Friday, January 29, 2010

Last Year of Cdl. Mahony?

Apparently, Cardinal Mahony (who turns 74 next month) is going to have a coadjutor
bishop, and has announced that this will be his "final full year" as Archbishop of Los Angeles. Whispers in the Loggia has the scoop (unsurprisingly), although American Papist has really been on the ball with this one.

For those of you unfamiliar, a coadjutor bishop is someone appointed to (a) assist the bishop of the diocese, and (b) take over as bishop once the bishop retires. In other words, Mahony has asked the Vatican to give him a "helper" bishop (which is what coadjutor literally means).

I see two ways of looking at this:
The Pessimistic View: Cardinal Mahony, perhaps the most powerful dissenting American Catholic, reaches mandatory retirement age in February 2011. The pope can accept his resignation at any time after that: all bishops over the age of 75 serve entirely at the pope's discretion. Had Mahony done nothing, the chair would likely have become empty shortly after his 75th birthday, and the Vatican (which seems to be trending towards very good episcopal appointments lately) would have filled it. But now, Cardinal Mahony has asked for a coadjutor bishop. Because the two will be working together for a year, the new bishop is less likely to be a radical departure from Cardinal Mahony himself. For the same reason, it's polite to allow a bishop pretty broad say over the choice of coadjutor bishop. The best parallel I can come up with is political: as president, Bush wasn't allowed to choose his successor (Obama), but he was allowed to choose his Vice President (Cheney). Had he died in office, the VP would have automatically taken over. By asking for a "VP," so to speak, Mahony may realistically be trying to pick his own successor. Indeed, in this case, it's believed that the nuncio will run the terna (the top three list of candidates) past Cdl. Mahony for approval before submitting it to the Congregation for Bishops. The final decision, of course, will rest with Pope Benedict, and if all three choices are bad, he can always request a new terna.

Beyond the fact that Mahony has found a way to get involved in choosing his own successor, there's another potentially unpleasant element. No matter who gets chosen, he'll be #2 to Mahony until Mahony steps down, giving the Cardinal as much as a year to impart his unique views and episcopal governance style even on an otherwise good bishop.

The Optimistic View: The Vatican has done a great job recently (thanks in large part, I imagine, to the papal nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi) in promoting orthodox, humble, likeable men. Take, for example, the decision in 2008 to make Archbishop Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston a Cardinal, which Whispers in the Loggia described as catapulting "the Curialist who picked parish ministry over a Vatican post from his founding pastorate in suburban Pittsburgh to an elector's seat in the conclave." Or the appointment of Abp. Dolan in New York, famed for his "orthodoxy with a light touch." And with the selection of the doctrinally-solid Abp. Burke and Cdl. Cañizares to the Congregation for Bishops, this is trend likely to continue or improve.

It's not at all unlikely that Abp. Sambi can find some quality candidates to compose his terna. Since Cdl. Mahony will almost certainly step down (or have his mandatory resignation letter accepted, anyways) near his 75th birthday, he's not likely to liberally use his veto. The process of finding good bishops is a slow one. If he nixes all three of Abp. Sambi's choices, he might not be around to even approve of the next list.

So it seems quite possible that a high-quality candidate can still make it easily-enough onto the terna. An orthodox, hard-to-dislike coadjutor with an outgoing personality would be a much needed voice in the Archdiocese, and the sooner he's installed, the better. By having him serve as coadjutor at Mahony's request, he's less likely to be seen as the embodiment of a Vatican crack-down. Particularly if he's likeable, this could make for a very smooth transition, and could actually serve the purpose of restoring orthodoxy to LA better than had the Vatican come in with a heavy hand upon Mahony's departure.

My personal guess: I fear the first possibility, hope and pray for the second, and guess that the final choice will be a sort of uninspiring but orthodox bishop. Somebody who isn't personally heretical, but doesn't make too many waves in rooting heresy out: someone who will slowly reform the Archdiocese. Frankly, that wouldn't be a terrible outcome: a sort of Archbishop Wuerl figure. Any guesses from anyone else?

The Best Football Bible Verses

I mentioned the controversy surrounding Tim Tebow's upcoming Super Bowl ad earlier today. What I totally forgot to mention is that this is the same player who have Bible verses on his eye black. To keep the sun out of their eyes, lots of athletes put eye black underneath them (since it's black, it absorbs the sunlight, diminishing the glare: science!). Tebow puts, in white, chapter-verse citations to Scripture, and they're consistently good. They're usually (a) inspiring verses, (b) verses about the importance of faith, and/or (c) clever "football" verses.

In this latter category, here are the two best ones, in my opinion:
  • Hebrews 12:12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.
  • Deuteronomy 33:27 The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemy before you, saying, 'Destroy him!'

For Deuteronomy 33:27, the God's Word Translation (which is less a translation, and more a paraphrasing) has the best version: "The eternal God is your shelter, and his everlasting arms support you. He will force your enemies out of your way and tell you to destroy them." I imagine if I were facing a bunch of huge guys wanting to tackle me, this verse would feel pretty darn inspiring.

The Tebow Message: Choose Life

The controversy over the upcoming Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad has been incredible.

I. The Ad
The exact content of the ad is still secret, but pretty widely understood to be the story of Tim Tebow's own birth in 1987, probably told by his mother, Pam. Fox explains:
When [Pam] Tebow suffered from a dangerous infection during a mission trip to the Philippines, doctors recommended that she terminate her pregnancy, fearing she might die in childbirth. But she carried Tim to term, and he went on to win the 2007 Heisman Trophy and guide the Florida Gators to two BCS championships.

Pretty straightforward: an inspiring story about a woman who chose life, and how richly blessed she (and we) are for it.

II. The Reaction
Pro-choice feminist groups have been incredibly up in arms over this ad. Eleanor Smeal's ironically-named Feminist Majority has gone so far as to circulate an online petition, describing it on their website like so:
Even as the trial continues for the murder of Dr. George Tiller, CBS is planning to air an anti-abortion ad during this weekend's Super Bowl game. Tell CBS that this is no time to feed the anger and hatred of anti-abortion extremists.

In the petition itself, it calls CBS' decision to air the ad "unwise and potentially dangerous." You can just see the lone gunman: "What?! Tim Tebow's mother carried him to term despite complications! I need to kill an abortionist!" That, ladies and gentlemen, is the view of pro-lifers the Feminist Majority is marketing.

But, of course, there's still a pro-life woman to be attacked. And so, the Center for Reproductive Justice has sent CBS an open letter questioning whether Tebow's mother is making the story up, a trend followed by RH Reality Check, a popular (and insane) pro-choice blog. The crux of the "she's lying!" position is the assumption that since abortion was illegal in the Philippines, no doctor would recommend it to a woman in a potentially dangerous pregnancy. The faux-naiviety of this "Oh, but it's illegal!" view doesn't pass the laugh test coming from the same groups which drum up tales about "back alley" abortions prior to Roe.

New York's Women’s Media Center, meanwhile, criticized CBS for accepting any ad from Focus on the Family:
By offering one of the most coveted advertising spots of the year to an anti-equality, anti-choice, homophobic organization, CBS is aligning itself with a political stance that will damage its reputation, alienate viewers, and discourage consumers from supporting its shows and advertisers.

Jehmu Greene, the president of that group, argues that "An ad that uses sports to divide rather than to unite has no place in the biggest national sports event of the year - an event designed to bring Americans together." Greene's argument almost sounds plausible, until you remember what the Tebow message is - and isn't.

III. The Message
The Tebow message is almost post-partisan on the abortion debate. That is, its effectiveness isn't dependent upon what Congress or the Supreme Court does. In this regard, it's like the movie Juno or those "Choose Life" signs. Ok, the Supreme Court has made abortion an choice. It's still a bad choice. But really, the Tebow message doesn't even go this far: it just shows life as being a better choice. This is the absolute essence of what being pro-choice would be in a sane world.

I'm pro-choice on soda, for example. I don't think that consumers should have only one option (since in the case of soda, drinking Coke doesn't kill children). My pro-choice-on-soda position doesn't mean that I'm against Pepsi running ads, showing why they're the better choice. If I were against Pepsi running ads, I couldn't really claim to be pro-choice anymore, could I? Just dogmatically pro-Coke.

Groups in favor of abortion on demand squirm at the title "pro-abortion," preferring "pro-choice." If "pro-choice" groups truly were pro-choice, they'd be elated at the message of "Choose Life," since it involves choosing. But no: this is the same crazy fringe which rejoiced when the Democratic party platform stopped claiming that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare," because the idea of rare abortions was just too upsetting.

In short, all of the groups I mentioned above who attacked the Tebow ad have shown themselves for what they are: pro-abortion, not pro-choice. Women can choose, but only if they choose abortion. If they choose life (and are brave enough to talk about it), they will be smeared by their "sisters."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

God in the Eternal Present

In my opinion, one of the best proofs for the authenticity of the Biblical accounts is the manner in which God speaks of Himself. He speaks of Himself as existing outside of time. When the pagans thought of the gods, they thought of them as having been around from the beginning. The grasp of the past seems pretty hazy. The Roman Hesiod's Theogony was an attempt to explain that there was nothing, then there was Chaos, and then Chaos created the gods, a pretty inexplicable chain of events with no real cause and effect. Who created Chaos? Was Chaos a god, or just a force? How does a mindless force give rise to intelligent being, much less a god?

Even today, when Christians think of God, there's a tendency to think of Him as simply infinitely old. The idea (and the position frequently attacked by atheists unable to answer Aquinas' Quinque Viae) is that Christians think God is from "infinity B.C.," if you will. That's emphatically not the Christian view, properly understood.

Take the Christian evolutionist, for example, who believes in the Big Bang. He believes that God created the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. He doesn't think God existed 13.8 billion years ago... but only because there's no such thing as 13.8 billion years ago. God created time, so the question of whether God existed 13.8 billion years ago is as senseless as Cain asking if God was the same God of his grandfather.

Rather than being infinitely old, God exists outside of time. Youth and age are meaningless terms. John Newton put it well in Amazing Grace: "When we've been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun, We've no less days to sing God's praise, Than when we first begun." That's a ridiculously hard concept to grasp, and most people miss that this is one of God's claims about Himself.

The creatures worshiping God in Rev. 4:8 say that He "was, and is, and is to come." But that's not how He describes Himself. In Exodus 3:14, God gives His name, YHWH. Here's how the Douay-Rheims translates it:
God said to Moses: I AM WHO AM. He said: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: HE WHO IS, hath sent me to you.
That, I think, is the perfect understanding of what the term means. God IS. What was the past, is the present, and will be the future to us always IS to Him. The eternal present.

This, incidentally, is also how the Jews apparently understood the passage. When they translated it into Greek for the Septuagint, they translated what the Douay gives as "I AM WHO AM" as ego eimi ho on, which in English means “I AM THE ONE WHO IS”, and translated the "HE WHO IS" as ho on, “THE ONE WHO IS."

This is an incredibly ancient religious text, with a grasp that matter, space, and time, as creations of God, do not thus bind God Himself. The notion that you can't have time without space is most clearly and explicitly laid out by St. Augustine in the fourth century. Eventually, Einstein came along in the twentieth century, and science caught up with religion on this point. As an amusing nod to St. Augustine, George Gamow (one of the early Big Bang proponents) named pre-Big Bang time "the Augustinian era," since scientists were increasingly forced to admit it probably didn't exist. That is, there was nothing prior to the singularity.

Christ makes it even clearer in John 8:54-59:
Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, 'He is our God.'
You do not know him, but I know him. And if I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar. But I do know him and I keep his word.
Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.
So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?"
Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM."
So they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.
What an incredible statement. Jesus still IS existing prior to Abraham's birth, just as He IS in Eternal Glory in Heaven. This is sort of too much for us to grasp, I fear. But the fact that Jesus can so boldly proclaim this about Himself suggests that One Man in history "got it" about what I AM means. Because He IS.

A Bad Sign on the Horizon

If you think US culture can't get any worse, it might be instructive to take a look at our Australian counterparts. Here's all the facts which you need to know:
  1. Tony Abbott is the center-right Liberal Leader of the Opposition for the Australian House of Representatives. I know, the fact that Australian Liberals are conservative is confusing. But everything's backwards down there, like when you flush the toilet.
  2. Abbott is said to be devoutly Catholic
  3. Abbot's a target of particular derision from the media, although I suppose that could be deduced from #1 and 2.
  4. When he was 19, he had sex with his girlfriend, and believed he'd gotten her pregnant (it turned out, it wasn't his son). Due to #3, this has been a big scandal.
  5. Since that time, he's married, and has three daughters.
In an interview, Abbott is asked what advice he would give his daughters on marriage. His response: ''I would say to my daughters, if they were to ask me this question … it is the greatest gift you can give someone, the ultimate gift of giving and don't give it to someone lightly.''

The guy screwed up when he was younger, nearly became a dad at 19, learned from his sins, and lives a seemingly upright life now. To put it in the US context, President Obama probably wouldn't suggest to his daughters that they should try cocaine. People learn from their mistakes. Abbott's answer is, if anything, too limited. Nothing about "don't have sex until marriage," just "don't give it to someone lightly." There was an age where Abbott's answer would seem strangely impure.

That age, it seems, is not today. Australians are livid, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why. Australia's Deputy Minister, Julia Gillard, publicly berated Abbott: ''Australian women don't want to be told what to do by Tony Abbott. Australian women want to make their own choices, and they don't want to be lectured to by Mr Abbott.''

Apparently, not only is it wrong to publicly state that sex should be within the confines of marriage, it's wrong to state that virginity should be valued ... even if the advice is to one's own daughters. Because, after all, the "Australian women" in question are his three daughters.

The article goes on to quote Latrobe University sex education expert Associate Professor Anne Mitchell, who decried Abbott's comment as "nonsense," saying that he "was 40 years out of date because at least 50 per cent of Australian students had experienced sexual intercourse before leaving school and 30 per cent before 16." Which would be like saying that Obama's warnings about drugs to his daughter would be wrong, since lots of people do drugs.

Of course, it gets only worse. The article (which bothered to include no sympathetic voices) concluded with this gem:

Leading feminist Eva Cox said it was not clear whether Mr Abbott was referring to virginity for both sexes or just for girls.

''If he is just referring to girls and saying they should not give away virginity lightly, then he is commodifying women, by saying their sexuality was something to trade,'' she said.

Right. He's prostituting his daughters. What a reasonable conclusion from his advice.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rock Show Desecrates St. James Church in NYC

This is more than mildly offensive, which fortunately, even some indie rock voices seem to (sort of) get. A band played in the beautiful St. James Church in NYC, playing in the sanctuary, crowd-surfing down the aisles, with an open bar and lots of photo evidence. Let's hope Abp. Dolan steps up to bat and handles this, and soon.

True Catholicism, or why I love Fr. John Gother

1. Catholicism, Misrepresented
One of the frequent problems facing Catholics defending the Faith is that those attacking it really aren't. They're attacking some strange distortion of the Catholic Faith which, if true, would deserve to be attacked. Occasionally, this distorting is done willfully to advance one's own theological agenda (as with the influential Centuriators of Magdeburg, whose distortions still taint debates on Church history), but the vast majority of the time, it's simple ignorance. A fair number of non-Catholics are aware that their knowledge of Catholicism is lacking, and turn to a seemingly sensible place: Catholics... or at least, those who call themselves Catholics. Not infrequently, these individuals are poor stewards of the Faith they claim to hold, failing to live up to 1 Peter 3:15-16. As a result, in the words of Abp. Fulton Sheen, "There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing. "At times, this ignorance can be dangerous, and it's always tragic.

For this reason, I thank God for people like Fr. John Gother. Raised a strict Presbyterian in England during the reign of the viciously anti-Catholic dictator Oliver Cromwell, Gother converted, studied in Lisbon, became a priest in 1675, and returned to England in 1681. In 1685 (not 1665, as is sometimes wrongly asserted, based upon a typo in the Catholic Encyclopedia), Gother wrote his most famous work, A Papist Misrepresented: or, A two-fold character of popery, the one, containing a sum of the superstitions, idolatries, cruelties, treacheries, and wicked principles laid to their charge, the other, laying open that religion which those termed papists own and profess. The book, for what should be obvious reasons, is usually just referred to as "A Papist Misrepresented." (The title above is a link with lots of options for reading it: I'd suggest this one).

The goal of the book was to lay out what Catholics actually believe, and I think Fr. Gother did a fantastic job of it. Starting with the Bible and moving through Church history, Gother points out how frequently the Christian position is misrepresented by Her opponents, and how Christians - and even Christ Himself - are slandered for positions they've not really taken. Responding to the claim that the Catholic Church is the Church of the Antichrist and the Whore of Babylon, Gother cleverly notes Christ's words from Matthew 10:25, "It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub,c]"> how much more the members of his household!" If we weren't being slandered, we'd have something to worry about!

2. A Sample Misrepresentation, and its Correction
Here's sort of the taste of the comparisons Gother makes, from p. 17-18:
The Papist misrepresented makes gods of dead men: such as are departed hence, and are now no more able to hear, or understand his necessities. And though God be so good as to invite all to come to him, and to apply themselves to their only and infinite Mediator Jesus Christ; yet so stupid is he, that neglecting, and as it were, passing by both God and his own Son, and all their mercies, he betakes himself to his Saints, and there pouring forth his prayers, he considers them as his mediators and redeemers, and expects no blessing but what is to come to him by their merits, and through their hands; and thus, without scruple or remorse, he robs God of his honour.
Sound familiar? If you're Catholic and have ever gotten into a discussion on the intercession of the Saints, it probably does. Certainly, GotQuestions presents the same misrepresentation of us Papists today: here claiming we "bypass" the ban against worshipping false gods, and here invoking, in the first three paragraphs, the same two verses (Hebrews 4:16, and 1 Timothy 2:5) which Gother alludes to above. Gother's response to this misrepresentation is beautiful, but too long to type all of. Here's a taste:
The Papist, truly represented, believes there is only one God, and that it is a most damnable idolatry to make gods of men either living or dead. His church teaches him indeed, (and he believes,) that it is good and profitable to desire the intercession of Saints reigning with Christ in heaven: but that they are gods, or his redeemers, he is no where taught; but detests all such doctrine. He confesses that we are all redeemed by the blood of Christ alone, and that he is our only Mediator of redemption: but as for mediators of intercession, (that is, such as we may lawfully desire to pray for us) he does not doubt but it is acceptable to God we should have many. Moses was such a mediator for the Israelites; Job for his three friends; Stephen for his persecutors. The Romans were thus desired by St. Paul to be his mediators; so were the Corinthians; so the Ephesians...
Brilliant. And while he writes incredibly long sentences, Gother manages to be surprisingly concise. It took me a much longer blog post to try and express just this much (plus, Gother includes a lot of Biblical examples I'd totally forgotten about, like Job). In response to criticisms of the Rosary as vain repetition, Gother points out Psalm 136, which says "His love endures forever" twenty-six times in as many verses.

3. The Twenty Anathemas
Gother ends his book with twenty proposed anathemas. It's a pretty brilliant strategy: he's strongly and undoubtedly condemned as anathema the very distortions of which Catholics were believed to hold:
I. CURSED is he who commits idolatry; who prays to images or relics, or worships them for God. R. Amen.

II. Cursed is every goddess worshipper, who believes the Virgin Mary to be any more than a creature; who worships her, or puts his trust in her more than God, who believes her above her Son, or that she can in any thing command him. R. Amen.

III. Cursed is he who believes the saints in heaven to be his redeemers; who prays to them as such; or who gives Gods honour to thorn, or to any creature whatsoever. R. Amen.

IV. Cursed is he who worships any breaden god, or makes gods of the empty elements of bread and wine. JR. Amen.

V. Cursed is he who believes that priests can forgive sins, whether the sinner repent or not; or that there is any power on earth or in heaven that can forgive sins without a hearty repentance, and serious purpose of amendment. R. Amen.

VI. Cursed is he who believes there is authority in the Pope, or any other person, that can give leave to commit sin ; or that for a sum of money can forgive him his sins. R. Amen.

VII. Cursed is he who believes, that independent of the merits and passion of Christ, he can obtain salvation by his own good works, or make condign [worthy] satisfaction for the guilt of his sins, or the eternal pains due to them. R. Amen.

VIII Cursed is he who condemns the word of God, or who hides it from the people, in order to keep them from the knowledge of their duty, and to preserve them in ignorance and error. R. Amen.

IX. Cursed is he who undervalues the word of God, or that, forsaking scripture, chooses rather to follow human traditions than it. R. Amen.

X. Cursed is he who leaves the commandments of God to observe the constitutions of men. R. Amen.

XI. Cursed is he who omits any of the ten commandments, or keeps the people from the knowledge of any one of them, to the end that they may not have occasion of discovering the truth. R. Amen.

XII. Cursed is he who preaches to the people in unknown tongues, such as they understand not, or uses any other means to keep them in ignorance. R. Amen.

XIII. Cursed is he who believes that the Pope can give to any, upon any occasion whatsoever, dispensations to lie or swear falsely; or that it is lawful for any at the last hour to protest himself innocent, in case he be guilty. R. Amen.

XIV. Cursed is he who encourages sin, or teaches men to defer the amendment of their lives on presumption of a death-bed repentance. R. Amen.

XV. Cursed is he that teaches men that they may be lawfully drunk on a Friday, or any other fasting day, though they must not taste the least bit of flesh. R. Amen.

XVI. Cursed is he who places religion in nothing but a pompous show, consisting only in ceremonies; and which teaches not the people to serve God in spirit and truth. R. Amen.

XVII. Cursed is he who loves or promotes cruelty; that teaches people to be bloody-minded, and to lay aside the meekness of Jesus Christ. R. Amen.

XVIII. Cursed is he who teaches it to be lawful to do any wicked thing, though it be for the interest and good of Mother Church; or that any evil action may be done that good may ensue from it. R. Amen.

XIX. Cursed are we, if amongst all those wicked principles and damnable doctrines commonly laid at our doors, any one of them be the faith of our Church; and cursed are we if we do not as heartily detest all those hellish practices as they that so vehemently urge them against us. R. Amen.

XX. Cursed are we, if in answering or saying Amen to any of these curses, we use any equivocations, or mental reservations; or do not assent to them in the common and obvious sense of the words. R. Amen.
It's a beautiful thing to behold. Catholic apologetics at its finest: presenting the Catholic position, distinguishing it from the false position, and without the need to create a Protestant straw-man.

4. The Response

You might have thought that this would have put the matter to rest: that the Protestants reading it would say, "Oh, I see. Well, here are our problems with your actual position," or perhaps, "I'd never thought of that! How utterly Biblical!" Nope. Instead, since Gother turned out to be a Papist himself, he couldn't be trusted. Edward Stillingfleet, D.D., Anglican Bishop of Worcester, wrote a book with the audacious title "The Doctrines and Practices of the Church of Rome, Truly Represented" to correct Gother about what he and his Church really believe: or more accurately, to suggest that Gother's baiting-and-switching his readers, if you will. Rather than answering the accurate Catholic position, Bp. Stillingfleet and others simply continued to attack the fake position, or hint that there was more than Gother was letting on. Or, as Stillingfleet puts it:
Because the anathemas he hath set down are not penned so plainly and clearly as to give any real satisfaction; but with so much art and sophistry, as if they were intended to beguile weak and unwary readers, who see not into the depth of these things, and, therefore, may think he hath done great matters in his anathemas, which, if they be strictly examined, they come to little or nothing;
For example, on pages 314-15, Stillingfleet takes on the second Anathema above. On face, it seems like a really great denunciation of the Protestant claim that Catholics think Mary is greater than God. But Stillingfleet's mind spots a Papist plot, an idolatrous escape hatch:
"Cursed is he that honours her, or puts his trust in her more than in God." So that if they honour her and trust in her but just as much as in God, they are safe enough. "Or that believes her to be above her Son." But no anathema to such as suppose her to be equal to him.
Stunning. The fact that Gother answered the false position that Catholics think that Mary is greater than God by denying that Mary is greater than God means Catholics must think Mary and God are equal? For any Protestants reading this, let me propose Anathema XXI on anyone who thinks Mary and God are equal. Do I need to specify that this includes Christ as well?

Or again (on p. 314):
"Cursed is he that commits idolatry." An unwary reader would think herein he disowned all real idolatry; but he doth not curse any thing as idolatry, but what himself thinks to be so. So again, "Cursed is he" (not that gives divine worship to images, but) "that prays to images or relics as gods, or worship them for gods." So that if he doth not take the images themselves for gods, he is safe enough from his own anathema.
So the ban on idolatry only extends to worshiping images and relics, but not to giving "divine worship" to images. Of course, there's no such thing as "giving divine worship" to something without worshiping it. That's a concocted nuance to turn reputable actions, like praying for intercession, into quasi-idolatry. And Stillingfleet's last sentence hints (but doesn't explicitly say) that perhaps Catholics don't worship statues of saints, but worship the saints themselves.

It's almost a shame that a mind as sharp, and a heart as big, as Gother's was lost on so many of his contemporaries. It's my hope that this age will give rise to a new Gother, and that this time, he's trusted a little bit more by his Protestant brothers in Christ.

Can a Pope Resign?

Yes. Canon 332, §2 says that, "If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone."

Who would have guessed it'd be that straightforward?

(h/t Canonist Ed Peters on Fr. Z's blog).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Papacy: Answering Common Objections (#6-8)

Back in October, I started answering a series of oppositions to the Papacy which I was calling the Reymond questions, after their author, Robert L. Reymond of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (originally from here). You can find all of my answers by using the Reymond Question tag at the bottom of the post. Today's 3 all deal with a similar theme: the relationship between Peter and the other two prominent Apostles, James and John.
Question 6. Why does Paul list Peter as only one of the pillars in the mother church of Jerusalem, and second after James at that (Galatians 2:9)?
This has always struck me as one of the strangest arguments against Petrine primacy for Protestants to use. It acknowledges that within the Twelve, some were considered more prominent than others. It even acknowledges that Peter was one of them. It just says, "other people were considered leaders amongst the Twelve" as if that disproves the primacy of Peter. It doesn't, of course: Catholics don't think that Peter was the only prominent Apostle, or that the pope is the only prominent modern Catholic (or even the only Catholic with significant authority). What it does disprove is this notion that all the Twelve carried equal weight and authority.

So first, let's just make it clear that the "Pillars," Peter, James, and John, are clearly singled out within the Twelve: to this extent, Reymond is correct. Simon is renamed Peter (Matthew 16:17-19), while James and John are together nicknamed the "Sons of Thunder" (Mark 3:17). The prominence of these three is made most clear in Luke 8:51, when Jesus goes to resurrect a dead girl, the only people He allows in the room besides the girl's parents are Peter, James and John. In Mark 14:32-33, at the Garden of Gethsemane, all of the Disciples follow Jesus, but He leaves all but these three behind to go and pray. Luke 9:28 records that Peter, James and John are the three Jesus took to His Transfiguration.

Yet even within these examples, we see that Peter is given a prominence even over the other two. Luke 9:32 refers to the three Disciples at the Transfiguration as "Peter and his companions," and in Mark 14:37-38, at the Garden of Gethesane, Jesus returns from praying to find Peter, James, and John asleep. Peter alone is singled out by name: "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

That Peter is scolded for doing the same thing James and John had done makes sense: Luke 12:48 says that "to whom much has been given, much will be expected." Or, as Spiderman's Uncle Ben told him, "with great power comes great responsibility." Peter's got an absolutely singular role, and he can't afford to behavior like the other Eleven, even like the other two Pillars.

Finally, a point I've mentioned before. In Mark 16:7, the angel sends the three women at the Empty Tomb, saying, "go, tell His Disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.'" Peter, of all the Disciples, is singled out as leader. Now, compare this to Acts 12:17. After Peter is sprung from prison by an angel, he says, "Tell James and the brothers about this." It's like "Buddy Holly and the Crickets." It's not a denial that Peter's a Disciple or James is one of the Brethren; it's a place of prominence. If that's correct, then the angel at Easter is signaling Peter's primacy; Peter does the same for James, which makes sense. By this point, James is the only other living "Pillar," and is believed to have been the Bishop of Jerusalem, where Acts 12 takes place.

The appeal of this argument against the papacy is that it imagines that the only Catholic cleric with any authority (or at least, any significant authority) is the Pope. That view, if correct, would indeed contrast with the way power was exercised in the early Church. But, of course, it's not correct. And yet in the early Church, as with the modern Church, we still see ultimate responsibility (for better or for worse) falling to one man: Peter then, Benedict now.

Question 7. Why at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, over which James quite obviously presided, is Peter merely the first speaker, assuming no special prerogatives in the debate that ensued, and not the president of that Council? Why was the entire matter not simply submitted to Peter rather than to the Council, and why did not the decision go forth as a Petrine deliverance rather than an apostolic decree?

Let's take these questions separately. First, in what was is it clear that "James quite obviously presided"? Both James and Peter have a large role in the Acts account of the Council. There's a large debate, Peter gets up and speaks, citing to the revelation the Holy Spirit made to him individually (Acts 15:7-11; the revelation in question occurred in Acts 10:9-23), and immediately, "the whole assembly fell silent" (Acts 15:12). He stopped the debate. This opens the floor for Paul and Barnabas to present their testimony (Acts 15:12). After Paul and Barnabas finish speaking, then - for the first time - James speaks (Acts 15:13).

Now compare the first words out of each of their mouths. Peter's opening remarks: "My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe" (Acts 15:7). He speaks of the special role that God chose for him to the Gentiles (see Acts 10:9-23). James' opening remarks: "My brothers, listen to me. Symeon has described how God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name" (Acts 15:13-14). So both Peter and James use Peter's unique role as their first argument for considering the Gentiles equal to the Jews.

If the passage stopped there, it would certainly be a strong argument in favor of Peter's overwhelming role at the Council. But it doesn't. After Acts 15:13-14, James cites to the Old Testament for support of this proposition (Acts 15:15-18), concluding, "It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God, but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood. For Moses, for generations now, has had those who proclaim him in every town, as he has been read in the synagogues every sabbath." (Acts 15:19-21). So clearly, both Peter and James have very important roles at the Council.

I think the most honest assessment is that Acts 15 is ambiguous the Council. But that's not that surprising. It's a Church Council. Centuries from now, if you were to look at the records of the Second Vatican Council, for example, you'd likely be similarly confused about whether the Bishop of Rome had a special place of primacy. And perhaps some Protestants would say of Vatican II, "Why was the entire matter not simply submitted to Paul VI rather than to the Council, and why did not the decision go forth as a papal deliverance rather than an conciliar decree?"

Which brings us to the second question: Why was the entire matter not simply submitted to Peter rather than to the Council, and why did not the decision go forth as a Petrine deliverance rather than an apostolic decree?" I'm not sure Reymond realizes how important this question is: and not just to Catholics. Let's not even address the issue of the papacy yet. First, Peter is an Apostle. When we read 1 Peter and 2 Peter, we don't ask, "Ok, but what's the majority opinion of the rest of the Apostles?" It's sufficient that an Apostle said so: case closed. Second, Peter's already been given the answer to the question which is in dispute. The Holy Spirit showed Peter the equality of Jews and Gentiles in Acts 10, and Peter explained this to his critics in Acts 11. So given that through a Divinely-inspired vision, an Apostle was given a pretty straightforward answer to the question in dispute, why is a Council needed?

Put more simply, why is there a need for Church Councils when there are Apostles empowered to act independently? This question is at the heart of the purpose of Church Councils. I attempted to explore the interrelation between the papacy and Church Councils here, but I'm not sure I did a very good job. The short answer is that valid ecumenical Councils have intrinsic authority, independent of the pope's own infallibility. So papal-approved Church Councils have two signs of infallibility. And for certain serious issues facing the Church (such as the Jewish-Gentile question, which seemed poised to tear the Church in half), it makes sense to employ this extraordinary measure.

Here, though, the Church Council is simply affirming what Peter was proclaiming five chapters earlier. So if Reymond's argument is that Peter has to wait and see what the Church council says, he's proven something nearer the opposite.

Question 8. Why can Paul say of the Jerusalem leadership (James, Peter and John) who seemed to be something: What they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality (2:6)?

This one's easy. Look back to Peter's speech from Acts 15:9, where he says that God "makes no distinction" between Gentiles and Jews. Being a Jew or being a Gentile isn't what saves you. Being pope doesn't save you. Sin's still sin whether it's done by the pope or by anybody else. In fact, like I mentioned above, Luke 12:48 suggests that those with much are held to a higher standard. Paul just uses the impartiality of God - the very thing Peter already affirmed - to show that sin from Peter's still sin.

In fact, the fact that Paul feels the need to justify calling Peter out on this sin suggests that he was aware there were Christians who would be shocked by this. That's an argument for an understanding of Peter having a special prominence, not against it. Paul doesn't refute that Peter has a special prominence, he just makes it clear that rank doesn't entail the privilege to sin freely. But again, this is exactly what the Catholic Church teaches. After all, we've got churches named after folks like St. Raymond of Peñafort, who in his position of papal confessor was responsible for forgiving Pope Gregory IX of his sins. So no partiality: when the pope sins, he's got to go to confession, just like everybody else.

Why Bread and Wine?

The fact that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus doesn't mean that the elements bread and wine can't also be symbolic. And indeed, they're incredibly so. Consider just a few of the

1) Bread and wine both vaguely look like flesh and blood, respectively. This is a fact to which Jesus seems to allude at the Last Supper. Although both elements contain the fullness of Christ's Real Presence, He calls the bread Body and the wine Blood. The reason here is transparent enough. The bread becomes Body and Blood and symbolizes Body, the converse for the wine.

2) As Justin Martyr noted in the 150s A.D., a bit of water is mixed into the wine at Mass. This is for two reasons. One, it reminds us of the blood and water which flowed from the side of Christ (John 19:34), a separation which clearly signalled that Christ had died. The Congregation of the Passion draws a number of Biblical connections here. Two, the waters -both in Mass and in John 19:34 - signify Baptism. The Baptized are united to the Passion of Christ. Romans 6:3, "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?" So the waters of Baptism are our entrance into Christ's bloody Atoning Death. The mixing of water and wine signify us becoming truly one with Christ. It's a small bit of water compared to the amount of wine, because the Eucharist celebrates His Death, rather than our Baptism. Our Baptism is significant because it joins us to His Death. If the amounts were reversed, the emphasis would be on us, not Him.

3) Both bread and wine are unique in that many things become one. Consider a bowl of pasta. You might consider it one thing, but you can draw out individual stands: one can be separated from the rest. In contrast, a single drop of wine probably contains juices from numerous grapes, just as a single chunk of bread contains various grains. The grains and grapes become literally inseparable when they become bread and wine. It's irreversible. The Didache, a Church text from about A.D. 63, has as part of the blessing over the bread in Chapter 9, "Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom." 1 Corinthians 10:17, "Because there is one Loaf, we, who are many, are one Body, for we all partake of the one Loaf."

4) Both bread and wine become one through dying. The grain is crushed, the grapes are stamped. Romans 6:4, "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." We must die to ourselves to receive Eternal Life. Likewise, Christ Himself must die so that we may receive Eternal Life. Isaiah 53:5, "But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed."

All of this is why the sacred elements are bread and wine (mixed with a bit of water). Which is why it's so depressing to read this headlines from the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa: "A simple fish and honey supper adds meaning to Maundy Thursday at Perry," as if the Last Supper needed meaning "added" to it by some cocksure Iowans. Worse, the article explains that "Bread and fish represent the gospel loaves and fishes as symbols of the Eucharist." Fish as a symbol of the Eucharist? Did nobody give Christ the memo on this one? Since one of the signifiers of the actual Eucharistic elements is that it's many things dying to itself, and becoming united into an inseparable thing (like grapes becoming wine and wheat becoming bread), I propose that the Iowan Episcopalians use the Bass-O-Matic '76 to turn the fish into a delicious fish shake. Talk about turning heretical lemons into lemonade!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Viva Cristo Rey!

I asked my friend Carlos, the same guy who gave me his laptop, to write on the Cristero War and the inspiring story of Archbishop Juan María Navarrete y Guerrero. Carlos is from Hermosillo, Sonora, where Abp. Guerrero served as Archbishop, and he's got an almost encyclopedic memory of this subject. Anyways, without further ado, here's Carlos:

Every once in a while I get a chance to talk about my ultimate favorite topic: Mexican history. There’s a little-known period in Mexican history called “La Guerra Cristera” or “La Cristiada”, both loosely translate to “The Anti-Christian War”. It lasted from 1926 to 1937, under the Government of Plutarco Elias Calles and ended through the mediation of the U.S. Ambassador in Mexico, Mr. Dwight Whitney Morrow.

There are no official estimates of casualties, little less actual records, as this period of Mexican history has been obscured through official oppression. Its impact, however, was so wide ranging that the Mexican Catholic Church is not allowed to own any property, and until 1992 (yes, 1992) anybody that became a Priest, a nun or a monk, lost its rights as a Mexican citizen and was not allowed to vote, study in public schools or be taken care of in the public health care system. To this day, all new churches and others are the property of not-for-profits created by lay men and women, while the old churches and cathedrals are property of the federal government. Protestant denominations, being a modern occurrence in Mexico, do own their buildings, as they constituted themselves not as churches, but as not-for-profits dedicated to teaching and learning. I have to admit that was a clever move on their behalf.

Anyway, that is all background, but it is needed to understand why Msgr. Juan Maria Navarrete y Guerrero, First Archbishop of Hermosillo, Sonora, is part of the remarkable group of Mexicans that proudly stood up to the Federal Government when the Church most needed them.

Mexico was just coming out of a bloody civil war that lasted 11 years and ended with the ascension to power of General Alvaro Obregon. In case you didn’t know it (and I bet you didn’t) the Mexican constitution of 1917 was the first socialist constitution ever written and enacted a year or so before the Bolsheviks took power in Russia. It’s not something I’m proud of, just a fact. Expanding on the powers given to him by the Constitution, General Calles, Obregon’s successor, expelled the Church from Mexico and through the enactment of what was called “Calles’ law” declared illegal to say Mass, attend Mass, Catechism, and any and all public or private worship (yes, even private, so if you were to have your friends over to pray the rosary in your living room, the army could burst in, take you all prisoners and most likely shoot you at dawn for treason, and they did, several times). Priests had to go into hiding or leave the country, Bishops were killed, entire communities of nuns and monks fled to the U.S. or Europe.

Msgr. Navarrete had been Bishop of Sonora (later to be named Archbishop of Hermosillo) for seven years when the persecution began in earnest. Rather than fleeing to the U.S., which he had done before for a three-year period, he went into hiding and, in opposition to everyone’s advice, did not disband Hermosillo’s seminary, but took the seminarians with him, into hiding. He spent fourteen years in the desert, and the mountains of the state of Sonora, dashing across the border from time to time, when the army didn’t leave him with any other option, staying in Tucson most of the time. You must understand that hiding in Sonora is no small feat, the great desert of Altar, which goes into Arizona, is the third hottest desert in the world, and anybody that has been in the desert at night can tell you how miserably cold it is at night. As if that weren’t enough, the desert ends at the foot of a mountain chain, where temperatures normally drop below freezing, with snow and ice being a constant during the long winter months.

Archbishop Navarrete could have signed a government declaration, surrendered his charge and become a normal citizen, but he did not. He continued to risk his life until the Christian war truly ended in 1937. What else could you expect from a man whose last name literally means “warrior”? In this sense, he is no different from hundreds of Mexicans that did the same, one of which, San Rafael Guizar y Valencia, Bishop of Veracruz, was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 15, 2006. Blessed Miguel Pro is another famous contemporaneous martyr, one whom many of us hope and pray will be canonized soon. The fact that he’s in the company of many great martyrs does not diminish him; rather, it points to the great fruits brought on by the intercession of our patroness, Mary of Guadalupe, that gave us Mexicans such great examples and such a rich inheritance in their lives and examples.

It is said that Msgr. Navarrete never lost his sense of humor, which I find believable, as it is the trademark of every saint. President Calles, the same one that was trying to destroy the Church, was from the state of Sonora. While trying to kill his own Archbishop, his older daughter decided to marry. Calles’ wife was Catholic - at least nominally, but that’s not for me to judge - and demanded that Archbishop Navarrete presided over the wedding ceremony. This gives you a good example of the stubbornness of Mexican women: at the same time that her husband had vowed to find and kill Archbishop Navarrete, she wanted him to allow him into their home, marry their daughter and leave unharmed. Well, she got her wish, so President Calles sent for Msgr. Navarrete, who readily agreed to marry the daughter and set off to Mexico City (it’s a 4-hour flight from Hermosillo to Mexico City, you can just imagine how long of a trip that was back then). It is said that when he arrived to Palace and was introduced to President Calles, Calles said “I don’t greet ***holes” (he wasn’t the most refined of politicians and physically looked like Stalin) to which Msgr. Navarrete replied, without skipping a beat, “but I do, Mr. President” and stretching out his arm, grabbed Calles’ hand and shook it. There is no way to prove the historical accuracy of this anecdote, but I like to believe it’s true.

Now, in Hermosillo, the capital of the State where Obregon and Calles were born, that both governed from the State government palace in downtown Hermosillo, in the same city that saw these two minions of the devil become the most powerful men in the land and try to destroy the Catholic fiber of a Catholic Nation, of Guadalupe’s Nation of all places!, now this city’s most important avenue bears the name not of Calles or Obregon, but of Msgr. Juan Maria Navarrete y Guerrero. A big statue of him stands at the beginning of the avenue with an inscription that aptly reads “From Sonora to Heaven”.

Msgr. Navarrete left for heaven on February 21, 1982. His cause of canonization was opened on September 18, 2007, in the Cathedral Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, in Hermosillo, were his body lays in rest. Msgr. Jose Ulises Macias Salcedo, third Archbishop of Hermosillo, had the honor of presiding, in the presence of several dozens of priests, the faithful of Hermosillo and Archbishop Emeritus, Carlos Quintero Arce, the immediate successor of Msgr. Navarrete.

If anybody speaks Spanish, January’s issue of “5 minutes of prayer” (Cinco minutos de oracion) has a brief biography and a prayer for private devotion to Msgr. Navarrete. I am proud - extremely proud - to be a native of Hermosillo, for even when he was born in the State of Oaxaca, far from us, he became a son of Sonora, to which he devoted his entire life, in the service of God.

May God and his holy mother give us many more men and women burning with love for the Lord as Msgr. Navarrete.

Viva Cristo Rey!

This Movie Looks Promising

...apparently, I'm not the only one appalled by the media's coverage of the March for Life.

St. Justin Martyr on the Eucharist

St. Justin Martyr, in his First Apology (written between 153 and 155 A.D.), lays out one of the earliest descriptions of the Mass. It's great, because it's a dumbed-down version of Catholic theology intended for those who had no idea what a "bishop" was, or even what "Amen" meant. It's like stumbling upon a children's Sunday school class from the 2nd century. The First Apology is great for other reasons, as well: he's able to point to specific Roman sects which mimick Catholic practices, like the followers of Mithras mimicking the Eucharist. In modern times, the similarity between the worship of Christ in the Eucharist and of Mithras have been compared to attempt to disprove Christianity: as if we stole it from them. So it's great to have Justin, writing to the Roman pagans, setting the record clear as to just who stole what from whom.

So here's Justin on the Eucharist, first from chapter 65, Administration of the Sacraments:


But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to ge'noito [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.


(1) It's worth noting that the Kiss of Peace isn't some new invention of the American Church to make everybody feel wonderful inside: it's a long-standing Catholic tradition.
(2) The Eucharist is only open to the Baptized individual "who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching."
(3) The Eucharist consists of bread and wine, mixed with a bit of water. This is a practice done (to my knowledge) only in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
(4) The Eucharist is brought to the absent. This seems like a minor detail, but it invalidates the Lutheran Church's Eucharistic views, where the blessed bread and wine are incarnated in some sense with Christ during the duration of the service, and not afterwards.
(5) All of this very much mirrors the modern Mass: Prayers of the Faithful, the Sign of Peace, the Eucharistic prayers over the bread and wine mixed with water, and the Great Amen.
(6) However, Justin says "deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced." At first, this sounds like he's denying the Real Presence. But then you get into the nitty-gritty of the Greek, where thanksgiving means Eucharist. So he's literally saying "deacons give to each of those present to partake of the 'Eucharitized' bread and wine mixed with water."

He makes it more clear in the next chapter, which picks up immediately where that last quote left off:

And this food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.
(First Apology, 66)
So Justin is clear "that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word [...] is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. " The "prayer of His word" refers to the words of institution, which come from Jesus' lips at the Last Supper. So after the words of institution, the bread and wine become the flesh and blood of "that Jesus." The phrase "from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished" is sometimes rendered, "in order to nourish and transform our flesh and blood," and the Greek here (kata metabolen) means something very similar to "metabolize." So just as with physical food, it becomes part of our bodies, through the spiritual food of the Eucharist, we become part of Christ's. We eat Him, but rather than us metabolizing Him, He "metabolizes" us.

I really enjoy this part of the First Apology not just because it's fascinating how constant the Mass has remained over the last two millenia, but because I really like Justin's insight into the Eucharist, and the idea of Christ "metabolizing" us.

Priests Online in the New Evangelization

It's "official":

The spread of multimedia communications and its rich “menu of options” might make us think it sufficient simply to be present on the Web, or to see it only as a space to be filled. Yet priests can rightly be expected to be present in the world of digital communications as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, exercising their proper role as leaders of communities which increasingly express themselves with the different “voices” provided by the digital marketplace. Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis.

Using new communication technologies, priests can introduce people to the life of the Church and help our contemporaries to discover the face of Christ. They will best achieve this aim if they learn, from the time of their formation, how to use these technologies in a competent and appropriate way, shaped by sound theological insights and reflecting a strong priestly spirituality grounded in constant dialogue with the Lord. Yet priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ. This will not only enliven their pastoral outreach, but also will give a “soul” to the fabric of communications that makes up the “Web”.

I appreciate the way that Benedict, himself a bit of a technophobe (he famously wrote Jesus of Nazareth by hand), grasps the importance of having a priestly presence on what you might call the "Web," to use the hip slang. Fittingly, this message was delivered on the Feast of St. Francis De Sales, who was pretty cutting-edge himself, grasping both the unique challenges facing laypeople, and the latest theological challenges to the Faith.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

March for Life Recap

I. The March Itself
The March for Life on Friday was pretty excellent. I've heard it was the largest ever, which is more surprising, because the weather was expected to be pretty bad. Literally tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands (estimates range between the obviously-too-low 50,000 to the probably-too-high 300,000 for the number of participants) of pro-lifers from around the country drove, in some cases well over a thousand miles, often in bad weather (one woman I talked to had driven in pretty constant rain and snow from Michigan to D.C., no quick commute), in order to spend hours rallying, protesting, and marching for this cause in bad weather. And indeed, during the speeches, almost all of us got pretty muddy, as the grounds of the National Mall had turned into about an inch of mud, which the numerous kids present enjoyed playing in.

Things have been looking up this week, with the election of Scott Brown (far from ideal from a pro-life perspective, but compared to the alternatives, an acceptable choice) and the killing of the pro-choice health care bill, to the discovery that for the first time since polling began in 1994, a majority of Americans surveyed consider themselves pro-life, including a disproportionate number of young people. It was great to march with all of these pumped-up pro-lifers. Two things stuck out about the crowd: a lot of women, and a lot of young people. I'm 24, and felt old. At least part of this, it seems to me, is the fact that it's a weekday rally in D.C. Not everybody can take off work to come protest, and students have a lot more flexibility. Still, given that the media spin on this has been that it's a bunch of old men, it's nice to be able to say as an eyewitness that that's just a bald-faced lie.

The March for Life is ecumenism at its best. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, Jews, and even agnostics and atheists were rallying for a single cause and supporting one another. There was (as always) a massive didgeridoo-looking instrument which some of the Orthodox Jews brought to remind us all of the fall of the walls of Jericho, there were signs in Arabic and Spanish as well as English, lots of Latin American music being sung and played by Hispanic Catholics, and so on. Songs, secular and religious, would break out at various points in the March, and simply people moved at different paces, it would be a sort of whirlwind. We'd be praying the rosary with one group, and find ourselves separated by the flow of crowd, sing a few songs with another group, and so on. At one point, we were loudly praying a rosary while another group, loudly praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, came by. A group stationed on the side of the road did the Rosary in Latin, while a full band with drummers was stationed nearby.

II. Media Coverage
The media coverage of the March for Life is always absurd. To be honest, it's almost scary. To know that a major social movement had a huge show of support, and that there was a near media black-out rendered all of those people, in a very real sense, invisible. This movement is much larger than the much-publicized Tea Parties or, say, the tiny gay-rights rally in D.C. which made Post front-page news a few months ago. When the media didn't totally ignore the March, they made sure it didn't make the front page, were vague about it, and made it sound like it was equally pro-life and pro-choice. Let's get a few facts straight:
I mean, the pro-life Youth Mass at the Verizon Center (here's a shot from 2006) fills up so quickly that St. Patricks, Old St. Mary's, and all of the other nearby churches hold simultaneous Mass. Fr. Andrew came, and his group from Aquinas High School had to go up to Nativity, which is nowhere near the March.

The disparity between the roughly 60 pro-choicers and the hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers is important, because here's how CNN covered it: "Abortion rights supporters and opponents hit the streets of the nation's capital Friday to mark the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade..." The article doesn't mention any numbers of the respective groups, and indeed, one might expect that the pro-lifers were the counter-protesters, given the top billing given to the roughly 60 pro-choicers. The first image on the site is of pro-choice protesters, and is taken from below, so you can't tell how many pro-choicers there are. You'll note, however, that all of the pro-choicers have the same signs... because they're a small NOW-affiliated group.

Here's the Christian Science Monitor. Every protester but one is pro-choice, and the one pro-lifer is being obnoxious, trying to cover up one of the women's signs. CSM reports that "Both sides rally in Washington" as if a rally of 60 people is roughly equal to a rally of 300,000. Where else has a 60-person rally in D.C. even made the national news? CSM then says, "According to Newsweek, demonstrators on both sides were mostly from the baby boomer generation." Apparently, they couldn't be troubled to find news out on their own, but Newsweek is just wrong on this one. While the Post didn't have good coverage in the news section, one pro-choice writer wrote a column on it, and was startled to find a young and enthusiastic pro-life crowd:
In this case, I was especially struck by the large number of young people among the tens of thousands at the march. It suggests that the battle over abortion will endure for a long time to come. "We are the pro-life generation," said signs carried by the crowd, about half its members appearing to be younger than 30.
This image, taken from NPR's absurd coverage, shows a hint both of the disparity in size, and the media focus:

The single pro-choicer, rather than the young, not-especially-male crowd of pro-lifers praying for her, is the focus of the shot. Even a pro-choicer started to smell a rat, commenting on the NPR article:
"I staunchly support a woman's right to choose abortion at any time during pregnancy, but I am extremely unhappy that the MSM refuses to cover these marches, anti and pro, and give a decent estimate of the attendees. This "article" was no article at all, just a handful of closely framed photos."
Indeed. As you ascend Capitol Hill, it's very easy to take a shot of the mile or more of protesters ascending: the sort of photo you saw during the Obama Inauguration, for example. That no mainstream secular media source I've found so far has posted that shot is indicative. Still, whether anyone heard the tree fall in the nation's capital or not, the pro-lifers were there, are enthusiastic about the future, and aren't going away in November.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Catholic Church's Gallows Humor

The now-late Avery Cardinal Dulles penned a brilliant essay on the death penalty. I'd say it's the single best summation of the history and theological implications of the death penalty I've ever read - I sent it to my dad (who favors the death penalty) and my brother (who opposes it), and both attempted to use it to prove their position, which I found both funny and very telling. He's not particularly advocating a specific position, as much as setting the record straight. Nevertheless, this prompted a number of reactions from other prominent Catholics, including Justice Antonin Scalia (in which he admits to rejecting the Catechism position on the death penalty), and add some much needed addenda to the conversation at times. Scalia's response inspired responses of its own, including from Cdl. Dulles.

I mention all of this because there's one theme which I noticed in both Dulles' essay and Scalia's response. Dulles wrote that:
The mounting opposition to the death penalty in Europe since the Enlightenment has gone hand in hand with a decline of faith in eternal life. In the nineteenth century the most consistent supporters of capital punishment were the Christian churches, and its most consistent opponents were groups hostile to the churches. When death came to be understood as the ultimate evil rather than as a stage on the way to eternal life, utilitarian philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham found it easy to dismiss capital punishment as “useless annihilation.”
In other words, if there is no God, the death penalty is a much more terrible punishment, since it's the absolute worst thing which can happen to a person (moving to non-existence). Scalia made the same point, more glibly:
Indeed, it seems to me that the more Christian a country is the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral. Abolition has taken its firmest hold in post–Christian Europe, and has least support in the church–going United States. I attribute that to the fact that, for the believing Christian, death is no big deal.
While "no big deal" may not be the most accurate statement (I mean, the Holocaust doesn't seem like "no big deal" to us even without considering the impacts upon the souls of those who supported it), there's an element of truth to it, inasmuch as Christianity has long stuck Her tongue out at death. How else to explain these hilarious choices for patron saints?

1. St. Lawrence
St. Lawrence was a third century deacon who refused to renounce the faith. In fact, one of his torturers asked to be baptized by him after seeing angels ministering to his wounds. Eventually, Lawrence was placed upon gridirons to be roasted to death. Midway through being roasted alive, he cried out,
"Now you may turn me over, my body is roasted enough on this side." Shortly after this had been done, he cried again: "At last I am finished; you may now take from me and eat."
If this wasn't enough gallows humor, the Catholic Church responded by making him the patron saint of cooks. I suppose a man who can give cooking tips during his own execution richly deserves it, but the idea of a cook praying to a saint whose most famous culinary contribution was his own cooked human flesh is ... unusual.

2. St. Sebastian
St. Sebastian (died c. 288 A.D.), whose optional feast day was earlier this week, is said to have been tied to a pole and shot full of arrows until he was (wrongly) assumed dead. How does the Church respond? Oh, She made him the patron saint of archers. Sebastian wasn't an archer, himself - his only known interaction with arrows is being on the receiving end of a whole lot of them, and living through it. So I imagine that those prayers were awkward: "St. Sebastian, let me be a better shot than the guys who tried to kill you..."

3. St. William of Rochester
Also known as St. William of Perth, he was a layman with a big heart: "A baker by trade, he was accustomed to set aside every tenth loaf for the poor. He went to Mass daily, and one morning, before it was light, found on the threshold of the church an abandoned child, whom he adopted and to whom he taught his trade." This adopted son was called "'Cockermay Doucri', which is said to be Scots for 'David the Foundling.'" St. William took David on a pilgrimage, but never made it. Or more specifically, David slit his throat. And the Catholic Church responded (you might be noticing a theme) by naming him ... patron saint of adopted children. I'm not sure if parents of adopted children would be more likely to find St. William's martyrdom a source of comfort ("things may be bad with my kid, but at least they're not that bad) or just a terrifying cautionary tale.

I'm sure there are more along these same lines: since death is "no big deal" for saints, there's nothing wrong with a little gallows humor reminding these saints how they crossed over in the first place.

March for Life Today!

At March for Life today. It's a great experience, so come if you can make it! I've got a post set to auto-post later today- otherwise, I'll be back Monday!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Touché!

Chris sees my "In the late 60s, dissident theologian Charles Curran lead a revolt against Humane Vitae, and was largely successful in the US: how many birth control homilies have you heard?"

...and raises me, "I've heard Fr. Andrew (as in your co-blogger) blasting birth control from the pulpit a few times now at Prince of Peace. Fr. Chris, who was our previous associate pastor, also brought such words to our ears."

Touché.

Strangely enough, this means that I've had my earlier point disproven twice today. At lunchtime Mass, the priest at Catholic Information Center (I believe his name is Fr. Gregory Coyne, but could be mistaken) gave a great, quick homily on the evils of birth control. His point was that even if it was just a contraceptive, it would be immoral, but that the pill actually is an abortificant. In other words, pro-lifers should never use chemical birth control. Obviously, there's more to say on the subject -- as in, why it's wrong even if it's just a contraceptive -- but I thought it was a great short homily.

Actually, these two examples really better prove my original point - that there's a real renewal going on in American Catholicism - far better than my original attempt. The fact that there are great priests like Fr. Coyne or Fr. Andrew (as in my alleged co-blogger) delivering this message now suggests that increasingly, priests are unafraid of seeming out of step with the zeitgeist.

And by the way, Catholics in the KC area, you might drop in to hear Fr. Andrew at Prince of Peace out in Olathe. And remember, priests need to eat, and I've heard a rumor he'll readily take up a free lunch offer.

On a semi-related note, for a good argument on birth control and Tradition, I was impressed with this post:
"Contraception has always been considered immoral, even by Protestants until the
20th century."
"I don't care. I think people were wrong. I don't see it in the Bible."
This means that it's possible that all Christians from the beginning were wrong on an issue of central importance (such as theology of marriage) until Christians were enlightened to the truth in the 20th century and finally discovered the true meaning of Scripture.

It's a great point. If everyone in Christian history could have been wrong on a given issue until a certain point - whether it's everyone having the wrong canon until Calvin, or everyone having the wrong view of birth control until Sanger - this leaves open the possibility that Christianity remains incomplete, and as the same blogger notes later, "turns Christianity into a discovered religion rather than a revealed religion."

Beckwith v. TurretinFan on Sola Scriptura

TurretinFan attacks Frank Beckwith's excellent article on sola Scriptura by calling it a "bait and switch." I'm interested in this subject, since I was quite impressed with how simply Beckwith made his case the first time I encountered this. He just says things so succinctly that you're left to mull it over a bit before you realize he's right. What strikes me here is how much better Beckwith's arguments are, particularly since he was the one unaware he was about to enter a debate. For example,

I.
Beckwith says: Because the list of canonical books is itself not found in Scripture—as one can find the Ten Commandments or the names of Christ’s Apostles—any such list, whether Protestant or Catholic, would be an item of extra-Biblical theological knowledge.

TurretinFan responds: There is a rather obvious problem with this claim. Given Scripture (as Beckwith does for the Ten Commandments or the names of Christ's apostles) a list of canonical books is readily derivable from the Scriptures. As a thought experiment, one could imagine receiving a Bible with the table of contents accidentally smudged beyond recognition. That table of contents could be easily restored from the text in a matter of moments. Given Scripture the list of canonical books, while not found as such, is easily derived.

Of course, if one doesn't grant that we already have the Scriptures, as such, the matter of creating a list becomes more difficult. But that's not a challenge facing sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura begins with the reader possessing the Scriptures. It is a given of the system.


My Take: This seems like a strange response to me. It's an admission that sola Scriptura only works if you start with the canon of Scripture, and can't be derived from Scripture itself. That's pretty much Beckwith's point. All TF seems to be proving is that the Protestants who argue for this doctrine have a leather-bound Bible at home, and think of it as one Good Book. But Beckwith's original point is incredible important, if you've got any sense of Christian history. The Bereans in Acts 17:11, the go-to verse for sola Scripturists, didn't have a leather-bound 66 book King James Version of the Bible. In fact, they're Greeks, so they probably were Deuterocanon-loving apostates in the eyes of modern Protestants.

The 66-book Protestant Bible is a product of the Reformation. To say, "I base my Protestant beliefs off of the Bible alone," while admitting, "and the Biblical canon I use was created by the Protestant Reformers" is exactly the problem. You're not basing your beliefs off of the Bible; you're basing your Bible off of your beliefs.

TF is right, of course, that the only way to know for certain the number of Commandments or Apostles is from the Bible. But that's not really the same parallel at all. If you believe in the canonicity of Exodus, you must believe in the Ten Commandments. Exodus points to the Ten Commandments as being (a) accurate; and (b) ten in number. But that's not the case for books of the Bible. You can believe that Paul's epistles are God-breathed, but that doesn't really do anything to prove or disprove whether Peter's are. Peter refers to Paul's writings as Scripture, but doesn't spell out what they are (does that include Hebrews, for example?).

But more than that, you don't have to believe in the canonicity of Exodus to believe in the accuracy of the Ten Commandments. TF repeatedly accuses Beckwith of "taking away" the Bible, but that's not it at all. Exodus claims that the Ten Commandments are from God. So if you take Exodus as a reliable historical text, you get to the Ten Commandments. The Gospels do the same for belief in Christ. But the vast majority of Books (to my count, 65, excluding Revelation) don't claim to be Scripture themselves, nor do they say which other books of the Bible are Scripture. So I could, for example, think that the Book of 1st Kings was a true historical account, putting full faith in its accuracy, without ever saying, "therefore, it's Scripture; therefore, it's God-breathed." The Didache, for example, is an accurate and authentic representation of early Christianity, and is thoroughly orthodox. But it's not Scripture.

You can't just play "count the Books," like TF is suggesting. You have to first know which of the books are Books. There are religious texts which don't claim to be inspired which are (e.g., Jude), and which claim to be inspired but aren't (e.g., a number of the Gnostic texts).

II.
Beckwith Says: But the belief that the Bible consists only of 66 books is not a claim of Scripture—since one cannot find the list in it—but a claim about Scripture as a whole.

TurretinFan Responds: One cannot find the list in it, only in the sense that one cannot find the list of Psalms in the book of Psalms. In other words, the list is not given as such. However, a list may readily be generated from the Bible or from the book of Psalms.

My Take: In fact, the bit about the Psalms is just as inaccurate as the bit about the number of books in the Bible. The Eastern Orthodox and some Oriental Orthodox have 151 Psalms, while Catholics, Protestants, and the vast majority of Jews have 150. To say "we have 150, because we have 150" isn't an argument at all. Likewise, no one that I've found so far prior to the Reformation had 66 books in their Bible.

For Protestants to say authoritatively, "there are 66 books in the Bible," requires that their church speaks with binding authority. If it's simply a prayer conclusion from private examination of Scripture, they most that they can say is, "for me, there are 66 books of the Bible," or "my personal studies have lead me to conclude that 66 books of the Bible are inspired." I see no way that it can be a binding statement of orthodoxy; in fact, the Jews prior to Christ lacked a Church with this authority, and thus, had various canons. If you say, "you must believe this piece of information (that there are exactly 66 books) in addition to believing in the books of the Bible," you're adding an extra standard besides Scripture, and sola Scriptura self-destructs.

This is probably most easily proved by negation. Protestants deny that the Deuterocanon is Scripture. Upon what authority? Where does the Bible say that these books aren't Scriptural? And if it doesn't, then Beckwith is right. To arrive at a canon of Scripture, which is needed even to rely upon the Bible, you must have a trustworthy and reliable Authority (which you can define as Tradition, the Church, or both). To the extent you can trust that Authority, to that extent -- and only that extent -- you can trust the Bible.

III.
Beckwith Says: In other words, if the 66 books are the supreme authority on matters of belief, and the number of books is a belief, and one cannot find that belief in any of the books, then the belief that Scripture consists of 66 particular books is an extra-biblical belief, an item of theological knowledge that is prima facie non-Biblical.

TurretinFan Responds: This has essentially been addressed above. Given the Bible, we can easily sit down and count the number of books. The fact that it is not explicitly part of the text of the Bible is actually a quite trivial point, if we are given the Bible. What Beckwith's argument essentially asks the reader to do is to derive the belief about the number of books of Bible without the Bible. Then having taken away the Bible, Beckwith claims that the number of books can't be determined. But this is simply a game of bait and switch. Beckwith lures the reader in with a proposal to derive something from the Bible but then takes away the Bible.

My Take: There's no baiting and switching at all on Beckwith's part. He's dealing with the internal witness of Scripture: what the Scriptures say. TF is trying to add an external witness: what we know about the Scriptures. Beckwith's point: "where do the Scriptures internally say that they're Scriptures, and not simply inspirational religious texts?" Beckwith is spot-on. Beckwith's working within these parameters:

  1. You have the 66 Books of the Protestant Bible.
  2. You can rely only on the information therein.

TF is working within these parameters:

  1. You have the 66 Books of the Protestant Bible.
  2. You know that these Books are inspired.
  3. You know that there are no others.
  4. You can rely only on the information therein.
Beckwith proves remarkably well that you can't get to #2 and #3 of TF's list without violating #4. That before you've even arrived at #4, you've already broken that rule. TF's responses only reaffirm this point. And his claim that Beckwith is removing the Bible is false: Beckwith is removing only external knowledge about the Bible.

IV.
A supportive reader, seemingly aware of the perilous position TF finds himself with this line of argumentation, attempts to supply an "internal witness."


Ryan said...
Internal evidence of the 66 book canon:

God's sheep hear His voice, and they follow it.
God doesn't author confusion in amongst His sheep.

Does God speaks to His sheep through the 66 book canon, then, as Protestants believe? Well, has the church has reached a consensus that the 66 book canon is God's word? Yes. The only reason I can think of why "C"atholics would be surprised at this would be because they assume they are a part of the church.

Oops.

  • First, Ryan is relying upon the authority of the "church." Which is, of course, the opposite of relying upon the authority of the Bible alone.
  • Second, Luther's canon and Calvin's canon differed. Modern Protestants think Luther was wrong. By Ryan's logic, the Protestant Reformation is the fruit of a non-Christian seed. Oops.
  • Third, Protestantism is chock full of theological confusion. Find me a doctrine which all Protestants agree upon (or even all Protestant denominations agree upon) contra Catholics and Orthodox.
  • Fourth, this sort of "the saved know there are 66 Books" nonsense means that no one prior to the Reformation was saved. That's absurd.
  • Fifth, on the contrary, if the knowledge of the 66 Book canon only becomes revealed at the time of the Reformation, then you've got ongoing revelation, which is the opposite of a fixed, stable canon. The faith was delivered once for all (Jude 1:3), not once to be added to at the Reformation.
  • Sixth, this standard isn't even remotely Biblical. Even Jude seems to think that the Book of Enoch is canonical (see Jude 1:14-15, a quotation of Enoch 1:9), although the Holy Spirit prevents him from saying as much. Shall we assume he wasn't saved?
  • Seventh, what authority in the "church" declared a 66 Book canon accurate? If it's just the common understanding of a majority of Protestants, what's to keep that from changing?

Finally, why are so many Calvinists so mean? What is going on here? No other Protestant group I know of is as nasty to outsiders. The only other "religious" group I know of that acts this way are the New Atheists. It's so ugly! Mark Shea has suggested, if memory serves, that it's a weird obsession with masculinity: the preference for St. Paul, the belittingly of Mary, the preference for apologetics over witnessing, etc. Obviously, a masculine Christianity is great (just like a feminine Christianity is great). But the Bride of Christ doesn't need to be visceral. I get it, some Calvinists deny that Catholics are saved. But shouldn't Christian witnessing mean you try and appeal even to these people? Or is this the product of a theology which assumes that some people (the reprobate) were created by God just to torture for eternity?