Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Lenten Sabbatical

As in the past, I'll be taking a break from blogging during Lent. As little as I've been posting of late, no one may have noticed anyway. Sigh. Perhaps after Easter I shall be more inspired.

God bless you during this season.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The premises do not seem to warrant the conclusion

TF says of the 73rd chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict:
Like other fathers of the day, it exalts the teachings of the fathers, but gives the highest place to Scriptures.
He quotes the chapter, and bolds what he finds interesting, but does his conclusion really follow from the rule itself?
Of This, that Not the Whole Observance of Righteousness Is Laid Down in this Rule

Now, we have written this Rule that, observing it in monasteries, we may show that we have acquired at least some moral righteousness, or a beginning of the monastic life.

On the other hand, he that hasteneth on to the perfection of the religious life, hath at hand the teachings of the holy Fathers, the observance of which leadeth a man to the height of perfection. For what page or what utterance of the divinely inspired books of the Old and the New Testament is not a most exact rule of human life? Or, what book of the holy Catholic Fathers doth not loudly proclaim how we may go straight to our Creator? So, too, the collations of the Fathers, and their institutes and lives, and the rule of our holy Father, Basil -- what are they but the monuments of the virtues of exemplary and obedient monks? But for us slothful, disedifying, and negligent monks they are a source for shame and confusion.

Thou, therefore, who hastenest to the heavenly home, with the help of Christ fulfil this least rule written for a beginning; and then thou shalt with God's help attain at last to the greater heights of knowledge and virtue which we have mentioned above. [italics in original]
The point of the chapter, obviously, is that the Rule is not intended to spell out every jot and tittle of the life of righteousness. St. Benedict wrote it as "a beginning" to monastic life. So it would be silly to treat it as a summation of the whole of monastic life - to say nothing of life in general.

Although this is true, the man "that hasteneth on to ... perfection" is not left without resources to assist him. He has
the teachings of the holy Fathers, the observance of which leadeth a man to the height of perfection. For what page or what utterance of the divinely inspired books of the Old and the New Testament is not a most exact rule of human life? Or, what book of the holy Catholic Fathers doth not loudly proclaim how we may go straight to our Creator? So, too, the collations of the Fathers, and their institutes and lives, and the rule of our holy Father, Basil -- what are they but the monuments of the virtues of exemplary and obedient monks?
TF has boldfaced the second sentence here, as though it justifies his conclusion above. But does it?

The preceding sentence says of the "holy Fathers" that their teachings lead a man to "the height of perfection." TF's sentence extols the value of Scripture. And the following sentences praise the "Catholic Fathers" whose works tells us "how we may go straight to our Creator," and similarly for "the collations of the Fathers, and their institutes and lives," etc.

I submit that the Scripture is not set here as having the "highest place" as TF suggests, but rather it is a part of a greater whole that St. Benedict has in mind - namely, it is part of "the teachings of the holy Fathers," a list of which St. Benedict provides:
  • Scripture
  • Works of the Catholic Fathers
  • Rule of Basil
  • Example of the lives of the Fathers and great monks
Well, TF would most likely grant that. But can we say that Scripture is given "the highest place"? I'm not so sure.

What does St. Benedict say of Scripture? He says every page is "a most exact rule of human life".

What does he say of the Fathers? He says that their works "loudly proclaim how we may go straight to our Creator".

It seems to me, given that he is breaking down what he meant by "the teachings of the holy Fathers," that what he says about Scripture and the Fathers must be effectively the same as what he says about the whole - namely, that both of them lead a man "to the height of perfection."

There is no hint here of one being better than the other. Sacred Tradition has not been relegated to second place in the eyes of St. Benedict. He was no crypto-proto-Protestant.

But there are other things to notice, too. He doesn't say that we need only the Bible: there is not a breath of a hint of "sola scriptura" here. He does say that we begin and end our pursuit of holiness only with the help of Christ, with God's help, so that first of all holiness is the goal, and secondly it cannot be attained without God's grace from start to finish. Hence we find not a whiff of Pelagianism here, either - just as is true, of course, of the Catholic Faith from start to finish.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Corban Discussion

The discussion has gone somewhat astray from the post's original intent, but it has taken an interesting turn as I worked on my next combox entry for it - sufficiently so that I felt it would be better to blog it myself rather than try and cram it into a combox.

Paul Hoffer's post has to do with the relation of Scripture and tradition, and whether the Lord Jesus intended (as Protestants wrongly suppose) to set the two in absolute opposition to each other - so that tradition could never be said to have divine authority.

I disagreed with a couple of his points - as far as I understood them anyway - and said so. Martin seemed to share at least part of my concern.

Jamie then chimed in and nailed part of my objection:

In the combox, you wrote, One aspect that I do need to finish studying is whether it would have made a difference how the Rabbis would have treated the man if he had made this vow specifically to harm his parents.

My understanding is that this is exactly what the situation was.
And that is exactly how I have always understood things, thanks in no small part to the way that the parallel passage in Mt. 15 is translated in most modern versions - for example, the NIV: "'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God" - which reads exactly like it's a thankless and unloving brat who plans to ensure that his parents can't get anything from him.

While looking more closely at this tonight, I turned to the way that the Douay-Rheims handles the passage:
But you say: Whosoever shall say to father or mother, The gift whatsoever proceedeth from me, shall profit thee.
Wow! That's pretty different. But the New Advent page includes some commentary:
The gift, etc... That is, the offering that I shall make to God, shall be instead of that which should be expended for thy profit. This tradition of the Pharisees was calculated to enrich themselves; by exempting children from giving any further assistance to their parents, if they once offered to the temple and the priests, that which should have been the support of their parents. But this was a violation of the law of God, and of nature, which our Saviour here condemns. [emphasis added]
This seems to be the sense in which the Navarre Bible understands it, as well:
In Jesus' time, they were saying that people who contributed to the temple in cash or in kind were absolved from supporting their parents" (p. 142).
And the same is inferred in the JB:
Because property thus made over by vow assumes a sacred character which precludes all claims made by the parents. Such a vow was in fact only a legal fiction involving no sacrifice of ownership; it was no more than a despicable way of escaping the duty of filial piety (note e on Mt. 15:6).
Now in so doing, they were clearly violating - for the sake of the false, human tradition - what God had commanded in the fourth commandment. And this is why I was differing from what I understood Paul to be saying in the post: "...they were following only the written Torah and not the Oral Torah as well!" That seems not to be the case.

Why? Paul says:
Jesus is chiding the Pharisees here because they weren't following their own Tradition of the Elders which required that commandments concerning relationships with people took priority over commandments concerning one's relationship with God alone.
But that does not appear to be what Christ is doing (either in Mt. 15 or Mk. 7), because he explicitly identifies what he's doing - contrasting Scripture with their false tradition:
For Moses said: Honour thy father and thy mother. And He that shall curse father or mother, dying let him die. But you say: If a man shall say to his father or mother, Corban (which is a gift) whatsoever is from me shall profit thee. And further you suffer him not to do any thing for his father or mother, Making void the word of God by your own tradition, which you have given forth [emphasis added].
So it seems that it's not the case that they were following only the written law; rather, they were making it void; and it seems that they were doing so specifically in order to keep their own false tradition.

It appears that Paul's case hangs on this:
Since the commandment to honor one's parents deals with relationships between people, that was supposed to be of more importance than a commandment to honor God alone.
This, he says (if I understand him rightly), was a part of Oral Tradition, and should have trumped the appeal to the law of Corban. But the issue with this is that Christ does not appeal to an Oral tradition; rather, he contrasts their false tradition with the written law of God - namely, the fourth commandment, and Lev. 20:9. Consequently it seems that the passage does not appear to say what Paul suggests.

It should be said that I think Paul makes a good distinction between the traditions of the elders and the tradition of the particular pharisaic school at hand in the passage. And I think that he makes a solid argument concerning the rabbinic view on the relative significance of different sorts of sins. But that view - even if understood as part of the valid tradition of the elders - does not seem to be in view in this passage, as I've indicated.

Lest anyone (and especially Paul!) get the wrong idea - just because we seem to disagree about this matter doesn't mean that I don't greatly admire his writing and his efforts to defend the Catholic Faith. On the contrary, I think that he does a great job with both, and I apologize if I've misunderstood or misrepresented him above.

[Update: I guess I should clarify that I guess my point, relative to Paul's post, is that I think he and I would agree that Mark 7 cannot be used as evidence against Sacred Tradition, but that it seems we disagree as to whether the passage can actually be used as evidence in favor of it. At any rate, my small brain doesn't see how that could be.]