Friday, November 27, 2009

Yet another object lesson

David Waltz has an informative post on the 19th century Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge's views of the Catholic Church. These are not the views of your average Internet anti-Catholic polemicist.

That Romanists as a society profess the true religion, meaning thereby the essential doctrines of the gospel, those doctrines which if truly believed will save the soul, is, as we think, plain.

Unfortunately, the average anti-Catholic doesn't care about this except as a demonstration that Hodge was not infallible: he is perfectly willing—no matter the measure of his own scholarly qualifications—to dismiss Hodge on this score (and any other where Hodge disagrees with him).

On the other hand, I think it is excellent evidence that even Presbyterians (to say nothing of disagreements among different theological groups among Protestants) cannot agree among themselves as to what constitutes damnable heresy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fraternizing with the Enemy

When I first read this, my response was this.

But then someone reminded me of this:

Now the publicans and sinners drew near unto him to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying: This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.

[Luke 15:1-2]


And that reminded me of this:

And the Pharisee, who had invited him, seeing it, spoke within himself, saying: This man, if he were if a prophet, would know surely who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner.

[Luke 7:39]

Oh Noes!!!!!

I think that these passages are appropriate rejoinders, and the occasion represents a teaching moment: if certain Protestants treat one of their own in this way, we should not be surprised if they likewise think the worst of us Catholics. If they can't "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" with respect to their comrades, it's a fool's errand to hope that they will show any respect to us. It's sad, but there it is.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canon Nine

Trent’s ninth canon on justification condemns the Protestant error of “sola fide,” and the error among the Reformed that free assent is required.

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

This is not contrary to salvation by grace alone, Protestant objections notwithstanding. There is an unwarranted assumption held by most Protestants that human cooperation in justification runs counter to salvation by grace alone, but we've seen that this is false with respect to the Catholic doctrines of grace: we must consent, and we must “work out our salvation in fear and trembling,” but our very ability to do these things is necessarily preceded by grace.

Ay Caramba

Protestants are falling all over each other in their haste to condemn Michael Horton as a heretic…because he wrote an approving blurb for a book by a Catholic about the theology of Benedict XVI. Horton didn’t approve Catholicism, mind you; he simply approved the book as a useful guide to the Pope’s theology. I suppose he left out the “pope is antichrist” shibboleths, and this is all the evidence needed to condemn him in the eyes of some. One wonders if these folks think Boettner’s rag is the only guide to Catholicism that they’ll ever need.

Meanwhile, a salient point seems to be escaping their view: they do not know why Horton wrote the blurb. This ought to be an essential precondition of judging another’s actions, unless they think that Israel’s “assume the worst” policy is the touchstone of Christian charity. But it’s hard to reconcile that with “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,”—unless maybe you’d like having your name dragged through the Internet mud on the basis of almost zero facts. Horton didn’t even build a potentially suspicious altar. All he did, basically, was to say this: “If you want to know about Pope Benedict’s theology, this is a good book to read.”

And for that, some folks think he should be charged with heresy. But he didn’t say that he agreed with the Pope’s theology, and if agreeing with Catholics on any point is sufficient to warrant the star chamber, then I can think of some others that the critics might want to “investigate,” too. Oh, and about that Holy Trinity thing that you Protestants accept: we Catholics believe that too (in fact, we believed it first). Does that make you ritually unclean?

I think some people need to put down the keyboard, step away from the Internet, and get a breath of fresh air. And maybe have a beer.

Spock’s rejoinder once again proves apposite:

You must learn to govern your passions; they will be your undoing.

Important Points: the author of the first link above, who also wrote this, does not indulge in the witch hunt; rather, some of the comboxers do.

Likewise, beyond saying that he is “disappointed,” TF has not overtly expressed an opinion about Horton’s blurb, other than to ask his “open question.” My only observation would be that rather than suspect him of (the horror!) Catholic sympathies (as TF's question obviously does), he might have asked why Horton wrote the blurb instead of going the “prove you’re innocent” route.

[Update, 11/17/2009:] Horton throws water on the speculation and the critics. I suspect that even this will be insufficient for ESPers amongst the anti-Catholics, who are just so darn good at reading a man’s heart from a single paragraph abstracted from an entire career’s worth of work. But they can never be satisfied anyway. I would be delighted if Horton does convert someday, but that blurb certainly constitutes no evidence warranting hope for that.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canon Eight

In canon eight on justification, the Council of Trent condemns the false idea that repentance that begins in fear of punishment is sinful:

If any one saith, that the fear of hell,-whereby, by grieving for our sins, we flee unto the mercy of God, or refrain from sinning,-is a sin, or makes sinners worse; let him be anathema.

I'm not familiar with what historical error necessitated this canon, but for our purposes here it ought to be said that there is nothing contrary to justification by grace in this canon, nor is there any sense in which such a fear could be said to constitute some sort of justification by works. God threatens punishments to his people not because he hopes to make them sin by making them fear (far from it!) but in order to deter them from evil and motivate them to do good.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

This almost, but not quite, merits no response

TF regales us with a purported "Clerical Celibacy Rebuttal - Extremely Short Form". It wouldn't be worth a glance if not for the fact that there seem to be some people who think it to be creditable; but since it appears that at least some do so, let's consider it.

Proverbs 18:22 Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD.

First, a trivially obvious response in the same vein:

But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they so continue, even as I. [1Cor 7:8]

And we could stop right there, if we wished: it is good to find a wife (as Solomon says), and it is also good to remain unmarried (as St. Paul says): hence we see that TF's "rebuttal" fails, in that Scripture commends both states. That's the first and strongest reply to TF's argument.

A second problem for his "rebuttal" is that the conclusion is unwarranted. He would have us conclude that one implication of the goodness of marriage is that to remain unmarried is not good. But nothing in the premise warrants this conclusion. We could suppose that there are perhaps two unstated premises:

  1. Either marriage or celibacy is good, but both cannot be good.

  2. If one of them is good, the other must be bad.

  3. Proverbs 18:22 says that marriage is good.

(Therefore celibacy is bad.)

It should be obvious that what TF left unsaid is also unwarranted: it is not the case that only one of (marriage or celibacy) may be said to be good. To affirm the goodness of one says nothing about the goodness of the other. This is not a zero-sum game.

I would have you to be without solicitude. He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord: how he may please God. But he that is with a wife is solicitous for the things of the world: how he may please his wife. And he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord: that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of the world: how she may please her husband. [1 Cor 7:32-34]

Now there is nothing wrong with being solicitous for one's wife: this is part of loving her. And of course there is nothing wrong with being free to focus more completely upon "the things that belong to the Lord." Hence we see that both states may be good. If there is evil in either one, it is not that it is evil per se, but rather that we sometimes make our states "evil" (so to speak) in the way that we treat them. Consequently we see that TF's "rebuttal" fails.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canon Seven

Canon seven on Justification condemns the lie that the unjustified man can do no good whatsoever.

If any one saith, that all works done before Justification, in whatsoever way they be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; or that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins: let him be anathema.

It's not a universal opinion amongst them, thankfully, but this opinion may be found among the Reformed even today. It is a perverse theology that "justifies" the claim that the atheist who rushes into a burning building and saves another's life has not done something good.

No doubt they hold this view because they think that if a man can do good, then he might be able to live a completely righteous life without grace, or that he might be able to merit justification by virtue of such actions. This view is false. Man's end—the Beatific Vision—is beyond his powers to attain even if he were not hindered by sin (which he is). Consequently we are completely dependent upon grace in order to attain that end. Hence there remains no good grounds for pretending that the unbeliever is unable to do any good at all.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canon Six

Canon six on justification appears to be a condemnation of opinions that follow from illicit emphases on God's sovereignty to the detriment of man's free will.

If any one saith, that it is not in man's power to make his ways evil, but that the works that are evil God worketh as well as those that are good, not permissively only, but properly, and of Himself, in such wise that the treason of Judas is no less His own proper work than the vocation of Paul; let him be anathema.

Such an error impugns the glory and holiness of God, besides contradicting the fact that man is accountable for his deeds precisely because he wills them without compulsion.

It seems to me that perhaps certain ideas of at least some Reformed Protestants might be in view here: they cling to a notion according to which God's sovereignty is total in such a way that there is no room for a genuine freedom of human will. But where there is no such room, there is likewise no place for a genuine human accountability, and it seems that man's just condemnation for his sins becomes almost the same sort of legal fiction as the one by which they claim that they are "justified:" he is held "guilty," but for acts he was not truly free to avoid. But compulsion removes guilt, and to hold such a one "guilty" is to remove justice.

This is not to say that God is not sovereign. The Catholic Church teaches both God's sovereign lordship and man's free will. How these may both be true is a mystery beyond our powers to grasp properly (well, it's beyond mine, at any rate).

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Trent on Justification - Canon Five

Canon five on Justification is really related to canon four, which we looked at here: that is, they both have to do with free will.

If any one saith, that, since Adam's sin, the free will of man is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing with only a name, yea a name without a reality, a figment, in fine, introduced into the Church by Satan; let him be anathema.

This canon in particular condemns the false notion that men no longer possess free will (following Adam's fall): as though they are incapable of choosing to do what is right, and are so enslaved to sin that they are constitutionally incapable of doing good. But to say such a thing is as much as to remove culpability for personal sin: we cannot be held liable for things we do under compulsion.

I suspect that the purpose here is to contradict the idea—held by some Reformed types—that to say we have free will is to suggest that a man could conceivably attain salvation by means of his own works. I don't know whose views the Reformed have in mind here, but it's entirely clear that it's not the Catholic view, as we have seen. Having a free will doesn't mean that you can merit justification.