Sunday, May 31, 2009

Very well put

Robert P. George sufficiently summarizes my reaction to the monstrous, indefensible murder of George Tiller.
By word and deed, let us teach that violence against abortionists is not the answer to the violence of abortion. ... We do not teach the wrongness of taking human life by wrongfully taking a human life.

Observation about sola fide

This comes to mind in regard to a recent post. In it we see St. Thomas quoting Luke 7:47: "Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much." The observation to be made here is that Christ attributes the forgiveness of sins to Mary Magdalene's love, not to her faith. But this flies in the face of the Protestant's claims about sola fide, wherein he says that he is saved by faith in Christ alone.

Now the Catholic does not have difficulties with this passage: we acknowledge what it says, and we say with St. Thomas (as discussed in the aforementioned post) that God rewards what he has given. But it seems to me that the Protestant cannot easily "handle" this declaration of the Lord within his own system.

Of course, this is not the only passage that undermines sola fide. When Matthew and Mark report the Lord's preaching, it is this: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 4:17) and "Repent and believe the gospel" (Mk 1:15). In the first case, there is no mention of faith; in the second, it is inseparable from faith. Faith and action go together.

Just as telling is St. Peter's first sermon, following which the crowds say, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" St. Peter does not take the road of sola fide here. He does not tell them, "You do not have to do anything. Just have faith in Christ." No. He does nothing of the sort. He tells them what they must do: "Repent, and be baptized..." (Acts 2:38). Now we Catholics certainly agree that one must believe in order to be saved; mere deeds are not enough. We are not legalists. So clearly an unstated premise of what St. Peter says is that one must believe.

But the Protestant who believes in salvation by faith alone cannot deal with St. Peter's declaration on his own sola fide terms. St. Peter calls for action; the Protestant calls for faith alone. Did St. Peter get it wrong? Of course not! But that means that the call for salvation by faith alone is what is wrong, because it simply cannot be reconciled with St. Peter's call for action in order to be saved.

St. Thomas on Justification - God gives that which he rewards

In discussing the fact that mercy and justice accompany one another in God's works, Aquinas appeals to the example of Christ's treatment of Mary Magdalene as a response to the objection that they are seen separately.
Certain works are attributed to justice, and certain others to mercy, because in some justice appears more forcibly and in others mercy. Even in the damnation of the reprobate mercy is seen, which, though it does not totally remit, yet somewhat alleviates, in punishing short of what is deserved.

In the justification of the ungodly, justice is seen, when God remits sins on account of love, though He Himself has mercifully infused that love. So we read of Magdalen: "Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much" (Luke 7:47). [ST I, Q21, A4, ad 1; emphasis added]
Although she has loved, there is no merit in her for her own sake because the Lord has given that which he rewards. But if God gives that which he rewards, then there is no way that we can merit anything from him on our own apart from his gift. Therefore we cannot merit justification, and consequently those who say we believe otherwise are misinformed.

Friday, May 29, 2009

St. Thomas on Justification - Obedience to the Law does not justify

If the Protestant's claim that the Gospel of Christ taught by the Catholic Church is based upon works, then we would expect to see St. Thomas say so. As we shall see, he does nothing of the sort.
Some things are included in the Law by way of precept; other things, as being ordained to the fulfilment of the precepts. Now the precepts refer to things which have to be done: and to their fulfilment man is induced by two considerations, viz. the authority of the lawgiver, and the benefit derived from the fulfilment, which benefit consists in the attainment of some good, useful, pleasurable or virtuous, or in the avoidance of some contrary evil. Hence it was necessary that in the Old Law certain things should be set forth to indicate the authority of God the lawgiver: e.g. Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord"; and Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth": and these are called "testimonies." Again it was necessary that in the Law certain rewards should be appointed for those who observe the Law, and punishments for those who transgress; as it may be seen in Deuteronomy 28: "If thou wilt hear the voice of the Lord thy God . . . He will make thee higher than all the nations," etc.: and these are called "justifications," according as God punishes or rewards certain ones justly. [ST I-II, Q99, A5]
The first thing to note here is the reason for the description of the precepts as "justifications:" that is, because of the just character of the rewards or punishments God gives to those that obey or disobey. In other words, it is not that by them a man may be justified by God; rather, it is because of God's just dealings with man. Now whether St. Thomas' category here (which appears to be founded, unless I miss my guess, upon a particular word used in the Latin translation of Deuteronomy or Exodus) is still relevant is beside the point. What is relevant for this post is that he does not assign the Law any role in our justification before God.

We may see all the more clearly that this is so if we consider the rest of the discussion.
The things that have to be done do not come under the precept except in so far as they have the character of a duty. Now a duty is twofold: one according to the rule of reason; the other according to the rule of a law which prescribes that duty: thus the Philosopher distinguishes a twofold just--moral and legal (Ethic. v, 7).

Moral duty is twofold: because reason dictates that something must be done, either as being so necessary that without it the order of virtue would be destroyed; or as being useful for the better maintaining of the order of virtue. And in this sense some of the moral precepts are expressed by way of absolute command or prohibition, as "Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal": and these are properly called "precepts." Other things are prescribed or forbidden, not as an absolute duty, but as something better to be done. These may be called "commandments"; because they are expressed by way of inducement and persuasion: an example whereof is seen in Exodus 22:26: "If thou take of thy neighbor a garment in pledge, thou shalt give it him again before sunset"; and in other like cases. Wherefore Jerome (Praefat. in Comment. super Marc.) says that "justice is in the precepts, charity in the commandments." Duty as fixed by the Law, belongs to the judicial precepts, as regards human affairs; to the "ceremonial" precepts, as regards Divine matters.

Nevertheless those ordinances also which refer to punishments and rewards may be called "testimonies," in so far as they testify to the Divine justice. Again all the precepts of the Law may be styled "justifications," as being executions of legal justice. Furthermore the commandments may be distinguished from the precepts, so that those things be called "precepts" which God Himself prescribed; and those things "commandments" which He enjoined [mandavit] through others, as the very word seems to denote.

From this it is clear that all the precepts of the Law are either moral, ceremonial, or judicial; and that other ordinances have not the character of a precept, but are directed to the observance of the precepts, as stated above. [ST, op. cit.; emphasis added]
He makes perfectly clear what he means when he refers to the Law's precepts as "justifications:" They are "executions of legal justice," performed (as noted above) by God. Hence the law is not to be interpreted as a means by which man may justify himself.

It's probably worth pointing out that this fact stands in no conflict with our duty as Christians to obey God. We do not obey in order to be saved; we obey because we are saved. "If you love me, keep my commandments," said our Lord (Jn. 14:15). This unambiguously sets forth our duty. Can it be said then that the man who does not obey him loves Christ? Of course not. And shall Christ save those who hate him? Of course not.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not burdensome. (1Jn. 5:3).
But we have strayed from our purpose. We are considering what St. Thomas says about justification, and as we have seen we are justified by Christ rather than by anything that we do ourselves. The present passage of the Summa shows us that St. Thomas assigns no place for the Law as a means by which man may justify himself. To the contrary, Christ is our life.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

St. Thomas on Justification - Christ's Resurrection is the Cause of our Justification

Our justification is not caused by anything that we do; rather, it is an effect of Christ's work on our behalf.
"In every genus that which is first is the cause of those that come after it" (Metaph. ii, 1). Now Christ, by reason of His bodily resurrection, is called "the first-fruits of them that sleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20), and "the first-begotten of the dead" (Apocalypse 1:5). Therefore His resurrection is the cause of the resurrection of others.

Further, Christ's resurrection has more in common with our bodily resurrection than with our spiritual resurrection which is by justification. But Christ's resurrection is the cause of our justification, as appears from Romans 4:25, where it is said that He "rose again for our justification." Therefore Christ's resurrection is the cause of our bodily resurrection. [ST Supp, Q76, A1; emphasis added]
(Trivia note/reminder: my namesake is the likely compiler of the Supplement to the Summa, drawing its material from Aquinas' Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard)

But if Christ's resurrection is the cause of our justification, then we are not the cause of it ourselves. Therefore nothing that we do justifies us, because we do not cause it. Therefore we are not saved by our works; rather we are saved by Christ. Once again we see the error of those who falsely claim that the Gospel of Christ is works-based. They are badly misinformed.

St. Thomas further says in the same place:
Christ by reason of His nature is called the mediator of God and men: wherefore the Divine gifts are bestowed on men by means of Christ's humanity. Now just as we cannot be delivered from spiritual death save by the gift of grace bestowed by God, so neither can we be delivered from bodily death except by resurrection wrought by the Divine power. [emphasis added]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

St. Thomas on Justification - "Man's salvation is from grace"

We are not saved by our own merits, but by the merits of Christ.
It is written (Romans 5:18): "As by the offense of one, unto all men to condemnation; so also by the justice of one, unto all men to justification of life." But Adam's demerits reached to the condemnation of others. Much more, therefore, does the merit of Christ reach others. [ST III, Q19, A4]
Even more clearly:
As the sin of Adam reaches others only by carnal generation, so, too, the merit of Christ reaches others only by spiritual regeneration, which takes place in baptism; wherein we are incorporated with Christ, according to Galatians 3:27, "As many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ"; and it is by grace that it is granted to man to be incorporated with Christ. And thus man's salvation is from grace. [ibid., ad 3; emphasis added]
So does this mean that how we live has no role to play in the life of a Christian? Certainly not. But it does mean that nothing we do would mean a thing for our salvation apart from grace. I've quoted this before, and I'm sure I'll do so again in this series.
What else but His gifts does God crown when He crowns our merits? [St. Augustine, Letter 194 to Sixtus]
And as I've pointed out, this is precisely what the Church has always taught.
The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. [CCC §2011]
But the main point here is for us to see that our salvation is from grace - not from ourselves at all. Hence those who accuse the Church of teaching a salvation founded upon works are badly misinformed. Any merit we have for salvation is from Christ alone - not from ourselves.

Monday, May 25, 2009

St. Thomas on Justifcation - Christ's Grace is the Reason of Our Justification

This is somewhat obscure and a bit difficult for my non-scholastic brain to grip. Nevertheless it's clearly another example of what I hope to demonstrate by this series - namely, that the Church has always taught that we are saved by grace alone, the misinformed complaints of Protestants notwithstanding.

Addressing the question whether Christ's grace as Head of the Church (his "capital grace," if I understand Aquinas aright) is distinct from his personal grace (that grace enjoyed by his human nature), St. Thomas affirms that there is no such distinction:
It is written (John 1:16): "Of His fulness we all have received." Now He is our Head, inasmuch as we receive from Him. Therefore He is our Head, inasmuch as He has the fulness of grace. Now He had the fulness of grace, inasmuch as personal grace was in Him in its perfection, as was said above (Question 7, Article 9). Hence His capital and personal grace are not distinct.

I answer that, Since everything acts inasmuch as it is a being in act, it must be the same act whereby it is in act and whereby it acts, as it is the same heat whereby fire is hot and whereby it heats. Yet not every act whereby anything is in act suffices for its being the principle of acting upon others. For since the agent is nobler than the patient, as Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xii, 16) and the Philosopher (De Anima iii, 19), the agent must act on others by reason of a certain pre-eminence. Now it was said above (1; 7, 9) grace was received by the soul of Christ in the highest way; and therefore from this pre-eminence of grace which He received, it is from Him that this grace is bestowed on others--and this belongs to the nature of head. Hence the personal grace, whereby the soul of Christ is justified, is essentially the same as His grace, as He is the Head of the Church, and justifies others; but there is a distinction of reason between them. [ST III, Q8, A5]
Now the point that I am making really has nothing to do with the question Aquinas has posed for himself here. For purposes of this post, what is relevant is that he says that it's Christ's grace that justifies others. Hence they do not justify themselves; we do not justify ourselves.

God's Foreknowledge and Anthropomorphism

When we speak about God's foreknowledge, it is important for us to remember that this is an imprecise way of speaking about him.
Because there was neither past nor future in God but only an eternal present, it was ... inaccurate to speak as though God had known in the past what was going to happen in the future, for 'in eternity is present immutably all truth and only truth.' So likewise God did not in fact predestine anything, since 'all things are present to him at once.' It was a reasonable conclusion from the analysis of foreknowledge to argue that 'all the considerations by which I have shown above that free choice is not incompatible with foreknowledge show equally that it is compatible with predestination.' [Pelikan, The Growth of Medieval Theology, 272; quotations are from Anselm, On the Harmony of the Foreknowledge, Predestination, and Grace of God with Free Will, 1.5, 2.2, 2.3, which can be found here]
I haven't even read Anselm's work on this yet, but if this quotation is any indication I suspect it's going to be good. Already it seems like the most satisfying approach to reconciling our free will with God's foreknowledge that I've seen. It's not really a question of foreknowledge, since God is outside time. I can barely talk about the subject clearly, because it's so contrary to how we time-bound humans relate to creation. On the one hand I want to say that of course God knows all that I will ever do or think or feel before it has been done - yet at the same time, that's not the proper way to think about the thing, since God is outside time. He doesn't, properly speaking, "foreknow" (which implies being bound by time); he simply knows all things simultaneously. Even that remark - that he knows all things simultaneously - reflects my time-centeredness. But it's the best I can manage.

This sort of brain-bender makes it seem pretty obvious why we have to tread lightly and humbly when we speak of these matters. It's certainly true that God's foreknowledge is perfect; it's likewise certainly true that as moral agents we have free will. How God's sovereign purposes and our freedom are reconciled is beyond our power to comprehend - or at least, it's beyond mine. :-) I'm content to say with St. Thomas
'what the saints say in common,' namely, Dionysius, Augustine, and Anselm: 'that the reason why someone does not have grace is that he refused to accept it, and not that God refused to grant it.' [Pelikan, op. cit., 273; quoting Aquinas, Commentary on the Sentences, I, 40, 4, 2]
That seems to be the stone over which Calvinists stumble, in that they say God withholds grace from some: he passes them over. They prefer to frame it positively of course, saying that the wonder is really that he has mercy on anyone; but the unpleasant fact remains that on Calvin's formulation some are doomed not simply because of their own choice but because God chooses not to "irresistibly" grant them the grace they say he "irresistibly" grants to the elect. The Catholic Faith says otherwise.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Eucharist as Re-Presentation

There are folks who misunderstand what the Church teaches about the Eucharist, falsely supposing (possibly because they follow the erroneous opinion of Calvin or some other Reformer) that Catholics are to view the Sacrament as a re-sacrifice of Christ. This notion is false.
Therefore the identity between the sacrifice of the Mass and the sacrifice of Calvary could seem to be obvious, since 'our altar is the altar of Christ, on which we celebrate his sacrifice, in fact, on which we offer him up to the Father in the Sacrament of his very own body and blood.' For if the daily sacrifice of the church were other than the sacrifice offered once and for all on the cross, 'it would not be true but superfluous,' since the only sacrifice that truly availed was that offered on Calvary and an effective sacrifice in the Mass had to be identical with it. The two sacrifices were one sacrifice... Yet there remained the statement of the New Testament that the sacrifice of the cross had been 'once and for all.' From it there appeared to follow the thesis that the crucifixion of Christ could not be repeated 'as a punishment,' but only as a re-presentation of the mystery. [Pelikan, The Growth of Medieval Theology, 190; emphasis added]
How then did Calvin (for example) get this wrong, so that he apparently believed otherwise about what the Church taught? I suppose he must have looked at the common language used with regard to the sacrifice of the Mass, and simply missed the fact that it is not intended as a literal re-sacrifice at all. I don't know.

St. Thomas on Justification - The Purpose of the Incarnation

The Incarnation was for the sake of taking away sin.
It is certain that Christ came into this world not only to take away that sin which is handed on originally to posterity, but also in order to take away all sins subsequently added to it... ST III, Q1, A4
One obvious inference that we may draw from this is that we cannot be saved apart from Christ: if there was no Incarnation, we would have no Savior; consequently we would still stand condemned by our sins.
The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God, who "loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins": "the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world", and "he was revealed to take away sins":

Sick, our nature demanded to be healed; fallen, to be raised up; dead, to rise again. We had lost the possession of the good; it was necessary for it to be given back to us. Closed in the darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Saviour; prisoners, help; slaves, a liberator. Are these things minor or insignificant? Did they not move God to descend to human nature and visit it, since humanity was in so miserable and unhappy a state? [CCC §457; cf. 1Jn 4:10, 14; 3:5]

A second inference is that if we cannot be saved apart from Christ, then no deeds of our own can obtain for us forgiveness for our mortal sins. Because our mortal sin involves turning away from the infinite, immutable good - namely, God (cf. ST I-II, Q87, A4) - reparation for it is beyond our finite abilities.
No one can merit for himself restoration after a future fall, either condignly or congruously. He cannot merit for himself condignly, since the reason of this merit depends on the motion of Divine grace, and this motion is interrupted by the subsequent sin; hence all benefits which he afterwards obtains from God, whereby he is restored, do not fall under merit--the motion of the preceding grace not extending to them. Again, congruous merit, whereby one merits the first grace for another, is prevented from having its effect on account of the impediment of sin in the one for whom it is merited. Much more, therefore, is the efficacy of such merit impeded by the obstacle which is in him who merits, and in him for whom it is merited; for both these are in the same person. And therefore a man can nowise merit for himself restoration after a fall. [ST I-II, Q114, A7; emphasis added]

Thus we cannot hope to merit forgiveness for mortal sin by anything that we do, but can only hope to obtain forgiveness through the merits of Christ's work of atonement. Consequently the Incarnation is necessary for our salvation if we are to be saved at all, because we cannot save ourselves. Hence we see in the purpose of the Incarnation itself that they are badly mistaken who suppose that the Catholic Church teaches we may save ourselves by our works.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

St. Thomas on Justification - Introductory Remarks

I spent some spare time over a few months reading portions of the Summa Theologica related to justification. I'm planning on doing a series of posts on the results.

I do not pretend that I will be offering anything like comprehensive coverage of St. Thomas' treatment of the subject. In the first place I'm not a theologian or philosopher. I'm just this guy, you know? So anyone expecting an academic treatment will be disappointed. In the second place, I'm not an Aquinas scholar; I'm merely an earnest enthusiast for his work. My reading has been almost entirely driven by a "dictionary search" - that is, a search of the Summa for passages that mention "justification". This is, admittedly, terribly simplistic; but I suspect it's safe to say that whatever nuances might be missed this way, in the main I'll be covering the major themes.

A major defect of these posts is that they are without question going to seem somewhat disconnected if they are taken all together as a collection. I am not posting sections or segments from a larger, complete paper on the subject, which one could rightly expect to have some manner of unity; rather, my expectation is that each post will stand alone for the most part. I'm not an academic, and I don't have time to synthesize this material properly for a complete standalone paper. But I'm also taking the venue and audience into consideration. In my opinion a blog is a poor place for lengthy articles. People don't read blogs like they read books; they read them more like they read magazine articles or (ugh) watch TV. So it seems better to keep blog posts relatively short, and use tags to allow folks the opportunity to do further reading on a subject when they want.

Why am I doing this series? Because it's my blog, and I get to do what I want with it :-) But I'm also doing it as something of an apologetic exercise. Many (most?) Protestants have a grossly distorted idea about what the Catholic doctrine of justification looks like. I hope to set the record straight to some extent, and St. Thomas is an excellent representative for what the Church has always taught about the subject. He was, like his fellow medievals and schoolmen, strongly conservative with respect to theology. Aquinas' genius was not in the way of novelty. He is also one of the Doctors of the Church, "on account of the great advantage the whole Church has derived" from his work (cf. previous link).

I hope these posts will be interesting and useful to you.

The freedom of the Blessed Virgin

By her participation in redemption [the Blessed Virgin] had filled heaven with the saved and had emptied hell of those who would have been condemned except for her. It was her assent to the word and will of God that had made the incarnation and therefore the redemption possible. [Pelikan, The Growth of Medieval Theology, 166]
It's not that Mary has saved us; rather, through her the Redeemer descended to us (as St. Bernard says; cf. Pelikan, 165). She is mediatrix in the sense that Christ comes to us through her. It's important to be clear that her assent was not something compelled; as in everything else and like all men, she was a moral agent. God did no violence to her will, just as he did none to Eve's.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux on Grace and Free Will

Here's a wonderfully succinct summary of how grace and free will are related.Take away free will, and there is nothing that needs to be saved; take away grace, and there is no way to save it. - St. Bernard, On Grace and Free Will, I.2; quoted in Pelikan, The Growth of Medieval Theology, 156.

God's impassibility and the atonement

God is impassible. Among other things, this means that he is not subject to emotional changes (and properly speaking it's anthropomorphic even to speak of him this way). His eternal beatitude does not vary, and this is all the more certain with respect to the question of whether created beings can affect that beatitude.
For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. [Mal. 3:6]
There are certain conclusions about the atonement that follow from this, and although I suspect that I'll have more to say about it later (this year? if I start reading Anselm before 2010?) Pelikan has a succinct summary about the matter.
Although it was customary in the language of the church to say that God 'has redeemed us from sins and from His wrath and from hell and from the power of the devil,' this needed to be understood in relation to the concept of 'rightness.' God did not require satisfaction as a means of appeasing his wrath, for he was impassible and therefore could not be wrathful as men are. Instead of speaking of the 'wrath' of God, therefore, Anselm spoke of his justice: the justice of God had been violated by the failure of man to render to God what he owed Him; the justice of God also made it impossible for God to forgive this sin by mere fiat, for this would have been a violation of the very order in the universe that God had to uphold to be consistent with himself and with his justice. Any scheme of human salvation, therefore, had to be one that would render 'satisfaction' to divine justice and leave the 'rightness' and moral order intact. [Pelikan, The Growth of Medieval Theology, 140f.]
From this we may see something that I've discussed before: what we believe about God has consequences how we think about other things - in this case, the nature of the atonement. This dogma concerning God's nature also must necessarily inform how we read the Bible: if God is impassible - if he does not change - then we must conclude that passages that "literally" seem to say otherwise speak only anthropomorphically about him - describing God's actions in human terms. This reminds us again of why it is important to "read the Scripture within the living Tradition of the whole Church" (CCC §113).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

TF responds

TF responds to my previous post (well, not just to mine) concerning the double standards being employed at his blog.

I think, in view of the facts, it's pretty clear that the only reasonable reply is the one I concluded with over here. TF obviously has no intention of addressing the problem, so really nothing more needs to be said:

Whatever, dude.

Umm - What?

So, let me get this straight.

A man who has published a dozen books (many of them explicitly on apologetics topics), edits a magazine that is at least partly devoted to apologetics, and who has publicly debated (among others) Michael Horton and Robert Godfrey, is supposed to be so afraid (we are told that he "turtled") to get into an apologetics conversation with TF's friends that he "locked down" (that's my phrase, not TF's) an apologetics website forum by adding a registration requirement?


Meanwhile, back in the real world, wouldn't it be possible and even likely that Madrid & Co. have other plans for the site besides dealing with literally any stray Protestant critic who comes around the bend? Is it more likely that TF's pals are going to ask more searching questions than seminary professors from Westminster of all places?

And if you're going to suggest that the registration requirement is intended (oh yes, TF knows the hearts and minds of Patrick Madrid and Co.) to prevent others from "shin[ing] any more light on the deception routinely attempted there [sic]," don't you think you'd be in a better position to do that if you didn't have a registration requirement for one of your own websites? Or shall we conclude (following his own remarkable example in this case) that TF has "encased" that site "in a protective shell of registration, lest outsiders shine any more light on the deception routinely attempted there"?

Well, let's not do that. Let's concede what TF won't concede about Madrid: namely, that we don't know what TF's reasons for the registration requirement are, but that he probably has what he thinks are good ones (as opposed to cowardly ones).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Medieval View of Order and Man's Place in Creation

By virtue of being created by God, there is an orderliness in creation; each species of things and every member of them is an essential part of the whole. But because God willed to make rational beings - viz., men and the angels - the potential for that orderliness to be turned on its head necessarily followed.
The first disruption of the 'rightness' of the creation had come with the fall of the devil and the other evil angels. As rational beings, they had received free will as a means for preserving their rightness. ... [The first disruption] happened in the disobedience of Satan. To 'restore the number that had been diminished by the fall of Satan,' the God of rightness and moral order created man. It was a long-established teaching, apparently based on the statement of the Septuagint (which was neither derived from the Hebrew nor carried over into the Latin) that 'he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the angels of God' [Dt. 32:8, LXX] that 'the number of the good angels, which was diminished after the fall of the evil angels, will be completed by the number of elect human beings, a number that is known only to God. ... [I]t was a widespread belief among theologians that God had made the human race because the rightness of the moral order required that the number of the blessed ordained by him be completed. [Pelikan, The Growth of Medieval Theology, 140]
It's interesting that this view of things springs from a reading in the Septuagint that's attested neither by the Hebrew nor the Vulgate, considering how Greek was not known by many Latins. I infer from this a confirmation of Pelikan's remark that this was a "long-established" idea, and must have pre-dated any significant linguistic division of the Church. Interesting - to me, anyway. :-)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hincmar and the Canon of Scripture

Whether or not the Medievals thought that Mt. 16:18 literally called Peter the rock, they still recognized the authority and primacy of Rome.
[S]olicitude for all the churches has been committed to the holy Roman church, in Peter, the prince of the apostles. [Hincmar of Reims, On the Rights of Metropolitans, 4; quoted in Pelikan, The Growth of Medieval Theology, 48]
Among other things, Hincmar said
The church of Rome was 'the mother and the teacher [mater et magistra],' whose authority was to be consulted on all questions of faith and morals, and her instructions were to be obeyed. [Pelikan, ibid.]
Recall that he said this not as a fashioner of theological novelties and fancies, but like his fellows a man committed to preservation of the apostolic faith. Among other things, Hincmar also understood that only the Church could establish the canon of Scripture (ibid.).

And of course there is really no other possible means by which the canon could be decided. The Bible did not drop out of the sky, and it does not contain a list of canonical books itself. I don't remember the book, but A.B du Toit argued, in a work on the New Testament, that the canon is self-authenticating. I remember at the time, as a fervent presuppositionalist of the Van Til sort, that of course this had to be so.

How silly I was! How, pray tell, would a canon authenticate itself? Well, it can't. Many books (as for the Mormons, for example) claim that they are scripture, but of course that doesn't make it so. No, there is only one institution that can make such judgments, and that is the Church. Hincmar was right. God has not provided us a written list, and he does not gives us the canon by any other means than through the Church. The Holy Spirit has not spoken in audible voice to define for us the boundaries of Scripture, and any interior witness would be unreliably subjective.

And this is one reason why we must have the visible institution of the Catholic Church, as opposed to the invisible church posited by Protestants who reject that visible institution. Apart from a faithful Church - one that has stood firm throughout the millennia in proclaiming the truth of the Gospel - we would be faced with the same problem of subjectivism in determining the canon: where shall we find this invisible church of which they speak, how shall we know its members, and how shall it determine for us what the canon is? The answer is that we could not find such a church, we could not determine who is in it, we could not determine who is in a position to speak for it, and (for these reasons) we could have no confidence in its decrees concerning the canon.

We need the Church, and we need the Scripture, and we need Sacred Tradition. It's not an either/or proposition.

Surprising remark about the Middle Ages

Here's an observation about the Middle Ages that I did not expect. In his non-Petrine understanding of Mt. 16:18-19, St. Bede
was joined by biblical interpreters of his own and of later periods; for 'the most astonishing fact' is that 'in the specifically exegetical literature of the entire Middle Ages one looks in vain for the equation "petra = Peter,"' which was so prominent in the polemical and canonical literature. [Pelikan, The Growth of Medieval Theology, p. 47; emphasis added]
Just so there's no confusion: it's not that the identification of St. Peter as the rock was absent in the Middle Ages; rather, it was apparently missing from exegetical works. It's probably worth pointing out that this doesn't (and apparently didn't) have the same dispositive force for Catholics as it does for Protestants, given (among other things) the fact that Catholics have never limited themselves to the bare literal sense of the Bible.

Nevertheless this surprises me, because it seems to me that there are at least a few considerations that weigh strongly in favor of the argument that the Lord Jesus meant to identify Peter as the rock in that passage. First off, I think the parallel with Isaiah 22:22 is too strong to ignore. In that passage is described Eliakim's appointment as steward of the house of David, and what that will mean for the authority that he will possess in the kingdom; this is far too similar to what the Lord says of St. Peter in Mt. 16:19 to ignore, in my opinion. Hence St. Peter is the steward who governs Christ's household the Church in the King's absence.

A second argument involves a certain form of expression in both Mt. 16:18 and Jn. 6:51-52. Let's start with the latter, because no one quibbles about what's in view there.
I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.
Now it ought to be obvious that the subject of the first sentence ("I am the living bread") is identical with the object of man's eating in the latter sentence ("If any man eat of this bread"). Christ is the bread; whoever eats this bread (namely, Christ, the bread just mentioned) shall live forever.

Compare this with Mt. 16:18:
And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
It's the same construction as in John 6:51-52: You are Peter ("the rock"), and on this rock (namely, Peter, the one just mentioned) I will build my church. Viewed this way it seems to me to be indisputable that Peter is in view. So what about the "problem" that the gender of the two nouns is different? Well, the Lord couldn't very well call Peter by a feminine name, could he? No. He couldn't and he wouldn't. Consequently the gender difference is an accommodation. It's inconsequential. Hence it seems to me that the expressions are far similar for us to ignore the likeness: I am the bread of heaven; whoever eats this bread (namely, the bread just mentioned) shall live; You are Peter (a rock), and upon this rock (namely, the rock just mentioned) I will build my church.

I just see no grounds for argument about it. And that is why it's surprising that the schoolmen seemed not to agree. Now I'm perfectly willing to concede that given a dispute between Medieval experts and me, an armchair scribbler, there's not much likelihood that I'd be right and centuries of faithful Catholic scholars would be wrong. So I do not propose my understanding of the passage to be anything other than a hypothesis that I find persuasive. In any case, my view of the literal sense of the passage may not be consistent with how it was understood in the Middle Ages, but I think that we would certainly agree that other senses of the verse substantiate the position of Peter and his successors as the earthly head under Christ of the Church.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mike Burgess responds to TF on Veneration of Mary

It's a worthwhile post. Go see. I've commented there rather than here because I couldn't see my way through to a decent post on the subject.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It's a dark day

Zippy is calling it quits - but I hope it's not forever.

You could do a lot worse than to read his archives. You may not agree with him, but he will make you think.

The Continuity of Medieval Doctrine With the Church Fathers

The churchmen and theologians of the Middle Ages had a strongly conservative frame of mind with regard to the Faith of the Church. They were not given to what might be described as "creative theology," if we understand that as suggesting a willingness to question or even abandon the doctrine that they had received from the Church Fathers.
To Alcuin, as to his predecessors in the seventh and eighth centuries, this 'truth of the church' was that which had been defined by the fathers of the church. What has been called 'the self-effacement of Alcuin in relation to the fathers' was the dominant theme and method of his theology. In all questions of doctrine, he said, 'I wish to follow the footsteps of the holy fathers, neither adding to nor subtracting from their most sacred writings.' ... Therefore one would not err if one resolved to abide 'in the company of such men within the camp of the catholic faith,' for outside that camp were the enemies of the faith. [Pelikan, The Growth of Medieval Theology, 15]
This conservative and reverent attitude toward the Faith they had received is perhaps most obvious if we take note of the single most important text of the Middle Ages (excepting the Bible): Peter Lombard's Book of Sentences. This work consists of quotations (in large part glosses on the Bible) compiled by Lombard from the Church Fathers; as the Catholic Encyclopedia article says, "scarcely more than ten lines have been found to be original" to Lombard himself. Lombard's work was the standard theology text for four centuries.

Now whatever else one might say about it, an age in which an appeal to authority was fundamental to the pursuit of the truth can hardly be said to be innovative. So it seems, even if we were inclined to ignore the weight of Mt. 16:18 ("the gates of hell shall not prevail against" the Church), that the likelihood of the Church going astray and losing or abandoning or rejecting the truth of the Faith ought to be viewed as vanishingly small. But when we take into account God's promise in Mt. 16:18 that the Church will never be overcome by Hell, we see that the Medieval attitude towards the Fathers really seems to be a providential outworking of that promise.

But there is more to what the Medievals did than simply appealing to the Fathers. If they did only this, they would really be doing little more than observing the later method of the Protestants' sola scriptura. But they did not do this. Instead, they anticipated the rule set down in CCC §113 (and repeated here frequently): "Read the Scripture within the living tradition of the whole Church." We must read the Church Fathers the same way, and this is what theologians of the Middle Ages did.
Ambrose Autpert said, 'one should not be prejudiced by the period in which he wrote, but should seek to discern only whether what he wrote is true and catholic or false and heretical.' ... Bede's spiritual descendant, Alcuin of York, proudly identified himself as 'a catholic, born and reared in the catholic church,' and he was convinced that apart from the 'truth of the church' there could be no salvation. [Pelikan, op. cit., 14-15]
It wasn't (and isn't) enough merely to say that such-and-such Father taught this; on the contrary, what the Fathers say must be measured by the standards of the Tradition of the Faith as taught by the Church. Consequently they complain baselessly who grumble that Catholics do not identify Sacred Tradition with the writings of any Father. They either misunderstand what we believe, or they are arguing against a straw man.

Why were the schoolmen so violently opposed to theological novelty?
The apostolic anathema pronounced against anyone, even 'an angel from heaven,' who preached 'a gospel contrary to that which you have received' by tradition was, as in the East so also in the West, a prohibition of any kind of theological novelty. ... One who denied the consensus of such catholic doctors on [for example] the doctrine of Mary was dismissed as 'the fabricator of a new error.' [Pelikan, op. cit., p. 17]
Questions come to mind at this point. If (as some critics allege) the Catholic Church has "lost" certain critical parts of the Gospel, and has accumulated a raft of theological novelties for itself (as they claim) - if these things are so, in spite of God's promise in Mt. 16:18, and in spite of the demonstrated zeal of the theologians of the Middle Ages for preserving and adhering to the truth of the Gospel - then why should we believe that others (usually the critics themselves) have discovered these missing truths and have faithfully preserved them? What zeal for the truth have they got that was lacking among Catholics? Or how is it that the Holy Spirit abandoned the Catholic Church but (as is usually alleged) has blessed the rediscoverers of Truth? Their claims simply don't work, it seems to me.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Development and the Eucharist

In The Growth of Medieval Theology (vol. 3 of The Christian Tradition) Pelikan spends some time early on in discussing doctrinal development and the Eucharist. Compared to what the Fathers wrote about the Trinity and the Incarnation, there was relatively little said by them about the Eucharist - particularly in the case of St. Augustine, who was so important for Latin theology. How could this be? The issue was complicated by the fact that some heretics claimed that the Church had added to the deposit of faith by the definition of the doctrine of transubstantiation.

The resolution of the matter is found in the proper understanding of doctrinal development. It's not that Eucharistic doctrine was added after the fact; it's that in the time of the Church Fathers, there was no significant dispute about the Eucharist. Consequently there was no special need for St. Augustine and other fathers to invest the time in clarifying what the Church teaches on the subject as opposed to those who contradict that teaching.
[D]efenders of the doctrine of the real presence felt obliged to account for the omission of the Eucharist from the creeds, which did refer to baptism; this was, they said, due to the absence of attacks on the faith of the church in the real presence. [p. 3]
Why must this be the case? Because the Church proclaims the Faith; she does not invent it.
The apostolic and catholic faith was 'one faith' because it was a faith that had been delivered once and for all and had been transmitted by apostolic tradition. Therefore it was unchanging and unchangeable, and the very suggestion that it had undergone change or development or growth seemed to strike at the foundations of apostolic continuity. Heretics could, and did, accuse the orthodox of having added such doctrines as transubstantiation to the original deposit of the faith, since it was not mentioned in any of the ancient creeds; to this the orthodox were obliged to reply that the doctrine had indeed been present from the beginning, but had not been asserted because it was accepted by everyone without question. ... Such judgments seemed to assume that there could be some sort of development or growth; on the basis of patristic suggestions about how the doctrine developed, Thomas Aquinas defended the legitimacy of the Filioque by explaining that it 'was contained implicitly in the faith that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father' and that it had now been made explicit. [p. 6f.]
The relevant portion from the Summa Theologica:
In every council of the Church a symbol of faith has been drawn up to meet some prevalent error condemned in the council at that time. Hence subsequent councils are not to be described as making a new symbol of faith; but what was implicitly contained in the first symbol was explained by some addition directed against rising heresies. Hence in the decision of the council of Chalcedon it is declared that those who were congregated together in the council of Constantinople, handed down the doctrine about the Holy Ghost, not implying that there was anything wanting in the doctrine of their predecessors who had gathered together at Nicaea, but explaining what those fathers had understood of the matter. Therefore, because at the time of the ancient councils the error of those who said that the Holy Ghost did not proceed from the Son had not arisen, it was not necessary to make any explicit declaration on that point; whereas, later on, when certain errors rose up, another council [Council of Rome, under Pope Damasus] assembled in the west, the matter was explicitly defined by the authority of the Roman Pontiff, by whose authority also the ancient councils were summoned and confirmed. Nevertheless the truth was contained implicitly in the belief that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father. [ST I, Q36, A2, ad 2; emphasis added]
The very history of the Councils with respect to the doctrine of the Incarnation ought to make it clear that this is exactly how such things work; hence it should not be surprising that clarification of what the Church teaches about the Eucharist was unnecessary until that teaching was challenged. The same may be said, too, concerning the doctrine of justification.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Third Rome - Theology Affecting Politics?

Near the end of volume 2 of The Christian Tradition, Pelikan briefly discusses the development in Eastern Orthodoxy of the Russian patriarchate, and of the Russian doctrine of the Third Rome.
A Russian monk, Philotheus of Pskov, had asserted that 'two Romes have fallen, and the third is still standing, and a fourth there shall not be.' Whoever may have been its originator, the idea of Moscow as the third Rome was an apt expression for the theological interpretation of Russia's historic role. 'The third Rome became a thoroughgoing theocracy.' ...

It was not until the modern period that Russian theology - including the notion of the third Rome - came into its own. [p. 298]
If this sort of thinking had become embedded in the warp and woof of Russian identity and culture, it seems reasonable to infer that such a nationalism would have a significant influence upon the country even when she had been secularized by the Communists, and that this would be important to bear in mind when seeking to understand Russia in the world today. Ideas have consequences.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mi Mi Mi or Me Me Me?

Here's an interesting passage from DLS' Introductory Papers on Dante (BTW this is a great book):
Long before [Dante wrote the Comedy], when he was quite a young man, writing love-poems about Beatrice, he had suffered a memorable rebuke from a lady, who asked him: 'Pray tell us, wherein lies this beatitude of yours?' And I replied simply: 'In those words that praise my lady.' And she answered: 'If that were true, you would have spoken otherwise; and not in these words which are all about your own feelings.' [p. 42]
Straight from the 13th century to us today! Why then do we have to suffer through hymns that are all about us, rather than all about God and what he has done for us?

I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

And speaking of continuity...

Someone at Beggars All suggests that Catholic doctrine rules out a certain class of argument that a Protestant might use in arguing with JWs. Fair enough. I suppose one sort of response would be that to abandon truth for the sake of an argument is not an honorable strategy (on the other hand, it seems that the LDS disagrees with me; clearly what they're interested in isn't truth at all, with those tactics). I'm not saying that the author at Beggars is dishonorable, but that there would be no honor in a Catholic forsaking the Faith on specific points just because his beliefs rule out certain methods of persuasion. In short - who cares if we can't use Protestant arguments?

But - tit for tat. There are arguments that Protestants can't credibly use with JWs either. One that comes readily to mind in view of recent posts here: the Protestant can't reasonably claim that his distinctive views are those of the whole Church throughout the ages. The JW can with perfect justice reply to the Protestant that his views are barely less novel than the Protestant's own, historically speaking (and to the extent that they are Arian, he can make a much more credible defense of his distinctives: all the way back to the fourth century). On the other hand the Catholic can with justice assert that the Church is the one that Christ founded, and not a scintilla of the Gospel had to be "rediscovered" at all.

I submit that this is a much more powerful argument than a quibble over the usage of a particular Greek word.

Pelikan on Apostolic Succession

[A]n acknowledgment of Roman orthodoxy, fundamental though it was, was not an adequate exegesis of the promise of Christ, according to the Latin church. That promise laid down certain conditions that would guarantee the church against the gates of hell: the church, the entire church, had to be built on the rock.

That rock was Peter. To be built on the rock, the church must show that it stood in the succession of Peter and that it was an heir of the promises given to him. It was agreed on all sides, moreover, that this succession pertained to the church as an institution. Right believing and correct teaching could be achieved and maintained only within a proper structure: for the church to be apostolic in doctrine, it had to be apostolic in polity. From very early times an episcopal polity, presumed to stand in unbroken succession from the apostles, had been taken to be one of the criteria of apostolic continuity, in conjunction with the authoritative canon of Scripture and the creedal rule of faith. There was, of course, a pragmatic and even a political aspect to the administrative structure of the church, but questions of jurisdiction became (or were) questions of theology because Christ had built his church on Peter the rock and had vouchsafed his protection against the gates of hell only to that church which could legitimately claim this foundation of apostolic polity. [Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, vol. 2; p. 157f.]
Just a few observations here:
  • Pelikan suggests that the understanding of Peter as the rock on which the Church is built is quite ancient
  • The episcopacy dates to "very early times"
  • Episcopal continuity was reckoned a fundamental of the Church's claims
  • It was recognized that institutional connection with Peter was viewed as essential, it was to Peter as the rock that Christ had promised his protection against the gates of hell.
If some group or other claims to be "a" or "the" church of Christ, how do we measure the claim? Surely we do not take them merely at their word, else we'd have to welcome the LDS to Christendom. It seems essential to be tied to the Church throughout the ages. Apart from this, the claim to be a church of Christ stands on an assertion that might be defended from the Bible, but I do not see how it could be sustained. Even in the Bible the particular churches were connected, even if not to the formal and institutional degree that we enjoy today; how then shall we say that an entirely disconnected group merits description as a "church of Christ"?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Why Apostolic Succession Matters

As a point of controversy, the Protestant rejection of apostolic succession demands some questions: if the Church Fathers really did "blow it," as Protestants would have us believe, why on earth should we give any credence to their own claims? If God did not preserve the Church from error from the beginning until now, there is absolutely no reason why we should believe that the Holy Spirit has guided Protestant eyes to the truth.

You can't have "The Catholic Church Fell Away" and at the same time "The Reformers Rediscovered the Gospel." It won't work.

Iconophiles vs. Iconoclasts

In a previous post I discussed (among other things) the Iconoclast notion of what an icon actually is, and noted both that their definition followed the pagan notion that underlies the prohibition of the first commandment and the mockery of Isaiah 44:13-19, and that it is contrary to what Catholics have always said about them. In this post I want to look closer at what the orthodox said during the iconoclast controversy about what an image is. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations (and most other material) in this post are from Pelikan's The Spirit of Eastern Christendom, pp. 118-122.

Although there were differences of wording among them, it seems that their definitions followed more or less what was said by John of Damascus, who said that an image is
a likeness, an illustration, and a representation of something, showing forth in itself that which is imaged.
Nicephorus, Pelikan says, was more thoroughgoing:
[An image is] a likeness of an archetype, having impressed upon it the form of what it represents by similarity, differing from it only by the difference of essence in accordance with the materials...or an imitation and similitude of the archetype, differing in essence and substance; or a product of some technical skill, shaped in accordance with the limitation of the archetype, but differing from it in essence and substance.
Elsewhere Nicephorus insisted that an image represents its archetype "in such a way that it also maintains some distinction from it."

Now obviously these definitions are completely unlike the iconoclasts' ideas about images, and the modern iconoclast is going to have to do better than to simply wave his hand and say that the distinctions that Catholics and Orthodox make are irrelevant. They're not. Nor will a simple appeal to the first commandment suffice, as I pointed out in my earlier post. (For that matter, an appeal to the "second commandment" [by their numbering] won't suffice either, since a Catholic doesn't accept the Protestant's numbering scheme.)

There were other arguments made, too. One Leontius of Neapolis compared veneration of icons (and, presumably, relics would fit here as well) to the reverence we show to articles of clothing (we might add photos today) that belonged to a beloved departed spouse. Damascene said something similar:
I have often seen those with a sense of longing, who, having caught sight of the garment of their beloved, embrace the garment as though it were the beloved person himself.
Well, does the bereaved love the clothing or the one who wore it? Does he love the photo, or the one pictured? Do we really have to ask these silly questions? Pelikan writes:
Christian worship of the icons was an instance of this same devotion, in which respect and affection were being paid to the garment, but were in fact addressed to the person of the departed, be it Christ or his mother or some other saint. ... Such arguments suggested that the use of icons in Christian worship was not a relapse into paganism, but a concession to the psychology of all normal men, whether Christian or pagan. [emphasis added]
But it was more than just human psychology that was in view, argues Pelikan:
When they put such an emphasis on the role of the senses in worship, the iconophiles were affirming the role of the body in salvation - of the physical body of Christ as the means of achieving it and of the physical body of man as a participant in it together with the soul. The iconoclasts claimed to worship the invisible God in a purely spiritual and mental way, disdaining the use of visual aids such as images. ... [But] Man was body as well as soul, and the means of grace were accommodated to this condition; therefore there was a baptism in water as well as in the Spirit, and therefore man also needed to see the divine represented in images. ... The spiritualism of the iconoclasts seemed to put them into the same class with the ancient Gnostics, who claimed that the body of Christ was not physical but heavenly, and who despised the physically minded believers as less spiritual than they.
Just so. Now of course modern iconoclasts aren't Gnostic (at any rate, I've never heard of any such). But it still bears saying, it seems to me, that when it comes to worship, they seem to loathe the body and anything physical. Hence they despise images; hence they deny the Real Presence; hence they deny that Baptism actually does wash us of our sins; etc.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Pelikan's chapter on the Iconoclast controversy (in vol. 2 of The Christian Tradition) is well worth reading, and the one or two snippets that will find their way into posts here really won't suffice. Get the book and read the whole thing. Seriously.

One immediate and superficial observation about what we may learn from the controversy, at least with respect to those today who fling charges of idolatry at Catholics and Orthodox over images, is to say, "been there, done that, got the conciliar endorsement." In short, I've never heard an argument against images today that wasn't already advanced and addressed over a millennium ago. It's nothing new. Unfortunately there must be more to our answer to the modern despisers of images than simply appealing to an ecumenical council, since (on average) the modern iconoclast sympathizer will not be interested in what councils have to say when they differ from his own theological tradition's views.

(As a fascinating aside, the old Catholic Encyclopedia reports that the Iconoclast controversy began with Nestorians managing to persuade Leo the Isaurian to start persecuting iconophiles. Once again we see Nestorians afoot; once again we are reminded that some Protestants have been charged with Nestorianism.)

One thing Pelikan reports strikes me as interesting in view of other facts.
Constantine V [asserted] that a genuine image was 'identical in essence with that which it portrays.' The term used here, 'identical in essence [homoousious],' came from the trinitarian language of orthodox dogma...This definition of the relation between the image and the thing or person imaged, which 'undoubtedly was characteristic not only of Constantine but of all the leading minds of iconoclasm,' meant that an image of Christ being used in worship was in fact the 'falsely so-called image of Christ,' since it obviously could not be 'identical in essence' with the person of Jesus Christ himself; not even the most vigorous defenders of the images maintained that it was. The very definition of a true image necessarily implied for the iconoclasts that no painting or statue could ever be an image of Christ. [p. 109]
This reminds me of something that we moderns find hard to imagine but which, apparently, was literally true. I'm having trouble locating the reference, but I think that it was in the works of Justin Martyr. As I recall, he pointed out that the idolaters of old really did consider their idols - works of wood and stone - to be literal gods. It wasn't just a question of them thinking that the idol represented the god; it was that the idol was itself the god. I was pretty shocked by this, but really it makes complete sense with Isaiah 44:13-19!
The wood carver takes his measurements, outlines the image with chalk, carves it with chisels, following the outline with dividers. He shapes it to human proportions, and gives it a human face, for it to live in a temple. He cut down a cedar, or else a cypress or an oak which he selected from the trees in the forest, or maybe he planted a cedar and the rain made it grow. For the common man it is so much fuel; he uses it to warm himself, he also burns it to bake his bread. But this fellow makes a god of it and worships it; he makes an idol of it and bows down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire, on the live embers he roasts meat, eats it and is replete. He warms himself too. "Ah!" says he "I am warm; I have a fire here!" With the rest he makes his god, his idol; he bows down before it and worships it and prays to it. "Save me," he says "because you are my god."

They know nothing, understand nothing. Their eyes are shut to all seeing, their heart to all reason. They never think, they lack the knowledge and wit to say, "I burned half of it on the fire, I backed bread on the live embers, I roasted meat and ate it, and am I to make some abomination of what remains? Am I to bow down before a block of wood?" [JB]
This passage makes no sense unless that wood carver literally believed that his block of wood was his god: not just a representation of it, but really his god. Why else does Isaiah say that such a man has shut his heart to all reason? Does such a thing make any sense? Of course not. But this is apparently what they literally did. And this is consistent, it seems, with what the iconoclasts' idea of an image was, as seen in the quotation from Pelikan above. Now the only problem with this, when it comes to the Catholic view of images, is that no Catholic says any such thing about an image of Christ or the saints.

This is why, for one thing, it cannot be said that Catholics violate the first commandment. When we do not worship images; we do not serve them. What we pray before a statue or icon is directed not to the stone or paint, but to the Lord represented there, or to the saint represented there. The first commandment is not concerned with such things, but rather with the literal worship of the literal image.

The modern iconoclast has a problem, it seems to me. He would have us believe that any veneration before an image - whether by an idolater literally worshipping the stone, or by a Catholic offering veneration to the one represented in the image - is idolatry. Well, how then could such a man offer veneration to a king or emperor? It is beyond all argument that men in all ages have rightly and necessarily and justifiably knelt in veneration of their rulers and other betters. If it is a sin to venerate him who is represented in an icon, would it be any less a sin (on this reckoning) to venerate a mere man?

There is no sin intrinsic to the use of images and statues. A mere appeal to Exodus 20 is insufficient to say otherwise. Historical context demonstrates clearly what is forbidden in the first commandment, and it is not praying to God or the saints while kneeling before an icon.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Perry Robinson on Christology and Abortion

Here is an article by Perry Robinson presenting a christological argument against abortion. It's very interesting.
It is on the christological basis of recapitulation that infants are baptized, since not to baptize them until they reach the 'age of reason' or 'accountability' implies that communion between God and man is impossible at this stage of life. If this principle were pressed into the Incarnation itself, it would mean that Christ only became God subsequently to His conception. Likewise, the Church’s condemnation of abortion is rooted in the recapitulational principle, since this stage of human life was united indivisibly and unconfusedly with God the Word. It is therefore contradictory to maintain at one and the same time that infants cannot be baptized, and yet to argue against abortion on the basis of an abstract principle of the 'sanctity of life' divorced from its Christological basis."
One of the commenters makes a further salient observation:
[T]hat Mary was Theotokos implies that God was united to pre-natal humanity.
So we see (not for the first time) that dogma necessarily affects how we think about other things. Because the Truth is one just as God is one, there cannot be one truth of dogma and another for the baby-killing abortionist.

The Holy Trinity and Human Nature

A couple days ago I mentioned an upcoming post concerning dogma and how we think about other things. I think this is an interesting example of what I was talking about in that post.

Pelikan writes (p. 72):
This clarification and expansion of Chalcedon in the direction of teaching two wills and two actions ... took its start from the doctrine of the Trinity, clarifying its christological terminology on the basis of trinitarian usage. In the Trinity there were three hypostases, but only one divine nature; otherwise there would be three gods. There was also a single will and a single action. Thus will was an attribute of a nature and not of a hypostasis, natural and not hypostatic. Hence the person of Christ, with a single hypostasis and two natures, had to have two wills, one for each nature. [emphasis added]
Although it might seem to us - if we think carelessly about the question and ignore the implications of christology described by Pelikan - that a will is something I have by virtue of being a person - an individual hypostasis - we see that the consequences of such thinking fall afoul of what is actually true. In the case of Christ, it would mean that - since he was a divine person with two natures - he had a single will (the divine one); or, if that were to be unacceptable to us, we might go the Nestorian route and insist that in Christ a divine and human person - two hypostases - were united, because Christ clearly had a human will.

But both of these conclusions are false. So we see that what we believe about God and Christ has profound implications for what we believe about ourselves. Likewise what we believe about ourselves may affect how we think about the Incarnation and the Godhead. It is important that we get the feedback cycle right here. Dogmas about the Incarnation and the Godhead are absolutely true because they are divinely revealed. We reject them at our peril. Given a conflict between dogma and our own ideas, we necessarily must conclude that it is our ideas that are wrong rather than the reverse.

Obviously it is not easy sometimes for us to reach that conclusion. On such occasions, we must take refuge in the virtue of humility.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pelikan on the Nestorian view of the Eucharist

This is said only in passing in The Spirit of Eastern Christendom, and I don't have sufficient chops at this time to be able to be able to flesh it out adequately.
[I]t was recognized that there was a connection between Nestorian christology and a view of the Eucharist that stressed its memorial aspect rather than the real presence. [p. 61]
In context he's saying that this was recognized in the sixth century. If I understand things rightly, it seems that because of the Nestorian objection to the communication of properties (whereby we may say, for example, that God was crucified for us because Jesus Christ is God Incarnate - though of course it must be understood that in his divinity he neither died nor suffered) it's impossible for Christ's Body to have such properties as would allow it to be literally present in the Eucharist - which can only have the consequence of reducing the Sacrament to a memorial.

It's interesting (and unlikely to be merely coincidental) that many Protestants today view the Eucharist as nothing more than a memorial, given that they are sometimes charged with holding to a Nestorian christology due to their unwillingness to ascribe the title of Theotokos to the Blessed Virgin. One must wonder whether that which walks and quacks like a duck is really a duck or not.