Body of St. Paul Found... In His Own Sarcophagus!

Tip of the hat to Jacob Rodman for sending this my way!

If you're not aware, yesterday was the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the two men accredited with founding the Church in Rome. Last year, Pope Benedict XVI declared a Year of St. Paul to celebrate his incredible contributions to Christianity: so yesterday, in addition to being Paul's feast day, was also the end of the Pauline year. And how does Pope Benedict ring it in? With a great surprise!

Turns out, Paul's bones were found... in his sarcophagus! Here's how Il Papa put it:
"A tiny perforation was made in the sarcophagus, which has never been
opened over the centuries. A special probe was introduced, which detected traces
of a precious purple-dyed linen fabric covered in gold sequins and a blue fabric
with linen threads. Grains of red incense, as well as protein and calcareous
substances, were also detected."

Additional tests confirmed that the body belonged to a man from the first or second century. And since he was buried in St. Paul's tomb, I think we can safely conclude who it was. At first brush, finding a man in his own grave might not be that striking, but when that man is St. Paul, and that grave is from just after the time of Christ, it's an incredible find. A few things which struck me:
  • First, it's incredible that they've preserved it for that long - that at no point from the 1st century to the present was the body stolen or destroyed - not during the sack of Rome, not during the Napoleonic invasion, not during two World Wars, etc.
  • Second, it's at least another point for the Christian case. There are some increasingly bizarre views held by atheists, like that Christ didn't exist. Some liberal camps claim the earliest gospels were the Gnostic ones, etc. Having the body of the real Apostle Paul means that Paul really did exist - he wasn't some 2nd century literary concoction. And he's received a dignified burial, purple (expensive, royal) linens covered in gold sequins and all.
  • It shows that the Early Church Fathers knew what they were talking about regarding Paul. This is at least some evidence that they knew what they were talking about in other areas. The Bible doesn't tell us how or where Paul died: Tradition did. And now we know it was right.
  • He's buried in ceremonial linens with traces of incense still lodged in them.* In other words: he had a Catholic burial. That. Is. Huge.

The other, really absurd thought I had was just what an awesome surprise it was on the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul at the climax of the Year of St. Paul. And for some ridiculous reason, my next thought was, "man, I wish Pope Benedict planned my birthday party!"

*Upon second thought, it's possible that something like myrrh is meant. We'll have to wait and see.

How to Prove God Exists

This may be the most complex blog post I attempt, but it's also the most important: it's on the existence of God.

God and Cassandra.

An anti-theist (that is, someone who not only doesnt' believe in God, but is bitter towards those who still can), posed a "question" on a Catholic forum I was reading. He set up his proposition this way:

1.)God is infallible, yes?
2.)God is omniscient, yes?
3.)If #2 is true, God knows when I'm going to sin, yes?
4.)If 1, 2 and 3 are true, I have no choice but to sin, yes?
5.)However, God gave me free will apparently, yes?

Now, I think that there are good arguments related to free will, but this one isn't. It's the most common one I've heard, and I think it's an absurd logical fallacy. So let me be clear about a few things:

  • Perfect foreknowledge doesn't deprive anyone of their free will. I could know the events of the past perfectly, and it wouldn't deprive historical actors of their freedom to make those choices.
  • Omniscience doesn't require or imply omnipotence, although omnipotence does require omniscience. In Greek mythology, Cassandra is given the gift of prophesies by Apollo. When she doesn't return his affections, he curses her to not having her prophesies believed.
So a hypothetical Cassandra could meet conditions 1, 2, and 3, and yet be unable to stop a person from sinning. Obviously, in such a case, there's no deprivation of free will: there's not even a possibility of deprivation of free will. But a more important force is at work here.

II. Einstein, Newton, and Space-Time.
Peter Kreeft put is this way (this is from p. 93 of his book Angels (and Demons): What Do We Really Know About Them?:

Material time is a function of matter, is relative to matter. It does not exist before matter exists. Newton was wrong: there is no absolute and infinite time and space. Einstein is right: time and space are relative to matter in motion. They are generated by the motion of matter, somewhat as heat or scent is generated by an animal as it runs.

Now this is where things get confusing, because we're not used to thinking in this manner. But try and imagine a world where all of time is laid out before you, past, present, and future, like a book which you can flip back and forth in. Now, leave the question of a Creator God out of things for a second. Even a powerless being, a cosmic Cassandra, who existed outside of the material universe would exist outside of material time. Presuming that such a being existed outside of all time altogether (I say this, because, as Kreeft notes, angels are governed by a form of time which isn't tied to material reality: we know this because they're created beings). Such a being would have to have a total awareness of what you were going to do, since there is not a future-tense "going to" in any meaningful capacity if we step beyond the series of causal perceptions known as material time.

So in fact, anything or anyone operating outside of time would fulfill requirements #1, 2, and 3 as applies to this problem set. So by eliminating God, you don't actually solve anything: we still live in a material universe bound by time, with an awareness that time is a seemingly arbitrary property of the universe itself: that it doesn't exist above and beyond the universe. Einstein settled this pretty well. Put another way, there is no such time as 13.8 billion years ago. It's before time. We can think we can imagine it, but it doesn't exist. It's pre-singularity.

So even if God weren't true, we'd still be predestined, and a being who existed outside of space and time would still have a perfect knowledge of (what we consider) past, present, and future. In fact, even if there were no being observing our universe, we'd still be predestined in some way: our actions have already occurred in the future.

The common misconception (amongst Christians as well as atheists, and even the ancient Romans, who believed in blind Fate) is that predestination automatically strips an individual of free will. It doesn't. Anyone outside the universe can know what will happen. That doesn't tell us why those things happen. They could happen because of an uncontrollable cycle, like domnios falling, or things could happen because a person felt love, or artistic desire, or any number of other things, and carefully and deliberately did something which they didn't have to do. Put another way, if you had a time machine and could observe (but not interact with) Caravaggio about to paint one of his masterpieces, the fact that you knew 100% for sure what he was going to paint wouldn't make him a mindless robot: he made a free decision, you just happen to know which choice he will make.

III. What This Tells Us About God.
The first two parts, I think, dismantle the argument as presented: it's not a particularly strong argument, but it makes a lot of "gut sense," because we can't wrap our minds around the relationship of time to matter and both of those to cause and effect. But in disproving it, a pretty incredible counterpoint arises, which I'd like to share as best I can.

Modern science proves that material time is relative, and we've got a pretty solid indication that something like the Big Bang occurred at some point in history: that is, at some point, time began (both Creationists and evolutionists agree on this: the how isn't really relevant for purposes of this argument, so let's leave it aside. I happen to believe "Let there be light," is the Big Bang; others may disagree, but that's for another time). Scientists call this origin-point of space-time a "singularity."

So time began, and as Aquinas points out in his Summa, the cause of that beginning cannot be temporal. To go from non-existence to existence is a cause and effect. The effect is material time, so the cause cannot be. Stop and try and wrap your head around that concept, because a lot of people mess that up. As soon as you acknowledge that there's a beginning to the material universe, and a beginning to time, there has to be an external agent which caused it.

Prior to the Big Bang theory, scientists believed in a "stable universe," that is, a universe which moved around a bit, but not in a single direction (outwards or inwards, I mean), and which had just always existed. When Msgr. Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest and brilliant scientist, proposed the Big Bang Theory, it was originally perceptive atheists who opposed him. The reason is that their idea of the universe was one of an infinite series of causes and effects - imagine an endless series of dominos falling for all eternity. It had certain logical problems, but as it went, it allowed for the possibility of atheism. That's not a tenable theory and longer. At the point that we say, "here's the Big Bang, here's the singularity, this is the first domino," we're left with a basic problem: what made the first domino fall? It can't be the stock materialist answer, "the domino before it." It leaves only "the finger of God," or at least of an external force acting upon the Universe [this is true even if God didn't, hypothetically, create the initial matter of the Big Bang; it so happens that He did].

From this, we can deduce two things about the First Mover: first, that He must be eternal and infinite, since He exists outside of time; and second, that He has to be all-knowing, at least in the sense of having perfect knowledge of past, present, and future. These conclusions eliminate nearly all of the competition to Christianity from the field. It also eliminates certain views within Christianity: "open Theism" isn't scientifically or physically possible, to say nothing of its metaphysical impossibility.

It turns out that properly tuned, science may be one of the best tools that Christian apologists have against, for example, the secular materialist I quoted above.

Tomorrow, I'm going to add a twist, which I think complicates it a lot more. Namely, God's omnipotence. This will transition the discussion from the problem of Free Will to the problem of Evil (why would an all-powerful, all-loving God allow evil?). The two questions are necessarily related, but distinct.

Does 1 Maccabees 9:27 Prove the Deuterocanon Uninspired?

Starting Monday of last week, I've been posting, section by section, an ongoing dialogue with Reese Currie which revolved pretty heavily around the Deuterocanon, and whether or not it's inspired. If you need to get up to date, click the "Reese Currie" tag at the bottom of this post. Today's the last day: I hope you've enjoyed it so far!

His arguments for today make more sense in context: he had argued previously that the Deuterocanon cannot be inspired because: (1) the author of 1st Maccabees disclaims being a prophet in 1 Maccabees 9:27 [and an inspired prophet wouldn't get that wrong]; and (2) only prophets can write Scripture. I disagree with both propositions. Oh yeah: both of us say 2 Maccabees when we mean 1 Maccabees: hope that isn't too confusing.

The verse in question is 1 Maccabees 9:27, “So was there a great affliction in Israel, the like of which was not since the time that a prophet was not seen among them.” So with all of that said, 10a) is his argument for the second proposition above (that only prophets write Scripture), while 10b) draws the conclusions from this argument.

10a) As for people who were not prophets writing Scripture--Christ did not apparently believe in a third division. In referring to the entire OT he never failed to refer to it as "the law and the prophets." Moses of course was a prophet so the "division" does not exclude Moses as a prophet, though it does set the Law apart, but it does include the hagiographa as also being the work of prophets.

The fact that Christ commonly referred to the OT as “the Law and the Prophets” did not mean that He thought those were the only two divisions, or that those were the entire contents. For example, in Luke 24:44, He refers to “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” So He clearly thinks that there’s more than that: “the Law and the Prophets” is just a handy shorthand. The rest of this argument seems to be based on the false belief that Christ always and only referred to the Bible as “the Law and the Prophets,” which Luke 24:44 shows to be untrue.

10b) But the writer of 2 Maccabees recognizes that he personally is not a prophet, as prophets had stopped appearing in Israel before. In fact, the writer assumes his readers know the approximate time that prophets have stopped appearing since he uses it as a reference point. If we argue the writer is wrong because, as we know, new prophets later appeared, then we again argue against 2 Maccabees being inspired Scripture because it is then in error, and we argue against the infallibility of the organizations that "infallibly" called it inspired. That's a fault with the argumentation, not with the overall faith, because when the prophets prophesied that Elijah would come, of course that indicated that in the future there would be a prophet.

I don’t think that the writer of 2 Maccabees is saying that he’s not a prophet. Imagine a Jewish writer describing his WWII experiences saying, “After the Germans expelled all the Jews from the area, they destroyed all the homes.” Now you find out that the author lives in the present day in the area he’s describing. Does that mean he’s not a Jew? No. It just means that absence of Jews in the area was a temporal condition: he’s using it as a placemaker to let you know where you are in the narrative. Just because the Germans expelled all the Jews, it doesn’t mean they never returned.

Likewise, the author of 2 Maccabees is saying that all the prophets stopped appearing, and things got really bad. But when he’s writing, things aren’t really bad anymore. He’s writing after the fact, just like the author in my hypothetical above. The Jews believed that the cessation of prophets was temporary, and this view is pretty well established even when prophets did stop showing up in the intertestimental period. There were clear unfulfilled prophesies about Elijah and about the Messiah which required that prophets not be permanently ceased. So when John the Baptist shows up, no one says, “don’t you know? The prophets are all gone!” They just assume, “okay, the prophets must be back!” and start looking for the Messiah.

But beyond this, let me reaffirm that I don’t think Christ only thinks that prophets can write Scripture. I don’t think He says that at all when He uses the “Law and the Prophets” shorthand, and I don’t think we have any reason to believe that the writers of the historical books (1st and 2nd Chronicles, 1st and 2nd Kings, etc.) were prophets. They’re describing well known facts, and don’t need insights into the unknown or the future. The only requirement is inspiration, not prophesy. So while I don’t think the evidence shows the writer of 2nd Maccabees wasn’t a prophet, I also don’t think it’s a very convincing argument in any case.

Anyway, Joe--I appreciate you because you are such a kind person and express your views so well, and it is obvious to me that you write out of love and concern. And you make some excellent points about the deuterocanonical/ apocryphal books. I sort of don't like the use of the word "apocrypha" because there are other OT books Catholics also view as apocryphal so I've frequently borrowed the term "deuterocanonical" above while not yet convinced they are canonical in any way--"secondarily" or not. But you do make the best points I've ever read in their favor and I will take these points to heart.- Reese

Thanks, Reese! I’ve got to say that you also make the best points on this subject: most people I talk to don’t know why they believe what they do on the issue, and haven’t bothered to read it (I wish I was just talking about Protestants here, but I know some Catholics this is true of, too, which is embarrassing). I have really enjoyed this ongoing conversation, and it’s definitely been a benefit to my faith life. I hope this e-mail finds you, your wife and your two kids well, I hope Father’s Day was relaxing, and I’ll say a pray that God uses both of us in the way He deems most appropriate. Feel free to respond at your leisure (I certainly took mine). In Christ, Joe.

There you have it. I normally don't include conclusions, because I think they're sort of personal, but in this case, I wanted to make clear that his style isn't really one of an opponent or adversary: he made it clear from the start he doesn't want a traditional debate, and I've been thoroughly impressed and pleased with his approach. He's interesting, interested, and engaging, without being hostile or going overboard. I just hope I can match his humility in this regard.

Too Hilarious to Pass Up

Over at CCEL, there are some hilarious ads on the Philip Schaff bio. The top one is for an anti-Catholic book called Escape From Paganism (which sounds like a B-movie; also, the rave reviews on the book's own website include almost unreadably bad grammar). For the cover, it has a "pagan" image of Mary with a crown of twelve stars... which Catholics took straight from Revelation 12:1. Right underneath it, which I find side-splittingly funny, is an ad for The Confessions of St. Augustine. They even include the "St." part!

Confessions of Saint Augustine

To cement the brilliant irony of it all, I'd just yesterday read a great quote by Francis Beckwith:
Saint Augustine, whose genius helped rid the Church of the Pelagian and semi-Pelagian heresies, would not be welcomed a faculty member at virtually any evangelical seminary, because the Bishop of Hippo accepted the deuterocanonical books as part of the Old Testament canon, the deposit of Sacred Tradition, apostolic succession, the gracious efficacy of the Sacraments, the Real Presence of the Eucharist, baptismal regeneration, and the infusion of God's grace for justification.
Perhaps Augustine had more to confess to than we previously thought! Confessions of St. Augustine, pt. 2: Escape from Pagan Mountain.

Hear, Hear, for Sean Cardinal O'Malley!

After weeks of waffling on what to do on the delicate issue of providing low-income health care to Boston residents, Cardinal O'Malley finally made what appears to be the best possible decision. The problem, in short, is this: the state has a low-income health-care program, but to be a provider, you have to provide abortions (state law requires it). In a boneheaded move, Caritas Christi (in a joint ventureship with Celtic Group) bid on, and won, the right to be that provider. Ideally, the reason for this was because they were devoted to helping out the underserved and less fortunate (other theories have been that Caritas Christi has been failing, and a government contract was the only way to stay afloat: having no knowledge of their financials, I can't say).

In any case, the idea of an abortion provided courtesy of the Catholic Church was... how should I say this... "unpopular" amongst authentic Catholics. Even providing a referral to abortion providers is against the stance of the Catholic Church, and is supposedly off-limits to Catholic healthcare providers (although as always, there is an implicit exception for Jesuit education). Cardinal O'Malley stepped into this controversy, seemingly out of necessity, and seemed quite eager for it just to go away. He was left with an admittedly unpleasant decision: provide (or refer for) abortions, or cut off healthcare to those who most need it. The former would have brought down the wrath of the Vatican and (eventually) God. The latter would have brought down the wrath of the Boston Globe and liberal Boston muckity-mucks. A tough decision all around.

Ok, let's be fair: all joking aside, providing healthcare to the underserved is something which the Church really does need to be doing. Obviously, killing baby poor people is a bad way to do this, but providing Catholic healthcare is a great way. And Cardinal O'Malley, faced with this solution, found what sounds like the perfect solution. Here's how Richard Lynch, the chief executive of CeltiCare Health Plan of Massachusetts, put it:
"effective today, Caritas has withdrawn their ownership position in CeltiCare Health Plan of Massachusetts. Celtic Group Inc. (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Centene Corporation) now owns 100% of the company. Caritas Christi will continue to participate as a key part of the CeltiCare provider network. The arrangement in no way affects the operations of CeltiCare Health, and we look forward to delivering quality health care services to our members starting on July 1st."
So if I'm understanding this correctly, Caritas Christi goes from doing referrals to getting them. And as there's nothing morally wrong with getting referrals from pro-choicers (and even abortion providers), this looks like a one-way street in the right direction. It also means, if you're keeping score, that the underserved (including the unborn) will have quality and affordable Catholic healthcare, and without compromising our Catholic beliefs, or the human rights of the unborn. And everybody, from the Vatican to the muckity-mucks, wins. The final decision here reflects the best outcome I can think of, and I wonder if more of these win-wins couldn't be accomplished in healthcare with a little more effort by potential providers.

The Jews, the Papacy, and the Antichrist: Like a Bad Joke Waiting to Happen

More from Reese (use the Reese Currie tag to catch up if you need to). He's in red, I'm the rest. Little bit of back story needed for #8 here. Reese had argued (as others, like Keith Mathison have, as well) that the Church doesn't have the authority to set the Old Testament Canon, because that's the responsibility of the Jews. This is, in my opinion, a gross misunderstanding of who the New Testament means by "the Jews," which Paul explains in Romans 11:16-26 means ethnic and historic Jews who've kept the Faith and embraced the promised Messiah, as well as the in-grafted Gentiles (with those Jews who reject Christ being "broken off" from the covenant). It's also completely unworkable in real life, since the Jews at the time of Christ had three competiting canons (the Hebrew, the Greek, and the Torah-only canon of the Sadducees). One bizarre result of this dispensationalist view of the canon is that it means Christians have to accept anti-Christian interpretations of the Old Testament, like rendering Isaiah 7:14 "young woman," instead of "virgin," as appears in the Greek.

8) I find it interesting that you find Isaiah 7:14 in the MT objectionable. It's interesting to me for these reasons. First, it's one of those conspicuous points where all but the most exacting Protestant Bibles goes with the LXX instead of the MT (the NRSV sticks to the MT; it's the only one I know does for sure). Second, the NRSV Catholic Edition has the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur despite the use of "young woman" in Isaiah 7:14, so the concern for truth in the organization you represent is less than your own.

It’s for the first of these points that I mention it. If, as you claim, self-proclaimed Jews preserve a perpetual right to set the canon then it seems the NRSV is the only Bible in the right. The others are picking and choosing. For the second, the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur don’t actually mean as much as they should – you’ll find some ridiculous stuff that has gotten some bishop’s rubber stamp (which is all it takes: the approval of a single bishop). I actually think that the NRSV:CE is a great Bible version on the whole, so I disagree that they (or the bishop(s)) aren’t concerned with Truth [actually, I’ll give you some of the bishops, but that problem is being worked out through slow internal reform]. Additionally, “young woman” isn’t inaccurate per se: there’s a good argument that Isaiah 7:14 is double-fulfilled: first, in the birth of Hezekiah to a young woman; second, in the birth of Christ to a Virgin. Shea explains that here. My problem wasn’t that they said “young woman,” but that the MT translated it “young woman” to purposely avoid the Christological implications, rather than to show the double-fulfillment. This was one of those times where the MT translators made a pretty bold anti-Christian statement with their word choice, and if we’re going to go with them as the eternal guardians of Old Testament canon, it’s going to conflict with our Faith in Christ at some point.

9) Another aside: If you recognize the pope as the head of the universal church, does that not also mean you reject Christ as the head of the universal church? That's a pretty dangerous position to take if you ask me. Even a die-hard Catholic apologist must admit that Christ said to Peter, "I will build my church" rather than "I will build your church" or "You will build your church." This is one of the reasons early Protestants referred to the pope as the "antichrist", which in those days did not mean "against Christ" as it does today (e.g. "The Omen" movies), but "diminishing Christ" or "taking attention from Christ" or "taking the place of Christ." I recognize Catholics of some rites see the pope as the "vicar" or "substitute" for Christ, but why would some Catholics consider a substitute to be necessary? Is Christ not capable of leading? On what basis is a Person who says "I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age" in need of a substitute?

I will write you separately on this. But for now, I’ll just say that God says to David, “you will shepherd my people Israel” (2 Samuel 5:1-3), yet David still proclaims in Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1). Peter is the Rock, but God is also the Rock. Peter is the shepherd, Christ is the Good Shepherd (or Chief Shepherd, elsewhere). Peter is our father in faith (as is Abraham, etc.), but God is Our Father in Heaven. The pope is the universal visible head of the Church, Christ is the universal invisible Head. Peter got the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 16:17-19); Christ bears the Keys to Heaven and Hell (Revelation 1:18, 3:7). Peter is a figurement of Christ, in the sense that the papacy is designed by Christ, and modeled off of His own authority. It’s a foretaste of the sovereignty of God as it will be exercised in Heaven. The Church as a foretaste of Heaven is a constant theme in the New Testament, which is why “Kingdom of Heaven” is one of the constant terms used both for the Church, and for Heaven itself. If anyone is blurring the lines between Church authority and Heavenly authority, it’s not me or the pope – it’s Christ Himself. Again, though, this is a separate issue which warrants its own unique consideration.

As for the idea that “vicar of Christ” and “Antichrist” can be used interchangeably, this was atrocious eisegesis. Read the passages which actually talk about the Antichrist, or about antichrists in general, and you’ll see how poorly they fit. “The Omen” image of the Antichrist is much closer to the original than the way the term was bandied about by the Reformers. Turrentin and others pervert these Biblical texts and play grammatical games to try and justify their schism, because they were aware of the clear texts damning schismatics. To justify splitting from the Church, they needed to show not just that there were two Christian parties who disagreed (since they would be bound to stay together, as One Body of Christ), but that their opponents weren’t – and couldn’t be – Christian. The hypocrisy is made most blatant by this “vicar” argument, because Turrentin and others regard Luther as Christian, despite his claim that all priests are vicars of Christ (a view the Catholic Church would agree with him on). Luther makes the claim most obviously in the 7th of his 95 theses. So if Luther’s belief that priests (including himself, at the time he wrote it) were the vicars of Christ didn’t make him the, or an, Antichrist, then the pope’s claim to the identical title wouldn’t either.

Perhaps a bit of annoyance showed through in that last answer. It's not at Reese. The sudden "discovery" that the pope was the Antichrist when he disagreed with Luther is all too convenient given that Luther was willing to recognize him as head of the Church, as long as the pope agreed with Luther (which is a curious way of understanding the pope's authority: the authority to agree with my existing views, or convince me personally). It's like when Henry VII fell in love with Anne Boleyn, and suddenly discovered his marriage was invalid. In both cases, men were contemplating a grevious schism: Paul warns both adulterers and schismatics that they're earning the fires of hell (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21). Suddenly, they discover that not only can they commit schism, they must: it's suddenly their moral duty! Talk about convenient timing!

Anyways, same time, same place, Monday. See you then!

Did the Catholic Church Set the Canon?

The latest in the ongoing dialogue with Reese. He's in red, I'm the rest. Today, we're looking at whether the Catholic Church gave us the Bible.

7) The canon was not "set" by a Catholic authority, but rather the existing de facto standard was ratified. If one's faith was "shaky" in the absence of the decision of a council, then all Christians prior to that council had a shaky faith, and that's obviously not the case. The logic on that argument doesn't hold up to your normal standard.

Actually, there were legitimate differences: there was a dispute over whether the Deuterocanon was inspired, and whether it should be canonized even if it was [the Catholic position was clearly the majority view, but there were certainly others], certain New Testament books, like Hebrews, and 2 Peter, Revelation were of questionable canonicity and inspiration, and certain books from the Hebrew Canon (like Esther) were also questioned. Mark Shea does a good job of retracing this history in his book By What Authority? I highly suggest it for a great (and quick) read on the subject.

But beyond that, I don’t think that the early pre-canonization Christians were in the same boat at all. They didn’t rely upon the Bible as a sole rule of faith: they relied upon the Bible and Tradition. So even if you weren’t sure if Hebrews (for example) was inspired or not, it agreed with the orthodox Faith, so you read it. They were big adherents to the whole of Apostolic Faith, whether passed on by letter, or by word of mouth. Post-Reformation Christians have cut off the living Tradition in the Church, so they’re not in the same boat.

That’s why it’s interesting to me that you cite to this “existing de facto standard” as proof of the canon. First, this is an appeal to Sacred Tradition: the idea that we can trust the followers of Christ to have faithfully preserved His teachings (even if some of them failed to follow them). Second, the de facto canon generally included the Deuterocanon. Third, the same Christians who formed the de facto canon you cite to also unanimously believe in the Eucharist, praying to the dead, purgatory, a very high view of Mary, etc. I don’t think you can choose to believe just those things the early Christians believe in common with you: either embrace the fullness of the early Church, or reject Her. (Certainly, there’s room on some issues to say, “they seem divided,” or “their answer is unclear,” but on the issues I mentioned before, that’s not the case).

I suppose that I omitted one important answer: Sacred Tradition is a Catholic authority, just not one that Protestants often think of. The external perspective of the Church seems to be one where popes just go around making up crazy stuff to see who'll believe it. It's a grossly inaccurate view. In truth, the Church's role is never to create dogma. It's to clarify truths already accepted by the Church: usually, these dogmatic clarifications only occur when those truths start to be questioned; other times (as here), orthodox Christians will hold multiple views on the right answer, and the Church is needed to authoritatively and infallibly steer orthodoxy towards the right course.

Gov. Sanford and God's Law

I'm not going to join the jackals who are gleefully ripping South Carolina Gov. Sanford apart over his confessing to having an extramarital affair. Unlike basically any other politician I've ever seen in that position, I think he really feels pretty awful about this, I think he genuinely loves the other woman but knows it's wrong and hurtful, and in addition, I suspect pretty heavily that he's having a mental and emotional breakdown (probably related both to the affair, his feelings re: his family and this other woman, and political pressures, like having the South Carolina Supreme Court strike down his stance on the stimulus). Slate had some surprisingly fair coverage, but most of the faux-tolerant talking heads on the left smelled blood.

Rather, I'm just going to say this: the bit he said about sin and God's law was incredibly profound, and right on. C.S. Lewis argued the same thing in Book III of Mere Christianity (which I was listening to on audiobook last night: if you want the audiobook, and you should, you can get it here). Here's some of what Sanford said, courtesy of Ann Godlasky at USA Today via Get Religion:
  • “It’s not a moral, rigid list of do’s and don’ts just for the heck of do’s and don’ts; it is indeed to protect us from ourselves …”
  • “Sin is, in fact, grounded in this notion of ‘what is it that I want’ as opposed to somebody else …”
  • “There are moral absolutes, and God’s law is indeed there to protect you from yourself, and there are consequences if you breach that. This press conference is a consequence.”
Lots of sins, like extra-marital sex, seem "victimless." (It's all about "luv," right?) But these seemingly rigid and unneccesary rules make a whole lot of sense when they're broken.

I'll say this. Props to Governor Sanford for having his eye on God and not the poll when he finally confronted his sin in such a gut-wrenching manner. And major props to the governor's wife for working to protect the kids instead of doing the political trophy wife thing to salvage his political career: standing behind him with a fake smile while he talks about another woman. Frankly, I think the biggest reason Sanford didn't resign today is that he hasn't even considered his political future yet (which may make him a bad politician, but again, right priorities). We'll see how this plays out, but when I went from the news reports to watching the actual conference, I was amazed.

A Much Better Argument Against Sola Scriptura

Francis Beckwith had an interesting comment over on Stand to Reason's blog. It's on the setting of Scripture, and whether it can be said to trace its authority to the Catholic Church or not. (I assume here that everyone agrees that by the Council of Carthage, etc., that the Church can safely be called the Catholic Church, since all of the controversial doctrines, at least between Protestants and Catholics, are well-documented as in place?). The original poster argues that "The practices of the early church, how they used these books in church services and to get authoritative teaching, demonstrate that there was an early consensus about the canon." Frank's response is brilliant, and I've never heard a sensible answer to it:

But while this consensus was forming the church engaged in other practices that Greg and you reject: penance, confession, indulgences, Real Presence of the Eucharist, and a rudimentary understanding of purgatory. In order to reject this, you have to say that "consensus" only counts for canonicity but not for the liturgical practices in which the Scriptures were used and from which the consensus you cite is extracted.

In addition, why should any Christian accept any Church Council? If the answer is because it is consistent with Scripture, then where in Scripture is the list of 27 NT books? It's not there. Remember that the Scriptura of Sola Scriptura applies to the Bible as a whole and not to its separated parts, for if that were the case someone who just believed in the Book of Numbers as inspired would be obeying Sola Scriptura. But we know that can't be right. So, until the whole is fixed, the disparate parts, though inspired, are not the Scriptura of sola Scriptura per se. After all, many Christian communities did not have the entire collection for generations, though virtually all of them had wholes or parts of what would eventually become the canon. There was no printing press and many Christians were illiterate. And yet, many of them maintained a largely orthodox theology. Why? Because the church universal protected and applied the faith delivered to them by their predecessors. It was a faith inexorably connected to the church's spiritual practices.

But the fixing of the canon itself--the judgment that this is the correct collection of texts--is something above and beyond the text, just as my judgment that defendant X is guilty is not identical to X's guilt. It is a different sort of truth about the defendant. So, sola Scriptura is a theory about the nature of a particular collection of books that we think of as one collection. And yet, it is not something explicitly stated in any of the books. That is, no one book pronounces an explicit and definitive judgment about the canonicity of a collection of books whose authors, for a variety of reasons, did not know about the other books.

So, [F.F.] Bruce is correct that there was a consensus about the canon's contents. But there were also close calls--I Peter, e.g. A church council made a judgment that we today accept. But if all you have is a consensus argument, you have an external standard--consensus--that is adequate to recognize the content of the canon. But then you must believe that consensus is an infallible principle by which one can discover canons. But this results in two problems. 1. It means you have to take seriously the practices I mentioned above--confession, penance--that were accepted widely in the Church. 2. It means that there is an infallible church standard--consensus--by which we can determine canonicity. In that case, you've moved closer to Rome.

It sounds like I really need to listen to the interview that sparked this discussion, because other commenters (seemingly both Protestant and Catholic) were giving all involved some rave reviews.

I think Peter Kreeft and Francis Beckwith are driving at largely the same point: in declaring which books were in the Bible, the Catholic Church provided a clear guide where there had previously been at least some confusion over what represented the authentic Apostolic Tradition (even orthodox Christians offered different lists). So to get from twenty seven books to the New Testament, you can't rely only upon the books themselves (since they offer very little guidance on the issue). So if you're going to treat the entire Bible as infallible (and if you're going to say Christians can't just pick and choose which books they want to be in their Bibles), you need Sacred Tradition.

But, you arguably can't rely upon Tradition alone: certainly, there were Christians (eventually a majority) who argued for the 27 books of the New Testament, but there were respectable minorities as well, and some of the earliest lists we know of are inaccurate. This situation was perhaps more extreme regarding the Old Testament. While all of the early churches accepted the Deuterocanon, the Eastern Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and various Syriac churches often include more books than even we Catholics, due to later additions to the LXX (these churches don't agree with one another on which extra books should be included, and often, the canon isn't considered dogmatically defined). So even once you get past the "Deuterocanon: yes or no?" question, you're left with "which Deuterocanon?" and lots of different possible answers.

This is a classic case where the Church needs to step in definitively: to rely upon Scripture and Tradition, you need to know which Scriptures, and which Traditions are trustworthy. There is a need for a Church whose decision can be universally trusted, who can say: "this Book is canonical and not that one," and can say, "this Tradition is sacred, and not that one." Catholics are, so far as I can tell, the only Church even claiming that power for themselves. So if you arrive at this point, mentally, there's only one solution to the problem.

But even if you reject the Magisterium, and try and take Scripture plus Tradition by themselves, you find, like Beckwith mentioned, that you're left with a whole lot of tag-along Catholic doctrines, like the Eucharist, the Oneness of the visible Church, the authority of bishops (and a surprisingly top-down organizational structure, even then), etc. To pick and choose which elements one wants to accept from Tradition isn't really following Tradition at all.

Is Church Infallibility Logically Required?

Having written this post, I'm not sure I agree with my own argument. I'm going to go ahead and post it, but I think the issue of logical necessity of Church infallibility is a much closer call than I had initially assumed it to be. Initially, I thought it unneccesary but helpful; upon re-examination, it may, in fact, be neccesary. Anyways, I invite you to read this over and let me know what you think, because I'm still sort of stewing it over in my brain:

I like Peter Kreeft. A lot. A whole lot. But one of his arguments in Fundamentals of the Faith on sola Scriptura is, in my opinion, bad. Here's the argument:

Third, sola scriptura violates the principle of causality: that an effect cannot be greater than its cause. The Church (the apostles) wrote Scripture, and the successors of the apostles, the bishops of the Church, decided on the canon, the list of books to be declared scriptural and infallible. If Scripture is infallible, then its cause, the Church, must also be infallible.

Now I happen to agree with him that sola Scriptura is incorrect, and I also think that the role of the Magisterium and Tradition in setting the canon is a really good proof of the need for a living infallible Church in a post-apostolic age. Having an infallible Church ensures that we have an "infallible collection of infallible books," instead of what R.C. Sproul calls the Protestant Bible: a "fallible collection of infallible books."

But the argument from causality here is totally wrong, in my opinion. I think if we're going to present a comprehensive, Biblical, logical case why sola Scriptura is untenable, we need to prune the bad arguments, so they don't get in the way. This is on bad argument, in my opinion. First and foremost, the Apostles, the agents of Scripture-writing, were fallible, even after Pentecost: Galatians 2:11 stands for nothing if not that. So it's not logically required (even if it helps) for the writers or compilers of Scripture to be infallible or inspired. And an either/or situation would work fine: an inerrant compiler of Scripture would be able to choose the inspired works from the uninspired; likewise, it wouldn't take inspiration for a layperson or a church to realize that an inspired author's works are inspired. Additionally, a fallible and uninspired person could assemble an inerrant list (which is what Sproul claims that Protestants have done): logically, it's unlikely (and how would you know they're inspired?), but it's possible, which is what Kreeft seems to deny.

I'm sure Kreeft would respond to this, perhaps arguing something like:

  • The Apostles were infallible when acting in their official capacity. After all, if one of the Apostles happened to be wrong on some doctrinal issue, it would destroy the Church: could you imagine how bad it would be if, say, James started teaching something different from Peter? The flock would be dispersed instantly. Obviously, not everything they wrote was infallible: they could forget the eggs on the grocery list, etc. But everything within the scope of their Apostleship was: why should speaking be any different? Personal falliblity, official infallibility.
  • If their written preaching is infallible, why not their spoken word? Particularly when many of the Scriptures were dictated: see Romans 16:22 for a hello from Tertius (Paul's scribe). Additionally, Acts is a history: if the things said by the Apostles weren't inspired, then they're still not inspired written down (quotes in Scripture aren't automatically inspired by virtue of being in Scripture: Psalm 14:1, for example, quotes an uninspired fool).
  • Alternatively, if the Apostles could be wrong on issues of faith and morals, the only way to know what is and what is not inspired is to have an infallible Church. Otherwise, it defeats the point of infalliblity and divine inspiration. If some statements are inspired, some are not, and no one can tell the difference, it's like playing Balderdash with Scripture: the right answer is in there, but there are a lot of convincing wrong answers.
  • This latter view also has Scriptural support: Acts 15:6-7 describes the Apostles and presbyters in a big debate over whether or not circumcision is required for salvation. It seems to me unlikely that all Twelve were (initially) on the same side of the debate, because if they were all unified, I imagine most presbyters would have faithfully submitted (although maybe not: Acts 11:2 involves Peter getting in trouble for eating with the Gentiles, probably the reason for his cowardice in Galatians 2:11). It'd take sort of a hardheaded presbyter to stand up to all Twelve of them. So assuming that they were in initial disagreement, they ended with infallible and divinely inspired agreement. This seems to suggest individual Apostolic fallibility and corporate Church infallibility. By this standard, the Scriptures aren't known to be inspired just because they were written by the Apostles, but because they were confirmed by the Church (first, through Tradition; later, through the Magisterium).

Either of these views, or some combination thereof, may be true. For example, privately held beliefs of popes can still be wrong - perhaps the same was true of privately held beliefs of Apostles, and it took the Holy Spirit-inspired Council to sort it out, even while He assured that these errant views never tainted their public teaching? That would harmonize the two views.

But they don't have to be true. The Holy Spirit was able to inspire Baalam's donkey to speak infallibly (Numbers 22:28). The rest of the time, it was still a total... donkey. So while I happen to think the Church is infallible, it doesn't have to be. The real reason that this argument from causality is wrong is because we believe the Scriptures are "God-breathed," so the infallible cause leading to the inspired effect is the Holy Spirit, not the Church or the Apostles. The Apostles did err, members of the Church err, popes err, etc. The reason that papal and Church infallibility exists, and the reason the Apostolic writings were inspired and infallible (on issues of faith and morals), is because they're the instruments the Holy Spirit deigns to use. Certainly, if the Holy Spirit used random agents and in an inconsistent way, it would be harder to determine inspired or infallible statements from non-inspired or non-infallible. But those are reasons why Church infalliblity is a good idea, not why it's logically necessary.

All that said, Peter Kreeft is a brilliant thinker, and I strongly encourage you to check him out. The article I'm quoting from here is from 1988, so it's possible that I'm either misunderstanding what he's saying or that he's moved on since then. Otherwise, it's just like a good pitcher throwing an occasional wild pitch.

Deuterocanonical Miscellany

Here's the next installment in the ongoing dialogue with Reese Currie (click the tag below for the backstory). Since the next three points are short, I figured I'd do them all as one point. Lucky you! As always, he's in red, I'm the rest:

4) Minor point, but it's a bit unfair to say the apocryphal books are "discarded" by the Protestants. Calvin held that it was worthy of reading, and quite edifying, but that doctrine should not be derived from it based on the questionability of its inspiration. The Anglican King James Version contained it (though Anglicanism is a bit between Catholicism and Protestantism). I don't honestly know if the Geneva Bible contained it but I'm quite sure the Bishops' Bible did. I know Luther's did not include it and that he totally rejected it (plus a few NT books the rest of us, including modern Lutherans, accept). But not all Protestants consider it valueless. Even though I personally doubt its inspiration, a night spent with Wisdom (Ecclesiasticus) is a night well spent.

Protestants on the whole have discarded the Deuterocanon, even though the original (particularly the magisterial) Reformers did not totally. You would be hard pressed to stumble upon a Protestant Bible today containing these books, unless you were actively seeking it out. The NET Bible, one of the free downloadable Bibles I use, includes the Deuterocanon, but doesn’t mention it in the Table of Contents (which makes it almost impossible to access – you have to search for a word used in one of the books to find it: it’s quite annoying, in fact), and has a lengthy disclaimer about how the Deuterocanon is obviously uninspired. What’s strange about this is that prior to the 16th Century, it was a rare soul who questioned the universally accepted fact that the Deuterocanon was inspired. Now, it’s taken as an infallible truth that it’s uninspired, and yet there’s not a single Church Council or Apostolic authority arriving at this conclusion. This isn’t just questioning whether the Holy Spirit was at work in the councils He inspired: it’s declaring as a matter of assumed fact that of course He wasn’t, without appealing to any institutional decision by the Church saying as much.

To my knowledge, the closest thing that Protestants can point to as institutional authority for the proposition that the Bible absolutely does not contain the Deuterocanon is an 1827 vote by the British and Foreign Bible Society to omit the Deuterocanon entirely. This wasn’t a group of bishops and elders (those authorized to participate in Holy Spirit guided councils in Acts 15), but a group of self-ordained missionaries, led by one Mari Jones. And we can gauge their infallibility by the fact that the 1827 vote was a reversal of their original policy (of including the Deuterocanon as an Apocrypha).

As for your phrase, “a night spent with Wisdom (Ecclesiasticus) is a night well spent,” I can only say that it’s wonderful that you feel this way, and I wish more Catholics shared the same passion. Protestant zeal for the Bible plus a full Catholic Bible, that’s all I ask for.

5) Just as an aside, interestingly the King James Version of the Bible replaces the LXX quotations in the NT with quotations from the Hebrew, because at the time one of the criticisms of NT Scripture was the OT quotations "weren't quite right." On that basis one can understand why the Roman Catholic Church rejected the KJV and continues to. I only learned that very recently--a couple of weeks ago I suppose. I thought it had been done in the "Received Text" but it had not, only in the KJV.

Tinkering with the Bible is shockingly arrogant, in my opinion, and I can only hope you misheard. Obviously, translators sometimes change words around to better capture the description, but to change what the original inspired writers said to better suit your doctrinal purposes must be viewed as terribly sinful.

6) All that having been said I'm fascinated by your witness of Tobit. I mentioned having read the Deuterocanonical books and Tobit was one of those that had me deeply concerned--frankly I thought it was the most obviously fictional--but your witness certainly makes me pause. Perhaps there's a link between that and Luther's rejection of Revelation.

Three points on this. First, I think you should read Tobit as if it were inspired, and see if that doesn’t get you further in understanding its value. Certainly, using fish organs to get rid of a demon is weird (Tobit 6:6-8), but not really that much weirder than using spit to cure blindness (Mark 8:22-25) and deafness (Mark 7:32-35). What is magic to a skeptic is miraculous to a believer. Second, Tobit may well be religious fiction: in other words, a parable. There are certain clues: many of the names are allegorical, and one of the figures is a recurring figure from Jewish folklore [although, then again, this could be the reverse: Moses and Abraham became recurring figures in Jewish folklore, precisely because of their real life stories]. So it’s possible that Tobit, like the Prodigal Son, never existed. But like the Prodigal Son, the story is still inspired. Third, the fact that Tobit has echoes in Revelation either means that the Holy Spirit who inspired Revelation is confirming the inspiration of Tobit, or means that the hoaxster who made up Revelation tried to pass it off as genuine by citing to something regarded as canonical (Raphael’s description of the inner sanctum of Heaven in Tobit). So at the least it shows that the Deuterocanon was accepted as inspired by the early Church (as in, the Church at the time Revelation was written, which was the late 1st century), but if Revelation is inspired (which I think we agree upon), I think it proves much more than that.

To try and accept Revelation as inspired, and not the prophesies which Revelation reveals to be true would be an unsustainable position, in my opinion. For starters, why would the Holy Spirit allow a hoax book to accurately predict something which the Bible would later prove to be true? Why make it appear that Tobit is inspired if it isn’t?

John the Baptist, Christmas, and the Liturgical Year

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Lots of cool facts are connected to this feast. Only three figures in history were born without original sin (unless you count Adam and Eve... were they "born"?): Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist. As a result, we celebrate the Nativity of all three: Jesus on December 25th (in what is known as "Christ's Mass," or sometimes, "Christmas"), Mary on September 8th, and John the Baptist today.

The basis for the belief that John the Baptist was born without original sin is Luke 1:41-44, where John (still in the womb) leaps for joy, filled with the Holy Spirit: since the Catholic view of original sin is a deprivation of sanctifying grace, and John is filled with this grace in the person of the Holy Spirit Himself, he's cleansed of sin before he's born. John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote to the Anglican E. B. Pusey (who became head of the Anglo-Catholic "Oxford Movement" upon Newman's entrance into the Catholic Church) comparing and contrasting the Catholic views on Mary and John the Baptist's conception and nativities:
Mary may be called, as it were, a daughter of Eve unfallen. You believe with us that St. John Baptist had grace given to him three months before his birth, at the time that the Blessed Virgin visited his mother: And accordingly he was not immaculately conceived, because he was alive before grace came to him; but Our Lady's case only differs from his in this respect, that to her the grace of God came, not three months merely before her birth, but from the first moment of her being, as it had been given to Eve.

This is also, incidentally, why we celebrate the conception of Jesus and Mary (the Annunciation, celebrated March 25th; and the Immaculate Conception, celebrated December 8th).

An even more interesting connection is this one. We know from Luke 1:26 that John the Baptist is about 6 months older than Jesus. Traditionally, Jesus' conception was celebrated on March 25th, because of an old rabbinical tradition that the great prophets died on either their birthday or the day they were conceived. Apparently, since they didn't know His actual conception date, they just followed this tradition, since March 25th is pretty close to Easter. From this comes Christmas on December 25th, 9 months later. And since John the Baptist is 6 months older, his conception is assumed to be about September 24th, and his birth June 24th (today).

Why is that cool? Well, it so happens that because Christ's birth was right about the spring equinox, the conception and birth of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ make something of a cross across a cyclical calendar. And cooler still, John the Baptist's birth comes during one of the longest days of the year, while Jesus' birth comes during one of the shortest. And just as the days following Christmas increase, while the days following the Nativity of John the Baptist decrease, John the Baptist said of Christ, "He must increase, I must decrease" (John 3:30).

It all fits together so perfectly, and comports very well Biblically. It's either a stroke of genius, luck, or Providence.

The Deuterocanon: the Curious Case of Jerome

If you're just dropping in, feel free to catch up by clicking the Reese Currie tag at the bottom of this post. This is part 3 of his arguments and my rejoinders on the issues of priestly celibacy and (mostly) the Deuterocanon. He's in red, I'm the rest. Enjoy!

3) I agree that the majority of quotations in the NT are from the LXX, but this was necessary largely to demonstrate to the Greek-speaking world that this was not a new or alien teaching--they could look it up in the LXX. In many places Hebrew is used where it would seem the NT writers deemed the translation faults in the LXX unacceptable. I'm sure no Catholic Bible has an LXX-based Jeremiah, for example (or it would be considerably shorter). Jerome went against the tide by bothering to learn Hebrew and using the Hebrew text (where available) for what became known as the Vulgate. (Jerome is also rumored to have wanted to reject the "apocryphal" books that were not available in Hebrew, but I do not know of a source proving that.) Of course some other OT quotations are merely paraphrased.

The first sentence of # 3 is essentially what I was arguing for 2a. And I’ll grant that it’s very possible that neither the Hebrew nor Greek version in existence at the time of Christ were entirely perfect translations. Jesus used both, but I don’t think that establishes the inerrancy of either version. In fact, if there’s going to be a reliable judge of which version of Jeremiah to use, for example (there are Hebrew versions of the shorter LXX Jeremiah, so the question is: was the LXX first, and the proto-MT a later edition, or was the LXX a translation of a summary of the proto-MT?), we need a reliable judge. Scripture doesn’t answer the question, Jesus didn’t during His earthly ministry, and our guesses would be just that: guesses. The Catholic Church has always taken the longer form, even though this goes against the normal practice of preferring the Greek (to my knowledge, it has not explicitly declared the longer version the correct one infallibly, but two millennia of practice give a good indication of its reliability).

As for Jerome, he’s a bizarre case. To understand where he stands, you have to realize that the early Christians didn’t view the canon as being exclusive. In other words, they didn’t think that once a canon existed, anything not in the canon was therefore uninspired. So a lot of early Christians thought it best to include only those books which everyone agreed upon. In Jerome’s case, he lived in Palestine, and was surrounding by a post-Christ Jewish culture which rejected the Deuterocanon. He, and some other Palestinian Catholics, preferred the then-uniform Hebrew Canon, apparently for this reason. However, Jerome elsewhere quotes from the Deuterocanon as inspired

Additionally, Jerome did include the Deuterocanon at the Pope’s request in his translation of the Vulgate, suggesting that even though his gut feelings might have lead him in one direction, he was willing to submit to the teaching authority of the Church. This tendency to defer to the Bishop of Rome is seen also in Rufinus, one of Jerome’s fiercest opponents. Here’s what he had to say about the Church in Palestine and Jerome specifically, on the issue of the Dueterocanon:

There has been from the first in the churches of God, and especially in that of
Jerusalem, a plentiful supply of men who being born Jews have become Christians; and their perfect acquaintance with both languages and their sufficient knowledge of the law is shewn by their administration of the pontifical office. In all this abundance of learned men, has there been one who has dared to make havoc of the divine record handed down to the Churches by the Apostles and the deposit of the Holy Spirit? For what can we call it but havoc, when some parts of it are transformed, and this is called the correction of an error?

For instance, the whole of the history of Susanna, which gave a lesson of chastity to the churches of God, has by him been cut out, thrown aside and dismissed. The hymn of the three children, which is regularly sung on festivals in the Church of God, he has wholly erased from the place where it stood. But why should I enumerate these cases one by one, when their number cannot be estimated?

This, however, cannot be passed over. The seventy translators, each in their separate cells, produced a version couched in consonant and identical words, under the inspiration, as we cannot doubt, of the Holy Spirit; and this version must certainly be of more authority with us than a translation made by a single man under the inspiration of Barabbas.

But, putting this aside, I beg you to listen, for example, to this as an instance of what we mean. Peter was for twenty-four years Bishop of the Church of Rome. We cannot doubt that, amongst other things necessary for the instruction of the church, he himself delivered to them the treasury of the sacred books, which, no doubt, had even then begun to be read under his presidency and teaching. What are we to say then? Did Peter the Apostle of Christ deceive the church and deliver to them books which were false and contained nothing of truth? Are we to believe that he knew that the Jews possessed what was true, and yet determined that the Christians should have what was false?

But perhaps the answer will be made that Peter was illiterate, and that, though he knew that the books of the Jews were truer than those which existed in the church, yet he could not translate them into Latin because of his linguistic incapacity. What then! Was the tongue of fire given by the Holy Spirit from heaven of no avail to him? Did not the Apostles speak in all languages?

(Rufinus, Apology of Rufinus, Book II, Chapter 38).

It should be noted that Rufinus had an imperfect history himself: his visceral falling out with Jerome disgraced both men, and the two men wrote rather unbecoming things of one another. Additionally, his appeal to the 70 translators is misplaced: most moderns consider that almost certainly a myth. Nevertheless, his other points:

  • that the overwhelming majority of Hebrew-speaking Jewish converts recognized the Deuterocanon as canonical,
  • that this was the historic faith of the Church,
  • that this was the faith of the Church in Rome specifically, having been set there by Peter as the city’s first Bishop, and
  • that the decision to include the Deuterocanon was itself inspired by the Holy Spirit

are all very solid arguments, in my opinion, and Rufinus’ position certainly represented that of the Church collective.

Yet more is coming: 9:00 AM tomorrow, on the dot. See you there!

Charitable Giving by Religiousness and Political Leaning

My friend Lew Jan Olowoski (he usually goes by Jan, pronounced "yawn," in case you're curious) highlights a fascinating investigation by 20/20 on which groups of Americans give. Here are two highlights I found interesting:
  • Arthur Brooks, the author of "Who Really Cares," says that "when you look at the data, it turns out the conservatives give about 30 percent more." He adds, "And incidentally, conservative-headed families make slightly less money." And he says the differences in giving goes beyond money, pointing out that conservatives are 18 percent more likely to donate blood.

I definitely understand the fact that the more people rely on the government to help the poor, the less they do it themselves. Comparing America to Europe, for example, we find the former gives much less in state-to-state aid (a fact we're criticized for constantly), and much more in total dollars from private donations (a fact conveniently overlooked by those doing the guilt-tripping). In any case, there are a lot of things government aid can't do: they usually don't give to religious charities (despite these groups having the most successful programs and lowest overhead, generally), and individuals are still needed to provide critical things like blood, a fact that the study shows some people are overlooking(I say this as someone too terrified of needles to give blood, or even watch other people give blood).

I would say this, though: there tends to be a roots / branches split in how liberals and conservatives approach problems. Liberals classically attack the roots of problems, sometimes at the cost of ignoring the symptoms and those presently afflicted (like trying to create programs to eradicate poverty long-term while ignoring those presently hungry); conservatives classically address the branches, while ignoring the causes. I'm not sure how true that dichotomy is in real life, but if you're a "community organizer" looking to create long-term social change instead of giving blood or money, this study under-represents you.

  • Finally, the single biggest predictor of whether someone will be charitable is their religious participation. Religious people are more likely to give to charity, and when they give, they give more money: four times as much.
I wasn't surprised that religious people give more, but I wasn't prepared for the gap to be quite that big. Jan, for his part, writes thoughtfully on the role of religion as a motivator for charity, and why that's something the non-religious should be pleased with. In the meantime, he gets lots of anti-liberal potshots in, but what do you expect from someone who decides (in 2009, no less) to name their blog in honor of George W. Bush?

Fish Heads and All

Today's first reading was from Genesis 13, and began: "Abram was very rich in livestock, silver, and gold.Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents,so that the land could not support them if they stayed together; their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together."

The priest (the same one who gave the excellent homily yesterday) noted the odd irony of this concept: shouldn't more money, more possessions, more "financial security," have brought them together as a family? But no, even Father Abraham suffered from the perils of wealth (although Genesis 13 makes it clear that his solution was very gentlemanly, by letting Lot take the nicer land, which turned out to be full of creeps). Father referred to this as "more possessions, more fighting." In the pews, I was silently hoping for a, "mo' money, mo' problems." No dice.

After that, he told a story about how a guy he knew who had grown up in the Great Depression had a big family meal with salmon or something, and said, "Hey, save the fish heads for mom, they're her favourite part." (In fact, his mom used to take the fish heads first b/c they couldn't afford enough fish for everyone to have a non-disgusting part). He said, "the mom just said, 'you silly child,' which is mom-speak for 'you idiot.'"

Fish heads and all, it was a lovely homily all around.

Did Jesus Use the Hebrew or the Greek Old Testament?

This is the next segment in an ongoing dialogue with Reese Currie on priestly celibacy and (mostly) the Deuterocanon. To make it easier to see what's been going on to date, I've added a "Reese Currie" tag. Just click the tag, and you can figure out what's going on if you're a newcomer. As always, Reese is in red, my responses are in black, and my editorial comments are in blue.

If it's not clear what Reese is arguing here, it's bascially this: we'd been talking about whether the Hebrew or the Greek Old Testament is the correct canon. The Hebrew Canon is identical to the Protestant Old Testament, and was the canon used by the Pharisees, and eventually, almost all Jews, through the creation of a 14th century translation called the Masoretic Text (MT). The Greek Canon, also called the Septuagint or the LXX, contains 7 more books, and 5 additions to books, which we Catholics call the "Deuterocanon" (Protestants sometimes call it the Apocrypha, meaning "hidden," but that term doesn't really make sense or apply here, and since there are a lot of apocryphal, I strongly prefer Deuterocanon or DC). I'd previously argued that since Jesus quotes the Greek Psalm 8:3 in Matthew 21:16 as prophetic, He's suggesting that the Greek Canon is inspired [the Hebrew version of Psalm 8:3 doesn't contain the prophesy in question]. Reese's response here shows an instance where Jesus' point can only be made using the Hebrew Canon:

2a) As you know the Hebrew canon is arranged in a different order and ends with Chronicles (2 Chronicles to us). When Jesus speaks of the prophets who were killed, he begins with Abel and ends with Zechariah, the last prophet in the Old Testament of Jesus' understanding.

This is a great argument. Jesus is definitely referring to the order of the books in the Jewish canon (since Zechariah’s is not the last death chronologically). But He’s not “setting the seal” upon that specific canon as the totality of Scripture (or even the totality of the New Testament). Rather, He’s operating within the paradigm of what His audience already accepts as authoritative. Here’s what I mean: in Mark 12, some Sadducees (who we’re told deny the resurrection in v. 18) ask Jesus a mocking question about whose wife a woman who has remarried will be in Heaven. Jesus responds in v. 24, “Are you not misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?” So here we have Jesus turning the debate to the Scriptures, and claiming that they don’t know them. This seems like an attack on the Sadducee canon, because as you may be aware, the Sadducees accepted only the Torah as canonical, not the entire Tanakh. (Origen says as much in Book 1, Chapter 49, of Against Celsus: “the Samaritans and Sadducees, who receive the books of Moses alone…”). But then Jesus does something strange: to prove the resurrection, He cites Exodus 3:6, “I am the God of Abraham, (the) God of Isaac, and (the) God of Jacob” (Mark 12:26). In choosing this verse, He skips over some much more obvious verses, like Daniel 12:2, “Many of those who sleep in the dusty ground will awake – some to everlasting life, and others to shame and everlasting abhorrence.” So what’s going on? Is Christ implicitly denying the canonicity of the Old Testament besides the Torah? Of course not. Rather than trying to set the canon with a hostile crowd, He’s taking the canon they know, and using it condemn them.

That’s the exact same thing that’s happening in Matthew 23:35 and its parallel account in Luke 11:50. Jesus is using the Pharisee’s Hebrew Canon (essentially the same canon used by modern Protestants), and using it to condemn them, by pointing out the long line of prophets that they’ve killed. He does some else in this passage, too. Look at Matthew 23:34-35. He says, “I send to you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify…,” etc. Notice what He’s doing: He’s saying, “I’m going to keep sending you prophets, and you’re going to keep killing them as you have done throughout your own recorded history. Not only is He turning their canon against them, He’s also identifying His Church as the continuation of True Israel: He’s saying that the killing of the New Testament Christians is the same as the killing of the Old Testament Prophets – in other words, there’s one People of God, not two. This passage actually gives weight to my earlier point that there aren’t two different churches in charge of setting the canon: a Jewish Church in charge of setting the Old Testament, and a Christian Church for setting the New. Romans 11:16-36 makes it clear that the Gentiles in the Christian Church are in-grafted members of Israel, while those Jews who persisted in disobedience were broken off. In other words, there is one Church in charge of setting the entire canon. That Church did so at numerous points in its history: local councils such as Carthage and Hippo, which were approved by Pope Innocent I, and officially declared Church teaching at the Council of Trent (when they were finally attacked so fiercely that a dogmatic statement must be made). Never at any point in the early Church did a single council declare the Protestant Bible to be canonical. Never at any point in the early Church did any of the Christians say, “we can set the New Testament, but we must wait for those who have denied Christ to tell us what our Old Testament may look like.” Those are both new and ahistorical concepts which cannot be traced to any councils (and in the case of the latter view, can’t be traced even to any individuals).

Finally, even though Jesus restricted Himself to the Torah when dealing with hostile Sadducees, and to the Pharisaic Hebrew canon when dealing with hostile Pharisees, He also quotes from the Greek LXX, or Septuagint. I mentioned last time, for example, that His quotation of Psalm 8:3 in Matthew 21:16 only makes sense if He considers the LXX inspired (since it’s not prophetic in the Hebrew version). So if Jesus thinks the Torah is inspired, the Hebrew Canon is inspired, and the Greek Canon is inspired, He’s got the view consistently held by the Catholic Church. If, in fact, He thought the Greek books weren’t inspired, it seems strangely misleading to quote from the LXX as inspired. Similarly, if someone were (for some reason) reading our correspondence later, they’d find we both cited to the Bible alone as authoritative. They might conclude that I believed in sola Scriptura, but in fact, I’m just aware that citing to a papal document you don’t consider infallible won’t convince you. But if they found writings between me and another Catholic, where I cited to a papal document authoritatively to make a point, it would make it clear that I believe in the Bible plus.

2b) Is it not possible then that the additional books in the LXX were never considered inspired? Many manuscripts, including Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, included NT extra-biblical material such as the Didache and the Epistle of Clement. The mere presence does not indicate canonicity, even in the NT.

I suppose it’s possible, but I’d say rather unlikely. I can’t speak for the Sinaiticus or Vaticanus, but I know that the Clementine Vulgate contained an appendix of non-inspired texts called ne prorsus interirent, or "lest they utterly perish." In every case that I know of, non-inspired texts included for their edification or historical value were consigned to a separate category, and clearly demarcated as non-canonical. The LXX doesn’t do that. It intermixes the Greek and Hebrew books, and in fact, the books of Daniel and Esther are longer in the Greek: if the additions to Daniel and Esther weren’t canonical, you would think that they would have had the good sense to label which were parts of the original, and which were imaginative add-ons, since the additions do not just come at the end. No, it’s pretty clear that the Greek-speaking Jews viewed all of Greek Daniel and Greek Esther as equally canonical, and that’s why they didn’t label where the Hebrew version ended and the Greek version began, and vice versa.

One final thought, in case it's not clear: my position isn't that the Hebrew Canon is uninspired or bad, just that it's incomplete (which is also my view on the Torah, and even the Old Testament in toto, since I think it needs the New Testament and the Church to fully make sense). Anyways, I hope you've enjoyed it so far! I'll be back with more at 9 AM sharp tomorrow morning!

St. Thomas More Delivers The Perfect Homily

I heard one of the most perfect, succinct homilies over lunch today. First of all, today is the Feast Day of Ss. Thomas More and John Fisher. John Cardinal Fisher is the only member of the College of Cardinals to be marytered: like More, he ultimately went to a martyr's death. [Turns out, my biographical info. on Fisher may have been not only incorrect, but libelous of him. Mea culpa, St. John Fisher, pray for me! See Comments for more details.]

I imagine everyone knows who St. (and Sir) Thomas More is: he was the brave English lawyer and scholar who refused to acknowledge King Henry VIII (a layman) as head of the Church of England, and lost his own head as a result (famously declaring himself "the king's good servant, and God's first"). A mere three years prior to this, he had been Lord Chancellor, and he ghost-wrote A Defense of the Seven Sacraments for Henry, earning his king the ironic title "Defender of the Faith." A brilliant thinker, he coined the word "utopia" in his book by the same name, and had left a deep impression upon history before dying a martyr's death. But the depths of his mind couldn't near the depths of his soul. In the famous portrait of More, you'll note upon careful inspection that he wears a hair shirt underneath his lordly robes. It was a reminder to him not to store up his treasure upon earth. He was willing to play the part of a statesman, but at his core, he was quietly a saint. More is the patron saint of public officials, lawyers, and judges, and (in my opinion) ought to be the patron saint of Washington, D.C.

So it's the feast day of Fisher and More, and the Gospel reading happened to be the beginning of Matthew 7, the famous (and often misunderstood) "Judge not, lest ye be judged" passage. So when it comes time for the homily, Father makes a brief reference to the relevance of judgment in More's life - although not a judge, he was a lawyer and a statesmen, so judgment was a concept very near his mind (In fact, More wrote a book worth reading called The Four Last Things, which deals with Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell). Then he quotes an extended passage from More himself (this is taken from Thomas More: A Portrait of Courage, by Gerard B Wegemer):
Bear no malice or evil will to any man living. For either the man is good or wicked. If he is good and I hate him, then I am wicked.

If he is wicked, either he will amend and die good and go to God, or live wickedly and die wickedly and go to the devil. And then let me remember that if he be saved, he will not fail (if I am saved too, as I trust to be) to love me very heartily and I shall then in like manner love him. And why should I now, then, hate one for this while who shall hereafter love me forever, and why should I be now, then, an enemy with whom I shall in time be coupled in eternal friendship?

And on the other side, if he will continue to be wicked and be damned, then is there such outrageous eternal sorrow before him that I may well think myself a deadly cruel wretch if I would not now rather pity his pain then malign his person."
I loved it. It was as if St. Thomas More gave the (brilliant) Matthew 7 homily on his own feast day.

Priestly Celibacy: What About 1 Timothy 3:4?

So, you may remember an ongoing dialogue I have had with Reese Currie. It began with an article he wrote criticizing the Catholic Church, and claiming that all sorts of un- or anti-biblical doctrines had become part of Catholicism just since 1000 A.D. I responded to it here, with evidence for each of the items he mentioned showing that it predated 1000 A.D. I sent him a copy of my responses, which he read over, and he challenged me on a few other issues related to Catholicism. Pretty soon, he had the Compass Distributors webmaster remove the anti-Catholic page.

Anyways, most of the dialogue since then has centered upon two issues: priestly celibacy (you can see what's been said so far here), and the canonicity of the Deuterocanon (here and here). After that, Reese responded, and I .... got caught up in finals, work, etc., and completely failed to get back with him for more than a month and a half. Last night, I finally fixed that. So without further ado, here's the next chapter in the ongoing dialogue with Mr. Reese Currie. He's in red, I'm in black, and I'll post a chunk of this a day due to its length:

(1) Marriage is actually a qualification of an overseer (depending on the version, bishop) according to 1 Timothy 3:2--"husband of one wife" or in the Greek, "one woman man". How is that reconciled with a celibacy requirement?

Paul can't mean that marriage is a qualification for an overseer/bishop. Within the multi-tiered structure of early Christianity, it goes: Apostles, Bishops, Elders, Deacons. But the greater always includes the lesser: so elders (known pretty quickly as priests, apparently within a few decades) are also deacons, bishops are also priests/elders and deacons, and Apostles are all of the above. That's why in 1 Peter 5:1, St. Peter refers to himself as a "fellow elder"; Paul refers to himself constantly as a "deacon," the lowest of the ordained ranks (cf. 1 Cor. 3:5, 4:1; 2 Cor. 3:6, 6:4, 11:23; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25 -- note: a lot of Bibles translate it as "servant" or "minister" when he uses the word diākonos, but it literally means "deacon"). (Incidentally, Pope Benedict XVI just sent out a letter to priests of the world that began, “Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood”).

Here's why that matters. Paul, as we know, was celibate, and thought everyone who could bear should be as well (1 Corinthians 7:7, for example). Paul's pretty clear that he views celibacy as being a higher calling than marriage (although both are good -- it's an issue of "good v. better"). So it's not just that Paul would be contradicting himself - he'd literally be declaring himself unfit to be a bishop, and therefore, unfit to be an Apostle.

Additionally, Paul says right after the part you reference (in 1 Timothy 3:4) that a bishop must keep his children (plural) under control. But no one reads being a father of more than one child as a prerequisite of being a bishop (at least, no one I've ever heard).

What Paul's actually saying is that bishops can't have more than one wife. This includes divorce and remarriage as Mark 10:11–12 and other passages make clear. Divorce was a problem in Christian communities from the start, and Paul's demanding men of the highest caliber. In fact, Martin Luther used this verse for a very different purpose - pointing out that this is the only clear ban on polygamy in the New Testament (and applies only to bishops), he concluded that Phillip of Hesse could take a second wife. While it's a good warning on the danger of sola Scriptura, it's also indicative of the way that Luther and a great many others read the verse.

More tomorrow!

Oliver Cromwell Jigsaw Puzzle...

... for "kidz." As a non-Brit and a Catholic, I find the English obsession with Cromwell weird: the guy was fanatical and cruel, a dictator, attempting what can fairly be called genocide against the Irish (killing unarmed civilians and enslaving Irish children, sending them to the West Indes for hard labor), committing regicide, and trying to abolish Christmas:
Cromwell banned Christmas as people would have known it then. By the C17th,
Christmas had become a holiday of celebration and enjoyment - especially after
the problems caused by the civil war. Cromwell wanted it returned to a religious
celebration where people thought about the birth of Jesus rather than ate and
drank too much. In London, soldiers were ordered to go round the streets and
take, by force if necessary, food being cooked for a Christmas celebration. The
smell of a goose being cooked could bring trouble. Traditional Christmas
decorations like holly were banned.

Although the comparison is overdone, the Cromwell regime was perhaps the closest Christianity ever came to the Taliban (admittedly: still far away, but strict dress codes were enforced by armed soldiers, and being seen outside the house on Sunday could lead to hefty fines).

And for all this, he gets ... a "kidz puzzle"? I suppose if he were American, we'd put him on the $20.

Priestly Celibacy: What About Current Priests?

DJ AMDG continues his trend of thought-provoking questions with this one about priestly celibacy: specifically, what should happen to the priest in this situation:
... a man becomes a priest, goes through all the education and training, makes the sacrifice for HO, but then (maybe in their 30s?) no longer wants to sacrifice.

His full comment seems to suggest that such a priest should be able to marry and remain a priest, since leaving the priesthood would leave him jobless, and bearing the stigma of being an ex-priest. I disagree, although I don't doubt that the priest faces severe struggles (in fact, all priests face real struggles, a fact I mentioned in my last post).

In my opinion, though, he has made a promise before and to God (not just the Church) to be celibate. We view it as analogous to the wedding vow. If a man marries young, and finds by his 30s that he is unhappy, his wife refuses him sex, and he no longer wishes to be married to her, it's not okay for him to break his wedding vows. Certainly, his life may be one of a deep and unsettling listlessness at times, but he's promised before God to take his wife "for better or for worse," &c. Indeed, I have more sympathy for that married man, because he didn't realize he was signing up for a celibate life.

One thing which I think should be viewed as a grave sin by any Christian, regardless of denomination, was Luther's decision to marry Katharina von Bora, a nun, and his proclaimation that this was not only okay, but indeed, good. I realize that without the largess of the Church, the celibate faced unique financial vulnerability, particularly women religious. But the vow was to God, a god they still believe in. A celibate marriage, of the sort which St. Joseph had to the Virgin Mary, might have been one way to preserve and protect these virgins betrothed to God. But clearly, this was not the sort of marriage which the couple had. Living in "The Black Cloister," a monastery "given them" by the Elector John the Steadfast, the couple had six children, and the common consensus is that these weren't virgin births.

I realize that keeping a vow of celibacy, or even a vow of monogamy, can be hard (especially when the vow of monogamy turns into a vow of celibacy!). But there are more people than just yourself to worry about. Either of the men we talked about: the priest who wants female companionship, or the husband who wants new female companionship, can justify their actions by focusing on themselves. That's why the breakdown in priestly celibacy has been as much about the "Me" culture, and about pride, as it has been about lust. Those men who keep their vows of celibacy aren't immune from the temptations of the flesh, they just overcome them with an awareness of their duties before God and others (whether those others are the wife and kids, or the congregation who looks up to you).

Besides that: a priest has been vested by God with the power to turn a piece of bread and glass of wine into the God of the Universe. And he's complaining because that's all he gets?

Obviously, there's the laicization process, which is at least a nod towards those duties; and it's an immense charity that the Church has been vested with the power to loosen the priests from these bonds. In some cases, laicization is the only way to save the priest's soul. But it belongs as an exception, a mutual dissolution of a contract to avoid breach. And even laicization remains powerless to remove the indelible mark of the ministerial priesthood (these priests are priests forever in the Order of Melchizedek, as followers of Christ).

Additionally, it's wrong to look down on laicized or fallen priests. They need our prayers, just as adulterers do. It's not for nothing that John 8:2-11 is in the Bible.

Mixed Emotions About the Death Penalty

A friend of mine from Mexico writes the following (warning: part of it is graphic):

Hey Joe, you may have read this already, but just in case you haven't. It speaks volumes:

As for my own views... I don't know what to say, because I can tell you -because you will understand were I'm coming from- that they don't count. This is a matter in which I submit by obedience, because I believe that the Church as teacher knows more than I do, but I have real difficulties sometimes with reconciling the mercy and compassion that I am bound to show with such horrible crimes as sometimes are committed.

As you know, my country is in turmoil right now. Crime has become common place, however, every once in a while you hear of something that stirs you and brings out the worst in you. About a year ago, a child was abducted in Mexico City. His parents owned and operated a tiny corner store, so they were not rich, not even well off, by any means. The kidnappers asked for a ridiculously high amount of money, and when the parents could not afford it, they killed the child by injecting car battery acid into his heart. If I could have two minds and two consciences, one would have killed those animals on sight, and in a very painful way... But I am whole, so even if I were the President of Mexico and I had the power to submit a Constitutional amendment to Congress to allow for the death penalty, I would not do it out of obedience.

I don't have much of a scriptural basis for it, other than those you can find that support the Church as teacher.

I don't know if it helps at all, but it's all I can say. It's an excellent discussion topic, though, and I will pray for that apostolate you're doing with your friend.

Best regards.

I don't have much to add, except that I very much empathize with where he's coming from. I think the Disciples knew the feeling, too; the original Shake n' Bake, James and John, were called Boanerges, "Sons of Thunder," for good reason (Mark 3:17); in Luke 9:52-56, they try and convince Jesus to let them call fire down from Heaven on a Samarian village which rejects Jesus for being too Jewish. I can't say I wouldn't be tempted from time to time to ask permission to bring down fire for much less cause (heck, I'd want to bring down fire from heaven just to impress people). It's easy to follow the Church when it's something we agree upon on a gut-level. It's much harder to follow the Church (you can substitute "Jesus," or "the Bible," etc. here) when we're being told what we don't want to hear. As for me, I can mentally wrap my head around why the death penalty is evil (DJ AMDG does a great job here), but that doesn't mean it's not an evil I something find attractive.

All that said, Christians should remember that we worship a God-Man who was killed via capital punishment for a crime He didn't commit (political insurrection). So maybe Jesus doesn't need to tell us that capital punishment isn't a silver bullet?

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