here is to demonstrate an exegesis of a scriptural prayer (the Hail Mary), done by St. Thomas from Scripture. He did not believe in sola scriptura, and I think we may safely say that any Protestant who would try to claim him as one of "their own" on that basis will be disappointed. He was a Catholic.