Sunday, September 30, 2007

Comments on Boettner Will Be Few After All

I first intended to deal with every error about the Church that appears in the book. But that prospect, conceived before I had read very far in it, became far too daunting to pursue upon discovering the number and extent of the errors. I just don't have the time or the inclination to deal with that.

So then I thought that I would deal with representative errors from each chapter in the book. But after starting work on a post related to his second chapter, I found it nearly impossible to pick and choose between the errors, and it was really irritating to even bother with it. Life is too short to wallow in an irritant longer than necessary, so I have scrapped that plan as well. Hey, I'm not an apologist, so I don't feel any particular burden to deal with this book longer than necessary. My particular interest would be more along the lines of teaching rather than apologetics, anyway.

That statement might seem bizarre given the number of posts I have labeled as "apologetics" here on the blog, but it's true nonetheless. I am neither qualified nor called to be an apologist, except perhaps incidentally - insofar as it is a duty of every Christian to defend his beliefs.

Instead, my Plan C will be to post from the book if something catches my eye that simply can't be borne in silence. That might be a few posts, or it might be none at all. At any rate - whether I post or not - I intend to continue wading through the book. I read Salmon before converting, and was totally disappointed with the complete absence of scholarly detachment to be found there (to say nothing of the errors and misrepresentations); so far, this book is even more disappointing in its rhetoric and in its own errors and misrepresentations. Boettner had a reputation as an author which I so far find to be quite unwarranted.

An Answer for Turretinfan

By this post I hope to fulfill my promise to Turretinfan to answer his question. The question-before-the-question was:
are you saying that some people who enter heaven will have unforgiven sins?
Now this is a straightforward question. Unfortunately in a discussion between a Catholic and Protestant it becomes slightly more complicated by a distinction that we Catholics make; even more unfortunately, things became more complicated (at least in my tomfool head, if not for poor Turretinfan) by my weakness of comprehension in this particular area. I don't have any particular defense to offer for myself beyond these: first, that I am a relatively recent convert to the Catholic Church, and second, that it takes time to shed the intellectual "baggage" one accumulates after many years in a different theological tradition.

But I digress.

The first part of my reply to Turretin's question was straightforward:
Mortal sins must be forgiven or one cannot enter heaven.
The second part is where - due to the baggage and incomplete catechesis mentioned above - I made things difficult for myself:
It would appear, based upon what I have cited from Trent and St. Thomas, that venial sins also must be forgiven, and apart from this one cannot enter heaven (links inserted here from a previous comment).
Now strictly speaking that answer is correct but imprecise, inasmuch as it obscures the distinction between venial and mortal sins. By mortal sin, we mean those grave sins which men commit by which they sever themselves from God and make themselves liable to eternal punishment in hell and to temporal punishment here in this life. By venial sin, we mean those less serious sins that men commit which do not sever us from God, do not make us liable to hellfire, but which do merit temporal punishment. Venial sins must either be forgiven, or expiated in some other fashion, or the temporal punishment due to them will be measured out in Purgatory. This is necessary because we must be actually holy in order to see the face of God.
Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? or who may stand in his holy place? He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain, nor swears deceitfully to his neighbor (Ps. 24:3-4).
Hence in Purgatory such guilt is purged if it has not already been dealt with. Now Turretinfan has said that he's familiar with the distinction we make between mortal and venial sins, so I'm not going to belabor this section with documentation. I wanted to go into a bit more detail here, though, in order to clarify what I said before.

Turretinfan's followup to my answer above was this:
The follow-on question is: why?

If a sin does not render the sinner guilty, why would the sinner be forgiven - indeed - what sense does forgiveness have apart from guilt?
I think, if I have understood the question correctly, and done my homework sufficiently, the correct answer is: venial sin does render one guilty - but not guilty of an offense meriting eternal punishment.
All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven (CCC 1030).

The punishment of purgatory is not intended chiefly to torment but to cleanse (Summa Theologica, Supp. Q97 A1 ad 2).

From the conclusions we have drawn above (III, 86, 4-5; Supplement, 12, 1) it is sufficiently clear that there is a Purgatory after this life. For if the debt of punishment is not paid in full after the stain of sin has been washed away by contrition, nor again are venial sins always removed when mortal sins are remitted, and if justice demands that sin be set in order by due punishment, it follows that one who after contrition for his fault and after being absolved, dies before making due satisfaction, is punished after this life. Wherefore those who deny Purgatory speak against the justice of God: for which reason such a statement is erroneous and contrary to faith. Hence Gregory of Nyssa, after the words quoted above, adds: "This we preach, holding to the teaching of truth, and this is our belief; this the universal Church holds, by praying for the dead that they may be loosed from sins." This cannot be understood except as referring to Purgatory (ST, Supp. App. II A1).

So: those venial sins of Christians on their way to heaven that have not been forgiven in this life will be cleansed in Purgatory. The man in this condition does not enter heaven with unforgiven sin; but if his sins are merely light or venial then they only delay his entry into glory. Mortal sins however are not of this sort; the man who dies in mortal sin goes to hell.

Now of course I know that Turretinfan rejects this formulation, but I hope that it helps both to clear up any confusion generated by my prior imprecision and to answer his question (and if I have still missed it, well...then I'll just have try again!)

I think it may be that some additional confusion might have been injected by the context in which our conversation began: over the question of whether people are actually guilty when in genuine and unintentional ignorance they commit acts that would otherwise (i.e., if they had known what they were doing) be mortally sinful. But acts committed in unintentional ignorance, or left undone because of the same (as in his hypothetical case), are not by Catholic lights sinful acts (cf. CCC 1860). So they would not ordinarily even enter into a discussion of mortal and venial sins - at least, not as far as the Catholic is concerned.

Boettner: Anti-Catholic Bigot

There's really no other way to describe the man responsible for what I've read so far in Roman Catholicism. I don't know why, but I had this silly hope that perhaps the book might be characterized by scholarly detachment. Ha! Nothing could be further from the truth (and, so far, this book could not be further from the truth, either).

Here are some choice examples.
One of the first and most important results of the Reformation was that the Bible was given to the people in their own languages. Previously the Bible had been kept from them, on the pretext that only the church speaking through the priest could interpret it correctly (p. 2).
A conveniently self-serving distortion. Setting aside the fact that a wide variety of translations were made prior to the Reformation, literacy was far from widespread, and there was comparatively little demand for literacy either (thanks to the high cost of producing copies of books). The Reformation had the benefit of the arrival of Gutenberg's printing press, but previous generations did not. It is ridiculous to claim that "the Bible had been kept from them." Secondly, it would seem that there was genuine wisdom in the Church's concern about just anyone producing copies of the Bible - as the errors of the Reformers amply testify.
Our American freedoms are being threatened today by two totalitarian systems, Communism and Roman Catholicism. And of the two in our country Romanism is growing faster than is Communism and is the more dangerous...(p. 3)
Uhh...yeah. So the Catholic Church is worse than the Communists. Obviously Boettner never met anyone who was a victim of Marxism. This is so ignorant as to barely be worthy of comment. Perhaps he read The Gulag Archipelago before he died, and so was enlightened as to the errors here. Let's hope so.

Here's a gem of real scholarly value:
The present writer is in receipt of a letter from a missionary in Bolivia who writes: 'The Roman Catholic Church in Bolivia is not a Christian church at all but an unholy device for keeping the people in ignorance and poverty.' He added that Romanism the world over is one unified system, all under the control of the pope in Rome, and that it probably would be as bad in the United States if it were not for the restraining influence of the evangelical churches (p. 13f).
Ah, yes. We are expected to believe that an unnamed missionary is such an authority that he can tell us Profound Things about the Bolivian Church, and we ought to believe them because he is an Expert. And we don't need to know his name; we should just take Boettner's word for the whole thing. Unfortunately I'm reminded here of a certain scene:
My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it's pretty serious.
But as to the [cough] substance of the report that Boettner reports: I don't know what the conditions were like in Bolivia in the early 1960s, and I sure as heck am not going to take this guy's word for anything. But even if they were bad: well, the Church has never denied that evil has been done by people in authority in every institution - including, unfortunately, the Church. Including, unfortunately, Protestant groups, too. And as for the "...unified system, all under the control of the Pope..."'s crassly put, but still worthy of a "Duh!" The Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic: hence the unity. And this unity is characterized by faithful communion with the Pope.

I'm reading this so as to familiarize myself with what Boettner has to say. My intent was to post on at least some of the points in the book, but if it's all as bad as this, I might not be able to bring myself to do it.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Social Doctrine of the Church - Not the Social Gospel

The social doctrine of the Church is not a false gospel stripped of its grounding in Christ, à la the liberal Protestant social gospel of the early 20th century.
The first form [in which service to others] is undertaken consists in the commitment and efforts to renew oneself interiorly...Social institutions do not of themselves guarantee, as if automatically, the common good; the 'renewal of the Christian spirit' must precede the commitment to improve society...

It is from the conversion of hearts that there arises concern for others, loved as brothers or sisters. ... The laity must therefore work at the same time for the conversion of hearts and the improvement of structures... (Compendium, 552; emphasis in original print version).
Two things that I think are worth noting here: first, the recognition that despite the fact that the social doctrine of the Church is expressed in the Compendium in terms of the natural law, so as to commend it to non-Catholics as well as Catholics, it seems that this passage acknowledges that apart from conversion of hearts to Christ, the social doctrine will never be properly implemented. This is because the charity that the social doctrine requires is not a natural thing, but a gift from God. Consequently before we can properly serve others, we must be renewed in our hearts and minds ourselves.

The second and, for some non-Catholics, perhaps the more surprising thing is that the Magisterium here repeats the call, also found in Vatican II, for the laity to be involved in the work of evangelism.

Social Doctrine of the Church - Religious Freedom - 3

The right of religious freedom is not unlimited:
Religious freedom is not a moral licence to adhere to error, nor as an implicit right to error [sic] (Compendium, 421).
(As an aside, the editing of the Compendium is at times really galling. What exactly does that second phrase - or was it intended to be a clause??? - mean? Sheesh. It has every appearance of being a rush job, and that's a shame. But I digress).

Perhaps a bit from the Catechism will help in fleshing this out:
The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, but rather a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by political authorities. This natural right ought to be acknowledged in the juridical order of society in such a way that it constitutes a civil right.

The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a "public order" conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner. The "due limits" which are inherent in it must be determined for each social situation by political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority in accordance with "legal principles which are in conformity with the objective moral order" (CCC 2108-2109).
We have a duty to seek out truth, so that we must not be content to cling to error. But civil authorities have no right - "within just limits" - to infringe on our religious freedom. But there are limits: for example, a religion of human sacrifice like the Aztecs' could not possibly expect any privilege.

Friday, September 28, 2007

My Own Unanswered Questions

[UPDATE 2007-10-05: it appears that Turretinfan has accepted this as an adequate response, so I'm going to consider this question to be answered. I might be mistaken in this assessment; if he objects to this, then I'll consider amending this conclusion.]

I have a list of questions that have gone unanswered by another; it seems only fair that I keep a public list of questions that I haven't answered myself. This will serve as a reminder to me that I need to do this.

Turretinfan asked me:
are you saying that some people who enter heaven will have unforgiven sins? (emphasis in original)
I replied:
Mortal sins must be forgiven or one cannot enter heaven.

It would appear, based upon what I have cited from Trent [chapter V, on confession] and St. Thomas, that venial sins also must be forgiven, and apart from this one cannot enter heaven. Unfortunately this inference is the best I am able to offer at this time, not having ready at hand (i.e., in memory) a more direct answer for you with respect to venial sins. I apologize if this is insufficient for your purposes [links added here from a previous post].
To which he asked, by way of followup:
The follow-on question is: why?

If a sin does not render the sinner guilty, why would the sinner be forgiven - indeed - what sense does forgiveness have apart from guilt?
Now this is an honest question, I think, and I attempted to answer it, but was dissatisfied with my results. I haven't studied the subject with any depth at all, and it seems I need to. So I had to apologize for my inability to do so now, which apology was graciously accepted. I promise to try and answer this, Turretinfan - and hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Social Doctrine of the Church - Capitalism

Capitalism and the free market are recognized as good things in the social doctrine of the Church:
The Church's social doctrine appreciates the secure advantages that the mechanisms of the free market offer, making it possible as they do to utilize resources better and facilitating the exchange of products (Compendium, 347).
But this endorsement (which may be found not just in this passage, but rather throughout the Compendium) is conditional in important ways.
Freedom in the economic sector, however, must be regulated by appropriate legal norms so that it will be placed at the service of integral human freedom. "Economic freedom is only one element of human freedom. When it becomes autonomous, when man is seen more as a producer or consumer of goods than as a subject who produces and consumes in order to live, then economic freedom loses its necessary relationship to the human person and ends up by alienating and oppressing him" (ibid., 350).
The important thing is to remember that the free market must be put to the service of people, not merely exploited as a means for accumulating wealth. Customers are people and must be treated as such. The same goes for employees. Most conservatives agree with the obvious proposition that the free market must be regulated at least as far as is necessary to eliminate fraud, theft, and the like, but the Church says that we must go further, so that the markets are put to the service of people, rather than using people in the service of wealth accumulation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

From the Combox: Involuntary Sin

Turretinfan remarks:
I was unaware that modern Roman Catholics (unlike Augustine and the Orthodox) do not seek forgiveness of involuntary sins.

That's a very serious problem (if it is true) with Roman Catholic theology.
That is not precisely the case, but the misunderstanding may have been a failure on my part to communicate more clearly. In the post of mine that is in question, I was addressing the specific circumstances of a hypothetical situation that Turretinfan had proposed. I was not intending to present details as to the different categories of sin that Catholics recognize.

The Church distinguishes between mortal and venial sins. Mortal sin is that which, if committed, severs one from Christ:
Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him...

Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us - that is, charity - necessitates a new initiative of God's mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation...

For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."

Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments...

Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin. ...

Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. the promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest. ...

Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God (CCC 1855-1861 passim).
Contrasted with this are venial sins:
One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent. ...

Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not set us in direct opposition to the will and friendship of God; it does not break the covenant with God. With God's grace it is humanly reparable. "Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness."

[Quoting St. Augustine:] While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call "light": if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession (CCC 1862-1863 passim).
We actually ought to confess venial sins as well, as St. Augustine notes in the quotation above; also:
Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father's mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful (CCC 1458).
But I am somewhat at a loss to know which things Turretinfan considers to be "involuntary sins" in the context of the post in question, such that he would be surprised by what I said.

It seems rather obvious (well, to me anyway; I don't mean to be flip or critical: I am just perplexed by his reaction) that one couldn't be held responsible for a physical inability to do some positive good: A quadriplegic cannot be expected to plunge into the swimming pool to save a drowning child. By the same token, a genuinely deceived man can hardly be held to blame for being unaware that his "priest" is not really a priest. Consequently the fact that he has not actually received the sacraments that he should ordinarily receive can hardly be reckoned blameworthy.

If, on the other hand, Turretinfan would consider truly wicked the case of a man who (in genuine ignorance) sleeps with a woman while falsely believing that she is his wife: again, I don't see how this would constitute a mortal sin. Materially the act would be construed as adultery (i.e., relations with some other than one's rightful spouse), but in consideration of the circumstances it is not formally so because the action lacked consent and knowledge. Perhaps a slightly similar analogy would be that of the altar built by the Transjordan tribes, which materially was a violation of the Law, but in consideration of the circumstances - namely, the intent of the altar's builders - was not reckoned to have been a sinful act (Josh. 22:10ff). So: it's not merely the matter of the action (sleeping with someone other than one's rightful spouse/building an altar) but also (among other things) the intent (sleeping with one's spouse/erecting a witness) that determines the sinfulness of the act.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Social Doctrine of the Church - Family Wage - 2

The Compendium says that workers must be paid a "just wage." But something specific is meant here:
The simple agreement between employee and employer with regard to the amount of pay to be received is not sufficient for the agreed-upon salary to qualify as a "just wage," because a just wage "must not be below the level of subsistence" of the worker: natural justice precedes and is above the freedom of the contract (302).
This isn't exactly to say that the worker is wrong to accept such a wage in conditions in which nothing else is available to him; the problem would exist among the employers who refuse to pay more. Just as no man can justly (according to natural justice) enter into a contract to sell his wife into slavery, so too the contract above remains unjust even if it is freely arrived at.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Total Depravity - 2

Here is some more detail on the subject in response to Ellen's comment.

Although Presbyterians aren't the only ones to hold to something like this, and although there is some disagreement even among them as to how to understand this, the Westminster Confession of Faith says this in Chapter VI, Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment thereof:
I. Our first parents, begin seduced by the subtlety and temptations of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.

II. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.

III. They being the root of mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by original generation.

IV. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions (source; emphasis added).
The particular page from which this quotation is drawn doesn't include the Scripture proofs that the writers of the Confession included with it, but the hard copy that I've got does. Romans 3:10-18 is included as a proof for paragraph II's last clause ("...and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body").

It isn't hard to see where some folks have drawn their inspiration for reading Romans 3 in the unpleasant (and, as I think that I've shown, incorrect) way that I previously described.

The same perspective may be seen in the Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 25:
Q. 25. Wherein consisteth the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?

A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consisteth in the guilt of Adam's first sin,[93] the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually;[94] which is commonly called original sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions[95] (emphasis added).
The numbers in that quotation are links in the original source to the the official scripture proofs for this question; #94 appeals to Romans 3:10-19 as an authority. It's interesting to note that the Catechism differs from the WCF by the insertion of a word into the phrase "made opposite unto all that is spiritually good," which may be the justification for those Presbyterians who affirm that non-Christians can do real good of some sort; but the "wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually" part does seem to take away what was just given.

The same sentiments are also expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism:
Question 8. Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness?

Answer: Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.
Interestingly, the Heidelberg does not appeal to Rom. 3 to justify this statement. Of course, that doesn't make it any less mistaken.

By way of contrast, a less severe attitude is evinced in the Canons of Dordt, in The Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine:
Article 3: Total Inability

Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.
By this measure, a non-Christian would be able to do genuine good, it seems - but not anything that could be categorized as a "saving good." Of course, no Catholic would disagree with this: we cannot save ourselves; rather, we are saved by the grace of God.

Lastly, it's probably worth pointing out again that there are Presbyterians and Reformed who would interpret the Westminster Standards and the Heidelberg Catechism in a manner consistent with what Dordt says; such folks would conceded that non-Christians can do genuinely good things. But not all of them will say this. I have personally argued with the more severe sort.

Social Doctrine of the Church - Family Wage

I have heard folks like these and especially these discuss a different approach to wages than is ordinarily encountered in the U.S. Now I think I see where it has come from.
Family and work are united by a very special relationship. "The family constitutes one of the most important terms of reference for shaping the social and ethical order of human work". This relationship has its roots in the relation existing between the person and his right to possess the fruit of his labour and concerns not only the individual as a singular person but also as a member of a family, understood as a "domestic society".

Work is essential insofar as it represents the condition that makes it possible to establish a family, for the means by which the family is maintained are obtained through work. Work also conditions the process of personal development, since a family afflicted by unemployment runs the risk of not fully achieving its end (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 249).

The critical thing to note here is the fact that work makes it possible to establish and maintain a family. The Compendium continues:
In order to protect this relationship between family and work, an element that must be appreciated and safeguarded is that of a family wage, a wage sufficient to maintain a family and allow it to live decently. Such a wage must also allow for savings that will permit the acquisition of property as a guarantee of freedom. The right to property is closely connected with the existence of families, which protect themselves from need thanks also to savings and to the building up of family property (250; emphasis added).
If not drawn directly from it, the passage above rather obviously is inspired by Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum:
Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner...

If a workman's wages be sufficient to enable him comfortably to support himself, his wife, and his children, he will find it easy, if he be a sensible man, to practice thrift, and he will not fail, by cutting down expenses, to put by some little savings and thus secure a modest source of income. Nature itself would urge him to this. We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners (45, 46).
What annual income would constitute a "family wage" here in the United States? I suppose it would probably vary by geography - it costs a lot less to live in some areas than in others.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Response to Turretinfan's "Special Note"

In his anti-evidentialist post, to which I've responded here, Turretinfan adds a postscript.
[I]t is certainly at least conceivable that there is at least one psychopathic person out there impersonating a Roman Catholic priest or even bishop on a daily basis, with no plan to reveal the truth. That priest may even be the one who married (maybe I should put "married") you and your spouse, who hears your confessions, and who will perform last rites for you.
Okay, for the sake of argument we can grant this. However in reality this is practically impossible, since bishops are publicly consecrated (as are priests).
If it turns out that the priest is a fraud, then none of the bread you ate was the body of Christ (nor was the wine his body [sic]), you have lived in unconfessed and unrepetant [sic] adultery (in fact all of your sins are unconfessed), and you will have died (without intending to do so) in a state of final impenitance [sic].
I grant that - given the absurdly unlikely conditions assumed above - the people of such a parish would be without the true Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. But this fact does not prevent anyone from getting to heaven: it is a matter outside of their control and knowledge (assuming, again, that they had no reason to question the legitimacy of the priest's consecration). An example might be a convert in a concentration camp who never has opportunity to receive Communion.

As to confession: it is not true that one's sins are "unconfessed" in this circumstance. "Only God forgives sins" (CCC 1441). He has simply given priests the power to do this in his name. God has bound reconciliation and forgiveness to the sacrament of confession, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments (cf. CCC 1257). Just as a man is saved who wishes to be baptized but does not have the opportunity (for example, because he dies during while still a catechumen), so too a man who dies but is truly sorry for his sins and who would gladly confess them if given the opportunity is not condemned because his circumstances did not permit him to receive the sacrament.

So even in the absurd circumstance described above, the truly contrite would not be held accountable for what it is not possible for them to have known. This is consistent with confession of mortal sin: we cannot confess what we do not remember. If we have truly forgotten some grave sin, but are otherwise truly contrite for our sins, and if we would have certainly confessed them had we remembered them, then they are treated as forgiven: "All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession" (CCC 1456, quoting the Council of Trent, 14th Session, On the Most Holy Sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction, Chapter V). Now, if they discover before death that they have been deceived, then they must be diligent to make a good confession to a priest. But to die in ignorance like this would not doom them.

And there are a couple other observations to be made: first, repentance comes before confession, so they would not be "unrepentant" as Turretinfan suggests. Second, his parenthesis "(without intending to do so)" reveals an apparent misunderstanding about how Catholics understand the problem of sin. Following his example sin of adultery: if a man sleeps with another woman because he falsely believes that she is his wife (either because he is blind, or because it is dark, etc), he has not intended to sleep with another woman. Consequently he is not culpable. It is still a gravely immoral act, but he is not guilty because he did not do it deliberately. "For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must be met: 'Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent'" (CCC 1857). So absent the deliberate intent and full knowledge of their true circumstances (of which, in the absurd case above, they are ignorant), such people would not be held culpable as though they had not genuinely confessed.

Turretinfan continues:
There is, one supposes, even a real question about whether you were ever baptized, since baptism by a non-believer has not traditionally been considered a valid baptism.
In the first place, the original circumstances did not specify that the bogus priest was not Catholic. Clearly he would be in grave sin, and presumably he would hold seriously heretical ideas if he pursued this course for any length of time - but heresy on the part of the minister of Baptism does not invalidate the sacrament, just as other sins do not invalidate it. This is why Catholics accept Protestant baptisms as valid: their doctrinal errors are not relevant to the validity of the sacrament, as long as it follows the Trinitarian formula.

In the second place, baptism by a non-believer is considered valid: "In case of necessity, anyone, even a non-baptized person, can baptize, by using the Trinitarian baptismal formula" (CCC 1256). So it is incorrect to say that there is any question at all about the baptism, assuming that the Trinitarian formula was used. To assert that it "has not traditionally been considered" valid for a non-Christian to baptize is irrelevant to the question at hand, since the absurd circumstances described did not specify any specific era when the fraud is assumed to have occurred. Whatever the past might hold with respect to this question (I did a brief search but could find nothing about it), it is irrelevant today.

But even if we grant Turretinfan's doubt, and assume that the people in question were not validly baptized thanks to the fraud, it does not follow that they are in any danger whatsoever: for we believe that baptism of desire is legitimate. A man who genuinely desires baptism but cannot receive it due to circumstances beyond his control (for example, premature death) is not doomed to hell at all (CCC 1258, 1259). Hence Turretinfan's proposed concerns for such people are entirely needless.

Turretinfan continues:
The point is this, if you think that participation in the sacraments is a necessary part of salvation, and if you agree that sacraments performed by a faux priest are not valid, you can have only a tenuous assurance of salvation.
There are different sorts of necessity, and we must be careful lest we stumble into equivocation here. If I wish to see in a dark room, it is necessary that I turn on a light. If I wish to survive, it is necessary that I eat and drink. These are two different sorts of necessity. Now, in the present case: reception of the sacraments is only conditionally necessary. Ordinarily Baptism is necessary for salvation, but not absolutely so: as noted above, there are cases where it is not. A baby has not committed any sins, and consequently for him the sacrament of Penance is not necessary. A man who does not have access to the Eucharist is not doomed to hell because his circumstances do not permit him to receive Communion. A woman cannot receive the sacrament of Holy Orders, and a priest cannot receive the sacrament of Holy Matrimony - so these two also are not "necessary for salvation" in the sense that Turretinfan seems to mean. The same may be said of Confirmation and the Anointing of the Sick.

Now it is of course true that ordinarily we must receive the sacraments. But the fact that there are exceptions demonstrates that salvation is not bound to them in the way that Turretinfan seems to suggest. So, if through no fault of their own some group of people is deprived of the sacraments - as, for example, in the absurd case of a fraudulent priest suggested by Turretinfan above - these people are not under condemnation at all. So the conditions of "tenuous assurance" that he suggests simply do not pertain to them.
And that is not Christianity. Salvation does not depend on human merit, human activity, or the faithfulness of the men who administer sacraments. Salvation depends on the action of God alone.
But of course what he has described is not Catholicism, either. So we can agree that it is not Christianity, but only a distorted picture of it. The only thing worth clarifying here is that the validity of the sacraments does not depend upon the sanctity of the priest (here I am assuming that we are back in the real world once again, where priests are validly consecrated): it is the priest who gravely sins if he administers the sacraments while in sin himself; the people themselves are not ordinarily responsible (nor competent) to evaluate his standing before God.

Response to Turretinfan on Evidentialism

Turretinfan has a post in which he proposes to present some objections to what he calls evidentialism. He points at a post over at Jimmy Akin's site, concerning a story of a man who posed as a priest, heard confessions, pretended to celebrate the Mass, and married a couple. It's a horrible story, and Mr. Akin's post is worth reading.

Turretinfan's reaction: "Our senses are generally reliable, but they do not always provide true information."

Unfortunately, this observation is not only not correct, it has nothing to do with the case of the couple who falsely believed themselves to have been married.

If the liar told them that he was not a priest, but their ears contrarily reported the opposite, then it could be said that their hearing did not provide true information. But that is not what happened. If he said he was a priest, that is what they heard.

If the liar was dressed as a policeman, but their eyes contrarily reported that he was dressed as a priest, then it could be said that their sight did not provide true information. But that is not what happened. If he was dressed as a priest, then that is what they saw.

The error in this case had nothing to do with the senses. It had to do with the interpretation of sensory input, which is something else entirely. These people apparently had no reason based upon his words, appearance, or behavior to suppose that he was anything other than what he said. And so they believed him. This is not a sensory failure.

It should be said, too, that people who suggest that the senses are only "generally reliable" or that they do not always provide true information do not really believe it. They simply don't. Why? Because they do not live that way. They live in complete reliance upon their senses just like the rest of us. When they see a red light, they do not hesitate, wondering whether it might in fact be green. They stop, just like the rest of us. When they are given a juicy steak to eat, they do not hesitate, wondering whether it might actually be a plate full of mud. They just eat it, and when they enjoy the flavor, they do not hesitate, wondering whether it's actually a noxious substance. They really enjoy it.

The confusion that seems to exist in Turretinfan's mind about this has less to do with the actual sensory input and more to do with what the individual does with that input. But that is something else entirely. The couple in question interpreted what they saw and heard in a manner consistent with their previous experience. That is a reasonable thing to do, absent any compelling reason not to do so.

If there is any real moral to the story in Mr. Akin's post, it is that civilization depends upon honesty and truthfulness. Society is impossible when people cannot be trusted. It's not the senses that were the problem here at all. It was the wickedness of the deceiver.

Total Depravity?

Is the non-Christian totally incapable of doing anything that is truly good? Many Protestants - especially the Reformed variety - will tell you that this is so. They will point at a few hyperbolic passages of the Bible that might seem, at first blush, to suggest that "there is none who does good" and that "there is none who seeks after God" (Rom. 3:12, 10, CCD). The problem is that to read such a passage in a literalistic way creates insurmountable problems.

First, what about Christ? Did he sin? Obviously not! So we have to concede that there is at least one exception to this notion that "there is none who does good." But if there is even one exception, then we have to concede that verses like this simply cannot be read literalistically.

But there is more. Because if "there is none who does good" - literally - then not even the apostles could be said to have done good! So even if we're willing to create the admittedly special exception for the Son of God - which would be a reasonable exception, of course - we're either going to have to say that the apostles never did good, or else there are still other exceptions.

But there is more. Because even if we grant the apostles as an exception (because they were, after all, apostles), we still have other problems. Because, for example, St. Peter says that "the eyes of the Lord are upon the just, and his ears unto their prayers" (1Pet. 3:12). How can this be if there is literally none who does good? But perhaps we must create an additional exception for Christians.

But even this is insufficient. For St. Paul writes of the Jewish people, "I bear them witness that they have zeal for God" (Rom. 10:2). Their zeal is hindered by the fact that they are ignorant of things that they ought to know, but they have zeal for God nevertheless. Well, is zeal for God a bad thing? Clearly St. Paul does not think so! So again we see that we must create an exception for the possibility that even non-Christians may do good.

But someone might say that the Jews are a special case. But even this is not sufficient. Because as we know, the Lord Jesus Christ said of the Roman centurion, "Amen I say to you, I have not found such great faith in Israel" (Mt. 8:10). Now clearly the Lord believed that this man's faith was a good thing, and yet he was not a Christian, and he was not a Jew. He was a Gentile.

And what about the man who helps the little old lady across the street? Does he not do a good deed? What about the fellow who risks his own life to save the life of someone else? Is this not a good deed? Of course it is!

So now we have come full circle: we have seen that Christians and Jews and Gentiles are all capable of doing good, and in fact actually do good things, and so we are forced to conclude that Romans 3:12 and 3:10 cannot reasonably be interpreted in a literal way. Hence those Protestants - particularly those Reformed - who like to say that no non-Christian does good are flatly wrong.

But at least some Reformed folks will want to make a distinction here, perhaps, and it seems that it is a reasonable one. They will say that the good things that we do are insufficient for us to merit salvation. And in a certain sense, this seems to be reasonable. "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has reason to boast, but not before God" (Rom. 4:2). None of us deserves by our own merits to go to heaven. Rather, we receive the gift of salvation by the grace of God, through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Of this Justification the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting; 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; 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; the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified; 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, and according to each one's proper disposition and co-operation. For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity. For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said, that Faith without works is dead and profitless; and, In Christ Jesus neither circumcision, availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by charity. This faith, Catechumens beg of the Church-agreeably to a tradition of the apostles-previously to the sacrament of Baptism; when they beg for the faith which bestows life everlasting, which, without hope and charity, faith cannot bestow: whence also do they immediately hear that word of Christ; If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Wherefore, when receiving true and Christian justice, they are bidden, immediately on being born again, to preserve it pure and spotless, as the first robe given them through Jesus Christ in lieu of that which Adam, by his disobedience, lost for himself and for us, that so they may bear it before the judgment-seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, and may have life everlasting (Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Decree on Justification, Chapter VII).
So: of course our salvation comes from Christ, and no one would pretend that you can (for example) live in adultery and expect to gain salvation because you saved a baby from a fiery death. But the fact that one sins by (for example) adultery does not take away from the objective good of (for example) saving a baby's life.

Yes, people do good. No, they cannot save themselves apart from Christ.

I can imagine at least one or two practical applications of this. For one thing, we need not assume (as some certainly seem to do) that non-Christians' motives are evil. Anti-Catholics should not assume that Catholics' motives are evil. Catholics should not assume that the motives of anti-Catholics are evil. In the absence of actual evidence to the contrary, the law of charity ought to govern how we treat others at all times: that is, we ought to grant them the benefit of the doubt. This is all the more essential when it comes to matters of the heart. We do not even know our own hearts. How then can we judge the hearts of others? We can't. This is not to say that we must blind ourselves to evil. But we really ought to be more cautious in assigning blame. A sin is a deliberate action that someone takes. If it seems that someone lies about us, we need to be able to prove that in fact at the time he made the false statement, he was both aware of the truth and specifically intended to say something untrue instead. If we do not know this - and we rarely (if ever) do know such a thing (certainly we can hardly know that at all on the Internet) - then we have an obligation to be charitable.

In Defense of St. Augustine

It's difficult to know exactly how to respond to a post like this. Carrie apparently labors under a common Protestant delusion: that St. Augustine was some sort of crypto-proto-Protestant. But nothing could be further from the truth. Ripping quotations like this out of the whole corpus of the great Saint's writings, as though they can be properly understood as standalone monuments or whatever, is just crazy.

I suppose one thing that must be said is that to the extent that they interpret their favorite quote-rips correctly (meaning, consistently with the whole of his writings), so that they believe what he truly taught, Protestants reveal - willingly or not - that they share beliefs in common with the Catholic Church. This should not be all that surprising, since their origins are in the Church.

It seems that the best response would be: you believe this thing that St. Augustine taught, but he also taught many other things that you should learn as well. And if you will believe him, then we urge you to return to the Catholic Church - the same Church that taught St. Augustine, by whose authority he believed in the Bible.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Social Doctrine of the Church: Freedom

Freedom is the highest sign in man of his being made in the divine image and, consequently, is a sign of the sublime dignity of every human person...The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person (Compendium, 199; emphasis in original).
But this freedom is not unlimited. We must surely have it, or our ability to live truly human lives, and our ability to attain to our ultimate end, will be impaired. We must be free to act as human beings. But we must exercise our freedom within limits.
Far from being achieved in total self-sufficiency and the absence of relationships, freedom only truly exists where reciprocal bonds, governed by truth and justice, link people to one another (ibid).
This is so because we are created not to be lone rangers or absolute individualists. To the contrary, "It is not good that the man is alone" (Gn. 2:18). We need people. That being the case, we must exercise our freedom responsibly, and for the good of others as well as ourselves, all out of love for God.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Social Doctrine of the Church: Religious Freedom - 2

I don't think that the Compendium comes right out and says this, but while mowing the lawn tonight it occurred to me that there is more that could be said about why this is an essential human right.

Man's ultimate end is to see God: the beatific vision. But if this is the case, then it would be gravely evil for anyone or anything to obstruct a man's ability to attain that end.

That is the negative side: a man must not be prevented or hindered from achieving his last end. But what about the other side: compelling a man to believe in Jesus Christ? That fails by virtue of the previous argument: religious belief of necessity must be a human act, or it is not really belief. So if we force a man to be baptized, he would not have the necessary disposition required to receive the grace promised in the sacrament, and consequently it would be of no benefit to him anyway.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Social Doctrine of the Church: Religious Freedom

I must confess that this particular doctrine stuck in my craw until fairly recently. However, upon further reflection it begins to make sense. Thank you St. Thomas, for your discussion of what it is that makes a Human Act.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church has this to say about religious freedom:
"Freedom of conscience and religion 'concerns man both individually and socially.' The right to religious freedom must be recognized in the juridical order and sanctioned as a civil right" (422).
Practically speaking, this is necessary because religious belief cannot be coerced: it is impossible for anyone except God to know a man's heart, and consequently any such coercion is simply unenforceable beyond extracting external signs of compliance from someone. More importantly though, a human act is one that is both free and deliberate. But if religious belief is coerced, then it is not free; consequently it is not a human act. But religious belief by its very nature is the most important sort of belief that one may have. Hence it is a grave violation of a person's standing as a human being to rob them of that liberty of belief. Thus we simply must stand for religious freedom.

This is not to say that we must approve of the content of each man's beliefs. Granting the liberty does not imply endorsement.

Likewise it is not to say that we must tolerate everything in the name of religion:
The just limits of the exercise of religious freedom must be determined in each social situation with political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority through legal norms consistent with the objective moral order. Such norms are required by "the need for the effective safeguarding of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also by the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally by the need for a proper guardianship of public morality" (ibid.)
We are not obliged as a society to endorse temple prostitution, for example.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

St. Thomas on Interpretation of Scripture

The author of Holy Writ is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science has the property, that the things signified by the words have themselves also a signification. Therefore that first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it. Now this spiritual sense has a threefold division. For as the Apostle says (Hebrews 10:1) the Old Law is a figure of the New Law, and Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. i) "the New Law itself is a figure of future glory." Again, in the New Law, whatever our Head has done is a type of what we ought to do. Therefore, so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense; so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense. But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense. Since the literal sense is that which the author intends, and since the author of Holy Writ is God, Who by one act comprehends all things by His intellect, it is not unfitting, as Augustine says (Confess. xii), if, even according to the literal sense, one word in Holy Writ should have several senses (ST I Q1 A10).
Compare this with the Catechism:
According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. the profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."

The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.
1. the allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's victory and also of Christian Baptism.
2. the moral sense. the events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our instruction".
3. the anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading"). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem

(CCC 115-117)
Because God is the author of Scripture, the things signified by the words of the Bible also signify things. On this basis the Church explains the different senses that we must be ready to find in God's Word. The literal sense is the basis for the others, but it is not the only one. It would be absurd to presume that the only sense of Scripture is that which was intended by the human authors of the Bible.

St. Thomas goes on to say:
The multiplicity of these senses does not produce equivocation or any other kind of multiplicity, seeing that these senses are not multiplied because one word signifies several things, but because the things signified by the words can be themselves types of other things (ibid., ad 1).
For a fascinating example of the use of the Bible by St. Thomas, see his exposition of the Hail Mary.

Hermeneutics of Suspicion

Carrie seems to think that I'm out to trap her.

But that's just crazy. For starters, traps are a lousy way to carry on a discussion. They breed suspicion, which is contrary to charity. Secondly, I'm not out to make her look bad, as I pointed out in reply. That too is contrary to charity. Thirdly, a trap would demonstrate nothing with respect to the truth of anyone's position, and consequently they are opposed to reason to the extent that they obscure the real state of things.

Here's where I stand. I do not expect to persuade Protestants of anything with respect to the Catholic Church. The most that I hope to accomplish is to demonstrate that there is nothing whatsoever contrary to Scripture or reason in the Catholic faith. After that, it's up to the Holy Spirit to do the convincing. So when a Protestant misrepresents the Church, I think it is worth the effort to clear up the fog. If they disagree with Catholics when they have understood us properly, I can't help that.

Now, I happen to believe that Carrie's post that started the present discussion misrepresents the Church in that it isolates a single aspect of one doctrine from its proper context, and that by focusing on that to the exclusion of its proper context, Carrie has painted a prejudicial picture of Catholic faith. Furthermore, if she herself believes that God does sometimes exercise extraordinary means for the salvation of some, it is unfair to criticize the Church for teaching the same.

I am not out to paint Protestants as evil. I am interested in Carrie correcting an error on her blog. I do not believe that Protestants are evil. I wish and hope that she will extend the same courtesy to us. The hermeneutics of suspicion, whereby we presumptively read each other as enemies, will get us nowhere.

By way of a demonstration of my seriousness about this, I will confess that I have carried this very baggage of suspicion into my interpretation of Carrie's blog in the past. I am sorry for that, and I repent of it. I will do my best to avoid it in the future.

Unanswered Questions - 2

I think that it will be worthwhile and potentially interesting (at least, maybe, to me) to keep a running list of questions raised on Carrie's blog that she doesn't answer. Of course it may be that she doesn't have time, and so it would be rash to suppose prima facie that she doesn't answer because she cannot answer. Likewise, it would be irrational to suppose that her ability to answer or not is a measure of the truth or falsity of her Protestant viewpoints: we must extend her the same courtesy that we would like for ourselves, after all. Truth is not measured by one man's ability to defend it adequately.

On the other hand, the truth is not up for grabs, either. We must measure the truth by God's revelation, communicated to us by the Church. And if this list gets to be very long, I think that we would be able to safely say that Carrie is not being a fair discussion partner: it is not legitimate to ask questions without answering questions yourself.

Lastly, it should be said that "I don't know" is a perfectly legitimate answer. Nobody's perfect. And we ought to be able to expect the same courtesy in return if we find ourselves unable to answer some question or other of hers. And whoever doesn't know has some homework to do at that point: let's hope we all have the good grace to do it.

Anyway, here is the list that I know of as it stands right now.
  • She has been challenged to demonstrate that Moses was not infallible with regard to his teaching on faith and morals as she claimed, but she has not answered.
  • She has been asked to justify her reliance on sola scriptura, and she has dismissed the question as atheistic (which is ridiculous) and said she doesn't have the time.
  • She has been asked whether people who die in infancy and the mentally handicapped who die go to hell or not. [Edit: she has answered! And "I don't know" is a perfectly legitimate answer, although I confess to being disappointed in why she says she doesn't know.]
Fair's fair, though. If there is some question or other that Carrie has asked me that I haven't answered, all she has to do is point it out and I will try to do so if I can.

Combox Interaction With Carrie on Redemptoris Missio - 4

Based on this comment here.
Carrie asked, instead of answering the question:
What does the Bible say?
I'm asking what you say, Carrie. Do babies and the mentally handicapped go to hell or not when they die?

I've answered your questions, and I've answered some of them repeatedly. I think it's fair to expect you to answer this one in return.

Combox Interaction With Carrie on Redemptoris Missio - 3

Based upon a comment here:
Carrie said:
I don't see how Redemptoris missio deals with infants and the mentally-challenged so I am unclear why this is an issue for you.
As I hope will be clear by now, the case of infants and the mentally handicapped demonstrates that there are at least two classes of people who are unable to make a Protestant profession of faith.

Unless she is going to say (and I hope that she would not, most sincerely) that they are all going to hell, then there are at least two classes of people where she and I agree that God saves them - whether some of them or all of them makes no difference at this point - through Christ, apart from the normal means (we of course differ on the "normal means," but that is not relevant at the moment).

That being the case, it hardly seems objectionable to suppose that there are people of a third class whom God might also save through Christ and apart from the normal means: namely, those who through no fault of their own have never had the opportunity even to hear of Jesus Christ.

This is what the Pope asserts in brief in RM: that there are such people. But (as he makes perfectly clear throughout the (rather long) encyclical) this in no way changes the fact that the Church must proclaim salvation through Christ, and offer it through the ordinary means. The obvious implication is that it would be a fool's errand to place one's hope for salvation in something apart from the ordinary means that God has provided.

Combox Interaction with Carrie on Redemptoris Misso - 2

Based upon this post here.

Carrie said:
And, based on the partial answer you did give, please tell me how I am "poisoning the well".
In the post in question, she presented a quotation - ripped from context, with no explanation - that will mislead the uninformed as to what the Catholic Church believes.

Because she did not present an argument that shows why she thinks the quotation contains an error, it is obvious that she is not attempting to educate the uninformed (presumably the uninformed are her audience, based upon this post). That being the case, it seems quite clear that the post is nothing but a rhetorical swipe at the Church.

That being the case, it seems quite clear that the purpose behind the post is to make the Catholic Church look bad, so that actual arguments in its defense will be ignored.

This is called "poisoning the well." If she doesn't understand what that is, she should look here.

If, however, I have mistaken her intent, she has no one to blame for this except herself since (as is quite unfortunately common) she hasn't stated what her intent in the post was. In fact, when she has been challenged to explain what her point for a post was in the past, she has steadfastly refused to do so in almost every case. I think that she can hardly blame her readers for misunderstanding her (if they have in fact done so), given her apparent reticence to make herself clear.

Combox Interaction With Carrie on Redemptoris Missio - 1

Based on this comment here.

Carrie quoted me saying Of course not everyone who dies without having made a Protestant profession of faith goes to hell.

She responded to that: That is not what I asked - you're still dodging.

Perhaps she needs to restate what she thinks she asked, because what she asked was this:
will all who die without personally accepting Christ as Lord and Saviour go to hell?
"Personally accepting Christ as Lord and Savior" is a textbook definition of what I called making a "Protestant profession of faith."

If she cares to either rephrase the question if I misunderstood her, or explain how that is not a "Protestant profession of faith," by all means she should do so. In either case, I didn't dodge her question - not the first time she falsely claimed this (see below), nor especially the second time.

The first time she mistakenly claimed that I "dodged" her question, I answered it with a question whose obvious answer - even from a Protestant viewpoint - makes her original question (in red and bold above in this post) look ridiculous. I know of no Protestant group which claims that every baby goes to hell, and Catholics don't think that any do. Babies obviously don't have the opportunity to "personally accept Christ as their Lord and Savior," not all of them (according to all Protestants of which I'm aware) or none of them (according to Catholics and, probably, at least some Protestants) go to hell, and therefore the obvious answer to her question is No.

Now, if she still thinks I'm dodging her question, she is going to have to be more specific in what she is asking...and also explain why she thinks my responses have dodged it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The excuse does not excuse

Carrie responds.
Relax - it's just a quote. The link to the full document is there for everyone to read for themselves in context.
Then of course Carrie might have selected a quotation from Redemptoris Missio (RM) like this, if one quotation is just as good as another:
No one, therefore, can enter into communion with God except through Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit (RM 5).
That quotation is far truer to the spirit of the encyclical as a whole, whose goal is:
The present document has as its goal an interior renewal of faith and Christian life. For missionary activity renews the Church, revitalizes faith and Christian identity, and offers fresh enthusiasm and new incentive. Faith is strengthened when it is given to others! It is in commitment to the Church's universal mission that the new evangelization of Christian peoples will find inspiration and support (RM 2; emphasis in original).
So when Carrie posts a quotation that the average uninformed Protestant will certainly understand as universalistic, is it really "just a quote"? Hogwash.

Carrie follows with a quotation of CCC 847, the significant portion of which is:
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.
Once again: a quotation ripped from context. Because 848 says:
Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men (emphasis added).
Note what it says: God can lead them "to that faith without which it is impossible to please him" in ways known to himself. The means doesn't change: it is still through Christ, as RM affirms, and it requires faith "without which it is impossible to please him."

This is completely non-controversial from the Catholic perspective, since "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments" (CCC 1257).

But of course, to the Protestant, with an erroneous notion of the sacrament of Baptism, that seems wrong (though it isn't). And Carrie is among them, since she says one must have a "direct/personal faith in Christ" in order to be saved. But the problem with that is evident, as we shall see in addressing her question:
Or maybe the easier question is - will all who die without personally accepting Christ as Lord and Saviour go to hell?
Of course not. But neither will they all go to heaven, either. The obvious question remains to be answered by her: Will babies who die go to hell? How about the mentally handicapped who are incapable of understanding the gospel? If she says "No, they won't all go to hell," then she has answered her own question the same way: Not all who die without having made the Protestant expression of faith will go to hell. But if that's the case, then even from the Protestant perspective it would have to be conceded that God is free to use extraordinary means for the salvation of people if he chooses to do so - though of course their salvation would still be accomplished through Christ.

On the other hand, If she says that all these will go to hell - well, that's a pretty frightening picture, and it is certainly not a Catholic one.

Poisoning the Well is Not an Argument - 3

Carrie has another blog post up that returns to what I'm beginning to think is her favorite way to deal with the Catholic Church: present context-free quotations from Catholic sources that are intended to scandalize Protestant readers. Again, I can only presume that this is her motive, since (once again) she hasn't said what her point is. She says that she wants to "educate", but when she does this sort of thing, it is clear that education is not on the agenda at all.

The post consists of a quotation from Redemptoris Missio. It is intended to give the uninformed reader the idea that Catholics are universalists. We have been down this road before. Anti-Catholics cannot say both that the Church teaches only Catholics will be saved and that the Church teaches everyone will be saved. It is irrational (and both notions are false).

Absolutely devastating, however, is the fact that the quotation on Carrie's blog - clearly intended to suggest that the Catholic Church (or at least John Paul II) is universalistic - must be read in the context of Redemptoris Missio itself. And when it is, the reader will see that Carrie obviously didn't read the document if she thinks that her quotation is representative of the encyclical. It creates such a distorted picture of the encyclical as to be almost a lie. Why? Because Redemptoris Missio was specifically intended to encourage missionary activity to non-Christian lands: to people who have never heard of Jesus Christ. The Pope goes on at great length about the absolute necessity of evangelism, because "No one, therefore, can enter into communion with God except through Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit," and because "the Church is the ordinary means of salvation and that she alone possesses the fullness of the means of salvation."

In short: Carrie's post completely misrepresents John Paul II and the teaching of the Catholic Church. He was no universalist. The Church is not universalist. And no one is going to be saved "except through Christ" - just as JPII said in Redemptoris Missio.

From the Combox - Concerning Faith

Ellen says:
What I'm trying to do is demonstrate why we don't need (faith-wise) an infallible human body to give us Scripture.

my faith rests not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

we walk by faith, not by sight.

faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
No Catholic would disagree with your last three sentences here. At all.
I won't comment on this again, because it's yet another example of different definitions.
But - assuming for the moment the point that there are definitional differences - they cannot both be right. And consequently this is something that is entirely worth discussing. We may be unable to come to an accord, but we won't know if we do not try.
You appear to attack our trust in God's Word based on the fact that we have faith in what cannot be proven on this earth. Yet it is BECAUSE it cannot be proven on this earth that we call it "faith".
Then you haven't yet understood what I'm saying (and not only me, but others as well). I will try again. The question has nothing to do with whether it is proper to have faith in Christ or not: obviously it is (and it is essential). The question has to do with the reason why we have that faith. The question for the Protestant is: why should the Bible be treated as the Word of God? If you get to the point that you can rationally explain this, then you can continue to where you address the consequences of the fact that the Bible is the Word of God. But how do you know that it is? On what grounds? If you can't come up with an answer to that question that isn't viciously circular, then it doesn't seem to me that you have much reason to believe that it is the Word of God at all.

A secondary problem is that - even if you somehow establish this, it remains that a book is not a judge. It's a book. It cannot and will not adjudicate between two (or more) conflicting positions for you. Instead, some person or other will do it. On what grounds do you say that this person's judgment as to the content of the Bible is even reliable?

Assuming that you can resolve these questions, then it may be reasonable to continue forward to faith in God, whom you cannot see. But to confuse that kind of faith - the faith that believes the things that God has revealed - things that we are not able to "see" on our own because we are unable to attain to them by our reason - with a "faith" that just blindly believes the Bible to be God's Word without a sound reason for it - is a mistake.

Again: this is not to say that the faith of Protestants in Christ is invalid if they can't answer these questions. It just means that they haven't thought through things to realize the inconsistency of their faith in Christ (which I certainly presume is genuine) with the sandy foundation of a belief in the Bible that has no rational grounds. By way of a trivial example: It's like a fat man who (correctly) believes that he ought to diet because he is convinced (incorrectly) that thin people get fewer traffic tickets. The real reason he ought to do it is that it's unhealthy to be overweight. He's doing the right thing, but his reasons are wrong. Very roughly speaking, the Protestant has faith in Christ - which is the right thing - but his reasons for doing so are mistaken, and do not really justify that faith, because he has no good reason to believe that the Bible is the Word of God.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tradition vs. Sacred Tradition

It is easy to make the mistake of identifying the Sacred Tradition of the Church with the Church Fathers, as though the Fathers are the source from which the Church draws Sacred Tradition. This is inaccurate, however. The Fathers are a witness to Sacred Tradition, not a source of it. St. Thomas understands the distinction, and articulates it here:
The custom of the Church has very great authority and ought to be jealously observed in all things, since the very doctrine of Catholic Doctors derives its authority from the Church. Hence we ought to abide by the authority of the Church rather than by that of an Augustine or a Jerome or of any doctor whatever (Summa Theologica II-II, Q10, A12).
In other words: if even a Doctor of the Church contradicts the teaching of the Church, it is the Doctor who is in error.

Questions But No Answers

Carrie has posted what she says is her last round of "answers" for questions asked by jswranch.

I put that word in quotation marks because she didn't really "answer" his questions.

He asks:
Can we be infallibly certain an infallible book even exists? We cannot.
To which she responds:
But apparently we can be infallibly certain that an infallible organization of men exists. Please, explain that one.
This is a nice debating trick, but it's nonresponsive to what he asked. If she is actually going to answer the question, she has to answer it - not evade it with a retort that is completely irrelevant to what he said. As for her retort, though... it has already been answered. But let's return to her non-answer. Please explain for us how, on your own Protestant terms, you can be certain that the Bible is infallible. That is the substance of his question, Carrie.

He asks:
If we deny that God established an institution of fallen, sinful human beings to infallibly teach the Gospel and the scriptures to us because they are fallen, sinful persons, can we believe that the Holy Spirit used fallen sinful human beings to even write infallible, inerrant books? No.
And she says:
Huh? I haven’t seen anyone make that argument. The question is not COULD God create an infallible organization, the question is DID he.
But this only shows that she apparently didn't understand the question. Because the argument is made all the time. Protestants love to wave at the human weaknesses inherent in the Church (which are really inherent in any human institution), and then scoff amongst themselves at the Catholic claim that God gifted the Church with a specific charism of infallibility, as though those human weaknesses refute the claim. And that is precisely the point of jswranch's question here: if Protestants say (and some do) that sin in the Magisterium disproves the Church's claims, then we ought to say the same about the Bible. Does the fact that sinful men were the human authors of the Bible mean that the Bible is therefore not inerrant? No. And in the same way, sin in the Magisterium does not mean that the Church is fallible with regard to faith and morals.

In order to actually answer this challenge, Carrie would either have to deny that she thinks that sin in the Magisterium disproves its claims (even if she thinks that she has other ways to disprove them), or else she would have to demonstrate how sin disproves the Magisterium's claims while leaving untouched the inerrancy of the Bible, since it too is the work of fallen men. But she has done neither. Hence she has failed to answer the question.

Lastly, jswranch asks at length:
Assuming FCIB (fallible collection of infallible books), does a source we can be dogmatically certain of exist by which we can know that there is such a thing as a bible? No. Assuming FCIB, we cannot be certain there is such a thing as the Bible. If you disagree, site a source we are certain of. A response such as a quote from lets say 2 Tim 3:15, begs us to state that we cannot be infallibly certain 2 Tim belongs in scripture. Can we say with certainty that we know scripture even exists or is inerrant from any source such as Acts 2:42? No. Why? Because we cannot be infallibly/dogmatically certain Acts is scripture.

Can we be infallibly certain Jesus rose from the dead? No. First, we have already established that we cannot be infallibly certain of anything. Second, we do not infallibly have any source that tells us He did rise from the dead. Some books tell us he rose, but we are not certain those books are actually scripture, therefore we cannot be certain he rose from the dead if FCIB is true.
Essentially what he is showing here is that the Protestant claims about the Bible leave them without any certainty about what the Bible says. Unfortunately Carrie doesn't seem to get it:
I am not going to answer these here as they boil down to the same issue – how does an infallible organization change anything? How can you ever infallibly prove that God established an infallible organization of men to infallibly validate the infallibility of scripture? How can you not see that problem?

I really cannot see how your objection, jswranch, can be chalked up to anything but a lack of faith. Seriously, I cannot even follow your logic – I would expect these kinds of objections from an atheist. To answer you I would have to start from the same point I would with a non-believer, and I don’t have the time right now to type all that out.
And, of course, once again she has substituted questions for answers.

And, of course, these questions have (like the others) already been answered in the same post of mine I linked above. The only thing that might possibly be added to it is that apostolic succession is the human means by which we have a chain of certainty going all the way back to the first century: a living testimony - the living voice of Christ in the Church.

As to her last paragraph there...she seems to be unable to follow the logic because she assumes (falsely) that the Catholic ought to approach the Bible on the same terms that she does. But we don't. We know that the Bible is the Word of God because the Church tells us so. Paraphrasing what St. Augustine said, we would have no reason to believe in the authority of the Bible apart from the testimony of the Church. And that is precisely the predicament in which the Protestant finds himself: he has no rational basis for believing that the Bible is the Word of God, precisely because he rejects the voice of Christ speaking in the Catholic Church.

And, lastly, we see Carrie say that she doesn't have time to answer jswranch's question. So once again: No Answer. And of course, we still do not have an answer from her to my challenge concerning Moses' infallibility. But I suppose we're not going to get one.