Friday, May 29, 2009

GotQuestions Gets Angry

I mentioned yesterday that in March, I e-mailed GotQuestions.org about a post which I thought badly misinformed readers on the Biblical arguments surrounding divorce in cases of adultery. The article imputed bad faith to Catholics - NAB allegedly changed the Bible: "There does not seem to be any textual basis for the NAB's choice of words, except to support the Catholic Church's own doctrine." In reality, the textual basis for NAB's choice of words is overwhelmingly superior to the traditional Protestant interpretation, as I explained yesterday. When I sent the e-mail that became yesterday's post to GotQuestions, the response was really pleasant:

Joe,

Thank you for your input. I will forward your message to the author of the article and we will prayerfully consider revising our article.

GOD bless!

Shea
GotQuestions.org

This response was really encouraging. But that was March 22nd. Almost a month later (April 21st), I sent another e-mail:

Hi Shea, I just wanted to follow up with you. I notice from your website that the article remains as it was, compete with the inaccuracies I addressed below. Am I to assume that you've concluded not to take any action, or are you still awaiting a conclusion?- Joe.

Shea replied the next day:

Joe,

I forwarded your comments to the author of the article, but I have not heard back from him yet. I will remind him.

We are not ignoring your comments.

Sincerely in Christ,

Shea
GotQuestions.org

Once again, an encouraging response, but this time, I was starting to get a little skeptical that I was being strung along. I responded simply, "Great. Thanks again for your feedback!" and figured I'd let them make the next move.

They didn't.

Flash forward to Wednesday. I e-mailed them again regarding Wednesday's post, which responded to their argument for sola Scriptura (wherein they once again made some unfounded anti-Catholic claims: this time, that we make doctrines up without Biblical support). The e-mail I sent them can be seen in Wednesday's comments section. In it, I also addressed the still-unaddressed issue of the factually incorrect post on annulments, by saying:

I e-mailed you previously regarding your post on annulments. I note with sadness that it remains up, even despite unanswered Scriptural arguments against it. I think it badly and unfairly prejudices people against the Catholic Church, and I think it misleads them on an important Scriptural question, drawing them away from the Truth, which is the opposite of what your site is intended to do.

Yesterday, I got a response, much less pleasant than the first two:

Joe,

We are trying to be respectful and responsive to your complaints, but please understand, we receive MANY complaints regarding various articles on our site. Mormons tell us we are wrong on this point. Jehovah's Witnesses tell us we are wrong on some other point. Seventh Day Adventists argue against another issue. Lutherans disagree with us on certain issues. Etc., etc., etc. If we took down every article someone complains about, there would be very few articles left on our website.

Second, in regards to your claim that it "unfairly prejudices people against the Catholic Church," other than the "unfairly" comment, that is precisely our goal. We want to prejudice people against the Catholic Church. We strongly believe that the Roman Catholic Church is terribly wrong on many very important issues. If you look through our "Catholic Questions" section -
http://www.gotquestions.org/Catholic-questions.html - you will see that we disagree with Catholic doctrine and practice in MANY areas.

Even if we spent the time to read the articles you requested we read, and then edited our "annulment" article, it would still not be satisfactory to you because it will still argue against the Catholic views of both marriage and annulment.

Sincerely in Christ,

Shea
GotQuestions.org

My enthusiasm for their site has, shall we say, waned. Apparently, my original understanding of the goal of the site (to draw people to the Truth) was wrong; Instead, it is: "to prejudice people against the Catholic Church." And in fact, that all-too-honest explanation from Shea certainly explains the zingers they have on the link provided in the e-mail, with questions like, "I am a Catholic, why should I consider becoming a Christian?," and "Is worship of saints / Mary Biblical?"

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Does the Bible Permit Divorce in the Case of Adultery?

I mentioned GotQuestions.org yesterday (and will mention them at least once more, tomorrow), but today's post is only somewhat related to them. This is an e-mail I sent them a while back, but it addresses a topic which I think has been the source of great confusion: does the Bible permit divorce in the case of adultery? They say yes, I say no, here's how we came out differently.

Hi GotQuestions folks,

I wanted to write you in regards to an article I read on your site recently (http://www.gotquestions.org/Catholic-annulment.html). As a Catholic, I often disagree with your conclusions, but like your approach: I find it is generally charitable, and acknowledges ambiguity where it exists. I can only hope that my rejoinder to this article is as irenic.

Your article makes three claims: (1) that Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 allow divorce “in the case of the adultery of the other party”; (2) that the Catholic Church, rather than admit this, decides to enforce a rule stricter than required by God; and (3) that the Church perverts the Greek terms in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 because the NAB editors translate porneia (the Greek term in question) as “unlawful marriage.”

At no point in the New Testament does porneia ever mean “adultery.” Porneia refers to fornication, sexual deviancy and possibly idolatry.

Two major points to start: First, just look at the context of the chapter. In Matthew 5, Jesus is saying that the spirit of the law goes beyond the law. One of the problems with those who tried to be justified under the law is that they would do what was statutorily required, rather than obeying the principle the law pointed to. This is where He talks about turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and so forth. He already addressed adultery earlier in the chapter as well, saying, “You have heard that it was said: Do not commit adultery. But I tell you this: anyone who looks at a woman to satisfy his lust has in fact already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). So after saying that even lust is forbidden, He says, “It was also said: anyone who divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce. But what I tell you is this: If a man divorces his wife except in the case of porneia, he causes her to commit adultery. And the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32). In Matthew 19, He is talking about how God binds the marriage together so “let no man separate what God has joined” (Matthew 19:6). When asked why Moses allowed divorce, He says that it was because of their stubborn hearts – He proceeds to say, “Therefore I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, unless it be for porneia, and marries another, commits adultery." However you interpret this passage, it needs to be read as going beyond the Old Testament rule – that´s the trend of the entire context.

Second, read the Bible with a hermeneutic of continuity. Skeptics like to point out supposed Biblical “contradictions,” yet read with the right understanding, none of these verses ever actually contradict each other – it´s usually a matter of sloppy translation, or misunderstanding the context of the passage. This is the same way. Remember that the early Christians often didn´t have every one of the books which we have today, and there were gaps of time between the writings of each Gospel. If the traditional Protestant version is correct- that porneia means adultery, meaning that Jesus allows divorce for adultery cases, this would create a Biblical contradiction. Regarding the question of "is divorce allowed in cases of adultery?" Those who had read Mark and/or Luke´s Gospel could answer definitively no (based on Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18); those who read Matthew could answer definitively yes… and both would cite to the same teaching of Jesus (since all three seem to be describing the same event). So either one or more of the Gospel writers were wrong, or the traditional Protestant interpretation is.

Here´s the basis in Greek for why the Protestant interpretation is wrong. There is a word for adultery in Greek, it´s moicheia – the verb form is moicheuō or moichaō. These three terms are used some 22 times in the New Testament. Another variation of the term, moichalis, is used in 2 Peter 2:14. So if Matthew wanted to translate Jesus´ words as allowing an exception for adultery, he had the word available to him. In fact, the term moichaō is used in both Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:6, but never for the exception. Rather, it´s for the consequence: “whoever divorces his wife, unless it be for porneia, and marries another, commits moichaō.”

So let´s look to the use of porneia in the New Testament.

St. Matthew uses the term in Matthew 15:19: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries (moicheia), porneia, thefts, false witness, blasphemies…” If porneia and moicheia mean the same thing, this doesn´t make any sense: why list the same thing twice under two different names? But of course, Protestants don´t translate porneia as “adultery” there. Mark´s Gospel has the same problem on the parallel account, Mark 7:21. St. Paul also distinguishes between the two: 1 Corinthians 6:9 delineates between the two in describing those who will not inherit eternal life. Galatians 5:19 starts the list of works of the flesh with moicheia and porneia … as separate sins.

So porneia clearly doesn´t mean adultery – so what does it mean? The term is often translated generically as “fornication,” which is on the right track, but incomplete.

In John 8:41, the term is used for illegitimacy. The Jews replied to Jesus, “We be not born of porneia; we have one Father, God.” In Romans 1:29, St. Paul accuses the Romans of porneia right after describing their homosexual practices (in v. 27). In 1 Corinthians 5:1, he uses it to describe incest between a stepson and stepmother. In 1 Corinthians 6:13 and 6:18, he uses the term to refer to sleeping with a prostitute (see v. 16). St. Paul also uses the term to refer to premarital sex, most clearly in 1 Corinthians 7:2. [Additionally, in Acts 15:20, 15:29, and 21:25, it is used in the context of idolatry regarding what meats can be eaten: it use here is almost certainly a figure of speech which doesn´t translate well into English].

Excluding the references from Acts, we have something of a picture. These are generally deviant sexual practices, and they´re illegitimate: children born from porneia are illegitimate. In other words, there´s no marriage. Which is exactly what the Catholic translation was attempting to convey in the NAB.

Take, for example, pagan common-law spouses: or, if you want a modern example, gay “marriages.” Say that one partner in one of those unions converts, repents, and wants to live a life pleasing to God: need he be worried that God will be worried when he seeks a civil divorce from his “husband”? No! God never recognized the marriage to begin with.

This interpretation accounts for the delineation between porneia and moicheia, and completely accounts for the other Biblical uses of both terms (excluding the bit about meat, once again). I think that the Catholic Church´s policy of no divorces is strictly in line with what Jesus said in these passages. Note that He is making the rule stricter than it was in Old Testament times. The Church´s stance that no divorce is allowed is easily proven by recourse to Malachi 2:16a, Matthew 19:6, Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18, and 1 Corinthians 7:10. In keeping with going beyond the Old Testament rule, which allowed divorces, these passages all say that divorce displeases God and is forbidden. None of the texts which I cited make any exceptions. Since God doesn´t contradict Himself, the case is closed, so far as I can tell: no divorce means no divorce.

Anyways, thanks a lot for taking the time to read this: I hope that it helps to shed more light on why the NAB translated the phrase as it did (I agree that it is strangely worded, particularly if you are not acquainted with the complexity of translation). Yours in Christ,

Joe.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sola Scriptura, the Protestant View

As a followup to yesterday's post, I was reading a handful of Protestant defenses of sola Scriptura. One of them jumped out at me, because (a) it was from a source I've come in contact with a lot (GotQuestions.org, who I'd already e-mailed a correction to regarding the issue of annulments); and (b) it was riddled with the sort of ironic leaps in logic I'd talked about yesterday. I don't claim that this is the single best source for defending sola Scriptura (I'm not sure what is), but it's at least a pretty standard one, from my very cursory examination of the topic. I did my best to provide enough context to the quotes so you can see what their argument is, but here's the full article, if you'd prefer.

They say: Sola scriptura means that Scripture alone is authoritative for the faith and practice of the Christian. The Bible is complete, authoritative, and true. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
I say: This is a poor start. There's a big jump from "The Bible is complete, authoritative, and true" (which both Catholics and Evangelical Bible-only Protestants believe) to "Scripture alone is authoritative for the faith and practice of the Christian" (which is where the dispute arises. 2 Timothy 3:16, as I pointed out yesterday, affirms the fact that the Scriptures are authoritative and true, which gets you most of the first half. To get to "complete," you need a divinely-inspired compiler - we'd say, the Catholic Church (relying upon Sacred Tradition).

They say: For centuries the Roman Catholic Church had made its traditions superior in authority to the Bible. This resulted in many practices that were in fact contradictory to the Bible. Some examples are prayer to saints and/or Mary, the immaculate conception, transubstantiation, infant baptism, indulgences, and papal authority.
I say: The Catholic Church cites Scriptural support for all of the positions cited [If you're already aware of what these are, skip down to the next "They say"]. For prayer to the saints, there's reference to saints in Heaven praying for us in Revelation 5:8, and Lazarus praying to Father Abraham in Luke 16:24. For the Immaculate Conception, this is rooted in at three things: first, the phrase "fully graced" in Luke 1:28 (which I sort of touched on here but didn't go far enough with); second, the belief that Mary is the New Eve, based on Christ calling her "Woman" (Eve's title), and the parallel between Christ Himself and Adam (which I talked about here); and third, the belief that Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant, based on the similarities in their roles (the Ark carried the embodiment of the Old Covenant: 2 Chronicles 6:11; Mary carried Jesus, who embodies the New (Mark 14:24) and fulfills the Old: Luke 1:72), and the parallel between Mary and the original Ark in Revelation 11:19-12:2. For transubstantiation, the Bible is full of verses which seem to support the Catholic position on face (John 6:54-56; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26) - from a sola Scriptura point, transubstantiation is in the much stronger position. For infant baptism, Acts 16:15, Acts 16:31-33, and 1 Corinthians 1:16 say that whole households were baptized together - if this means only those parts of the household over a certain age, that information isn't in there (on this issue, someone can read it either way: sola Scriptura doesn't provide any clear answer). For indulgences, Matthew 18:18 and Matthew 16:19 provide the power to the bishops collectively, and to the first pope, respectively. Which also answers papal authority: Matthew 16:17-19 and John 21:15 are Christ conferring the authority; Acts 2:14-40 (and plenty of other places) exhibit Peter's primacy in action; and the lists of Apostles in Matt. 10:1-4, Mark 3:16-19, Acts 1:13, and even Luke 6:14-16 reflect this primacy. Obviously, these are all extremely truncated lists of supporting texts, but if you want to now more, let me know (e-mail me or leave a comment in the box), and I'll address it head-on.

Beyond this, like I've said, the Bible tells us to hold fast to Tradition, whether it be from Scripture or oral transmission (2 Thes. 2:15). In other words, the Biblical view is that Scripture and Tradition are one and the same interconnected font of revelation in two different forms. This, incidentally, is also the Catholic view. It's flatly untrue to say that the Catholic Church ever made its traditions "superior in authority to the Bible." The Catholic Church always views Sacred Tradition as being equal to (and inseparable from) Scripture. Mere disciplinary traditions (like the color of vestments, etc.) have always been held to a lower authority.

The author's just tossing out incidenary doctrinal disputes and hoping his reader just assumes that anyone who disagrees with the Evangelical Protestant traditions must not care what the Bible says. The poor start got worse.

They say: The primary Catholic argument against sola scriptura is that the Bible does not explicitly teach sola scriptura. Catholics argue that the Bible nowhere states that it is the only authoritative guide for faith and practice. While this is true, they fail to recognize a crucially important issue.
I say:
Wait... Did they just concede that the Bible doesn't say it's the only authoritative guide? We can end the debate now, right? While this, the only thing we're talking about, is true...

Let's move on.

They say: While this is true, they fail to recognize a crucially important issue. We know that the Bible is the Word of God. The Bible declares itself to be God-breathed, inerrant, and authoritative. We also know that God does not change His mind or contradict Himself.
I say: This argument is wholly circular: it's literally, the Bible is the word of God because it says it's the word of God, and as the word of God it must be right. Beyond that, the Bible only says that "the Scriptures" are inspired - it doesn't say which ones. So you need a divinely protected source to get you from "the Scriptures are inspired" to "these Scriptures are inspired."

Besides that, the Bible says that the preached word is the word of God, just as it says of the written word: 1 Thess 2:13. This dispels any notion that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 means the written word and only the written word.

They say: So, while the Bible itself may not explicitly argue for sola scriptura, it most definitely does not allow for traditions that contradict its message. Sola scriptura is not as much of an argument against tradition as it is an argument against unbiblical, extra-biblical and/or anti-biblical doctrines.
I say:
This argument is half-right. Once you determine that these books are the Bible, and are inspired, it then follows that some tradition can't come along and contradict it. That serves sa an argument for anti-Biblical doctrines. But extra-Biblical? Where is he getting that? I understand that if X is true, "anti-X" is false; but how do you get, "if X is true, therefore anything in addition to X is false"?

They say: The only way to know for sure what God expects of us is to stay true to what we know He has revealed—the Bible. We can know, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that Scripture is true, authoritative, and reliable. The same cannot be said of tradition.
I say:
Actually, the only way we can know which Scriptures are inspired beyond a shadow of a doubt is because we can trust Tradition. Otherwise, we wouldn't know which Scriptures were reliable, and thus wouldn't know what He'd revealed.

They say: Sola scriptura is the only way to avoid subjectivity and keep personal opinion from taking priority over the teachings of the Bible.
I say:
Incidentally, this gets it entirely backwards. Of churches which submit to the Magisterium to infallibly define disputes over Biblical texts and Christian practices, we have One. Of churches which rely upon sola Scriptura, we have too many to count, and they fundamentally disagree with one another. Particularly since (as I said yesterday), sola Scriptura is really "Scripture plus gut feeling," as Luther's speech (cited to earlier in the article) shows, and gut feeling is as subjective as it gets. Both on a theoretical and practical level, sola Scriptura has been disasterous for Christian unity.

They say: On a practical matter, a frequent objection to the concept of sola scriptura is the fact that the canon of the Bible was not officially agreed upon for at least 250 years after the church was founded. Further, the Scriptures were not available to the masses for over 1500 years after the church was founded. How, then, were early Christians to use sola scriptura, when they did not even have the full Scriptures?
I say:
This is a good question, but here's a better one. If sola Scriptura is the Biblical mandate, how could the first generation of Christians comply when those Scriptures hadn't been written yet?

They say: And how were Christians who lived before the invention of the printing press supposed to base their faith and practice on Scripture alone if there was no way for them to have a complete copy of the Scriptures? This issue is further compounded by the very high rates of illiteracy throughout history.
I say: Another good question. I'm not sure the author has fully grasped the complexity and intensity of hand-copying the Bible, as his answer to these hypotheticals is about to show.

They say: The problem with this argument is that it essentially says that Scripture’s authority is based on its availability. This is not the case. Scripture’s authority is universal; because it is God’s Word, it is His authority. The fact that Scripture was not readily available, or that people could not read it, does not change the fact that Scripture is God’s Word.
I say: No. The argument isn't saying that Scripture's authority is based upon its availability. That's actually the opposite of what the argument is saying. It's the sola Scripturists, not the Catholics, who are making an argument contingent upon external circumstances. As Bob Sungenis has said: "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." The fact that sola Scriptura was a practical impossibility for most of human history is just one more reason why the Bible alone would have been a bad standard.

They say: The early church should have made producing copies of the Scriptures a high priority. While it was unrealistic for every Christian to possess a complete copy of the Bible, it was possible that every church could have some, most, or all of the Scriptures available to it. Early church leaders should have made studying the Scriptures their highest priority so they could accurately teach it. Even if the Scriptures could not be made available to the masses, at least church leaders could be well-trained in the Word of God.
I say:
In fact, the Bible was generally available on about the scale he's talking about: one per town or so. In any case, the advice offerred here, that the Christians are to go out and make copies of the Bible for everyone, is conspiciously absent from the Bible. It has in place of that a Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), where the Church is sent to: (a) make Disciples; (b) Baptize; and (c) teach these new believers everything (not just what makes it into the Bible), with the assurance that Christ will guard Her always. I think I'll go with that choice instead.

They say: Instead of building traditions upon traditions and passing them on from generation to generation, the church should have copied the Scriptures and taught the Scriptures (2 Timothy 4:2).
I say:
He doesn't actually show that Catholics are building one tradition on top of another. Ok, he doesn't actually show we've created any traditions at all - he just asserts it without proof - but even if he could prove that, to then say a second generation of traditions sprung up off of those first ones should require proof.

But what makes this more bizarre is the verse he cites to. 2 Timothy 4:2 says, "Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction." In other words, pass on the word of God orally! None of the things cited [preaching, correcting, rebuking, encouraging, or instructing] were "writing," "copying," or any of the other things which he says the Church should be doing. This is a proof for sola Scriptura only if you assume that the only word of God is the Bible; put another way, this is a proof for sola Scriptura only if you already take sola Scriptura's unfounded assumptions as true.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Irony of Sola Scriptura

I.

I find the sola Scriptura (Bible-alone) debate to be fascinating, in a sort of Lewis Carroll sense. What is mean is that relying on the Bible, and only the Bible, makes a lot of "gut sense." But it's not in the Bible. So it puts its defenders in the bizarre position of defending "the Bible alone" without using the Bible alone, or in torturing verses out of context.

The truth is, sola Scriptura isn't really the Bible alone. It's the Bible plus "gut sense." We see this from Luther, the doctrine's ideological founder, in perhaps his most famous defense of the belief: “Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning, unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted, and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me! Amen!” It's beautiful rhetorical flourish, but he's already given up the game when he acknowledges a second source of binding authority: reasoning.

Luther effectively supplanted Sacred Tradition, the constant and uninterrupted beliefs of the Church from its birth to the modern time, and the Magisterium's role, replacing them with that peskily hard-to-pin-down "reason." A lot of ink has been spilled claiming that the Catholic Church "creates" doctrines on this date or that date (and in almost every case, a bit of research will debunk these claims): there's no real question that sola Scriptura is Luther's invention. It made sense to him, and to a lot of other people. Problem is, other ideas made a lot of sense to a lot of other people. The early Anglican church used "reason" as the stick to fight both Catholics on one side, and low-church Protestants on the other. (Raymond Tumbleson presents a fair-minded and convincing argument that this is one of the major reasons for Anglicanism's early success - the link requires a MUSE subscription, but many universities have one).

As a purely historical matter, one would be hard-pressed to find any proto-sola Scripturists prior to Luther, which is strange to many modern Christians (since sola Scriptura is the norm in the English-speaking world: Catholics are expected to make the overwhelming case for Tradition, and to do it using only Scripture, as if Catholicism were the change to the system).

II.

Some may respond, "But wait! What about John 20:31, 'But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in His name'? Doesn't that suggest that only what's written there is necessary?" This is usually presented as an argument for sola Scriptura, but it's not. Remember, the "Good Book" is not really a book at all - it's a library, a collection of dozen of assembled books.

So John 20:31 is, if anything, an argument for what I'm calling sola Johannine, the Gospel of John alone (I don't claim the Latin is right, I just like how it sounds). After all, John is clearly saying, "my Gospel is intended to help you believe in Jesus, so you can go to Heaven." So either he's saying, "my Gospel points to Christ," or he's saying, "my Gospel is all you need." If it's the former, he's not making a sufficiency claim of any sort. If it's in the latter, much more of Christianity is undermined than Bible-only Protestants are ready for.

Here's why. Imagine a person who affirms everything found in John's Gospel, but rejects everything else. Are they a Christian in good standing? The Catholic Church is clear: no. This person would reject everything from Jesus' words at the Last Supper, to the Virgin Birth, to the Ascension of Christ into Heaven. But upon what grounds can a person use John to show "sufficiency," and not provide a begrudging "yes"? So reading John 20:31 as saying "this is all you need" doesn't just get rid of the Pope: it gets rid of the Virgin Birth, the Ascension, the vast majority of the Bible, and what any Christian would consider "orthodox Christian faith."

III.

What about 2 Timothy 3:16-17? "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work. " If an individual didn't already believe in sola Scriptura, I doubt that this verse would lead them to that conclusion on its own. The reason is because you don't have to believe sola Scriptura to believe this verse. In fact, look at the other versions of this passage, and tell me if any of them contradict what everyone (sola Scripturist or Catholic) believes about the Bible.

Let me put it another way. I could say, "the Book of John is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work. " And it would absolutely and unassailably true. But does that mean we're back to sola Johannine? Yes, but only if you take a tortured intepretation of the passage. A much better interpretation would be this: the Book of John is inspired... but that doesn't mean that Matthew, Mark, and Luke aren't; all four of those are inspired... but that doesn't mean the rest of the NT isn't; the NT is inspired... but that doesn't mean the OT isn't; and the whole Bible is inspired... but that doesn't mean that Sacred Tradition isn't. This passage is an affirmation of Scripture, not a negation of everything but Scripture.

Biblical context helps. First, Paul is talking about the Scriptures which Timothy has known from his infancy (see 2 Timothy 3:15). These are the books of the Old Testament, and as 3:15 says, they are capable of "giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." In fact, Christ Jesus did exactly that, on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), where He explains how the OT prophesied His life, death, and resurrection, but the disciples weren't able to see Him until the breaking of the Bread (which is not coincidental). The passage shows that with Christ as your teacher, the OT alone is enough to get you to Him. In fact, the Torah alone is enough to get you to the resurrection in Matthew 22:23-32. And for Paul, Jesus appearing on the road, without a word of Scripture, was enough to get them to faith in Him. That doesn't mean we discard the New Testament, or the Bible in toto. Rather, it means that people can be lead to the Faith in diverse ways. Once there, what does the early Church do? Acts 2:42, "They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. " In other words, Scripture and Tradition (since virtually nothing was written down at the point Luke is talking about), the Church, the Eucharist, and prayer.

Second, Paul has already pointed this path out to the same Timothy who he is allegedly saying "Bible only" to in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Just look at 1 Timothy 3:15 (the top of the blog). Paul isn't saying to Timothy that Scripture's the only thing you look at. It's not even the first thing he tells him to look at: the Church is.

IV.

Next, we come to the hardest argument to beat, because it seems so right: the "gut sense" argument. If we all know the Bible is the infallible word of God, why bother with do we need any other source of infallible revelation? The easiest answer is this: we only know the Bible is the infallible word of God because we have another source, Tradition; and a Church to tend to those dual and intertwined sources. The usual Catholic claim is that "there is no divinely inspired Table of Contents to the Bible," so we need Tradition and the Magisterium to determine what the TOC should be. It's too cute by half. In fact, we do have an infallible Table of Contents in the Bible, but it isn't there because of sola Scriptura: it's the Holy Spirit, guiding the Catholic Church at work there.

In response to this, at least one Protestant has argued to me that there was a commonly accepted canon. This isn't entirely true: in fact, a number of books were up in the air until the 4th century (at least regarding their canonical status, although they were held in high repute); in any case, that's an appeal to Sacred Tradition. If we're going to throw our lot in with the early Christians on the contents of Holy Writ, why not throw our lot in with them on the other dogmatic issues, like, "is the Eucharist Jesus Christ?" Or "is there global authority within the Church?" Or "does the Church have the ability to declare dogma infallibly?" Or best of all, "is Scripture the only infallible source of revelation?"

V.

But of course, God could have inspired the last NT writer to include a table of contents. Why didn't He? I think the answer is because He always chooses to work, whenever possible, through human agency. He chose Disciples He didn't need, never wrote His own book, commissioned His followers to go spread His message (and not just by hyping up the Book(s)), and so on. God is clearly an artist who enjoys humanity as a medium.

So He chose a bunch of meatbags to head His Infallible Church, after becoming a "meatbag" Himself. The earliest generation of these meatbags met a doctrinal challenge which Scripture hadn't totally prepared them for: do Gentiles need to be circumcised? Mark Shea makes an interesting point in Book 1 of Mary, Mother of the Son (sorry: I've been reading his stuff, so I'm over-quoting, but it's been really thought provoking). Genesis 17:7 calls the covenant with Abraham an "Everlasting Covenant," and Genesis 17:10-11 says the sign of this eternal covenant is circumcision, "for you and your seed after you." The Judaizers have the stronger argument from Scripture alone. Then the Council of Jerusalem (in Acts 15) comes along... and what does the Church do? In Acts 15:28, these meatbags, these Apostles and elders of the early Church, say, "It seems good to us and the Holy Spirit..." Under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, they come out the opposite way that a Bible-only believer would have. This tells us two things: one, they obviously didn't believe in the Bible alone; and two, there are good reasons why the Bible alone isn't the rule of Faith.

We see these Christians and their spiritual descendants cracking some hard theological nuts: the Trinity is the prime example (it all makes sense once somebody says it, but it's not a belief you're going to notice on your own); how and who to baptize; the nature of some of the finer points of the Eucharist; the contents of Scripture; the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; whether Mary is "Mother of God" (or God-bearer) or not; and so on.

It's quite within God's power to have prevented all of this hair-pulling over the proper interpretation of Scripture. He could have inspired some sort of extremely specific prophesy ahead of all of it. But He didn't, and we know He didn't. He allows us to grasp and grope and fumble along the way, preserving our free will intact, our ability to reason and to grow in faith and knowledge towards Him (incidentally, the same path He chose for Himself in human/meatbag form: Luke 2:51-52); all the while, His Holy Spirit guides the Church, like a Father's hands on the back of a young kid learning to ride a bike. He lets us (individually) screw up, but never (collectively) deviate from salvific doctrine.

Am I missing anything? Are there good arguments (from Scripture) for Sola Scriptura which I've overlooked?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Interesting Poll on Celibacy

U.S. News & World Report has an ongoing poll asking: "A Miami priest is in the hot seat after being photographed with a woman on the beach. Is it time for the Catholic Church to end its celibacy requirement for priests?", the results were surprising to me:

62.42% Yes
37.58% No

Obviously, the poll isn't scientific, and it's predictable in its support for an end to celibacy (when don't people vote for more sex?). After all, this is USN&WR, not First Things. Even though this was in the religion section (I saw it on the God & Country faith/politics blog), the reader comments suggest a readership which is far from Catholic, and far from even being warm-towards-Catholicism. And of course, the poll results suggest that. Celibacy is weird, sex is natural, how can we resist our natural impulses, etc. That part was unsurprising.

What surprised me was that even amongst USN&WR readers who cared enough to vote in an online poll, over a third were clicking to defend the celibacy tradition within the (Western, at least) Catholic Church. It left me wondering whether there are a surprising number of coservative Catholic USN&WR readers; or if there are non-Catholics who "get" the celibacy thing, and what it's good for; or if a lot of people (regardless of religious affiliation) are tired of the sex-crazy politically correct crowd telling religions what they're supposed to look like.

I'd classify these three groups as, "this is the practice of my Church, which I will defend"; "this isn't the practice of my Church, but I can see why it might help"; and "I find the celibacy thing weird and foreign, but I'm tired of having my faith determined by outsiders." I have no idea how many voters fell into each group, or whether there is some fourth category I'm missing.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Notre Dame: The Fallout

The three major take-aways I've seen are: (1) Obama's speech shows he's actually "moderate" on abortion, (2) Notre Dame Loves Obama, and (3) only a handful of students protested. As this "gay news service" blog puts it in an article title "Notre Dame Protest Flops":
President Obama arrived at Notre Dame to thunderous applause and he
concluded his speech to thunderous applause. At one point, two or three
protesters tried to disrupt Obama's speech. They were quickly drowned out by the
crowd chanting "yes we can" in unison.

We were promised by Fr. Jenkins that the invitation to Obama wouldn't obscure Notre Dame's pro-life, Catholic identity. Does anyone still believe that? Did they ever?

Of course, one of the reasons that there were only "two or three" protestors disrupting Obama's speech was that Notre Dame was having the pro-lifers arrested. Granted, these were the sort of obnoxious activists, who care more about creating a media frenzy than creating change, but still. A Catholic university honoring a radically pro-choice president while having the dissent silenced through use of police doesn't sound that much like the "dialogue-creating" we were promised. Oh yeah. Especially when they're arresting a priest.

But let's ignore the radical protestors, and focus just on the ND Response group. They were, in keeping with a proud Catholic tradition of fighting for social justice, doing just that:
"We're committed to a prayerful, peaceful protest," senior Emily Toates
told FOXNews.com. "We will not be showing any graphic images. There is a place
for them, but it can dilute your message, and we want to make sure our message
is heard."

Unfortunately, they were but a handful. About two dozen in all. And oh, the indignities they suffered. Not only were these Catholics defending their faith few in number, isolated on their campus, and a joke nationally, they suffered (and suffer) more indignities to boot. Randall Terry of "Operation Rescue" fame hijacked what little on-campus opposition there was, proclaiming “We will make this a circus.” And of course, that's what got the media attention. But that indignity, I feel, was less hurtful than this - the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said of the event:
"Yesterday, too, as could have been predicted, there were protests. But from the podium set up in the basketball arena, the president invited Americans of every faith and ideological conviction to 'work in common effort' to reduce the number of abortions."

I wonder if there is a way to be more dismissive of the strong stance taken by these defenders of the Faith? Ah yes. Parroting this:"Obama confirmed what he expressed at his 100-day press conference at the White House, when he said that enacting a new law on abortion was not a priority of his administration." He's already done it.

FOCA, as I've said all along, was a legislative long-shot. The bills major use is that it turns the debate extreme (and absurd). Pro-lifers use the fear of FOCA to drum up support (or perhaps, to try and drum up support), which extreme pro-choicers do as well. The more clever pro-choicers point to FOCA as the extreme, and say things like, "we don't want to do that. We just want to repeal the Mexico City policy." It allows Obama to pursue a radical pro-choice agenda, so long as he stops short of FOCA (which both sides have to realize would be legislative suicide if passed). This is almost definitely a case of a politically-savvy Obama administration playing the bishops (and numerous other politically tone deaf, but well-intentioned pro-lifers) as dupes.

L'Osservatore Romano, sadly, isn't on the side of the tone deaf dupes, but on the side of the Obama apologists who seem to think being a "little" pro-choice is okay, so long as FOCA stays a pro-choice pipe dream and a pro-life nightmare. If this seems like an extreme reaction, perhaps you should consider the trend:
Vatican newspaper: Obama’s stem-cell research guidelines ‘not so very permissive’
Vatican Radio, newspaper offer assessments of Obama inauguration
Vatican's moderate line on Obama has deep roots (John Allen explaining and defending the difference in tone).

Please, don't get me wrong. I believe it's best for all involved for pro-lifers to work with Obama, instead of demonizing him. But I'm disturbed by L'Osservatore's Giuseppe Fiorentino's seeming willingness to both whitewash Obama's actual record on life issues, and undermine well-meaning young Catholics who stand up for their faith. To those who were villified by CNN, L'Osservatore, and those on and off Notre Dame's campus who are hostile to Catholic values, I say only:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:7-10).

The Late, Great, Flannery O'Connor

I'm not normally a fan of fiction, but I love Flannery O'Connor. I just bought a book of her short stories. They're fiction in the sense that Jesus' parables were "fiction." Untrue stories which reveal deeper truths in an inviting way. As she put it:
"Part of the difficulty of all this is that you write for an audience who doesn't know what grace is and don't recognize it when they see it. All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless, brutal, etc."
Seeing her step away from that format to discuss her Catholicism directly is interesting, and Habit of Being has this really moving section on the Eucharist:
"Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. [Mary McCarthy] said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the 'most portable' person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, 'Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.' That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable."
Read this. It needs no further introduction:

To Dr. T.R. Spivey

18 July 1959

[…]

We mean entirely different things when we each say we believe the Church is Divine. You mean the invisible Church with somehow related to it many forms, whereas I mean one and one only visible Church. It is not logical to the Catholic to believe that Christ teaches through many visible forms all teaching contrary doctrine. You speak of the well-known facts of Christ’s life – but these facts are hotly contested – the virgin birth, the resurrection, the very divinity of Christ. For us the one visible Church pronounces on these matters infallibly and we receive her doctrine whether subjectively it fits in with our surmises or not. We believe that Christ left the Church to speak for him, that it speaks with his voice, that he is the head and we are the members.

If Christ actually teaches through many forms then for fifteen centuries, he taught that the Eucharist was his actual body and blood and thereafter he taught part of his
people that it was only a symbol. The Catholic can’t live with this contradiction. I have seen it said that the Catholic is more interested in truth and the Protestant in goodness, but I don’t think too much of the formula except that it suggests a partial truth.

The Catholic finds it easier to understand the atheist than the Protestant, but easier to love the Protestant than the atheist. The fact is though now that the fundamental Protestants, as far as doctrine goes, are closer to their traditional enemy, the Church of Rome, than they are to the advanced elements of Protestantism. You can know where I stand, what I believe because I am a practicing Catholic, but I can’t know what you believe unless I ask you. You are right that enjoy is not exactly the right
word for our talking about religion. As far as I know, it hurts like nothing else. We are at least together in the pain we share in this terrible division. It’s the Catholic Church who calls you “separated brethren,” she who feels the awful loss.

[...]

-- Flannery O'Connor


Pretty great stuff, right?

If you want to know more about the late Ms. O'Connor, the Jewel of the South, here's a Washington Post blurb about her. Or check out her (really dark) stories The Life You Save May Be Your Own (maybe her most famous story), The Geranium (her first short story), or... well, any number of other great choices.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mary, Fully Graced: Flesh of My Flesh

The Bible makes sort of a big deal about flesh, and lineage, and all of that. I mean, Jesus' lineage is considered a big deal by the Evangelists in telling His Nativity (Mathew 1:1-16), as well as the opening of His public ministry (Luke 3:23-38 - I'm gonna admit: this was a strange place to include this information). Jesus calls Simon, "Simon bar-Jonah" (Simon, son of John) when He establishes the Church on him (Matthew 16:17).

Flesh gets an even bigger emphasis. The entire Atonement (Hebrews 10:10), as well as the Eucharist (John 6:53-54; Matthew 26:26), as well as the Incarnation (John 1:14) - they're all built off of this idea of Jesus' flesh. But that's not the only place we hear of flesh in the Bible. Perhaps the most important verse dealing with this idea is Genesis 2:23:
And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
This is, in some way, the precursor to the Atonement, as Hebrews 2:14-15 makes clear. Now consider this. You are a merger, so to speak, of your parents. You're a unique mix of their genetic material, and maybe you have your mom's eyes and your dad's cheekbones. Jesus has no earthly Father, as Luke 1:34-35 makes clear, and as was prophesied by Isaiah 7:14.

So this means that He was bone of Mary's bones, and Flesh of Mary's flesh. The very Flesh that died upon the Cross, atoning the world of sins was 100% Mary's flesh. The Flesh of the Eucharist, Mary's flesh. What I mean here is not that Mary's flesh on its own was sufficient. John 6:63 says that the flesh "avails nothing," absent the Spirit. So Mary's flesh had to be joined with the Holy Spirit in the Incarnation (Luke 1:34-35, again) to bring about our salvation. But nevertheless! To be the woman whose flesh was chosen to redeem the world! What a shocking gift!

There's another element to this, too. The reason for the Virgin Birth was not just to show that Jesus was Someone special (after all, it'd be almost impossible to prove). The main reason was because Christ is the "last Adam" (1 Corinthians 15:45). He's setting the clock back on Eden, and reversing the Fall. So by being drawn from the flesh of Mary alone, He's symbolically undoing the sin of Adam and Eve.

Note what Adam calls Eve: "Woman." Now note what Jesus calls Mary in John 2, at the start of His journey (John 2:4), and on the Cross, at the end of His journey (John 19:26). "Dear Woman." She's Eve, but with a spin. She's a highly Graced Eve, an unfallen Eve. In Irenaeus' second-century book Against Heresies:
For just as the former was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did the latter, by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain (portaret) God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness (advocata) of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way the sin of the first created man (protoplasti) receives amendment by the correction of the First-begotten, and the coming of the serpent is conquered by the harmlessness of the dove, those bonds being unloosed by which we had been fast bound to death.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Mary, Fully Graced: The Angelic Salutation

May is the month for Mary, so I thought I'd share a quick tidbit I learned recently...

When the angel Gabriel told Zechariah that his wife was to bear John the Baptist, who would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from the womb, Zechariah was skeptical, replying, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years" (Luke 1:18). Gabriel then pulls ranks a bit, declaring,

"I am Gabriel, who stands before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time." (v. 19-20)

BAM!

Six months later, Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary. This time, he addresses her, "Hail, 'Full of Grace'! The Lord is with You" (v. 28). Mary, we're told, "was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be" (v. 29). I always assumed that referred simply to the second half - "The Lord is with you." But reading a little further, I discovered that the angel is saluting her, and calling her by a title.


First, the salutation. Every other time we hear "Hail (individual)" in the Bible, it's Jesus, and it's a description of Jesus that exalts Him (although sarcastically, given the context). Judas says "Hail, Rabbi!" in the Garden (Matthew 26:49), and the soldiers cry out, "Hail, King of the Jews!" (Matthew 27:29, Mark 15:18, John 19:3). Gabriel, far from pulling rank as he did with Zechariah, is being deferential to Mary!

Second, the title. Catholics usually translate this "Full of Grace," while Protestants often translate it "Highly Favored One." Neither is a great translation, from what I've read. "Full of Grace" is close, but the Greek emphasis is on Mary's status as a recipient of perfect grace, not as an independent storehouse or dispenser of it. But "Highly Favored One" misses the mark, in that it sounds like the angel is telling her, "you're about to get a great gift," (which she was, of course), when in fact, the angel is acknowledging that she's already been filled with grace. It’s important, because the angel isn’t saying she’s about to find favor with God, but that she’s already found it. Perhaps “Fully Graced One” would work.

In any case, the implications of this are mind-boggling. What had this young girl ever done to deserve such a title, much less a deferential angelic salutation? Apparently, her faith was just that strong. Pretty incredible!