Thursday, December 25, 2008

I'm thinking this isn't bad news

According to this report, Disney's skipping out on The Voyage of The Dawn Treader. This is probably not bad news, since Prince Caspian could hardly be said to be a faithful rendering of the book. It was more like "Featuring names and a dimly similar story sort of inspired by the book." So I'm thinking we couldn't do much worse with a new studio involved, assuming Walden Media wasn't to blame for the license taken in Prince Caspian (this is not to say that I disliked the movie entirely, but it was disappointing).

I'm willing to give them another shot at it. If they botch up Dawn Treader, though, I might not be able to get over it. It's one of my favorite books in the series, right from the very first line ("There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." LOL!), past Dragon Island, the Dufflepuds, and the Last Sea, to Aslan the Lamb. I just won't be able to bear any abuse to this story.

Who "owns" the Bible?

That's a misleading question, in one sense, because properly speaking the owner is of course God. It is, after all, his written revelation. But inasmuch as he does not exercise a direct supervision of it in history, it does seem proper to ask: to whom has God granted stewardship of Scripture?

Now on the one hand some folks might object to that question, supposing that God hasn't granted that responsibility to anyone: on this view, to ask the question is to beg the question. But denying the validity of the question doesn't really settle things. It's not a question of whether there will be a steward of Scripture. There is going to be some steward(s) or other, whether we like it or not.

Now there are at least three ways in which someone might act as steward of Scripture: as to the books that comprise it (that is, with respect to the canon), as to the meaning of it (that is, with respect to hermeneutics), and as to the words of which it consists (that is, with respect to textual criticism). I've seen more than one argument between Protestants and Catholics about the question of the canon, and I've seen more than quarrel about hermeneutics. But I can't recall seeing one that addresses the question of textual criticism.

Let's set aside the canon and hermeneutics questions for a moment. We live thousands of years after the Scripture was first written. We have a huge number of manuscripts, and many variations among them. who decides which version of the text is correct?

Well, for the Catholic there can be only one answer to this question. Scripture has been entrusted to the Church. Consequently only the Church has any valid standing for establishing the exact text of Scripture. Hence Vatican II says:
Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church [Dei Verbum §10; emphasis added].
But the Protestant has an issue here. Who decides what the text is, and what is the basis of the authority to make that decision? I don't know of any answer that they can make to this that doesn't boil down eventually to subjectivism. Hopefully they would say that "the church" must do this, but that demands that we know what is meant by "the church". If by this they mean "my denomination," that's certainly a better answer than others that might be given. But it's hardly one that can stand historical scrutiny, since (obviously) no Protestant denomination existed before the sixteenth century.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Cheer

"I was in prison, and you came to me."

Here's a great story. It is made better by being true.

Merry Christmas.

The Rosary, Mary, Christ, and TF

TF has a couple posts up concerning the Rosary. I'm not posting here because I think that they haven't been adequately addressed already; Mike Burgess has done the heavy lifting on that score. However, in view of a recent suggestion, I thought I might pile on a little bit.
Certain of those who engage in Marian devotion, insist that Mary leads them to Christ.
Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but it's not just "certain of those" who do so that say it; it's the Church in (among other places) Lumen Gentium. Here's a tiny portion of what LG has to say that is relevant.
For no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer. Just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by the ministers and by the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is really communicated in different ways to His creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.

The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary. It knows it through unfailing experience of it and commends it to the hearts of the faithful, so that encouraged by this maternal help they may the more intimately adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer [62; emphasis added].
(As an aside, this little snippet also does away with the ridiculous canard suggested by some silly folks - though not, to my knowledge, TF - that Mary is someday, somehow going to be "added" to the Trinity. But I digress).

The point here is that - contrary to TF's insinuation - it is not just some mere sliver of Catholics who say that the Blessed Virgin leads them to Christ, as though they were in the minority or something. No. This is the formal teaching of the Church.
On the other hand, do you suppose she prayed the Lord's prayer? If so, she admitted her lack of sinlessness.
Mike answers this assertion well:
That she was personally preserved from sin by her prevenient salvation comports with her words in the Magnificat you cited. Of course she had (and needed to have) a Saviour, the one and only Lord. He saved her by keeping her from sinning. He preserved her graciously. Hers is a gracious sinlessness, showing the fulness of the gratuitous theosis given to us by the Lord, who calls us and prepares our works for us to walk in, and is at work in us both to will and to do, according to His good pleasure.

Your speculation about Mary praying a complete version of the Lord’s prayer is no more problematic than our Lord praying and reciting the Psalms in the liturgy of the intertestamental synagogue and Temple.
Exactly. For Mary to pray the Our Father is consistent with the fact that she too has a Savior. Even if TF were correct in supposing that Catholics say she didn't need a Savior (and we simply do not say this), though - Mike is exactly right: there wouldn't be any substantive difference between her saying the Our Father and the Lord Jesus participating in the ceremonial rites of the OT. Of course, I could be mistaken in one thing here. Perhaps TF doesn't say that Catholics believe Mary needs no Savior. If that, however, were the case, then he would know that his criticism here has no force. I am inclined to think better of him than this. But this means that he doesn't understand what we say about Mary's standing before her Lord and ours.

In a followup post responding to someone else, TF writes:
Assuming that Mr. Greco's dating for the Rosary is correct (and it is always dangerous trying to pin dates on innovations in church history), this only reinforces one of the points that my original post was making, namely that the Rosary is foreign to the Bible. It was unknown to Mary - it was unknown to the Apostles - and (per Greco) it was unknown to a thousand years of the universal church.
Yes. And the ex tempore prayers used in TF's congregation on Sunday are unknown to two thousand years of the universal church, and are foreign to the Bible. This is true of the extemporaneous prayers that are said in the Mass, too. The salient question is: so what? Perhaps he wishes to allege that the Rosary is not just "foreign" to the Bible but that it is contrary to the Bible. I don't think so. TF continues:
Casting the Rosary as, "the Rosary is a meditation on the Gospel...and I do think that Mary meditated on her son's life and the wondrous things God had done for her," (ellipsis in original) misses the issues and objections to the Rosary.
Except that this is precisely the purpose of the Rosary. For TF to say that this "misses the objections to the Rosary" is as much as to say that he has missed the purpose of the thing. Now it stretches no one's credulity to suppose that TF's real objection is to the fact that prayers that are a part of the Rosary are directed to the Blessed Virgin; but they nevertheless constitute nothing more than that: a part of a meditation on the Gospel. What does he think the point of the various mysteries of the Rosary are, anyway?
But the Rosary is not in the form of meditation, but prayer;
I'm not sure how to respond to this. I guess we all missed Turretin's Style Guide, where we are authoritatively informed as to the legitimate forms that meditation may take.

But seriously. This quarrel does not bear up to scrutiny. Who is to say what form meditation must take? I'm not sure what the answer to that is, but I'm reasonably sure it's not TF, and it's not Protestants. I would like to think better of TF than this. This is so obviously a specious complaint that I think he would have done better to just repeat what is surely his real complaint: that prayers to the Blessed Virgin are a part of the Rosary.
And the prayers of the Rosary are objectionable both as to the fact that at least one prayer (the "Hail Mary") is not directed to God, and because the method of successive repetition is a heathen practice specifically condemned by Jesus (Matthew 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.)
But repetition per se is not unbiblical. To the contrary, it is entirely scriptural. The major example is Psalm 136, where every single verse - all twenty-seven of them - end with "for his mercy endureth for ever." Rev. 4:8 is maybe an even better one:
And the four living creatures had each of them six wings: and round about and within they are full of eyes. And they rested not day and night, saying: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come [emphasis added].
It seems clear: the prayerbook that God gave us (the Psalms) include an example of repetition, and the angels ceaselessly sing a form of the Sanctus. Hence repetition in prayer is not in and of itself an evil. But there are other difficulties with this, too. What and who is going to say what sort of repetition would be wrong? Even the cherubim seen by Isaiah say (6:3) "Holy, Holy, Holy." But that's repetition, right? Now perhaps TF will argue that this is far too small a repetition to qualify for the criticism that he makes, but to this I would reply: fine. But who then is to judge what degree of repetition is illegitimate, and why should we listen to him?

Anyway, the point is: repetition is not a problem. Consequently TF's complaint about it is irrelevant.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yet Another Blog Update

My last post effectively wraps up the posts that I am able to draw from notes taken during my reading of the last two years (and if you think that means that my notes were pretty paltry, I'm not going to argue with you).

Unfortunately this may mean that my posting is going to be a bit sparse for a while. I draw inspiration for many of my posts from stuff I'm reading, but at present I'm in the thick of fixing some deficits in my history education. At least seven (depending on how you want to count them) of the next ten books in my reading list are primarily history, and for the most part history does not really inspire me with fodder for blog posts.

This doesn't mean that I won't be posting at all, but unless something otherwise provokes me, I don't really have anything to fall back on for subject matter. I apologize to my few regular readers for this. Unfortunately this is a consequence of not being an actual academic: I have to do this stuff in my free time, and there just isn't enough of it to offer me opportunity for doing all the reading and writing that I'd like.

But to give maybe a glimmer of hope, here are a few things I'm tossing around for the hopefully-not-too-distant future that will hopefully prove interesting.
  • Working through the Church Fathers
  • Working through the Summa Contra Gentiles more thoroughly
  • Working through the Summa Theologica more thoroughly, with an assist from Farrell's Companion
  • Working through Maritain's Degrees of Knowledge
  • Working through McInerny's Praeambula Fidei
  • Working through some of Anselm
Anyway, I hope you'll stay tuned.

As an aside, and apropos my previous post, I spent some time this evening reading over at the Crimson Catholic (and if you want really serious Catholic philosophical discussion, you can hardly do better than what Jonathan Prejean has done there). He had an extended discussion relating to Nestorianism a couple years ago, and it's fascinating. You can find links to the various posts here; scroll down maybe halfway to the section headed "Eric Svendsen" for the series. There is some excellent material here. One thing that came to mind while reading was a result of the Protestant in question insisting that human nature included being a person (while Prejean argued, of course, that a "person" is that which instantiates a rational nature). The implicit - or maybe explicit - denial by his adversary of human nature existing in any sense apart from a human person reeks of nominalism to me. Once again, although this man seemed to have been oblivious to it, we can see that one's philosophic outlook can't really be divorced from how he thinks about theology.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Theology of St. Thomas - Are Protestants Nestorian?

Of course St. Thomas never wrote anything about Protestants per se, at least in part because he did not have access to a starship by means of which he could tamper with the space-time continuum. So to ask whether St. Thomas considered Protestants to be Nestorian make as much sense as asking what his favorite NFL team was. The real question for this post, though, is whether there is any sense in which what St. Thomas says in criticism of Nestorius may also be said of Protestants. Right away, though, we have to begin by qualifying things: I can imagine at least some Protestants to whom these criticisms do not apply at all. So this post is not to say that all Protestants are Nestorian, even if we conclude by saying that at least some might be. In particular I don't have any particular Protestant in mind at all, nor even any specific Protestant theological tradition. The most that might be said about specific persons would be about my specific Protestant self, prior to my conversion.

St. Thomas addresses the heresy of Nestorius in SCG, IV, 34. It is a fairly lengthy chapter, and we won't be looking at every single remark that Aquinas makes in it. He starts off by introducing the error:
They said that the human soul and the true human body came together in Christ by a natural union to constitute one man of the same species and nature with other men, and that in this man God dwelt as in His temple, namely, by grace, just as in other holy men. ... So, then, consequently on the things just said there must be one Person of the Word of God, and another person of that man who is co-adored with the Word of God. And if one Person of each of the two be mentioned, this will be by reason of the affective union aforesaid; so that man and the Word of God may be called one Person, as is said of man and woman that “now they are not two, but one flesh” (Mat. 19:6).

Now, such a union does not bring it about that what is said of the first can be said of the second (for not everything which becomes the man is true of the woman, or conversely); therefore in the union of the Word and that man they think this must be observed: The things proper to that man and pertinent to the human nature cannot be said becomingly of God’s Word, or of God. just so it becomes that man that he was born of a virgin, that he suffered, died, was buried, and this kind of thing; and all of these, they assert, ought not be said of God, or of the Word of God. But, since there are certain names which, although they are chiefly befitting to God, are nonetheless communicated to men in a fashion—“christ,” for instance, “lord,” “holy,” and even “son of God”—nothing according to them keeps one from the use of such names in predication of the things just mentioned. For, according to them, we say fittingly that Christ, or the “Lord of glory,” or the “Saint of saints,” or “God’s son” was born of a virgin, suffered, died and was buried. Hence, too, the Blessed Virgin must not be named the mother of God, or of the Word of God, but the mother of Christ, they say [SCG IV, 34, 2 passim; emphasis added].

And here we get to the heart of why it is that sometimes Catholics say that Protestants are Nestorian: they do not think it fitting to use certain sorts of language when speaking about the Lord Jesus Christ. This will be somewhat lengthy, but I think it's worth examining a bit more. The point isn't, as I already said, that Protestants are necessarily Nestorian; rather, it is that it seems (for some of them at least) their use of language, and their scruples about it, undermine the Incarnation after a Nestorian fashion, and that it would be better for them to modify that usage to be more orthodox.
if “the Word was made flesh,” that is, “man,” as the Evangelist witnesses (John 1:14). it is impossible that there be two persons, or hypostases, or supposits of the Word of God and of that man [ibid., 5; hereafter references to this same chapter will be by paragraph number only].
Now that may seem pretty obvious to us today. But St. Thomas draws the conclusion, "Whatever was made is what it was made; thus, what was made man is man, and what was made white is white. But God’s Word was made man, as is gathered from the foregoing. So God’s Word is man" [ibid.; emphasis added]. And:
Demonstrative pronouns, moreover, refer to the person, or hypostasis, or supposit. For no one says “I run” when another is running, except figuratively, perhaps, when another is running in his place. But the man called Jesus says about Himself: “Before Abraham was made, I am”,and “I and the Father are one” (John 8:59; 10:30), and several other things which clearly pertain to the divinity of the Word. Therefore, the person and hypostasis of the man speaking is plainly the very person of the Word of God [6].
The point here is that the second person of the Trinity is identified with the man Jesus - they are the same person. And of course the average orthodox Protestant (by which I mean one who accepts orthodox Christology) is not going to argue with that.

This usage appears frequently in Scripture.
  • Jesus says he is the bread which came down from heaven, which could only be said of the Word (John 6:51) [7]
  • The disciples watched him ascend to heaven (Acts 1:9), but St. Paul says "He that descended is the same also that ascended above all the heavens" (Eph. 4:10); the disciples could not see Christ's divinity ascend into heaven, but it is only his divinity that could have descended from heaven [8]
  • Jesus says that he came into the world (John 16:28), but that which has its origin in the world (namely, his body) cannot properly be said to "come into" it; so it must be the Word of God who speaks [9]
  • The suffering of one's body can be ascribed to the one whose body it is, and consequently we may say that the Word of God suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried because these things happened to his body [11]
  • The psalmist says that God is the King of glory (23:8-10), and Paul says that Christ is the Lord of glory (1Co 2:8); hence we may say that God was crucified [13]
  • God delivered his own Son up for us (Rom. 8:32), so that it is right to say that the Word of God suffered and died for us [14]
  • "[O]ne is said to be the son of a mother because his body is taken from her, although his soul is not taken from her, but has an exterior source. ... Now, it was proved that the body of that man is the body of the natural Son of God, that is, of the Word of God. So it becomes us to say that the Blessed Virgin is “the Mother of the Word of God,” and even “of God”. Of course, the divinity of the Word is not taken from His Mother, for a son need not take the whole of his substance from his mother, but his body only" [15]
  • "And, again, John says: “The Word was made flesh.” But He has no flesh, except from a woman. The Word, then, is made of a woman; that is, of the Virgin Mother. Therefore, the Virgin is the Mother of God the Word" [20]
  • Paul says that Christ is "of the Fathers" (Rom. 9:5), but this is only through his Virgin Mother; therefore he who is "over all things, God blessed forever" (Rom. 9:5 again) is of the Fathers through the Virgin Mother; therefore she is the mother of God in the flesh [21]
  • St. Peter says that the man Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God (Acts 2:33), and St. Paul says that God "emptied himself" (Php. 2:7); hence, if we may say that the man Christ Jesus has been exalted, we may also say that "lowly thing" may be said of God - that he suffered and died, or that a Virgin was his Mother [28]
  • St. Paul says of this one person that in and by him all things were created (which could only be said of him in his divine nature), and that he is the firstborn from the dead (which could only be said of him in his human nature); hence "whatever is said of that man must be said of the Word of God, and conversely" (cf. Col. 1:16-18) [29]
For all these reasons we see that it is perfectly legitimate to speak of Mary as the Mother of God.

Now this is something to which at least some Protestants object. While it is undoubtedly true that at least some of these objectors hold an orthodox Christology, nevertheless their unwillingness to accept perfectly appropriate language concerning Christ and his Mother sounds as if they deny the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation, by denying the unity of the Person of Christ. He is one Person, of whom we may say that he is God, and that Mary is his Mother, and that he suffered and died for us, and that in him all things were made.

[Update - to add some additional considerations here...]

Why does it seem at face value as though they deny the orthodox doctrine? Because to be unwilling to say that Mary is the Mother of God - to be only willing to say that she is the Mother of Christ - is to suggest that the child - the person in her womb was not the Word of God. Now that may not be what they intend, but it is nevertheless the implication that is hard to avoid. But if he was not the Word, then he was merely human. And that, of course, would be heretical.

This is why it is so important to be willing to say that Mary is the Mother of God - the theotokos, the God-bearer. And as we have seen above from what St. Thomas has argued, we have excellent precedent for saying this, inasmuch as the Scripture often says of the human nature what rightly applies only to the divine, and vice versa. One who gives birth to a child is that child's mother; but Mary's child was God. Hence Mary is the Mother of God. Protestants who are distressed by this should carefully reconsider the implications of a denial of it.

Council Counsel

It seems that because there were discussions about justification at Trent, that there was no certainty about the question prior to the Council.
Since there were no offical statements from the RCC on justification, you can wiggle all around to deny the obvious that Rome's theologians had very different opinions on justification.
On the contrary, an "official statement" (by which presumably the author means a dogmatic declaration) is not required in order for clarity about a matter to exist.

A trivial example: there is no dogmatic declaration (on the order of a Pastor aeternus or Munificentissimus Deus) that murder is a grave sin. Nor is one needed.

A more relevant example would be the circumstances prior to Nicaea. The fact that there was no Nicene Creed, and the fact that no "official statement" about the Holy Trinity had been promulgated, do not mean that there was no certainty about the Trinity prior to Nicaea. The purpose of Councils isn't merely to define what must be believed (although that would be sufficient in my book), but rather to address issues related to faith and morals that have become sufficiently controverted due to errors being taught by some in the Church as to warrant an "official statement". So if no "official statement" concerning justification existed prior to Trent, it is no measure of whether there was any uncertainty or ambiguity about what the orthodox doctrine was, just as there was no serious uncertainty concerning the Trinity prior to Nicaea and the rise of Arius.

It's a straw man to suggest that we Catholics must have a dogmatic declaration of literally everything we believe - a straw man that is propped up in order to suggest that we suffer from the same formal doctrinal confusion as Protestants. It is a crude sort of tu quoque, by which the Protestant hopes to blunt the perfectly valid criticism of Protestantism that there is no reliable means among them by which they may objectively know the truth.

Friday, December 19, 2008

From the Reading List - How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization

I just finished reading Woods' fine book How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. At fewer than 250 pages it's obviously no more than an overview of this very broad subject, but I think it's a superb one. I commend it to you wholeheartedly.

Indeed, this book is a breath of fresh air after reading Southern's book The Church and Western Society in the Middle Ages. I'm not entirely certain that Southern was deliberately and self-consciously hostile to the Church, but his portait of her is not exactly one that encourages affection for her either. For example, I don't remember any significant discussion of the role played by the Church's charitable works during the Middle Ages, nor of the consequences of (for example) Henry VIII's confiscation of monastic property in Britain. Woods' work is a fine remedy for Southern and a host of other historiographic ailments.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Faith and the Knowledge of God

We're not free to believe just anything about God that suits our fancy, as though one thing were as good as another.
[T]he divine law orders man for this purpose, that he may be entirely subject to God. But, just as man is subject to God as far as will is concerned, through loving, so is he subject to God as far as intellect is concerned, through believing; not, of course, by believing anything that is false, for no falsity can be proposed to man by God Who is truth. Consequently, he who believes something false does not believe in God [SCG III, 118, 3].
And more:
[4] Besides, whoever is in error regarding something that is of the essence of a thing does not know that thing. Thus, if someone understood irrational animal with the notion that it is a man, he would not know man. Now, it would be a different matter if he erred concerning one of man’s accidents. However, in the case of composite beings, the person who is in error concerning one of their essential principles does know the thing, in a relative way, though he does not know it in an unqualified sense. For instance, he who thinks that man is an irrational animal knows him according to his genus. But this cannot happen in reference to simple beings; instead, any error at all completely excludes knowledge of the being. Now, God is most simple. So, whoever is in error concerning God does not know God, just as the man who thinks that God is a body does not know God at all, but grasps something else in place of God. However, the way in which a thing is known determines the way in which it is loved and desired. Therefore, he who is in error about God can neither love God nor desire Him as an end. So, since the divine law intends this result, that man love and desire God, man must be bound by divine law to bold a right faith concerning God.
[5] Moreover, false opinion holds the same place in regard to objects of the intellect that vice opposed to virtue has in regard to moral matters, “for truth is the good of the intellect.” But it is the function of divine law to prohibit vices. Therefore, it also pertains to it to exclude false opinions about God and matters concerned with God.
Now this is not to say that one's knowledge of God must be perfect in the sense of lacking nothing. Abraham and Moses and David knew God, but they did not know him as fully as Christians may do so today. We are finite, after all.

It's pretty likely that part of what St. Thomas means here depends a lot upon technical definitions of knowledge and opinion. That which is known is that which is certain and could not be otherwise, while opinion has to do with that which could be otherwise. So I might suppose, for example, that I "know" my birthday falls on a given date, but in fact I don't know it (in the sense that Aquinas probably means in SCG above) at all. It's not possible for an infant to know his birthday, so he must be told. But those who tell him may be mistaken, or they may forget, or they may even lie. So really I have an opinion about my birthday, not knowledge.

Now there are things that we may know about God by way of reason - as St. Thomas attempts to demonstrate in SCG especially. And we may know still more by way of faith, which is even more certain. But it's not so that every Tom, Dick, and Harry Average must be a theologian on the order of an Aquinas or St. Augustine in order it to be said of him that he knows God. It seems to me that this means that we must acknowledge a distinction between what the Catholic knows formally, by virtue of being Catholic, and what he knows materially. He intends to know and believe those things that the Church teaches, so that formally it may be said that he knows God; but he then has the obligation, as he has ability and opportunity, to know God materially - to make this knowledge something subjectively true.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Argument for the Papacy

The Summa Contra Gentiles is a defense of the Faith intended for unbelievers. As such, St. Thomas doesn't make appeals to what can only be known by the virtue of faith; instead, he proceeds by way of argument.

There is an important sense in which SCG can only be understood as a single extended argument: that is, St. Thomas builds from what he has already said in drawing new conclusions, and he continues this course throughout the length of the book. Ultimately, you don't get to his final conclusions in book IV apart from what he said at the outset in book I. The upshot of this is that in some respects it can be difficult to extract a portion of his argument for separate consideration: what he is about to demonstrate is dependent upon what has already been said.

So it is, to a fair extent, with what St. Thomas has to say about the episcopacy and the papacy. It depends on what he has already shown in previous sections on the sacrament of Orders. It's somewhat difficult to just jump in. But I think what he has to say about the papacy in IV, 76 is sufficiently interesting that it's worth making the effort. By way of laying the groundwork, then, one can look more closely at what Aquinas says beginning with chapter 55 (on the suitability of the Incarnation) and chapters 56-73 (on the sacraments other than Orders), and arrive at 74, where he says:
It is, of course, clear from what has been said that in all the sacraments dealt with a spiritual grace is conferred in a mystery of visible things. But every action ought to be proportioned to its agent. Therefore, the sacraments mentioned must be dispensed by visible men who have spiritual power. For angels are not competent to dispense the sacraments; this belongs to men clothed in visible flesh [section 1].
In other words, just as the other sacraments confer grace through visible things, they must be dispensed by visible men (rather than invisibly, as by an angel or something). But this requires that these men be equipped and ordered to do so. And since Christ himself would not be on earth to fulfill this task,
it was necessary that Christ should establish other ministers in His place who would dispense the sacraments to the faithful; in the Apostle’s words: “Let a man so account of us as ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1). And so He committed the consecration of His body and blood to the disciples, saying: “Do this in commemoration of Me” (Luke 2:19); the same received the power of forgiving sins, in the words of John (20:2.3): “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them”; the same also were given the duty of teaching and baptizing, when He said: “Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them” (Mat. 28:19). But a minister is compared to his lord as an instrument to its principal agent, for, as an instrument is moved by the agent for making something, so the minister is moved by his lord’s command to accomplish something. Of course, the instrument must be proportionate to the agent. Hence, the ministers of Christ must be in conformity with Him. But Christ, as the Lord, by His very own authority and power wrought our salvation, in that He was God and man: so far as He was man, in order to suffer for our redemption; and, so far as He was God, to make His suffering salutary for us. Therefore, the ministers of Christ must not only be men, but must participate somehow in His divinity through some spiritual power, for an instrument shares in the power of its principal agent. Now, it is this power that the Apostle calls “the power which the Lord bath given me unto edification and not unto destruction” (2 Cor. 13:10) [chapter 74, section 2].
And it was not enough for the apostles to be granted this authority:
One must not say, of course, that power of this sort was given by Christ to His disciples in such a way as not to flow on through them to others; it was given “for building up the Church,” in the Apostle’s phrase. So long, then, must this power be perpetuated as it is necessary to build up the Church. But this is necessary from the death of the disciples of Christ to the very end of the world. Therefore, the spiritual power was given to the disciples of Christ so as to pass on from them to others [ibid., section 3].
Hopefully this is enough groundwork for us to move on to chapter 76 of book IV, where St. Thomas begins:
Now, the bestowal of all of these orders accompanies some sacrament, as was said, and the sacraments of the Church require some ministers for their dispensing; there must, therefore, be a superior power in the Church with a higher ministry which dispenses the sacrament of orders. And this is the episcopal power, which, although it does not exceed the power of the priest in the consecration of the body of Christ, does exceed the priestly power in what touches the faithful. For the priestly power itself flows from the episcopal power, and anything particularly difficult to be performed for the faithful is reserved to the bishops; by their authority, even priests are empowered to do that which is committed to them to be done. Hence, even in the tasks which priests perform they employ things consecrated by bishops; thus, in the Eucharistic consecration they use a chalice, an altar, and a pall consecrated by the bishop. Clearly, then, the chief direction of the faithful belongs to the dignity of the bishops [section 1].
But it is not enough for us to have bishops. Bishops are the pastors of specific churches in specific places. But if this is our situation, then we necessarily have an obstacle to unity: because bishop may disagree with bishop.

Aquinas says that this is not our situation.
[2] But this, too, is clear: Although people are set apart according to differing dioceses and states, yet, as the Church is one, so must the Christian people be one. Therefore, as for the specific congregation of one Church one bishop is called for who is the head of that Church; so for the entire Christian people there must be one who is head of the entire Church.

[3] Then, too, the unity of the Church requires that all the faithful agree as to the faith. But about matters of faith it happens that questions arise. A diversity of pronouncements, of course, would divide the Church, if it were not preserved in unity by the pronouncement of one. Therefore, the unity of the Church demands that there be one who is at the head of the entire Church. But, manifestly, in its necessities Christ has not failed the Church which He loved and for which He shed His blood, since even of the synagogue the Lord says: ‘What is there that I ought to do more to My vineyard that I have not done to it?” (Isa. 5:4). Therefore, one must not doubt that by Christ’s ordering there is one who is at the head of the entire Church.

[4] No one should doubt, furthermore, that the government of the Church has been established in the best way, since He has disposed it by whom “kings reign, and lawmakers decree just things” (Prov. 8:15). But the best government of a multitude is rule by one, and this is clear from the purpose of government, which is peace; for peace and the unity of his subjects are the purpose of the one who rules, and one is a better constituted cause of unity than many. Clearly, then, the government of the Church has been so disposed that one is at the head of the entire Church.
Well, what if someone suggests that Christ is the head of the entire Church? Yes, he is, but more must be said.
[7] But let one say that the one head and one shepherd is Christ, who is one spouse of one Church; his answer does not suffice. For, clearly, Christ Himself perfects all the sacraments of th Church: it is He who baptizes; it is He who forgives sins; it is He, the true priest, who offered Himself on the altar of the cross, and by whose power His body is daily consecrated on the altar—nevertheless, because He was not going to be with all the faithful in bodily presence, He chose ministers to dispense the things just mentioned to the faithful, as was said above. By the same reasoning, then, when He was going to withdraw His bodily presence from the Church, He had to commit it to one who would in His place have the care of the universal Church. Hence it is that He said to Peter before His ascension: “Feed My sheep” (John 21:17); and before His passion: “You being once converted confirm your brethren” (Luke 22:32); and to him alone did He promise: “I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 16:19), in order to show that the power of the keys was to flow through him to others to preserve the unity of the Church.
[8] But it cannot be said that, although He gave Peter this dignity, it does not flow on to others. For, clearly, Christ established the Church so that it was to endure to the end of the world; in the words of Isaiah (9:7): “He shall sit upon the throne of David and upon His kingdom to establish and strengthen it with judgment and with justice from henceforth and forever.” It is clear that He so established therein those who were then in the ministry that their power was to be passed on to others even to the end of time; especially so, since He Himself says: “Behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world” (Mat. 28:20).
[9] By this, of course, we exclude the presumptuous error of some who attempt to withdraw themselves from the obedience and the rule of Peter by not recognizing in his successor, the Roman Pontiff, the pastor of the universal Church.
The answer does not suffice precisely because the sacraments must be administered visibly, and we must have a visible Church with visible Orders and a visible head. It is not that Christ is not the Head of the Church; of course he is. But the Pope remains the visible head, and serves as Christ's vicar.

Theology of St. Thomas - Merit

In light of recent posts touching on the subject, here are some portions from St. Thomas relating to merits.

On whether there is a sense, with regard to providence, in which it may be said that merits are the cause of predestination:
The Apostle says (Titus 3:5): "Not by works of justice which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us." But as He saved us, so He predestined that we should be saved. Therefore, foreknowledge of merits is not the cause or reason of predestination.


Others said that pre-existing merits in this life are the reason and cause of the effect of predestination. For the Pelagians taught that the beginning of doing well came from us; and the consummaion from God: so that it came about that the effect of predestination was granted to one, and not to another, because the one made a beginning by preparing, whereas the other did not. But against this we have the saying of the Apostle (2 Corinthians 3:5), that "we are not sufficient to think anything of ourselves as of ourselves." Now no principle of action can be imagined previous to the act of thinking. Wherefore it cannot be said that anything begun in us can be the reason of the effect of predestination.

And so others said that merits following the effect of predestination are the reason of predestination; giving us to understand that God gives grace to a person, and pre-ordains that He will give it, because He knows beforehand that He will make good use of that grace, as if a king were to give a horse to a soldier because he knows he will make good use of it. But these seem to have drawn a distinction between that which flows from grace, and that which flows from free will, as if the same thing cannot come from both. It is, however, manifest that what is of grace is the effect of predestination; and this cannot be considered as the reason of predestination, since it is contained in the notion of predestination. Therefore, if anything else in us be the reason of predestination, it will outside the effect of predestination. Now there is no distinction between what flows from free will, and what is of predestination; as there is not distinction between what flows from a secondary cause and from a first cause. For the providence of God produces effects through the operation of secondary causes, as was above shown (22, 3). Wherefore, that which flows from free-will is also of predestination. We must say, therefore, that the effect of predestination may be considered in a twofold light--in one way, in particular; and thus there is no reason why one effect of predestination should not be the reason or cause of another; a subsequent effect being the reason of a previous effect, as its final cause; and the previous effect being the reason of the subsequent as its meritorious cause, which is reduced to the disposition of the matter. Thus we might say that God pre-ordained to give glory on account of merit, and that He pre-ordained to give grace to merit glory. In another way, the effect of predestination may be considered in general. Thus, it is impossible that the whole of the effect of predestination in general should have any cause as coming from us; because whatsoever is in man disposing him towards salvation, is all included under the effect of predestination; even the preparation for grace. For neither does this happen otherwise than by divine help, according to the prophet Jeremias (Lamentations 5:21): "convert us, O Lord, to Thee, and we shall be converted." Yet predestination has in this way, in regard to its effect, the goodness of God for its reason; towards which the whole effect of predestination is directed as to an end; and from which it proceeds, as from its first moving principle [ST I, Q23, A5; emphasis added].
Whether man can wish or do any good without grace:
The Apostle says (Romans 9:16): "It is not of him that willeth," namely, to will, "nor of him that runneth," namely to run, "but of God that showeth mercy." And Augustine says (De Corrept. et Gratia ii) that "without grace men do nothing good when they either think or wish or love or act."


Man's nature may be looked at in two ways: first, in its integrity, as it was in our first parent before sin; secondly, as it is corrupted in us after the sin of our first parent. Now in both states human nature needs the help of God as First Mover, to do or wish any good whatsoever, as stated above (1). But in the state of integrity, as regards the sufficiency of the operative power, man by his natural endowments could wish and do the good proportionate to his nature, such as the good of acquired virtue; but not surpassing good, as the good of infused virtue. But in the state of corrupt nature, man falls short of what he could do by his nature, so that he is unable to fulfil it by his own natural powers. Yet because human nature is not altogether corrupted by sin, so as to be shorn of every natural good, even in the state of corrupted nature it can, by virtue of its natural endowments, work some particular good, as to build dwellings, plant vineyards, and the like; yet it cannot do all the good natural to it, so as to fall short in nothing; just as a sick man can of himself make some movements, yet he cannot be perfectly moved with the movements of one in health, unless by the help of medicine he be cured.

And thus in the state of perfect nature man needs a gratuitous strength superadded to natural strength for one reason, viz. in order to do and wish supernatural good; but for two reasons, in the state of corrupt nature, viz. in order to be healed, and furthermore in order to carry out works of supernatural virtue, which are meritorious. Beyond this, in both states man needs the Divine help, that he may be moved to act well [ST I-II, Q109, A2].
Whether man without grace and by his own natural powers can fulfil the commandments of the Law:
Augustine says (De Haeres. lxxxviii) that it is part of the Pelagian heresy that "they believe that without grace man can fulfil all the Divine commandments."


There are two ways of fulfilling the commandments of the Law. The first regards the substance of the works, as when a man does works of justice, fortitude, and of other virtues. And in this way man in the state of perfect nature could fulfil all the commandments of the Law; otherwise he would have been unable to sin in that state, since to sin is nothing else than to transgress the Divine commandments. But in the state of corrupted nature man cannot fulfil all the Divine commandments without healing grace. Secondly, the commandments of the law can be fulfilled, not merely as regards the substance of the act, but also as regards the mode of acting, i.e. their being done out of charity. And in this way, neither in the state of perfect nature, nor in the state of corrupt nature can man fulfil the commandments of the law without grace. Hence, Augustine (De Corrupt. et Grat. ii) having stated that "without grace men can do no good whatever," adds: "Not only do they know by its light what to do, but by its help they do lovingly what they know." Beyond this, in both states they need the help of God's motion in order to fulfil the commandments, as stated above (2,3) [ST I-II, Q109, A4; emphasis added].
Whether man can merit everlasting life without grace:
Acts conducing to an end must be proportioned to the end. But no act exceeds the proportion of its active principle; and hence we see in natural things, that nothing can by its operation bring about an effect which exceeds its active force, but only such as is proportionate to its power. Now everlasting life is an end exceeding the proportion of human nature, as is clear from what we have said above (5, 5). Hence man, by his natural endowments, cannot produce meritorious works proportionate to everlasting life; and for this a higher force is needed, viz. the force of grace. And thus without grace man cannot merit everlasting life; yet he can perform works conducing to a good which is natural to man, as "to toil in the fields, to drink, to eat, or to have friends," and the like [ST I-II, Q109, A5; see also the same subject at I-II, Q114, A2].
And so forth. But there is more, and rather than turn this blog post into a dissertation, I'll summarize.
  • Can we prepare ourselves for grace? No.
  • Can we rise from sin without grace? No.
  • Can we avoid sin without grace? No.
  • Once we've received grace, can we do good and avoid sin without more grace? No.
  • Once we've received grace, can we persevere in it without more grace? No.
  • Can we merit the first grace? No.
And that really ought to be sufficient. In short: the Catholic view of salvation begins, continues, and ends with the grace of God. Merit - to the extent that we have it - is an effect of grace. That doesn't make it less real, but it certainly removes from it any sense by which it could be said that we "merit" salvation apart from grace. We don't and can't.

Monergistic Incoherence

I'm at a loss exactly how to reconcile these two statements.
The Reformed position is that sanctification is monergistic
(followed by quotations from the Westminster Standards to support the claim)

And this, from the same individual, eighteen hours later, reacting to a quotation from a Reformed theologian who calls sanctification "synergistic":
I would expect that [the theologian]'s comments were aimed at countering "easy believism" in which people "get saved" and then sit on their laurels, waiting to be sanctified. Such an attitude is improper for a Christian, although the entire progress in sanctification is the work of God in our life.
But if sanctification is monergistic, then it is something that is done to you. So why on earth would you then say that waiting for God to do it is "easy believism"? How is that "improper" if monergism is presumed?

Now I happen to agree that the "easy believism" attitude is indeed "improper" to say the least. But how is the Catholic's synergism (which the individual in question rejects as some flavor of "Pelagianism") sufficiently different in kind as to warrant condemnation? He doesn't want Christians sitting on their rears waiting for God to make them holy - well and good. This implies that he expects them to strive to live holy lives - well and good. He insists that actually managing to live a holy life "is the work of God in our life" - well and good. There is not a thing in this that Catholics would reject, as far as I can tell.

I suppose the "scandal" to the author in question is that Catholics say that the good things we do are meritorious. But this is a merit that must be understood in context. It is not the case that we believe we can do things that in and of themselves merit salvation. No. Rather we believe that the very power to do meritorious things comes from God, by his grace. This is why we say with St. Augustine, as I have often repeated (and as is perfectly consistent with Trent and the Catechism (§2006-2011)), "what else but His gifts does God crown when He crowns our merits?"

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Justification and Supererogation

In a previous post I said that sola fide was erroneous because it does not do justice to the biblical data.

Among other things, I pointed out that in the parable of the sheep and the goats, the distinction between them was based upon their deeds - not upon faith.

Interlocutor has raised the issue of the relation of works of supererogation with regards to the matter:
I guess it would boil down to why are the 2 Great Commandments not binding commandments, or how could one possibly meet them in a "minimally required" sense so as to exceed their demand?
Aside from other remarks in that same thread, I would add the following:

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus calls the sheep into glory based upon their deeds. He doesn't say that they failed to fulfill the second great commandment; he basically says that in fact they did fulfill it. This seems to me to contradict what Interlocutor suggests above ("how could one possibly meet them in a 'minimally required' sense"), as well as what he says later:
Why would it be crazy [to require more of us than we could do, even with God's help] if it was intended to show how much higher and holy His perfect ways and standards are, to drive us to continual repentance?
But Jesus effectively says that the sheep did fulfill the second great command, like I just pointed out. So it's plain to me that what Interlocutor suggests here is mistaken, and what the Church teaches is correct:
But no one, how much soever justified, ought to think himself exempt from the observance of the commandments; no one ought to make use of that rash saying, one prohibited by the Fathers under an anathema,-that the observance of the commandments of God is impossible for one that is justified. For God commands not impossibilities, but, by commanding, both admonishes thee to do what thou are able, and to pray for what thou art not able (to do), and aids thee that thou mayest be able; whose commandments are not heavy; whose yoke is sweet and whose burthen light.
[Council of Trent, Sixth Session (Decree on Justification), Chapter XI]

With respect to works of supererogation, I referred Interlocutor to (among other things) the story of the Widow's Mite (Mark 12:41-44):
And Jesus sitting over against the treasury, beheld how the people cast money into the treasury. And many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow: and she cast in two mites, which make a farthing. And calling his disciples together, he saith to them: Amen I say to you, this poor widow hath cast in more than all they who have cast into the treasury. For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want cast in all she had, even her whole living.
No one would say that this widow was in any way obliged to give "all she had, even her whole living" - but she did, and Jesus praised her for it. This is a work of supererogation. So we see that it is in fact possible to do more than God requires of us.

This of course does not mean that we have done something exclusive of God's grace by which we could hope to be saved. As Trent (see the entire page previously linked) makes clear, we are saved by grace. St. Augustine sums it up well:
what else but His gifts does God crown when He crowns our merits?
Nothing whatsoever.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

More on sola fide

These thoughts on sola fide have been inspired by praying the Our Father as part of the Rosary. A couple other thoughts are worth adding.

This is not an either/or question - faith or works. No. Protestants fabricate a false dilemma when they frame things this way. We must have both. This is a good example, as an aside, of the problems with sola scriptura as well. Because Protestants have made sola fide into a grid by which they interpret the Bible. Obvious questions: "How do we know that this grid is valid? Why should we accept that this grid is the only acceptable one?" But sola scriptura cannot answer these questions. Why may we not say that we must lead holy lives and have faith (as the Catholic Church teaches)? Well, we certainly can - because both are certainly present in the Bible.

"Sola Fide" - an unbiblical concept

Why do I say that the Protestant doctrine of sola fide is unbiblical? Because it simply cannot make sense of the biblical data, for one thing.

Example #1: The Our Father. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." The Lord Jesus makes clear here that our forgiveness is contingent upon whether we forgive others. But sola fide cannot properly explain this. If we are saved by faith alone, then our forgiveness is not dependent upon whether we forgive anyone anything. But this directly contradicts the prayer that Jesus taught us.

Example #2: The unmerciful servant (Mt. 18:21-35). "So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if you do not each forgive your brothers from your hearts." Note that the parable is told in response to a question asked by St. Peter: "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?" Jesus tells the parable to the apostles. They and we must forgive others if we hope to be forgiven by God for our sins. Once again, sola fide cannot make sense of this. Once again we see that the Lord Jesus makes salvation not contingent upon faith alone, but also upon what we do. Our deeds matter, and we can lose our salvation by our sins.

Example #3: The sheep and the goats (Mt. 25:31-46). The difference between the sheep and the goats was not to be found in whether the one had faith and the other didn't, but rather in their deeds.

Now it seems to me that there is a related error - one that is not necessarily held by all Protestants. That is the so-called "perseverance of the saints," by which they mean (roughly speaking) that God's elect cannot and will not lose their salvation. So the Protestant might object to the examples given above that those who stumble on the issues raised in them are not actually the elect, whose salvation is certain.

One issue with that is that example #2 is directed explictly to Peter, and implicitly to all the apostles. There is no hint in the text of the parable that Jesus is speaking per impossible when he tells Peter that unless he forgives his brother, he cannot be forgiven himself.

Another issue with this is to be found in Hebrews 6:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, who have both tasted the heavenly gift and become partakers of the Holy Spirit, who have moreover tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, and then have fallen away, to be renewed again to repentance; since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God and make him a mockery."
Who but "the elect" are actually enlightened? And who but the elect have tasted the heavenly gift? And who but the elect have become partakers of the Holy Spirit? It's ridiculous even to suggest that such descriptions may be applied to men to whom they never really applied at all.

More could be said. But the point is that Christians may lose their salvation by what they do. So we must pray for grace to persevere, and then we must do it. Holiness isn't something that happens to us. It is something that we must pursue. It is something that we must strive after.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Summa Contra Gentiles - Animals Under Man

In an age in which many men suppose that the other animals exist for their own sake, it's worthwhile to read a reminder from St. Thomas that this is not the case.
In fact, [intellectual substances - that is, in the present context, primarily us humans] are said to be providentially managed for their own sake, and other things for their sake, in the sense that the goods which they receive through divine goodness are not given them for the advantage of another being, but the things given to other beings must be turned over to the use of intellectual substances in accord with divine providence.

[11] Hence it is said in Deuteronomy (4:19): "Lest you see the sun and the moon and the other stars, and being deceived by error, you adore and serve them, which the Lord Your God created for the service of all the nations that are under heaven"; and again in the Psalm (8:8): "You subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, moreover the beasts of the field"; and in Wisdom (12:18) it is said: "You, being Master of power, judge with tranquillity, and with great favor dispose of us."

[12] Through these considerations we refute the error of those who claim that it is a sin for man to kill brute animals. For animals are ordered to man's use in the natural course of things, according to divine providence. Consequently, man uses them without any injustice, either by killing them or by employing them in any other way. For this reason, God said to Noah: "As the green herbs, I have delivered all flesh to you" (Gen. 9:3)
[SCG, III, 112, 10-12].

Now as is clear from what he says in 12, the fact that animals exist for our sake does not mean that we can use or abuse them in just any way that we wish. God cares about them, too (though obviously not in the way that he cares for and about man).
And shall I not spare Ninive, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons, that know how to distinguish between their right hand and their left, and many beasts? (Jon. 4:11)
God did not send Jonah to Nineveh exclusively for the sake of the people that lived there (though obviously that was the major reason); he sent him also for the sake of the animals that lived there, and who would be subject to the same judgment as the rest of the city.

Our care and concern for the animals ought to reflect our gratitude to God in giving them to us; to neglect or to abuse them is to show contempt for the gift that God has given. But this does not mean that we may not use them for our benefit.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Articuli Fidei on Degrees of Worship

David Waltz has an interesting article up on degrees of worship. He cites two passages from Scripture where actions normally associated with worship of God are directed towards others. The first is 1Chr. 29:20:
And David commanded all the assembly: Bless ye the Lord our God. And all the assembly blessed the Lord the God of their fathers: and they bowed themselves and worshipped God, and then the king.
Here the people of Israel are said to worship God and the king. Now of course they didn't actually worship the king: but that's not the point. The point is that the same word is used with reference to both, and that consequently there is an homage or respect - characterized by prostration or kneeling - that is appropriate not only to God, but even to a king. And the upshot is that it is flatly ridiculous for someone to object that the mere act of a Catholic kneeling before an image of a saint constitutes idolatry. It doesn't.

The second example given by Mr. Waltz is from Rev. 3:9:
Behold, I will bring of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but do lie. Behold, I will make them to come and adore before thy feet. And they shall know that I have loved thee.
"Adore" here is a verb normally associated with worship of God. And of course that's not what the Lord is saying that he is promising: he is not saying that he will make the synagogue of Satan come and worship the Christians of Philadelphia. But rather, there is a prostration and kneeling and homage rightly due even to creatures. And so once again it's simply crazy for some folks to suggest that a mere act - divorced from its intention - constitutes an act of idolatry. It doesn't. It can't.

That's why, on the flipside, the mere external observance of rites and formulas does not amount to genuine worship - so that God says of Israel in Isaiah 1:
To what purpose do you offer me the multitude of your victims, saith the Lord? I am full, I desire not holocausts of rams, and fat of fatlings, and blood of calves, and lambs, and buck goats. When you came to appear before me, who required these things at your hands, that you should walk in my courts?
Offer sacrifice no more in vain: incense is an abomination to me. The new moons, and the sabbaths and other festivals I will not abide, your assemblies are wicked. My soul hateth your new moons, and your solemnities: they are become troublesome to me, I am weary of bearing them.
[Isaiah 1:11-14]

If external observance is inadequate to say that worship is right, then external action is likewise inadequate for us to say that an act is wrong. We have to know the facts. And the one who ignores what we say about our veneration of the saints, preferring to ascribe motives to us of his own choosing, wrongs us.

Distributism vs. Capitalism

Yesterday Syzygus did me the favor of reminding me about distributist resources on the web, which I had forgotten about: following something of a computing reorg here at the house, I lost all my links to this stuff. The article he mentions is a critique of von Mises, who denied that his Austrian economics was compatible with Christianity. It's very interesting reading.

Well, having awareness of distributism raised again, I subscribed to a couple blogs on the topic, and was rewarded today by this article. I commend it to you.

My interest in distributism springs from my earnest determination to think about economics as a Catholic. Capitalism as it's practiced here in the USA is fundamentally flawed, and there's just no way that such a model ought to be blithely accepted by Catholics, it seems to me. Profit as the sole bottom line is a botched way of doing things. It injects horrible distortions into society.

Someday I hope to be able to have time to read and think more about this subject. For now, I'll have to content myself with a few blogs.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I do not understand why this is supposed to be difficult

A certain blogger suggests that at least some Catholics "have trouble" with the fact that there are schismatic groups who nevertheless call themselves "Catholic". It is supposed by this individual that the fact of these schismatics somehow undermines the assertion that the doctrine of sola scriptura causes disunity.

I can't speak to his suggestion, since perhaps he knows some Catholics who do "have trouble" with his supposition. But his supposition is baseless.

In the first place, his supposition seems to presume that Catholics attribute all disunity to sola scriptura: that there are no other causes of disunity among Christians. This idea is false, and a Catholic would be mistaken to make such an attribution, given the Church's history. Without trying very hard, and without being an expert in Church history, I can think of a few counter-examples:
  • Political, as when (for example) Barbarossa propped up antipopes for himself
  • Philosophical, as when Arius denied the deity of Christ
  • Theological, as when the Orthodox deny the Filioque
None of these are grounded in sola scriptura. So the Catholic would be silly or uninformed to suppose otherwise.

In the second place, and as I have just illustrated, the same effect can have multiple causes. A more mundane example: let's suppose I burn my finger. There are lots of ways I could do that:
  • Touching a hot stove
  • Dipping my finger in boiling water
  • Taking the radiator cap off of a hot engine
Any of these are possible causes for a burned finger. So how is it difficult to imagine that a Protestant distinctive causes disunity, while others find other excuses for their own disunity?

But perhaps by thinking about my burnt finger, we can see something about the other case. My finger actually gets burned because it comes into too close proximity to something that is hot. That, of course, is the unifying idea behind the various ways I might burn myself: too much heat, too close to my skin (however that might happen).

Similarly: schismatics could be said to have in common the fact that they all refuse to submit to the authority of the Church. The schismatic who deliberately rejects the Pope in order to live by sola scriptura is in principle not particularly different from the schismatic who deliberately rejects the Pope in favor of some pretender: he has rejected valid authority.

[Note: I am not suggesting that today's Protestants are necessarily formal schismatics].

Now there may be other consequences of a specific form of schism. The man who prefers a false pope isn't as likely, for example, to make up his own creed: he will leave that to his "pope" if it happens at all. The Protestant case is obviously and necessarily different, as we may readily see from their history and from the variety of their creedal statements. But in each case, the Protestant and the "Catholic" schismatic has at some time or other arrived at the same point, where he refuses to submit to the Pope on matters of faith and morals.

How this is supposed to be a difficulty for the Catholic is mystifying.

What is even more baffling is this question our blogger asks: "why besides blatant exercise of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy would one blame the large number of denominations on Sola Scriptura?"

Well, let's see. Presbyterians and Baptists (for one example) are denominationally distinct because of doctrinal differences. How did they arrive at their doctrinal distinctives? By appeal to Scripture. Yet both groups hold to sola scriptura. If they shared a common authority by which doctrinal disputes might be settled - like, for a totally random example, say, a Pope - and if both groups were committed to accepting that Pope's doctrinal declarations as definitive, where would their disunity come from?

There wouldn't be any.

As it is, though, they are committed to a law book without a judge to interpret it for them. The upshot is that they must interpret it for themselves. And because they hold their own interpretations as binding upon themselves, they feel perfectly willing to sever the bonds of fellowship with those who do not agree with them sufficiently - that is to say, with those who do not agree with them about some doctrine or doctrines understood to be "essential."

This is not a post hoc fallacy. This is how it has happened throughout Protestant history. This is why the Bible Presbyterians split off from the OPC, for one example: disagreements about alcohol consumption and dispensationalism. Both the OPC and the BPC splinter were totally committed to sola scriptura - and their doctrinal differences drove a wedge between them.

Now imagine (yes, this takes some effort, considering the parties) that the BPCers and the OPCers were both willingly bound to submission to an authority - and once again just for grins let's call that authority "the Pope" - their split would never have occurred. Because they could appeal to that authority. And they would be content to accept the decisions of that authority.

Sola scriptura demands of God's Word what it is not meant to do. It does not interpret itself. It does not apply itself. It should not be surprising that bad results are the consequence of misusing a thing. Disunity is a natural and inevitable consequence of sola scriptura. No post hoc appeals required.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Super-size Family

Maybe there is/has been a larger family than this, but I haven't heard of it.

Fifteen kids; One hundred and seventy-two grandchildren. Amazing. That's an average of eleven grandkids per child. I'd say that she and her husband were wildly successful at passing on their faith to their kids.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What are we supposed to call this?

What are we to call this? Here is the story of a Communist-educated abortionist who was scolded in a dream by a man in black and white because of the children he murdered. The man in his dream identified himself as "Thomas Aquinas."

But the Communist-educated abortionist had never heard of St. Thomas.

In consequence the abortionist repudiated his work, suffered for it, has returned to Orthodoxy, and is a champion for life in Serbia.

What are we to call this?

I know what I call it. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Summa Contra Gentiles - Providence Includes Evil

I can't speak for others on this subject, but it would not surprise me if there were other Protestants who (like me, prior to my conversion) have sorely deficient ideas about the consequences of the Fall. Maybe there are Catholics who suffer from the same problem; I don't know. The problem I mean is the mistake of supposing that prior to the Fall, there were neither defects nor other things that we might describe (loosely) as "evil" in the world. On this supposition, anything "bad" or flawed or "evil" is attributed in the final analysis to the consequences of Adam's sin. St. Thomas provides a healthy antidote for such thinking in the Summa Contra Gentiles. It's worth noting that at least part of his argument rests on the fact that Providence includes the working of secondary causes.
Indeed, divine governance, whereby God works in things, does not exclude the working of secondary causes, as we have already shown. Now, it is possible for a defect to happen in an effect, because of a defect in the secondary agent cause, without there being a defect in the primary agent. For example, in the case of the product of a perfectly skilled artisan, some defect may occur because of a defect in his instrument. And again, in the case of a man whose motive power is strong, he may limp as a result of no defect in his bodily power to move, but because of a twist in his leg bone. So, it is possible, in the case of things made and governed by God, for some defect and evil to be found, because of a defect of the secondary agents, even though there be no defect in God Himself.
[Summa Contra Gentiles, III-71, 2]

God does not ordinarily govern the world immediately - that is, by directly ordering the course of events. Rather, he normally accomplishes his purposes through secondary causes. This is not unlike the king who does not take the city himself, but who gives orders for it to be done (and then it is done). But secondary causes - like us, for example - are not perfect like God is. We are limited in our powers and gifts and abilities. And we are the pinnacle of the natural world - so how much more are other creatures similarly limited. This does not mean that God's purposes are thwarted because he works them through creatures; rather, his greatness is such that his purposes are fully accomplished even through creation's limitations. But this means that there will necessarily be flaws and defects in creation, because man's knowledge and experience is limited.

But defect and evil are not in creation merely by man's action. For example, mushrooms may only grow in decomposing material. But that means that something must be decomposing - like a tree, for example. But this presupposes the presence of death in creation. Similarly, there are bacteria which feed on decaying matter, and there are trees which depend upon forest fires for the release of their seeds. But this presupposes that there will be fires to release them - and the associated death of many trees. And these fires must be caused somehow - as by lightning, for example. And of course there is the more obvious example of carnivorous animals. How can this be?
Moreover, perfect goodness would not be found in created things unless. there were an order of goodness in them, in the sense that some of them are better than others. Otherwise, all possible grades of goodness would not be realized, nor would any creature be like God by virtue of holding a higher place than another. The highest beauty would be taken away from things, too, if the order of distinct and unequal things were removed. And what is more, multiplicity would be taken away from things if inequality of goodness were removed, since through the differences by which things are distinguished from each other one thing stands out as better than another; for instance, the animate in relation to the inanimate, and the rational in regard to the irrational. And so, if complete equality were present in things, there would be but one created good, which clearly disparages the perfection of the creature. Now, it is a higher grade of goodness for a thing to be good because it cannot fall from goodness; lower than that is the thing which can fall from goodness. So, the perfection of the universe requires both grades of goodness. But it pertains to the providence of the governor to preserve perfection in the things governed, and not to decrease it. Therefore, it does not pertain to divine goodness, entirely to exclude from things the power of falling from the good. But evil is the consequence of this power, because what is able to fall does fall at times. And this defection of the good is evil, as we showed above. Therefore, it does not pertain to divine providence to prohibit evil entirely from things.
[ibid., 3]

In other words, a creation with a variety of degrees of goodness and perfections is inherently better than one that lacks this variety. But such a variety means that there will be defects, and events that we would be inclined to call bad. And there is more:
Again, the best thing in any government is to provide for the things governed according to their own mode, for the justice of a regime consists in this. Therefore, as it would be contrary to the rational character of a human regime for men to be prevented by the governor from acting in accord with their own duties—except, perhaps, on occasion, due to the need of the moment-so, too, would it be contrary to the rational character of the divine regime to refuse permission for created things to act according to the mode of their nature. Now, as a result of this fact, that creatures do act in this way, corruption and evil result in things, because, due to the contrariety and incompatibility present in things, one may be a source of corruption for another. Therefore, it does not pertain to divine providence to exclude evil entirely from the things that are governed.
[ibid., 4]

One obvious example that comes to mind are things like parasites - leeches, mosquitoes, tapeworms, and other loathsome things. We call them evil, but they are part of the created order. So are diseases. And sometimes, we would not enjoy certain good things apart from evil:
Furthermore, many goods are present in things which would not occur unless there were evils. For instance, there would not be the patience of the just if there were not the malice of their persecutors; there would not be a place for the justice of vindication if there were no offenses; and in the order of nature, there would not be the generation of one thing unless there were the corruption of another. So, if evil were totally excluded from the whole of things by divine providence, a multitude of good things would have to be, sacrificed. And this is as it should be, for the good is stronger in its goodness than evil is in its malice, as is clear from earlier sections. Therefore, evil should not be totally excluded from things by divine providence.
[ibid., 6]

And it's not just virtues that we would lack opportunity to exercise without evil. Jack pines would have ceased to exist without fires to release their seeds. Mushrooms (ahh, portobellos!) would not exist without organic matter on which to grow. Dragonflies feed on mosquitoes. Monarch butterfly caterpillars feed on milkweed. These are good things that we only enjoy thanks to things that we are accustomed to consider as evil.

It is in this way, then, that St. Thomas offers a theodicy vindicating the Lord our God.
Now, with these considerations we dispose of the error of those who, because they noticed that evils occur in the world, said that there is no God. Thus, Boethius introduces a certain philosopher who asks: "If God exists, whence comes evil?" [De consolatione philosophiae I, 4]. But it could be argued to the contrary: "If evil exists, God exists." For, there would be no evil if the order of good were taken away, since its privation is evil. But this order would not exist if there were no God.
[ibid., 10].

"For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). I must say, though, that Brussels sprouts are unquestionably a result of the Fall.

(That's a joke, son.)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Still more mindreading

Still more mindreading.

There is a slight refinement amid the usual ESP, though. It is the claim that our actions by themselves are worship, even though that is not our intent. Unfortunately that seems to be enough to condemn us.

Sadly for the author's argument, however, that is not how Elijah addressed Naaman.
And Naaman said: As thou wilt: but I beseech thee, grant to me, thy servant, to take from hence two mules' burden of earth: for thy servant will not henceforth offer holocaust, or victim, to other gods, but to the Lord. But there is only this, for which thou shalt entreat the Lord for thy servant; when my master goeth into the temple of Remmon, to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand: if I bow down in the temple of Remmon, when he boweth down in the same place, that the Lord pardon me, thy servant, for this thing. And he said to him: Go in peace.
[2 Kings 5:17-19]

In this case, Naaman says in advance, "I intend to worship the LORD and only the LORD for the rest of my life. But when I go to this idol's temple with my king, and he kneels and expects me to do the same, I'm going to have to do it. Please pray for me, because I am not worshiping the idol at all."

And Elijah blesses him: "Go in peace."

So Naaman is going to bow down before an acknowledged idol, but has no intention of worshiping that idol. And Elijah blessed him: the prophet knew that this man had no intention of worshiping the idol, even though his external actions would seem to be those of an "idolater."

It's unambiguously obvious that intentions matter. Even if an action is done in an idol's temple, and even if it's an action that is normally a part of the worship of that idol - even then, an action is not intrinsically an act of worship. Period. Full stop.

But we Catholics are (so say the anti-Catholics) guilty of "worshiping Mary," even though we don't intend to do so and even though we're not even kneeling before an idol, and even though we're not in an idol's temple.

It must be great to be a mindreader. If you can actually do it, anyway.

Meantime, we Catholics don't worship Mary - no matter what Joe Anti-Catholic says.

Bonus problem: Naaman wants dirt from Israel. Why? He says he has no plans to offer sacrifice to false gods anymore. The implication is that the dirt is related to his plan to offer sacrifice only to the true God - i.e., that he plans to build an altar using it.

So here's a man who intends to do what is explicitly forbidden by God (building an altar other than the one in Jerusalem or the Tabernacle) for making offerings to God...and he is blessed by God's prophet.

But Catholics, who have no intention of worshiping the Saints, are supposedly guilty. Um...No.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Summa Contra Gentiles - Providence

It often happens that a proposition seems terribly obvious once it's expressed clearly to us. What St. Thomas has to say in the Summa Contra Gentiles about Providence, and order, and law, is like that. The entire third book of SCG is on this subject, and this modest post is by no means going to attempt anything like digesting the whole of the book. Instead, this is based upon my notes from a few portions of it.
God moves all things to their ends, and He does so through His understanding, for we have shown above that He does not act through a necessity of His nature, but through understanding and will. Now, to rule or govern by providence is simply to move things toward an end through understanding. Therefore, God by His providence governs and rules all things that are moved toward their end, whether they be moved corporeally, or spiritually as one who desires is moved by an object of desire (III-64, 4).
It's not just that by his providence God directs all things, but more importantly that they are directed toward their end - for the fulfillment of God's purposes both for them and for his creation. We sometimes (and Protestants maybe more often) will talk about God having a plan for our lives, but what it means to have a plan is to have a goal, a purpose, an end in view that is to be accomplished.
[5] Moreover, that natural bodies are moved and made to operate for an end, even though they do not know their end, was proved by the fact that what happens to them is always, or often, for the best; and, if their workings resulted from art, they would not be done differently. But it is impossible for things that do not know their end to work for that end, and to reach that end in an orderly way, unless they are moved by someone possessing knowledge of the end, as in the case of the arrow directed to the target by the archer. So, the whole working of nature must be ordered by some sort of knowledge. And this, in fact, must lead back to God, either mediately or immediately, since every lower art and type of knowledge must get its principles from a higher one, as we also see in the speculative and operative sciences. Therefore, God governs the world by His providence.

[6] Furthermore, things that are different in their natures do not come together into one order unless they are gathered into a unit by one ordering agent. But in the whole of reality things are distinct and possessed of contrary natures; yet all come together in one order, and while some things make use of the actions of others, some are also helped or commanded by others. Therefore, there must be one orderer and governor of the whole of things (ibid., 5-6).
The point here is that order in creation requires an agent who has done the ordering. The fact that the whole of creation is orderly, and integrated, and that things "just work" ("always, or often" - or most of the time) is a clear indication that creation is not just a patched-up mess of random bits, but is ordered - and if it is ordered, there must be one who has done the ordering.
Furthermore, as we proved above, God brings all things into being, not from the necessity of His nature, but by understanding and will. Now, there can be no other ultimate end for His understanding and will than His goodness, that is, to communicate it to things, as is clear from what has been established. But things participate in the divine goodness to the extent that they are good, by way of likeness. Now, that which is the greatest good in caused things is the good of the order of the universe; for it is most perfect, as the Philosopher says. With this, divine Scripture is also in agreement, for it is said in Genesis (1:31): "God saw all the things He had made, and they were very good," while He simply said of the individual works, that "they were good." So, the good of the order of things caused by God is what is chiefly willed and caused by God. Now, to govern things is nothing but to impose order on them. Therefore, God Himself governs all things by His understanding and will (ibid., 9).
God made all things for the sake of communicating his goodness to them. We may be sure, as Scripture says, that "for those who love God all things work together unto good" (Rom. 8:28). God has not made us for evil purposes, but for good. Our biggest problem in remembering this is that we are so shortsighted. We can't see past our own noses. We all have ADHD when it comes to trusting in God's purposes for us: we are "easily distracted."


I'm writing about this mind-reading business again because, frankly, I find it really galling. It's not just a question of anti-Catholics being wrong about what we do; it's that they have the temerity to make judgments about what we mean by our actions that ignore or discount our own explanations of them. It's disgraceful behavior, and fantastically rude.

It's also marked by historical myopia. It may not be an American or modern evangelical thing, but for most of the world's history any man or woman who failed to kneel in the presence of nobility when expected to do so would have found himself facing terrible consequences. And rightfully so. For it was not reckoned as worship, but as a mark of respect and submission to authority. So the act of kneeling - even before a statue of a saint - is by itself indicative of nothing improper whatsoever. It could only be made an act of idolatry by the intentions of the one kneeling - and Joe Anti-Catholic isn't privy to them. And yet he presumes all the time to detect violations of the first commandment in the heart of the one who kneels. You're wrong, Joe. And the sooner you admit it, the better. Why should we bother listening to anything you say, when you think you know better than we do ourselves what we intend by what we do?

And the same goes for Joe's presumption in declaring our prayers to the saints to be "idolatrous." Hogwash. We know what we are doing, and we know why we do it, and it has nothing to do with making an idol out of a man or woman. And common courtesy, coupled with that charity which thinks the best of another rather than the worst, demands that Joe Anti-Catholic accept it when we say that we are not worshiping the saints. He doesn't know better than we do what we mean by what we do.

And for those who would downplay the significance of intention, I offer the following.
So the children of Ruben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasses returned, and parted from the children of Israel in Silo, which is in Chanaan, to go into Galaad the land of their possession, which they had obtained according to the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses. And when they were come to banks of the Jordan, in the land of Chanaan, they built an altar immensely great near the Jordan. And when the children of Israel had heard of it, and certain messengers brought them an account that the children of Ruben, and of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasses had built an altar in the land of Chanaan, upon the banks of the Jordan, over against the children of Israel: They all assembled in Silo, to go up and fight against them. And in the mean time they sent to them into the land of Galaad, Phinees the son of Eleazar the priest, And ten princes with him, one of every tribe. Who came to the children of Ruben, and of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasses, into the land of Galaad, and said to them: Thus saith all the people of the Lord: What meaneth this transgression? Why have you forsaken the Lord the God of Israel, building a sacrilegious altar, and revolting from the worship of him? Is it a small thing to you that you sinned with Beelphegor, and the stain of that crime remaineth in us to this day? and many of the people perished. And you have forsaken the Lord to day, and to morrow his wrath will rage against all Israel. But if you think the land of your possession to be unclean, pass over to the land wherein is the tabernacle of the Lord, and dwell among us: only depart not from the Lord, and from our society, by building an altar beside the altar of the Lord our God. Did not Achan the son of Zare transgress the commandment of the Lord, and his wrath lay upon all the people of Israel? And he was but one man, and would to God he alone had perished in his wickedness.

And the children of Ruben, and of Gad, and of the half tribe of Manasses answered the princes of the embassage of Israel: The Lord the most mighty God, the Lord the most mighty God, he knoweth, and Israel also shall understand: If with the design of transgression we have set up this altar, let him not save us, but punish us immediately: And if we did it with that mind, that we might lay upon it holocausts, and sacrifice, and victims of peace offerings, let him require and judge: And not rather with this thought and design, that we should say: To morrow your children will say to our children: What have you to do with the Lord the God of Israel? The Lord hath put the river Jordan for a border between us and you, O ye children of Ruben, and ye children of Gad: and therefore you have no part in the Lord. And by this occasion your children shall turn away our children from the fear of the Lord. We therefore thought it best, And said: Let us build us an altar, not for holocausts, nor to offer victims, But for a testimony between us and you, and our posterity and yours, that we may serve the Lord, and that we may have a right to offer both holocausts, and victims and sacrifices of peace offerings: and that your children to morrow may not say to our children: You have no part in the Lord. And if they will say so, they shall answer them: Behold the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for holocausts, nor for sacrifice, but for a testimony between us and you. God keep us from any such wickedness that we should revolt from the Lord, and leave off following his steps, by building an altar to offer holocausts, and sacrifices, and victims, beside the altar of the Lord our God, which is erected before his tabernacle.

And when Phinees the priest, and the princes of the embassage, who were with him, had heard this, they were satisfied: and they admitted most willingly the words of the children of Ruben, and Gad, and of the half tribe of Manasses, And Phinees the priest the son of Eleazar said to them: Now we know that the Lord is with us, because you are not guilty of this revolt, and you have delivered the children of Israel from the hand of the Lord. And he returned with the princes from the children of Ruben and Gad, out of the land of Galaad, into the land of Chanaan, to the children of Israel, and brought them word again. And the saying pleased all that heard it. And the children of Israel praised God, and they no longer said that they would go up against them, and fight, and destroy the land of their possession. And the children of Ruben, and the children of Gad called the altar which they had built, Our testimony, that the Lord is God (Joshua 22:9-34).
So the Transjordan tribes had built an altar, which was contrary to the letter of the Law - but it was their intent in doing so that made their act acceptable.

I'll have to say, though, that the rest of Israel acted with more charity than do Joe Anti-Catholic and his friends. Because they believed the Transjordan tribes when they explained themselves. But we Catholics can't get the same from Joe and friends.

[Update 2008-10-27]: In the combox it occurred to me that I ought to clarify one thing, lest someone get the wrong idea: I am not saying that good intentions cover everything. It is not possible for good intentions to remove the sinfulness of an intrinsically evil act. But just as it is not intrinsically evil to build an altar - see above - so it is not intrinsically evil to kneel before a statue (nor even before a man). Consequently it cannot be said on the basis of the action alone that a Catholic sins when he kneels before a statue, and it cannot be said that a Catholic is committing idolatry when he kneels before a statue. That is a matter of the heart, and it is not subject to judgment by any human court - including our anti-Catholic friends. As a matter of simple charity they are morally obliged to take us at our word when we say that we by no means worship Mary and the Saints.