Thursday, April 30, 2009

Priestly Celibacy: Eunuchs for the Kingdom

I don’t feel comfortable sharing the full content of my e-mails back and forth with Reese (Currie), but this didn't seem too personal, so I thought I'd see what people thought. Do these points make sense, and are they compelling? Are there other and better things I should be saying?

I. Priestly Celibacy
I wanted to raise two major points:
1. The first of these is that there isn’t a global ban on married priests within the Catholic Church: only within the Latin Rite , which is the Western Church. The pope, in addition to being head of the global Church, is Patriarch of the West, what we call Latin Rite (because the Liturgy was traditionally in Latin). The Patriarch sets disciplinary rules – such as how old or young you have to be to enter the priesthood, what color vestments to wear on certain Sundays, the order of the Mass, which readings to say on which Sundays, etc. These aren’t issues of faith and morals: they’re issues of discipline.

In the east, there are Eastern Catholic churches: unlike Eastern Orthodox, these Eastern Catholics recognize the pope as the head of the universal Church for issues of faith and morals. They have their own Patriarch. These churches all, to my knowledge, allow priests to be married (but not bishops, although they could if they wanted to). My friend J.P. is Maronite Catholic, for example, and his priest is married. Additionally, married Lutheran and Anglican pastors who convert can become Catholic priests, even if they were married – there are about 100 of these men in the US alone. Total, it’s estimated that about 20% of the world’s Catholic priests are married.

2. But you’re right that the norm is for priests to be celibate. You cited in your original e-mail to 1 Timothy 4:1-3. I don’t think that passage applies to the situation of Catholic priests. Paul isn’t saying you can never require celibacy:

Paul himself requires certain widows dedicated to God (the first nuns, basically) to remain celibate. In fact the very same letter (1 Timothy), Paul says, “Do not accept younger widows; they may have other desires than for Christ and want to marry; then they deserve condemnation for breaking their first commitment” (1 Timothy 5:11). So if Paul were saying that requiring celibacy for certain religious vocations is wrong, he'd have violated it himself in the very next chapter!

Rather, Paul is warning about a specific heresy which says that eating meat and marrying is inherently sinful: we’ve seen this heresy in the past – the Gnostics believed marriage was wrong, and so did the Manicheans. They believed this because they thought that matter was inherently evil, distorting orthodox teachings on original sin in the process. Consistently, it has been the Catholic Church which has fought this heresy. The Synod of Gangra anathemized this position sometime around 362 A.D. So the Catholic Church, rather than being party to this heresy, was on the front-lines against it. Traditionally, Catholics who didn’t become priests or nuns would marry and have large families – a “quiver full of arrows” (Psalms 127:5). Rather, they just say that they’ll (usually) only hire celibate men for the priesthood.

Rather than saying that marriage is inherently evil (the condemned position), the Church says that for those who can handle it, celibacy is (a) preferable, and (b) the best way to dedicate oneself to God. Both of these are Biblically supported positions. Look at what St. Paul himself has to say about the desirability of celibacy:
I would like everyone to be like me, but each has from God a particular gift,
some in one way, others differently. To the unmarried and the widows I say that
it would be good for them to remain as I am, but if they cannot control
themselves, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
(1 Corinthians 7:7-9).
As for it being the best way to dedicate oneself to God, we find support for this from St. Paul and even from Christ Himself. St. Paul says that, “He who is not married is concerned about the things of the Lord and how to please the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32b). This is also the “first commitment” which 1 Timothy 5:11 refers to. Additionally, Christ say that:
there are some eunuchs who were that way from birth, and some who were made
eunuchs by others, and some who became eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of
heaven. The one who is able to accept this should accept it. (Matthew
19:12).

The Western wing of the Roman Catholic Church (usually) opts to hire only those men who are willing and able to go this extra mile. Requiring this extra mile isn’t not required by the Bible, but it’s certainly not forbidden, either.

In addition to what I sent him, these factors may be worth consideration:
In addition to the Biblical exhortation to celibacy (for those who can handle it), there are other sound reasons for not allowing priests to marry. One of the biggest is the confessional. If a small town/village/parish, etc., has only one pastor, and he's romantically involved with a parishoner, there are certain sins which she may be uniquely uncomfortable confessing. Mortal sexual sins (for example, if she was his wife, and cheated on him) might put these parishoners in particularly precarious positions. The risk of eternal damnation from a wife afraid to tell her husband of her marital infidelity is a risk that should be taken seriously in this discussion, even if it is a rarity.

A second factor is the "priest on the prowl" concern: that a single priest who is looking for a wife may put female parishoners in an uncomfortable position by virtue of the power dynamic. It's similar to the problem of a manager trying to date an employee. This second problem could be solved by placing the same limits on priests which we place on deacons: married men can become priests, but once a priest, you cannot marry or remarry.

Thoughts?

Tomorrow, I address the other concern he had, the Deuterocanon. It'll dovetail nicely with the conversation started about it a few days ago.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

He took it down!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention this:

I sent a copy of this post to Reese Currie, the author of the page I was criticizing, "Can Catholic Tradition Be Valid?" He responded, and we started what I think has been a really great dialogue. He has had a lot of qualms and questions about the Catholic Church, but he's respectful and genuinely devoted to the Truth. Certainly, we have different views on some points, but he read my criticisms of his post, added a few of his (like the fact that since the Eastern Orthodox believe in transubstantiation, it obviously predates 1215 as a belief, since the two halves were split by then). Anyways, he wrote to the webmaster, and asked that the page be taken down, either permanently or until it can be revised. Additionally, he promised to notify me if a revised page went up, so I could criticize it if it was still flawed.

It's be an incredibly edifying experience. I've resisted the urge to blog about it, because I feel like big chunks of it are personal, and that the whole process would work less well if I was publicizing everything that either one of us said to each other.

I realize that this is, in the scheme of things, a small achievement, to have one of the probably millions of anti-Catholic pages taken off the Internet (I mean, there are other old articles he's written still up on the same site), and even if every author were as open-minded and capable of handling criticism as Reese (and most of them aren't), the sheer amount of effort it would take to address each falsehood would be too much. But nevertheless, it's been a rewarding and wonderful experience. I think that I'm not alone when I say that it seems like people who post patently untrue things about the Catholic Church seem like an "impossible to reach" demographic, but when you find out that the overwhelming majority mean well, and just rely upon bad sources, and more than that, are open to hearing the other side, it's great.

One of the things that struck home about this was how much further humility gets you than aggressiveness. It's easy to wield the truth as a sword against people who don't know what we know, but that's an arrogant and ineffective manner of evangelism. I'm reminded again of the first passage I put up when I started this blog, 1 Peter 3:15b-16: "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame." It's always a struggle, but I'm going to keep trying to do what St. Peter says there.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Lord's Prayer: a View from Above

I was reading Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth a few months ago, and the thing which struck me the most from that book (and there were lots of really good parts) was his discussion of the Our Father, or Lord's Prayer, which was commissioned by Christ in Matthew 6:9-13.

It's unique, in that it reverses what we would think (as humans), as the logical order that the prayer would go. Instead of beginning with resistance of the devil and arriving at Heaven (the paths that our lives take, more or less), this view is "downward-looking," if you will. You can almost imagine the classic portrayal of God, peering over a cloud and looking down into our souls, and even beyond, into the pits of hell. Here's what I mean:

The prayer is made up of a salutation (# 1), and 7 petitions (# 2-8). Watch how the prayer starts with God and moves outward, and downward, from there. As a group, it goes 1-2 are Heavenly, 3-5 are ways that God reaches out from Heaven to Earth, 6 includes both Heaven and Earth (with some hellish things - trespasses - thrown in), and 7-8 deal with hellish things:
  1. Our Father, who art in Heaven: This doesn't deny that God is found elsewhere. For example, we know elsewhere in Matthew's Gospel that "wherever two or more are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). But certainly the primary abode of God, and thus, the desired destination of the faithful, is Heaven. For only in Heaven do we find the fullness of God, and it is this which separates Heaven by a degree of infinity from any other locale. Biblical passage to focus on: Galatians 4:3-7.
  2. Hallowed by thy Name: We know that the name is intimately connected with the thing being named. Interestingly, this is an area where a lot of Postmodernist academics agree with Christianity, in that when an object is named in a particular way, you are by naming it impacting your relation to it. In Christianity, we see lots of examples of this. Genesis 2:19-20 shows God presenting animals to Adam to name, even though there's apparently no one else around. John 1:1 and 1:14 describes Jesus as "the Word." In Acts 4:12 we learn that "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." God's refusal to allow Himself to be named, opting instead as "I AM who AM" in Exodus 3:14. He seems to be saying both that He is eternal, and that He is above classification. He is, in a sense, unnameable, or perhaps, His name is beyond our grasp. For this reason, we see the prohibition against taking the Lord's name in vain (Exodus 20:7). Biblical passage to focus on: Rev. 2:17 says that "To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it," which deals with the importance of the name (#2), the Kingdom (#3), and the Eucharist (#4).
  3. Thy Kingdom Come: This means both the Heavenly Kingdom, and the Church, God's Kingdom on Earth. We know this from, amongst other places, Matthew 13:24-29, where we learn that there are both wheat and chaffe in the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth (we know it's just the Kingdom on Earth because of some explanatory context Jesus gives the parable in Mathew 13:36-43. So when we say "Thy Kingdom come," we're already trying to advance the cause of Heaven, encouraging God to bring Heaven closer to us, in a sense, and the instrument for this on Earth is the Church. So one of the ways that God reaches into the world from Heaven is through the Church, the Kingdom of God. Biblical passage to focus on: Luke 22:40, 1 Corinthians 10:13, and James 1:13-14.
  4. Thy Will be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven: Self-explanatory, although it's worth noting that if we take this seriously, we're required to comport our will to God's. If we say, "thy Will be done," and refuse to do His will, we're liars. Jesus is the perfect model for this in the Garden (Luke 22:42). So another way that God reaches into the world is through expressions of His will - when we model our lives after His will, we come closer to Heaven, and experience some sense of Heaven on Earth. Biblical passage to focus on: Matthew 26:36-46.
  5. Give up this Day Our Daily Bread: This has clear Eucharistic connotations. Here's a bit from Andoremus explaining it:
    The Greek word here is epiousion, which is a hapax — a word that is only used here and nowhere else in the Greek language — and so presumed to be the Greek equivalent of whatever word Our Lord may have used in Aramaic or Hebrew. Most translate the word as “daily”, and this goes back to the Latin of Saint Jerome, who renders “arton epiousion” as “panis quotidianum”, daily bread, in the Gospel of Luke. However, in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Jerome translates the same words as “panis supersubstantialem”. In other words, Jerome, who realized that this Greek hapax could not be expressed in Latin with both meanings at once, chose to give it one meaning in Matthew — “daily”; and another in Luke — “supersubstantial”, so as to preserve both senses of the word for Latin speaking Christians, albeit in two distinct biblical locations.
    So Jesus, as "the living Bread come down from Heaven," whose Bread is His "flesh for the life of the world" (John 6:51), is the third way that God reaches out to us from Heaven. Biblical passage to focus on: John 6:25-70.
  6. Forgive us our Trespasses, as we Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us: This is a conditional petition. We're making a deal of some sort with God: if you forgive us, we'll forgive others. And indeed, the forgiveness of sins Christ wrought on the Cross does seem to have this string attached. Matthew 18:21-35 tells of a Master forgiving a debt of 10,000 talents (about $3 billion, which was an unthinkable debt until lately), but then revoking that forgiveness in Matthew 18:34 when the man refused to forgive his neighbor. Just to make it crystal clear what's going on, Mathew 18:35 says, "So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart." This petition also heralds the arrival of a new discussion, sin. Biblical passage to focus on: Matthew 6:14-15.
  7. Lead Us Not into Temptation: Continuing the theme of sin, this deals with the gray area, temptation, the "penumbra of sin," so to speak. Biblical passage to focus on: Luke 22:40, 1 Corinthians 10:13, and James 1:13-14.
  8. Deliver us from Evil: Seemingly straightforward. Actually, there's a little more to it: in the original Greek of the New Testament, it says, "the Evil," suggesting that it deals as much with the forces of darkness as it does with sin generally. Perhaps "deliver us from the evil one" would have been an appropriate translation, but as it stands, it's sufficient. If we're delivered from evil, we're delivered from the devil. Biblical passage to focus on: Ephesians 3:10-18.
In the book, Pope Benedict mentions an Eastern Orthodox cleric who remarked that the prayer almost seems more appropriate to say in reverse. I can see his point. In our fallen, sinful state, to even begin the angelic praises of God in Heaven seems totally inappropriate. While the Our Father (written by God) has a "top-down" approach, we want to approach things "bottom-up." We want immediate relief from the devil, and from all the things we're about to do wrong. And once that's done, we're ready to wipe ourselves clean and get to forgive each other. God doesn't follow this order. His order is something like that cheesy (and astrologically inaccurate) slogan: "Shoot for the moon and if you miss you will still be among the stars." Rather than just trying to resist the next temptation, He is calling us to a radical devotion to Him, which will do more to break us free from the bondage of sins than the immediate bottom-up relief we're looking for.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the insights contained in this succinct prayer. What an amazing prayer!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Apocrypha? Or Deuterocanon?

As a pro-lifer, I bristle when I hear people use the term "anti-choice" to describe my views, as if by opposing ending the life of the unborn, I must also embrace some Victorian notions of the place of women, or worse, just hate choice for the sake of it.* I'm sure that pro-choicers similarly bristle at the term "pro-abortionist," as if they want "Abortions for all!" (to use the old Simpsons line). The way we describe things, from "illegal aliens" to "undocumented workers," has a major impact on how we understand those things, a fact we've known since at least the days of the Roundheads (whose very name suggested their opponents' must be blockheads). When talking about those books (and parts of books) which the Catholic Church and the various Orthodox churches acknowledge as canonical, but which are rejected by most Protestants, there's an interesting issue of terminology. Protestants generally refer to them as Apocrypha, while Catholics often use Deuterocanon. I'm increasingly convinced that this choice of words is important.

Catholics sometimes use the terms protocanon and deuterocanon to delineate between those books which were universally accepted at the time, and those where there were disputes. The New Testament has its own deuterocanon, as well, comprised of: Hebrews, 2nd Peter, 2nd and 3rd John, James, Jude, and Revelation. The New Testament protocanon includes the Gospels, Acts, the Pauline epistles, 1st Peter, and 1st John, and the Old Testament protocanon includes modern Protestant Old Testaments. In both cases, the protocanon and deuterocanon are valued equally as the word of God - we just acknowledge that some books were more readily accepted than others, for a variety of reasons.

Now contrast that with the term apocrypha. The term means "hidden," and is used to refer to anything which is non-canonical. As with the term 'deuterocanon,' there is an entire New Testament apocrypha, but it's made up of very different books. In fact, if you contrast the New Testament deuterocanon (Hebrews, 2nd Peter, 2nd and 3rd John, James, Jude, and Revelation) with the New Testament apocrypha (the Gnostic "Gospels" of Thomas and Judas, both Apocalypses of Peter, Infancy Gospel of James, etc.), you can see the importance of the terminology.

This is particularly important when (a) people are trying to find out more about the deuterocanon, and (b) when it is being argued against by Protestants. There's a sort of guilt by association argument. For example, Lorraine Boettner, in his book Roman Catholicism, groups the deuterocanon in with a lot of clearly non-canonical works, including a number of New Testament apocryphal works which are rejected by everyone today. In doing so, readers get a general picture that the "apocrypha" is a collection of weird and unbiblical writings. In reality, few (if any) of the disputes over the deuterocanon revolved about content - the questions were over authorship, language (the Jews in Jerusalem were hesitant to accept Old Testament books written in Greek, because of a belief that Hebrew was the language of Scripture - many Jerusalem-based Christians inherited this susicion of the deuterocanon, even while reading Greek New Testaments), and inspiration by the Spirit. You don't see one group of Early Church Fathers condemning the others for their acceptance of the LXX (the Greek Old Testament which included the deuterocanon). In fact, it's the version of the Old Testament most frequently quoted by Christ.

The use of the term "apocrypha," given its modern connotations, is misleading. It conjures up this ahistorical vision of some sneaky clerics (Jesuits, no doubt) gathered at Trent, deciding to add some half-pagan books to the Bible, so they could use them against the Reformers. Even when you don't have misleading authors like Boettner, you still have the google issue. If you're a Christian (Catholic or otherwise) who decides to find out more about these books, it matters a lot which term you put in.

A google search for apocrypha brings up:
  • The wikipedia entries on 'Apocrypha' and 'Biblical Apocrypha,' which are accurate, as far as they go, but still group the deuterocanon in with some crazy books (and legendary tales, like Washington cutting down the cherry tree);
  • Internet Sacred Text Archive's Apocrypha Index, which includes the deuterocanon along with the "Forgotten Books of Eden," Gnostic 'Gospels,' and "oracular Roman scrolls";
  • Catholic Encyclopedia's 'Apocrypha' entry (dealing with actual apocryphal works, like the Assumption of Moses, the Book of the Secrets of Henoch, and so on);
  • Interfaith's apocrypha page, containing "a complete list and index of all the missing books of the Bible, including apocrypha, pseudepigrapha and pseudominous" (pseudepigrapha is defined as "Spurious writings, especially writings falsely attributed to biblical characters or times," so you can see the company the deuterocanon is in on this list);
  • Wesley Center for Applied Theology's Noncanonical Writings page (compete with a disclaimer that "Most apocryphal works have been considered fictional or of lesser value than the canonical works."). Ironically, this page actually can lay claim to being the closest to what a user looking for the "Apocrypha" is probably looking for - it contains a list of Catholic dueterocanonical books, plus a few (Psalm 151, 3rd & 4th Maccabees) which are found in later versions of the LXX, but which were rejected by the early Church. The fact that it's the closest may make this the best or worst of the picks, in that users will almost certainly think these are all accepted by the Catholic Church.
  • Next up is a definition, courtesy of the University of Virginia's Electronic Text Center. It's factually wrong, stating that "The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches include all of the apocrypha (except for the books of Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh), but refer to them as 'deuterocanonical' books. " In fact, the Catholic Church rejects Psalm 151, and the Eastern Orthodox Church acknowledges both the books of Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh. (Long story there).
  • And to top it all off, Jesus-is-Lord.com's page on "Why the Apocrypha Isn't in the Bible,"which states "The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha are forgeries." One of the arguments against the deuterocanon is this:
    There are other spurious books. These include the Pseudepigrapha which contains Enoch, Michael the Archangel, and Jannes and Jambres. Many of these books falsely claim to have been written by various Old Testament patriarchs. They were composed between 200 B.C. and 100 A.D. There are lots of these spurious books like The Assumption of Moses, Apocalypse of Elijah, and Ascension of Isaiah.
    The author here is blatantly using the confusion associated with the term "apocrypha" as a catch-all to associate the Catholic deuterocanon with some obvious forgeries, the Pseudepigrapha.
And that is why I think "apocrypha" is a poor choice of terms. Not one of those sites gave the deuterocanon, the whole deuterocanon, and nothing but the deuterocanon. And of them was a Catholic site, which probably only confuses the situation yet more. Contrast that with the google search for deuterocanon:
  • A thorough and accurate Wikipedia entry, distinguishing the Catholic deuterocanon from the Eastern Orthodox, Oriential Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox deuterocanons, explaining the influence of the Vulgate, and so on. Brilliant!
  • St. Takla's Deuterocanon (Second Canon) page, which is a brilliant Orthodox site. It can be a little into polemics, but barring some issues in tone, it explains what the Protestant arguments are against the deuterocanon, and responds to them, proceeding to offer a ton of NT allusions to the DC. Some of these are weak (things found in the DC, but also in Isaiah, for example), but others are really good. **
  • Handson Apologetic's masterful defense of the deuterocanon, which has answers to even the most obscure anti-DC arguments ("Did Philo Reject the Deuterocanon?")
  • Scripture Catholic's list of DC verses corresponding to NT references.
  • More Handson Apologetic goodness, this time in blog form!
  • WordPress roundup of blogs talking about the deuterocanon.
  • Christianity Wikia's succinct, helpful entry on the deuterocanon as found in Catholicism, and each major Orthodox branch.
  • Wow. The next result allows you to let Sam Stinson read the deuterocanon to you. Who could say no?
  • A dead link to CCEL. It lets you comment on the NRSV Bible with deuterocanon, but for some reason doesn't actually link to the NRSV Bible with deuterocanon.
  • Finally, a 45 day reading schedule for people who want to do daily readings of the deuterocanon to improve their knowledge of it. Do this!

The reason I think these results are better isn't just that they're pro-deuterocanon (which I imagine biases me). It's that they deal with the deuterocanon, and not the deuterocanon plus some spurious books (or in the case of the Catholic encyclopedia, just those spurious books). They're more accurate results, because deuterocanon is a more accurate term.


*Actually, Barry Schwartz gives a great argument against "the Paradox of Choice," [64 minute version; 9 minute version] but that's unrelated to the topic at hand.

**My favourite DC prophesy is the angel Raphael appearing to Tobit and saying that he's one of the seven angels who stand in the presence of God, and then Revelation saying that there are seven angels who stand in the presence of God (Tobit 12:15; Revelation 8:2). If Tobit's a fake, it's a darn lucky one, nailing a prediction about the innermost sanctum of Heaven like that. For some reason, St. Takla's doesn't list it (Scripture Catholic does), but for me, it's one of the most compelling.

Friday, April 24, 2009

It's Finals Season!

I am officially into law school finals season. Second year is definitely better than first when it comes to finals, if only because you know what you're getting into. Of course, this is just like bracing yourself for a punch - you know what you're getting into, but it's still gonna hurt! So far, I've finished my Race and American Law paper, done my Energy Trading and Market Regulation presentation, and am embarking on studying for my Canon Law final, which is Tuesday. After that, I've got finals in Constitutional Law II and Civil Rights, followed by a final paper for Energy Trading and Market Regulation.

I'm going to try and keep a pretty consistent series of updates, but I make no promises.
And please, feel free to say a few prayers for me that everything goes well. Thanks!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tradition, pt. 3: When did the Church add THAT?

For part 3 of this segment on Tradition, I thought I'd answer one of the Church's critics. I was reading an article by someone named Reese Currie for something called Compass Distributors (who charge themselves with "Distributing Christian Truth to all points of the compass"). The article was called, "Can Catholic Tradition Be Valid?" The author's conclusion was that no, it can't. Because the article is relatively brief, and doesn't say anything that anti-Catholics haven't been saying for a long while, I figured it would be a good article to respond to here. Feel free to open the article in another window if you want to read what I'm responding to in context - I tried to leave enough context in so it would misrepresent what he was saying.

I'm putting Currie's arguments in red, and my responses in black:

The Roman Catholic Church excuses its multitude of unscriptural doctrines on the basis of something they call "tradition." In the many areas in which their teachings contradict the Bible, they believe that their tradition overrules the Scriptures. This is just factually untrue. Dei Verbum ("Word of God"), is the Apostolic Constitution created in 1965 at Vatican II on this very issue. It was approved by 2,344 of the 2,350 bishops assembled, and promulgated by Pope Paul VI. From a Catholic standpoint, it's an authentic teaching of the Magisterium, and of the highest level of authority shy of an infallible ex cathedra declaration. Even from a non-Catholic standpoint, this was something that all by 6 bishops in the world vote for. Anyways, it state unambiguously that "Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence," a phrase which the Cathechism cites to for its own discussion on this issue. I suppose I shouldn't expect Currie to have read Dei Verbum, although if he wanted to know the Catholic stance on the word of God, it might be a good place to start. But I do think he should at least see what the Cathechism says about the claims he's making.

In any case, if you try to find a case where the Church says, "the Bible says x, but we're going to oppose that, because ... Tradition!" you're going to be looking for a long time. The Church has never taken the stance that the Bible can be opposed because of Tradition. We don't see the two as ever in opposition to each other, even if a casual observer might think they do (this is no different than the great lengths that Christians of all stripes go to in answering supposed "Bible Contradictions" - it's strange that these same people think Catholics are obfuscating when they do this with Tradition as well).

So Currie's major premise - that the Church will replace "Bible teachings" with Catholic dogmas - is totally wrong. The Early Church Fathers would be a great place to go to find out what these original "Bible teachings" actually were. These are, after all, the people who brought us the Bible, perserving the Sacred Word even at the expense of their lives. These Christians converted the Roman Empire through the force of love, an event unreplicated in human history. One of the major problems Currie's arguments have are that they are relieant upon data provided by the Church's enemies. Instead of finding out what the Catholic Church believes, he's content to oppose what he's heard She believes.

Catholic tradition is certainly not just oral teaching that comes down from the original twelve apostles that was never written down. To quote a Catholic source, "Tradition comes from many things: the Church's creeds, the records of the Church's worship, the writings of scholars and Church leaders, the decrees of popes and councils, the prayers of the Church's people, and so on...Tradition is also continuing and developing today. It is the way the Church here and now understands and lives Christ's teaching. It is going on now, in the writings of scholars, the decrees of Church authorities, the practices of the liturgy, and the Christian practices and devotions of the people" (p. 186, Christ Among Us). Therefore Roman Catholic tradition includes the concept of "continuing revelation" held also by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.

I think that I responded to this sufficiently in my last post. Tradition is "continuing and developing," certainly, but not with any new revelations unavailable to previous generations. Defining God as one God and three persons, is a perfect example of post-Biblical doctrinal definition, so you don't hear the word "Trinity" until 180 A.D., even though the doctrine of the Trinity is described, in not so many words, throughout the Bible and early Church sources.

What we've been doing for the past 2000 years is: defining more precisely what it is we already know, as with the Trinity; and building upon the work of those who have come before us. Ss. Augustine and Aquinas had some pretty amazing insights into the faith - not new revelation, but really powerful insights into texts we already read and believed. We stand now on the backs of giants. This also means, however, determining when those who have came before us are wrong on an issue. Often times, there are multiple views on an issue (such as "which books belong in the Bible?"), and the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit in rendering a decision.

The Bible has good and bad things to say about tradition. Jesus was adamant that Scripture should not be "transgressed" by man's tradition.
This is the standard which I wish that opponents of Catholicism would apply. Even if you don't think that a teaching is required by the Bible, does it follow that it automatically transgresses the Bible? This seems to ignore any room for church discipline. Say that a local church says, "We want all pastors to be at least 35." Does that transgress the Bible? By this logic, yes. Or at least, if it's the Catholic Church, and the rule is, "We want all pastors in the Latin Rite to be celibate."

First, the brethren were told to hold fast to the traditions they were taught by the apostles. Any tradition not taught by the original apostles, then, is illegal and invalid.
This doesn't make any sense. You could reasonably say that any tradition not taught by the Apostles is therefore not binding. But to say that just because we're not ordered by St. Paul to hold fast to it, it is therefore illegal and invalid" is an enormous logical leap. In any case, the experience of the early Church demonstrates pretty strongly that these traditions were taught by the Apostles themselves. I'll address them more specifically below.

The point is, there is absolutely no reason to even consider that all of the truth necessary and delivered to the apostles was not also delivered to us in writing in the Bible. Paul’s statement in 2Thessalonians speaks of a time before the whole of New Testament Scripture was completed.
I think that the very fact that Paul speaks of the need to obey something beyond the written word means that "absolutely no reason" is an exaggeration. Look at how he uses the dating of 2 Thessalonians to try and make a point - he's claiming that Paul's demand in 2 Thessalonians to hold fast to traditions is outdated by the time he writes 2 Timothy. But this argument works just as effectively against him, as we'll see in the next segment:

Later in his ministry, Paul wrote of the sufficiency of Scripture, "And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
If the Scripture is "able to make thee wise unto salvation" then Scripture is indeed sufficient in and of itself, as loyal Protestants of past generations maintained.
This is the standard sola scriptura argument, and it is (in my own opinion) a bad one. I don't mean that to offend anyone, but why in the world would the standard be, "what's the very least I can know and still get by?" On the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), Jesus was able to demonstrate to the two sojourners that the Old Testament lays out innumerable Christological predictions. Why bother with a New Testament at all, then, by this standard? Most likely, a majority of Christians throughout history have been illiterate. Yet we think that at least some of them are saved, do we not? Yet they acquired their knowledge of God in large part due to the preaching of the local Catholic priest when they went to Mass. A devout faith, they had. A strong understanding of the Bible, probably not. So this argument, intended to prove sola Scriptura, can just as easily prove the opposite, because it relies on the absurd premise that "if it's possible to get to Heaven without x, x should be rejected!" You might as well say, "My car might be able to make it from here to California without anti-lock brakes, A/C, and windshield wipers (in fact, the early cars didn't have these things - they're later traditions!), so I'm going to rip them out."

The second (glaring) problem with this argument is the same one that Currie tries to employ above. When St. Paul writes 2 Timothy, the New Testament isn't assembled - like 2 Thessalonians, it was a passage written "before the whole of New Testament Scripture was completed," particularly if you take into account the process of canonization of the text (which is still a few centuries away). Most of the sources I've read say 2nd Timothy was written in the mid-60's. This site has a list of possible dates of when NT books are written: 2nd Timothy is one of the few where there's a large degree of scholarly unanimity. This passage possibly predates the writing of any of the Gospels, but more likely is written after the Synoptics but before John. Why is that important? Well, some of the epistles are recognized as Scripture, some aren't (yet), and some books (like Revelation and the Gospel of John) haven't even been written yet. And note: these books contain lots of information not found elsewhere in the Bible. John's Gospel includes lots of stuff not found in the Synoptics (which is why he's not considered a Synoptic), and Revelation is one-of-a-kind for the NT. So if Paul is declaring "sola Scriptura," he's closing the canon before it's fully baked.

Bob Sungenis explains it better than me:
"If 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is teaching Sola Scriptura today, then it had to be teaching Sola Scriptura in the first century, since there cannot be two diametrically opposed interpretations of the same verse. But if 2 Timothy 3:16-17 was teaching Sola Scriptura in the first century, then that would mean that St. Paul is contradicting himself, since in the first century he was also promoting inspired oral tradition as another source of divine revelation to the Bible."
Any attempt to solve the problem (as Currie has) by saying that Paul switched positions after he got done writing his epistles cuts the Gospel of John, the Book of Revelation, and who knows what else, out of the canon.

What Catholic Traditions Differ From The Traditions of the Apostles?
The Roman Catholic Church has changed its doctrine as a result of its tradition on many occasions. In fact, many of the distinct doctrines we associate with Roman Catholicism did not even exist during the first 1000 years of their history. In order from most recent to most ancient, some of these doctrines are:
I don't have the expertise or the time (it's finals season) to address the history of each Catholic doctrine, and show where it was taught by the Apostles, and how the early Church's practice demonstrates that this was their understanding of the teaching, but I'll at least disprove all of his assertions for late additions.
He claims that none of these teachings are found in the first 1000 years of Catholicism, so all I'm going to do is provide proof that they were. By no means are the texts I provide the oldest. You're welcome to find older ones. Like I said, finals season. Here goes:

The "Assumption of Mary" doctrine about her body having been taken into heaven without seeing decay was only made official in 1950.
That "made official" is a big caveat. On June 26, 2008, the Evangelical Free Church of America adopted a new statement of faith declaring, amongst other things, "We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." Shall we conclude that prior to that, EFCA was non-Trinitarian? The Nicene Creed tells us more about the role of the Holy Spirit than the Apostles' Creed. Does that mean that the Apostles didn't believe that the Holy Spirit "has spoken through the prophets"? I'm reminded of a statement by N.T. Wright at a 1996 lecture, where he quotes Anglican Bishop Stephen Sykes as saying, "the trouble with theology is that you have to say everything, all the time, otherwise someone thinks you don't believe it."

Anyways, addressing the idea that the Assumption is some 20th Century creation (or at least a creature of the 2nd millenium), here's the first of three sermons which St. John Damascene delivered. Seeing as he died in 787 A.D., I think this squarely places the Catholic belief in the Assumption in the 1st millenium, disproving Currie's point. If you want it from CCEL, a Calvinist site with a good stock of writings of the Early Church Fathers, here ya go. Just in case you thought we Catholics were just forging sermons.

The infallibility of the pope was only made official in 1870.
Again with the "made official." If you haven't read it, I included a really on-point passage from St. Irenaeus c. 180 A.D. in a previous post. In addition, St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, is quoted on this Calvinist site as saying, "After such things as these, moreover, they still dare—a false bishop having been appointed for them by heretics—to set sail and to bear letters from schismatic and profane persons to the throne of Peter, and to the chief church whence priestly unity takes its source; and not to consider that these were the Romans whose faith was praised in the preaching of the apostle, to whom faithlessness could have no access." He wrote that about 256 A.D. In both of these cases, Calvinist footnotes are included to try and mitigate the obvious meaning of the passage, but the fact still remains: St. Cyprian held that the faith held by the Roman Church admitted no faithlessness, and St. Iraneus held that "it is a matter of necessity that every church should agree with this Church."

If you're not aware, 181 A.D. is the first time we see the word "Trinity" being used. So papal infallibility and Petrine authority can be traced back at least as far as the Doctrine of the Trinity. Which is to say, a lot further back than 1870. Had the Church never spoken infallibly on this issue, Catholics would still know it to be true, as they did for the nearly two millenia preceding the First Vatican Council.

Mary’s "immaculate conception", the notion that she was personally born sinless, was only made official in 1845.
"Made official." See a pattern yet? St. Augustine acknowledged that Mary may have been sinless in 415 A.D. He wrote a long work called "Nature and Grace," dealing extensively with the idea of original sin. He's careful, however, in chapter 42 (or 36, depending on which numbering system) to note, as the chapter title suggests, that "The Blessed Virgin Mary May Have Lived Without Sin," noting that:
We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin. Well, then, if, with this exception of the Virgin, we could only assemble together all the forementioned holy men and women, and ask them whether they lived without sin whilst they were in this life, what can we suppose would be their answer?
Others go much further. Iraneus, in the aforementioned Against Heresies, calls Mary the new Eve, stating that "For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith." Read section 4, because it pretty clearly paints a Catholic picture of Mary... in 180 A.D. Better yet, if you've got the time: Tim Staples gives a pretty solid history of the Immaculate Conception here if you've got the time. Seriously. It's worth your time. He's got a great knowledge of Scripture, and solidly backs up the IC with the teachings of the Early Church Fathers.

The apocryphal books (deuterocanonical to them) were added into the Roman Catholic official canon in 1546.

As I mentioned in the first post, the Catholic canon, including the deuterocanon, predates the Protestant one by well over a millenium. Council of Carthage is unambiguous on this point by 393 A.D., and it cites to the Synod of Hippo before it. The Council of Laodicea, which even the Protestant source I cited in pt. 1 acknowledged considred the DC canonical, predated Carthage by 30 years. Beyond that, the early Church Fathers cite to all of the different DC books as canonical. The Council of Trent declared the DC canonical only when the Reformers decided to remove it. It wasn't "adding" books at all - it was perserving them from assault.

Church tradition was officially declared equal in authority with the Bible in 1545 (in fact, Church tradition is really treated as superior to the Bible in practice).
Pt. 1 shows that St. Paul viewed both Scripture and Tradition as binding - sola Scriptura is a product of the 2nd millenium.

"Baptism" by sprinkling was only made official in 1311.
The Didache, also known as "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" says this:
If you do not have running water, baptize in some other.  If you cannot in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times "in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
The Didache is almost certaintly older than much of the New Testament, and was a candidate for canonization. (Even though it wasn't canonized, it's still doctrinally accurate - it just wasn't deemed to have been itself inspired by the Holy Spirit). It's been held in high regard in Christianity for over 1900 years. There can be no serious doubts that it opposed the teachings of the Twelve Apostles, because when it was written, they were still alive.

It was only made official that priests were given power of absolution of sins in 1268.
In my opinion, John 20:21-23 closes the door on this matter (with plenty of reinforcement from James 5:16). But Currie claims that confession to priests was occuring as far back as 1215, so this view doesn't even make sense. Why would confession be required if absolution wasn't possible? Anyways, see my response two below for more info. on this.

The idea that the Mass is a re-offering of Christ's original sacrifice and consequently conveyed the remission of sins was only made official in 1215, necessarily the same year that transubstantiation was made official.
This is two issues rolled into one. First, on the Mass being a Sacrifice:
On every Lord's Day—his special day
—come together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. Anyone at variance with his neighbor must not join you, until they are reconciled, lest your sacrifice be defiled. For it was of this sacrifice that the Lord said, "Always and everywhere offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is marveled at by the nations."
That's the Didache again, and citing to Malachi 1:11, 14. So the Mass was being called a sacrifice while the Apostles were still alive. As for transubstantiation, St. Ignatius of Antioch, in his Epistle to the Smyrnæans (110 A.D.), warns of the Gnostics, that "[t]hey abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again." Note that he doesn't bother proving the Real Presence. He assumes his readers already share his views on the Eucharist, and uses that as proof that the Gnostics are heretics - like "how can you trust them? Look at their Eucharistic views!"

Also in 1215, auricular confession to a priest was made official.
Fr. Herbert Thurston destroyed this claim when it was made by G.G. Coulton in the 1930s, but apparently it keeps popping up again. If you're interested, his conflict with Coulton can be found here: blunders 1-2, and blunders 3-15. It's an engaging read, and in the process, he thoroughly documents auricular confession dating back much further the 1000 A.D.

Indulgences became official doctrine in 1190.
This is obviously wrong. Anti-Catholics love pointing out the fact that the pope gave plenary indulgences to the Crusaders in 1095. The Catholic Encyclopedia does a good job of describing the history in-depth, along with its relation to penance generally. In 2 Corinthians 2:5-7, St. Paul suggests that a particular penitent's punishment is sufficient, so they should "forgive and encourage him instead."

The celibacy of the priesthood was made official in 1123.
Celibacy in the priesthood isn't a doctrine. It's a discipline, just like a church requiring that all its pastors be over the age of 35. The Church doesn't claim that the Bible requires all priests to be celibate - flatly, it doesn't. The Church just says that it will only employ those willing to do something additional to the Bible's requirements. In this, they're enforcing as a rule what St. Paul suggests as a practice

The rosary became an official doctrine in 1090.
The rosary isn't "an official doctrine," because it's not a doctrine at all. It's a prayer. I'm not even sure how to address this issue. Certainly, it has some doctrinal underpinnings - the Lord's Prayer is ordained by Christ (Matthew 6:9-13), the Hail Mary includes Gabriel's Angelic Salutation (Luke 1:28), the Glory Be proclaims the glory of God. But the rosary itself? Not a doctrine.

Penance became an official doctrine in 1022; in fact, the onerous penances were so difficult that indulgences as an alternative way to make restitution became necessary in 1190.
See the bit about 2 Corinthians 2:5-7 from above, because this, along with the Catholic Encyclopedia article, are sufficiently covered. There is no serious question that the early Church imposed harsh penances upon the lapsis, those Christians who renounced the faith during the Roman persecutions. This was widespread and systemic, and is easily documented to long before the Nicene Creed.

This is St. Cyprian again:
For although in smaller sins sinners may do penance for a set time, and according to the rules of discipline come to public confession, and by imposition of the hand of the bishop and clergy receive the right of communion: now with their time still unfulfilled, while persecution is still raging, while the peace of the Church itself is not yet restored, they are admitted to communion, and their name is presented; and while the penitence is not yet performed, confession is not yet made, the hands of the bishop and clergy are not yet laid upon them, the Eucharist is given to them; although it is written, “Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.”
In other words, the early Church faced some of the same problems with spineless priests giving the Eucharist to the unrepentant inappropriately - those who hadn't received absolution from priests, with the laying on of hands.

The concept of holy water was made official only in 1009.
Numbers 5:17 "And he shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and he shall cast a little earth of the pavement of the tabernacle into it." I'll give to Currie, though. He said that he was going to do them in reverse chronological order, and his final example is from the Old Testament.

*The Cathechism, if you're unaware, compiles the various teachings of the Church into a handy reference guide so that a non-scholarly individual can quickly find out the Church's position on an issue. It's not binding teaching itself, but is usually based on binding teachings. It's a great resource.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tradition, pt. 2: Development of Doctrine v. Continuous Revelation

The Church believes that doctrines can develop over time, as we understand them better, but this is the organic growth from an apostolic root, not a new plant. John Henry Cardinal Newman described it like this, in opposing the idea of an absolutely new revelation: "Revelation is all in all in doctrine; the Apostles its sole depository, the inferential method its sole instrument, and ecclesiastical authority its sole sanction. The Divine Voice has spoken once for all, and the only question is about its meaning." Developing doctrine is all about increasing in understanding of things which you already believe. It's defining things more precisely when they're attacked, and such.

For example, Christians believe that murder is wrong. Modern science shows that humans are alive from the moment of conception. The Church's response was to say that the Christian ban on murder applies from the moment of conception. This is a development of doctrine. You will find only limited evidence for the modern pro-life view from the early Church. In fact, the best evidence I find for a strong anti-abortion stance in what could be called Scripture comes from a 2nd century book called "The Apocalypse of Peter" (see v. 25), but that book is written by someone masquerading as St. Peter and claiming a vision from God he didn't really receive, so it's not accepted by any Christian denomination. Yet in spite of this lack of direct Scriptural evidence against abortion (which was a probably even in the 1st Century, which is something which the Apocalypse of Peter does attest to), the Christian worldview still clearly prohibits abortion. You don't need a "thou shalt not commit abortion" to know that it's wrong, and the early Church all held to the belief that once a life began in the womb, it was murder to end it. At the time, the common belief was in something called "the quickening," at which point the soul was said to enter the fetus' inanimate body, a view based on bad medicine. Even non-Catholics seem to have no problem in applying a basic Christian doctrine (thou shalt not kill) in a more complicated way (by determining that it's killing from the moment of conception) based on our enhanced understanding (in this case, better science). This sort of development of doctrine is the very thing that the Church exists for.

In John 14:26, Jesus promises that "the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything that I have told you." The Catholic Church's belief is merely that the Holy Spirit performs this role still. Contrast this with "continuing revelation." Doctrines & Covenants 132:61-63 of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints says:
"61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.
62 And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.
63 But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified."
In an officially binding Declaration, President Wilford Woodruff denied that plural marriage was being taught: "We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice, and I deny that either forty or any other number of plural marriages have during that period been solemnized in our Temples or in any other place in the Territory. " The LDS Church summarizes this as follows: "In obedience to direction from God, Latter-day Saints followed this practice for about 50 years during the 1800s but officially ceased the practice of such marriages after the Manifesto was issued by President Woodruff in 1890." Of course, a shrewd mind might notice that Woodruff's own words contradict this (he claimed that they weren't even teaching polygamy), but even given the LDS' official position, you have a clear instance of new revelation. Men weren't polygamous, then God allegedly tells them to be, then they're not allowed to be anymore.

You don't see anything like this from the papacy. Even the most corrupt of popes never said, "and the Lord saith that if the pope would like some concubines, it's all good." In fact, the most corrupt of popes took a vow of celibacy, so even monogamy was forbidden them. If you read D&C 132, you'll see a lot of really creepy "Scripture" targeted at Emma Smith, the wife that Joseph Smith was cheating on - things like "I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law." To a non-believer in LDS doctrine, this looks a lot like someone using his powerful position to engage in some pretty blatant domestic abuse.

In the earlier example I provided of abortion, the issue of Tradition is critical, because the Early Church Fathers settle the question of the Christian view on abortion. Priests for Life assembled a collection of quotes on the subject, and they're fantastic. They're unambiguous, as far as I can tell. I liked the first quote provided from Tertullian. Tradition allows us to see how we get from point A in the 1st Century to point B in the 21st, to determine whether we went off-course, or whether things just progressed in a specific ordained direction over time. The obvious example is the papacy. I mentioned in an earlier post that a small business with a president, secretary, and treasurer looks a lot different than a multinational corporation with a president, secretary, and treasurer. The day-to-day jobs they perform evolve over time. So if you were to take Microsoft in the mid-80s and Microsoft at the end of the millenium, you might assume they were different companies. Having an eye for the day-to-day growth allows you to determine if it is really true or not. Someone claiming that Microsoft today is a counterfeit company that just commandeered the name would have to (a) take a stand on where and when this forgery occurred, and (b) deal with the fact that Bill Gates' successor (Steve Ballner, I think) is still at the helm. Sure, it might convince someone who had spent the last couple decades out of the country, and somehow hadn't heard of Microsoft's growth, but someone who watched the company grow over time wouldn't be fooled. Same thing with the papacy. Sure, it looks different with a billion members than with a couple hundred - how could you expect it not to? But unless you can name the first pope, or somehow provide an account of how an alien leadership came in and dominated Christianity for over a millenium, the argument isn't very convincing, particularly in light of the Church's own ability to trace its authority back to St. Peter. This why all Christians should develop a strong understanding of history. If you don't know how the Word got from the Apostles to you, you're missing out on a whole lot.

In the next post, I'll address some of the specific arguments written against Catholic tradition, using a pretty standard anti-Catholic article as the jumping point for the discussion.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tradition, pt. 1: Scripture & Tradition

Catholic Tradition is confusing to some non-Catholics, so I thought I'd briefly address the issue. Sacred Tradition is binding to Catholics, and for good reason: the Bible says it is.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:15, Paul instructs his readers to "stand firm, and cling to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter." If everything Paul wanted to say was written down, this would be unnecessary. In the next chapter (2 Thes. 3:6), he commands them "to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the traditions you received from us." So those who abided by the written word but not the spoken word were to be shunned! Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 11:2, Paul says, "I praise you for remembering everything I told you and for holding to the traditions that I passed on to you." But this is his first letter to the Corinthians - everything prior to this (which he expected to be followed) was oral instruction and tradition. He doesn't bother to recap all of the things he told them, because he already told them, and they were following it. There was no reason to repeat himself, and thus, no reason to write it down.

Of course, the best reason to write it down would be for future generations to read it. But that's not what St. Paul feels is the best mode of transmission. He decides that the oral teachings should be passed on through Church authorities. In 2 Timothy 2:2 he says, "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." This isn't just a Pauline teaching, either. St. John states a preference for oral teaching over written (2 John 1:12; 3 John 1:13-14), and in his Gospel, says, "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written" (John 21:25).

So anyone who declares that they believe in "The Bible Alone!" is ignoring some pretty direct teaching on the subject from the Bible itself: sola Scriptura isn't a view that can be held by looking to Scripture alone, in one of life's more ironic twists. And if you think about it, the only way to preserve the Bible is through Sacred Tradition. Here's why.

Jesus never wrote a Holy Book - He is pretty unique in this regard. Instead, He left the task of spreading His mission up to the Apostles. Note: He didn't say, "go, write this Book and send it out!" Rather, He said,
"All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." Matthew 28:18-20
So He sends them out to teach and preach. The New Testament is a collection of their writings in the furtherance of the Gospel. In other words, it is the result of one of the means which they employed to achieve this task, a task which involved a lot of hands-on attention (teaching in person and baptizing). And how does He promise to perserve their message? By being with them always, until the end of time. This is the promise of a Spirit-protected Church, not a Book. We know that we can trust the successors to the Apostles because Christ is still guiding them, even if they make some ham-handed mistakes themselves, and sometimes live less than exemplary lives. (Remember that when Jesus makes this promise to the Apostles, there are still some embarassing gaffes to come, like Peter's moral cowardice described in Galatians 2).

The second, and related, reason is that the Bible doesn't come with a table of contents. This is further evidence that the Holy Spirit never desired a Bible detached from the Church. I was recently reading a book by a writer who was an Assemblies of God member (is there a better way to say that? Assembler of God?), and as part of his defense that the only real Baptism is Baptism-by-immersion, he says, "Imagine that you're stranded on a desert island, and a Bible washes ashore..." This is very explicitly not what Jesus has in mind, and we've seen the problem of this approach in Acts 8 (see Acts 8:30-31, for example).

The fact is, to even get that Bible, in its assembled form, you have to first have the Catholic Church. There were a whole slew of candidates for the New Testament, almost all claiming to be of Apostolic origin (unlike the Book of Hebrews, for example). Even some of the early Saints disagreed about which ones should be considered canonical. A Protestant site describes some of the history here:
Very early on, some of the New Testament books were being recognized. Paul considered Luke’s writings to be as authoritative as the Old Testament (1 Timothy 5:18; see also Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7). Peter recognized Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Some of the books of the New Testament were being circulated among the churches (Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27). Clement of Rome mentioned at least eight New Testament books (A.D. 95). Ignatius of Antioch acknowledged about seven books (A.D. 115). Polycarp, a disciple of John the Apostle, acknowledged 15 books (A.D. 108). Later, Irenaeus mentioned 21 books (A.D. 185). Hippolytus recognized 22 books (A.D. 170-235). The New Testament books receiving the most controversy were Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John.
Fortunately, the Church stepped in to resolve this issue:
The first “canon” was the Muratorian Canon, which was compiled in (A.D. 170). The Muratorian Canon included all of the New Testament books except Hebrews, James, and 3 John. In A.D. 363, the Council of Laodicea stated that only the Old Testament (along with the Apocrypha) and the 27 books of the New Testament were to be read in the churches. The Council of Hippo (A.D. 393) and the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) also affirmed the same 27 books as authoritative.
What that source fails to mention is that the Councils of Hippo and Carthage affirmed the "Apocrypha," or Deuterocanon - the books of the Bible which the Reformers later rejected. Canon 24 of the Council of Carthage affirmed what the Synod of Hippo had already declared.

For Catholics, because there is an infallible Church interpreting infallible Tradition, we have an infallible list of infallible Books which constitute our Bible. Protestants often distrust the 4th century Church, disagree with the lists that the Church came up with at Hippo, Carthage, and finds Tradition fallible at best. The more extreme members of this camp believe in a Total Apostasy which occurred at some point, meaning that the books of the Bible were assembled by the Bible's enemies (or at least, by those who weren't orthodox Christians).

So far as I have been able to find, the modern Protestant canon simply didn't exist prior to the Reformation. In fact, it doesn't take its definitive form until well after the Reformation, as Luther's own canon didn't include books like James and Esther which modern Lutherans except. This is, to say the least, a fallible list of infallible books. So does the Catholic view of Tradition and the role of the Magisterium really undermine the Bible? Or is it perhaps the only assurance we have that the books we regard as canonical are the Bible which God intended, and the only books He intended?

In my next post, I'll discuss another aspect of Tradition, distinguishing the role of continuing doctrinal definition from the idea of "new revelation."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Paul and the Power of Prayer

Eric Bohn said...
Good post.

A few weeks ago, at a mass honoring St Paul, the reading of the paralytic was read. I couldn't help but think that Paul was very much like the paralytic with regard to the faith. If I had to guess, I'd say that the people who prayed for Paul were the same people that he killed earlier on. That the prayers were efficacious I think is evidence of Paul's disposition. In other words, God doesn't justify people whom he doesn't think it will work in. Neither are Apostles sent to just anyone.
The paralytic in question is featured in all three Synoptic accounts: Matthew 9:1-12, Mark 2:3-12, and Luke 5:18-26. All three of these mention that Jesus forgives the paralytic because of the faith of his friends (Matthew 9:2, Mark 2:5, Luke 5:20). It's a fascinating, and in my opinion under-discussed, concept: that God will sometimes forgive our loved ones as a favor to us, on the basis of our faith. We see it other places in the Bible, running from Genesis 19:29 up through 1 Corinthians 7:14, written by none other than ours truly, St. Paul. All of this underscores the incredible power of prayer. As James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful."
To be honest, I'm not sure that I fully understand what's going on with this vicarious forgiveness of sins. Presumably, a person would still have to be in a proper disposition to receive forgiveness: you couldn't be totally unrepentant-yet-forgiven just because your loved one was fervently praying for you. I think it's probably something nearer the St. Monica / St. Augustine situation. Monica was Augustine's mother, and prayed fervently for him. Her prayers were effective in leading Augustine back to the faith (and in a big way - he became one of the most influential Christian thinkers of all time, and he covers virtually every Catholic topic in his writings). If my theory's right, it would explain why both Augustine and Paul were so fascinated with this idea of a predestined salvation by faith, because both of them would have been gravely aware of where they would be if not for the grace of God and fervent prayers of believers.
Good point, Eric!

Georgetown, Seriously?

I know, I know, on Saturday I said that I would probably do a post yesterday on Christological prophesies in the Old Testament, and on the issue of typology, but I didn't. I'll get to it eventually, but there are a lot of other things I want to talk about in the meantime.

One of those things just appeared in my inbox this morning, with the title "EVENT: Vice President Biden Award Ceremony." My first thought was, "Seriously?" Is Georgetown really going to make a point of a "Vice President Biden Award Ceremony" in the wake of the Notre Dame fiasco, coupled with its own shameful performance, in covering up the name of Christ to appease the White House? I suppose I should preempt this discussion by saying that I love Georgetown. It's a great school (at least, the law school is - I didn't go there for undergrad), and they've been wonderful to me academically. But it's religiously anemic. There's a single Bible in our chaplet, but also a Koran and numerous other religious texts, as well as prayer rugs, and signs pointing to Mecca. They've sold out as a "Catholic" law school long ago.

Just to recap. Here's the 2004 Bishops statement on the subject,"Catholics in Political Life,":
"Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." (emphasis in original)
Two things separate this from the Notre Dame situation, but they're on different sides of the scale. First, Vice President Biden is a self-proclaimed Catholic. This is important because Fr. Jenkins defended honoring Obama by saying that he understood the 2004 ban to extending only to Catholic politicians because it says "Catholics in Political Life." It's a dumb argument, as the folks at Catholic culture were quick to point out. The Catholics in political life being talked about are almost certainly us, and those among us in positions to give awards, particularly. The ban says should not honor "those," not "those Catholics," or anything of the sort. Fr. Jenkins' interpretation also eviscerates the plain spirit of the rule: why would it be better to award someone who opposes Catholic social teachings, just because they also deny Catholic theology? It's a sort of "it's okay to be pro-choice, as long as you also renounce God" argument which turns arguments like "natural law is truth apparent to non-Catholics" and "make believers of all the world" on their head.

Nevertheless, if one ignored the obvious spirit of the rule (as well, incidentally, as the letter of the rule), you could come to Fr. Jenkins' conclusion. But not in this case. Biden famously proved his religious reverence by saying: "The next Republican that tells me I'm not religious, I'm going to shove my rosary beads down their throat." He's publicly identified himself as Catholic, and if Fr. Jenkins and those like him are right that Catholics should be held to a higher standard than non-Catholics (even on issues of natural law), so be it. By that standard (or any other reasonable Catholic standard), Vice President Biden fails to live up to the clear and unambiguous teachings of the Magisterium (here's a brief summary of his record, if you're not already aware).

There is one substantial redeeming factor, however. The body of the e-mail announcing this award ceremony says that the award is "for his work as the champion of the Violence Against Women Act." VAWA is about to celebrate its 15th anniversary, and Biden does deserve a lot of credit for championing the bill. I think that someone could reasonably say, Biden doesn't deserve any credit for his cowardly position on abortion ("life begins at conception, but end it if you really want to," more or less), but deserves a lot of credit for being at the forefront of an important move to protect women from domestic violence.

Nevertheless, I'm still drawn back to a central point. Georgetown decided that, in the wake of these two scandals (the Obama/Notre Dame incident, and the covering of the IHS), to move ahead with honoring Vice President Biden for something good he did a decade and a half ago. I can't escape the idea that they're trying to say something without really saying it.



Edit: The Violence Against Women Act was ruled, by a 5-4 vote in 2000, unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Edit 2: The Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law is hosting this event, if anyone's wondering. (And it is Georgetown University Law Center, not the undergrad, who is behind this).

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What the Road to Damascus Taught St. Paul

It's the year of St. Paul. - for those of you who aren't aware or are not Catholic, the pope declared a year, from June 28, 2008 to June 29, 2009, to celebrate St. Paul's unique contributions to the faith. There really is at least a year's worth of discussion one could do just on St. Paul, without being repetitive.

I remember listening, this past November, to Bishop Loverde, the bishop of Arlington Diocese, talk on the subject of Paul (incidentally, his namesake). You can listen to the audio here, and be sure to check out a lot of other really fascinating speakers here from the same series: Theology on Tap at Pat Troy's Irish Pub in Arlington, VA. Yes, we do like to reinforce those drunken Irish Catholic stereotypes, but seeing the crowds of young orthodox Catholics on fire for their faith can be really uplifting. Anyways, I remember thinking that a lot of the insights he was making - the role that Paul's occupation had on his worldview, etc. - were really interesting things I never would have paid attention to. After all, the extent to which the Bible talks about Paul being a tentmaker is, well, limited (Acts 18:1-3 seems to be about all the focus given). There are other references to Paul working for a living, outside of preaching (e.g., 1 Corinthians 9:6), but I don't think I would have noticed these things on my own.

Personally, I like to think about the role that the "road to Damascus" experience played on Paul's particular outlook and emphasis - what St. Peter described as "the wisdom given" to "our beloved brother Paul" (2 Peter 3:15). Two things in particular seem to be unique in Paul's message: first, his emphasis on justification by faith; and second, his view of the Church as the Body of Christ. Both of these, it seems to me, are tied to his conversion.

Acts 9:1 begins with an especially ominous image of Saul (the future St. Paul), "breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples." It calls to mind something from a movie, where the villan is stampin' mad, ready to get revenge. And boy, does he ever have a plot in mind! He got permission from the high priest to take the Christians in Damascus prisoner, and drag them back to Jerusalem. Since Damascus was about 135 miles from Jerusalem, in present-day Syria, it was outside of the grasp of the opponents of Christianity, Jewish and Roman, based out of Jerusalem. By kidnapping the Christians and bringing them back, they could be tried by the Roman authorities. So Saul was something like a Boba Fett (or less gloriously, a Dog the Bounty Hunter).
And it is here, in this strangest of all places, that God calls Saul to conversion. With a flash of light heralding the Lord, Paul is knocked to the ground (whether from an animal or from his own feet, we're never told), closes his eyes, and hears the voice of God say, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Saul replies, "Who are you, Lord?" to which Jesus replies, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." (Acts 9:4-6). It's an incredible account.

After this, a man names Ananias (not the same one who is killed in Acts 5, obviously) comes and lays hands on Saul, filling him with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). According to Paul's recounting of the event, Ananias then said to him: "The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name." (Acts 22:14-15). And so he does (Acts 9:18).

A few things strike me from this story. From a Catholic perspective, it shows that the valid laying on of hands does confer the Holy Spirit (which is important for such things as Confirmation, and is emphasized by Catholic Charismatics), and that Baptism does wash away your sins. It's interesting here that Paul has already converted, and is even filled with the Holy Spirit prior to Baptism, and Baptism is still deemed necessary to remove his sins. Additionally, like St. Peter, St. Paul got a name change, from Saul ("prayed for") to Paul ("small" or "humble"). While St. Peter's name change was tied to a covenant (just like Abram/Abraham; see Matthew 16:17-19, or my earlier post on this subject), Saul earned his like Jacob, by wrestling with God.* All the praying-for done for Saul's conversion worked, as God humbled him, and drew him into Himself. These are interesting things worth exploring, but not my focus today.

Rather, look to the fact that Paul's experience shows the futility of salvation through works of the Law. In Philippians 3:5-6, Paul says "in zeal I persecuted the Church, in righteousness based on the Law I was blameless." That Paul was able to persecute Christ while hewing to the letter of the Law shows the (massive) shortcomings of the Law. If Paul's salvation were something he earned, he would be doomed for "violently persecuting God's Church" (Galatians 1:13-14). He acknowledges that "I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (1 Corinthians 15:9). God stepped into his life in an active way and saved him, even while Saul was zealously persecuting Him. There are many possibilities here - maybe God respected and rewarded Saul's misplaced zeal, maybe He saw something in Saul that no one else saw, or maybe He just wanted to use Saul's conversion as a powerful sign for the Jews (since Saul was well-regarded in their community).

In any case, this experience was the single most important event in Saul's life, and undoubtedly influenced how he understood justification. Certainly, humbly obeying God is necessary for salvation, and nowhere does Paul refute that (he even affirms it on numerous occasions). But his own life, his conversion, stood as a powerful testament to the futility of working one's way to Heaven, and the power and overflowing mercy of God. This is probably "the wisdom given" to which Peter refers. This justification by faith is tied to the idea of predestination: Paul says that God "set me apart from my mother's womb and called me by his grace [...] to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles" (Galatians 1:15-16), and indeed, the role of predestination in salvation is emphasized more by Paul than the other NT writers (although Jesus speaks of it as well, a fact that John often noted).

A second unique bit of wisdom that the conversion would have earned St. Paul is a unique ecclesiological, as well as a theological, understanding of Christ's relation to His Church. When the glorifed Jesus Christ, in Heaven, says, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," He is saying something astonishing. How can a man persecute God in Heaven? Well, by persecuting any of "these least brothers of mine" (Matthew 25:40, 45), and by persecuting the Church. Perhaps we hear these verses so much that we gloss over them. We shouldn't. This is a radical and unusual statement. While we can wonder at what Jesus means by "these least brothers of mine" (whether that statement includes only His followers or all His human creations), the simple fact is that God is presenting Himself in a way which contrasts sharply with that "Zeus, sovereign god" image of what a God should look like. Certainly, God has the power to unleash some mighty fury, and He does at times, but the really unique part of His persona, the surprising part which sets Christianity apart, is the opposite. The humility of God, a term which seems inappropriate to even apply to a god, is what is so overwhelming. Fr. Cantalamessa discusses this issue (the humility of God, not its relation to Paul's conversion) in his book Sober Intoxication of the Spirit, a book of meditations that might be worth your checking out.

The ecclesiological implications of this humility are profound as well, and Paul was quick to grasp them. In Paul's work we see a motif rarely seen elsewhere: the Church as the Body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 6:15, he asks, "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?" and seems to compare this union with Christ with sexual union (where "the two become one flesh"; see Genesis 2:23-24). He does this more directly in his epistle to the Ephesians, where he calls the relationship between Christ and the Church a "profound mystery," (Ephesians 5:32) and says that "husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies [...] just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body." (Ephesians 5:28-30). This is something much more radical than membership in a group - this is a spiritual bonding of your soul to Christ.

Sometimes this "Church as the Body of Christ" motif is understood in a loose, metaphorical sense, in the way one might say that a "large body of people assembled for the March on Washington." This, as I understand it, is what people often mean by "body of believers," but it's certainly not what Paul meant. Paul meant nearer the opposite: he tells us in Romans 12:4-5, "For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually, parts of one another."

He says something similar in 1 Corinthians 12:27-30, where, after employing the same image of the Church as the Body of Christ (in v. 27), he says that "Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then, gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues." (v. 28). Paul understands the rank and hierarchy within the Church to be ordained, because "as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the Body as He intended" (v. 18). Nevertheless, just because someone is called to a more prominent place in the Church, this doesn't make the rest of the Church more dispensible. On the contrary, he tells us that "the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary," (v. 22) and that each part needs the others (v. 21). This comports with what we learn of the role leaders in the Church should exercise elsewhere, such as the model of pastoral leadership which Jesus holds up (Himself) in John 10:11, and the washing of the feet in John 13:14-15. Perhaps it is worth mentioning that just because those in authority often fail to live up to (our understanding of) what Christ calls them to do, in the area of caring for others, they don't cease to be validly ordained. In other words, the bad popes (or bishops, or priests, or whatnot) were still popes (or bishops, or priests, or whatnot). Hands can't become eyes, just because they think they'd be better at being eyes than the eyes themselves are.

In other words, Paul's understanding of the Church as Body of Christ, it isn't just a mass of people. It's a structured, organic being which breathes and moves together, supporting one another in their calling, and each called to something different. Let these verses serve as a call to organized Christian unity, "so that there may be no division in the body" (1 Corinthians 12:25). This unity is found in two ways. First, in the Eucharist - "because there is one Loaf, we, who are many, are one Body, for we all partake of the one Loaf" (1 Corinthians 10:17). Note the cause-and-effect: we don't just share the Eucharist because we are one, we are one because we share the Eucharist. For this reason, I thank God for Can. 844 §3 of the Catholic Code of Canon Law: "Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed." If anything can draw the two halves of the Church back together, it's Christ, who says of the Eucharist as Paul says of the Church, "This is My Body" (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24; notice the way in 1 Corinthians that Paul weaves his Eucharistic and eclessiological discourses together in this way, particularly in chapters 10-12, where he uses the Eucharist and oneness of Christ's Body to curb the disunion festering in the church in Corinth). The second, and related, source of unity is through Christ's leadership. For Christ is the Head of the Body, the Church (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 5:23). Faithfully humbling ourselves to Christ is a precursor to Christian unity.

Finally, Paul identifies the Church as the very purpose behind Christ's mission: "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." (Ephesians 5:25-27). What an incredible statement, and what a clear result from Paul's learning the hard way that persecuting the Church is persecuting Christ. If your understanding of your relationship to Christ isn't tied to your understanding of your relationship to the Church, perhaps you should meditate more on Paul's words on the Body.

It is for this Church that Christ prays His high-priestly prayer in John 17. I think He speaks for Himself quite well, so I will note only one thing briefly. There are those, particularly of the dispensationalist leaning, who acknowledge the Catholic Church as the original Church, but say that God willed to divide it later in history, as He did Israel. Draw your attention to the forward-looking nature of the prayer: Christ, God Himself, is praying against disunion, and not just for the present Apostolic age, but for "those who will believe in Me through their message," which I think includes all of us. That said, read what the Head wishes for His Body:
"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message , that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23).

*I think I'm going to address the Christological aspects of this tomorrow, because Genesis 32 is rich in prophetic undertones. I'll probably do a post talking about typologies - Old Testament prefigurements of New Testament realities.