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.