Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More Rash Words

As I said in the previous post, I don't pretend to be a judge of von Balthasar's theology, and I have no reason to question his orthodoxy. I'd like to reiterate that.

One of the quotations from the last post was this:
In a glance we perceive that all that has been realized hitherto is not what Christ now, immediately demands of me, of you, of our generation; that history knows no solution for this hour (for the simple reason that it is history, and not the present day); and since history does not know, we are free to look at the Gospel and its simple solution (p. 27).
Here's another that I forgot to mention, on the same general theme:
To honor the tradition does not excuse one from the obligation of beginning everything from the the beginning each time, not with Augustine or Thomas or Newman, but with Christ (p. 34).
Well, it depends upon who the "one" is, and upon what he's doing. And I'm certainly not suggesting that there is any other adequate grounding for theological enterprise than Christ himself. But to suggest that we must not rely upon the tradition that has been founded upon him for millennia seems ridiculous. For a theologian doing some comprehensive work - sure. But not everybody, and not everything, everytime. I note that the work in which von Balthasar writes this is just 103 pages, and covers a fair amount of ground. I certainly don't see him starting from the beginning "each time," then. And it's simply crazy even to suggest, in a book aimed at a broad audience (I'm not sure how this could be reckoned to be aimed at a scholarly audience) that emphasizes the overwhelming importance of the laity and the fact that we are obliged by the explosion of knowledge in our day to trust the work that others do - in such a book it's just crazy to also say that we have to skip relying on the tradition.

Do we not have an explosion of theological and biblical knowledge in our day? Are we not equally obliged to trust the experts's work in these fields just as in physics or chemistry? And who better to trust, then, than Augustine, Thomas, Newman and other greats in the Church's history - those whose work has been approved for centuries? I have no idea why I'd want to ignore them, but von Balthasar's assertion alone is nowhere near convincing. It makes no sense whatsoever to reinvent the wheel: especially not for the laity.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rash Words and Misunderstanding

I'm reading von Balthasar's Razing the Bastions. He has something of a controversial reputation, apparently, though his having been appointed to be a cardinal shortly before his death speaks well of him. While I'm certainly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on the basis of the opinions of John Paul II and Benedict, it seems to me that if he has a controversial reputation, he didn't try to alleviate it by some things that he said in this book.

Example #1:
In a glance we perceive that all that has been realized hitherto is not what Christ now, immediately demands of me, of you, of our generation; that history knows no solution for this hour (for the simple reason that it is history, and not the present day); and since history does not know, we are free to look at the Gospel and its simple solution (p. 27, emphasis added).
The first thing that comes to my mind is Ecclesiastes: "There is nothing new under the sun." The second thing is that if St. Augustine, St. Thomas, St. Gregory the Great, Leo XIII, and a host of others have no solutions to offer for modern problems, then - as Mr. Grimwig said - I'll eat my head. And I don't by any means intend to denigrate the Gospel, although von Balthasar doesn't tell us what its "simple solution" is supposed to be, nor how it might be that the men I've mentioned - most of them Doctors of the Church - have stumbled so badly as to offer solutions that are completely offbase.

It's not that history has no solutions. It's that modern men don't care to hear what history has to say. They've plugged their ears and they're looking the other way, just so sure are they that they can figure things out for themselves with the aid of Infallible Science. And as far as I'm concerned, the right way to deal with such tomfoolery absolutely isn't to throw out the answers that the Church has formulated over 2000 years; it's to keep telling modern man, "Hey. You're screwing up. The answers are over here." Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It's wisdom to learn from the good (and bad) examples of those who have gone before us.

Example #2:
In terms of the history of religion, each year the Church spends on earth is another proof she will the sooner die; no religion on earth lives much longer than two thousand years (p. 44; emphasis added).
Pardon me if I have greater faith in the words of Christ ("The gates of hell will not prevail against it;" "I am with you always, even to the end of the age") as to the durability of the Church than I have in von Balthasar's pessimistic application of what religious historians might think. The Church has outlasted two (or maybe even three) civilizations; I see no reason to suppose that it's going down the drain with this one.

Okay, so I got a bit heated up there. :-) I'm all better now.

I'm perfectly willing to concede that a tiny little book like this will be more characterized by the things it omits than by the things it includes. So I am by no means willing to say that these silly snippets tell me anything substantive about von Balthasar, and I am certainly not saying that I am a qualified judge of his theology. I think I've got enough wits and experience, though, to be at least a casual judge of English, and if this translation fairly represents what he was trying to say, then von Balthasar has no one to blame but himself for his reputation. I can well believe that there are folks out there who will read stuff like this and say, "he's a liberal - he's casting off the Church's theological treasury!" And if that's all they ever read by him, that opinion will stick in their heads.

I'm seriously going to have to give up on these German theologians. They make my head spin. Make mine St. Thomas, thanks. :-)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Boethius - The Consolation of Philosophy

If you haven't read this wonderful little book, I commend it to you. Boethius wrote it while awaiting the death penalty, after having been accused, tried in absentia, and convicted of treason. It takes the form of a dialog between himself and the Lady Philosophy. Boethius is in prison and miserable at how he has lost all that he once had, in worldly terms: wealth, power, fame, and so forth. Philosophy comes to him, and shows him how there is no true good to be found in any of these things that men seek, and that he must instead seek the True Good - that is, God.

I don't know who the translator was for the edition I'm reading (Dougherty provided introductory material, but the translation strikes me as being older), but it's very well done. Boethius alternates between poetry and prose, and both are beautifully rendered in English. The book also forms a great introduction to the sort of philosophy that would later find more extensive and technical expression in the later Middle Ages.

Read The Consolation of Philosophy, and learn why we must not seek our happiness in the things of this life.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - The Seven Capital Vices

I'm not completely sure about categorizing this topic as part of the philosophy of Aquinas, but judging from his handling of the discussion in ST this seems reasonable. If someone thinks it's better understood as part of his theology, I'm not going to make a quarrel of it.

St. Thomas enumerates the seven capital vices as these: vainglory, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony, and lust. I think I'll probably add brief posts on each of them rather than making this one overlong.

These vices have passed into popular culture as "the seven deadly sins." That's not precisely accurate in terms of how St. Thomas describes them, obviously: when he says that they are vices, he means that they are habits, especially habits that become second nature, so that they seem to be a part of who a man is. But in another sense there is a reasonable connection between Aquinas' discussion of them and the idea of them as "deadly sins."

St. Thomas describes the capital vices as things which give rise to other sins:
The word capital is derived from "caput" [a head]. Now the head, properly speaking, is that part of an animal's body, which is the principle and director of the whole animal. Hence, metaphorically speaking, every principle is called a head, and even men who direct and govern others are called heads. Accordingly a capital vice is so called, in the first place, from "head" taken in the proper sense, and thus the name "capital" is given to a sin for which capital punishment is inflicted. It is not in this sense that we are now speaking of capital sins, but in another sense, in which the term "capital" is derived from head, taken metaphorically for a principle or director of others. In this way a capital vice is one from which other vices arise, chiefly by being their final cause, which origin is formal, as stated above (72, 6). Wherefore a capital vice is not only the principle of others, but is also their director and, in a way, their leader: because the art or habit, to which the end belongs, is always the principle and the commander in matters concerning the means. Hence Gregory (Moral. xxxi, 17) compares these capital vices to the "leaders of an army."
It's important to note first of all that he does not mean to refer to the capital vices in a sense that would suggest that they are necessarily capital crimes worthy of capital punishment. Rather, he means that they are "capital" in the sense of being the origin of other sins: "their director and, in a way, their leader." Thus a man who is enslaved to the vice of lust might be expected to be led by it into other sins which are more serious, such as adultery; a man who has the vice of anger might commit murder; and so forth. That's not to say that the capital vices necessarily give rise only and always to mortal sins like adultery and murder; certainly that doesn't seem to be what St. Thomas means. Rather, these vices (which are, of course, sinful in themselves) are characterized as "capital" because they are the source of other sins related to them.

Once again we see the immense importance of pursuing the virtues and praying for God's help in overcoming vice, especially these. Just as the virtues lead us to doing good, the vices bind us more and more in wickedness, and the capital vices by inducing us to other sins entangle us in such snares of corruption that they become our undoing, and in that way really are deadly.

A final note of clarification: by distinguishing between lust and adultery I'm not at all intending to contradict our Lord's teaching on the matter (and neither is St. Thomas). Wanting to sleep with your neighbor's wife is bad enough; actually doing it is obviously worse. The capital vices lead to other sins.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Just Thomism - On Teaching Philosophy

It would be terribly easy for The Supplement to transform into nothing more than a series of posts on this theme: "Go read what A Thomist just wrote." Just Thomism is a great blog, and worth considering as a regular read.

Here's a post from several days ago that I've been meaning to mention. It concludes:
The study of a multitude of schools can only be philosophical if it is done in light of the principles known to a wise man. Absent this, it destroys the clarity of the mind and leads to intellectual vice.
Yes indeed.

Philosophy is not a cafeteria because truth is not a matter of taste. It doesn't matter whether I like how it tastes or smells; the question must be: is it true? But when we study something apart from a commitment to an analysis along these lines, it becomes more difficult to think clearly ourselves, and it can lead to the false conclusion that one's philosophy is just a matter of preference: "if all these smart guys disagree, then truth so-called is really subjective."

Maybe that's more simplistic (it probably is) than what A Thomist intends. But we lesser lights must make what small advances we can :-)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What am I doing here?

I've said before that I'm not an apologist, and I still mean that. And yet I have spent an awful lot of time discussing or arguing (depending on the occasion) stuff with Protestants, and on many another occasion I've discussed issues that I've learned about or identified myself with regard to Protestantism. So I suppose if someone were to describe me as an apologist, there would be a lot of evidence to support that claim, and I can't deny that there have been occasions where my purpose has certainly been to defend the Catholic Church and the Catholic Faith. But I would still dispute being described as an "apologist."

First of all I would deny it on grounds of qualifications: I lack the expertise, tools, time, and temperament for it. But I would also deny it in terms of my intent: it is not normally my purpose to act as one at all, save perhaps in one or two significant respects.

For one thing, just because we are Christians we are supposed to "be ready always with an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in you" (1Pe 3:15). But I think there is a more immediate reason for it in my case, and that is to be found in the fact that I am a Catholic convert. Conversion is a lifelong thing, but even moreso, I think, for the adult convert: he has learned habits of thought from a life of being non-Catholic, and if he's serious about thinking as a Catholic, and if he has the means and opportunity to do so, he will want to invest time in learning to do so. And part of that means "answering" for himself the things that he formerly believed. That's an inevitable part of renewing one's mind.

So that's a primary reason for the frequency with which I refer to Protestantism and its errors on this blog: completing my own conversion. I am quite sure that if my experience had been other than it was - if, for example, I had been raised Mormon, or Hindu, or something - the focus of my "apologetic" posts would be upon that tradition rather than upon Protestantism. The purpose would be the same: to "fix" what is broken in the way that I think by understanding how it is broken, and how I ought to think instead, and to instill Catholic habits of thought in my small brain. And like any habit, that takes repetition to establish.

So why not keep this sort of stuff to myself? Why blog about it? Because I can :-) Seriously though, there are a variety of reasons. Although I don't consider myself to be gifted to be an apologist, it does seem that I have some measure of ability as a teacher - something that has been affirmed by others. I enjoy teaching, and so one significant reason why I write here is to hopefully produce something that will be useful or helpful to others. If blog comments are any measure, God has seen fit to bless that purpose in some small way, and that's justification enough to me for continuing to make the effort of posting here.

A secondary reason is that by writing, I force myself to think through things more clearly and with more discipline than if I just sat here with stray notions rattling around in my head like a pachinko game.

And a third reason is that by posting here, rather than saving everything solely on my computer or in a filing cabinet, the stuff I've written has a better likelihood of being preserved. These posts serve as expanded notes to myself as well, and it would be disappointing (to say the least) if I lost access to what I've already written.

And of course it would be silly to overlook or deny the fact that it's fun to blog. :-)

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Threefold Order in Man

St. Thomas distinguishes a threefold order in man, and what we do must be rightly ordered in relation to them.
Now there should be a threefold order in man: one in relation to the rule of reason, in so far as all our actions and passions should be commensurate with the rule of reason: another order is in relation to the rule of the Divine Law, whereby man should be directed in all things: and if man were by nature a solitary animal, this twofold order would suffice. But since man is naturally a civic and social animal, as is proved in Polit. i, 2, hence a third order is necessary, whereby man is directed in relation to other men among whom he has to dwell (ST I-II Q72 A4).
Aquinas can say that all our actions should be "commensurate with the rule of reason" precisely because the Christian faith is not contrary to reason, even when it exceeds the capacity thereof. But reason is not the sole order of our actions, and it's certainly not the primary rule, which is the Divine Law. Above all we ought to order our lives according to this Law, because it is the Law of our Creator and Redeemer. But it is also reasonable for us to do so:
Of these orders the second contains the first and surpasses it. For whatever things are comprised under the order of reason, are comprised under the order of God Himself. Yet some things are comprised under the order of God, which surpass the human reason, such as matters of faith, and things due to God alone (ibid).
Not only do some things surpass human reason, but the difficulty of reasoning rightly makes the Divine Law superior as well, as St. Thomas has said elsewhere (and I am having trouble putting my finger on it at the moment, so no link. Sorry): because it is hard, because men have varying gifts with respect to the ability to reason, because they likewise have differing opportunities for doing so due to their circumstances, reason by itself is an insufficient guide with respect to divine things - in addition to the fact that they by their nature exceed reason's measure.

But then St. Thomas adds that there is a third order as well - and that is social. It is part of our nature, as God said in creating Eve: "It is not good for the man to be alone." It's not just that we need the company of women, but that we need company. We are social beings. We don't live in communities just because of some social contract, but rather we do so by nature, because we are human.

Monday, April 14, 2008

From the Combox - Perspicuity Discussion

There has been some discussion of the perspicuity of Scripture, but unfortunately not in an entirely "on-topic" place.

For the sake of those who are interested - you may continue the discussion here. Thanks.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Theology of St. Thomas - Can the Non-Christian Do Good?

After an earlier post today I was flipping through the notes I took while reading the Summa Theologica. I happened to see a note on the present subject, which reminded me of a recent post by Dave Armstrong, so I decided to "skip forward," so to speak, in view of this subject having a certain sort of "timeliness."

The question at hand in the Summa is whether every act of obedience to God must be done out of charity. St. Thomas responds:
Whoever breaks a commandment sins mortally. If therefore the mode of charity falls under the precept, it follows that whoever acts otherwise than from charity sins mortally. But whoever has not charity, acts otherwise than from charity. Therefore it follows that whoever has not charity, sins mortally in whatever he does, however good this may be in itself: which is absurd (ST I-II Q100 A10; emphasis added).
I've talked about this sort of thing before. It's crazy to say that a non-Christian Boy Scout has sinned by helping a little old lady across the street. The fact that he does an objectively good thing doesn't mean that he can work his way to heaven, though.
Wherefore he that honors his father, yet has not charity, does not break this precept: although he does break the precept concerning the act of charity, for which reason he deserves to be punished (ST, ibid).
We are saved by grace. But we don't have to treat the unbeliever as always doing evil, no matter what he does. It's just not so. The fact that we cannot save ourselves doesn't oblige us to think any such thing.

Theology of St. Thomas - Definition of Sin

Having considered his definition of moral virtue, we now turn to St. Thomas' definition of sin. Here he quotes (and then defends) St. Augustine.
Sin is a word, deed, or desire, contrary to the eternal law (ST I-II Q71 A6).
St. Thomas is not the only one to have followed St. Augustine on this score. The CCC (1849) quotes them both on this subject. And here is what the Westminster Shorter Catechism (considered a standard of faith by conservative Presbyterians and others) says:
Q. 14. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.
But It is not enough, as Aquinas says in response to objection 5 for this article in the Summa, that sin might be better defined as being contrary to reason. While it is certainly true that many sins are contrary to reason, this is an insufficient standard.
The theologian considers sin chiefly as an offense against God; and the moral philosopher, as something contrary to reason. Hence Augustine defines sin with reference to its being "contrary to the eternal law," more fittingly than with reference to its being contrary to reason; the more so, as the eternal law directs us in many things that surpass human reason, e.g. in matters of faith (ST, ibid.; ad 5).
The Christian faith is not rationalistic. It cannot be circumnavigated by reason, and it cannot be fully comprehended by reason either. But it is possible for a man to sin in regard to matters of faith - as when a Catholic denies a dogma of the Church such as the Trinity, which cannot be known by reason. Therefore it would be unreasonable to limit sin to those matters which are comprehensible by reason.

A Perspicuity tu quoque

Interlocutor attempts to critique David Waltz on the "perspicuity" of Scripture:
Is it your view that Magisterial teachings and documents are perspicuous? If so, are they perspicuous both outside of and inside the community they are written for? To adapt one of your paragraphs, Is it the case that many doctrines that some Catholics believe are clearly taught by the Magisterium are repudiated by other Catholics, while both parties maintain the same adherence to Roman Catholicism and claim the other is in error in their interpretation? I think you see where this goes....
Where it goes is exactly nowhere. In the first place, even if true it would not invalidate the criticism of Protestantism's claims for the perspicuity of Scripture.

Secondly, I'm unaware of any claim by the Magisterium to the effect that its documents are "perspicuous" in some technical sense. Absent any demonstration to the contrary, the entire edifice of this criticism falls apart. Completely. Because if the Church doesn't make such a claim - as Protestants most certainly do for Scripture - then the tu quoque is without merit.

Thirdly, the reason why the issue exists for the Protestant is that he has nothing like the Magisterium to settle disputes. Oh, there are (in some cases) denominational courts, but the bottom line is that no individual Protestant is in any way bound by the decisions of such courts, except voluntarily: he can always pick up his marbles and go to some other Protestant community where his views are either irrelevant or welcome, or he can start one himself (I have known more than one genuine Lone Wolf Protestant, let me tell you). But the Catholic confesses and submits by definition to the authority of the Church for the resolution of such disputes. Now some will say that the Magisterium doesn't address every point of dispute. For example, Thomists and Molinists are both welcome within the Church. But it's not the Church's mission to settle every bone of theological contention amongst Catholics. The Church's mission is to save souls, and consequently she teaches those things which are necessary for salvation. But it is not the Church's mission to dispel all clouds of uncertainty relating to all theological questions. God is infinite, we are not, and there are going to be things that simply cannot be understood by us humans, and there are going to be disputes that are irrelevant to the Church's mission. By way of contrast, however, the Protestant has no one to tell him what things are necessary for salvation - not with any more than purely advisory authority. So he must resort to the Bible himself to attempt to identify them.

And this brings us to the fourth point: our circumstances are fundamentally different with respect to the facts of the Christian faith. The Protestant searches the Scriptures in order to know what it is that he must believe. But this is not the nature of the Catholic's relation to the Magisterium. He is already committed to believing what the Church teaches, because the Church proclaims the facts of the Faith. This is a given for him. He may indeed misunderstand things on some points or other, but so long as his sincere intent is to believe all that the Church proposes for belief, he is reckoned to have an implicitly valid faith. This is important, because not all are equipped to be students of theology. Not all have the education, or the interest, or the time, or the resources, in order to pursue it. And there is nothing wrong with this. This is not to say that he ought not to learn what he can, but he doesn't have to be a theology geek in order to be a faithful Catholic.

But the Protestant's circumstances are completely different. The facts of the faith are embedded, he believes, in a book, and he must extract them. He may rely upon the guidance of others (in which case, I might add, his condition is hardly different from the lay Catholic's, so that Protestant criticism of that lay Catholic's reliance upon the Magisterium is completely unjust), but whether he does so or not is entirely up to him.

More could be said than this. Obviously. But I hope that this will be useful in demonstrating that it's a complete waste of time for the Protestant to pretend that if there are issues for himself with regard to the claimed perspicuity of the Bible, the Catholic suffers the same things in the same way with regard to the publications of the Magisterium. To quote Hank the Cow Dog, "No, and No, and Heck No."

And if someone can tell me the correct spelling for "tu quoque" (is it 'tu quoque' or 'tuquoque'??), I'll be grateful.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Definition of Moral Virtue

In recent posts I've talked about the importance of habits. For Catholic moral theology, the most important distinction between types of habits is between virtues and vices. St. Thomas defines a virtue this way (following Aristotle):
[A] habit of choosing the mean appointed by reason as a prudent man would appoint it (ST I-II Q59 A1).
In this we see the connection habit, virtue, reason, and prudence. A virtue is a kind of habit - specifically, a habit of choosing what a prudent man would reasonably choose.

The importance of reason in directing our choices and actions is critical. Reason is what distinguishes us from all other animals (and by "animal" I mean nothing more than what Aquinas and Aristotle before him meant: namely, a living being). It won't do for us to allow our actions to be guided by emotions or feelings or passions; we must use our brains to decide what we ought to do. For more on this, see this post. We act as humans (in the sense that St. Thomas means as described in that post) when we exercise free will to pursue a rationally determined end.

Okay then. We've examined habits and reason with respect to their role in our actions; we've defined virtue above; but what does St. Thomas say about prudence?
The Philosopher says (Ethic. vi, 5) that prudence is right reason applied to action (ST II-II Q47 A2).
That's pretty short, but if mere repetition were any measure of a thing's importance to him then I'd have to say that this definition of prudence would be at or near the top of the list. Aquinas repeats this definition a lot. So let's get it into our heads. If we're going to be prudent, we've got to use our heads in thinking about what we do. By extension, the imprudent man does not apply right reason to action: instead, his actions may be directed by other things.

But this talk of applying reason to action could blur the most important feature of what virtue is: a habit of doing such things. But if a virtue is a habit, then it's not something that we necessarily have to think about in order to do. I don't have to think about whether to put my seatbelt on; it's something I just do (whether that qualifies as a virtue per se is not the point; the point is that it's habitual). It's also an action that a prudent man would perform.

A lot more needs to be said, obviously. This post is nothing more than purely introductory, because doing the right thing and exercising the virtues is necessarily more complex in many circumstances than the terribly simple question of wearing a seatbelt. But we can start from here. I'm not sure when I'll return to this particular topic, which is probably more than I'm capable of adequately addressing, but at least we've got what I think is a solid foundation here on which to build, whether in taking action ourselves in the Real World, or in future posts on moral theology.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Thomist - Not by Works

"A Thomist" offers an insightful consideration of the contradictions inherent in Protestant formulations of "not by works". I commend it to you.

The ensuing conversation in the combox seems to me to be a demonstration of precisely what A Thomist said in the post, and of how there seems to be special pleading (in my opinion anyway) whenever a Protestant acknowledges that sola fide requires that he do something, which is said to be by grace, but somehow Catholics, who say that we must do something, are "wrong" despite the fact that we insist that what we do is done by grace and that we are saved by Christ alone.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Philosophy of St. Thomas - Habit

I got off track on writing up my notes from reading the Summa Theologica. It has been almost a month! If you, my reader, have been interested in them, I apologize for the unintended hiatus. If, however, these posts do not interest you, then I ask you to indulge me with your patience. While I'd be delighted if they are useful to others in some way, I'm primarily doing them for my own sake: to transfer my notes from 3x5 cards to the computer, and to expand upon them a bit.

Habits are extremely important to St. Thomas' moral theology. I do not pretend to be proficient in either aspect of his thought, but what follows is what I have managed to put together about them.

His definition is somewhat difficult to follow, but as best I understand things he defines a habit as a quality by which one is disposed to action - whether good or bad (ST I-II Q49 A2). The Catholic Encyclopedia definition might be more clear:
[A] quality difficult to change, whereby an agent whose nature it is to work one way or another indeterminately, is disposed easily and readily at will to follow this or that particular line of action.
The virtues and vices are habits whereby we are disposed to do what is right, or to do what is evil. I don't have a reference for this ready to hand, but St. Thomas has said someplace that we could think of habits as a sort of "second nature" - indeed, that notion has found its way into our everyday language when we say of someone that it is "second nature" for him to do a certain thing, because he does it so well and so readily. Of course, to do right (or wrong) in some particular way isn't really a part of our nature: as humans we all share the same nature, and others may or may not share our dispositions to act in particular ways. But when we have nurtured or otherwise developed habits, they seem to become so much a part of who we are that we commonly think of them as "second nature". It becomes part of who I am, and characterizes me to such an extent, that folks often say things like, "That's just his nature."

One aspect of the definition from the Catholic Encyclopedia that's worth highlighting is that habits are "difficult to change." If we can give them up at the drop of a hat, they aren't really habits. If we give them up "readily" but return to them again, maybe they really are habits: we are accustomed to that behavior, so that it's difficult to change them.

I've talked about this before, and I really think it's critically important and a brilliant insight of Catholic moral theology. We sometimes say of older folks that they are "set in their ways". This is habit at work. I have also heard it said that most conversions to Christ occur among the young (sorry, no link; I heard this back in the mid-80s). This makes perfect sense within the context of habits: the young are not yet so set in their ways, and their patterns of thought and action are not so set in stone as they someday will be. This is also the point of Ecclesiastes 12:
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years approach of which you will say, I have no pleasure in them; before the sun is darkened, and the light, and the moon, and the stars, while the clouds return after the rain; when the guardians of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders are idle because they are few, and they who look through the windows grow blind; when the doors to the street are shut, and the sound of the mill is low; when one waits for the chirp of a bird, but all the daughters of song are suppressed; and one fears heights, and perils in the street; when the almond tree blooms, and the locust grows sluggish and the caper berry is destroyed, because man goes to his lasting home, and mourners go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the broken pulley falls into the well, and the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the life-breath returns to God who gave it.
I observe in myself how difficult it is to break habits now, and how difficult to build new ones. Far better to do so when young (and I'm not really all that old), when these things are easier. Habits can be a wonderful blessing, but they can also become a curse that we bring upon ourselves.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

So Much for Closing on 2 Thessalonians 2:15 with Turretinfan

I was going to do another post - probably only one more - on this topic.

But then I came across comments from Turretinfan in which he suggests that there is some sort of analogy between the Catholic Mass and animal sacrifice in Santeria.

Well, lovely.

Remember what I said about flies, honey, and vinegar? These new remarks would be vinegar.

Faith Seeking Understanding - Humility and Theology

A few months ago I wrote about how Catholic theology is not like Protestant theology. I said that Catholic theology is best characterized as an attempt to understand the faith that has already been given.
Catholic theology is an attempt to make sense out of the truth: to explain it in comprehensible terms. This is one reason, it seems to me, why modern Catholic theology can differ so dramatically from (for example) the Scholastic attempts, and yet still be entirely orthodox.
While reading Gambero's book Mary in the Middle Ages (a great book, by the way, which I heartily commend to you), I came across this in the chapter devoted to St. Anselm:
He had the ability to see that human reason plays a fundamental role in developing theological doctrine, which he understood as the quest to understand the facts of the faith (Gambero, 109).
There is nothing new under the sun. Ta-da! Apparently St. Anselm's ideas here managed to work on my thinking here. I was aware of his "motto" of "faith seeking understanding," but I hadn't consciously made the application of this to what I said then about Catholic theology.

While looking for the source of this idea in St. Anselm's writings, I came across an interesting passage in De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (On the Incarnation of the Word) that - if not the original source of the idea for him, is at least clearly related to it.
And before I discuss the question, I shall make a prefatory comment. I do so to curb the presumption of those who, since they are unable to understand intellectually things the Christian faith professes, and with foolish pride think that there cannot in any way be things that they cannot understand, with unspeakable rashness dare to argue against such things rather than with humble wisdom admit their possibility. Indeed, no Christian ought to argue how things that the Catholic Church sincerely believes and verbally professes are not so, but by always adhering to the same faith without hesitation, by loving it, and by humbly living according to it, a Christian ought to argue how they are, inasmuch as one can look for reasons. If one can understand, one should thank God; if one cannot, one should bow one's head in veneration rather than sound off trumpets (Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, p. 234).
The truth of the Catholic Faith is not dependent upon my ability to understand it. If I do understand it, or parts of it, then so much the better for me, and I ought to thank God for enabling me to do so; but my ability to comprehend is not the measure of its truth in any way. What this means, as St. Anselm says, is that I must humbly bow before the majesty of that which I cannot understand. I should pray for the insight to be able to grasp it, but whether I ever do or not, I have to stand on that which I know for a fact to be true. We do this by means of the theological virtue of faith. And this is a gift of God to us (Eph. 2:8), so it is not something that I can gin up for myself.

Going back to things that I said in my earlier post on this subject: as I wrote then, I couldn't understand St. Thomas' explanation of the doctrine of transubstantiation. And I was tempted, in my weakness, to wonder whether this meant that the doctrine was actually false. Thanks be to God, I didn't continue down that path. Because - repeating myself and St. Anselm again - my ability to comprehend something is no measure of its truth. St. Thomas' ability to explain it in terms that I can grasp is no measure of its truth. The thing is true, and I must accept it (and I do). After that, all that's left is for me to pray that I might understand it. But in view of the measure of the gifts that I have received from God, it's much more sensible for me to accept the fact that I might never understand it. I might not have a sufficient measure of wits - indeed, for some things like transubstantiation, this is surely the case. I might not have sufficient education. Whatever the case, the dogmas remain true, and it's up to me to understand them where possible and to believe them no matter what.

Now it seems to me that this view of Anselm's (and it's held by St. Thomas as well; see especially here for one example) is either not held by Protestants, or is held only very inconsistently - and whether it is held inconsistently or not probably depends more upon the individual than anything else. Almost all Protestants accept the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, even though they do not understand it. This is good. But in other ways they behave contrary to the principle which informs that profession of faith in the Trinity. It is very common for Protestants to deny that some teaching or other is false just because they don't understand it. I'm not talking here about Protestant denials of some Catholic beliefs, although it would certainly apply in that case. I'm talking about the internecine quarrels of Protestants amongst themselves. And I observe that this state of affairs is an inevitable consequence of the idea of sola scriptura.

By setting the Bible as the final authority without having at the same time any means for adjudicating disputes about its meaning, Protestants are left to nothing else than (at best) reason and persuasion for settling their arguments about the content of the faith that they profess. In other words, the model in which they seem to be trapped is one of reason seeking faith: the exact opposite of that advanced by St. Anselm. For they are compelled to question which of them has properly understood the Scripture, so that this proper understanding may then be held as the truth of the faith that is to be believed. Well, it goes without saying that they have had precious little success in coming to any agreement about what the proper understanding of the Bible is. That's not to say that they have become utterly atomized: there are obviously broad strands of common belief held by various different denominational groups. But they don't agree about everything, and as I have opined in the past, they don't even agree about everything that is arguably of critical importance. But the important thing to see here, it seems to me, is that by reversing St. Anselm's motto, and by leaving faith as something that is to be sought rather than putting understanding as that which is to be sought, they have inevitably embraced a rationalist, humanist principle: man as the measure of all things; man's ability to understand as the measure of a thing's truth. But this is exactly wrong.

And we Catholics must beware of stumbling over the same rock in a rationalist, humanistic age. We must be careful not to make our own comprehension a measure of the Faith that the Church proclaims. We become functional Protestants - whether we leave the Church or not - when we submit the Faith to the measure of our comprehension. We have to be humble. We have to acknowledge our own limitations, pray that we might understand if possible, but by all means and every means remain true to the truth that we have received by the grace of God.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

2 Thessalonians 2:15 - Round Two with Turretinfan

Turretinfan responds to my post, which responded to his first. I apologize for the length of this post (and of my first post on this topic), but it couldn't be helped. I shall endeavor to return to more merciful constraints forthwith :-)

First, he says that I agree with his point 1a. I do. What I object to and deny is his suggestion that 1a is a reason why the so-called "loose claims" of Catholics are an "abuse." This is simply not the case.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's look at what he said in the original post. First he introduces what he intends to contradict:
The usual way this verse is abused is to make a loose claim, such as:
a) See, tradition according to Scripture includes both written and oral components; and
b) See, oral tradition is also as binding as written tradition.
And then he moves on to attempt to justify his claim that these claims by Catholics are "loose" and an "abuse":
Reasons why such loose statements are abuses of the text or unhelpful to those trying to use them.

1(a). We do not know precisely the content of the traditions mentioned is. The significance of this fact will become apparent shortly.
(Emphasis in original)

If 1a is supposed to be a reason why claims a and b are abuses, I don't see it. Neither a nor b require us to know the precise content of the traditions mentioned. So I'm perfectly happy to agree with 1a. It doesn't demonstrate that we have abused this passage in any way.

Moving on to 1b:
1(b). We know from the context that the general content of these traditions is the gospel
Turretinfan says in his follow-up post that I "seem to grant 1(b)". Yes, with the stipulations I made about the sense of the word "gospel" that must be in view. But here again, this is supposed to be a reason why the Catholic claims he opened with are "abuses". And once again, I don't see it. Neither of those two claims require the content of the traditions to be something specifically different from the gospel. So once again, my objection isn't to the point itself, but to the use he makes of it. It doesn't do what he says.

Then he says, in the follow-up post:
RdP makes a claim of apparent self-contradiction
Well, not exactly, because I don't know what he intended. What I said was:
if we take any sort of limited or specific sense of "gospel" to be in view, then it would seem that Turretinfan has contradicted himself, since he just conceded that we do not know precisely the content of the traditions in view here. [emphasis added]
I didn't know at the time what sort of definition of "gospel" that he had in mind. He didn't say. This is why I took the trouble to make stipulations about the definition before I would grant 1b. If he meant something limited by it, more than likely I would have to disagree, and - in the present context, it seemed to me (and still does) that he might be contradicting himself (depending upon what he meant by "gospel"): any clear, specific sense of the word would contradict his claim about us not knowing the content of the traditions mentioned in the passage. So I didn't say that he contradicted himself; I said that it seemed to be the case if certain things were so.

He continues in the follow-up:
RdP makes a claim of apparent self-contradiction, but RdP appears to have overlooked that an area can be defined other ways than by its boundaries. We may not know the precise content of Paul's preaching that is referenced, but we know the topic and the topic is the gospel.
Two things: first, my intent was to say that the sense of the word "gospel" that I would accept for the argument is: "the gospel, by which I mean the traditions of which it is constituted." If he accepts it in this sense, then we can move forward. Secondly, if he intends to press something like "the topic of the traditions is the gospel, by which I mean [a specifically Protestant definition of 'gospel']," then I'd certainly disagree, and I would say rather that it is he who is defining it by boundaries: Protestant ones, which the passage certainly doesn't imply by itself, nor require at all. "Gospel" has different senses in the NT, as Turretinfan knows. It could include information like the fact that he was descended from David (2Tim. 2:8), or the fact that God will judge the secrets of men by Christ (Romans 2:16). If we don't know the precise content of the traditions mentioned in 2Th 2:15, and if "gospel" has both more specific and more general meanings in the NT generally and in St. Paul specifically, it's invalid to impose a particular meaning in 2Th 2:15 that the passage won't bear. And (as I said in my initial response to him) the fact that the Apostle said "traditions" rather than "tradition" seems rather clearly to demand a more general understanding of "gospel", not a limited/specific one.

But let's move on. He continues, in his follow-up post:
RdP also appears to grant (2).
Point 2 was this:
The "brethren" (not simply the bishops/elders) are those who received the "traditions" mentioned.
Yes. And this is supposed to be a reason that our claims (see the top of this post) "abuse" the verse. Again, though, this fact doesn't show that we have abused anything. Our claims are not remotely contradicted by this fact.

Point 3 was this:
The "traditions" mentioned are a combination of the things preached to those brethren and "our epistle" and not between the things preached and Scripture generally.
And in his follow-up Turretinfan says:
RdP doesn't seem to directly engage (3)
Actually I did, but he may have missed it because the direct engagement was brief, I didn't quote it, and the direct engagement was followed by an indirect engagement that he may be referring to as "inserted dialog" and which he doesn't consider to be too important. I said:
Now Turretinfan wants to suggest, apparently, that the fact that the written part in view is St. Paul's own epistle to them (presumably 1 Thessalonians) means that this sets some sort of scope for what the content of the spoken traditions must have been. But that just doesn't follow at all.
I may have been guilty of eisegeting(!) Turretinfan's post. He doesn't contradict this paragraph of mine in his follow-up, but this seems not to be his point with (3) at all. I regret the error; I guess my train of thought was briefly derailed! Upon further consideration of (3), though, I'd still have to say that this also does not show that the two Catholic claims (see top of this post) about 2Th 2:15 abuse the text. It has no bearing on those claims at all.

In his follow-up, Turretinfan says that I grant his "Impact A", from his original post:
A) The verse is not saying to hold anything taught outside of Scripture, as such.
But in my first response post I did not grant this statement as such:
With regard to A: not in those words, certainly, but neither is it limited to only those things taught within Scripture. The point, however, is that the things taught - not merely written - are deemed to be of equal authority with the epistle. And it is nothing but question-begging to insist that their content is the same. Indeed, it's not just question-begging: it would be redundant. [emphasis in original]
Turretinfan will be guilty of eisegesis himself if he wants to insist that the traditions of 2Th 2:15 must consist only of material that is in the Bible. Nothing about the verse, nor the context of the verse, requires this understanding. I'm willing to concede, of course, that the verse doesn't explicitly mention Sacred Tradition as such - that too would be an interpolation. But it most certainly doesn't rule it out, either.

Turretinfan says that I also granted his Impact B from his original post:
B) The verse is not saying to hold fast to something other than the gospel.
And this is true enough - depending, as I said in my response, upon what he means by "gospel." And if he wants to limit "gospel" to material contained in the Bible...as I said in my response, this would be question-begging.

With regard to his Impact C ("The verse is not saying making a general statement about all teachings by every apostle"), I said that I didn't understand its relevance. Turretinfan wants to suppose that I grant it, but not until I understand what he intends by it: the opportunity for misunderstanding is too great.

Turretinfan's Impact D, again, from his first post:
D) The verse is not saying that Scripture generally fails to contain the gospel to which Paul required the Thessalonians to hold fast.
Like I said, Catholics wouldn't put things this way. In part a reaction would depend upon what he means by "gospel", but the Catholic view is that God's revelation consists of both Scripture and Sacred Tradition. "generally fails to contain the gospel" is a pejorative phrasing that is inconsistent with the Catechism, and seems to me to reflect a Protestant opinion of the Catholic view. The Bible doesn't contain the whole of God's revelation. It wasn't intended to do so. That doesn't make it a "failure".

Turretinfan continues, in his response to me:
However, RdP ends his consideration of the post, with the Impacts, without getting to the three specific abuses.
Yes, that's true. And that is because he introduced his points 1a, 1b, 2, and 3 as "Reasons why such loose statements are abuses of the text or unhelpful to those trying to use them." And when he said "loose statements" he was referring to this (which immediately preceded the "Reasons..."):
The usual way this verse is abused is to make a loose claim, such as:

a) See, tradition according to Scripture includes both written and oral components; and

b) See, oral tradition is also as binding as written tradition.

There are several reasons why these are abuses, and there are several reasons why even these abuses are not particularly helpful to those who usually attempt them.
As I've said (twice now, with debilitating prolixity), I see no way whatsoever that his Reasons demonstrate that our claims in a and b are abuses of 2Th 2:15. As far as I can tell, he has not sustained his case. I will let the reader judge. But having reached this conclusion - that he hadn't demonstrated that we abuse the text by these claims - I saw no reason to continue with the "Specific Abuses" section of his post.

At the risk of taxing my reader's already overburdened patience, and since Turretinfan has expressed an interest in it, I will (hopefully briefly) address them.

If someone is trying to say that we need to permit some "tradition," because this verse says so, we need to ask ourselves (and them, if they'll answer) three questions:

1) Is the tradition that they want us to permit the gospel preached by Paul to the Thessalonians, or something else?

2) Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate Paul taught to the Thessalonians at all?

3) Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate that any of the apostles or prophets of the apostolic age taught to the Thessalonians?

If the answers are "something else," "no," and "no" (as is usally the case) then it should be apparent that their reliance on this verse is completely in appropriate.
Question 1 is vague: what does he mean by "gospel"? However, broadly speaking Sacred Tradition most certainly does transmit the gospel. So the answer is "Yes, it is."

Question 2 is irrelevant, since nothing in the passage requires that we be able to demonstrate it. There is no documentary evidence showing the full content of St. Paul's preaching in Thessalonica, so he cannot demonstrate that distinctively Catholic traditions were not taught there.

Question 3 is irrelevant, since nothing in the passage requires that we be able to demonstrate this. There is no documentary evidence showing the full content of every apostle's and prophet's teaching in Thessalonica, he cannot demonstrate that distinctively Catholic traditions are excluded from what they taught there.

Likewise, if someone is trying to use this verse to suggest that we must consider as infallibly authoritative something in addition to Scripture, we need to ask ourselves (and them, if possible) three questions:

1) Does the verse contrast Scripture and oral traditions or "our epistle" and other "things preached"?

2) Does the verse say that the Thessalonians had been preached extrascriptural doctrines?

3) Does the verse explain anything about the "things preached" beyond that they were the "truth" and "the gospel"?

If the answers are "the latter," "no," and "no" then it should be apparent that the verse cannot stand for the proposition for which they are attempting to use it.
Question 1 is irrelevant, since nothing in the passage proscribes Sacred Tradition as being the content of the traditions that were preached - traditions whose referents we do not know, as he has conceded.

Question 2 is irrelevant, since the verse also doesn't say that they had been taught things solely found in Scripture.

Question 3 doesn't exclude Sacred Tradition, which is certainly true and transmits the gospel, so the fact that the verse doesn't spell things out is irrelevant.

Finally, if the verse is provided as an argument that the magesterium of the church has been entrusted with oral teachings that are passed down orally for long periods of time, but which must be accepted when finally revealed to the public, we must ask the following questions:

1) Is there any reason to think that Paul taught things in secret, especially from this verse?

2) Is the verse directed to the leaders of the Thessalonian church or to the brethren?

3) Does the verse specify that the "things taught" were not things that were committed to writing?

If the answer is "no," "brethren," and "no," then it should be apparent that the verse is being abused by the person citing it.
This section seems to be partly based upon a misunderstanding of Sacred Tradition, which isn't "hidden" from anyone: that would be Gnostic, not Catholic. The fact that there is no codex labeled SACRED TRADITION containing it all doesn't mean that any of it is "secret."

Question 1 is irrelevant, since the fact that Sacred Tradition wasn't written doesn't mean it was secret.

Question 2 is misleading, since the fact that the bishop or presbyter(s) of the Thessalonian church taught them oral traditions doesn't change the fact that oral traditions were taught, and consequently the Catholic understanding of this passage represented by Turretinfan's two claims (see the top of this post) do not abuse the passage: he cannot demonstrate that what was referred to as "taught" here must be found only in the Bible.

Question 3 is irrelevant, since the verse also does not say that they were written down.

I've read through Turretinfan's "concrete examples" in his follow-up post, and I give him credit for the amount of work he has put into this. But I don't see anything in them that would change my mind about what I've said, either (and I'm going to have pity upon my poor reader by passing over them without extended comment).

I think that he and I might be able to agree on one thing: 2Th 2:15 is not by itself a foundation for the entire Catholic understanding of what Sacred Tradition is. It doesn't have to be. But it most certainly does not contradict the fact that God's revelation has been preserved in Sacred Tradition.

[2008-04-04: minor corrections made to eliminate certain unintended potential conflicts in what I said with CCC 80-83; thanks to Martin for the tip!]

Lest We Forget - Mike Burgess on 2 Timothy 3:16

These were some excellent comments by Mr. Burgess at Beggars All. They were entirely ignored there, but I think that they are worthy of better than that. First:
Because the passage says that Scriptures are sufficient to equip the man of God for every good work. Sort of anti-sola fide, if you know what I mean. And what is that middle bit, "man of God," supposed to mean exactly? Using Scripture to interpret Scripture, of course. Where else does that phrase show up antecedently which could give us a clue to its meaning?

By the way, what do the myriad other Greek-English lexicons list as the meaning of the word in question? Why did White feel it was necessary to rely on those three witnesses? Are there more/better ones?
Is being equipped to every good work equivalent to constituting the sole infallible rule of faith? If so, then do works contribute to your salvation? And if so, then are the works of faith different from the works of the Law? And if so then shouldn't you all be sort of quiet now?

Or, conversely, is being equipped for every good work not, in fact, about establishing the sole, infallible rule of faith? If not, then what does this passage have to do with proving sola scriptura?

Also, are you asserting that "man of God" in every scriptural antecedent, does not refer to named or unnamed prophets? Are all believers now to be understood to be prophets contra explicits divisions in Paul? Or are you insisting, contra every other Protestant apologist, that only Scripture can interpret Scripture and we can assume that Paul is using the term "man of God" in a totally new and universal way? Verification, please.
Apart from what you've written on the passage in question before, could you engage my questions above to explain your position that the sufficiency of Scripture to equip the man of God, by way of profitability for training in righteousness, rebuke, reproof, etc., unto completeness for every good work is an affirmation of the proposition that the Scriptures are thus exclusively the rule of faith (which ostensibly presumes your other solas)?
And what answers did he receive?
Why, now that you mention it, I'm pretty sure those are crickets.
I wait for answers to the questions I posed.
Mike, I'm afraid you're going to be waiting for a long, long time. And that, of course, is to your credit.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Random Bit of Trivia That May Interest Only Me

Carrie tells the world who her intended audience is:
There are a few parts I find offensive, but I would expect those parts to also curl the toes of my Protestant audience. I expect these types of posts to be a "preaching to the choir".
Caveats: we don't know that her intended audience is always the same when she posts at Beggars All, but we do know that this is the same intended audience on her own blog. We don't know, though, that it's the same for the other folks who post there at Beggars All.

It's good to have this laid out explicitly. If I had to guess, I'd say that the others who post at Beggars All intend the same audience as well. This matters, because it ought to inform how we react to her posts.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Response to Turretinfan on 2 Thessalonians 2:15

Turretinfan takes to task those whom he says "abuse" 2 Thessalonians 2:15:
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle (NKJV).
He says that these people - and Catholics are included - make "loose claims" about this verse: that it means there are written and oral components to tradition, and that the oral tradition is as binding as the written one found in Scripture.

Turretinfan says that the "loose claims" made by Catholics about this verse from 2 Thessalonians constitute an "abuse." Why? He offers a few reasons.

First, he says "We do not know precisely the content of the traditions mentioned is" (emphasis in original). He goes on to say that he'll have more to say about this point later, but wait a minute. Nothing about our claims contradict this at all! Clearly St. Paul is speaking in general terms. So how exactly have we "abused" the verse with what we say, when nothing we say about it suggests that we do know the "precise content" of the traditions in view?

We don't, and we haven't abused this passage, either.

He continues with his second point: "We know from the context that the general content of these traditions is the gospel." Well, we know this but only if we take a very broad understanding of "gospel". Just for starters, if we take any sort of limited or specific sense of "gospel" to be in view, then it would seem that Turretinfan has contradicted himself, since he just conceded that we do not know precisely the content of the traditions in view here. Secondly, it seems clear that what is in view is not the gospel as a whole per se, but rather the gospel as composed of multiple things: hence the Apostle's use of traditions (plural) rather than tradition (singular). What is in view, then, are the traditions of which the gospel is composed, not the gospel itself per se as a unit. They were told that they were to hold fast to the traditions that they had been taught. Again, this is in no way contrary to what Catholics say about this verse, and nothing here (or anywhere else in the Bible) demands that the traditions of the gospel are to be found only in the Bible.

Moving on, he says: "The "brethren" (not simply the bishops/elders) are those who received the "traditions" mentioned." Okay, but once again this proves nothing about the Catholic view one way or another. The epistle is addressed to the church at Thessalonica and not merely to her bishop. The Christians there are responsible nevertheless to hold to the things that they have been taught - whether in Paul's letter to them or in what he (or, presumably, their bishop and/or presbyters) have taught them. This does not contradict the Catholic view. The point is: no matter whether I/we taught a thing to you personally, or whether you read something in my letter, hold to it.

Now Turretinfan wants to suggest, apparently, that the fact that the written part in view is St. Paul's own epistle to them (presumably 1 Thessalonians) means that this sets some sort of scope for what the content of the spoken traditions must have been. But that just doesn't follow at all.

Here's an example by way of analogy: "Eat fruit every day - whether apples or oranges." But Turretinfan's reading would seem to leave us with something like this: "Eat fruit every day - whether apples or apples." Now I'll grant you that this is not an exact parallel, but at the very least it ought to be clear that when you're talking about a general class, and two different sets from that class are mentioned, there is no good reason at all to assume that the two sets are coextensive (i.e., that the traditions received by word are the same as those meant by what was received by epistle: apples and apples). In other words: it's question-begging.

Let us continue. Turretinfan makes some observations:
A) The verse is not saying to hold anything taught outside of Scripture, as such.
B) The verse is not saying to hold fast to something other than the gospel.
C) The verse is not saying making a general statement about all teachings by every apostle.
D) The verse is not saying that Scripture generally fails to contain the gospel to which Paul required the Thessalonians to hold fast.
With regard to A: not in those words, certainly, but neither is it limited to only those things taught within Scripture. The point, however, is that the things taught - not merely written - are deemed to be of equal authority with the epistle. And it is nothing but question-begging to insist that their content is the same. Indeed, it's not just question-begging: it would be redundant.

With regard to B: of course not. I may be mistaken, though, but there appears to be some equivocation here: either that, or Turretinfan might be contradicting himself. As we saw, he concedes that we don't know the content of the traditions that St. Paul mentions. In some broad sense we could say they were "the gospel," but only in a sense that emphasizes the constituent parts of the gospel (rather than in a sense that emphasizes the gospel as a "unit"). But we don't know what those constituent parts are in the present context, as he has conceded, and it is (once again) purely question-begging if we say that those constituent parts must be found exclusively in Scripture.

With regard to C: I'm not sure what the relevance of this is supposed to be. Paul's preaching was not different from the other apostles'. Our point is that 2Thess. 2:15 establishes that traditions passed along orally were equally authoritative with the written word.

With regard to D: This is a fairly loaded way to put things, but it appears that Turretinfan's post is primarily addressed to his fellow Protestants. Certainly this is not how we Catholics would put it, and clearly that is not the point of Catholic interpretation of this verse. Rather, we say that that Scripture is one way in which divine revelation has been been transmitted, and Sacred Tradition is the other way (cf. CCC 80-83).

In summary: I don't think Turretinfan has made his case against the Catholic understanding of this passage.

In closing I ought to mention an earlier post I did on this subject. The author in question there is the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen, a prominent Reformed apologist. In my opinion Dr. Bahnsen's attempt at addressing this passage fails in ways similar to Turretinfan's does.

[2008-04-04: minor corrections in the antepenultimate paragraph, in keeping with the suggestions made by Martin in the comments. Thank you, Martin]