Sunday, July 29, 2007

Brief Discussion on Participation

To participate is as it were to take a part, and therefore when something receives in a particular way what pertains to another, it is generally said to participate in it, as man is said to participate in animal, because he does not have the notion of animal according to its full extension; for the same reason, Socrates participates in man. So too the subject participates in its accident, and matter in form, because the substantial or accidental form, which of its own notion is common, is determined to this or that subject, and similarly the effect is said to participate in its cause, especially when it is not equal to the power of its cause, for example when we say that air participates in the light of the sun because it does not receive it with the brightness the sun has (St. Thomas, Exposition of Boethius's On the Hebdomads, 2 - p.147f).
Participate: "to take or have a part or share in; partake in; share" (source)

When the Catechism, with St. Athanasius, says "By the participation of the Spirit, we become communicants in the divine nature. ... For this reason, those in whom the Spirit dwells are divinized" (1988), it does not mean that we become God. No. we are "grafted onto the vine which is himself" (ibid.) so that we become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).

I suspect that additional posts on this topic will follow as or when my understanding of it grows.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Discussion of Conscience

Conscience, St. Thomas says, is knowledge - particularly as knowledge is applied to the question of what to do or to the judgment of what has been done:
According to the other way in which knowledge is applied to an act such that it is known whether it is right, there is a twofold path. One according as through the habit of science we are directed that we should or should not do something; another insofar as the act once done is examined by the habit of science as to whether it was right or not. ... When knowledge is applied to an act in directing it, conscience is said to goad or persuade or bind; when knowledge is applied to an act in the manner of an examination of what has already been done, conscience is said to accuse or worry when what was done is found to be out of harmony with the knowledge by which it is examined, or to defend or excuse when what has been done is found to have taken place in conformity with the science (Disputed Question on Truth 17: On Conscience, Article 1, Response: p. 222)
The fact that conscience is knowledge, and that our knowledge is limited and prone to error, means that conscience can err (Article 2). As a consequence, it cannot be said that conscience is an infallible guide to conduct. Aquinas doesn't go on to discuss the implications of this for apologetics (!) but it may be seen that those who exalt their own consciences over against the infallible teaching of the Church on questions of faith and morals are in error. Nevertheless, even an erroneous conscience binds:
"Moreover, according to Damascene, conscience is the 'law of our intellect.' But to act against the law is a sin. Therefore in whatever way a conscience be erroneous, it binds" (Article 4, sed contra: ibid., p. 233).
But it seems that this means a man does not sin if he follows his erroneous conscience. Can a man have the erroneous belief that it is right to commit adultery with this woman, and in so doing avoid sinning? No, says St. Thomas:
But those who say [this sort of thing] seem not to understand what it is for conscience to bind. That conscience binds means that when when does not follow it he incurs sin, not that one following it does the right thing. ... Therefore conscience is not said to oblige us to do something because to follow it is good but because not to follow entails sin. ... A correct and erroneous conscience binds differently, however: a correct one binds absolutely and as such, whereas an erroneous one does so accidentally and in a certain respect. ...

For example, he who loves wine for the sake of its sweetness, loves sweetness per se and wine accidentally. He who has an erroneous conscience, believing it to be correct -- otherwise he would not err -- adheres to the erroneous conscience on account of the rectitude he thinks it to have; he adheres then per se speaking to a correct conscience and to the erroneous one as it were accidentally, insofar as the conscience he believes to be correct is erroneous (ibid., p. 233f.; emphasis added).
If, through an erroneous conscience one believes that he must do that which is contrary to the Law of God, he is obliged to follow his conscience, but he sins mortally in doing so, "since it came about through ignorance of that which he ought to know" (ibid., p. 235).

It would seem on this account that sometimes men cannot avoid sin: if their conscience is wrong, they may sin by obeying it, or they may sin by not following it. To this Aquinas says, "it is not absurd to say that, something being supposed, a man cannot avoid sin. For example, presupposing the intention of vainglory, he who is held to give alms cannot avoid sin, for if he gives with this intention, he sins, and if he does not give, he is a transgressor" (A4 ad 8, p. 236). So, presuming a culpable ignorance of the law, a man may not be able to avoid sin.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The value (and limits) of philosophy

In my last post I commented upon a portion of St. Thomas' Exposition of Boethius' On the Trinity. The topic of the quotation had to do with the usefulness (within certain bounds) of reason in seeking knowledge about God.

Okay, so we can use reason, as Aquinas says. What about philosophy? Is that permissible? What about (for a large, elephant-in-the-room example) Aristotle?
Sacred doctrine is based on the light of faith just as philosophy is based on the light of natural reason. Hence it is impossible that what pertains to philosophy should be contrary to what is of faith, though they fall short of it. For they contain certain similitudes and preambles to faith, much as nature is a preamble to grace. If something contrary to the faith should be found in philosophy, this is not philosophy, but rather an abuse of philosophy because of defective reasoning. Therefore it is possible to refute such an error making use of philosophical principles either by showing it is in every way impossible or by showing that it is not necessary (Q2 A3 Response; p. 136; emphasis added).
So we see that of course Thomas says that it is licit to resort to philosophy in service of theology. But, as with reason generally, this usefulness is necessarily limited as he describes in the passage above. In this regard he goes on to say:
But one can err in two ways in using philosophy in sacred doctrine. One way is to use things contrary to faith, which is not philosophy, but its corruption or abuse...Another way is this, that the things of faith are reduced to the measure of philosophy, such that someone wishes to believe only what can be established in philosophy. It is rather the reverse that should be done, philosophy reduced to the measure of the faith, following the Apostle in 2 Corinthians 10:5: 'Bringing your mind into captivity to the obedience of Christ' (ibid.).
But what uses does philosophy have for us then? He says that there are three uses.
  • To demonstrate the "preambles of faith", such as that God exists;
  • To explain the truths of faith by way of analogy from philosophy;
  • To refute false philosophical arguments against the faith.
(List: ibid.)

The similarities to what Aquinas previously said about reason are obvious. Reason and philosophy are perfectly legitimate expressions of the God's image in man, so long as they are restrained within the bounds of the truths of Faith. They are insufficient by themselves, because man is not able to attain to the infinite by himself: he is, after all, only human. The only way that we can attain to our last end, which is God, is by God graciously revealing the truths of Faith to us, and (since we have fallen into sin) by his even more gracious work in saving us through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Private Interpretation is Baptized Humanism

I was reading St. Thomas' Exposition of Boethius' On the Trinity this morning (sorry; I cannot find this online, but the part that is relevant to this post may be found in this book). In Q2 A1 (pages 126-129 in that book, but especially 128), he discusses errors related to the question whether it is licit to attempt to reach knowledge about God by way of reason. He says that it is, but with a number of qualifications and distinctions. He also warns against certain errors, including:
Second, the error that in matters of faith reason precedes faith not faith reason, such that one wants to believe only what reason can discover, when it should be the reverse. Hence Hilary: 'Begin by believing.' ... Third, pushing oneself beyond the way in which one is capable of scrutiny into divine things; as Romans 12:3 says: 'Let no one rate himself more than he ought, but let him rate himself according to moderation, and according as God has apportioned to each one the measure of faith.'
While considering this passage, it occurred to me first of all that what he is describing is really humanism: man as the measure of all things. If man cannot understand it, then it cannot be true. Not only this: if something positively transcends the ability of man even to grasp, it will be rejected out of hand. But as I considered further, I realized that this same criticism applies to the Protestant notion of private interpretation.

Protestants of course believe in sola scriptura, so that they deny both that there is an infallible interpreter of divine revelation, and also that such an interpreter is necessary. Instead, they adhere to the two ideas of private interpretation and the ultimate primacy of the individual conscience. Because humans make mistakes, and because they say that this proneness to error inheres even in the Church and in Sacred Councils, they refuse on principle to say that a man must submit ultimately to any human institution (which, in their view, includes the Catholic Church or any denomination of their own): to do so would almost certainly mean obliging him to submit to error, since no human institution is infallible. In consequence, the Protestant must and does assert that nothing may bind the individual conscience: if you disagree with some tenet of your denomination, and if you are convinced that your position is what the Bible teaches, then you are free (and even morally obliged) to refuse to submit to what they say. Hence this is called private interpretation (because a man may (and even must) stand upon his own personal interpretation of the Bible over against what any institution might say), and it may also be described as the ultimate primacy of conscience.

(In passing we will concede that some Protestants at least will admit that one's conscience may err; but even these do not recognize the devastating consequences of such an admission for their position: not only may others err, but I might do so too! So really what this leaves me is no certainty whatsoever.)

So...if a man may or must stand upon his own interpretation of the Bible...then what he believes is dependent upon his ability to understand it. In other words: he does not believe in order that he may understand, but he seeks to understand the Bible in order that he may believe what it teaches. This is precisely the error against which Aquinas warns in the passage I quoted above. It is humanism. Let us imagine a man whose exegetical capabilities are limited. Because of these deficiencies (and I do not mean that in a pejorative or moral sense, but only in the sense that it is a weakness), it is inevitable that he will fail to understand parts of the Bible correctly, because parts are difficult:
Just as our most dear brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given him, has written to you, as indeed he did in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things. In these epistles there are certain things difficult to understand, which the unlearned and the unstable distort, just as they do the rest of the Scriptures also, to their own destruction (2Pet. 3:15-16)
So, when he makes a mistake, and yet he is convinced that he is right, what happens? To whom will he listen? If his pastor attempts to correct him, will he listen? Does he care about his denomination's confessional standards (if they have any)? No. He has made himself the measure of the truth. He has acted as a humanist.

But this is no less true for the brilliant scholar as well as for the average untrained layman: he too may make mistakes. But if he insists that he will only believe what he understands the Bible to teach, he has committed the same error: he has become a humanist. He has subjected divine revelation to the limitations of his own capacity to understand.

Against this we must stand. The truth is not contingent upon my comprehension. If I say X, and the Church says Y, I am wrong. If I am 100% convinced by my own research that the Bible says ABC about doctrine D, but the Church says that the truth about D is really EFG, I am the one who is wrong. I am not the measure of all things. No man is.

But is not the Church a human institution?


The Catholic Church is not a human institution. This is a fundamental point. It is the Body of Christ.
Christ and his Church thus together make up the 'whole Christ' (Christus totus). The Church is one with Christ (CCC 795; italics in original).

The comparison of the Church with the body casts light on the intimate bond between Christ and his Church. Not only is she gathered around him; she is united in him, in his body (CCC 789; italics in original).
But if the Church with Christ is Christus totus, then to say that the Church may err is the same as saying that Christ himself may err. And that is blasphemy. Since, then, Christ cannot err, and because the Church is united to him as his Body, it is no mere "human institution" even though its members are humans. It is Christ's Body, and this union ensures that she cannot err in matters of faith and morals.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

St. Gregory of Nyssa and Sola Scriptura

A Protestant would like us to believe that Clement of Alexandria believed in sola Scriptura. To that end, she has provided (in a post titled, "Early Church Fathers on Sola Scriptura") the following quotation:
Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words (On the Holy Trinity)
But this quotation is rather badly torn from its context. Immediately preceding the given quotation, St. Gregory writes:
Now they charge us with innovation, and frame their complaint against us in this way:—They allege that while we confess three Persons we say that there is one goodness, and one power, and one Godhead. And in this assertion they do not go beyond the truth; for we do say so. But the ground of their complaint is that their custom does not admit this, and Scripture does not support it. What then is our reply? We do not think that it is right to make their prevailing custom the law and rule of sound doctrine. For if custom is to avail for proof of soundness, we too, surely, may advance our prevailing custom; and if they reject this, we are surely not bound to follow theirs.
So we see that in the conflict of which he writes (a conflict concerning the doctrine of the Holy Trinity), he found himself at loggerheads with his adversaries: he would not accept their "custom", nor they his. As a consequence, if there was to be any means of resolving the conflict, it could not be done by means of a resort to their "custom" or his own. Well then, St. Gregory writes, since a resort to custom will not be possible in the present case, we should resort to Scripture as the "umpire". Far from having appealed first of all to Scripture (although no Catholic would object to this), it appears that St. Gregory actually would have appealed to "custom" first, if possible.

What is "custom" in the present context? It seems indistinguishable from tradition. That which is customary is that which is traditional. So what he appears to be saying is that he would certainly not accept the traditions of his opponents, and they reject his Tradition. In any event, it seems quite clear that it is absurd to use St. Gregory's appeal to Scripture here as supposed evidence that he believed in the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura.

And there is more:
it is enough for proof of our statement, that the tradition has come down to us from our fathers, handed on, like some inheritance, by succession from the apostles and the saints who came after them. They, on the other hand, who change their doctrines to this novelty, would need the support of arguments in abundance, if they were about to bring over to their views, not men light as dust, and unstable, but men of weight and steadiness: but so long as their statement is advanced without being established, and without being proved, who is so foolish and so brutish as to account the teaching of the evangelists and apostles, and of those who have successively shone like lights in the churches, of less force than this undemonstrated nonsense? (Against Eunomius, IV, 6; emphasis added)
The question is, as I said, very difficult to deal with: yet, if we should be able to find anything that may give support to the uncertainty of our mind, so that it may no longer totter and waver in this monstrous dilemma, it would be well: on the other hand, even if our reasoning be found unequal to the problem, we must keep for ever, firm and unmoved, the tradition which we received by succession from the fathers, and seek from the Lord the reason which is the advocate of our faith: and if this be found by any of those endowed with grace, we must give thanks to Him who bestowed the grace; but if not, we shall none the less, on those points which have been determined, hold our faith unchangeably (On "Not Three Gods"; emphasis added).
So we see that St. Gregory of Nyssa also affirmed Sacred Tradition's authority, and that he was by no means an adherent of sola Scriptura.

Clement of Alexandria and Sola Scriptura

A Protestant would like us to believe that Clement of Alexandria believed in sola Scriptura. To that end, she has provided (in a post titled, "Early Church Fathers on Sola Scriptura") the following quotation:
But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves (Stromata, VII, 16).
But at the very outset of the book, Clement writes:
"Thou, therefore, be strong," says Paul, "in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." And again: "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (Stromata, I, 1).
What does he mean by these two quotations?
If, then, both proclaim the Word - the one by writing, the other by speech - are not both then to be approved, making, as they do, faith active by love? (ibid.)
Here, then, Clement shows that both the oral transmission of the truth, and the written transmission of it, are of equal value. Hence Sacred Tradition is by no means to be rejected in favor of Sacred Scripture, even though in some cases Scripture may have greater utility: they both contain the truth.

And more:
Now this work of mine in writing is not artfully constructed for display; but my memoranda are stored up against old age, as a remedy against forgetfulness, truly an image and outline of those vigorous and animated discourses which I was privileged to hear, and of blessed and truly remarkable men.

Of these the one, in Greece, an Ionic; the other in Magna Græcia: the first of these from Cœle-Syria, the second from Egypt, and others in the East. The one was born in the land of Assyria, and the other a Hebrew in Palestine.

When I came upon the last (he was the first in power), having tracked him out concealed in Egypt, I found rest. He, the true, the Sicilian bee, gathering the spoil of the flowers of the prophetic and apostolic meadow, engendered in the souls of his hearers a deathless element of knowledge.

Well, they preserving the tradition of the blessed doctrine derived directly from the holy apostles, Peter, James, John, and Paul, the sons receiving it from the father (but few were like the fathers), came by God’s will to us also to deposit those ancestral and apostolic seeds (ibid.; emphasis added).
What is he saying here? He is saying that he is writing down traditions that he heard from others - others who preserved the tradition of the blessed doctrine derived directly from the holy apostles. Far from denigrating Sacred Tradition, he writes it down to preserve it (not that this is necessary, strictly speaking: for as he noted earlier, If, then, both proclaim the Word - the one by writing, the other by speech - are not both then to be approved, making, as they do, faith active by love?).

And so we see that Clement too accepts the validity of Sacred Tradition.

St. Irenaeus and Sola Scriptura

A Protestant would like us to believe that St. Irenaeus believed in sola Scriptura. To that end, she has provided (in a post titled, "Early Church Fathers on Sola Scriptura") the following quotation:
We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith (Against Heresies, III, 1, 1).
In the first place, this quotation must be understood within the broader context of the book in which it is found. St. Irenaeus wrote Against Heresies as a refutation of the (especially Gnostic) heresies that were rampant in his day:
You have indeed enjoined upon me, my very dear friend, that I should bring to light the Valentinian doctrines, concealed, as their votaries imagine; that I should exhibit their diversity, and compose a treatise in refutation of them (AH, III, Preface).
He also says there that part of his purpose was to refute them from the Bible:
But in this, the third book I shall adduce proofs from the Scriptures, so that I may come behind in nothing of what you have enjoined; yea, that over and above what you reckoned upon, you may receive from me the means of combating and vanquishing those who, in whatever manner, are propagating falsehood (ibid.)
We should not, therefore, be surprised to find a statement such as our Protestant blogger has presented to us. But does Irenaeus say anything about Sacred Tradition? Yes, he does. In Chapter II of Book III, after saying in paragraph 1 that the heretics reject the authority of the Bible, St. Irenaeus goes on to say:
But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. For [they maintain] that the apostles intermingled the things of the law with the words of the Saviour; and that not the apostles alone, but even the Lord Himself, spoke as at one time from the Demiurge, at another from the intermediate place, and yet again from the Pleroma, but that they themselves, indubitably, unsulliedly, and purely, have knowledge of the hidden mystery: this is, indeed, to blaspheme their Creator after a most impudent manner! It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition (AH, III, 2, 2; emphasis added).
And so St. Irenaeus concludes:
Such are the adversaries with whom we have to deal, my very dear friend, endeavouring like slippery serpents to escape at all points. Where-fore they must be opposed at all points, if per-chance, by cutting off their retreat, we may succeed in turning them back to the truth. For, though it is not an easy thing for a soul under the influence of error to repent, yet, on the other hand, it is not altogether impossible to escape from error when the truth is brought alongside it (AH, III, 2, 3).
So we see how St. Irenaeus considers the result: the heretics he seeks to refute accept neither the authority of Scripture nor of Sacred Tradition.

What is more: in chapter III, St. Irenaeus appeals to the fact that apostolic succession was preserved in the Church of Christ:
It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to "the perfect" apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men; which men, if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon [to the Church], but if they should fall away, the direst calamity (AH, III, 3, 1).
It should be sufficiently clear that apostolic succession is, for the doctrine of sola Scriptura, completely irrelevant. On the other hand, for the sake of the transmission of Sacred Tradition, it is extremely important. In the passage above, we see St. Irenaeus appeal to the certainty of Sacred Tradition on the grounds of the certainty of apostolic succession. Later in the same chapter of book III, he recounts the succession of the Bishop of Rome "on account of its pre-eminent authority" (AH, III, 2).

Hence we see that, far from endorsing the notion of sola Scriptura, St. Irenaeus was actually a faithful Catholic, accepting the truth and validity of both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as it was transmitted by means of apostolic succession.

(By way of digression, it might also be worth pointing out that St. Irenaeus lived in the mid-2nd century - and already we see Christians like him putting such extraordinary significance upon apostolic succession).

I submit that perhaps our Protestant blogger ought to pay closer attention to the context of the quotations that she offers. This now is the second quotation we have examined, and again we have found it untenable to suppose that the author in question endorsed sola Scriptura.

St. Thomas and Sola Scriptura

A Protestant would like us to believe that St. Thomas believed in sola Scriptura. To that end, she has provided (in a post titled, "Early Church Fathers on Sola Scriptura") the following quotation:
For our faith rests on the revelation made to the Prophets and Apostles who wrote the canonical books.
In the first place, St. Thomas was not an "Early Church Father." He was a Scholastic who lived centuries after the Early Church Fathers. Perhaps she has confused the term "Early Church Father" with "Doctor of the Church," but her list contains men who were not Doctors, either (such as Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus). Hence it is unclear why St. Thomas would appear in a list with such a title.

In the second place, the citation for the quotation above is incomplete. She has given it thus: "Summa Theologiae, Question 1, art. 8." The full citation is I, Q1, A8, ad 2 (there are three books in ST; the second book is broken into two parts - I-II and II-II, which may be read as "the first part of book II" and "the second part of book II" - and there is more than one Question 1 in the work as a result - so that the reference as given is not accurate).

In the third place, the quotation above presents only part of a sentence. The full sentence reads:
For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets, who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors.
With the full sentence given it becomes clear that St. Thomas is saying that the Doctors of the Church do not have the same authority as the divine revelation given to the apostles and prophets. Indeed, just before this he adds:
Hence sacred doctrine makes use also of the authority of philosophers in those questions in which they were able to know the truth by natural reason, as Paul quotes a saying of Aratus: "As some also of your own poets said: For we are also His offspring" (Acts 17:28). Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable.
In the fourth place (and by way of digression), this quotation in its context makes clear that the Doctors of the Church are authorities, but not incontrovertibly so. Hence even if it were the case that St. Thomas, St. Augustine, and the rest of those whom she quotes really did believe in sola Scriptura, it would make no difference whatsoever for the content of sacred doctrine, which is safeguarded not by the Doctors of the Church, but by the Magisterium.

In the sixth place, St. Thomas says that our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets, who are the ones who wrote the canonical books. But what Thomas does not believe, and what he does not say, is that the apostles and prophets wrote down the entire divine revelation entrusted to them. How do we know this? Because St. Thomas tells us what he thinks about this question elsewhere in the Summa Theologica.
The Apostles, led by the inward instinct of the Holy Ghost, handed down to the churches certain instructions which they did not put in writing, but which have been ordained, in accordance with the observance of the Church as practiced by the faithful as time went on. Wherefore the Apostle says (2 Thess. 2:14): 'Stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word'---that is by word of mouth---'or by our epistle'---that is by word put into writing" (ST, III, Q25, A3, ad 4).
Human institutions observed in the sacraments are not essential to the sacrament; but belong to the solemnity which is added to the sacraments in order to arouse devotion and reverence in the recipients. But those things that are essential to the sacrament, are instituted by Christ Himself, Who is God and man. And though they are not all handed down by the Scriptures, yet the Church holds them from the intimate tradition of the apostles, according to the saying of the Apostle (1 Cor. 11:34): "The rest I will set in order when I come" (ST, III, Q64, A2, ad 1).
For the apostles, in conferring the sacraments, observed many things which are not handed down in those Scriptures that are in general use (ST III, Q72, A4, ad 1).
As is stated in the last chapter of John (verse 25), our Lord said and did many things which are not written down by the Evangelists; and among them is the uplifting of His eyes to heaven at the supper; nevertheless the Roman Church had it by tradition from the apostles (ST III Q83 A4 ad 2, emphasis added).
Hence we may see that, far from endorsing the idea of sola Scriptura, St. Thomas was a faithful Catholic, who fully believed in the truth and validity of Sacred Tradition.

This being the case, it is really quite impossible to suppose that he intended to endorse the idea of sola Scriptura in ST I Q1 A8 ad 2. To the contrary, what he approves, and that to which he submits, is the whole of divine revelation, whether it be found in Sacred Scripture or in Sacred Tradition. It is on this whole revelation that our faith rests, not only on the Bible.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

One of these things is not like the others

Protestant blogger Carrie has created a new blog for herself, where she hopes to amass what she thinks will be a wealth of arguments against the Catholic Church.

It has commenting rules.

The rules are somewhat generic...mostly. But one is worthy of mention.

After a series of more (or less, in one or two cases) generic "Be courteous" and "Observe reasonable rules of engagement"-type rules, we come to #8, which is completely different:
8. Don’t use the term "anti-Catholic".

How strange! Of course, one cannot help but wonder why, of all words in the English language, Carrie is troubled by this one. Methinks she doth protest too much. It's not that the word has no meaning: it's a real thing. In apologetics circles, it has a more specific meaning: an anti-Catholic is someone who denies that a faithful Catholic, who believes all that the Church proposes for his belief, can be a true Christian. Clearly this usage is legitimate: there are such people (lots of them; I used to be one of them myself).

I don't know for certain - yet - but one gets the idea from her tone - and from her objection to this term - that Carrie might possibly be fairly described as anti-Catholic. We'll see.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Protestant attempts tuquoque (and fails)

In this post, a certain Protestant blogger (a lapsed Catholic, if I'm not mistaken) who seems to feel the sting of the validity of the "private interpretation" criticism of Protestantism by Catholics has attempted to tar Catholics with the same brush. Let's see if she succeeds.

After pointing us to a certain section of the CCC which declares the Magisterium's unique responsibility for interpreting the Word of God, she has this to say:
Based on these claims by Catholics you would assume that a church-approved commentary of the Bible would exist to lead Catholic laypeople, especially Catholic apologists, to the correct interpretation of each biblical passage. Yet nothing even close to such a thing exists. In fact, very few biblical passages have been officially defined by the RCC.
"You would assume". Who would? Perhaps she would, and perhaps her Protestant friends would, but as a Catholic I would not. What's the difference? Why is this important to her, but not to me?

It's important to her because of her assumption that the Bible is the sole source of God's Word. But this is an assumption that she has not established, and it is an invalid one anyway given the Catholic understanding of the relationship of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. We do not need a "church-approved commentary," precisely because we have a Magisterium that tells us what the content of the Faith actually is. We do not need to resort to the Bible to learn the truth in the way that Protestants think that they need to do.

We must be clear here. It would be easy for a Protestant to suppose that the Church discourages the reading of the Bible. This is completely false: "The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:8). 'For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ'" (Verbum Dei 25).

Regardless, however, the measure of a man's faith is not to be found in the hours that he spends in reading commentaries. For at least 3/4 of the Church's history, the vast majority of Christians were unable to read at all (and even if they could, they would almost certainly not have had access to a Bible, thanks to the prohibitive expense of hand copying). So the modern Western Protestant's laudable interest in personal Bible study would not have even been possible for these faithful. It is easy for us to forget this, but widespread literacy is relatively recent historically. But the fact that they could not read was no obstacle to a Christian's access to the truth then, and the absence of an approved commentary is no obstacle today. Why? Because we have the Magisterium.

I think it's also worth pointing out that the Church's history is flush with commentaries on the Bible. It's not as though individual bishops have not written such works. Of course this is inadequate in our blogger's view, because she has insisted that the Church should have produced an "official" one. I am reminded of an atheist's protests against Christianity, in which he will demand evidence of a special sort in order to convince him that God exists, or in which he will say that God "should be" like this or that, rather than submitting to how He actually is. Our blogger's complaint is very much like this: she thinks that the Church ought to have done X, Y, Z if Her claims were really true, and because She hasn't, our blogger concludes that She is not what She claims. But rather than comparing the Church to her own personal theories of ecclesiology and authority, she really ought to look at what the Church actually is.

Our blogger continues: While some Protestants have written commentaries on the entire Bible in their own lifetime, the "infallible" RCC has been unable to even attempt the same in 2000 years.

This is obviously a species of the same quibble as before, but I note it here primarily because of its combative tone. The Catholic Church hasn't done so because the living Magisterium is the authentic interpreter of God's Word as found in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

Our blogger concludes with this:
But more to the point, how can the interpretation of a biblical passage by any Catholic apologist even be entertained? If their own infallible authority has only been able to define 7 passages of scripture over 2000 years, the apologist/e-pologist cannot have the integrity or the authority to even attempt to interpret scripture on their own. If they do, they fall into their own "private interpretation" trap so carefully, but foolishly, set for the Protestants.

Once again, she fails to understand the differences between us. I will agree on one count, however: it is pointless to quibble about texts with a Protestant. Far more important and foundational is the fact that the Protestant has no basis upon which to make any authoritative claims about the teaching of the Bible. Authority is the critical issue.

The Catholic's duty is to interpret the Bible in harmony with the teaching of the Church, which cannot be mistaken. If a Catholic's interpretation of Scripture differs from some article of the Faith proposed for belief by the Magisterium, then that Catholic's interpretation is wrong. There is an infallible standard, therefore, against which his understanding can and must be judged. So - far from being a private interpretation after the fashion of the Protestant's dilemma, the Catholic's is a liberty with structure. There is no "trap" here into which we may fall - unless we make the error of exalting our own opinions above the teaching of the Church.

This is a completely different situation than that in which our Protestant blogger finds herself. There is no Protestant standard against which she may measure her interpretation of the Bible that can even slightly compare to the infallible Magisterium of the Catholic Church (to say nothing of there being any obligation upon her in the Protestant world to submit to any standard, either). Even among those Protestant groups which affirm some confessional standard or other, it is always formally stated that those standards are human works and consequently NOT infallible. In consequence, the Protestant, who has enshrined his own conscience and his own judgment as ultimate in the determination of what is true, is in no way bound to accept any confessional standard's proclamations when he believes that they contradict the Bible. This is private interpretation of a most pernicious sort, and it is night-and-day different from the circumstances which obtain for the Catholic, who must submit his interpretation of the Bible to the authority of the Magisterium: if I say the Bible teaches doctrine X and that passages A, B, and C prove it - but the Church says that the doctrine X is false - then I am wrong, and my interpretation of the Bible is wrong. Period. End of story. This is no "private interpretation" after the Protestant fashion: I am bound as a Catholic to what the Church teaches. But no Protestant is bound to any standard whatsoever when it comes to hermeneutics.

Our blogger has announced that she intends to make her blog more apologetically focused in the future. I would advise against it until she has studied and understood what she intends to criticize.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Neutrality, just when you'd least expect it

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding things, but it seems that in some ways this blogger (with whom I have had some brief interchanges recently) is trying to have things both ways when it comes to presuppositionalism and objectivity.

Exhibit A: A post in which he rejects evidentialism. Now whether he is right or wrong about what he says here is beside the point at present (although I think he probably goes a bit far); what is significant for now is that he says in that post that his is a "dogmatic presuppositionalism": "I know why I can trust my senses and the scientific method: because God has revealed Himself to be an orderly God and the world to be a place run by law" (he also says, with what I think can be described as common presuppositionalist triumphalism, "I can trust my senses - I know that I can because the Bible tells me so. God has revealed the truth of His Word to me, and consequently I know that I can trust it." Oh really? And how did God reveal this truth? By means of his human senses?)

Exhibit B: A comment attached to Exhibit A, in which (in response to another's question) our blogger says of the grammatical-historical hermeneutic (GH): "I'm inclined to think that it is epistemically neutrally. I would tend to view any hermeneutic as existing at a different noumic layer." Okay, he's got me on "noumic": I can't find a definition of that anywhere, so I don't know if it's a typo or if it's a technical philosophical term omitted even from the OED :-) Perhaps he means "noumenal"?

But I digress :-)

It seems to me that what he has said in A and B is contradictory, unless he means that GH is "neutral" in the sense that a hammer is "neutral": that is, it is just a "thing", so to speak, until it is actually picked up and wielded by a human being, and then it might become a tool, or even a weapon.

But I wonder whether there isn't some presuppositional blindness in play here too, or at least possibly an unwillingness to acknowledge something about GH: namely, the fact that precisely because GH is pursued by man, it is not possible for it to be done neutrally. The grammatical-historical method is wielded by Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, and charismatics...and yet they all still have significant differences of opinion on what exactly the meaning of the text is supposed to be when it comes to justifying their theological distinctives.

How can this be? It seems rather obvious (to me, anyway) that the usefulness of GH must be understood as limited: it cannot by itself resolve any theological difficulties (and as may be seen from the variety of viewpoints held among its practitioners, it may even perpetuate those difficulties). So it seems that GH is not useful as a means by itself for resolving questions about the meaning of the Bible.

What else is there that might make this difficulty soluble? Perhaps one could say that the illumination of the Holy Spirit is required. This is certainly a worthy suggestion, but it still doesn't solve the problem for all but the most radically-oriented people. The folks who have theological differences must surely all be presumed to be Christians, and as such we must charitably presume that (given that the illumination of the Spirit is necessary, and given that He will grant it equally to all Christians) Christians in each of those camps are guided by the Holy Spirit. And yet...they disagree. How can this be?

Or...let us suppose that for some reason the Spirit does not grant illumination equally to all Christians, so that some folk simply get it wrong in places. Setting aside the more foundational question as to why God would leave some of His people in such a state of uncertainty, there is a more practical question. Who has God illumined the most? And that question simply cannot be answered by any human means I can imagine. And that means that the differences of opinion amongst the various camps above simply cannot be resolved by a mere appeal to the grammatical-historical method. It is impossible.

Well, suppose someone objects that the areas of dispute are matters of indifference. Someone might say that Christians (well, Protestants anyway) are agreed about the "big issues", and the issues that divide them are really matters of trivial theological dispute.

My response to that is twofold. In the first place, I would object that very few (if any) Protestants really believe such a thing: because if they did, their peculiar habit of settling disagreements by schism would be inexcusable (in light of the Lord Jesus Christ's unquestionable will that Christians be united), wherein they habitually insist that union is simply intolerable. So it seems to me that the claim is disingenuous at best.

My second objection is related to the first. Not only do their actions betray an implicit denial of the claim that their differences are purely trivial, but I would also say that it is objectively false that their differences are adiophora. For example: they disagree about the sacraments. They disagree as to their meaning. They disagree about their importance. They differ as to their matter (e.g., whether grape juice may be used in place of wine). They differ as to their number (Anglicans hold more or less to seven while most hold to only two). It is simply not credible even to hypothesize that the sacraments are a matter of indifference to God. Consequently we are forced to ask: which of them is correct? And how do we know this to be the case?

And that is a question that they cannot answer. In the end, it boils down to plain subjectivism: I will decide for myself what is true.

But this is nonsense. God has not left us without a means of knowing the truth that we need to know. He has not given us a black box from which we cannot extract certainty. He has given us the Holy Spirit speaking in and through the Magisterium. He has given us an objective means of knowing what we must believe and how we must live. He has given us the Catholic Church.

So when this same blogger issues impressive-sounding exegetical challenges, I must confess that I do not understand the point. In the first place, from my Catholic vantage point, this seems like a waste of time unless his hope is to make more Calvinists. But if I understand things rightly, I don't even see the sense of it on what it seems his own terms are. In the first place, it is absurd to claim that GH is somehow "neutral". How can a hermeneutic be neutral? That is: how can a framework for interpretation be "epistemically neutral"?? It seems to me that it's self-contradictory even to suggest it: an interpretation is intrinsically non-neutral. So: let us say that he mis-spoke and that he does not really think that GH is genuinely objective. If that is the case, then all this challenge will amount to is a dispute between folks who will never agree, assuming that they are equally skilled exegetically and rhetorically. I do not see the point - unless he wants to make more Calvinists. In that case: well, knock yourself out. But even that seems like simply moving one's eggs from one subjective basket into another.