Monday, May 31, 2010

Theology of St. Thomas - the Formal Object of Sacred Doctrine

St. Thomas says that Sacred Doctrine is a single science, rather than a collection of sciences. It is distinguished by its formal object, which is all that has been divinely revealed.

The unity of a faculty or habit is to be gauged by its object, not indeed, in its material aspect, but as regards the precise formality under which it is an object. For example, man, ass, stone agree in the one precise formality of being colored; and color is the formal object of sight. Therefore, because Sacred Scripture considers things precisely under the formality of being divinely revealed, whatever has been divinely revealed possesses the one precise formality of the object of this science; and therefore is included under sacred doctrine as under one science. [ST I Q1 A3]

That’s not to say that sacred doctrine has nothing to say about anything else, but that it only has something to say concerning them insofar as revelation addresses or relates to it.

Some Protestants like to pretend that St. Thomas held to various Protestant distinctives that are contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Faith, and some members of that little band might try to say, on the basis of one clause above, that Aquinas held to “sola scriptura.” But when he says “because Sacred Scripture considers things precisely under the formality of being divinely revealed,” he does not mean to say that this is the sole locus of divine revelation, which ought to be clear from what immediately follows: “whatever has been divinely revealed…” It’s obvious that he doesn’t mean to limit revelation to what is contained in the Bible. Consider the preceding example, in which he identified a commonality of “man, ass, stone” in “the one precise formality of being colored; and color is the formal object of sight.” Analogously, he describes Scripture as dealing with things “precisely under the formality of being divinely revealed,” and says that whatever has been divinely revealed “possesses the one precise formality of the object of this science.” So he’s not trying to limit the scope of divine revelation to the Scripture here; rather he’s he’s trying to define the scope of the science of Sacred Doctrine as having to do with whatever has been divinely revealed, and addressing other things under that aspect.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can’t have systematic theologians or moral theologians or a theology of man alongside a theology of redemption or whatever; since the scope of what has been revealed is broad, and since the truth is likewise so deep, it’s reasonable to have a division of labor with regard to the science of Sacred Doctrine. We can’t all be Aquinases who are experts on practically the whole of the field!

St. Thomas and the Argument for the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

In a previous post we showed that Aquinas made a typological argument for the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin in his commentary on the Angelic Salutation. This was part of a response to a Protestant’s claim that the use of typologies contradicted St. Thomas’ views concerning the usefulness of the different senses of Scripture: clearly it does not, since he made use of them himself.

But some folks might be tempted to suggest that his use of typology in the commentary doesn’t contradict the Protestant’s argument, because (so it might be said) Aquinas isn’t making an argument in the commentary; these folks might say that the commentary on the angelic salutation is devotional, and not actually an argument. In this post we shall see that St. Thomas used typological arguments in the Summa Theologiae, which is clearly not a devotional work.

In ST III Q28 A3 he addresses the question “Whether Christ’s Mother Remained a Virgin after His Birth?” In the sed contra he writes:

It is written (Ezekiel 44:2): “This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it; because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it.” Expounding these words, Augustine says in a sermon (De Annunt. Dom. iii): “What means this closed gate in the House of the Lord, except that Mary is to be ever inviolate? What does it mean that ‘no man shall pass through it,’ save that Joseph shall not know her? And what is this—‘The Lord alone enters in and goeth out by it’—except that the Holy Ghost shall impregnate her, and that the Lord of angels shall be born of her? And what means this—‘it shall be shut for evermore’—but that Mary is a virgin before His Birth, a virgin in His Birth, and a virgin after His Birth?”

St. Thomas approves Augustine’s typological interpretation of Ezekiel 44:2 as referring to Mary, and uses it as part of his argument in defense of her perpetual virginity. From this we see that the use of typology in argument is not contrary to St. Thomas’ statement that only the literal sense should be used for that purpose; this is so because God is the author of Scripture, and consequently a single passage may have more than one literal sense (as he stated in I Q1 A10).

Sunday, May 30, 2010

St. Thomas and the Literal Sense of Scripture

A Protestant comboxer suggests that St. Thomas prefers the literal sense (rather than any of the other senses of Scripture) for purposes of argument. He quotes the following from ST I Q1 A10 ad 1:

Thus in Holy Writ no confusion results, for all the senses are founded on one—the literal—from which alone can any argument be drawn, and not from those intended in allegory, as Augustine says (Epis. 48). Nevertheless, nothing of Holy Scripture perishes on account of this, since nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense which is not elsewhere put forward by the Scripture in its literal sense.

This comboxer uses this quotation in order to justify his rejection of a typological argument for the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin—one that views her as the Ark of the new covenant and compares her to the Old Testament ark of the covenant.

There are at least two reasons why this use of St. Thomas for this purpose is improper. In the first place, since the New Testament itself makes use of typologies, it seems to be proving too much to say that they are invalid in and of themselves: if it is to be assumed that typologies are invalid, then we would forced to conclude that the New Testament writers had gone too far themselves in making use of them. I have heard Protestants say that the only valid types are the ones that Scripture uses and that all others are invalid, but we have no principled reason to accept this claim.

In the second place, the comboxer misquotes St. Thomas by omission, and consequently causes him to appear to accept something that he does not. Earlier in the same article, St. Thomas said this:

Since the literal sense is that which the author intends, and since the author of Holy Writ is God, Who by one act comprehends all things by His intellect, it is not unfitting, as Augustine says (Confess. xii), if, even according to the literal sense, one word in Holy Writ should have several senses. [Emphasis added]

So it’s clear that you can’t appeal to Aquinas as an authority for the idea that the literal sense of Scripture is something singular, which would rule out typology. This fact is made more clear from Aquinas’ own use of the Bible. A single example will suffice for now: his commentary on St. Gabriel’s salutation to the Blessed Virgin, which we looked at here. There are many examples of his use of Scripture in the commentary, but perhaps the most interesting for our purposes here is the following, from his argument in the commentary for the Virgin’s purity:

Third, she exceeds the angels in her purity, for the Blessed Virgin was not only pure in herself, but she also obtained purity for others. For she was most pure with respect to guilt, because neither mortal nor venial sin could be imputed to this virgin, and she was equally pure with respect to punishment.

Three curses come to men because of sin…The third is common to men and women, namely that into dust they shall return. The Blessed Virgin was free of this, because she was assumed in the body into heaven. For we believe that after death she was raised up and borne to heaven. Psalm 131:8: Arise, O “Lord, into thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy majesty.”

The most important thing to note here is that he specifically quotes Ps. 131:8 in such fashion as to refer to Mary as “the ark of thy majesty.” In other words, he’s making the exact same typological argument that our Protestant comboxer objected to, and the same argument that he erroneously claimed was invalid in the eyes of Aquinas. Hence we see that, quite contrary to what our comboxer asserts, Aquinas believed in the legitimacy of typologies like this, and actually made use of them himself.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sacred Doctrine is a Science

St. Thomas says that Sacred Doctrine is a science. By this he does not mean something akin to modern science and its focus upon experiment; he means what Aristotle understood by the idea of science: “an organized body of systematically arranged information” (R. J. Hankinson in Barnes, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle, 109). “To have scientific knowledge, then, is to have explanatory understanding: not merely to ‘know’ a fact incidentally, to be able to assent to something which is true, but to know why it is a fact” (ibid., 110). Such a science proceeds primarily by way of demonstrations from certain first principles: either such as are self-evident, or such as are established by some other science. [Consequently what goes by the name of knowledge in common conversation today doesn’t pass muster for Aristotle or Aquinas as anything other than mere opinion…But I digress.]

We must bear in mind that there are two kinds of sciences. There are some which proceed from a principle known by the natural light of intelligence, such as arithmetic and geometry and the like. There are some which proceed from principles known by the light of a higher science: thus the science of perspective proceeds from principles established by geometry, and music from principles established by arithmetic. So it is that sacred doctrine is a science because it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and the blessed. Hence, just as the musician accepts on authority the principles taught him by the mathematician, so sacred science is established on principles revealed by God. [ST I Q1 A2]

One thing that seems worth noting here is that with this view of what a science is, and because he considers sacred doctrine to be a science, it seems doubtless that St. Thomas doesn’t intend to be offering what he considers to be mere opinions, but truths that are no less certain than those of any other science, since they are demonstrations following from first principles.

Monday, May 24, 2010

From a Combox

From a combox discussion

Matthew writes:

You're not making an argument, Nick.

What he was responding to was no argument either. He was responding to this, from the post:

1. The only way Stapleton's argument can be truly successful is if he proves that "God and the church are the same thing." (It seems this can't be done without some kind of serious doctrinal error, so Stapleton's argument is rendered fallacious.)

That's not an argument. It's an assertion. Nick is not obliged to counter an assertion with an argument.

As for Whitaker's reply itself, he is noting that, by the rules of logic, in order for Stapleton's argument to succeed, Stapleton needs to somehow prove that God and the Church are the same thing.

No, he doesn't. All that needs to be established is whether the Church teaches with the authority of Christ. One analogy might be power of attorney: the one who possesses this is able to act with the authority of the one who has given him power of attorney, and yet the two people are certainly not the same.

That's certainly possible. But you need to prove that from Whitaker or Stapleton.

No he doesn't. All he has to do is show that the original premises had to do with the authority of the teaching of the Church, not the authority of the Church generally compared to God's authority generally. And that is beyond dispute from the post itself. But in the post, Whitaker begins with a discussion of the general authority of God in comparison to the general authority of the Church - about which no one argues that God's authority is greater - and moves from there to a conclusion about a specific that is unwarranted. It is certainly a distortion as Nick claimed. If God teaches only through the Church (P<sub>2</sub>), then it is impossible for God to be more authoritative than Himself, and Whitaker's refutation fails.

Lastly, even if Whitaker succeeds against Stapleton's first argument, it does nothing whatsoever to establish that the Church is unnecessary for knowing the canon of Scripture: the notion that Scripture (as an undefined collection of books) might have more authority than the Church in no way implies that the Scripture can (or does) define its own canon, or that the canon may be known in any objective sense apart from the Church.

Well done, Nick.


Gospel Reading: Mark 10:17-27

When the rich man asks the Lord what he must do in order to be saved, He does not give him the “sola fide” answer: “You don’t have to do anything. You just need to have faith.”

No. The Lord tells him what he must do.

The Gospel is not legalistic, but that doesn’t mean that obedience is optional.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Catholic Faith is not Rationalist

There is more to the Catholic Faith than may be encompassed by the rational powers of man. Consequently it is not merely a philosophy.

It is written (2 Timothy 3:16): “All Scripture, inspired of God is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice.” Now Scripture, inspired of God, is no part of philosophical science, which has been built up by human reason. Therefore it is useful that besides philosophical science, there should be other knowledge, i.e. inspired of God. [ST I, Q1, A1]

That’s not the strongest argument that St. Thomas will make for this, but it is the first appeal to authority that he makes in the Summa.

It was necessary for man’s salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: “The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee” (Isaiah 64:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. [ibid.]

Because our end is one that is beyond our abilities to attain or apprehend, it was necessary for God to reveal such things to us. But it was also good for God to reveal to us even things that we might otherwise have been able to deduce by means of reason, because attaining knowledge by way of our natural powers is difficult and prone to error. As Aristotle says,

The investigation of the truth is in one way hard, in another easy. An indication of this is found in the fact that no one is able to attain the truth adequately, while, on the other hand, we do not collectively fail, but every one says something true about the nature of things, and while individually we contribute little or nothing to the truth, by the union of all a considerable amount is amassed. Therefore, since the truth seems to be like the proverbial door, which no one can fail to hit, in this respect it must be easy, but the fact that we can have a whole truth and not the particular part we aim at shows the difficulty of it.

Perhaps, too, as difficulties are of two kinds, the cause of the present difficulty is not in the facts but in us. For as the eyes of bats are to the blaze of day, so is the reason in our soul to the things which are by nature most evident of all. [Metaphysics II, 1 (993b1-11)]

And St. Thomas:

Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. [ST, loc. cit.]

We can infer the reason for the mixture of errors from what Aristotle says; but why would these truths be known only by a few if we were limited only to what reason can discover? Because men differ in their intellectual gifts; some are capable of understanding things that the rest of us simply cannot grasp because of our own limitations: “He who has the superior intellect understands many things that the other cannot grasp at all. Such is the case with a very simple person who cannot at all grasp the subtle speculations of philosophy” (St. Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 3, 3). But all men need to be able to attain to their end, which is God. Since all men need knowledge of divine truth in some capacity, but since not all can discover it on their own, and since some things we need to know cannot be discovered by reason at all, we need divine revelation.

Whereas man's whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation. [ST, loc. cit.]

Hence we can see that the Catholic Faith is in no way rationalist. It cannot be measured by the mind of man, because some things cannot be comprehended by man at all. Such things must be received by faith.

It might be worth pointing out, however, that there is a certain way in which Protestantism most certainly is a rationalistic faith. The Protestant claims that his understanding of divine truth is obtained directly from the Bible. But he is limited in this by his own intellectual capacity: that is, the truth that he will perceive in the Bible will be only that which he is capable of grasping himself. Man becomes the measure of divine revelation; the Truth is reduced to that which the man is able to see himself. The Catholic Faith is not like this.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sacramental Necessity and Apologetics

Are the sacraments necessary? Yes, says St. Thomas. He proposes three reasons for this necessity:

The first is taken from the condition of human nature which is such that it has to be led by things corporeal and sensible to things spiritual and intelligible. Now it belongs to Divine providence to provide for each one according as its condition requires. Divine wisdom, therefore, fittingly provides man with means of salvation, in the shape of corporeal and sensible signs that are called sacraments.

So sacraments are necessary for us because of the kind of beings we are, being corporeal and spiritual.

The second reason is taken from the state of man who in sinning subjected himself by his affections to corporeal things. Now the healing remedy should be given to a man so as to reach the part affected by disease. Consequently it was fitting that God should provide man with a spiritual medicine by means of certain corporeal signs; for if man were offered spiritual things without a veil, his mind being taken up with the material world would be unable to apply itself to them.

Because we are prone to giving the things of this world more attention than we ought, it’s fitting, he says, that by means of visible signs we receive the graces necessary to overturn this earthly fixation.

The third reason is taken from the fact that man is prone to direct his activity chiefly towards material things. Lest, therefore, it should be too hard for man to be drawn away entirely from bodily actions, bodily exercise was offered to him in the sacraments, by which he might be trained to avoid superstitious practices, consisting in the worship of demons, and all manner of harmful action, consisting in sinful deeds.


It follows, therefore, that through the institution of the sacraments man, consistently with his nature, is instructed through sensible things; he is humbled, through confessing that he is subject to corporeal things, seeing that he receives assistance through them: and he is even preserved from bodily hurt, by the healthy exercise of the sacraments. [ST III Q61 A1]

Why did God give us the sacraments? It wasn’t just some arbitrary thing: “You’ll do this because I say so.” Of course that would be sufficient, but we are rational beings and God is rational too. No, there are reasons for the sacraments. God wasn’t acting without good reason when He ordained them for us; it wasn’t mere arbitrariness.

We need the sacraments. We need them to be tangible, because we are corporeal ourselves. And God’s love for us is seen in the fact that He gives us physical signs, and that by means of them He gives us grace.

I don’t really know if Protestants would countenance such an argument as this one (from necessity grounded in human nature), but I don’t see why they wouldn’t. At the very least, though, they ought to concede that the gift of sacraments is something God gives us for a reason. But if they are willing to concede this, then I should think that they should also be willing to grant that the proper form and matter of the sacraments is likewise not merely arbitrary on God’s part, and that consequently these also are not matters of indifference.

And yet Protestants have disagreed about these questions from the very beginning. This was a wedge issue for me, with the ultimate outcome being my reception into the Catholic Church. If the Holy Spirit leads the individual Christian to receive divine truth from Scripture as the Protestant claims, then it is quite frankly impossible that they should disagree amongst themselves about it. But they do disagree about the sacraments. Consequently their claims as to how the Holy Spirit works among them are patently false. Consequently there is no reason, on the Protestant’s own terms, to believe anything that he says about what the Bible teaches.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Expanding a Previous Observation

In a previous post I said that if we Catholics ignore tradition as Protestants do, then we will misread the Bible as they do. This remark was challenged by a Protestant, who denied that they ignore tradition. I think I have sufficiently replied in the combox there (especially with Nick’s help), but I think that some more may be said about the subject.

Catholics make a distinction between tradition and big-T Tradition or Sacred Tradition, and I think it’s relevant in this case. The latter is not coextensive with the former: that is, Sacred Tradition is not exactly the same as the collection of writings produced by the Church Fathers. The writings of the Fathers aren’t divine revelation, and consequently they may err. By way of an atrocious example: St. Thomas Aquinas, who was not a Father of the Church but is a Doctor of the Church, erred concerning the Immaculate Conception. No matter the degree of respect that I have for his writings, they’re not revelation and they’re not inspired. The same is true for the Fathers.

But the same is not true of Sacred Tradition, because Sacred Tradition is divine revelation.

“Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.”

“and [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.” [CCC §81]

The Catechism continues, making clear the distinction between small-t and big-T Tradition:

The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. the first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.

Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium. [§83]

Small-t tradition is subject to correction and change; Sacred Tradition is not, because it has been revealed by God.

Now in the present context, I said that we must read the Bible within the living Tradition of the whole Church. As my one or two regular readers know, I’ve said that exact thing repeatedly; it’s a quotation once again from the Catechism (§113):

Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“…according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church”).

It is not sufficient merely to dig around in the Church Fathers. Anyone can do that. Protestants do it; the heresiarchs of the fourth and fifth centuries surely did that as well. Just as Bryan Cross has said [quoted here] that “Scripture alone is not sufficient to prevent heresy,” the same may surely be said of the Fathers, whose writings are not divinely inspired. So to say that one doesn’t ignore tradition because he quotes the Fathers doesn’t answer to the issue. The tradition according to which we must interpret the Scripture and the Fathers is the same: the Sacred Tradition preserved and taught by the Church. Only by doing this may we have any confidence that we are properly understanding what God has said in the Bible; only by doing this may we have any confidence that we are properly reading the Church Fathers.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bryan Cross on Quoting Scripture

In a seemingly interminable thread on a Protestant site, Bryan Cross has some valuable things to say concerning the utility of Scripture. I’m not quoting the whole thing here (it’s reported that the comment from which this excerpt is drawn is several pages long itself).


Our snippet opens with a quotation from St. Jerome:

We ought to remain in that Church which was founded by the Apostles and continues to this day. If ever you hear of any that are called Christians taking their name not from the Lord Jesus Christ, but from some other, for instance, Marcionites, Valentinians, Men of the mountain or the plain, you may be sure that you have there not the Church of Christ, but the synagogue of Antichrist. For the fact that they took their rise after the foundation of the Church is proof that they are those whose coming the Apostle foretold. And let them not flatter themselves if they think they have Scripture authority for their assertions, since the devil himself quoted Scripture, and the essence of the Scriptures is not the letter, but the meaning. [St. Jerome, Dialogue Against the Luciferians§28; emphasis added]

Bryan remarks:

Because the essence of Scripture is not the letter but the meaning, it is not enough to have Scripture as support for one’s doctrine, since “all heretics quote Scripture.” These sects were not founded by Christ, but by some men who came later, “after the foundation of the Church.” They appeal to Scripture to justify their separation from the Church. But without the guidance of the divinely appointed shepherds in the Church, these sects fall into heresies of all different sorts, each not realizing, however, that they are in a heresy, but all (though disagreeing with all the others) thinking that it is they alone who have the correct doctrine. [Emphasis added]

He then quotes St. Vincent of Lerins:

Do heretics also appeal to Scripture? They do indeed, and with a vengeance; for you may see them scamper through every single book of Holy Scripture—through the books of Moses, the books of Kings, the Psalms, the Epistles, the Gospels, the Prophets. Whether among their own people, or among strangers, in private or in public, in speaking or in writing, at convivial meetings, or in the streets, hardly ever do they bring forward anything of their own which they do not endeavour to shelter under words of Scripture. Read the works of Paul of Samosata, of Priscillian, of Eunomius, of Jovinian, and the rest of those pests, and you will see an infinite heap of instances, hardly a single page, which does not bristle with plausible quotations from the New Testament or the Old. [Commonitory §64]

Bryan concludes, knocking it out of the park:

The point is that Scripture alone is not sufficient to prevent heresy. The guidance of the Church is necessary. And defining the ‘Church’ as those who agree with one’s own interpretation only hides the problem from oneself, by designating as teachers those who agree with one’s own interpretation. This exacerbates the problem, by giving to oneself the appearance of being within the Church and under her authority, while in actuality being under the ‘authority’ of heretics. The proper course of action is to submit to those shepherds who received the authorization from the incarnate Christ through the succession from the Apostles.

Bingo. It’s totally inadequate to pretend that merely appealing to the Bible in a vacuum is sufficient to settle anything. As St. Jerome said, it’s the meaning of the Bible that counts. How then can we know that meaning? Only by reading Scripture within the living Tradition of the Church. And that is why I am no longer Protestant: it’s irrational to suppose that all the differences among them are of no consequence. Surely they disagree on subjects which are genuinely irrelevant (so to speak), but they also disagree on subjects about which it is too incredible even to suggest that the Holy Spirit, purported by them to guide each individual immediately (i.e., without mediation) in understanding the Bible, would leave them in uncertainty. It is not to be believed that the Sacraments (for one example) are a matter of indifference, and yet Protestants differ amongst themselves not just as to their mode, but also as to their significance. Consequently the Holy Spirit is not guiding them into all truth in the way that they suppose; consequently Protestantism, having staked everything upon sola Scriptura, falls apart.


There are Protestants in that thread who are insisting that the Bible is perspicuous in such a way that everything one is required to believe in order to be saved is presented with sufficient clarity in the Bible such that anyone may understand. And yet Protestants themselves can’t agree as to what those required beliefs are, and some of them even concede that they can’t provide a list of such things. This means, of course, that they claim some things must be believed in order to be saved, but that they are unable to tell you what those things are. They are perfectly happy to quote St. Paul when he says “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved,” but they ignore (or explain away) St. Peter when he says, in answer to practically the exact same question as the jailer asked Paul, “Do penance: and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins. And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”


We need the Church. If we ignore Tradition as Protestants do, we will misread the Bible as they do.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ordination is a Sacrament

Ordination is a sacrament.

Neglect not the grace that is in you, which was given you by prophecy, with imposition of the hands of the priesthood. [1 Tim 4:14]

Timothy received grace by means of the laying on of hands, which takes place when one is ordained. A visible sign is the means by which invisible grace is given.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Man's Chief End

I like this summary of things:

The source of all man’s life is to be found in God. Through His strength and all-pervading power He maintains man’s growth and development and, as his ultimate goal, He constitutes that happiness which man of necessity pursues. Creator and goal, starting point and divine inspirer: this points to total dependence and asks for total devotion in return. Such a relation of dependence and devotion is the fundamental relationship between God and man. Man must acknowledge and express it, live by it inwardly and testify to it outwardly; for in this relationship is embodied his total human essence. He must completely surrender himself to God, and detach himself from everything which could impede that yielding. [A Handbook of the Catholic Faith, p. 304]

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gospel Reading: John 15:12-17

This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love than this no man has, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do the things that I command you. I will not now call you servants: for the servant knows not what his lord does. But I have called you friends because all things, whatsoever I have heard of my Father, I have made known to you. You have not chosen me: but I have chosen you; and have appointed you, that you should go and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that you love one another. [John 15:12-17]

The Lord Jesus says that we are his friends if we do what he commands. If that is true, then is it in any way credible to suppose that what we do is irrelevant to our standing as Christians before God? Of course not. Is it reasonable to suppose that what we do as Christians does not matter? Of course not. Why would Christ give us commands if our obedience doesn’t matter? The very idea is irrational. The idea is likewise contradicted by Christ’s own words in the parable of the sheep and the goats, where he makes it very clear that our eternal standing depends upon what we do in this life. The simple fact is that a Christian is not free to live as he wishes. He is a servant of Christ, and to be a servant by definition demands that he serve his master: that is to say, he must obey his master.

It’s not reasonable to say that we love Jesus on the one hand if we disobey him on the other. He has said that if we love him, we must keep his commands, so our obedience to him is the very measure of our love for him.

Unfortunately there are many Protestants who ignore this fact. They erroneously suppose that their obedience (or lack thereof) in this life has nothing to do with their eternal home. The Lord Jesus Christ unambiguously says otherwise. St. Paul says otherwise (Gal. 5:19-21). What we do in this life matters. Our obedience matters. Our sins matter. Thanks be to God that our sins may be forgiven, but we dare not presume upon God’s mercy.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Deus Caritas Est

Thus says the Lord: In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you: and I have preserved you, and given you to be a covenant of the people, that you might raise up the earth, and possess the inheritances that were destroyed: That you might say to them that are bound: Come forth: and to them that are in darkness: Show yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in every plain. They shall not hunger, nor thirst, neither shall the heat nor the sun strike them: for he that is merciful to them, shall be their shepherd, and at the fountains of waters he shall give them drink. And I will make all my mountains a way, and my paths shall be exalted. Behold these shall come from afar, and behold these from the north and from the sea, and these from the south country. Give praise, O you heavens, and rejoice, O earth, you mountains, give praise with jubilation: because the Lord has comforted his people, and will have mercy on his poor ones. And Sion said: The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of her womb? And if she should forget, yet will not I forget you. [Isaiah 49:8-15]

The Lord delays not his promise, as some imagine, but deals patiently for your sake, not willing that any should perish, but that all should return to penance. [2 Peter 3:9; emphasis added]

I once knew of a man who had a sign on his car that said, “God is Wrath.” It perhaps comes as no surprise that this man was a Calvinist. Unfortunately there is nothing Christian about this sentiment. God is love (1 John 4:8). Contrary to Reformed rantings, God really does want all men to repent, just as St. Peter says. Contrary to dreadful Calvinist doctrine, He doesn’t consign anyone to hell just because it suits Him to do so.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

You can't always get what you want


Thoughts expressed over here that seem worth adding here:


Many Protestants, particularly those in the Reformed camp, like to think of St. Augustine as one of their own, even sometimes supposing that he was practically a veritable forerunner of their own theology. They consider him to be a great theologian. Of course, I agree with that opinion (and so does the Catholic Church, which names him a Doctor of the Church), but it seems to me that the Protestant’s description of him undermines itself.


I have shown in a series of posts that St. Augustine was absolutely Catholic, holding to the following:

  • Submitted to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church
  • Held that Scripture must be interpreted according to Sacred Tradition
  • Affirmed that doctrine develops
  • Denied so-called “total depravity”
  • Denied that man is culpable for that of which he is genuinely (not willfully) ignorant
  • Affirmed that real holiness, and not a mere forensic imputation, was necessary for salvation
  • Affirmed that God rewards the merits of the righteous
  • Affirmed that we have free will, and that this is necessary for the just punishment of the wicked
  • Affirmed the authority of Sacred Tradition
  • Affirmed transubstantiation (or, if you prefer, the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist)
  • Affirmed the validity of consecrated virginity
  • Affirmed that Scripture has multiple meanings
  • Affirmed the veneration of the saints, holy relics, and other sacred objects
  • Affirmed the Catholic canon of Scripture
  • Affirmed that the Church defines the canon of Scripture
  • Affirmed that sins are forgiven by the Sacrament of Baptism
  • Affirmed that prayers should be offered for the dead
  • Affirmed the offering of the Mass for the dead
  • Affirmed that the saints pray for us
  • Affirmed the authority of Scripture because of the authority of the Church
  • Affirmed the Catholic enumeration of the Ten Commandments
  • Denied that God saves men against their wills

I’m sure that more could be said: this list is merely the result of my reading of a few of Augustine’s works. But it’s sufficient for my purposes here. My point for this post is that it is simply not credible (as I said in the combox post linked above) to suggest that Augustine’s views on the subjects in this list are utterly discontinuous with those views of his that Protestants happen to like. No. If they are going to say that St. Augustine was a great theologian, they must account for how he can be so wonderfully right about a few things and yet (as they would say) so badly wrong about the things above (and many others). It is not the mark of a great theologian to be incoherent, and yet that is exactly what Protestant opinions of him demand. On the Protestant handling of St. Augustine, on their own terms, it is unreasonable to describe him as a “great theologian” (although he is). On their own terms, he could only reasonably be described as lucky, mostly inconsistent, or wildly erratic to have got some few things right while messing up so many things (as we see above).


Thought experiment: suppose a 21st century theologian came along, affirming the things we see in the list above and also those things from Augustine’s writings that Protestants approve (we Catholics would call him “an orthodox Catholic,” but I digress). Would any Protestant put such a man on the same pedestal on which they place Augustine? How many Protestants would be likely to approve such a man? LOL! Do we even need to ask the question? Of course not. And this simply goes to show the radical inconsistency of Protestant approval of St. Augustine: they ignore what they don’t like while trying to claim him as their own.


Protestants can’t have it both ways. If St. Augustine was a great theologian, they must consider his theology as an organic, coherent whole. It’s dishonest and unfair to pretend that his explicitly Catholic views are not one with the parts of his writings that they happen to like.


St. Augustine was Catholic. Attempts to say otherwise aren’t even remotely plausible.

Michael Liccione on Scripture, Tradition, and the Church

Over at Called to Communion, there is a monumental post entitled “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.” It’s six months old at this writing, but the most recent comments (836 at last count!) are only several days old.

Besides the article itself, there are many fine comments. The 760th is from Dr. Michael Liccione, and at the risk of doing injustice to other commenters’ offerings, I think this one is noteworthy. Here's a portion:

God authored the books of the New Testament by means of the authorities of the Church he established–to wit, the Apostles and those who wrote in their name. But that Tradition of which the NT is the most authoritative written record is wider and older than the NT. Hence, the NT can only be adequately understood in the context of that wider and older Tradition. Moreover, Tradition itself can only be properly received and interpreted with the mind of the Church to which it was entrusted. Therefore, it is a necessary condition for interpreting the NT adequately that one identify which visible body counts as “the” Church founded by the Lord, and then choose to conform one’s mind with hers. One can only do that by choosing to submit one’s judgment on matters de fide to those with divinely given authority to speak for and to the whole Church: those who hold and exercise the Magisterium. But such a submission would only be justifiable if in fact the Magisterium speaks with divine authority, and is not giving just its own opinions. Anybody can have opinions, but those are always provisional because always fallible. Divine authority, when exercised, is infallible, and thus its judgments are irreformable.

The NT is “adequate” only when prayerfully read in that context. It is of course possible for a person to simply read the NT on its own and learn a great deal of what’s necessary; in fact, I believe it happens a lot. But partly for the reasons given above, I don’t think it’s possible for anybody to assent by faith to the entire content of the deposit of faith in such a way. The history of Protestantism only confirms that judgment for me; in fact, the broad split between the Lutheran, Reformed, and free-church branches of Protestantism was already evident at the Colloquy of Marburg, a dozen years after Luther nailed his theses to the door. Thus, as St. Thomas had said, it is possible to learn by reading the NT alone much of that which is “of faith”; but unless one submits one’s judgment to that of the bishops in apostolic succession, one does not adhere “by faith” to what one thereby learns. For one has no way of knowing that what one learns is the actual faith of the Church rather than just one’s personal opinions. [Emphasis added]

This is consistent with the Catechism (§113) on a point I’ve repeated many times (recently here, for example): we must read the Bible within the living tradition of the whole Church.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Vatican II on Justification: Lumen Gentium 53

Many Protestants, and basically all anti-Catholics, think that Catholics hold too high a view of the Blessed Virgin. If, then, they find that we insist that she is saved not on the basis of any intrinsic righteousness of her own, but rather on the basis of the merits of Christ, how much more would it be true that we think the same of ourselves?

The Virgin Mary, who at the message of the angel received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave Life to the world, is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer. Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. [Lumen Gentium §53; emphasis added]

It would be ridiculous to suggest that we believe Mary, the Mother of God, to be in need of redemption by Christ, but that we ourselves are saved by what we do! But as we see, the Fathers of Vatican II insist that she was redeemed by Christ, and of course the same applies to us. We cannot save ourselves.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Vatican II on Justification: Lumen Gentium 40

Lumen Gentium Chapter V is entitled “The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church.” In §40, the Fathers of the Council write:


The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by God’s gift, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received. They are warned by the Apostle to live “as becomes saints” [Eph. 5:3], and to put on “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience” [Col. 3:12], and to possess the fruit of the Spirit in holiness. Since truly we all offend in many things we all need God’s mercies continually and we all must daily pray: “Forgive us our debts”. [Emphasis and links to Bible added]

We are not Christians because of any merit on our part; we are Christians by the grace of God. Having been saved, we must live “as becomes saints,” as St. Paul says; we must seek to live holy lives, confessing our sins when we fail.


Getting back on the horse, I hope

Ugh. Seven weeks without posting. I apologize. The real world has consumed most of my energy this year. I’d like to say that things will certainly be better from here on out, but that would be rash. More modestly, my hope is to be more productive here for the foreseeable future.