Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Zippy Catholic on Prosperity

I've had Zippy Catholic in my sidebar for as long as I've had a blogroll sidebar. He always makes me think, whether I think I agree with him or not.

Here's a post he wrote about a year ago on prosperity that is worth reading, if only to get one thinking. Perhaps the (cough) "money" quote is:
If we are not self consciously making choices that we know are reducing our material prosperity from what it could be, we are doing evil.
At least one of the comboxers seemed to disagree, appealing to Scripture:
the LORD promises material prosperity to those who follow His precepts.
Yes he does, but that's not exactly what Zippy was talking about. He was talking about maximizing prosperity. And the Law of God requires us to give to the poor - which does not maximize my prosperity.

Everyone trying to get as much as he possibly can does not make everyone better off. Anyway, it's an interesting post, and I commend it to you.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Theology of St. Thomas - Implicit Desire for Baptism

The Church has long taught that those catechumens who die before their baptism are reckoned as receiving the Baptism of desire: that is, they would have been baptized if they had the opportunity before untimely death prevented it. God is not so unjust as to fling into Hell those who through no fault of their own are prevented from receiving the sacrament of salvation.

It is of course true that how God does this is a mystery which he has not revealed. So the Catechism says,
The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit" (CCC §1257; emphasis added).
But the desire of the catechumen is one that we can only reasonably describe as being pretty explicit: he has sought to become a member of Christ's Church, and is prepared to do and to receive whatever is necessary for that.
For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament (ibid., §1259).
It ought to be said, though, that not merely explicit desire for baptism is recognized by the Church, but even an implicit one.
Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity (ibid., §1260).
Aquinas' teaching on this subject is consistent with it.
As stated above (1, ad 2; 68, 2) man receives the forgiveness of sins before Baptism in so far as he has Baptism of desire, explicitly or implicitly... (ST III Q69 A4 ad 2; emphasis added).
To be sure, the examples and references St. Thomas makes here don't quite say anything ... explicit ... about implicit desire for Baptism. But it seems to me that it would be a mistake to say that by "implicit" desire he means only the sort of desire he describes in those references. As far as I can tell, it's not rational to say that a catechumen should be described as having an "implicit" desire for Baptism. To the contrary, his desire is explicit. So I think it's reasonable to say that an implicit desire must be the sort of thing that the CCC describes - as when a man is ignorant of the Gospel, but would have accepted Baptism had he known about it. This, it seems to me, is consistent with what we say about implicit faith: the Catholic doesn't have to understand or be able to explain Nicene orthodoxy, but he must have the intention of believing what the Church teaches.

Well, a man who has never heard of Christ can't be said to have an explicit intention to believe what the Church teaches, obviously. But does that mean he has no hope? The Church says that it does not mean that at all. And although the Church knows of no other means of salvation apart from Baptism, she also says "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments" (CCC §1257 again; emphasis added). Aquinas' acknowledgment of implicit desire for Baptism seems entirely consistent with this. I also think, by way of being self-referential, that this is consistent with what I wrote earlier today about Christ's implicit headship over the whole human race.

Theology of St. Thomas - Aside on Development of Doctrine

In ST III Q61 A3, St. Thomas employs an argument that relies upon the fact of doctrinal development in responding to the objection (#2) that there should have been no change in the sacraments prior to the coming of Christ.
For as time went on sin gained a greater hold on man, so much so that it clouded man's reason, the consequence being that the precepts of the natural law were insufficient to make man live aright, and it became necessary to have a written code of fixed laws, and together with these certain sacraments of faith. For it was necessary, as time went on, that the knowledge of faith should be more and more unfolded, since, as Gregory says (Hom. vi in Ezech.): "With the advance of time there was an advance in the knowledge of Divine things" [emphasis added]
The only observation I would make here is that the idea of doctrinal development is not a novelty in Church history, as though it was originally conceived by Cardinal Newman; rather, even Pope St. Gregory the Great affirmed that our knowledge of divine things advances over time. I have seen (and known) folks who deny this, even to the point of supposing that Abraham knew at least as much about Christian theology subsequent to himself as we Christians do today. But the facts oppose this claim.

Theology of St. Thomas - Christ as Head of the Church and of All Men (Part Two)

In Part One we saw the important sort of distinctions that must be made when we speak of Christ as Head of the Church and of all Men, and we concluded with the observation that Protestant critics usually misunderstand this sort of thing - as for example when they suggest that disagreements among Catholics about Magisterial teaching contradict what the Church says about itself. The short answer to that is, "Sorry, but you are mistaken."

The Church teaches that all Catholics must sincerely believe everything that the Church proposes for their belief. But the Church does not say that every Tom, Dick, and Harry - every poor and uneducated and illiterate Catholic - must consequently become a theologian in order to be saved. It is sufficient for a Catholic's faith to be implicit: that is to say, it is sufficient that a Catholic sincerely and genuinely intends to believe all that the Church teaches. Consequently - although it is obviously better to be able to do so - the Catholic who cannot say a word in explanation of the Nicene Creed is no less my brother Catholic than St. Thomas. He is formally Catholic, even if he may not be materially so in this respect. There is a measure of potentiality in his apprehension of the truth, although he is still Catholic in actuality.

So with regard to DV, we must charitably say that those who disagree about its meaning sincerely intend to believe what the Church teaches: they are formally united, even if they materially (and unfortunately) disagree. The fact remains, however, that DV teaches the truth. But even if one is inclined to be uncharitable, the most he can say is that there may be so-called Catholics who willfully reject what the Church teaches. But such men cannot reasonably called Catholics. They formally deny her doctrine and consequently sever themselves from her fellowship.

The argument takes a slightly different turn, however. It is supposed that Catholics can't get "infallible answers" on a whim from the Magisterium, and consequently their position is no better than that of the Protestant. But this is to misunderstand things. In the first place, God does not promise us "infallible answers" to just any question that we may have, and we neither need nor merit them. There will always be things that we do not understand simply because we are finite and prone to error. This means that it is wrong-headed to demand "infallible answers" to everything. We're not going to get them, and even if we did we wouldn't understand them all. The fact is, however, that we can and do get the answers that we need from the Magisterium, starting with our priests and bishops.

This necessarily differs from the Protestant's situation as it is usually presented (and certainly as it is represented in, for example, the Westminster standards). There is no room for formal and material distinctions there. There is no room for understanding the difference between objective availability of the truth by way of the Magisterium and its subjective apprehension. Black or white, on or off. The uncertainty that they have concerning essential matters of truth is a defect betraying the weakness of their position precisely because of how they say their position "works" with respect to the discovery of the truth: on their own terms, it fails. It is a systemic problem, not simply a problem of subjective apprehension or mere human weakness. They tell us that the Holy Spirit guides them to the truth, but there are very, very few things upon which all Protestants agree. Well, either the rest of their differences do not matter (in which case their disunity is truly scandalous) or they do. In my judgment there are things about which they disagree which cannot credibly be described as matters of indifference.

Lastly, as Martin points out in commenting on Part One, there is a legitimate sense in which we may say that everyone is implicitly Christian: the same sense in which we say that Christ is the Head of all men. To some this will seem to be universalist, as I pointed out, but only to those who are unable or unwilling to distinguish between potentiality and act, between the formal and material, between the objective and the subjective. To say that doesn't mean that every God-hater is destined for glory, but until the day he dies he is at least a Christian in potentiality.

Theology of St. Thomas - Christ as Head of the Church and of All Men (Part One)

When we speak of Christ as the Head of the Church, we are sometimes careless about what the phrase means. In ST III Q8 A3, St. Thomas shows us how to think carefully about it. In answer to objections that Christ is not the Head of all men, he writes:
On the contrary, It is written (1 Timothy 4:10): "Who is the Saviour of all men, especially of the faithful," and (1 John 2:2): "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." Now to save men and to be a propitiation for their sins belongs to Christ as Head. Therefore Christ is the Head of all men.
The typical Protestant approach to these passages is to "explain" them by claiming that they really mean the exact opposite of what they say. So we'll hear them claim something along the lines that because some men go to hell, Christ cannot be their Savior, and therefore (despite the entirely clear words chosen by the Apostle) "all men" only refers to the elect. And so, similarly, do they abuse the words of St. John, turning Scripture on its head for the sake of their theories of Christ's Headship. St. Thomas elucidates:
This is the difference between the natural body of man and the Church's mystical body, that the members of the natural body are all together, and the members of the mystical are not all together--neither as regards their natural being, since the body of the Church is made up of the men who have been from the beginning of the world until its end--nor as regards their supernatural being, since, of those who are at any one time, some there are who are without grace, yet will afterwards obtain it, and some have it already. We must therefore consider the members of the mystical body not only as they are in act, but as they are in potentiality [emphasis added].
This has the virtue of seeming pretty obvious, once it's pointed out. Christ is the Head of the Church, but he's not merely her Head at any specific moment: rather, he is her Head throughout time. Consequently it ought to be clear that we have to think about the members of the Body of Christ not only with respect to those who are Christians (whether alive on earth or in heaven) already, but we must think about them with respect to those who are in potentiality to being Christians: those who have not yet believed, or those who have not yet been born. But not only this. Because even with respect to those who have died already and may be in hell, there was a time when they too were still in potentiality with respect to being members of the Church.
Hence we must say that if we take the whole time of the world in general, Christ is the Head of all men, but diversely. For, first and principally, He is the Head of such as are united to Him by glory; secondly, of those who are actually united to Him by charity; thirdly, of those who are actually united to Him by faith; fourthly, of those who are united to Him merely in potentiality, which is not yet reduced to act, yet will be reduced to act according to Divine predestination; fifthly, of those who are united to Him in potentiality, which will never be reduced to act; such are those men existing in the world, who are not predestined, who, however, on their departure from this world, wholly cease to be members of Christ, as being no longer in potentiality to be united to Christ [emphasis added].
As far as I'm concerned this shows a lot more respect for the text of Scripture than the Protestant efforts I've seen and previously believed (as described above).

With regard to the unbaptized, St. Thomas says
Those who are unbaptized, though not actually in the Church, are in the Church potentially. And this potentiality is rooted in two things--first and principally, in the power of Christ, which is sufficient for the salvation of the whole human race; secondly, in free-will.
And with regard to the fact that there are tares in the Church:
To be "a glorious Church not having spot or wrinkle" is the ultimate end to which we are brought by the Passion of Christ. Hence this will be in heaven, and not on earth, in which "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves," as is written (1 John 1:8). Nevertheless, there are some, viz. mortal, sins from which they are free who are members of Christ by the actual union of charity; but such as are tainted with these sins are not members of Christ actually, but potentially; except, perhaps, imperfectly, by formless faith, which unites to God, relatively but not simply, viz. so that man partake of the life of grace. For, as is written (James 2:20): "Faith without works is dead." Yet such as these receive from Christ a certain vital act, i.e. to believe, as if a lifeless limb were moved by a man to some extent.
It's wrongheaded to suppose that the presence of sinners in the visible Church somehow justifies the Protestant notion of the "invisible Church."

Unfortunately most Protestant critics of the Church don't bother to try to understand the sort of important distinctions that St. Thomas makes here. Consequently for the sake of avoiding the appearance of being universalists, they will just deny what the Bible plainly says, rather than seeking to understand how it can be that God can say that Christ is the Savior of all men even though some men go to hell. I think the same sort of response must be made regarding their treatment of the distinction between the formal and the material. So James Swan supposes that he has discovered a "hole" in the teaching of the Church when he finds Catholics disagreeing over the meaning of Dei Verbum.

No. He misunderstands (or is unaware of) what we believe concerning implicit faith. But this post is already long enough. Part Two coming up.

Friday, August 15, 2008

An hour of my life - gone forever

After a few/several months of blissful avoidance, I stumbled once more into the thicket of Protestant vitriol over at "Beggars All".

After presenting (in very brief form) an argument in defense of the Pope (a popular target of abuse over there) and in reply to a post there, I remarked:
I know, I know - you've heard all that before. Blah blah blah go Reginald and the Catholics. But we've heard your question before too. We can't help it if you don't like the answer. :-)
And the response was just about what I expected.

More to the point, and as I said in conclusion:
We've heard your question (questions, in this case) before. We've heard your objections. We've answered them. We can't help it if you don't like the answers, but I doubt that's the real problem. I don't think it's possible for us to offer answers that you would accept.

Isn't that right? Sure it is.
Life is too short to waste in quarreling. I'm not interested in debate club, and I'm surely not interested in mockery and dismissiveness. Nothing a Catholic says to the folks there will be adequate, short of declaring for Protestantism. Well, I've been there and done that, I bought the T-Shirt, the books, the theology, the secret decoder ring, the whole thing. And with God's help I'm not going back. So what do the "Beggars" gang and I have to say to each other on matters of religion? Not much. More's the pity. :-(

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Pope and Communion for Children

It has been suggested someplace that the Pope's recent counsel concerning admission of children to Holy Communion betrays a doctrinal wobbliness that is inconsistent with the Church's claims to dogmatic certainty:
Why does someone need a Pope for simply good advice?
But I am still surprised that a consensus of certainty still hasn't been obtained after 2000 years. Especially, as I said, since the sacramental economy is the cornerstone of RC salvation.

Once again those who pretend to understand the Church demonstrate that they really don't.

Admission to Communion is not a question of dogma. It is a question of practice. Because it is a question of practice, it is a question of prudence - of right reason applied to action. And the Church has regulated this prudence in Canon Law. And anyone who bothers to look will see that what the Pope has said is consistent with Canon Law. See canons 912-914:
Can. 912 Any baptized person not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to holy communion.

Can. 913 §1. The administration of the Most Holy Eucharist to children requires that they have sufficient knowledge and careful preparation so that they understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity and are able to receive the body of Christ with faith and devotion.

§2. The Most Holy Eucharist, however, can be administered to children in danger of death if they can distinguish the body of Christ from ordinary food and receive communion reverently.

Can. 914 It is primarily the duty of parents and those who take the place of parents, as well as the duty of pastors, to take care that children who have reached the use of reason are prepared properly and, after they have made sacramental confession, are refreshed with this divine food as soon as possible. It is for the pastor to exercise vigilance so that children who have not attained the use of reason or whom he judges are not sufficiently disposed do not approach holy communion.
So we see that there is no rigid standard here, but rather that it is a standard informed by a large measure of prudential judgment - which is precisely what the Holy Father was offering.

Why should we take such uninformed criticisms seriously? If the critic is so flippant as to not even bother to investigate before lobbing the latest grenade, does he deserve a serious response? Probably not. But now I've given one, so it's too late :-)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

"Ironic" is not the word I would use to describe it

After quoting Wisdom 14, someone asks whether it is "more ironic" that as a non-Catholic he finds the chapter to be "generally [sic]" true, or that Catholics "do not follow" the passage.


As to the former: I don't consider that to be ironic. I would consider it to be pretty sad if he didn't find it to be true, whatever he thinks of the book, because Wisdom 14 is nothing but a critique of idolatry.

As to the latter: This is not ironic. This is a pedestrian example of a common Protestant error. The error rests in the false and unwarranted supposition that he knows better than we do what our intentions are when we Catholics pray to the saints or kneel before their statues. Rather than believing us when we say we do not worship them, he seems to be happy to insist that we really do.

Unfortunately such presumption doesn't leave much room for cordial discussion.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1918-2008

Solzhenitsyn has died. Here is a pretty good obituary. If I find a better one, I'll update the post. Please note that links of that sort are unlikely to be permanent.

Here is his speech at Harvard. It is excellent even 30 years later, and I commend it to you. I've added a quotation from it to the masthead.

If you haven't read The Gulag Archipelago already, do it now.

This is a sad day.