Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Jesus and the Passover

Exodus 12 lays out the requirements of the Passover meal in great depth. It's divided into two parts: (1) you sacrifice the lamb, and (2) you eat it. So, for example, Exodus 12:5-6 says that:
The lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish. You may take it from either the sheep or the goats.You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, and then, with the whole assembly of Israel present, it shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight.
A spotless Lamb slaughtered publicly, in the presence of all of Israel, on Passover. So Christological. And obviously so.

I. The Terminology
The Gospel writers include plenty of details which would have absolutely screamed Passover to Jewish readers. The would-be sacrifice of Isaac involves Isaac being substituted for a ram (which represents sin); the Passover includes the sins being "passed over" until a later time, a mercy brought about by obeying God's commandment to slay an unblemished lamb (Malachi 1, which I mentioned in my last post, is His anger at their slacking on this part, and giving sacrifices they didn't particularly want to keep: and this chapter prefigures Christ, as discussed Monday).

Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God, who becomes Sin for us to take our place. Jesus' ministry begins with John the Baptist heralding Him as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world," (John 1:29), and this continues all through the New Testament. John the Revelator describes a vision of Jesus, glorified in Heaven, as "a Lamb, standing as though slain" (Revelation 5:6). From start to finish, His earthly ministry is marked by His being the prophesied Lamb.

Exodus 12:22 specifies a hyssop branch for the Passover lamb, and that's the very branch used in John 19:29 to give Jesus His final drink. And even this drink is of extremely important significance, which I'll explain in more depth later: suffice it to say now that it's the fourth cup of the Passover meal. Jesus is the spotless Lamb, whose death atones for the sins of the faithful, just as the Passover lamb's death saved those who partook in it. I'm leaving this section short, precisely because if I talked about all of the Passover parallels, it'd be easily long enough to be a stand-alone post. If anyone is interested in hearing some of those parallels, just say something in the comments, and I'll get to it. Otherwise, just recognize that Jesus is called the Lamb of God for a reason.


II. The Timing
And, of course, there's the date of Jesus' Passion. The Synoptics describe the Last Supper as occurring on Passover (Matthew 26:19, Mark 14:16, and Luke 22:15), while John 19:14 has the Passion as occurring on the Preparation Day of the Passover - the day which the Lambs were slaughtered.

At first brush, this is a strange contradiction. Fortunately, I've got a great priest. Fr. De Celles, in a homily he gave during Holy Week a couple years ago, explained in some depth the precise chronology. Passover fell on a Saturday the year that Jesus died -- we know this explicitly from John 19:31. Some Jews celebrated it as it fell; others (typically, the more pious), observed the Sabbath, and moved the celebration of the Passover up a day. And, of course, the Jewish day starts at sundown. So the chronology goes like this:
  • Wednesday night - Thursday day: Preparation Day for the pious
  • Thursday night - Friday day: Passover for the pious; Preparation day for the rest -- the day the lambs are slain. The Last Supper is celebrated Thursday night, and the Passion occurs Friday day: a single day, a single action, within the Jewish calendar.
  • Friday night - Saturday day: Passover for the rest; the Sabbath. The day Jesus rests in the Tomb.
So there's no contradiction at all. John uses the common calendar (since he's talking about why the Jews don't want Jesus left on the Cross, and it's likely that those who are complaining are celebrating on Saturday), while it's clear that Jesus and His Disciples celebrated the previous night, as way traditional amongst pious Jews.

The timing is absolutely perfect. It means that the Last Supper, the Passover meal, which normally occurs on the evening after the Preparation Day, is able to be celebrated on the evening before. It also means that the Last Supper and the Passion are on the same day, something only possible on the Jewish calendar: a midnight-to-midnight day would make it virtually impossible to have a Last Supper and a midday Crucifixion in the same day.

When I see things like this, I'm struck at how much pre-planning went into this singular action. And it's the timing of the Passover which ensures that Jesus will have an identifiable Tomb (John 19:31 explains this, it's sort of an aside). This Tomb will become very important later, when Peter, in Jerusalem itself, proclaims that the Tomb of Christ is empty mere weeks after the Resurrection (Acts 2:31-32).


III. The Eucharist
Like I said up top, the Passover consists of two parts, divided into two Jewish days (although only one day in how we measure days). Preparation Day was the day of slaying the Lamb. That's the Passion. The Passover is the day you eat the Lamb. And just as Exodus 12 was very specific on the first point, it's very specific on the second. Picking up where we left off above, here's Exodus 12:7-11 -
Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire—head, legs and inner parts. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD's Passover.
Later, in the same chapter (Exodus 12:43-49), there are more restrictions:
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "These are the regulations for the Passover: "No foreigner is to eat of it. Any slave you have bought may eat of it after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident and a hired worker may not eat of it.

It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. The whole community of Israel must celebrate it. An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD's Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you."

Scott Hahn pointed out in a lecture I listened to that if you sacrifice the lamb, cover your door with its blood, and go to bed, you wake up to a dead son. The Passover requires that you eat of the sacrificed lamb. The implications for the New Covenant are obvious.

Non-Catholics often accuse Catholics of re-sacrificing Christ. But that's obviously untrue. We're not repeating Preparation Day. We're repeating Passover. Just as Christians (Protestants and Catholics alike) who sin repeatedly cover themselves in the Blood of the Lamb without re-sacrificing Him, Catholics eat His Flesh and drink His Blood without re-sacrificing Him.

It's also interesting that this is a closed communion. Visitors and the uncircumcised aren't welcome. Again, the implications are significant. I know that a number of Christians are annoyed with the Catholic Church's stance, and find it uncharitable. In fact, it's extremely charitable, by diminishing the likelihood of eating and drinking damnation upon one's self by receiving unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:29). It's also, as you can see, extremely Biblical. It wasn't enough to simply believe in the efficaciousness of the Passover. You had to be circumcised. In contrast, we just make you go through RCIA and get Baptized. RCIA doesn't seem so bad, given the alternative.

Finally, here's something I found really eerie. This is from a Jewish vegetarian site:

"Today there is no need to cook or eat meat on Passover. The eating of the Paschal lamb is no longer required now that the Temple is not standing. One is required to commemorate this act, not participate in it."
If this site is correct, once the Jews lost the Real Presence of God in the Holiest of Holies, they went from having a real meal to a mere commemoration.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Malachi 1 and the Eucharist

After complaining of the insufficiency of the Jewish sacrifice in Malachi 1, God provides a fascinating foretaste of the New Covenant in Malachi 1:11: "My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations," says the LORD Almighty."

I was reminded of this recently, as an agnostic asked if this was about the Eucharist. She's right, it is. It's also a complete refutation that there are no further sacrifices in the New Covenant, because God Himself says that there will be "from the rising to the setting of the sun," which is to say, globally, "in every place."

I was aware that this was a prophesy which the Church Fathers were fond of for proving the Eucharist, and that the Mass was a Sacrifice, but I couldn't remember exact quotes. Fortunately, Catholic Answers came through, and mentions 3 early Christian sources which rely on this specific verse:
  • The Didache (70 A.D.)
"Assemble on the Lord’s day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice [Matt. 5:23–24]. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, ‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations’ [Mal. 1:11, 14]" (Didache 14 [A.D. 70]).

  • Justin Martyr (A.D. 155)
"God speaks by the mouth of Malachi, one of the twelve [minor prophets], as I said before, about the sacrifices at that time presented by you: ‘I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord, and I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands; for from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, my name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering, for my name is great among the Gentiles . . . [Mal. 1:10–11]. He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us [Christians] who in every place offer sacrifices to him, that is, the bread of the Eucharist and also the cup of the Eucharist" (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 41 [A.D. 155]).

  • Irenaeus (A.D. 189)
"He took from among creation that which is bread, and gave thanks, saying, ‘This is my body.’ The cup likewise, which is from among the creation to which we belong, he confessed to be his blood. He taught the new sacrifice of the new covenant, of which Malachi, one of the twelve [minor] prophets, had signified beforehand: ‘You do not do my will, says the Lord Almighty, and I will not accept a sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is my name among the Gentiles, says the Lord Almighty’ [Mal. 1:10–11]. By these words he makes it plain that the former people will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to him, and indeed, a pure one, for his name is glorified among the Gentiles" (Against Heresies 4:17:5 [A.D. 189]).

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Feast of the Holy Family!

Sunday is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The Gospel for this Sunday is Luke 2:41-52:
Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.

He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
I love this passage, because there's a lot hidden just beneath the surface. At first, this passage seems sort of a strange inclusion on Luke's part, as the only info he provides up about Jesus between age 1 and 30. In fact, it sounds to the casual reader as if Jesus is rebuking His Mother (this was, unfortunately, the mistake which even our priest at the Vigil Mass tonight made in an otherwise decent homily on the importance of tending to our spiritual family, the Church). On the contrary, He's teaching Her, and providing Her an amazing gift.* And the Gospel even makes a note of His obedience to Mary and Joseph towards the end. After all, He's perfect, the Ten Commandments instruct us to honor our father and mother, and Jesus does so. Here, He's honoring both simultaneously, although that may not be immediately clear.

Of everyone in the world beside Jesus Himself, His Crucifixion was hardest on His Mom. She knows that Jesus has to die for Her own salvation (cf. Luke 1:47), and so She bears what any of us mindful of the terrible debt He had to pay for us must bear. But She also bears the burden of watching a Son humiliated, tortured, and killed in Her presence. This isn't just common sense, it's suggested in the prophesy of Simeon from Luke 2:34-35. As Simeon prophesies to Mary that Her Son will be "destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed," he warns Her that "a sword will pierce through your own soul, too."

So what does the twelve-year old Jesus do? He follows the will of His Heavenly Father, and remains in the Temple, knowing that He'll seem to be lost to Her. And note the timing. It's Passover, and He's lost to Her for three days. It's a foretaste of the Passion. I'm speculating here, but it seems to me that the most likely reason is that this pain is a sweet relief for later: that when She watches Her Son die, a seeming failure, on the Passover, She can hope that on the Third Day She can again discover He was simply about His Father's business. This seems to have been the case, since we're told that while "they did not understand what He said to them" at the time, "His Mother kept all these things in her heart." And how does St. Luke know what Mary kept in Her heart? Well, almost certainly because She told him as he was writing his Gospel. And why mention this story? Why would Mary think it important for a Gospel writer to know about this particular incident from His Childhood? I think the answer is obvious enough - She recognized it for the very thing He intended Her to recognize it as: a foretaste of His Passion and Death.

*To preempt an argument I've heard before against the Catholic view of Our Lady, obviously one can be sinless and not omniscient. Catholics don't think Mary knew everything or is God. And even Jesus "advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man," so if the sinless and perfect God-Man can still learn a thing or two growing up as a Man on Earth, I think it's safe to say we don't think Mary was beyond instruction, without that disproving anything which we do believe.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone's having a wonderful Christmas, getting plenty of family time in, and all that. If you find yourself on the computer today, I've got a few suggestions:
  1. Pope Benedict's Christmas Homily
  2. These homilies are always good. Here's the full thing, and here's a taste:
    • The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch. They could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message.

    • Let us return to the Christmas Gospel. It tells us that after listening to the Angel's message, the shepherds said one to another: "'Let us go over to Bethlehem' they went at once" (Lk 2:15f.). "They made haste" is literally what the Greek text says. What had been announced to them was so important that they had to go immediately. In fact, what had been said to them was utterly out of the ordinary. It changed the world. The Saviour is born. The long-awaited Son of David has come into the world in his own city. What could be more important?
    • Some commentators point out that the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. The commentators go on to say: this is quite natural. The shepherds lived nearby. They only needed to "come over" (cf. Lk 2:15), as we do when we go to visit our neighbours. The wise men, however, lived far away. They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. And they needed guidance and direction. Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. They are, so to speak, his neighbours and they can easily go to see him. But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us. We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to him.

    • God has set out towards us. Left to ourselves we could not reach him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has travelled the longer part of the journey. Now he invites us: come and see how much I love you. Come and see that I am here.

    • Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off: "Let us see this thing that has happened." Literally the Greek text says: "Let us see this Word that has occurred there." Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. The God of whom no image may be made because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image, as Saint Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). In the figure of Jesus Christ, in the whole of his life and ministry, in his dying and rising, we can see the Word of God and hence the mystery of the living God himself.

    • This is what God is like. The Angel had said to the shepherds: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God's sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God's sign is his humility. God's sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love.

    Honestly, the entire thing is worth quoting. It's just fantastic. In related news, Benedict was attacked tonight by a crazed woman, but is apparently unhurt, praise God!

  3. Athanasius on the Incarnation
  4. I've never read it, I've heard it was good, and C.S. Lewis wrote the intro for this translation. Plus, it's available for free, in full. And, oh yeah, it's on the Incarnation, the reason for the Season, so to speak.

  5. The "Star of Bethlehem" Site.
  6. A pretty interesting site exploring the astronomy and history of the birth of Christ, able to pinpoint His death to an exact date, and pointing out some shocking support for the Gospel accounts.

  7. Édouard Manet's The Dead Christ with Angels ( 1864)
I know, this seems like a weird time to bring up the death of Christ, but let's face it: the Magi brought Him myrrh. Jesus Christ was born to die, as morbid as that may sound. And Manet's Dead Christ with Angels does a better job than virtually anything I know of screaming the truth of the Incarnation at us. Jesus was and is a real Man.

And that's something to celebrate.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Some Christmas Eve Humor

Gentleman Farmer at Glib & Superficial posted a terribly funny post on Santa by denomination:
Catholic Santa brings toys to all the little girls and boys who wrote letters to Mrs. Claus, because her appeals to Santa are particularly efficacious.

You never know to whom Anglican Santa will bring toys, because he suffers from multiple personality disorder. But Anglican Santa always wears the coolest Santa suit.

Pentecostal Santa delivers a great abundance of truly inspired toys. Sadly, they make no sense to anyone else.

Presbyterian Santa delivers presents based on his own inscrutable election, and not on account of any merit; but niceness is evidence that the person is one of the Elect, so we do expect to see presents going to the nice -- but only because they're elect, not because they're nice.

Fundamentalist Santa stays home on Christmas, because toys are of the Devil. Besides, he knows that all children are totally naughty and deserve only coal.

Society of Friends Santa sits passively in his sleigh on Christmas Eve, waiting quietly for the Holy Spirit to inspire him to deliver toys.

Baptist Santa delivers only commemorative plates on which are depicted actual toys, because good little Baptist girls and boys don’t believe in the real presents of Santa.

Episcopal Santa is a lesbian trapped inside a man’s body. He delivers no toys at all, but leaves pledge cards for the Save the Whales Foundation.

Conservative Lutheran Santa warns the children not to accept toys from other Santas because he is the one true Santa.

Liberal Lutheran Santa issues a statement apologizing for his past complicity in the injustices of private toy distribution, and urges government control of toy production and distribution.

Muslim Santa? Well, just don't let him park his sleigh too close to your house.
You can check the full post out here. GF tells us at the end that this "was the joint effort of a cradle Catholic, a recent Catholic convert (like your humble and obedient servant), a serious Lutheran, and our Theology Professor." All of whom, I am certain, will be getting coal.

The Healthcare Debacle Comes Home for Christmas

We can expect that today, along strict party lines (with Lieberman and Sanders voting as they caucus) the Democratic Party will pass a pretty shameful health bill. It's shameful for a number of reasons, but here are a few. They're more or less in their order of importance:
  • First, it pays for abortions. Turns out that Ben Nelson played the pro-life card, not out of principle, but to get more pork for his state. We'll see if Stupak and his gang in the House have any more of a spine.
  • Second, it's unconstitutional, now that they bought Sen. Nelson's vote for forty pieces of silver a special exemption for Nebraska. It doesn't take a Constitutional law professor (as the president who brokered this deal once was) to know that you can't tax the states separately, with explicit provisions for specially-favored states.
  • Third, it's an enormous amount of spending during one of the worst economic crises in US history, and the benefits of the bill won't go into effect for some while: it's the equivalent of putting a down payment on a house after finding out you've lost your job.
  • Fourth, it's being hurried through for two reasons, neither of them good. One is so the Dems won't have to pay for this during the midterms, which suggests that they're aware that barely a third of Americans support this plan (it's 36% for, 53% against), particularly its abortion coverage. A mere 23% of Americans support this part of the bill, with a whopping 72% opposed. So the Dems think that Americans aren't smart enough to know what's best for their own health, and that they're not smart enough to remember a year from now who charged them a boatload of money for something they didn't want. The other was to avoid CBO numbers. They're starting to come out now, and they're showing that Obama (amongst others) has been playing fast and loose with the numbers, lying about the impact on Medicare, etc. The Dems hope to ramrod this through today so that most people won't have read the thing (including the Senators voting on it - it's going on three thousand pages now), the hard numbers won't be out (just both sides' claims, and who's going to trust those?), and the American people will be so tired of hearing about healthcare by the next election that they'll be fixated on something else instead.
  • Fifth, it's blatantly political. I just mentioned that the timing (which couldn't be much worse, from an economic standpoint) is tuned to the political cycle, not the economic cycle or, say, any pressing healthcare need. But it's more than that. The Democrats know that the likely outcome of this bill will be that they lose out short-term (people are mad about this, and rightfully so), but that it'll be immensely helpful long-term. Think about it. If $1 billion of taxpayer money gets dumped into this, who's going to want to nix it? We'll want to see something for our money, and switching from government-run care back to a free market model will cost a lot at first. Once in place, no matter how terrible the Dem's plan is, it'll be so expensive that any fiscal conservative saying "let's ax the billion we've spent on government care to do private care" will be as successful as someone who campaigns at a senior center to eliminate Medicare. To the extent that the Bush Administration hasn't already murdered fiscal conservatism at a federal level, this may well be the finishing touch.
The fact that this bill eviscerates the Hyde Amendment is depressing, and it's all the worse that it comes on Christmas Eve. In a way, though, the timing is incredibly apt. The Dems are trying to paint this as a Christmas gift to the American people (paid for with their own money), but I'm reminded of nothing so much as the Massacre of the Innocents:
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: "A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more." (Matthew 2:16-18, quoting Jeremiah 31:15)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Simply Incredible!

A relatively short video (subtitled) on a couple of Eucharistic videos, with descriptions of the expert testimony. It's just stunning.

h/t Fr. Gregory at Subimonk.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Unanimous Consent of the Fathers

I mentioned earlier that I've been a bit under-impressed with Keith Mathison's The Shape of Sola Scriptura, and that he doesn't seem to have a good grip on the topic he's written a book on. The book attempts to take the creedal Protestant sola Scriptura view, and show its alleged superiority to both the Evangelical ("solo-Scriptura") and Catholic/Orthodox view (interwined and equal Scripture and Tradition, plus a Church with real Authority to interpret those two). He knows his view, but doesn't seem to know the Catholic view very well.

The best example of this is his understanding of "unanimous consent." On the subject of Matthew 16:17-19, Mathison claims that "most of the early and medieval Church interpreted the 'rock' as Christ or as Peter's faith, not as Peter himself." He then says,
But why is this important? Vatican I and numerous other Roman Catholic decrees insist that no one may interpret Scripture contrary to the "unanimous consent" of the fathers. Aside from the fact that only on a handful of doctrines will one find anything approaching "unanimous consent," this rules contradicts the modern Roman Catholic interpretation of this text. First of all, there was no unanimous consent on the meaning of the "rock." Most interpreted it as Christ. Some interpreted it as Peter's faith. A few interpreted it as Peter. (Mathison, p. 184-85)
I think he's skewing the Patristic evidence to make even this point, but no matter. The larger problem is that he doesn't understand what Vatican I and the other "decrees" are talking about. This provides a really concrete example showing what it does, and doesn't, mean:

I. What It Does NOT Mean
The doctrine you can't interpret Scripture contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers does not mean that you can only interpret Scripture where the Fathers are in 100% agreement with one another. These instances are, as Mathison says, all too rare. Just as the four Gospels include different things, the various Church Fathers include different things, and at least some times, they throw in their own beliefs or opinions (rather than what they were taught), and stray into pretty fallible territory. If we took Mathison's view of the Catholic position, it would render the Church incapable of even forming a canon of Scripture. After all, the Church Fathers disagreed on its precise contents. I'll go so far as to say that no Church could function if it tried to affirm that every ECF agreed on the specific point before it moved forward. We believe that Tradition is Sacred, not every word that comes from the mouth of a Church Father. We read the ECFs because they're the early witnesses to the Deposit of Faith, and their writings reflect it.


II. What It Does Mean
On those core doctrines [nota bene: that's all this applies to - not, say, their scientific views] on which 100% of the Church Fathers agree, what might be considered a Patristic "Mere Christianity," it's simply impossible for the Church to take a contrary view. On these issues, it would be pretty unthinkable anyways. All the Church Fathers believe in the Divinity of Christ. It's impermissible for the Church (or anyone) to read Scripture in a way which denies the Divinity of Christ. That conclusion is barred by the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

There's a second rule which can be derived from the first, although it's less clearly in place. Where there are competing traditions, the Church can say which one is definitively Tradition, as opposed to the other Fathers' incorrect theories. So here, the Church could say that the "rock" referred to Christ, Peter's faith, Peter, or some combination of the above (most of the Fathers pretty clearly think that Jesus Christ built His [Christ's] Church on Peter because of Peter's Faith, and so the rock in question relates to at least the last two). The Church could not say that "rock" meant (say) the rocks of Caesari Phillipi, a view which has been put forward by various Protestants running from the obvious meaning of the text. That fourth view could be said to contradict the unanimous consent of the Fathers that it means Christ and/or Peter's faith and/or Peter.

To take the example of canon, from above, the Church might have been guided by the Holy Spirit to affirm the canons of any of the number of canons found in the early Church (the most frequently reported being the one which was officially declared canon). Had She claimed a different canon, that judgment would have been contrary to the consent of the Fathers: She'd be taking a view contrary to everyone of Her sources. This means, incidentally, that the Catholic Church could never have possibly derived the Protestant canon, since it's contrary to every Church Father.

I'd be interested in seeing Mathison attempt to respond to this view, rather than attacking the Church using an artificially high standard the Church doesn't hold for Herself (and which he could never meet as a Protestant).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Viva Il Papa! Deo Gratia!

Wonderful news! Pope John Paul II is now Venerable Pope John Paul II, and Pope Pius XII is now Venerable Pope Pius XII. Thanks be to God!

And my finals are now over. Thanks be to God!

And my girlfriend is now officially Catholic. Thanks be to God!

Learning from the Irish Sex Scandal

The Irish, if you're not aware, are going through a sex abuse scandal similar to what we faced in the US, only compounded by the fact that these abuses often occurred at boarding schools with plenty of other problems (including physical abuse). All of this was sort of dumped on a relatively unsuspecting Irish public all at once. There had been more minor sex abuse furors in the past, but the recent Murphy Report has been devastating. Fortunately, the Irish are blessed with something we Americans haven't been so far: a Bishop unafraid to publicly humiliate other bishops who need to be publicly called to the floor. In their case, it's Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, a walking incarnation of Galatians 2 when he's most desperately needed.

It's worked wonders. Abp. Martin was called to the Vatican to discuss how to handle the crisis. Limerick's Bishop Donal Murray, an old Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin who was a priest-shuffler, has resigned. And in the midst of all this tragedy, some lessons are hopefully being learned. Diogenes offers one: that a bishop is supposed to be a ruler, not a leader. It's a surprising - counterintuitive and certainly countercultural - conclusion, but with a little help from one C.S. Lewis, I think he proves his case quite nicely.

The post is short and worth the read, and I'm curious as to others' reactions.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sow the Seeds of Abortion...

...Reap the crop of infanticide.

A woman murdered her newborn baby, but because the umbilical cord was still attached, it was just a postnatal abortion.

She won't be charged.

This is that nightmare scenario pro-lifers have been warning about, where legal abortion leaves the womb.

A Good One-Sentence Kicker

Chris commented on my Thursday post. The comment's good, but the kicker's great: "Is it logical to say that because heretics questioned a doctrine, the doctrine itself was therefore ill-defined?"

That sentence, had I thought of it earlier, would have been great. It explains the reason that the Catholic Church doesn't require "universal and continuous belief" to mean "without any exception, ever, anywhere."

If you're wonder, Christ also has a great post thanking Vatican II for the Pope's recent outreach to Anglicans. His argument is that these are the proper (and intended) fruits of the Second Vatican Council, and I heartily agree.

St. Clement, Sola Scriptura, and Mary

After a post I wrote about sola Scriptura, John Armstrong suggested that I read The Shape of Sola Scriptura by Keith Mathison. The book is written by a creedal Protestant - that is, he believes in sola Scriptura, but believes that any interpretation of the Bible which falls outside of the historic Creeds is wrong. He just doesn't think that the Creeds or Councils were infallible. He calls this view Tradition 1 [he's borrowing this distinction from Heiko Oberman], and compares it with: Tradition 0 [anti-creedal reliance on Scripture alone], Tradition 2 [Scripture and Tradition are equally Divine revelation - the actual Catholic and Orthodox position], and Tradition 3 ["Church Alone," the position he ascribes to the Catholic Church].

His book is divided into four parts: (1) The Historical Context [looking at the Early Church, the Middle Ages, and then the Reformation era], (2) The Witness of Scripture, (3) The Theological Necessity of Sola Scriptura, and (4) Objections and Issues. His claim is that Scripture and the early Church are all about Tradition 1, that Tradition 0 will always lead to widely divergent beliefs, and that since Tradition can develop, Tradition 2 isn't stable, either. He gets a lot wrong about the Catholic stance, which is a shame, because the book has the potential to be decent. As it is, of the four parts, the only part I would really recommend is the latter half of part 1, showing the early Reformers' views on sola Scriptura, because they were pretty clearly ok with Creeds, what with their use of Confessions and the like. Mathison knows the early Reformers far better than he knows (or understands) the Church Fathers, and it shows.

Armstrong's point, if I understand him, was that anti-creedal Evangelicals have sort of hijacked the term sola Scriptura, so much of my original criticism doesn't apply to Protestants who aren't, say, Independent Baptists or Non-Denominationalists. This is an issue which infuriates Mathison to no end. He doesn't like when Catholic apologists say they're attacking sola Scriptura, but then attack the Evangelical interpretation of that doctrine, rather than the Tradition 0 version (which he derides as solo Scriptura). I understand his frustration, but at a certain level, if slews of Christians who hold Tradition 0 call it "sola Scriptura," sane Catholics trying to address their beliefs would do well to address it by name. I think Calvinists misunderstand predestination, but if I made up a derogatory term for their belief, and then attempted to refute that belief, it'd be hard to get a hearing. So I think Catholics are fine in addressing the belief structure by the name given to it by its proponents, even if it does mean here that two distinct views of authority [Tradition 0 and Tradition 1] are called by the same name.

The largest problem with Mathison's book is his obvious disdain for Catholicism. At various points throughout the book, he just can't contain himself, and has to try and throw a jab against the Church. Repeatedly, it backfires, as he misstates and misunderstands the Catholic Church's position and/or the evidence at hand. For example, he argues on the basis of St. Clement of Alexandria's Stromata that Clement (c. 150 - c. 215) believed in Tradition 1. Mathison just can't help himself, and throws in footnote 18: "It is interesting to note that the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, for which Rome claims a universal and continuous tradition, is explicitly declared by Clement to be false in this chapter."

I. What the Church Teaches
Here, he botches both the Catholic view, and completely misunderstands Clement's teaching. First, the Catholic view is that there is a universal and continuous Tradition, but it doesn't mean what Mathison seems (at various points in this book) to think it means. Rather, universal and continuous Tradition means that this view of Mary was, from the earliest days of Christianity, taught throughout Christendom. Universal here means the opposite of parochial. It wasn't as if the Western Church believed in this while the East didn't, or that this was just some peculiar Spanish belief. The reason that this is important is that if this is a religious novelty, we'd see it spring up in a certain place and spread. Calvinism, for example, starts with Calvin in the 16th century, and spreads throughout much of the West. The Eastern Orthodox Church rapidly denounced it. We can locate both a time and a place where the error arose (in this case, even the error's initial proponent). The perpetual Virginity of Mary isn't like that. We see it from the earliest days in the Church, it never goes "out of style," and it's seen from one end of Christendom to the other.

It does not mean, however, that literally everyone always and everywhere believed this teaching. If that were the case, there would be no need to define it. So even, hypothetically, if he'd gotten Clement's views on Mary right, it wouldn't disprove that this belief about Her was universal and continuous. A universal and continuous view can have naysayers. The Divinity of Christ, for example, was denied by various heretics, but that doesn't mean it wasn't the universal and continuous Christian view.

II. What Clement Actually Said.
The notion that Clement wrote against the perpetual Virginity of Mary isn't restricted to Mathison. The CCEL version of the Stromata seems to be the the William Wilson translation with some foonotes added. For Book VII, Chapter 16, fn. 3666, they write, "A reference to the sickening and profane history of an apocryphal book, hereafter to be noted. But this language is most noteworthy as an absolute refutation of modern Mariolatry." My hunch is that these two sources aren't alone, so that's probably all the more reason to quickly dispel this notion. Here's what Clement actually said:
But, as appears, many even down to our own time regard Mary, on account of the birth of her child, as having been in the puerperal state, although she was not. For some say that, after she brought forth, she was found, when examined, to be a virgin.

Now such to us are the Scriptures of the Lord, which gave birth to the truth and continue virgin, in the concealment of the mysteries of the truth. "And she brought forth, and yet brought not forth," says the Scripture; as having conceived of herself, and not from conjunction. Wherefore the Scriptures have conceived to Gnostics; but the heresies, not having learned them, dismissed them as not having conceived.
It's admittedly a confusing passage (I'm not sure if it's the fault of the translator, or just the complexity of the work) so let's take it a bit at a time.
  • "But, as appears, many even down to our own time regard Mary, on account of the birth of Her Child, as having been in the puerperal state":
In other words, since Mary had a Son, many regard Her to have gone through birth pains (the "puerperal state"). Clement seems surprised that it appears many still believe this.
  • "although she was not. "
In other words, Clement denies that Mary experienced birth pangs.  St. Thomas Aquinas explains this at good length in the Summa Theological, Third Part, Question 35, Article 6. In other words, Clement and Thomas (and a whole slew of others) believed that Genesis 3:16 didn't apply to Mary on account of her perpetual sinlessness. Aquinas says it best:
The pains of childbirth in the woman follow from the mingling of the sexes. Wherefore (Genesis 3:16) after the words, "in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children," the following are added: "and thou shalt be under thy husband's power." But, as Augustine says (Serm. de Assumpt. B. Virg., [Supposititious]), from this sentence we must exclude the Virgin-Mother of God; who, "because she conceived Christ without the defilement of sin, and without the stain of sexual mingling, therefore did she bring Him forth without pain, without violation of her virginal integrity, without detriment to the purity of her maidenhood." Christ, indeed, suffered death, but through His own spontaneous desire, in order to atone for us, not as a necessary result of that sentence, for He was not a debtor unto death.
Or as the Catechism of Council of Trent (Second part of the Third Article of the Creed) puts it, "just as the rays of the sun penetrate without breaking or injuring in the least the solid substance of glass, so after a like but more exalted manner did Jesus Christ come forth from His mother's womb without injury to her maternal virginity."

To my knowledge, the belief that Mary suffered no birth pangs is not dogmatically defined, and a Catholic can take either position. But the reason that Clement, et al, believed She didn't suffer birth pangs, is because they believed She was without sin and a perpetual Virgin -- and thus, exempt from Genesis 3:16's curse. So rather than explicitly denying some modern Catholic Marian doctrine, St. Clement is one of its earliest known proponents, and even at the time of his writing, he's baffled that anyone still holds a contrary view.
  • "For some say that, after she brought forth, she was found, when examined, to be a virgin."
This is Clement's first piece of evidence for his belief. To modern ears, it's not very compelling. But he's writing in the pretty early days of Christianity, with a vibrant oral tradition.

  • Now such to us are the Scriptures of the Lord, which gave birth to the truth and continue virgin, in the concealment of the mysteries of the truth.
In other words, his next proof will be Scriptural, which he slyly notes also remains perpetually virgin (in this case also meaning perpetually without sin). I liked this, because why does Scripture remain perpetually Virgin and without error? Because it contains the word. And what did Mary contain? The Word!
  • "And she brought forth, and yet brought not forth," says the Scripture; as having conceived of herself, and not from conjunction.
A few things here. First, CCEL footnote 3667 is actually a good starting place here:

"Tertullian, who treats of the above-mentioned topic, attributes these words to Ezekiel: but they are sought for in vain in Ezekiel, or in any other part of Scripture. [The words are not found in Ezekiel, but such was his understanding of Ezek. xliv. 2.]"
The verse from Ezekiel mentioned by is Ezekiel 44:2, which the NASB renders as "The LORD said to me, 'This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the LORD God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut.'" Originally, this was a reference to the Temple gate, but the obvious Marian parallel wasn't lost on the Church Fathers, who quickly picked it up as support for the idea that Mary remained a Virgin.

That said, CCEL footnote 3667 is wrong. The reason Tertullian attributes these words to Ezekiel isn't because they're loosely translating Ezekiel 44:2. It's because both Tertullian and Clement take as authentic the Apocryphon of Ezekiel. Today, we have only a few fragments of the text (since it was a phony, it wasn't worth preserving). Fragment 3 says "Look at the cow, She has calved, and yet she is pregnant." I'm not sure what the original says: it may well be "she has brought forth, and yet not brought forth; it may also be that Clement is paraphrasing, or quoting a similar section.

Still, Clement is using what he (wrongly) believes to be Scripture to provide support for the notion that Mary suffered no birth pangs. Frankly, while it's nice to see that Clement believed in Mary's perpetual virginity and sinlessness, leading to his belief She suffered no birth pangs, his isn't really the best testimony to rely on: it's hearsay and appeals to non-canonical texts. Far better to rely on the Fathers appealing to Ezekiel 44:2.

III. What This Means for Sola Scriptura
This turns out to be one of the most ironic attempts to use a Church Father to support sola Scriptura. Why? Because the Father in question, despite his best efforts, quotes something which turns out not to be Scripture. For starters, this blows out of the water Calvin's absurd claim that anyone who listens to the Holy Spirit will know the canon. But it more fundamentally raises the obvious need for an objective and reliable Authority - the Magisterium - by which to set the canon of Scripture. Tradition 0 doesn't offer that Authority at all, and Tradition 1 offers it only in so far as the Authority agrees with Scripture... which creates an awful Catch-22. Obviously, the Church, in declaring anything not canonical, disagrees with those books. Does that violate Tradition 1? It depends on whether the books are canonical or not. Which brings us right back to the starting place.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Healthcare: His Amendment's Good, but Casey's Unprincipled

The USCCB has really done a good job with this, a side-by-side comparison of the Hyde Amendment, Congress' own health plan, and the Nelson/Hatch/Casey amendment, which was tabled by the Senate last Tuesday. Its point is glaringly obvious: the Nelson/Hatch/Casey amendment is almost verbatim the same as what the Senate just reaffirmed in the Consolidated Appropriations Act on Sunday. In other words, if you're looking to preserve the Hyde Amendment - nothing more, nothing less - like Congress does in virtually every other area, support the Nelson/Hatch/Casey amendment. If you're not willing to support the Nelson/Hatch/Casey amendment, don't pretend it's someone else who's "playing politics with abortion," or "putting abortion into the healthcare debate."

And if you're wondering, Casey's newest proposal (where the government funds abortion with taxpayer money, but taxpayers opt out) is obviously unacceptable. Casey, Jr., is no Casey, Sr.

Answering the Specific with the General

I'm wondering how many times I'm going to make the comments section of iMonk's post on Catholic radio an integral part of my posts, but hopefully two isn't too many.

The reason I'm posting from the now-closed comments section is that I've observed a trend lately which I think needs exploring, and I think this captures the phenomenon well.

A commenter named Christopher Lake confesses that the Early Church Fathers are making him question Calvinism, and trend towards Catholicism:

I am a Reformed Baptist who has been studying the writings of the early Church Fathers for a few months. In the last five years, I have known few people who have been more convinced of the Biblical truth of Reformed theology than I am– but that *may* be changing. This is potentially earthshaking for my life and more than a little frightening.

My studies are leading me to the impression that at least certain beliefs of the early Christians (100-300 A.D.) appear to be much more “Catholic” than “Protestant” (the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, baptismal regeneration, justification being initially based on faith but *continued* through faith and works). Now, I could be wrong in these impressions. For many reasons, part of me hopes that I am. I’m still reading and researching from both sides of the Tiber. However, if many people in my church knew that I were even wrestling with these questions, I have no doubt that they would see me as being in a place of potentially “abandoning the Gospel”– and I would understand their concern, having emphatically shared that point of view myself for years. I haven’t made any decisions yet though– there is much more reading, thinking, and praying to be done. I may still “stay Reformed”– we shall see!

To this, another Protestant, , RonP reassures him:
Christopher, I have also been doing a lot of studying on the church fathers and early church history over the past few months — not so much to make a choice between Catholic or Reformed theology, but rather to try to figure out and account for many of the stark differences and contradictions I see between both the Catholic and Protestant traditions and what I read in the gospels and the writings of the apostles. Basically, I’ve been looking for the origins and the hows and whys of the changes that took place during those first few centuries of the church. And, though I hate to say it, I’ve found some of the most unbiased, eye-opening information from secular scholars in this field of study.

One thing I’ve discovered is that, even in those first centuries, there was some seriously absurd religious nonsense going on in mainstream Christianity — stuff that rivals a lot of the junk you’ll find on Christian TV these days. Another thing that has made itself clear to me, is that the early church was in a state of constant argument with itself, and many of those arguments were over things Christianity is still arguing about to this day.


I guess I’m cautioning against too romantic a view of the early church and the early church fathers. Just like us, they were struggling to work out how the gospel and the teachings of Christ and the apostles should be applied in everyday life and in the continuing life of the church. And in that mix, one can find situational adjustments, cults of personality, influences from the prevailing culture, the influence of government and economic realities, strange religious tangents, the gradual evolution of institutional structures and theological contructs, and that age-old tendency to move from invention to popular practice to sacred tradition — basically the same dynamics that are still taking place in Christendom today.


Don’t get me wrong. I’m not promoting a purely cynical view of church history. I just think that what we’ve been given in the NT writings and in the gift of the Holy Spirit really are sufficient guides when it comes to following Christ, both individually and collectively as the church. When it comes to everything else in church history and tradition, I think those things should be examined closely through the lens of Christ’s teachings, His example, and His character.

On face, this is a pretty good answer. Obviously, the last paragraph is classically creedal Protestant (we have Scripture and the Holy Spirit, and tradition is only so good as it comports with how we understand those two). But at first brush, the meat of the comment (paragraphs 2 and 3) are just obviously right. There is a tendency to imagine that the early Church was utopian, and yet the writings from the period suggest that while there were some great saints, there were also a lot of heretics, and a lot of confused Christians in the middle trying to figure out which camp was right.

But then I go back and read what Christopher actually wrote: "My studies are leading me to the impression that at least certain beliefs of the early Christians (100-300 A.D.) appear to be much more “Catholic” than “Protestant” (the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, baptismal regeneration, justification being initially based on faith but *continued* through faith and works)." Frank Beckwith, in his book Return to Rome, roughly the same list (although he looks at a slightly longer time-period) for his own reversion to Catholicism.

In other words, Christopher has laid down something of a challenge: on these three issues (the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, baptismal regeneration, justification being initially based on faith but *continued* through faith and works), are there any Fathers who disagree with the Catholic position in the first three centuries? RonP's response sounds like the answer is "yes, there are - a lot of things were up in the air." But he doesn't say that. And I think that there's a reason he doesn't. In response to a hyper-specific question (these three areas, this time period of Church Fathers), he responds with vague platitudes about how the early Church wasn't a utopia.

And he can't do better than vague platitudes, either. For had he said, "Oh, the Early Church disagreed on the Eucharist," he would have immediately opened himself up to the unanswerable question, "Who and when?" I don't imagine that this was ill-intentioned: I just think he had no real response, but based on the heresies he'd seen being combated in the early Church, simply stopped putting much weight on the authority of the men who defeated those same heretics.

Because despite all of the internal conflict within the early Church, while the Fathers are fighting heretics who deny either the Divinity or Humanity of Christ, or who argue that the Gods of the Old and New Testament are clashing, on these three issues - the Eucharist, Baptismal regeneration, and justification - there's seemingly no dissent. Or more precisely, the only people who disbelieve in the Real Presence are those who deny it because they don't believe Christ had Human Flesh. And Ignatius of Antioch points to this denial of the Eucharist as evidence of their root heresy. Ignatius isn't concerned with proving the Eucharist: he uses it as a fruit to test the goodness of the seed.

This puts Protestants in a weird position. Do they affirm what the Catholic side keeps saying: namely, that the early Church was thoroughly Catholic, and demonstrably so on the areas which separate us? Or do they side with the heretics in the early Church, try and say the Gnostics were right on the Eucharist and wrong on literally every other area of dispute? Neither of those positions are amiable for defending the Protestant position. So instead, you get non-answers like RonP's which conflate the early Church with the Early Church Fathers, the heretics with the defenders of orthodoxy, and which never addresses the substance of Christopher's question at all.

I've seen the above in other areas, as well, but this was the one I could recall that didn't involve myself. Anyways, it's just a trend I've noticed, something to be aware of, I guess.

Great Arguments Against Neo-Malthusianism

I was surprised to hear that Tertullian, an early Christian apologist, was an early fearmonger about overpopulation:
In the year 200 AD, there were approximately 180million human beings on the planet Earth. And at that time a Christian philosopher called Tertullian argued: ‘We are burdensome to the world, the resources are scarcely adequate for us… already nature does not sustain us.’ In other words, there were too many people for the planet to cope with and we were bleeding Mother Nature dry.

Well today, nearly 180million people live in the Eastern Half of the United States alone, in the 26 states that lie to the east of the Mississippi River. And far from facing hunger or destitution, many of these people – especially the 1.7million who live on the tiny island of Manhattan – have quite nice lives.

It's funny, that thing called history does some devastating work on the theories of overpopulation. As they say, in theory, theory and practice are the same; in practice, they aren't.

And in a surprising twist, John Lennon and Yoko Ono just rip the theory apart as a "joke" and "myth" and that's it's a silly thing for the presently-living to get to say, "Ok, there's enough of us" and try and stop any new people from showing up. It's a fun clip, and worth the watch, so I've reposted it here:



[h/t Mark Shea for both].

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

G.K. Chesterton, Sam Harris, and Margaret Downey on American Morals

John Armstrong has a good primer on the great G.K. Chesterton, easily one of the finest Catholic writers of the 20th Century. One of the commenters made reference to an essay Chesterton had written on American morals from 1929. It is called, incidentally, "On American Morals," and it's delightful:

America is sometimes offered to us, even by Americans (who ought to know better), as a moral example. There are indeed very real American virtues; but this virtuous attitude is hardly one of them. And if anyone wants to know what a welter of weakness and inconsequence the moral mind of America can sometimes be, he may be advised to look, not so much to the Crime Wave or the Charleston, as to the serious idealistic essays by highbrows and cultural critics, such as one by Miss Avis D. Carlson on "Wanted: A Substitute for Righteousness." By righteousness she means, of course, the narrow New England taboos; but she does not know it. For the inference she draws is that we should recognize frankly that "the standard abstract right and wrong is moribund." This statement will seem less insane if we consider, somewhat curiously, what the standard abstract right and wrong seems to mean--at least in her section of the States. It is a glimpse of an incredible world.

She takes the case of a young man brought up "in a home where there was an ttempt to make dogmatic cleavage of right and wrong." And what was the dogmatic cleavage? Ah, what indeed! His elders told him that some things were right and some wrong; and for some time he accepted this strange assertion. But when he leaves home he finds that, "apparently perfectly nice people do the things he has been taught to think evil." Then follows a revelation. "The flowerlike girl he envelops in a mist of romantic idealization smokes like an imp from the lower regions and pets like a movie vamp. The chum his heart yearns towards cultivates a hip-flask, etc." And this is what the writer calls a dogmatic cleavage between right and wrong!

The standard of abstract right and wrong apparently is this. That a girl by smoking a cigarette makes herself one of the company of the fiends of hell. That such an action is much the same as that of a sexual vampire. That a young man who continues to drink fermented liquor must necessarily be "evil" and must deny the very existence of any difference between right and wrong. That is the "standard of abstract right and wrong" that is apparently taught in the American home. And it is perfectly obvious, on the face of it, that it is not a standard of abstract right or wrong at all. That is exactly what it is not. That is the very last thing any clear-headed person would call it. It is not a standard; it is not abstract; it has not the vaguest notion of what is meant by right and wrong. It is a chaos of social and sentimental accidents and associations, some of them snobbish, all of them provincial, but, above all, nearly all of them concrete and connected with a materialistic prejudice against particular materials. To have a horror of tobacco is not to have an abstract standard of right; but exactly the opposite. It is to have no standard of right whatever; and to make certain local likes and dislikes as a substitute. We need not be very surprised if the young man repudiates these meaningless vetoes as soon as he can; but if he thinks he is repudiating morality, he must be almost as muddle-headed as his father. And yet the writer in question calmly proposes that we should abolish all ideas of right and wrong, and abandon the whole human conception of a standard of abstract justice, because a boy in Boston cannot be induced to think that a nice girl is a devil when she smokes a cigarette.


There are two important things which I think can be drawn from this, looking back eighty years later. The first is that this confusion between Christian morality and the provincial and often snobbish "chaos of social and sentimental accidents and associations" behind anti-smoking and anti-drinking repels people from Christianity to this day. Witness Sam Harris' incoherent screed against the alleged Christian hatred of "pleasure" generally, and drugs specifically. All he's done is confuse the two issues. As Chesterton wrote of him decades before his birth, "if he thinks he is repudiating morality, he must be almost as muddle-headed as his father. "

The second thing, and the thing which should be a blaring alarm for anyone attempting to tie Christianity and Prohibition or Christianity and anti-smoking together, is that even in the absence of Christianity or religious morality, the anti-smoking/drinking/drug crusades live on.

To take just one example, try Margaret Downey, president of The Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, and one of the atheist plaintiffs against the Boy Scouts. She's Irish/Puerto Rican and grew up in an ethnic neighborhood (so I suspect, but don't know for sure, that her parents were at least nominally Catholic). Her dad left her at a young age, and she was largely left in the care of an atheist she called "Uncle Floyd." Unsurprisingly, she turned out an atheist, and her fan site, MargaretDowney.com, is actually a smug enough place to bear the title "Where rationality rules the world." She's so into being rational (and not, you know, filled with Dad issues and seething rage at Christianity) that she spends much of her around Christmas setting up and defending the so-called "Tree of Knowledge," an atheist Christmas-tree-in-all-but-name intended to mock Christianity. The rest of the time, she attacks private organizations like the Boy Scouts and the crew of an American Airlines flight she was on for their religious views.

It's worth noting, though, that she first cut teeth in the "Imposing My Worldview On Everyone Else" game as a vocal anti-smoking activist. Why? "Due to her concern about children’s health," of course. Oh, and did I mention she's a pro-choice activist, as well? Because that's very compatible with children's health, of course. Insight Scoop aptly describes her views as "Freedom of Choice! Freedom of Expression! Unless, of course, such freedom involves smoking..."

The fact is, an atheist like Downey is the flip side to the coin of the aggressive puritanical Christian Chesterton satirizes. I'd love to hear Harris' reaction to these two, since the existence of atheists like Downey, and Christians like Chesterton shows the fundamental problem with his attempted critique of Christianity as a pleasure-killer. In the absence of a coherent set of morals, there's a strong desire to create order and control by simpling regulating for the sake of regulating. Atheists like Downey create that order by trying to regulate: smoking, abortion laws, people's ability to enjoy Christmas, the ability of airlines to play religious music, the ability of the Boy Scouts to regulate membership based on sexual orientation or religious affiliation, etc., etc., etc. Atheists like Harris, on the other hand, do it by advocating for torture of those who hold bad ideas, and castigating Christians for allegedly holding the views Downey holds.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What Devout Catholics Aren't.

Diogenes' most recent post is only 35 words long:
"If you can read this
NSW Premier Kristina Keneally is in ‘utter agreement’ with the teachings of the Catholic Church but wants female priests, the vow of celibacy relaxed and supports abortion.
thank a catechist."

To which I would would add:
"A devout Catholic, Nickoloff is also a self-affirming gay man who is legally married in the state of Massachusetts."

Does "devout Catholic" in "utter agreement" with the Church mean anything anymore? Or is it just a linguistic cue for "we think heretics are just as Catholic as Catholics"? GetReligion argues that it's just a journalistic filler word that needs to be disposed of. I'd be fine (pleased, even) with its use, if it wasn't used in such a NewSpeak way by "progressives" to signal that the person in question is a non-devout Catholic in anything but "utter agreement" with his or her Church.

Assuming that these uses are simply accidental (which I don't think that they are), speakers and writers need to learn how to use the terminology correctly, or stop using it. Assuming that they're intentional (to subtly persuade the reader that one can be a "good Catholic" while opposing Catholicism in all its forms), readers should be aware that they're being lied to.

Moms, Dads, and Mary Karr

I. Atheism and Dad
Pope John Paul II described the connection between original sin, fatherhood, and atheism beautifully in Crossing the Threshold of Hope:

Original sin attempts, then, to abolish fatherhood, destroying its rays which permeate the created world, placing in doubt the truth about God who is Love and leaving man only with a sense of the master-slave relationship. As a result, the Lord appears jealous of His power over the world and over man; and consequently, man feels goaded to do battle against God. No differently than in any epoch of history, the enslaved man is driven to take sides against the master who kept him enslaved.
This insight is nothing short of brilliant. Atheists are authentically confused at how we can suffer what they see as the innumerable "rules" of Christianity, and wonder why God would even care whether we eat pork (under the Old Covenant) or fornicate (under either). Mark Shea mentioned a trend he'd observed amongst the angriest, most "devout" atheists: that they tended to have Daddy Issues at a dramatically higher rate than Christians. An atheist named John B. confessed:

I am one such atheist. I reject my dad and therefore God. The problem with fatherhood is dads not being good fathers, not a cultural hatred of fatherhood. Atheists enjoy being fathers as anyone. They only reject bad ones, and there are many bad ones, more than not in my opinion. If we reject God it is because we come from Christian homes where we see how God (or our religion's projection of Him) is the source of the problem. If someone rejects you, they first reject your values because values form who we are. If I reject my dad, I reject his vision of God de facto. Surprisingly there is no mystery phenomenon in connection to rejection of "dad" and rejection of God. It's simple logic.
The admission is surprising, in that it exposes, for all the talk about the alleged atheist love of science, that psychology is really the motivating factor. It's not "simple logic" at all to suggest that rejection of one's father entails reject of everything he believes in. Just because you dislike your dad, and he votes, that's no reason to stop voting. After all, Christianity isn't just a moral or ethical system - it's a(n) historical claim. We claim that towards the close of the first century B.C., Jesus Christ, the Son of God and God Himself, became Incarnate by the Virgin Mary, walked amongst humanity for a little more than three decades, was crucified, died, and was buried, and rose again from the dead on the Third Day. Whether you like your dad or not doesn't render that last sentence an iota more or less true.

Still, I know what this commenter is driving at. Those who witness Christ poorly turn people away from him because of a natural human failure to distinguish between messenger and message, and this is all the more pronounced with dads, because their very role is modeled off of Christ's. Eph 3:14-15 reads either "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives," or more literally, "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth derives." In other words, in the Divine Plan, the thing called "fathers" exist so that we can look at the good ones, see how they combine love and authority, and say, "Ah, so God is a better version of that." Those atheists not exposed to good fathers find this notion of God as a good Dad offensive in that they struggle to imagine a good dad.

II. Mary Karr and Mom
I thought of this exchange recently, after learning from Jen at Conversion Diary that the author and poet Mary Karr has become Catholic (it's #5 here). I wondered, in short, how long John B.'s argument could survive in a United States with a growing (and graying) atheist population. Now that atheists are having and raising kids, will being bad fathers give their kids to reject atheism? Or will atheists denounce that as being an abandonment or reason to fill a psychological void? That is, when the shoe is on the other foot, will atheists say that it's emotional and irrational to seek out a God to provide you the love your parents didn't? Or is it only "simple logic" in one direction?

The reason for this thought process is that Mary Karr's mother was a liberal atheist artist with a severe drinking problem. At one point, her mother attempted to murder Mary with a knife. And lest atheists attempt to say, "Atheism doesn't affirm anything, it only rejects what others offer," I think a sane response is "bogus." While it is true that not all atheists support the same philosophers or writers or schools of thought, in this, they're no different than their Christian counterparts. In Karr's case, her mother pushed Sartre on her at a young and impressionable age. In "Pathetic Fallacy," one of the poems from Karr's latest book, Sinners Welcome, she writes:

You bequeathed me
this morbid bent, Mother.
Who gives her sixth-grade daughter
Sartre's Nausea to read? All my life,
I watched you face the void,
leaning into it as a child with a black balloon
will bury her countenance
either to hide from
or to merge with that darkness.

Atheists raised Christians can complain that their parents (particularly their dads) didn't live up to what Christianity called them to. But Mary Karr's mother lived up to exactly what atheism requires: she can't even be said to be a "bad" atheist, unless someone wants to provide an objective standard of good and evil by which to judge atheists. She was certainly a "pure" atheist, raising Karr with what she later described as "undiluted atheism."

Karr's conversion was great. She became convinced of the Truth of Catholicism after a long journey predicated by her 6 year-old son asking to go to church to see "if God was there." She started asking herself questions she'd never really pondered about God, sought out temples, synagogues, and churches, and was persuaded of the Truth of Catholicism. She wasn't simply running from the shadow of her alcoholic poet/artist mother (in fact, for years, Mary was an alcoholic herself, and remains a poet and author).

But let's imagine that this wasn't so. Imagine that she became Catholic literally because she thought, "my mom was very much an atheist, and was awful to me. Her pushing Sartre on me warped me as a child. Therefore, atheism must be wrong. Therefore, there is a God." How many atheists would be impressed by this simple logic?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Speaking of Homosexuality

Tired of hearing people say, "that's so gay" when they really mean that a thing is just not to their liking? Do you wish they'd say "that's too bad," instead? Well, Diogenes at Catholic Culture has some news for you, in a characteristically provocative post. The Oxford English Dictionary has this to say on the origins of our word "bad":
bad-de (2 syllables) the Middle English reflex of Old English baeddel, 'man of both genders, hermaphrodite', doubtless like Greek androgynos, and the derivative baedling, 'effeminate fellow, womanish man, malakos,' applied contemptuously, assuming a later adjectival use.

Or, as Diogenes puts it, "To say it's bad for a man to be womanish is to state a tautology: x = x. As Beowulf said to Hrothgar, That's so gay." He argues (and I suspect he's right here) that this is built on a pre-moral judgment: that is, that regardless of one's religious system, gayness seems strange and foreign innately. This certainly would seem to undermine the argument that attempts to defend traditional marriage are covert attempts to "legislate religion," as the linguistic evidence suggests that even the Greeks(!) found something not-quite-right with the idea of homosexuality.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Different Views on Catholic Radio

This really is more of two posts: one in which I talk about a good post on Catholic radio, and one where I talk about a good Catholic apologist in the comments of that same post. I just thought it would be strange to have two different posts talking about the same link.

I. iMonk on EWTN and Ave Maria Radio
I like iMonk. If you're not familiar, that's the moniker of Protestant blogger Michael Spencer. He self-describes as "a New Covenant, Reformation-loving, post-evangelical Christian in search of a Jesus shaped spirituality," but his openness to other expressions of Christianity (and the reaction that openness has gotten from other Evangelicals) has lead him to describe himself as "post-Evangelical." #6 on his FAQ negates the proposition, "Are you becoming Catholic?" but the fact that it warrants being in his FAQ says just as much - he's also married to a Catholic.

He has an almost preternatural ability to start discussions, and often, surprisingly good ones. He quite often leans towards the wrong answers, but he has an astonishing ability to ask the right questions. His recent post on how to handle couples cohabitating is short, well worth the read, and has generated 212 comments - this, by the way, is one of the times where I think he's right on the money. The comments draw from a whole wealth of denominational and theological backgrounds, high-churchers, low-churches, doctrinial minimalists, traditionalists, etc. He hosts a feature called "Liturgical Gangsters," with an all-star cast who answer tough questions:

Father Ernesto Obregon is an Eastern Orthodox priest.
Rev. Joe Boysel is an Anglican (AMiA) priest and professor of Bible at Ohio Christian University in Circleville, Ohio. (Ask him about famous alumni.)
Dr. Wyman Richardson is a pastor of a First Baptist Church (SBC) and director of Walking Together Ministries, a resource on church discipline.
Alan Creech is a Roman Catholic with background in the Emerging church and spiritual direction.
Rev. Matthew Johnson is a United Methodist pastor.
Rev. William Cwirla is a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and one of the hosts of The God Whisperers, which is a podcast nearly as good as Internet Monk Radio.
Eric Landry is the editor of Modern Reformation Magazine. In addition, he is a PCA church planter in southern California.

Anyways, iMonk has done it again, this time with his thoughts on Catholic radio - he's got a lot of good things to say (unsurprisingly) about folks like Fr. Benedict Groeschel and Scott Hahn (although he tempers his praise of the latter). It's a thoughtful post, and it leads to a thoughtful response from Patrick Madrid, who hosts an hour a week at EWTN. The river of Madrid readers dumping into the the lake of iMonk readers has only helped the discussion. One highlight is when another EWTN radio host, Patrick Coffin, offerred some praise for the post. An Eastern Orthodox reader who'd come over via Pat Madrid, and had some interesting thoughts on the difference between Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox radio hosts. Another was a Reformed Baptist who is (as we speak) discovering that the Fathers are Catholic on things like Eucharist, Baptismal regeneration, justification, and the like: his criticisms are important to hear, because he's exactly the kind of person who can benefit from Catholic media. Similarly, a Catholic convert described which Catholics (Ratzinger, Groeschel, etc) successfully convinced him of the Truth of Catholicism. I'm hoping that positivity can continue on, although it nearly was derailed before being saved by one Gideon Ertner.

II. An Interesting Debate in the Comments
Julie, a Catholic commenter, is edified, and offers her prayers that all will come to full communion with the historic Church. This gets her a sharp and ugly rebuke from a person who aptly describes themselves as "Not RC." What Not RC affirms is unclear, but we know who he is railing against. Normally, at this point, ecumenical threads go off the rails. Herd mentality kicks in, Catholics rush to defend the Church, say some things which offend Protestants, Protestants defend the Reformation or their own religious bona fides, and the potstirrer can rest content that the Body of Christ will stay torn.

This time, something different happened:

  • A Catholic commenter named Gideon Ertner jumps in and handles things beautifully. First, he acknowledges the simplicity of the previous Catholic's statement that the Catholic Church is the only Church which has existed from the time of Christ. He handles the nuance beautifully (yes, there are other Apostolically founded churches; no, they don't have doctrinal continuity the way the Catholic Church does).
  • Not RC then responds by falling back on the Ecclessial Relativism which I suggested underscores much of Protestantism, and says that to the question “Who split from whom?”, "you’ll get two different answers depending on whether you’re asking a Roman Catholic or an Eastern Orthodox Christian."
  • Gideon responds again by explaining that the Eastern Orthodox position is wrong: by their own admission, Rome holds primacy of some sort, and Constantinople frequently fell into heresy. So if there's a reliable head of the Church on Earth, (a) Constantinople ain't it, and (b) the EO position itself suggests Rome is the best candidate.
  • Not RC plays the same relativist card again: "You apparently give the Roman Catholic answer. The Eastern Orthodox would just as strongly and believably say that the Roman Catholics are wrong. What one says depends on what Kool-Aid one drinks." It's like saying, "If I had a response to that, here is where I'd put it." If the Orthodox response on this point is so compelling, what is it?
  • Gideon responds again with a coup de grâce:
    "Sorry, I am truly not picking a fight. I am merely sharing what I
    believe.
    Not RC, the question is not what arguments you use but whether they’re internally consistent. The Eastern Orthodox admit that the Bishop of Rome originally held the primacy in the Church and that Constantinople was in error at various times. What they cannot explain is what changed so that all of a sudden they can disregard the authority of Rome and must instead follow the lead of Constantinople.
    "
  • At this point, Not RC sets aside argument in favor of blasphemy against the Eucharist.

There are a few things that I think make this exchange worth mentioning. First, Gideon's example is a great one for how to handle potstirrers. He addressed the substance of the argument, ignored the things which were meant to raise his blood pressure, and presented a loving response. Not RC was never going to admit to being wrong, but even he has to know he didn't walk away a bigger person or an intellectual or moral giant from that exchange. Julie, the Catholic who unwittingly started this exchange by offering her support and encouragement for her separated brethren, was spared from what would have been an ugly exchange. Gideon explicitly says that the Eastern Orthodox are wrong, but he doesn't impute bad faith to those who don't take the Catholic position. That balance can be hard to draw - attacking the position without attacking the adherent. (I'm not sure that the place for this discussion was appropriate, but Gideon didn't choose the forum, so I think his response was still appropriate).

Second, it's clear from Not RC's hatred of the Eucharist that he's not Eastern Orthodox. Those reading the exchange might be surprised by that at first. He is, after all, denying the Catholic Church's claim to be the Church founded upon Christ by pointing to the Eucharist-worshipping Eastern Orthodox. But he's not actually defending the Eastern Orthodox Church: he thinks they're wrong. He just thinks that by feigning confusion over who's right between the two, he can justify disagreeing with both.

Principium Unitatis introduced me to the term Ecclesial Deism, and explains here what's meant by it (Jesus births the Church, and lets it run wild, basically). A number of Protestants have defended their refusal to come home to Rome by claiming confusion over whether Jesus founded the Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church. It's a bad argument: after all, their own views on Church, Eucharist, Mary, the Saints, the Liturgy, and the sacraments are flatly opposed to what the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Church voice in union. It's like saying "scientists disagree between quantum and Einsteinian physics" to defend geocentrism. While scientists have valid points of contention between the two fields within physics, they agree on the vast majority of things - the very things which a geocentrist tries to deny.

Third, Not RC has managed to underscore the truth of Jesus' prayer in John 17:20-26, where he prays for the future Church "that they may be brought to perfection as One, that the world may know that You sent Me, and that you loved them even as You loved Me." At first brush, this makes no logical sense: why would the unity of the Church reflect on the truth of Christ? But No RC shows exactly how. The mere existence of the Great Schism between East and West is being used to justify the Reformation (however unconvincing an explanation it is, it at least gives him a place to hang his hat to claim the Catholic Church isn't who She claims to be). Should we be surprised that this exact same line of argumentation causes a number of non-Christians to deny Christianity, on the basis of Catholic/Protestant disputes?

Nota bene: Not RC isn't saying "the Catholic Church isn't founded by Christ because She's mean to Eastern Orthodox." He's saying, "the Catholic Church isn't founded by Christ because the Eastern Orthodox also claims to be founded by Christ." That's what I mean by the mere existence of the schism. It doesn't matter how mutually affirming Catholics and Orthodox are with one another. As long as we remain separate, it allows others to rationalize being even more separated. And that, in turn, allows still others to rationalize not being a member of the Body of Christ at all. If we're to show Christ to the world, it's imperative that we strive for authentic and total unity, full communion (and Communion) with one another. Which gets us back to the very place part II of this post began: Julie's prayer. "I pray that all of my separated brothers and sisters will be led to the Fullness of Truth in the Catholic Church." Amen.