Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What he said

Sigh. My life has been crammed quite full lately, so the next post in the Trent on Justification series will have to wait still more.

In the meantime, here's a better reply than any I offered at the time to certain criticisms offered elsewhere.

Don’t we all know that the correct answer to “I don’t find ____ rewarding” is “Then don’t do it! Do something else!”

Some people read St. Thomas as spiritual reading. Some people find Von Balthasaar irritating, not uplifting. Some people feel closer to God when polishing syllogisms. Some people actually- gasp- like reading both St. Thomas … Where’s the problem?

Human beings can’t exhaust anything by one mode of considering it.


Monday, August 17, 2009

More goodness from Bryan Cross

Here is a very good critique of Reformed presuppositionalism from Bryan Cross.

Choice quotes:

By claiming that they start with Scripture, presuppositionalists make themselves highly susceptible to being unaware of the presuppositions that they bring to Scripture.

Heh. I started down the road to the Catholic Church when I, as a presuppositionalist, began a process of self-examination to try and discern any unbiblical presuppositions I might be unconsciously holding. When I started applying that same procedure to the Reformation (necessarily so, as a theological and intellectual heir of it), the foundations began to crumble: it's no coincidence that humanism (of the Renaissance) and "sola scriptura" both make man the measure of all things (yes, Virginia, that's exactly what "sola scriptura does").

If you are explicitly claiming to start with Scripture, you cannot allow yourself to believe or recognize that you are actually starting with something that you are bringing to Scripture.

Yes, and this makes it oh-so-"fun" to discuss theology with these folks (and I know that I was the exact same way).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Summary Observations on the Monologion of St. Anselm

St. Anselm says, at the beginning of the Monologion:

[Sorry, but I don't see an online edition of this work, which is very disappointing. I have taken the liberty of repairing the noxious plural-neuter pronouns in this snippet, since St. Anselm surely would not have used them, and they are rather obviously an artifact of a misguided modernity.]

Of all the things that exist, there is one nature that is supreme. It alone is self-sufficient in its eternal happiness, yet through its all-powerful goodness it creates and gives to all other things their very existence and their goodness. Now, take someone who either has never heard of, or does not believe in, and so does not know, this—this, or indeed any of the numerous other things which we necessarily believe about God and his creation. I think that [he] can, even if of average ability, convince [himself], to a large extent, of the truth of these beliefs, simply by reason alone. [Monologion, 1; emphasis added]

St. Anselm suggests, then, that what he's going to present is an argument about God – his existence and nature – from reason alone. And so he does: there are no appeals to Scripture in this work. He also says that he thinks that this argument should be acceptable to the average man who knows nothing about God.

It seems to me that he begins admirably. I'm not sure how persuasive his argument would be for the modern man, but he begins by arguing that all things must derive their excellences from some supreme Excellence, and it seems to me that his meaning is that they enjoy it by way of participation in the excellence of the supreme essence. I've read very little Plato, and none in the last couple decades, but from what I gather this is supposed to be an approach influenced by Plato. And it's not really all that bad.

After several chapters, though, it seems (to this Thomist-in-training) that St. Anselm's course veers off in an unfortunate direction for his stated purpose. We'll come back to this in a little bit, because I think it's important, but for now let's see what he begins to do. After having established that the supreme essence must be the creator from nothing of all other things that exist (because existence is a good, and they must derive their existence from the One who has existence supremely – namely, the supreme essence), he writes:

But I seem to see something which demands that we distinguish carefully the sense in which it is possible to say that created things were nothing before being created. For a maker makes something rationally if, and only if, there is already something there in his reasoning—as a sort of exemplar. … The following then is clear: before all things existed, the manner, features, and fact of their future existence already existed, in the reasoning of the supreme nature. …

But what is this form that is already there…? Before a craftsman makes something by means of his craft, he first expresses it within himself by means of a mental conception. So, what is the form but this kind of verbalization of the things to be created in the maker's reason? [ibid., 9-10 passim; emphasis added]

From here, and again in several subsequent chapters, Anselm builds an argument that this "verbalization" may be described as "the Word," and later as "begotten," and finally as "the Son."

Do you see where this is going?

After pursuing the distinctions between and attributes of the Father and the Son (as he now frequently names them), he comes to this:

What delight to gaze upon what is proper to Father and Son and what they have in common! And nothing gives me more delight in contemplation than their mutual love. For the supreme spirit indeed loves itself, just as it is conscious of, and understands, itself. … Therefore, as it is conscious of, and understands itself, so the supreme spirit loves itself. [ibid., 49]

Lest we miss it: Anselm would have us understand the Father as "the consciousness" of the supreme spirit, and the Son as its self-understanding. He continues:

Now, it is quite clear to any rational mind that self-consciousness and self-understanding are not due to self-love. But rather self-love happens because of self-consciousness and self-understanding. Self-love is impossible without self-consciousness. It is impossible without self-understanding. Nothing is loved without being the object of consciousness and understanding. … Therefore it is clear that the supreme spirit's love proceeds from its being self-conscious and self-understanding. And given that it makes sense to think of the supreme spirit's consciousness as Father, and its understanding as Son, it is evident that the supreme spirit as love, proceeds equally from the Father and the Son. [50; emphasis added]

Hopefully it's obvious that St. Anselm hasn't merely attempted an argument for the existence of God using reason alone, but also for the Trinity!

Well, my reaction to this is unquestionably that of St. Thomas: that it's not possible to make a cogent argument for the Trinity from reason alone. With respect to how he argues for the Son: he moves from saying that God must be reasonable (which is unproblematic) to making declarations about the means by which God created: namely, by his verbalization or word. But this, it seems to me, is an unwarranted leap. Even if we conclude (reasonably enough) that God created all things ex nihilo, it's a big step to then make assertions about how he did so, and yet another huge jump to go from creation by means of his word to The-Word-As-Coequal-Person of the Godhead. And similarly for how he argues for God's self-love as a Third Coequal: there is simply no good reason for it, and if there is, there's simply no good reason to stop with his love. We ought to continue with his justice and goodness and so forth, it seems to me.

So as I say: I do not consider this to be a successful argument of the kind St. Anselm says that he was presenting: namely, one that draws on reason alone, for the sake of persuading the man who knows nothing about God.

However, this is not to say that I consider the argument to be a failure. I have pondered a little how it is that St. Anselm might have considered what he was doing to be a success, and I think that it is here that we have the beginning of an answer. He writes, in the prologue:

Some of my brethren have often and earnestly asked me to write down, as a kind of model meditation, some of the things I have said, in everyday language, on the subject of meditating upon the essence of the divine; and on some other subjects bound up with such meditation. They specified…the following form for this written meditation: nothing whatsoever to be argued on the basis of the authority of Scripture, but the constraints of reason concisely to prove, and the clarity of truth clearly to show, in the plain style, … the conclusions of distinct investigations.

The brethren in view were his fellow monks of the Abbey of Bec. So what St. Anselm has written was really for the purpose of satisfying the wishes of his fellow Catholics, not for the sake of apologetics. Secondly, and (so it seems to me) importantly, I think it's worth considering something famously said by St. Anselm elsewhere: "I believe, in order that I may understand." It seems to me, if we look at the Monologion as something written for believers, and written not as a means to draw them to the Faith but rather as something that helps them to understand it, then the work comes off looking much, much better. Then, we see, Anselm and his audience have something in common. They already believe; now they wish to understand (as far as possible). That being the case, it's not necessary for Anselm to justify to the unbeliever his case for the Word and Spirit as persons of the Trinity: he is merely explicating what the monks already believe. He is helping them to understand it. Seen this way, I'd say that the Proslogion looks pretty good. I'm not sure that I understand why it is that he proposed it as something that might persuade the unbeliever, but in view of his own prologue I think we're justified in granting more weight to his audience and intended purpose: to assist his fellow monks.

Bryan Cross - Critique of a particular form of "sola scriptura"

With regard to notion of "sola scriptura" characterized thus:

We deny that the Bible can be rightly understood by any hermeneutical grid not derived from the Scriptures themselves.

Bryan Cross writes:

[I]f that statement is true, then either there is a missing exception clause for the first hermeneutical grid one uses to interpret Scripture (in which case the statement is ad hoc), or "the Bible cannot be rightly understood."

Just so. If the proper interpretive framework for the Bible can only be found in the Bible, and if the Bible cannot be properly understood apart from this framework that can only be found therein, then it is impossible to extract this proper framework from the Bible. You would have to have this framework in hand already in order to be able to have a means for extracting it from the Bible; else it would not be possible to extract it. Hence, as Mr. Cross says, the one holding to this view necessarily must grant an exception to the rule given for the sake of extracting the grid from the Bible. But there's no principled reason for doing so. The only alternative is to concede that the Bible cannot be interpreted properly because we lack the framework for doing so.

The whole paper is worth reading. I commend it to you.

[Update, later in the day] Further casual digging at Mr. Cross' blog rewarded me with a brief interaction between him and Clark (whose views are the subject of Cross' paper, linked above). Unfortunately Dr. Clark has not replied to Mr. Cross' followup yet, though it has been a few weeks.

Among other things, Dr. Clark says: "Protestants believe that Scripture is able to transcend our epistemic and other philosophical problems." I'm not fit for him to quarrel with, but this seems like rather obvious special pleading.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter Eleven

The Catholic Church does not make the Protestant distinction between justification as one sort of thing and sanctification as another. Justification is not mere imputation; it is an infusion of the righteousness of Christ. We are not simply declared righteous; we are made righteous. See here, for example.

But having been made holy, we must preserve that holiness: we must live lives of obedience to God. This is what §11 of the Decree on Justification teaches us.

But no one, how much soever justified, ought to think himself exempt from the observance of the commandments; no one ought to make use of that rash saying, one prohibited by the Fathers under an anathema – that the observance of the commandments of God is impossible for one that is justified. For God commands not impossibilities, but, by commanding, both admonishes thee to do what thou are able, and to pray for what thou art not able (to do), and aids thee that thou mayest be able; whose commandments are not heavy; whose yoke is sweet and whose burthen light.

Understand: they are not saying that just anyone can do this, but rather that the man who is justified may do so. And he is able to do so not solely by his own strength, but by the grace of God which helps him to do so. This passage offers no help to those who seek a "works-based" salvation in the teaching of Trent (nor does any other passage, for that matter). The justified are the ones in view – those whom God has saved through Baptism, which (as we have seen) is entirely a work of grace.

That we must obey God is the unambiguous teaching of the New Testament, so that those who deny such a duty are in gross error.

For, whoso are the sons of God, love Christ; but they who love him, keep his commandments, as Himself testifies [John 14:15 – RdP]; which, assuredly, with the divine help, they can do. For, although, during this mortal life, men, how holy and just soever, at times fall into at least light and daily sins, which are also called venial, not therefore do they cease to be just. For that cry of the just, Forgive us our trespasses, is both humble and true. And for this cause, the just themselves ought to feel themselves the more obligated to walk in the way of justice, in that, being already freed from sins, but made servants of God, they are able, living soberly, justly, and godly, to proceed onwards through Jesus Christ, by whom they have had access unto this grace. For God forsakes not those who have been once justified by His grace, unless he be first forsaken by them. Wherefore, no one ought to flatter himself up with faith alone, fancying that by faith alone he is made an heir, and will obtain the inheritance, even though he suffer not with Christ, that so he may be also glorified with him. For even Christ Himself, as the Apostle saith, Whereas he was the son of God, learned obedience by the things which he suffered, and being consummated, he became, to all who obey him, the cause of eternal salvation. For which cause the same Apostle admonishes the justified, saying; Know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain. I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty: I so fight, not as one beating the air, but I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection; lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a cast-away. So also the prince of the apostles, Peter; Labour the more that by good works you may make sure your calling and election. For doing those things, you shall not sin at any time. From which it is plain, that those are opposed to the orthodox doctrine of religion, who assert that the just man sins, venially at least, in every good work; or, which is yet more insupportable, that he merits eternal punishments; as also those who state, that the just sin in all their works, if, in those works, they, together with this aim principally that God may be gloried, have in view also the eternal reward, in order to excite their sloth, and to encourage themselves to run in the course: whereas it is written, I have inclined my heart to do all thy justifications for the reward: and, concerning Moses, the Apostle saith, that he looked unto the reward.

To deny our duty as Christians to obey God is to shred the New Testament. Faith without works is dead. There are Protestants who agree that we have a duty to obey God, and this is good; but their view is often undermined by a contradictory notion that the Christian cannot lose his salvation. This latter view is false, and gives the lie to such a man's idea that he has a duty: it's not a true duty if their are no consequences for failing to fulfill it. To the contrary, such a pairing of ideas reduces the "duty" to naught but a pious wish.

Articuli Fidei - Don't be silly; of course Aquinas was Catholic

I can scarcely stop smirking.

Articuli Fidei has a post up that disposes of someone's silly claim that St. Thomas believed in "sola scriptura".

Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. [ST II-II, Q5, A3]

On one level, the fact that some kooks say such silly things generally discredits their criticisms of the Church: if they can't get something as obvious and easy as this right, why should anyone give them the benefit of the doubt in any of their criticisms of us?

On another level, I it may be an indication of an awareness that Protestantism utterly lacks historicity in its distinctives; that is a good thing. It may be the foot in the door, so to speak, that one day leads an errant son home. Let us hope so.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter Ten

Chapter ten of the Decree on Justification instructs us concerning justification subsequent to our initial justification in Baptism.

Having, therefore, been thus justified, and made the friends and domestics of God…

The first thing that we must be clear on is that the rest of this chapter describes not how we may be justified, but rather how we progress in the life of justification: "Having been justified…" It would be a gross error to miss this fact. This chapter does not describe how we may become "the friends and domestics of God," but rather it describes the life of the one who has already become God's friend – something that is accomplished by His grace in Christ, as we have previously seen. Those who "find" a works-based gospel here are careless readers, or else have an preconceived agenda.

…advancing from virtue to virtue, they are renewed, as the Apostle says, day by day; that is, by mortifying the members of their own flesh, and by presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification, they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified, as it is written; He that is just, let him be justified still; and again, Be not afraid to be justified even to death; and also, Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. And this increase of justification holy Church begs, when she prays, "Give unto us, O Lord, increase of faith, hope, and charity."

Having been justified, we increase in justification through a life of obedience to God and to His Church. I suppose it probably needs to be said again for some folks: this is the life of the man who is already justified; it is the life of the man whose sins are already forgiven; it is the life of the man who is already God's friend. We cannot win these things by our efforts, but we can grow in holiness by way of living a life of holiness.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Trent on Justification - Chapter Nine

§9 of the Decree on Justification addresses certain errors of Protestantism, and asserts the truth against them; it opens with an assertion that flatly turns one Protestant falsehood about the Catholic Church on its head.

[I]t is necessary to believe that sins neither are remitted, nor ever were remitted save gratuitously by the mercy of God for Christ's sake; …

We cannot by means of anything that we do obtain forgiveness for our sins. It's impossible. Consequently it's not possible for a man to save himself.

It seems to me, though, that the rest of this chapter of the Decree addresses the errors held by Protestants by which they might judge the Gospel and reach their false conclusion.

…yet is it not to be said, that sins are forgiven, or have been forgiven, to any one who boasts of his confidence and certainty of the remission of his sins, and rests on that alone; seeing that it may exist, yea does in our day exist, amongst heretics and schismatics; and with great vehemence is this vain confidence, and one alien from all godliness, preached up in opposition to the Catholic Church.

This is an explicit rejection of the fiduciary notion of justification held by Protestants: no man's sins are forgiven merely because he trusts that they have been. No. And just so that there's no misunderstanding, they make things even more clear:

But neither is this to be asserted, – that they who are truly justified must needs, without any doubting whatever, settle within themselves that they are justified, and that no one is absolved from sins and justified, but he that believes for certain that he is absolved and justified; and that absolution and justification are effected by this faith alone…

St. Robert Bellarmine is reputed (I have no source for the quote, so I can't substantiate it) to have said that the greatest Protestant heresy was their idea of assurance, which Trent condemns here. Worse, they make doubts about the matter into a deadly sin, so that it's like unto doubting Christ's work of atonement and God's promises:

…as though whoso has not this belief, doubts of the promises of God, and of the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ.

In the end these ideas reduce the Gospel to a matter of subjectivism: it's all within the individual man.

This is not to say, of course, that doubts about God's promises are warranted:

For even as no pious person ought to doubt of the mercy of God, of the merit of Christ, and of the virtue and efficacy of the sacraments…

Our salvation is not a subjective thing; consequently we ought not to doubt.

…[nevertheless] each one, when he regards himself, and his own weakness and indisposition, may have fear and apprehension touching his own grace; seeing that no one can know with a certainty of faith, which cannot be subject to error, that he has obtained the grace of God.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Meddling in politics

Normally I only offer my opinions on apologetical, theological and philosophical matters here: not because I have any great measure of competence in them, but because that's what I prefer this blog's topic to be.

This post is an exception. Here is what I wrote on the "health care crisis" in combox at Syzygus:

Since medical care is a scarce resource, it is subject to the law of supply and demand. The President and his advisors favor a rationing scheme for apportioning medical care among those who want it, but this a terrible substitute for allowing the free market to apportion it: its effects will be to create shortages (because government will set price controls on medical care), demolish the quality of care that is generally available (because the quality of legally available goods always suffer under a price control regime), and restrict the availability of genuinely good medical care to an ever smaller elite (because they possess the necessary resources to obtain it). I do not see how any good long term outcome is possible. We have all the evidence we need – in the last century – to unequivocally demonstrate that centralized economic planning does not work. But that is what Obama’s plan is all about.

Furthermore, I suppose it's time to buy stock in printing presses, because the only way that they're going to be able to "afford" to add yet another multi-trillion dollar boondoggle to the federal budget is going to be by creating the money out of thin air. The consequences for our economy will be dire as money is sucked out of every other activity for the sake of funding this monstrosity…unless, of course, they prefer to avoid that abyss by simply price-controlling the problem away (in which case, go back to my first paragraph and repeat the whole process).

This catastrophe in the making is an inevitable consequence of the refusal to accept the iron law of supply and demand: if they reduce the price of medical care, demand will increase.

The way to deal with the problem is not by reducing the price of medical care. The way to deal with it is to increase the supply of available medical care: we need more doctors and nurses. With a greater supply of good medical care available, prices necessarily will go down (in the absence of either guild or governmental meddling, anyway).

If this option isn’t feasible, then we’re going to be forced to deal with the high cost of medical care – or shoddy care. There just aren’t any other alternatives.

And speaking of justification

Francis Beckwith has a fine summary post on the subject over here. I commend it to you for its clarity.

By the means of Baptism God’s unmerited grace is infused for the remission of sins. Then the Christian’s sanctification continues throughout his lifetime, entirely the work of the infusion of grace with which the Christian cooperates, for the Christian “does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it."

Trent on Justification - Chapter Eight

From time to time we see some Protestants take exception to Catholic statements that there is a sense in which we are justified by faith, or even justified by faith alone, as though such statements are contrary to the historic Catholic Faith. As we see in this installment, it is the Protestant who has erred, not the Catholic.

And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace. [Council of Trent, Decree on Justification, §8]

As faith is the "beginning of human salvation,…and the root of all Justification," it is entirely appropriate then for the Catholic to say that we are justified by faith. It's important, however, for the sake of clarity and understanding that it be made clear that it is a beginning; having been baptized, we then must, as the Apostle says, "with fear and trembling work out your salvation. For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will" (Philippians 2:12-13), because faith without works is dead.