Sunday, January 25, 2009

Yes, the Pope is Catholic

Turretinfan says of the Pope:
He seems like a fairly rational guy - the kind of guy who would realize that there is a difference between asking Mr. Jones your next-door neighbor to pray for you, and supplicating Mary on bended knee with candles burning and incense wafting through the air in front of an expensive, marble statue of her.
Yes, there is, and yes, the Pope would say there is a difference, too - but not exactly the one that TF thinks.

There's a difference between going to your neighbor's house for dinner and going to the boss's house. There's a difference between a meeting at the office with one's coworkers and a meeting with customers. There is a difference between visiting your folks' home and visiting a head of state. Presumably TF would agree with these distinctions; he doesn't seem to be a radical egalitarian! Well, it is precisely this sort of distinction that stands with regard to our approach to the Blessed Virgin in seeking her intercession versus asking Bob next door to do the same. The social expectations are different. We don't treat customers the way that we treat employees; we don't treat the boss the way we treat the neighbors. We don't treat the President the same way we would treat our friends. A man may kneel before his king, but he shakes the hand of his President. One's office and standing have a bearing on the measure and manner of the respect and honor he is due.

Now TF obviously is wrong about the Blessed Virgin when he says that there is something wrong with Catholic veneration of her. He ought at least to be able to recognize, though, that our behavior towards her is consistent with our view of her standing in the Church and before God. Yes, we treat her with greater respect than Bob next door, and we even value her prayers on our behalf more than the Bob's (and this implies no disrespect toward Bob at all, just as kneeling before the king implies no disrespect toward those before whom we would not kneel).

You don't treat the mother of the King the way that you treat a waitress. You don't treat one who has been perfected in holiness like someone you meet on the bus. You don't treat one who beholds the face of the Father like the buddy you invite over for the Super Bowl. You just don't.

Monday, January 19, 2009

So-Called Double Standards

A poster among the Beggars writes:
I'm simply tired of Roman Catholic double standards
There's no problem with that - if the double standards actually exist, and if they are invalid. I would hope that I would be fair and honest enough to agree. But I'm pretty sure that in the present case, no such duplicity exists.
Roman Catholics chastise Protestants continually for using "private interpretation" and having disagreements.
Yes, we do. And the reason that we do so is that the hermeneutical chaos among them is both a function and a contradiction of their principles.

It is a function of their principles: The Protestant appeals to sola scriptura as a foundational principle, and to the preeminence of individual conscience. But with no authority or rule to guide their appeal to sola scriptura - none, at any rate, above the conscience - it is inevitable that differences of opinion will exist among them.

It is a contradiction of their principles: The best theological traditions within Protestantism will claim that the Holy Spirit guides them in their interpretation of Scripture. But this appeal is contradicted by the doctrinal chaos among them. God cannot contradict himself, and yet Protestants certainly do contradict each other. The situation is no better even if we suppose that the Holy Spirit guides them only in regard to questions that are not matters of indifference, since Protestants do not even agree about what these are (to say nothing of their disagreements over these central doctrines).

In short: doctrinal dispute is not only inevitable on their own terms, it is also the signal that their own terms are intrinsically self-contradictory (and consequently false).
So, OK, show the beef. Show us a unified Roman Catholicism. Show us your certainty. Show us the infallible interpretation of Scripture. Show us unified historical "Tradition." Show us how your theologians and apologists have a collective agreement down the line.
Unfortunately the author has jumped to the wrong conclusion, because he is thinking within the framework of his own system. But the critique given above - the one that we Catholics so regularly apply - is an internal one, based upon the principles of Protestantism itself. That particular critique simply does not apply to the Catholic Church, since her framework is different in significant ways.

[By way of digression, it might be worth pointing out that some folks have occasionally claimed to make an "external" critique of the Church. Of course it's true that one can criticize a thing based upon principles alien to its constitution: we can all criticize a horse for lacking wings, for example. But such a criticism is of only limited value. For a Protestant to criticize the Catholic Church on Protestant grounds is no less absurd than for someone to complain that Secretariat wasn't Pegasus. We are not obliged to be concerned with such critiques.]

In particular, subjective apprehension of the Faith by the faithful is nowhere guaranteed by the Church, and this is a perfectly sensible position. As even St. Peter recognized, there are hard things in the Gospel, "which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction" (2Pet. 3:16). More to the point, not everyone is gifted in such a way as to be able to understand every article of the Faith in every detail, and not everyone possesses the educational background required to do so. What is required of us is not that we understand the hypostatic union, nor transubstantiation, but that we believe that these things are so.

Nor are we obliged, for that matter, to be able to explicitly declare a comprehensive list of dogmas that we hold. Once again, there are people for whom this would be impossible for the same reasons - they lack the requisite gifts or educational background/opportunities.

Now these things mean that there is going to be some measure of disagreement among Catholics, materially speaking. But objectively they all intend the same thing - that is, to believe that which is taught by the Church. And this is consistent with (for example) the Catechism:
The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium's task to preserve God's people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. [CCC §890; emphasis added]
What then? Well, it ought to be obvious that we Catholics have the opportunity of professing the faith without error, as the Catechism says, but only to the extent that we can and do take advantage of that opportunity.

Now this condition is strikingly different from that in which the Protestant's system places him. He is said to receive the Holy Spirit's assistance in interpreting the Bible. But the amazing disunity among Protetants shows that this simply doesn't happen in the way that they say. For if it did, this disunity would simply not occur, because it is not possible for the Holy Spirit to err or to lie.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church doesn't say that the Holy Spirit leads Christians to the truth in this way, but rather acknowledges that Christians will not necessarily all materially agree because their subjective apprehension of the truth is not guaranteed. But this is not what Protestants say of how the Holy Spirit works among them. And that is why Protestantism does not work.
You guys have got to admit your double standard. We’re going to continue to embarrass you.
The only embarrassing thing here, unfortunately, is the Protestant objector's failure to recognize that the so-called double standard is actually two standards. It is a function of the different frameworks involved. The Protestant's framework is not Catholic, and the Catholic framework is not subject to the same criticism.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

That was the point, actually

When Carrie dismissively responded to Paul Hoffer with this:
Wrong. The scriptures are active, a constitution is not.
Paul did the right thing - he gave her a chance to explain herself.
Ok, I will is Scripture in and of itself active if no one reads it or interprets it?
Before she could reply, someone else did:
If no one reads it? That's the wrong question.
And as for how it's living and active, I'd ask the author of Hebrews.
Just so. But that's really the question, isn't it? It's a question of interpretation: what does it mean for the Word of God to be living and active? We're blithely, dismissively told to ask the author. But what does that mean? How does he answer such questions? What are the means he uses to do so? Where do we get the answers that the author provides? The Protestant proposes answers to these questions I've asked, but those answers are inadequate. That's what started me down the road to Mother Church, by the grace of God.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hitting the Credibility Wall - What a Mess

In a recent comment which I reviewed here, Carrie thought it would be clever to rip two quotes out of their respective contexts, juxtapose them, and pretend that they contradicted each other. Presumably the purpose of these antics was to make one of the two authors look like he didn't know what he was talking about, although it's possible she meant to pretend that the "contradiction" somehow demonstrated a problem with official Catholic teaching. Well, we examined her efforts and found them wanting; it's pretty clear (and unsurprisingly so) that both authors were actually in accord with CCC §95, so that not only were the two authors she quoted not contradicting each other, they were also in sync with the Church.

Now Carrie has tossed discretion to the wind, it seems. In a recent comment she actually quoted CCC §95 by way of demonstrating a difference with Reformed views on authority. But this means that she is aware of what the Church officially teaches; hence, the quote abuse described above is made all the more heinous. Either she didn't bother to carefully read the two quotations in context (which would have shown that they were in harmony with the Church's teaching), or she ignored it for the sake of rhetorical points.

Either way, it's the end of the line, in my judgment, for any credibility she had as a critic of the Catholic Church and Catholics.

[Update: I've come across this little remark from her. Well golly. Why on earth should anyone spend any time replying to her remarks, when she blithely dismisses the responses she receives?]

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Retort that Wasn't

A while back I remarked upon a post Carrie favored us with. It has been a few days since anyone bothered with the combox for it, but she apparently decided to drop in on it today. So she grabbed a single sentence from this 570+ word comment left by Paul Hoffer:
no Catholic would claim that the Church is superior in authority to Scripture.
And her comment, in apparent response to that, was a very brief snippet reputed to be from a Catholic commentary on the Bible:
"In regard to these truth [faith and morals] the authority of Tradition and of the Bible is equal...Nevertheless, as we shall see later, the Church is superior to the Bible in the sense that she is the Living Voice of Christ, and therefore the sole infallible interpreter of the inspired Word, whenever an authoritative interpretation is required" (emphasis added by Carrie).

Where to start?

In the first place, I guess this little exchange demonstrates the pointlessness of some (many?) combox debates. Participants are free to pick and choose that to which they will reply. In this case, Carrie chooses to ignore the fairly long comment left by Paul, gouging a single sentence out of it for her purposes. That might be excusable if it were representative of the entire comment, or if she went on to interact with the entire comment, but neither of these are the case. One is left to wonder, then, what exactly the point of Carrie's remark is. Clearly it is not offered in the spirit of hearty or reasoned or even casual discussion.

Secondly, Carrie has not only ripped Paul's words from their context; she has done the same to the quotation that she offers "in response" to him: a couple sentences, with a fragment of one of them bolded (as though the highlighted part represented the point of the quotation, and/or were the end of Paul's argument).

Thirdly, Carrie is careful to point out that her quotation is from a book that carries an imprimatur. This she does presumably to suggest that her quotation carries such powerful authority that Paul's woeful contradiction of the few words that she put in boldface mean that he is wrong. What it actually does, though, is show us that she misunderstands what an imprimatur really represents.

Fourthly, Carrie has selectively boldfaced the quotation, as though its immediate context has little bearing upon the meaning of what she has highlighted. Unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth. Here it is again, this time with supplied emphasis (from me) that does better justice to that author's meaning: "...the Church is superior to the Bible in the sense that she is the Living Voice of the Christ, and therefore the sole infallible interpreter of the inspired Word, whenever an authoritative interpretation is required." the sense that...

What these few words do is temper the assertion just made, so that the author's meaning is that "the Church is superior to the Bible" relatively, not absolutely. Relatively speaking, I could be said to be superior to the Bible in that I have arms and legs and can move around. Absolutely speaking I'm not superior to Scripture at all, of course. So the author of Carrie's quotation is saying that in a certain sense the Church is superior to the Bible: namely, in the sense that the Church is the Living Voice of Christ (something that I've mentioned a few times fact, I've addressed her usage of this quotation before). But this in no way contradicts the general teaching of the Church that Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium are mutually interdependent:
Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls" (CCC §95).
Unfortunately, by means of her selective bolding, Carrie apparently wants to leave the impression that the absolute sense of the words she highlights is what is meant by the author of the quotation - but it isn't. Hence she misrepresents him.

Lastly, she has also misrepresented Paul's comment. Because Paul's comment isn't, strictly speaking, about the mere fact that no Catholic would say that the Church is superior to the Bible in an absolute sense. Rather, his comment (as any one reading it can see) is really about (among other things, because he had more than one point) the fact that the only reason we can say that the Bible is authoritative is "because the Church appeals to it as its highest authority."

No doubt Carrie thought she didn't have time to spend on responding to Paul's whole comment. But if that is the case (and I do not doubt it, since she is a mom), it would be better if she had said nothing at all rather than torture both Paul's words and her pet quotation (for at least the second time, in the latter case). As it stands, her remarks look like nothing more than a drive-by comment, and do nothing to contribute to the conversation.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pacem In Terris VI - Against Meritocracy

All men are created equal, in terms of having the same human nature. All men stand equally in need of a Savior. But men are not all equal in term of having the same gifts and abilities: I will never be a Pavarotti; Pavarotti was not a(n?) Usain Bolt. Unfortunately, some folks have the idea that because they're smarter than others (at least in their own eyes), or better educated than others (or at any rate, have a degree from a "better" university than others), they are thereby qualified to dictate to others how they ought to live their lives. Pope John XXIII says No to this in Pacem in Terris:
As we know from experience, men frequently differ widely in knowledge, virtue, intelligence and wealth, but that is no valid argument in favor of a system whereby those who are in a position of superiority impose their will arbitrarily on others. On the contrary, such men have a greater share in the common responsibility to help others to reach perfection by their mutual efforts [§87].
This is a terrible temptation for elitists of every stripe, particularly since it is a perversion of things that we would all find obvious. It is right and proper for our leaders to have gifts that uniquely qualify them for their offices. We would want them to be well-educated in the hope that knowledge and training would assist them in the exercise of wisdom in governing. But they have no authority nor right to strip away from citizens their freedoms and their right and responsibility to order their lives according to wisdom themselves. The elitist reduces citizens to the level of children (or, even worse in some cases, to the level of mere things to be managed) when he presumptuously usurps that responsibility. It doesn't matter whether it be true that the elitist could make better decisions than Joe Sixpack; Joe is responsible for ordering his own life, and the elitist dare not suppose otherwise.

Pope John goes on to say that the same considerations apply when we consider the standing of nations in relation to each other.
So, too, on the international level: some nations may have attained to a superior degree of scientific, cultural and economic development. But that does not entitle them to exert unjust political domination over other nations. It means that they have to make a greater contribution to the common cause of social progress [§88].
It's not unsurprising for any nation to consider itself to have cultural advantages that would bless other nations, and patriotism isn't a bad thing, so long as it doesn't go berserk. But no nation has the right to inflict its ways of doing things on others by force.

On the contrary - In Defense of the Holy Father

TF has a post up in which he proposes to address some things said by Pope Benedict. Let's review, shall we?
No head of state (to my knowledge) has visited this blog.
Heh. On the other hand, we do not know who TF is. It is possible that he is a head of state. But he has visited my blog...therefore it is possible that a head of state has visited The Supplement! RdP FTW!
Nevertheless, on December 31, 2008, Benedict XVI provided some comments that are (perhaps) worth addressing
TF then goes on to offer us four sentences, culled from a blog which posted a few paragraphs from the Holy Father's homily for Vespers on Dec. 31. About a minute's worth of searching (kickstarted by the blog TF sourced for the quote, which included a link to the Italian original) led to the full homily in English here.

Before I go too far: this is a very long post, but I didn't see any way to avoid it. I haven't tried to remark on every word that he said, and in particular I've skipped some parts where it seems that TF has done nothing more than state his disagreement with Catholic teaching.

Now the first thing that should be pointed out about the Pope's message is its occasion. It is unsurprising that TF should be (apparently) unaware of it (for, if he was aware of it, he would almost certainly have grumped about that, too), but the occasion was not New Year's Eve, but the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It occurs on January 1, and (as is typical for holy days) celebration of it begins the evening prior. So the focus of the day is the Blessed Virgin, and consequently one would expect the Holy Father's message to have something or other to say about her. And of course having something or other to say about Mary that isn't Protestant is exactly what seems to have made TF cross.

Having set the stage, we are perhaps in a better position for considering what TF has to say. Here's the first snippet he pulled (well, technically it's not exactly the first snippet. He used the English translation from his source; what I will present here is the official translation from the Vatican's website):
Christ's Nativity, which we are commemorating in these days, is entirely suffused with the light of Mary and, while we pause at the manger to contemplate the Child, our gaze cannot fail to turn in gratitude also to his Mother, who with her "yes" made possible the gift of Redemption. This is why the Christmas Season brings with it a profoundly Marian connotation; the birth of Jesus as God and man and Mary's divine motherhood are inseparable realities; the mystery of Mary and the mystery of the Only-Begotten Son of God who was made man form a single mystery, in which the one helps to better understand the other.
TF says:
To say that the birthday of Christ is "suffused with light of Mary" is to miss the significance of the Incarnation. The significance of the Incarnation is about Christ, not about Mary.
"No, it certainly doesn't" to the first, and "Yes, that's certainly true, as far as it goes" to the second. In the first place, as we've already seen, the particular occasion is one reserved for consideration not of the Incarnation per se, but rather for contemplation of the Blessed Virgin's role in the event of the Incarnation. So the Pope hasn't "missed" anything. He's sticking to the subject that's appropriate to the occasion. Surely we can all agree that by carrying the Child in her womb, Mary had a role in the Incarnation? And if she did, surely we can all agree that there is nothing inappropriate in discussing that role in a homily given on a day set aside for contemplation of it?

It's one thing if TF wants to object to the fact of Catholic veneration of Mary. That objection is standard for the Protestant, and I suppose only the grace of God will change his mind about that. But to object that the Pope's remarks have somehow "missed" the significance of the Incarnation because he happened to focus upon the role of Mary in the Incarnation on a day set aside for that very thing seems a bit out of place - like a woman complaining that her husband didn't give her a birthday present on their anniversary.

Let's present a more relevant comparison and examine the Holy Father's message from midnight Mass on Christmas Eve - the holy day dedicated to celebration of the Incarnation (whether or not TF chooses to participate). The Christmas homily is entirely dedicated to Christ. In fact, if he even mentioned or alluded to Mary, I missed it. Why? Because the focus of that day is, of course, the Incarnation. In the same way, on a day devoted to Mary's role in the Incarnation, it's entirely appropriate to focus on that. You can't talk about every possible aspect of the Incarnation in one message. You have to focus. That's what the Pope did. To object to that, as though he were slighting the doctrine of the Incarnation, is absurd, it seems to me.

But there's still more to be said. Because in his homily from Dec. 31, the Pope didn't just talk about Mary. In fact, he talks about Christ quite a bit - thereby unambiguously anchoring the homily in the Incarnation, which TF would have us think the Pope had dissed.
"O admirabile commercium! O marvelous exchange!". Thus begins the Antiphon of the first Psalm, to then continue: "man's Creator has become man, born of a virgin". "By your miraculous birth of the Virgin you have fulfilled the Scriptures", proclaims the Antiphon of the Second Psalm...And again, in the traditional Te Deum that we will raise at the end of our celebration before the Most Holy Sacrament solemnly exposed for our adoration singing, "Tu, ad liberandum suscepturus hominem, non horruisti Virginis uterum", in English: "when you, O Christ, became man to set us free you did not spurn the Virgin's womb".

..."It is likewise a fitting occasion for renewing adoration to the newborn Prince of Peace..."

The first sentiment which spontaneously rises in our hearts this evening is precisely that of praise and thanksgiving to the One who gave us time, a precious opportunity to do good; let us combine with it our request for forgiveness for perhaps not always having spent it usefully.


And this evening the Virgin herself reminds us of what a great gift Jesus gave us with his Birth, of what a precious "treasure" his Incarnation constitutes for us. In his Nativity Jesus comes to offer us his Word as a lamp to guide our steps; he comes to offer us himself and we must always affirm him as our unfailing hope in our daily life, aware that "it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear" (Gaudium et spes, n. 22).

Christ's presence is a gift that we must be able to share with everyone. It is for this purpose that the diocesan community is making an effort to form pastoral workers, so as to equip them to respond to the challenges modern culture poses to the Christian faith. The presence of numerous highly qualified academic institutions in Rome and the many initiatives promoted by the parishes enable us to look confidently to the future of Christianity in this city. As you well know, encountering Christ renews our personal life and helps us to contribute to building a just and fraternal society. This is why we as believers can also make a great contribution to overcoming the current educational emergency. Thus, for a profound evangelization and a courageous human promotion that can communicate the riches that derive from the encounter with Christ to as many people as possible, an increase in synergy among families, school and parishes is more important than ever. For this I encourage each member of our diocese to continue on the journey they have undertaken, together carrying out the programme for the current pastoral year which aims precisely to "educate to hope through prayer, action and suffering".

In our times, marked by uncertainty and concern for the future, it is necessary to experience the living presence of Christ. It is Mary, Star of Hope who leads us to him. It is she, with her maternal love, who can guide young people especially who bear in their hearts an irrepressible question about the meaning of human existence to Jesus. I know that various groups of parents, meeting in order to deepen their vocation, are seeking new ways to help their children respond to the big existential questions. I cordially urge them, together with the whole Christian community, to bear witness to the new generations of the joy that stems from encountering Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem and did not come to take something from us but rather to give us everything [italics in original].
So let's see. On the day devoted to the Incarnation, the Pope doesn't even mention Mary; On the day devoted to her role in the Incarnation, he spends a decent amount of time talking about Christ.

I submit that the Holy Father hasn't "missed the significance" of anything here.

TF isn't done, though. He also says:
Surely, Mary was blessed to be the mother of Christ, but when He was born and laid in a manger, the shepherds came to see Him, not Mary and Joseph. Mary bore witness to the events that happened, but she was not what the shepherds came to see. When the Angel announced, it was "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."

Unto whom was born Jesus? Did the angel say "unto Mary"? No! The angel declared "unto you" (pluaral, i.e. the shepherds) this child was born. What was the sign? A child bathed in Marian suffuse light? No! A child lade in the manger. Mary did wrap up Jesus and lay him in the manger, to be sure - but they shepherds were not directed to Mary but to Jesus. The angel mentioned Jesus, but not his mother.


When the shepherds arrived, their eyes had an opposite path: they found Mary, and Joseph, and at last they found the babe in the manger. And when they had seen it, what did they talk about? They talked, says Luke, about the child - "glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them." Did they mention Mary and Joseph? Probably so - they mentioned the manger too no doubt - but the focus was on Jesus - not on Jesus and his mother.
The alert reader of the Pope's two homilies linked above will see that he did discuss the passage from Luke ... in the Christmas homily. That's where that discussion belongs, of course - or, at any rate, one can hardly object to his having addressed it then.
To say "our gaze cannot but turn with recognitions toward his Mother" provides some important insight. It is possible to turn one's eyes from Jesus to other things. When Mary is the one to whom we turn our eyes from Jesus, this should be to our shame.
To the contrary: given the context (a contemplation of Mary's role in the Incarnation), turning our eyes towards her is to give her role the attention appropriate for the day. There is nothing untoward here at all. TF seems to have the idea that to turn our eyes toward something is to say that we worship it - but that's totally meritless and eisegetical in the present context.
To say "who with her 'yes' made the gift of Redemption possible," is to perpetuate a legend. Scripture does not tell us Mary said "yes" to anything. To be the mother of our Lord was not offered to Mary as a queen, but announced to her as servant, a handmaiden. She was certainly a willing servant, but she was not offered a choice.
Heh. As though the word "Yes" must be said for assent to be given. As though the words "be it done to me according to thy word" aren't functionally "yes." But Adam and Eve weren't "offered a choice" either. They were told: do not eat the fruit of that tree. A command. But they rebelled. For her part, though - and this is the real point of the "Yes" in Catholic theology - Mary didn't rebel. She accepted what the angel said. She submitted, in stark contrast to what Eve did. She said "Yes" where Eve said "No."

Now things get a bit bizarre. Evidently referring to Luke 1:31, TF says:
"Thou shalt!" It is an imperative. It is not a question. It is not, "Would you mind?" It is an imperative - a command.
Uhh...what? Now at first glance I thought this was just wrong, but I checked anyway. Sorry, but there are no imperatives in this verse. None. "Thou shalt" is a future, not a command. Even if TF were right about this, though, it wouldn't have any bearing upon the fact of Mary's "Yes," viewed (as Catholics view it) in contrast to Eve's "No" to God's command.

Moving on a bit, we find that TF actually does concede Mary's assent, which makes the earlier business that "Scripture does not tell us Mary said 'yes' to anything" a bit of a lapse, I suppose.
She was assenting, but her assent was not necessary for God, but for herself.
Perhaps this is so in the Calvinist's world. It's certainly not that way in the real world, where it would be outrageous to suppose that a God of love would force a woman to carry his Son against her will. Certainly I agree that in the Lord's good Providence there was never any doubt about the matter, but to deny the validity of secondary causes in such things is an error. Her assent was certainly necessary, and Calvinism is just botched to the extent that it would deny the genuineness and legitimacy of human choice in God's purposes.

TF says, a bit later:
One of the reasons for the popularity of Christmas in Catholicism is its appeal to those devoted to Mary, since it is one of the few feast days involving her in some way.
Really? Do tell. I've been Catholic for a bit longer than TF has been, and I can assure you that the focus of every Christmas Mass I've attended has been Christ - not Mary. But maybe TF has some documentation for this amazing claim? I don't know. Considering that even the Pope neglected to mention her in his Christmas homily (as we have seen), I guess I'd have to say that TF is just blowing smoke here. I'm really surprised, because that's quite unlike him. I wonder if someone hijacked his blog... :-)

TF's next objection is to the title Mother of God, or rather to the Pope's use of the term "divine maternity" in reference to her:
...To say that Mary had "divine maternity" is to confuse categories and to misunderstand the true mystery of the hypostatic union.
Well, no. The Person in her womb was God. Yes or no? If the Person who came forth from her womb was God, then she is the Mother of God. It goes without saying of course that she was not the source of his divine nature. But to be the source of a human nature is not the same as to be a mother. God made Adam from clay. Is the clay "mother"? John said that God could raise up sons of Abraham from stones. Would they have been "mothers?" Of course not. I'm delighted that TF doesn't seem from what he says to be Nestorian, but there's simply no sense in objecting to the designation of Mary as the Theotokos or Mother of God. The Person in her womb was God and no one else. God and no one else came forth from her womb on Christmas day (setting aside for the moment the question of the actual day, which isn't relevant here). The woman who brings forth a person from her womb is that person's mother. Period. Full stop. And in this case, that Person was the Second Person of the Trinity: God. Hence Mary is the Mother of God.

TF goes on to say:
There is no parity between Jesus and Mary.
Really? None? At all? So, they are not both fully human? Or maybe he means "parity" in the sense of "having borne children," which would be peculiar, but possible - if Mary was his mother, of course. But then of course in that weird sense there would be "parity" between them.
What is mysterious is the fact that she is pregnant - that she gives birth to a son without knowing a man. It's a Christological mystery, not a Marian mystery.
So there's no sense in which the mystery of a woman's pregnancy could be said to be a mystery related to her, so as to be a Marian mystery? None? Really?
The star that lead the wise men to Jesus was not Mary. Our hope is not in Mary - she is not our star of hope. Our hope is in the Lord alone.
TF here supposes falsely that only one sense of the word "hope" is valid, that only a single sort of reference to a star is valid, and that that sense, and that reference, are the ones that he affirms and none other. But this is the Humpty Dumpty defense, and we don't have to mean by "Star of Hope" what he says. And we don't.
Mary was our fellow human being. She was created as we are. She was only human, not divine, though she bore the God-man in her womb.
No kidding. And no Catholic would say otherwise, but TF seems to think we would. It's quite strange that TF gets so wound up when we say that he doesn't understand what we believe, but when he says stuff like this it's really hard for us to come to any other conclusion but that his understanding of Catholic teaching has some rather glaring holes.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pacem in Terris V - Natural Rights, not Constitutional Ones

We may have some rights that belong to us as citizens of a particular city, state or province, or nation. The right to cast a vote comes to mind, or the right of free access to a local library. But other rights, and more important ones, are not ours because a government grants them to us, but because we are human beings. Consequently such rights do not derive from any other human source, either.
We must, however, reject the view that the will of the individual or the group is the primary and only source of a citizen's rights and duties...[PT 78]
Something similar is likewise true with regard to the State:
We must, however, reject the view that the will of the individual or the group is the primary and only source ... of the binding force of political constitutions and the government's authority [ibid.].
Governments are legitimate not just because of the consent of the governed, or because of a majority vote, or because of military power, but because they are ordained by God. Just as we rightly insist that we hold certain rights (and are bound by certain duties) by virtue of the fact that we are men, so too the State has certain rights and duties that it holds by virtue of being an institution ordained by God. We can't demand the one while denying the other, since both come from the same source. To deny the legitimacy of the one is to deny the legitimacy of the other (and vice versa).

It sounds somewhat silly to speak of something impersonal - like the State - as having rights. But perhaps it will seem less impersonal if we enumerate a few of them. If we have the duty to pay taxes, the State has the right to collect them. If we have the duty to honor the king, the king has the right to be honored. If we have a right to be protected by the State, the State must have the right to recruit those who will provide the defense: it's crazy to expect to be defended without providing a means for the defense.

These are examples of rights that, it seems to me, belong to the State regardless of the constitution by which it is structured. If we don't base our understanding of rights and duties on natural law, we're going to find ourselves with an inadequate basis for them at all, and then we may find that our rights are not recognized at all. It seems to me that this goes for the rights of the State no less than of the individual.

Pacem in Terris IV - The Spiritual Component of the Common Good

It's insufficient for the State to advance a notion of the common good that ignores the fact that man has a soul.
In this connection, We would draw the attention of Our own sons to the fact that the common good is something which affects the needs of the whole man, body and soul. That, then, is the sort of good which rulers of States must take suitable measure to ensure. They must respect the hierarchy of values, and aim at achieving the spiritual as well as the material prosperity of their subjects.

Consisting, as he does, of body and immortal soul, man cannot in this mortal life satisfy his needs or attain perfect happiness. Thus, the measures that are taken to implement the common good must not jeopardize his eternal salvation; indeed, they must even help him to obtain it [PT §§57, 59].
It is not the case that there is any sense in which the State may aim at satisfying this spiritual aspect of the common good on its own terms. The State is an earthly construct, and to attempt such a thing would be to usurp a responsibility which properly belongs to the Church. I can imagine ways in which the State might become a help rather than a hindrance, however. One might be to guarantee freedom to worship (okay, that's a pretty obvious one) and freedom from the requirement to work on holy days of obligation.

I can readily imagine that doing this could raise questions as to how to fulfill this obligation while at the same time not running afoul of what the Holy Father had already said about political coercion and the common good. Coercion and reward were not flatly excluded there, though, so perhaps this duty of the State may be said to rest among those instances in which those means are to be permitted. In any case, it must surely be true that the State cannot act in such a way as to compel anyone to become a Christian, since this is by its nature something that must be done by an act of free will.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pacem in Terris III - An Essential of the Common Good

In PT §55 Pope John makes clear that when we pursue the common good we must remember an important thing.
Among the essential elements of the common good one must certainly include the various characteristics distinctive of each individual people. But these by no means constitute the whole of it. For the common good, since it is intimately bound up with human nature, can never exist fully and completely unless the human person is taken into account at all times.
The point is that when we pursue the common good, we must not do so without taking into account the fact that society consists of individuals. It would be an error, then, to say that what is good for the body politic is ipso facto what is good for the individuals, or to ignore entirely the question of what is good for individuals. Man does not exist solely in relation to the State. Far less does he exist solely for the sake of the State. Both formulations are mistaken, although the second is worse. The State may not exist solely in relation to the individual - there is certainly a sense in which it exists in relation to the society as a whole - but it seems to me to be beyond question that there is no sense in which it may be rightly said that man exists solely for the sake of the State.

If that is the case, though, then it seems that those measures which would attempt to reduce man to no more than this are contrary to reason and contrary to the moral law. We ought, therefore, to resist the politicization of life and culture, as though all things must be understood only in relation to the State and to political concerns.

Pacem in Terris II - State Authority is Limited

This isn't a surprise, and it's hardly the only example of this notion in Catholic teaching. Pope John XXIII tells us that governmental authority is not unlimited, and consequently rulers are not free to make just any sort of laws that they wish.
Governmental authority, therefore, is a postulate of the moral order and derives from God. Consequently, laws and decrees passed in contravention of the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience, since "it is right to obey God rather than men."

Indeed, the passing of such laws undermines the very nature of authority and results in shameful abuse. As St. Thomas teaches, "In regard to the second proposition, we maintain that human law has the rationale of law in so far as it is in accordance with right reason, and as such it obviously derives from eternal law. A law which is at variance with reason is to that extent unjust and has no longer the rationale of law. It is rather an act of violence." [PT §51; quoting Acts 5:29 & ST I-II, Q93, A3, ad 2]
A critical phrase here is "right reason". That doesn't necessarily mean that if I consider a law to be irrational that I can just ignore it! The assumption there would be that my reason is equivalent to right reason, and that might be an invalid identification. Given that it is difficult for men to reason rightly in the first place, it would be an arrogant presumption for me to blithely hold that a law is irrational (and therefore unjust) on the basis of what I think alone. We're much better off to not think too much of ourselves. So it's not that there are no situations in which laws are unjust, but rather that we dare not presume that we are competent to make such judgments on our own authority.

Pacem in Terris I - on Moral Duty and Political Coercion

I seem to have got a bit burnt out on medieval history, so by way of taking a brief break I've been reading a few encyclicals lately. I just finished Pacem in Terris, and I may have a few posts' worth of material. PT is primarily concerned with the social teaching of the Church, and it offers a lot of food for thought that contrasts with the usual political fodder here in the USA, where we are supposed to get our sociopolitical ideas from Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives. One significant aspect of that teaching is that man is a social being: that is, by nature he is meant to live in community with other people. We don't come together in cities and kingdoms merely for the sake of self-defense; we do so because "it is not good for man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18). But living in community requires order, and order requires one to enforce it; "[h]ence every civilized community must have a ruling authority, and this authority, no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and consequently has God for its author" (PT §46, quoting Pope Leo XIII, Immortale Dei §3; note that the translation at that link doesn't follow exactly what Pope John uses here). This being the case,
[I]t must not be imagined that authority knows no bounds. Since its starting point is the permission to govern in accordance with right reason, there is no escaping the conclusion that it derives its binding force from the moral order, which in turn has God as its origin and end. ...

Hence, a regime which governs solely or mainly by means of threats and intimidation or promises of reward, provides men with no effective incentive to work for the common good. And even if it did, it would certainly be offensive to the dignity of free and rational human beings. Authority is before all else a moral force. For this reason the appeal of rulers should be to the individual conscience, to the duty which every man has of voluntarily contributing to the common good. But since all men are equal in natural dignity, no man has the capacity to force internal compliance on another. Only God can do that, for He alone scrutinizes and judges the secret counsels of the heart. [§§47, 48]
The authority of governments is limited, and not just by the constitutions by which they are structured (whether they abide by those constitutions or not is a separate question). They are bound by the restraints of right reason and natural law, which are from God. Hence they are not free to do whatever they wish. They don't get to decide what's right and wrong in a vacuum; they don't get to make wars on their own terms; they don't get to make laws that ignore moral order.

Obviously there are many directions we might go in considering the implications here, but the thing that interests me for the purposes of this post is that PT rejects the use of coercion or bribery as the primary or exclusive means by which governments ought to promote the common good, favoring instead moral persuasion. What are the implications of that? One that pops into my mind is that all sorts of social engineering laws, by which governments intend to manipulate citizens to do their will, are illegitimate. These might take the form of punitive taxes on goods intended to discourage their consumption, or maybe even tax credits or deductions for other goods and activities. It doesn't matter, on this account of things, whether such laws "work." To approve of them on that score is to take a utilitarian view. The point, according to the Holy Father, is that such things are offensive to human dignity, which includes free will and the use of reason.

It seems to me also that this principle undergirds the Church's rejection of the welfare state (see, for example, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church §351). Our contributions for the sake of the poor should not be coerced from us, as they most certainly are when we are taxed for them. In the same way we should not be bribed by the promise of "free" (or nearly so) health care into supporting a nationalized or socialist model of medical care (and we shouldn't be coerced into providing it for others, either, for that matter).

The Pope doesn't rule out literally any sort of coercion or reward when it comes to advancing the common good, but it seems to me that instances of it are supposed to be limited to certain aspects of the common good (for example, deterrents to violations of the moral law) or else limited in significant ways. It might make sense, for example, to particularly encourage charity by way of tax deductions for contributions to disaster relief.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Most Outrageous Thing I'll See in 2009

It's only day five of 2009, but I don't know what could possibly top this (H/T: Mark Shea). Appalling.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Nothing in this life lasts forever

Carrie unfortunately interrupts her unlamented sabbatical from Catholic-bashing.
When I first start interacting with online Catholics a few years ago, I was surprised by their low view of scripture.
Obviously I don't know the people she's talking about, but I seriously doubt that their view of Scripture was "low" in anything but a relative sense - that is, in comparison to her own. Unfortunately, sola scriptura is an extreme that doesn't and can't work (as Catholics have demonstrated many times), and to compare a proper, Catholic view of the Bible to it is like comparing the real world to Candyland.
In fact, some Catholics I have met have an almost hostile stance towards the bible. For people confessing to be Christians, this was a red flag (among many).
This so-called hostility is likely as not directed (if it exists at all) against the excesses of sola scriptura - against unwarranted and invalid claims that cannot be justified. Consequently the "red flag" is no less unwarranted, even if for the sake of argument we suppose that Carrie hasn't gone too far in making rash judgments about the standing of others before God.
I see the issue as a problem of two masters. In this case, Catholics can’t serve both the scriptures and the magisterium.
Personally, I see this as a problem of a poor analogy. Or does Carrie mean to suggest that she "serves" the Bible? In any case, her view of the "problem" is myopic. Catholics don't choose between the Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium as though one must "serve" only one of them. They fit together not as adversaries or contradictories, but rather as part of an organic whole by which God's revelation is preserved and communicated to the Church. There is no conflict among these three whatsoever, unless (like Protestants who adhere to sola scriptura) we expect one or another of them to be or to do what is outside its purpose.
Sure, most Catholics will give lip service to the authority of scripture. But that authority is soon subjugated to a secondary role when the topic of sola scriptura comes up.
Catholics by no means pay lip service to Scripture, but neither are we going to stumble into the foolishness of sola scriptura. Carrie frames this remark like the old "So, when did you stop beating your wife?" rhetorical trap, and we must reject the framing of things on her terms because they are invalid. Sola scriptura isn't scriptural, and it doesn't work; it's a broken reed. The Bible can't interpret itself, and it's illegitimate to expect it to do so.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Wise Words for the Intrepid Blogger (Including Me)

Here's a great observation about creativity, made by someone I've never heard of. I stumbled over it at some other blog. The hyperlink is a beautiful thing.
"[F]eeling creative" produces great work in approximately the same way that “feeling like a doctor” makes you a gifted thoracic surgeon.
Just so. Likewise, "I've got something to say" doesn't mean you should say it, and "I've got an idea" doesn't make it good, and doesn't mean you ought to share it. "I think I'm going to start blogging" doesn't mean that anyone will read what you say, and it doesn't mean that anything you say will be worth the price of an electron.

This little remark also reminds me of something I used to say about Greek and Hebrew: I knew just enough to be dangerous. The author's point, of course, is that hard work and lots of practice is almost always involved in becoming really good at something. St. Thomas said that attaining knowledge of the truth is very difficult. It's the same sort of observation.

Unfortunately it's easy for us to develop the opinion that we've become good at something when we really haven't. I look back at how much I knew then, or what I could do when I started, and the comparison might give me the impression that I'm a true artiste, or a regular Aristotle, or the next whiz-bang singer, or whatever. Unfortunately that's rarely the case. An eight-year-old knows a heck of a lot more than a toddler, but he is still only eight. But the combination of knowing how little I knew in comparison to how "much" I know, coupled with the insidious temptations to pride, make it all too easy to bloat my ego.

It's sad (and, for the expert, probably a mix of ridiculous and annoying) to see people who don't really know much about a subject act like they do - as when Joe Layman whips open his Strong's Concordance (complete with Greek and Hebrew!) and starts lecturing others on exegesis, or when he mines books for scare quotes that he doesn't understand. We look foolish when we act as though it's easy to attain knowledge of the truth. It's not - not in any field. Of course, there are those for whom it may be easier - but it has become easier for them, by and large, because of lots of hard work that you and I never see.

So what does this have to do with the price of tea in China? I have no idea. I have an idea or two about what it means for this blog, though. A major reason why I write is because, to a certain extent, "I have to do it." What I mean is that there's stuff in my brain that I need to get "on paper." I feel a subjective sort of compulsion to do this. But that doesn't mean that anything I say is worth a hill of beans. The most that can be said for certain about it is that I'm a windbag. But I'm no expert - not about much of anything, and certainly not about theology, nor about Catholic dogma. There aren't all that many genuine experts about anything in blogdom - at least, not in comparison to the mind-boggling number of bloggers and blogs. I am not one of those experts.