Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pope Victor and the Second-Century Papacy

Pope St. Victor I
In October, I wrote about a fascinating conflict in the first-century church of Corinth. When a dispute broke out within their church, they wrote to Rome. Pope Clement wrote back, issued some orders, and resolved the dispute. Under any circumstances, this would be interesting, because it shows the way that papal authority worked in the primitive Church. But this is all the more telling in that all of this happened while the Apostle John was still alive.

Today, I want to share an epilogue, of sorts, to that story. About a century after Clement intervened in Corinth, we find the papacy once again involved in Asia Minor. The pope was St. Victor, who reigned from 189-99. The controversy was primarily a liturgical one. The various parts of the early Church had different liturgical calendars for Easter, and different Lenten periods of fasting prior to Easter.

At the heart of the dispute was this: in Asia Minor, in those churches dating back to the Apostle John, Easter was celebrated on the 14th of Nisan, the date of the Jewish Passover. Most of the Church rejected this Passover Easter practice, since it meant Easter was frequently on a weekday. They always celebrated Easter on the Lord's Day, Sunday, even if it meant it didn't sync up with the Jewish calendar.

Several popes tolerated these contrary liturgical practices, since each practice traced back to at least one Apostle. Pope Victor took a different course, deciding to unify the entire Church's Easter calendar. He ordered the Asian churches to abandon their old practice in favor of the Easter Sunday dating. They refused. The Church historian Eusebius records their response, written by a bishop named Polycrates. Their basis for refusal is that this was the unbroken practice of the Apostle John, St. Polycarp, and others.

The letter has a few interesting characteristics. First, it refers to the Apostle “John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate.” If these second-century bishops are to be believed, this means that the Apostle John wore the golden plate of a high priest (Exodus 28:36-38). This gives us a clear indication of the fact the early Church understood their clergy in a sacerdotal way: that is, we have priests, not just pastors.

Presentation of the Blessed Virgin (detail),
Church of the Immaculate Conception, Ballymote, Ireland.
The High Priest is wearing the sacerdotal plate on his head.
Second, the letter answers Pope Victor's demands by quoting Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than man.” But that's St. Peter's response to the high priest.  It's not the sort of thing you say to someone beneath you. So even in arguing that Victor has exceeded his authority over them, the Asian bishops aren't really refuting that he has authority there. As Campion says, Pope Victor isn't treated like a foreign power or an outside meddler.

Third, both sides in the dispute are appealing to Tradition, to chains of unbroken practice from the Apostles down to the present (and since John seems to have instituted a different practice than the other Apostles, both sides of the dispute seem to be right). We have what could be a beautiful story about coexisting liturgical traditions, the embrace of different customs, and the diversity of the Body of Christ. Only that's not how this story turns out. Instead, it was an ugly clash of obedience and authority on the one hand, with liturgical tradition on the other.

That's because Pope Victor responded to the Asian bishops' disobedience with a mass excommunication of those who refuse to switch to Easter Sunday. Other bishops -- even ones who agreed with Victor -- were, quite reasonably, shocked at the harshness of this punishment. St. Irenaeus (who held to an Easter Sunday date, and a believer in the Roman papacy) was one of the bishops who intervened to ensure that cooler heads prevailed. He pointed out that Pope Anacletus had communed with St. Polycarp, despite their difference on this matter.

It's not entirely clear (at least to me, and to the sources that I've read) what happened to the excommunication after Irenaeus and the other bishops spoke up. Eusebius concludes his account by saying simply:
Thus Irenæus, who truly was well named [Irenaeus' name comes from the Greek word for peace], became a peacemaker in this matter, exhorting and negotiating in this way in behalf of the peace of the churches. And he conferred by letter about this mooted question, not only with Victor, but also with most of the other rulers of the churches
This leaves open the question of why the question was moot. Was it because Victor recanted the excommunications? Or because the excommunications were there to stay? My hunch is the former, simply because we don't hear of the excommunications later on, but that's all it is: a hunch.

In any case, the ultimate outcome of the conflict is striking: Victor won. Asia Minor switched from Passover Easter (a tradition established by the Apostle John!) to Easter Sunday, at the demand of the pope. Within a relatively short period of time, those still holding on to the 14th of Nisan dating have been reduced to an insignificant pocket, and as far as I know, they have since gone extinct.

Now, in a way, this story might affirm Protestant fears about the papacy, given the harshness of Victor's response, and the Apostolic origins of the Asian liturgical calendar. But it's worth remembering that this story isn't from some imperious Renaissance Pope. It's from one of the early Christian martyr popes, and the whole thing happened before the end of the second century. Literally, it'll be over a century before we even arrive at the Edict of Milan's legalization of Christianity, much less anything like the Council of Nicaea. Christians of a certain stripe long for the early days of Christianity, imagining highly-centralized structures like the papacy to be a later development (or invention). But this is early Christianity. The papacy has been at the heart of the Catholic Church from the start, as history shows us with both Pope Clement and Pope Victor.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

O Antiphons for the Advent Home Stretch

I interrupt the 10-part series on Campion's arguments against the Reformation to bring you a few resources for your Advent season. This evening begins the first of what are called the “O Antiphons,” a series of short ancient prayers, traditionally prayed during Vespers. Praying and reflecting upon these prayers is a great way of preparing for Christmas. I'd particularly encourage you to pray them as part of the Church's evening prayer, Vespers (you can find each day's prayers under the “Evening Prayers” tab here), or at least with the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

In 2011, I put together a series of daily reflections on them. I'm posting them below, but I'm aware that there are many other resources out there. For example, the Eastern Province Dominicans are doing a series on these prayers right now that I suspect will be worth following. Fr. Z also has a helpful index. But for whatever it's worth, here are links to each of my posts from 2011, with a good English translation of the prayers (courtesy of Fr. Z):

O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.
O Lord and Ruler the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come, and redeem us with outstretched arms.
O Root of Jesse, that stands for an ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: come, to deliver us, and tarry not.
O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: come, and lead forth the captive who sits in the shadows from his prison.
O Dawn of the East, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
O King of the Gentiles and their desired One, the cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.
O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.


I'll get back to the Campion posts soon (probably tomorrow). Have a blessed Advent!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reason #9 to Reject the Reformation: Logical Fallacies

It's wrong to pray to Saints because we should only worship God. Good works are irrelevant for salvation because we aren't saved by works of the Law. New Testament presbyters aren't priests, because “presbyter” just means “elder.” And in any case, we don't need an order of priests, because Scripture says we're all priests. And you should trust my interpretation of Scripture, because according to my interpretation of Scripture, the individual believer's interpretation is more important than what the Church or Tradition says about a passage.

Chances are, you've heard some variation of the arguments above. Each of them is wrong, of course. But more than that, each of them commits one of the four logical fallacies that St. Edmund Campion describes in the ninth of his Ten Reasons against the Reformation.

NINTH REASON: SOPHISMS

Campion suggested that these four specific logical fallacies were at the root of many anti-Catholic polemics. This remains true now as then. The four are:

1. “Shadow-fighting” (σκιαμαχια)

Statute of German boxer Max Schmelings (1931)
The first of these is what we normally call a straw-man argument; Campion opts instead for the Scriptural term “shadow-fighting” (σκιαμαχια [skiamachia], found in 1 Corinthians 9:26). It's the kind of argumentation that expends “mighty effort hammering at breezes and shadows.” What sort of shadow-fighting do we see against the Catholic Church? Campion provides three specific examples; first,

against such as have sworn to celibacy and vowed chastity, because, while marriage is good, virginity is better (i Cor. vii.), Scripture texts are brought up speaking honourably of marriage. Whom do they hit?

St. Paul plainly teaches in 1 Cor. 7:7-9, 32-38 that both marriage and celibacy are good, but that celibacy is a higher good than marriage: “he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better” (1 Cor. 7:38). This comports neatly with Jesus' teaching on celibacy for the Kingdom in Matthew 19:12.

It's no refutation of this position to say that marriage is good. Absolutely; of course it is. And the higher you elevate marriage, the more you show the good of celibacy, since it is higher yet. It would be as if I said “a billion is greater than a million,” and you responded, “a million is a big number.”

Campion's second example is when, “against the merit of a Christian man, a merit dyed in the Blood of Christ, otherwise null, testimonies are alleged whereby we are bidden to put our trust neither in nature nor in the law, but in the Blood of Christ.” But the Catholic teaching is that our merits and all of our good works flow from the merits of Jesus Christ, and are useless and impossible without Him. You might as well pit the water in my tap against the mighty reservoir from which it is drawn.

The final example is perhaps the one most frequently heard today: when Protestants explain to us that idolatry is forbidden and that we're not allowed to worship Mary and the Saints. Campion's response: “Where are these many gods?” Catholics don't worship Mary and the Saints, and so you neither need to convince us that idolatry is wrong, nor do you prove your case by disproving idol-worship.

2. “Disputing About Words” (λογομαχία)

Campion calls the second fallacy “quarreling about words” (λογομαχία [logomachia]), a reference to St. Paul's admonitions in 1 Timothy 6:4, 2 Tim. 2:14, and Titus 3:9. He defines logomachia as the vice that “leaves the sense, and wrangles loquaciously over the word.

This fault takes two forms. First, is an insistence on finding a particular word in Scripture, rather than the reality that the word expresses:
Find me Mass or Purgatory in the Scriptures, they say. What then? Trinity, Consubstantial, Person, are they nowhere in the Bible, because these words are not found?
The second form of this vice is overemphasizing the dictionary definition of a term, at the expense of losing how the word is being used in the relevant context. For example, Italian Coke bottles advertise their “aromi naturali.” That literally means “natural aromas,” which is a weird thing for a soda to advertise, until you realize that “aromi” also means “flavors.” The context informs how we should understand the word in context. When we fail to do that, we're guilty of what Campion calls catching at letters:
Allied to this fault is the catching at letters, when, to the neglect of usage and the mind of the speakers, war is waged on the letters of the alphabet. For instance, thus they say: Presbyter to the Greeks means nothing else than elder; Sacrament, any mystery. On this, as on all other points, St. Thomas shrewdly observes: “In words, we must look not whence they are derived, but to what meaning they are put.”
In the case of Scripture, this catching at letters is an easy trap to fall into. We live in an age of resources like Biblical concordances and dictionaries that tell us the definition of particular terms, but it's much harder to know for these guides to tell us how a particular word is being used in a particular context. Without this context (which we can glean from the sense of the passage, from the way that the term was understood by the earliest Christians, etc.), If you've ever translated a large block of text with an automatic translator (like Google Translate), you'll know why this is a problem: it produces translates that are senseless or even misleading.

3. Equivocation (homonumia)

To name the third fallacy, Campion uses homonumia, a term from Aristotle's Ethics loosely translated as equivocation or lexical ambiguity. It's related to the last fallacy, but they're distinct: logomachia, the second fallacy, fails to recognize that Scripture might mean something special by a particular term, while homonumia fails to recognize that Scripture might use the same word in different ways. It's the idea that you need to cash a check, so you go to the bank of a river. Same word, different meanings.

So, for example, you might object to the idea of an Order of Priests, as Luther did, on the grounds that Scripture says that we're all priests. Revelation 5:10 says that Christ “hast made them [us] a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth.” But, as Campion notes by way of response, this verse suggests that we're all priests and kings: what then is the use of Kings?

The objector who raises this argument fails to consider that Scripture might speak of the priesthood in different senses, just as it speaks of kingship is different senses. Once that nuance is recognized, the objection falls.

4. The Vicious Circle

The legendary Ouroboros, devouring its own tail.
This fallacy is well-known, but it's worth considering how it plays out in practice. Campion paints a picture of a conversation between a Catholic and a Protestant on the marks (or notes) of the true Church:

  • Give me the notes, I say, of the Church. 
  • The word of God and undefiled Sacraments
  • Are these with you? 
  • Who can doubt it? 
  • I do, I deny it utterly. 
  • Consult the word of God. 
  • I have consulted it, and I favour you less than before. 
  • Ah, but it is plain. 
  • Prove it to me. 
  • Because we do not depart a nail's breadth from the word of God.
In other words, “I'm right in my interpretation of Scripture because I'm convinced that I'm right. And because I'm convinced that I'm right in my interpretation of Scripture, I'm right.”

For example, why should the individual reader be the final authority in Scriptural exegesis? Because that's what Scripture says, according to my interpretation? And why should we favor your interpretation? Because the individual reader is the final authority in Scriptural exegesis. You see the problem, I trust.

Some of the people making these circular arguments are ignorant of their argument's circularity. But others just don't think you can make a non-circular argument for the faith: they think faith is just something you believe in, and there's no deeper logical foundation other than “that sounds right to me,” or “this feels right.”

Positively, we can say that this creates some opening for Evangelization, as long as the other person is willing to step outside their closed logical circle. But it also shows why a great many of the arguments for the Reformation fail: they assume the very things that they set out to prove.

Conclusion

These arguments are simple, and Campion doesn't waste a lot of time on them. But if you're careful and attentive, you'll find that any of the most commonly-used arguments against Catholicism employ one or more of these four fallacies. So, to the extent that the Reformation was built upon such logical fallacies, we have yet another reason to reject it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Reason #8 to Reject the Reformation: Heterodoxy

While not all of the causes of the Protestant Reformation were theological, some of them undoubtedly were. So St. Edmund Campion, in the eighth of his Ten Reasons against the Reformation, addressed some of these. Specifically, he considers certain “impossible positions” that the Reformers held “on God, on Christ, on Man, on Sin, on Justice, on Sacraments, [and] on Morals.” Campion refers to these positions as “paradoxes,” using the older sense of the term of a “statement contrary to common belief.”

EIGHTH REASON: PARADOXES

Campion spends several pages simply rattling off some of these major deficiencies, but I thought it might be more productive to draw out six of the issues that he mentions, and spend a little more time showing the heterodoxy of each of these positions:

I. Calvin on God as the Author of Evil

Frans Floris, The Fall of the Rebellious Angels (1554)
God is all-powerful and all-good; why, then, is there evil in the world? The traditional Christian answer is that God permits evil (for the sake of His good purposes) but does not will it. This answer is logically sound, and immediately comprehensible. To take an example from our criminal justice, the law has sorts of permissions (like attorney-client privilege) that permit some guilty people to walk free, in order to achieve greater goods. That doesn't mean the criminal justice system actively wills injustice, but that the system permits them in certain cases.

John Calvin will have none of this answer. He totally rejects the distinction between God's active and permissive will. Instead, he claims that God actually desires evil, and that Satan is one of His ministers:
From other passages, in which God is said to draw or bend Satan himself, and all the reprobate, to his will, a more difficult question arises. For the carnal mind can scarcely comprehend how, when acting by their means, he contracts no taint from their impurity, nay, how, in a common operation, he is exempt from all guilt, and can justly condemn his own ministers. Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that he directs their malice to whatever end he pleases, and employs their iniquities to execute his Judgments. The modesty of those who are thus alarmed at the appearance of absurdity might perhaps be excused, did they not endeavour to vindicate the justice of God from every semblance of stigma by defending an untruth. It seems absurd that man should be blinded by the will and command of God, and yet be forthwith punished for his blindness. Hence, recourse is had to the evasion that this is done only by the permission, and not also by the will of God. [...] 
Their first objection—that if nothing happens without the will of God, he must have two contrary wills, decreeing by a secret counsel what he has openly forbidden in his law—is easily disposed of. [...] I have already shown clearly enough that God is the author of all those things which, according to these objectors, happen only by his inactive permission. He testifies that he creates light and darkness, forms good and evil (Is. 45:7); that no evil happens which he has not done (Amos 3:6). Let them tell me whether God exercises his Judgments willingly or unwillingly
Most people seem to react to this claim with moral revulsion. The idea that Satan and the hordes of Hell are ministers of God, executing God's evil plans, is a notion so far from the Christian notion of God that it's sort of astounding. And that, certainly, is the largest problem.

But there's another problem that anyone should be able to recognize, regardless of their view of God. Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 are talking about natural evils, like famines or hurricanes. But Calvin clearly has in view moral evil here. That's a big logical problem. Moral evil is, by definition, an action contrary to the will of God. So Calvin's position is that God wills what He doesn't will. That's a violation of the law of noncontradiction. So Calvin's position is not just a moral abomination, but a logical impossibility.

II. Calvin on Christ the Garden of Gethsemane

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ says, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; but yet not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39). This is one of the clearest illustrations of Christ's dual natures: His Divine nature has perfect foreknowledge of all that will happen, and His human will asks if there's another way. It's a beautiful scene, showing the fullness of Christ's humanity coupled with His unwavering commitment both to the Father and to the salvation of mankind.

Unknown Flemish Master, Christ on the Mount of Olives (1526)
But that's not how Calvin read it. He viewed it as Christ speaking out of turn, and needing to be corrected... by Himself. Here's his exegesis:
But it may be asked, How did he pray that the eternal decree of the Father, of which he was not ignorant, should be revoked? or though he states a condition, if it be possible, yet it wears an aspect of absurdity to make the purpose of God changeable. We must hold it to be utterly impossible for God to revoke his decree. According to Mark, too, Christ would seem to contrast the power of God with his decree. All things, says he, are possible to thee. But it would be improper to extend the power of God so far as to lessen his truth, by making him liable to variety and change. I answer, There would be no absurdity in supposing that Christ, agreeably to the custom of the godly, leaving out of view the divine purpose, committed to the bosom of the Father his desire which troubled him. 
For believers, in pouring out their prayers, do not always ascend to the contemplation of the secrets of God, or deliberately inquire what is possible to be done, but are sometimes carried away hastily by the earnestness of their wishes. Thus Moses prays that he may be blotted out of the book of life, (Exodus 32:33;) thus Paul wished to be made an anathema, (Romans 9:3.) This, therefore, was not a premeditated prayer of Christ; but the strength and violence of grief suddenly drew this word from his mouth, to which he immediately added a correction. The same vehemence of desire took away from him the immediate recollection of the heavenly decree, so that he did not at that moment reflect, that it was on this condition, that he was sent to be the Redeemer of mankind; as distressing anxiety often brings darkness over our eyes, so that we do not at once remember the whole state of the matter.
In other words, Christ made a mistake that He quickly regretted and corrected. And this mistake, this prayer that the God-Man Jesus Christ didn't premeditate, and which led to the Divine Judge correcting Himself, because He briefly forgot that He “was sent to be the Redeemer of mankind.

Calvin seems to sense the glaring problems with this exegesis, and insists that it is unnecessary
to enter into any subtle controversy whether or not it was possible for him to forget our salvation. We ought to be satisfied with this single consideration, that at the time when he uttered a prayer to be delivered from death, he was not thinking of other things which would have shut the door against such a wish.
All of this begs the question: why would God have recorded this moment in Scripture? Remember that the only witnesses to the scene were Christ and the Father. So the source of this account can only be one of the Persons of the Trinity. What would the point of recording this be? To show that Jesus made a mistake? That He wasn't so perfect after all? That He momentarily forgot about us, and about the very raison d'etre for His Incarnation?

III. Calvin on Christ in Hell

Calvin's view of Christ's prayer in the Garden arises out of a corrupted Christology. Instead of Christ freely laying down His life (as He insists that He does in John 10:17-18), Calvin viewed Christ as being damned to Hell by the Father with an immutable decree. And it really is damnation that Calvin believed was necessary for Christ's atonement to work, as he explained in the Institutes:
Nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death. In order to interpose between us and God’s anger, and satisfy his righteous judgment, it was necessary that he should feel the weight of divine vengeance. […] Hence there is nothing strange in its being said that he descended to hell, seeing he endured the death which is inflicted on the wicked by an angry God.
So if Christ dies on the Cross for your sins, but isn't damned to Hell, then nothing has been done for you. Nothing! Rather, Calvin holds “that not only was the body of Christ given up as the price of redemption, but that there was a greater and more excellent price—that he bore in his soul the tortures of condemned and ruined man.

St. Edmund Campion responds to this with a lament for the perverse theology of his age:
Times, times, what a monster you have reared! That delicate and royal Blood, which ran in a flood from the lacerated and torn Body of the innocent Lamb, one little drop of which Blood, for the dignity of the Victim, might have redeemed a thousand worlds, availed the human race nothing, unless the mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus (I Tim. ii. 5) had borne also the second death (Apoc. xx. 6), the death of the soul, the death to grace, that accompaniment only of sin and damnable blasphemy!
IV. Bucer (and Beza) on Christ in the Grave

Descent into Hell (1678)
At the opposite extreme of Calvin is the Reformer Martin Bucer, who Campion describes in this way:
In comparison with this insanity [Calvin's view], Bucer, impudent fellow that he is, will appear modest, for he (on Matth. xxvi.), by an explanation very preposterous, or rather, an inept and stupid tautology, takes hell in the creed to mean the tomb.
As John McNeill notes in a footnote to his translation of Calvin's Institutes, this was not just Bucer's view. It's also the view that appears to have been held by the man that Philip Schaff callsCalvin’s faithful friend and successor, Theodore Beza.

The reason Campion regards this as an inept and stupid tautology is that Bucer is trying to explain the Apostle's Creed, and has rendered this section:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell;
as if it said:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he was buried.
Obviously, the Creed is not simply repeating itself. That's just not a serious position.So the leading Reformers (even the leading Calvinists) took diametrically-opposed views, and both sides of the debate were wrong. [For the record, the traditional Christian view - and what was intended by those praying the Apostles' Creed prior to the Reformation - is what St. Peter describes in 1 Peter 3: namely, that Christ liberated the just souls awaiting Him in Sheol. This event is traditionally referred to as the Harrowing of Hell.]

V. The Reformers on Baptism

In his discussion of the Sacraments, Campion acknowledges that Protestants still perform valid Baptisms. This is an important concession, because it means that they're still part of the Church in some sense. There's just one problem: “though it is still true baptism, nevertheless in their judgment it is nothing, it is not a wave of salvation, it is not a channel of grace, it does not apply to us the merits of Christ, it is a mere token of salvation.” In other words, the Catholic is in the strange position of putting more stock in Protestant baptisms than do Protestants. 

Fragment of a panel painting depicting John the Baptist (c. 1500)
The Reformers were aware that the traditional Christian position on Baptism has always been that it's regenerative. Calvin, in his discussion on Baptism, acknowledges and rejects the authority of both Western Fathers like St. Augustine and Eastern Fathers like St. John Chrysostom in favor of his own authority. But Calvin and the other Reformers view Baptism as a symbol, a recognition of our salvation, rather than one of its causes (cf. Mark 16:16). This treats the Baptism of Christ as nothing more than the baptism of John, even though Scripture clearly distinguishes between the two in Acts 19:1-7.

It also creates a new problem: what to do about infant baptism? This wasn't a major problem for the early Christians, because they recognized baptism as a Sacrament in which God acts on the soul. Here's what Campion has to say:
Thus they have made no more of the baptism of Christ, so far as the nature of the thing goes, than of the ceremony of John. If you have it, it is well; if you go without it, there is no loss suffered; believe, you are saved, before you are washed. What then of infants, who, unless they are aided by the virtue of the Sacrament, poor little things, gain nothing by any faith of their own? Rather than allow anything to the Sacrament of baptism, say the Magdeburg Centuriators (Cent. v. 4.), let us grant that there is faith in the infants themselves, enough to save them; and that the said babies are aware of certain secret stirrings of this faith, albeit they are not yet aware whether they are alive or not. A hard nut to crack! If this is so very hard, listen to Luther's remedy. It is better, he says (Advers. Cochl.), to omit the baptism; since, unless the infant believes, to no purpose is it washed. This is what they say, doubtful in mind what absolutely to affirm. Therefore let Balthasar Pacimontanus step in to sort the votes. This father of the Anabaptists, unable to assign to infants any stirring of faith, approved Luther's suggestion; and, casting infant baptism out of the churches, resolved to wash at the sacred font none who was not grown up.
For fifteen hundred years, orthodox Christians shared a common baptismal faith. There were some tangential disputes (for example, whether the baptisms of heretics were valid, and whether baptism was the sole means for absolving mortal sin), but the Church taught clearly, and in one voice, in both East and West. Now, within a few years of the Reformation, we find a cacophony of contradictory opinions, and a shattering of Sacramental theology and praxis. In the nearly five hundred years since, Protestantism has come no closer to resolving these problems, with debates still raging over issues like infant baptism and the legitimacy of baptism by sprinkling.

That is, not only are Protestants no closer to bringing the Catholic Church around to the Protestant way of viewing Baptism (or any of the Sacraments), but Protestants still haven't figured out what is the Protestant way of viewing Baptism (or any of the Sacraments). And of all of the positions that Campion lists, of all the positions in vogue amongst Protestants both then and now on this subject, none of them correspond to what the whole Church taught for 1500 years.

VI. Luther on Marriage and Divorce (and Wife-Killing)

Tobias and Sara on their Wedding Night, stained glass window (1520)
Remember a few years ago, when the televangelist Pat Robertson got into some hot water for suggesting that you could divorce your wife and remarry if she had Alzheimer's, since that disease is “a kind of death”? It turns out, he's following in Martin Luther's footsteps.

In his treatise on marriage, Luther claims that Jesus permits divorce and remarriage in the case of adultery; this is a common mistake that I've addressed before. But what's uncommon is one of the other exceptions that Luther claims: namely, that if your wife won't have sex with you, this constitutes grounds for divorce, having the state force her to sleep with you, or having her executed:
The third case for divorce is that in which one of the parties deprives and avoids the other, refusing to fulfil the conjugal duty or to live with the other person. For example, one finds many a stubborn wife like that who will not give in, and who cares not a whit whether her husband falls into the sin of unchastity ten times over. Here it is time for the husband to say, “If you will not, another will; the maid will come if the wife will not.” Only first the husband should admonish and warn his wife two or three times, and let the situation be known to others so that her stubbornness becomes a matter of common knowledge and is rebuked before the congregation. If she still refuses, get rid of her; take an Esther and let Vashti go, as King Ahasuerus did [Esther 1:1 :17]. [...]
When one resists the other and refuses the conjugal duty she is robbing the other of the body she had bestowed upon him. This is really contrary to marriage, and dissolves the marriage. For this reason the civil government must compel the wife, or put her to death. If the government fails to act, the husband must reason that his wife has been stolen away and slain by robbers; he must seek another. We would certainly have to accept it if someone's life were taken from him. Why then should we not also accept it if a wife steals herself away from her husband, or is stolen away by others? 
Fittingly, Luther's support for this barbaric position isn't Mark 10:11, which flatly forbids divorce and remarriage (describing it as adultery), but the practice of the pagan king Ahasuerus.

In the case of an invalid wife, Luther at least has more decency than Robertson, in that he doesn't extend this new divorce exception to those cases. Rather, he tells these men to accept their cross as a gift of grace, and to continue to serve their wives for God's sake. But what this garners Luther in terms of human decency, it costs him in terms of logical consistency. Why shouldn't all deprived husbands rely on God's grace this way? And if being sexually deprived doesn't dissolve these men's marriage, why does it dissolve the other set's marriages?

There are all sorts of problems that this position creates: how often can a wife refuse before the marriage dissolves? Luther says that she should be warned “two or three times,” but there's nothing like a principled standard. Indeed, Luther doesn't even make an effort to solve the difficulties that he's created by inventing an exception to Christ's ban on divorce, and then inventing an exception to that exception.

Conclusion

Campion's eighth reason is certainly broad-ranging, and that's with us only considering a handful of the theological issues that he raises. So what's the point of all of this? After all, even Saints make mistakes, and no Protestant is obliged to believe what Luther or Calvin or any other Protestant believes. All of this is true, and yet besides the point. The point is not that every Protestant agrees with the Reformers on each and every doctrine, but that the theologians who laid the groundwork of Protestantism were seriously in error on foundational teachings. There are three reasons that this matters.

First, it shows one of the problems of the Reformation: without a living Church capable of settling doctrinal disputes, these sort of theological errors are inevitable. If you embrace an anarchical model of Church governance, where no body in Christianity really has control over what anyone believes, then you're endorsing the system that produces these outcomes.

Second, it shows the sandy foundations of modern Protestantism. It shows, for instance, that Protestantism was started by heretics -- quite the contrast from the Catholic Church, which can trace her origins back to Jesus Himself, as Campion showed in his seventh argument.

More than most Protestants would like to admit - more, I suspect, than most of them realize - they're building their beliefs off of teachings that derive from Calvin, Luther and their companions. It's not as if millions of Christians just woke up one day and decided to have a 66-book Bible and to treat Baptism like a symbol. These were choices, but choices that were largely made for them, and centuries ago.

But it turns out that the people who made these choices were theologians with a false, virtually pagan, doctrine of God; with a heretical view of Christ's sinlessness; with a brazenly unchristian doctrine of divorce and wife-killing; and without any coherent vision of Christ's descent into Hell or the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism. That is to say, it turns out that we have no real reason to trust that they made the right decisions when they decided on all things theological. The very air that Protestants breathe has been poisoned from the start.

Finally, Campion is working through ten reasons towards a choice: do you choose to side with the Church of the ages, of the great Doctors of the Church, the great Saints, the great missionaries and martyrs and confessors and virgins?  Or do you abandon that Church, and side with Calvin and Luther, with all of their contradictory doctrines and impossible, ahistorical teachings?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Reason #7 to Reject the Reformation: History

Hendrick van Someren, Saint Jerome (17th c.)
After St. Augustine, St. Jerome seems to be the favorite Church Father of many Protestants (most likely, because he argued for the Old Testament canon that they now use). We Catholics love him, too: he translated the Latin Vulgate, wrote beautifully on the Virgin Mary, and is one of the four original Doctors of the Church.

Given our shared love of Jerome, and his important contributions to our understanding of Sacred Scripture, it's instructive to hear his challenge detailing how you can know that you're a part of the true Church. Instead of following the latest group claiming to have the best (or most literal) interpretation of the Bible, Jerome calls us to follow the Church founded by the Apostles:
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. Otherwise, if we follow the letter, we too can concoct a new dogma and assert that such persons as wear shoes and have two coats must not be received into the Church.
St. Edmund Campion, in the seventh of the Ten Reasons against the Reformation, takes up this challenge, showing that the Church founded by the Apostles at Rome continues to this day, and that she never abandoned the faith for which she was already world-famous in the time of St. Paul (Romans 1:8-9).

This has clear implications for the validity of the Reformation. After all, any justification for the Reformation presupposes that the Church had fallen into apostasy, or at least heresy. And the evidence for this can't just be, “the Catholic Church disagrees with me, and how I interpret Scripture!” That just as easily -- indeed, much more easily -- shows that you're the one in the wrong. No, to show that the Church has fallen, you should be able to show when (and how, and over whose objections) she stopped following the true faith and started following a false one. That this burden can't be met by those defending the Reformation speaks volumes.

SEVENTH REASON: HISTORY

Filippino Lippi, St. Paul Visiting St. Peter in Prison (1428)
Campion begins the historical argument by considering the research done by three different groups of historians: early Christian historians, like Jerome; 16th century Protestant historians, who mined the historical record for justifications for the Reformation; and nationalist historians, recounting the history of their own country (including the history of Christianity in their own country). None of these three groups have come up with anything to suggest a change in religion: that there was a pre-Catholic form of Christianity that was then overthrown or reformed into Catholicism:
Ancient History unveils the primitive face of the Church. To this I appeal. Certainly, the more ancient historians, whom our adversaries also habitually, consult, are enumerated pretty well as follows: Eusebius, Damasus, Jerome, Rufinus, Orosius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret Cassiodorus, Gregory of Tours, Usuard, Regino, Marianus, Sigebert, Zonaras, Cedrinus, Nicephorus. What have they to tell? The praises of our religion, its progress, vicissitudes, enemies. Nay, and this is a point I would have you observe diligently, they who in deadly hatred dissent from us,—Melancthon, Pantaleon, Funck, the Centuriators of Magdeburg,—on applying themselves to write either the chronology or the history of the Church, if they did not get together the exploits of our heroes, and heap up the accounts of the frauds and crimes of the enemies of our Church, would pass by fifteen hundred years with no story to tell. 
Along with the above-mentioned consider the local historians, who have searched with laborious curiosity into the transactions of some one particular nation. These men, wishing by all means to enrich and adorn the Sparta which they had gotten for their own, and to that effect not passing over in silence even such things as banquets of unusual splendour, or sleeved tunics, or hilts of daggers, or gilt spurs, and other such minutiae having any smack of revelry about them, surely, if they had heard of any change in religion, or any falling off from the standard of early ages, would have related it, many of them; or, if not many, at least several; if not several, some one anyhow. Not one, well-disposed or ill-disposed towards us, has related anything of the sort, or even dropped the slightest hint of the same.
This is true of both the global Catholic Church and the local Roman church. And that tells us a lot, because St. Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and St. Paul (Acts 23:11; 28:30-31) built up the Church at Rome, and this church was already famous for its faithfulness at the time of the Apostles (Romans 1:8-9; 15:29; 16:17, 19)
For example. Our adversaries grant us,—they cannot do otherwise,—that the Roman Church was at one time holy, Catholic, Apostolic, at the time when it deserved these eulogiums from St. Paul: Your faith is spoken of in the whole world. Without ceasing I make a commemoration of you. I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the abundance of the blessing of Christ. All the Churches of Christ salute you. Your obedience is published in every place (Rom. i. 8, 9; xv. 29; xvi. 17, 19): at the time when Paul, being kept there in free custody, was spreading the gospel (Acts xxviii. 31) : at the time when Peter once in that city was ruling the Church gathered at Babylon (1 Peter v. 13): at the time when that Clement, so singularly praised by the Apostle (Phil. iv. 3) was governing the Church: at the time when the pagan Caesars, Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Antoninus, were butchering the Roman Pontiffs: also at the time when, as even Calvin bears witness, Damasus, Siricius, Anastasius and Innocent guided the Apostolic bark. For at this epoch he generously allows that men, at Rome particularly, had so far not swerved from Gospel teaching. 
Alonzo Rodriguez, Farewell of Saints Peter and Paul (16th c.)
So, the Roman Church started off orthodox, and the eyes of the world were upon it: after all, it was the place that Peter and Paul were martyred, and was the capital of the world. Given this, when did the Roman Church cease to hold the Apostolic faith, and why did nobody seem to notice? How did it happen, exactly?
When then did Rome lose this faith so highly celebrated? when did she cease to be what she was before? at what time, under what Pontiff, by what way, by what compulsion, by what increments, did a foreign religion come to pervade city and world? What outcries, what disturbances, what lamentations did it provoke? Were all mankind all over the rest of the world lulled to sleep, while Rome, Rome I say, was forging new Sacraments, a new Sacrifice, new religious dogma? Has there been found no historian, neither Greek nor Latin, neither far nor near, to fling out in his chronicles even an obscure hint of so remarkable a proceeding?
Remember, it's not like Rome was some backwater town, out of sight, that could quietly fall into apostasy. Nor were the early Christians afraid to take one another task, even for relatively trivial issues. This is a period in Church history in which Christians were obsessed with orthodoxy, giving up their lives instead of altering an iota of doctrine. And we have good records of the history of the Roman church. Indeed, the Church Fathers establish the orthodoxy of the entire Catholic Church by pointing to Apostolic Succession in Rome, with the successions of popes from Peter down to their own time. And we're to believe that the preeminent church in all of Christianity silently fell into heresy without anyone making a peep?

Let's recap the argument briefly:
  1. The early Roman Church was famous for its faithfulness. This much, all parties agree upon.
  2. Did the Church remain faithful? If it did remain faithful, then the Reformation is unjustified (and the Reformers are wrong for inventing new doctrines).
  3. If it didn't remain faithful, did anyone warn these Christians as they turned from orthodoxy to heresy? If so, produce the evidence detailing this.
  4. If they didn't decry this slide into heresy, why not? If they were orthodox Christians, how could they have remained silent? And if they had themselves become heretics, when did this happen (and why did no one warn them, etc.)?
This leads to three possible conclusions: the Roman church never fell from its Apostolic faith; it fell, amidst the cry of orthodox Christians everywhere; or the whole world simultaneously became heretical, without any outcry.The second option is without any evidentiary support (of which, we should expect to see quite a bit), and the third is both logically unbelievable and theologically impossible (since it would suggest that the Holy Spirit just suddenly and inexplicably abandoned the Church).

So that leaves us with the recognition that the Roman church was still holding to orthodox teachings at the time of the Reformation, meaning that all of the teachings that the Reformers introduced (and claimed to be restoring to the Church) were really manmade accretions:
Therefore this much is clear, that the articles of our belief are what History, manifold and various, History the messenger of antiquity, and life of memory, utters and repeats in abundance; while no narrative penned in human times records that the doctrines foisted in by our opponents ever had any footing in the Church. 
In other words, the Roman Catholic Church can show, from the New Testament and history, that she meets St. Jerome's challenge. And more importantly, she can show that she's the Church praised in Sacred Scripture. Since the Reformers (a) wrongly deny this, and (b) can't meet either of these challenges themselves, that's yet another reason to reject the Reformation.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Reason #6 to Reject the Reformation: Patristic Scriptural Exegesis

Caspar Schwenckfeld
Catholic beliefs are often rejected by “Bible-only” Protestants on the grounds that they are “extra-Scriptural Traditions.” This accusation typically misses the mark: on teachings like the priesthood, or the Eucharist, or regenerative baptism, it's not that the Church is deriving these views from a source other than Scripture. It's that she sees support for each of these doctrines within Scripture itself.

Protestants might disagree with those Biblical interpretations, but that's still what we're dealing with: Biblical interpretations, not doctrines derived from other sources. So even if you were committed to sola Scriptura, you could still arrive at virtually everything that the Church teaches, so long as you read the Bible through the eyes of the early Church.

This reframes the debate in an important way: it's no longer primarily a question of whether we base doctrines off of Scripture and Tradition or Scripture alone. Rather, the question is primarily about whether we will base doctrines off of your interpretation of Scripture or the interpretation of Scripture held by the early Christians (and indeed, by the Church, and by an unbroken chain of two thousand years' worth of Christians).

This also exposes a divide within modern Protestantism between two different kinds of “sola Scriptura,” one that many Catholics (and not a few Protestants) are ignorant of. This distinction is sometimes termed “Tradition 0” v. “Tradition 1.” Whereas “Tradition 0” gives no weight to Tradition, “Tradition 1” will side with the traditional interpretation of Scripture much of the time. The Calvinist scholar Alister McGrath describes “Tradition 0” as a danger result of the Radical Reformation:
During the sixteenth century, the option of totally rejecting tradition was vigorously defended by representatives of the radical Reformation. For radicals such as Thomas Müntzer and Caspar Schwenkfeld, every individual had the right to interpret Scripture as he pleased, subject to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For Sebastian Franck, the Bible "is a book sealed with seven seals which none can open unless he has the key of David, which is the illumination of the Spirit." The way was thus opened for individualism, with the private judgment of the individual raised above the corporate judgment of the church. Thus the radicals rejected the practice of infant baptism (to which the magisterial Reformation remained committed) as non-scriptural. (There is no explicit reference to the practice in the New Testament.) Similarly, doctrines such as the Trinity and the divinity of Christ were rejected as resting upon inadequate scriptural foundations. What we might therefore term "Tradition 0" rejects tradition, and in effect places the private judgment of the individual or congregation in the present above the corporate traditional judgment of the Christian church concerning the interpretation of Scripture.
So Tradition 0 has no real regard for the early Christians, and its adherents are comfortable trusting in their own modern, individual interpretations, and rejecting all of Christian history, if need be. That this approach is a disaster should be self-evident, given that it almost immediately resulted in prominent Protestants denying the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ. Instead, McGrath argues for “Tradition 1,” the position that he ascribes to Luther, Calvin, and most of the better-known Reformers:
As has been noted, the magisterial Reformation was theologically conservative. It retained most traditional doctrines of the church - such as the divinity of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity - on account of the reformers' conviction that these traditional interpretations of Scripture were correct. Equally, many traditional practices (such as infant baptism) were retained, on account of the reformers' belief that they were consistent with Scripture. The magisterial Reformation was painfully aware of the threat of individualism, and attempted to avoid this threat by placing emphasis upon the church's traditional interpretation of Scripture, where this traditional interpretation was regarded as correct. Doctrinal criticism was directed against those areas in which Catholic theology or practice appeared to have gone far beyond, or to have contradicted, Scripture. As most of these developments took place in the Middle Ages, it is not surprising that the reformers spoke of the period 1200-1500 as an "era of decay" or a "period of corruption" which they had a mission to reform. Equally, it is unsurprising that we find the reformers appealing to the early church fathers as generally reliable interpreters of Scripture.
According to McGrath - and the Reformers - Tradition 1 Protestantism is all about restoring the Church to the faith of the Church Fathers (on at least most issues: they leave the door open to ignore the Church Fathers as suits them, as the bolded parts of McGrath's description suggest).

It's to these Protestants that St. Edmund Campion addresses the sixth of his Ten Reasons. Whereas Campion's fifth reason (which we examined Friday) shows the impossibility of Tradition 0 Protestantism, his sixth reason shows that Tradition 1 Protestantism leads to one of two conclusions: the Catholic Church, or special pleading (that ends up being indistinguishable from the disastrous Tradition 0).

SIXTH REASON: THE GROUNDS OF ARGUMENT ASSUMED BY THE FATHERS

Benozzo Gozzoli, Conversion of Augustine of Hippo (Tolle Lege) (1465)
St. Augustine is converted after reading the Epistle of St. Paul.
There are two reasons that a Tradition 1 Protestant could justify ignoring and contradicting the consensus of the Church Fathers. The first of these is that the Fathers' beliefs are derived from extra-Scriptural Tradition. Campion begins his argument by establishing that the Church Fathers are deeply devoted to Sacred Scripture, and that, while they're not “Bible only” Christians, their beliefs are based overwhelming off of Scripture:
If ever any men took to heart and made their special care, as men of our religion have made it and should make it their special care, to observe the rule, Search the Scriptures (John 5:39), the holy Fathers easily come out first and take the palm for the matter of this observance. By their labour and at their expense Bibles have been transcribed and carried among so many nations and tongues: by the perils they have run and the tortures they have endured the Sacred Volumes have been snatched from the flames and devastation spread by enemies: by their labours and vigils they have been explained in every detail. Night and day they drank in Holy Writ, from all pulpits they gave forth Holy Writ, with Holy Writ they enriched immense volumes, with most faithful commentaries they unfolded the sense of Holy Writ, with Holy Writ they seasoned alike their abstinence and their meals, finally, occupied about Holy Writ they arrived at decrepit old age. 
And if they also frequently have argued from the Authority of Elders, from the Practice of the Church, from the Succession of Pontiffs, from Ecumenical Councils, from Apostolic Traditions, from the Blood of Martyrs, from the decrees of Bishops, from Miracles, yet most persistently of all and most willingly do they set forth in close array the testimonies of Holy Writ: these they press home, on these they dwell, to this armour of the strong (Cant. 3:7), for the best of reasons, is the first and the most honourable part assigned by these valiant leaders in their work of forgiving and keeping in repair the City of God against the assaults of the wicked.
For this reason, he compares the critic who “takes exception to the lack of Scripture texts in writings crowded with Scripture texts” to one “looking for water in a running stream.” You can't dismiss the Fathers on the grounds that they believe in “extra-Scriptural Traditions.” Even if you confine yourself to simply believing Patristic Scriptural interpretations, you'll end up in the Catholic Church. That's why Campion challenges his readers simply to believe about Scripture (and from Scripture) what the Church Fathers believed about Scripture (and from Scripture):
He says he will agree with the Fathers so long as they keep close to Holy Scripture. Does he mean what he says? I will see then that there come forth, armed and begirt with Christ, with Prophets and Apostles, and with all array of Biblical erudition, those celebrated authors, those ancient Fathers, those holy men, Dionyius, Cyprian, Athanasius, Basil, Nazianzen, Ambrose, Jerome, Chrysostom, Augustine, and the Latin Gregory. Let that faith reign in England, Oh that it may reign! which these Fathers, dear lovers of the Scriptures, build up out of the Scriptures. The texts that they bring, we will bring: the texts they confer, we will con fer: what they infer, we will infer. Are you agreed? Out with it and say so, please.
But Tradition 1 Protestants get around holding the faith of the early Church through a back-up caveat,  to which I alluded to above. Call it the “cop-out caveat.” It goes like this: we'll listen to the Fathers unless they're wrong. How do we know if they're wrong? If they disagree with us. So we'll agree with the Fathers if they agree with what we already think. Of course, it's rarely put that baldly. Instead, we get things like McGrath saying that the Reformers held to “the church's traditional interpretation of Scripture, where this traditional interpretation was regarded as correct.” But that's just a dressed-up way of saying the same thing. Campion's response to this reasoning is simple: Are you not ashamed of the vicious circle?

As McGrath acknowledges, the central problem with Tradition 0 (the problem which leads to things like denial of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, and the general theological free-for-all that we see within American Christianity) is a rejection of Tradition which in effect places the private judgment of the individual or congregation in the present above the corporate traditional judgment of the Christian church concerning the interpretation of Scripture.

When our private judgment disagrees with “the corporate traditional judgment of the Christian church concerning the interpretation of Scripture,” which should win? The Catholic says the Church. The Tradition 0 Evangelical says himself, opening a veritable Pandora's box. 

The Tradition 1 Protestant tries to have it both ways: to hold everyone else to the Church's interpretation and the Fathers' interpretation (e.g., on infant Baptism), while permitting himself to reject the Church's interpretation and the Fathers' interpretation when he wants to (e.g., on the Real Presence or the priesthood). But that's an unprincipled double standard, and a wholly unsustainable hermeneutic. The Tradition 1 Protestant is ultimately bound to follow his individualism into Tradition 0 theological anarchy, or to follow his respect for the Church Fathers into the Catholic Church. There's no third option.

Monday, December 8, 2014

If God Didn't Exist, What Would You Do?

Antonello da Messina, Mary of the Annunciation (detail) (1475)
If you could “get away with” any sin or sins that you wanted, what would you do? That is, imagine that God could somehow be distracted, that you didn't have to worry about sin offending Him or being punished. Or alternatively, imagine that God didn't exist: what would you do?

You don't have to tell me, obviously, but I want you to think about these questions seriously. Because while I don't need to know your answers, you should. Why? Because those are the areas that you're still holding on to sins.

Think about it. Sins aren't sinful just because God randomly decided to prohibit a lot of behaviors, as if He's some sort of cosmic killjoy or divine bureaucrat with nothing better to do than regulate for the sake of regulating. Sins are sinful because they're harmful to us, to our neighbor, and to Christ.

Sometimes, this is obvious: intuitively, we can see that a person (or religion, or society) that thinks murder is okay is headed for disaster. Other times, it's not as obvious. People are great at convincing themselves that pornography or adultery or drunkenness or divorce are basically harmless, and it isn't until they're miserably unhappy and don't know why that they (hopefully) start to reconsider.

All of this is closely tied to the Immaculate Conception, which we celebrate today. By the grace of God, Mary was freed from original sin. And one of the common objections to this doctrine is that it meant Mary didn't have free will.

This gets it entirely backwards, as I've mentioned before. Jesus says as much in John 8:34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin.” It's sin that enslaves, not grace. For a long time (although there are now questions about the extent to which this is true), there was a belief that child born to crack-addicted mothers were themselves more or less addicted, or at least seriously inclined towards addiction.

Whether that's true or not of drugs, it's certainly true of sin. We're born with original sin, meaning that we've got an inclination to want sin, even though it's bad for us. Sometimes, we have to fight to do good, or at least to avoid sin. The difference between us and the Virgin Mary is that she was born “clean,” so to speak. She still could have sinned, but she was more free to say yes to God. And that's what freedom really is: the ability to do the right thing.

So why do we miss this? Because we have a distorted view of freedom (in which freedom just means having a lot of choices, for the sake of having a lot of choices), and because we believe we're not truly free if we're following God. Pope Benedict XVI discussed this in his first Immaculate Conception homily as pope, back in 2005:
Lorenzo Di Credi, The Annunciation (1485)
(Notice the bottom panel, in which Di Credi contrasts
Mary's Yes to God with Adam and Eve's expulsion from Paradise)
The human being does not trust God. Tempted by the serpent, he harbours the suspicion that in the end, God takes something away from his life, that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast him aside; in brief, that only in this way can we fully achieve our freedom.

The human being lives in the suspicion that God's love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself. Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of his life from God. [....]

Dear brothers and sisters, if we sincerely reflect about ourselves and our history, we have to say that with this narrative is described not only the history of the beginning but the history of all times, and that we all carry within us a drop of the poison of that way of thinking, illustrated by the images in the Book of Genesis.

We call this drop of poison "original sin". Precisely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life: the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one's own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.

In a word, we think that evil is basically good, we think that we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being. We think that Mephistopheles - the tempter - is right when he says he is the power "that always wants evil and always does good" (J.W. von Goethe, Faust I, 3). We think that a little bargaining with evil, keeping for oneself a little freedom against God, is basically a good thing, perhaps even necessary.

If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not uplift human beings but degrades and humiliates them. It does not make them any the greater, purer or wealthier, but harms and belittles them.
With all of that said, circle back around to your answers to my original questions. What are those sins that you are holding to in an Oh-I-wish-I-could sense? Those are the parts of your life in which you still believe, deep down, that sin will make you truly happy. They're the soft spots in your faith, and chances are good that these are the areas in which you struggle most. 

Now, the struggle against sin has many parts, it might help to remember this: God knows you better than you know yourself; He loves you better than you love yourself; and He's made it clear that certain moral actions are good or bad for you. The question you have to face now is: do you believe Him?