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.

Unity Among Catholics

Protestants over at "Beggars All" have set the task for themselves of "proving" that Catholics are not united. Unfortunately their efforts simply don't pan out, because they do not understand Catholic doctrines.

In the first place, the Church's unity is one of its notes, so that it is simply not possible for any other condition to exist: "One, holy, catholic and apostolic Church."

In the second place, this unity cannot refer merely to an "invisible church," as Protestants like to think. The Lord Jesus Christ prayed that we would be one for a purpose: "that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (Jn. 17:21). Now it is impossible for an invisible unity to persuade anyone of anything, precisely because it is unseen. Hence this unity of which the Lord speaks is clearly a visible unity.

In the third place, and for the same reason, this unity simply cannot have to do with interior, subjective beliefs: because once again, this is not a visible thing, and our unity must be something that may be seen. Hence it must be visible and objective.

In the fourth place, the Church does not require Catholics to explicitly and comprehensively believe all the same things. This would be an impossibility anyway: we are not all gifted theologians like St. Augustine or St. Thomas or Pope Benedict. Further, to require this would effectively necessitate the exodus of Catholics from life in the real world for the cloister so that they might spend all their time studying theology. Obviously this is ridiculous, for Christ prays, "I do not pray that thou take them out of the world, but that thou keep them from evil" (Jn. 17:15). Furthermore, not everyone is capable of understanding and explicitly believing all that the Church teaches. Children are not. The mentally handicapped are not. But salvation is not only for capable adults. Since it is not possible for Catholics to explicitly believe all the Church teaches, and in fact it would be ridiculous to have such a requirement, the Church says that an implicit faith is required. The practical upshot is that if we, in our ignorance, hold to some error or other while nevertheless fully and sincerely intending to believe all that the Catholic Church proposes for belief, we do in fact have that implicit faith, and we are in fact one with the Church, and the Church is in fact united just as Catholics say that she is.

Now with respect to the fact that we see Catholics disagree (as we do), we must understand this in any of three ways. A Catholic who believes something contrary to what the Church teaches:
  • Is unaware of his error, but would hold to the truth if he knew what it was
  • Is unaware of his error, and would not recant it even if he did know what the Church taught
  • Is aware of his error, and knows that it is contrary to what the Church teaches, and obstinately refuses to repent
The Catholic of the first sort is a true Catholic, formally speaking, even if he holds to some material error.

"Catholics" of the second and third sort are really Catholic in name only, for they have formally abandoned the faith. They have functionally excommunicated themselves. They must repent of their obstinate unwillingness to believe what the Church teaches before it's even worth bothering about the specifics of their errors.

I suppose a fourth class might be those who deliberately hold themselves in ignorance of what the Church teaches, pretending on that basis to be free to believe what they wish. This is really as bad as the second group above: it amounts to lying to God and to themselves.

The upshot, apologetically speaking, is this: yes, Catholics have differences of opinion. But they absolutely do not have differences of belief. Why? Because genuine Catholics always intend sincerely and genuinely to believe exactly what the Church teaches, even if in ignorance or through lack of ability they may possibly err in some particular or other. If there are some who pretend to be Catholic who nevertheless deliberately deny what the Church teaches...well, they aren't genuinely Catholic. In one respect, therefore, we might say that it should not be very difficult to identify genuine Catholics from others. We might simply ask, "Do you sincerely intend to believe all that the Catholic Church proposes for belief?"

We can say more. It is ridiculous for Protestants or others to expect 100% unanimity among Catholics on all topics of dispute. The Church does not require our beliefs to be united on literally everything, but rather only with regard to matters of faith and morals. So I suppose we should say that for Protestants to point at differences of opinion on non-essentials among Catholics as a "proof" of Catholic disunity is nothing more than to knock down a straw man. On the contrary, despite the fact that we have liberty with regard to non-essentials, Catholics retain their essential unity.

To be fair we must concede that in their wisdom the bishops and the Pope have not seen fit to formally excommunicate all those who call themselves Catholic but who deny one or more things taught by the Church. I do not know why. I personally would think that for the sake of avoiding scandal that such people ought to be firmly called upon to repent or depart. The fact that they are in our midst has nothing to do with the objective unity enjoyed by Catholics, however.

Lastly, it ought to be said that the same sorts of things simply cannot be said with regard to Protestants. In the first place, they do not agree amongst themselves with regard to identifying the essentials of the faith. In the second place, they do not agree among themselves with regard to the content of those essentials even when they do agree about the particular topics that are supposed to be "essential." In the third place, it is entirely typical for Protestant denominations to be formed over things that even they would not describe as "essential" themselves: as when the Presbyterians split over alcohol consumption in the 40s or 50s of the last century. Hence we see not just Lutherans and Methodists and Presbyterians and Baptists, but Missouri Synod Lutherans and Wisconsin Synod Lutherans and ELCA Lutherans, and United Methodists (an ironic name) and Free Methodists and Wesleyans, and Orthodox Presbyterians and PCAers and PCUSAers, and American Baptists and Southern Baptists, and so forth.

Any honest Protestant will concede their own lack of unity. Some might even be so bold as to claim it as a "feature" rather than a bug. But it is only an grossly uninformed or deliberately disingenuous one who would seriously try to fling a tu quoque at Catholics over unity!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Maritain - Epistemology

Some good stuff on this subject. I commend this book to you as a valuable antidote for the deranged skepticism and subjectivism that is so prevalent today.
Conclusion IX - The truth of knowledge consists in the conformity of the mind with the thing. It is absurd to doubt the reliability of our organs of knowledge (Introduction to Philosophy, 129).
This reflects an objective epistemology. Our knowledge is true to the extent that it conforms to reality. Any other notion is, it seems to me, ridiculous.

Maritain has some strong words for those who doubt the "the reliability of our organs of knowledge:"
[I]t would obviously be waste of breath to attempt to demonstrate [the reliability reason and the intellect] to them. For every demonstration rests on some previously admitted certainty, and it is their very profession to admit of none. ... When they say that they do not know whether any proposition is true, either they know that this proposition at any rate is true, in which case they contradict themselves, or they do not know whether it is true, in which case they are either saying nothing whatever, or do not know what they say. The sole philosophy open to those who doubt the possibility of truth is absolute silence - even mental. That is to say, as Aristotle points out, such men must make themselves vegetables. No doubt reason often errs, especially in the highest matters, and, as Cicero said long ago, there is no nonsense in the world which has not found some philosopher to maintain it, so difficult is it to attain truth. But it is the error of cowards to mistake a difficulty for an impossibility (ibid., p. 128f.).
I'm not able to go toe-to-toe with such skeptics in an actual philosophical argument, beyond resorting to one of the three ways Maritain suggests (p. 128) for dealing with them: make a reductio ad absurdum. None of them actually lives in a way consistent with what they claim. They do not doubt whether the sun has risen. They do not doubt whether they are clothed. They do not wonder whether the eggs they've cooked are actually poison. Yet if they were really consistent with their claims, they couldn't possibly eat for fear that they might be eating garbage. They couldn't breathe for fear that the air might be toxic. They couldn't love, because they might be misunderstanding the other's expressions of hatred as terms of endearment. It's all ridiculous in my book. Of course common sense isn't an argument per se, but it's unlikely for something to pass the smell test if it's as silly as the skeptics' claims.
Conclusion X - The formal object of the intellect is being. What it apprehends of its very nature is what things are independently of us (ibid., p. 133).
Again: objectively valid knowledge. We're not trapped in subjectivism.
It is that which is, which causes the truth of our minds. Reason is capable of attaining with complete certainty the most sublime truths of the natural order, but with difficulty and only when duly disciplined (ibid., p. 131).
It is the error of the rationalists to suppose that all truth is easily attained. The history of philosophy (and see Maritain's appeal to Cicero mentioned above) ought to disabuse us of this idea.

It seems to me that what Maritain describes in his epistemology, and earlier in his discussion of the reliability of the data we receive from the senses, is consistent with the fact of creation. I can't imagine why a Christian would object to this. God created us in such a way that we are able to live in this world. We are well suited to it, and our bodies are adapted for helping us to live "truly" in creation. This is one more indication of the fact that God loves us: he has not made us or the world in such a way that we cannot live in it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Maritain: Empiricism

One might possibly get the idea from the passages quoted in my last post that Maritain was a rationalist. Not so.
[I]t must be the function of philosophy (the first philosophy or metaphysics) to defend against every possible objection the postulates of all the human sciences. ...

Philosophy appeals to the facts, the data of experience. To obtain the necessary materials it uses as instruments the truths provided by the evidence of the senses and the conclusions proved by the sciences. It depends on both, as a superior who cannot do his own work depends on the servants he employs. ...

But further, this purely material dependence of philosophy, though absolutely necessary in respect of the evidence of the senses, is relative and contingent in respect to the conclusions of the sciences. It is in fact from the evidence of the senses that philosophy derives the fundamental principles which - interpreted by its own light - it employs as premises in its demonstrations and as the means to prove its special truths. ... It is obvious that philosophy is absolutely unable to dispense with data of this kind, and that the data thus employed as premises must be absolutely true. Otherwise the conclusions which philosophy deduces from them would be uncertain. ...

These remarks are important. They show how the datum of experience on which philosophy is primarily based suffices for the requirements of a supreme and universal science. This datum is provided by an instrument - the evidence of the senses - earlier than scientific observation, infinitely more certain than the inductions of the sciences, and placed by nature at the disposal of every man, and consists of truths so simple that they are universally and absolutely valid, so immediate and evident that their certainty exceeds that of the best established scientific conclusions (Introduction to Philosophy, pp. 76-79 passim).
It seems that some Reformed folks object to this sort of philosophy, claiming that we cannot rely upon our senses in the way that Maritain (following Aristotle and St. Thomas) insists. But I really can't understand this objection coming from those quarters. If you can't absolutely trust sense data, then you can't absolutely trust what you extract from the Bible. To reject empiricism, it seems to me, is to completely undermine sola Scriptura. This was always a problem for me as a Protestant and presuppositionalist. I would reject the validity of evidentialist apologetics and assert that empiricism is inherently unreliable, but it bothered me - when I stopped to think about it - that these claims undermine the usefulness of the Bible as a source of truth.

To be sure, Maritain does not say that every conclusion of the sciences is necessarily valid: in fact, he asserts the opposite (and an appeal to the history of science amply justifies this assertion). But in these cases the problem is less with the data provided by the senses than it is with the use to which scientists put that data.

Maritain: Definition of Philosophy (Conclusion 1)

Continuing a series of posts that are really nothing more than notes for myself concerning stuff that I'm reading:

Philosophy is not a "wisdom" of conduct or practical life that consists in acting well. It is a wisdom whose nature consists essentially in knowing.

How? Knowing in the fullest and strictest sense of the term, that is to say, with certainty, and in being able to state why a thing is what it is and cannot be otherwise, knowing by causes. The search for causes is indeed the chief business of philosophers, and the knowledge with which they are concerned is not a merely probable knowledge, such as orators impart by their speeches, but a knowledge which compels the assent of the intellect. ...

Knowing by what medium, by what light? Knowing by reason, by what is called the natural light of the human intellect. ... That is to say, the rule of philosophy, its criterion of truth, is the evidence of its object. ...

Knowing what? ... Philosophy ... is concerned with everything, is a universal science. ...

Conclusion I.-Philosophy is the science which by the natural light of reason studies the first causes or highest principles of all things - is, in other words, the science of things in their first causes, in so far as these belong to the natural order (Introduction to Philosophy, pp. 64-69 passim).
Philosophy is limited in the certainty that it provides only to the extent that it deals with questions that are not strictly within its purview, or which have to do with cases for which only probable answers are possible - e.g., application of ethical standards to particular cases (ibid., p. 70).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Methinks They Protest Too Much

A Thomist has an interesting post up on The Foundational Difference Between Catholics and Protestants, which (he says) has to do with the differing conceptions of "the Church" held by the two camps. It's an interesting post and worth reading (and, by the way, his blog is an excellent resource for more than just this topic).

A couple Protestants have objected to it in the comments. The first one says, apparently because he believes that this has some significant weight for the topic:
However, let us be clear on one point - Protestants didn’t leave the Roman church. They were excommunicated.
Okay, that's fine. But they weren't excommunicated in a vacuum, as though there was no reason for it, were they? I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but if a man denies the doctrines taught by the Church, it seems to me that he has already excommunicated himself. All that might remain is for it to be formally declared. You can't reasonably call yourself a Baptist if you deny the Baptist view of baptism; you can't reasonably call yourself a Presbyterian if you reject the authority of the WCF (or of some cross-section of its contents sufficient to be called a transgression of the "system of doctrine" taught therein). In the same way, by definition you cannot be Catholic if you deny Catholic doctrine. So really, "being clear" on this point doesn't seem to my small brain to have a thing to do with the question of "The Foundational Difference Between Catholics and Protestants."

Perhaps this poster intends the rest of his post to explain things, but I don't see how.
So, in effect, we have some really short-sighted members of the Roman hierarchy in the 16th century to thank for the proliferation of ‘churches’ (of course, we could trace this back further to the Great Schism, various breaks occurring in connection to various of the great ecumenical councils, and beyond - this myth of a monolithic church prior to the Reformation is just that, a myth).
Again: I'm not sure what this has to do with the present subject. Those who reject Catholic doctrine cannot reasonably be called Catholics. The Church did not compel them to err. They did so on their own. The Church remains what she has always been - namely, The Church - regardless of the predilections of those who decide that they know better than the totus Christus (CCC 795) what the truth is.

Then, even more peculiarly, the poster concludes:
[people feeling free to ‘leave their church’] certainly isn’t a theological tenant in the Reformed tradition, as long as the church under consideration remains a church, i.e. a place where the Word of God is properly preached and heard and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution.
But this is precisely A Thomist's point, so it completely escapes me how this is supposed to be a defense against the article's observation (and it really isn't what I would call an "attack piece," but rather seems to me to be presented more as an analysis. A Thomist is not generally - from what I've seen - given to polemics for polemics' sake): for the Catholic, the Church cannot stop being The Church. Protestants hold to no such view, precisely because they have an abstract notion of what "the Church" is.

It's worth pointing out that the poster's description of what conditions must prevail in the Reformed tradition in order to legitimize leaving one's congregation or denomination isn't exactly a commonly held viewpoint today...nor in the history of the Presbyterian denominations, to my knowledge. In the first place, while the WCF does say that the marks of "the true church" are preaching of the Word, church discipline, and proper administration of the sacraments, it doesn't indicate in any way who is competent to judge whether these "marks" are present or not. Also absent is any specification of the actions that must be taken in case they are judged by this unidentified authority to be missing from some ecclesiastical structure.

Secondly, recent history at least seems to suggest that what he says is not the case. The Bible Presbyterians broke away from the Orthodox Presbyterians over the issue of alcohol consumption. The OPC refused to unite with the PCA back in the 1980s, and I still don't know why. It wasn't because they didn't share a confessional bond (they did); it wasn't because they thought the PCA wasn't a "true church" (they didn't think this, either). I'm sure they didn't mean to be merely arbitrary, but I sure don't understand what objective grounds they thought they had: if disunity is a scandal, why would they refuse proffered unity with a group they acknowledge as brothers and sisters in Christ sharing even the same confessional standards? Hence it seems that A Thomist's critic is not fairly representing his own tradition in this respect.

In the third place, and having been a Presbyterian for over 20 years, I can safely say that I don't recall ever having seen such a standard ("a man shouldn't leave a church unless the marks of the church are absent") being enforced by a Session or Presbytery in the PCA. Indeed, quite the contrary: I know of at least one case in which a congregation was practically invited to leave a presbytery, and I never heard of anyone being subjected to discipline for having left a congregation (or even the denomination) on the grounds that they had no cause for it.

Lastly, and to wrap this up, this same poster makes a Platonic appeal to try and bolster his position:
Surely you or I cannot create a universal or an abstract entity, but the same one who created “roundness” could certainly create a Church which exists independently of any particular manifestation.
Nothing more needs to be said here than that Aristotle and St. Thomas have adequately refuted this. The forms have no actual existence apart from the concrete.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Reviews Gone Bad?

I'm reading That Hideous Strength - so far a very engaging book. A couple of the reviews on the back cover, though, don't seem to be in touch with reality. Time magazine, it says, called the book a "well-written, fast-paced satirical fantasy" (emphasis added).


Maybe I'm just dumb, but I don't see how this is "satirical." I'm much more inclined to believe that our reviewer was one of those moderns who might have been the target of the book. The same goes for the New York Times reviewer who called it "biting wit" and "superlatively nonsensical." I don't have any idea what they are talking about. Surely there are a few good jokes in the book - Lewis had a good sense of humor as far as I'm concerned. But to call it "nonsensical" is just ... nonsensical. To his credit, though, the NYT reviewer did at least recognize that the book holds "challenging implications." I just wonder if we'd agree as to what those implications are.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Boettner - More Examples of Error

When I say "error," I don't just mean issues where we disagree. I mean he just flat-out got things wrong. It exposes the shabbiness of his "research," and for that matter it exposes a deplorable concern for accuracy on the part of his publisher, Presbyterian & Reformed. I'm pretty disappointed in P&R. It was always my impression that they were a very reputable company. Unfortunately the fact that they have kept this thoroughly worthless book in print (with a paperback edition appearing as recently as 2000) shows that I was wrong: Like Boettner they really aren't very concerned with truth at all.

On pp. 204-205 of his diatribe, Boettner writes of the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
For the devout, sincere Roman Catholic salvation depends upon his ability to call to mind while in the confessional all of his sins and to confess them. It is impressed upon him that only that which is confessed can be forgiven. ... What spiritual agony that means for many a soul who fears that he may have omitted some things that should have been told, and that he will have to make amends for them in purgatory!
The error here is that a Catholic is NOT responsible to confess that which he doesn't remember. One must make a sincere examination of his conscience, in good faith, and confess those mortal sins that he remembers. But the priest's absolution covers all sins - not just those confessed - when the penitent is in fact truly repentant, and has in fact made that good faith effort to confess all of his mortal sins. Now, if we afterwards recall some sin that we had not previously confessed explicitly, then we ought to confess it: not because it is not already forgiven, but rather because if we do not, we demonstrate that we do not really care about that sin after all. On p. 200 this same error is repeated: "All mortal sins must be confessed to the priest in detail or they cannot be forgiven." This is true only if we recall them. But that is not what Boettner says - anywhere.

Also on p. 200 there is this simply wretched nonsense:
The theory is that the priest must have all the facts in order to know how to deal with the case and what penance to assign. The real reason, of course, is to place the penitent more fully in the hands of the priest.
Boettner has this outrageous delusion that makes his book an exercise in hideous bigotry rather than a rational analysis. The delusion is that he knows better than the Church what the "real reason" for her laws are. With a dismissive flick of his pompous wrist, he tosses aside the facts in order to inject a venomous lie. It appears that this angry little man and his publisher believe that the purpose of this holy Sacrament is to place power in the hands of the priest (and by extension of the Church):
Through the confessional Rome has been able to exercise an effective control not only over the family, but over political officials of every grade, teachers, doctors, lawyers, employers and employees, and indeed over all who submit to that discipline (p. 202).
Lies. Utter garbage. And it's not like this is a big secret. But Boettner is not concerned with the truth, or he would accept the explanations that the Church provides for what it teaches. These things are not done in a corner, and the truth is not hard to find. And simple courtesy - the courtesy of a gentleman - would demand that he charitably do so.

On page 191, Boettner says this about the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
The Word of God teaches that the sinner must truly repent from the heart for his sin. Otherwise there can be no forgiveness. But the Church of Rome to a considerable degree substitutes penance for Gospel repentance. Penance consists of outward acts, such as repeating certain prayers many times, e.g., the Hail Mary or the rosary, self-inflicted punishments, fastings, pilgrimages, etc. Penance represents a false hope, for it relates only to outward acts. True repentance involves a genuine sorrow for sin, it is directed toward God, and the person voluntarily shows by his outward acts and conduct that he has forsaken his sin.
Here's the problem: This totally misrepresents what the Catholic Church teaches.
Among the penitent's acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is "sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again" (CCC 1451; emphasis added).
There is no forgiveness without repentance. Period. This is a condition of receiving the sacrament rightly. The priest assumes that it is present, and he only intends to pronounce the absolution for those who truly are penitent. This is why the Church emphasizes that God alone forgives sins (CCC 1441). In fact, half the purpose of penance is to demonstrate that we are truly sorry for our sins - just like Zaccheus:
"Behold, Lord, I give one-half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold." Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, since he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:8-10).
What was Zaccheus doing if not a work of penance? What was he doing if not demonstrating his genuine repentance by his actions? And this is precisely the attitude that the Catholic Church rightly says that we must bring to the confessional. In short, then, Boettner is just lying when he says that the Church downplays genuine repentance. We may be charitable and presume that he was simply ignorant when he first wrote this, but he lived for 28 years after the book was published. It went through five editions and 27 printings in his lifetime. Both he and P&R had ample opportunity to learn the truth, thanks to Catholic objections to the lies in the book. But garbage like this - pretending that the Church denies the importance of genuine repentance - is still there.