Saturday, July 31, 2010

Answering Nonsense About Daniel 2

There's a lengthy comment from a reader on my Daniel 2 post. Here's my point-by-point response to his allegations (his comment in red):
  • Unfortunately, Daniel is not quite as ancient as you are led to believe. It was one of the manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and only dates back to c. 167 BCE and the prophesies are beleived to have been written at an even later date.
This is triply wrong.

First, the 167 B.C. date is absurd. It's something called "the Maccabean thesis," and here's how it was created: a lot of Biblical scholars don't believe in the Bible. Through this lens, which they consider "modern" or "skeptical," they interpret nearly all of the Old Testament prophesies as vaticinium ex eventu -- so if a 6th Century B.C. prophesy foretells something in the first century B.C., these scholars will argue that it must have been written in the first century B.C., since otherwise, it would be prophetic. That logic, of course, is circular. In the case of "the Maccabean thesis,"the argument went that Daniel 2 prophesied the desecration of the Temple under Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 B.C.; therefore, it must have been written during or immediately after Antiochus IV Epiphanes's desecration of the Temple. Hopefully, you can see how circular that argument is (Daniel is false because it is written in 167 B.C.; it's written in 167 B.C., because otherwise it's prophetic). But beyond that, Daniel 2 wasn't a prophesy of Antiochus IV Epiphanes -- it was a prophesy of the Destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. So the circular logic doesn't make any sense here.

You can tell this from the text itself. First, there's the numbering of the Kingdoms -- Reading the prophesy as referring to Antiochus IV Epiphanes requires counting off the four kingdoms of Daniel 2 as Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Greek. Yet the Medians never conquered Israel, so the only reason to count them is to try and make this a Greek prophesy somehow. Nor did the Medians overthrow the Babylonian Empire (the Persians did), so the Medians can't be the second empire. Rather, the Medes are already part of the Persian Empire at this point. Daniel 5-6 is explicit on this point: the Babylonians are toppled by Cyrus and Darius, and it's a single kingdom. So we know, from the Book of Daniel itself, who the first two Kingdoms are (Babylon; followed by the Persian Empire, also known as the Medo-Persian Empire or the Achaemenid Empire). Another reason is that the Fourth Kingdom, which dissolves instead of being conquered, is an obvious nod towards the Roman Empire, since the Greek Empire was conquered -- by the Romans. So Daniel 2 is about the Romans in 70 A.D., not the Greeks is 167 B.C.

The second reason that you're wrong is when you said that "the prophesies are beleived (sic) to have been written at an even later date." That's not true. 167 B.C. is when the prophesy was said to be written. The idea is that things had gotten really bad, so the Jews made up a bunch of Messianic prophesies, about how the Messiah's arrival was immanent. Arguing that they made these prophesies after 167 B.C. doesn't make sense, and isn't what the skeptics are even saying. So no, the prophesies aren't written later than the rest of Daniel. If you've ever read Daniel, you'll see it's almost all prophesies.

The third reason that you're wrong is that even if the Maccabean thesis were correct, it would disprove everything else you wrote. Your entire argument is that "The interpretation that there would be 4 great empires with Rome being the last is undoubtedly of Roman origin."
But the 167 B.C. date relies upon the Maccabean thesis being true, and the Maccabean thesis relies on this prophesy being about the Greeks, not the Romans. And of course, if Daniel 2 was written in 167 B.C., it obviously wasn't written by the Romans.

If you want more information on why the 167 B.C. dating is wrong, it's been thoroughly discredited elsewhere. There's just no evidence of the 167 B.C. date being true at all. In fact, the fact it was found in the Dead Sea scrolls is further evidence of its age. There's a manuscript dating back to 125 B.C. which was found in the Dead Sea scrolls, quite a way from Greece, which is where Daniel was supposedly forged. So this 167 B.C. date requires that this forgery was immediately and universally accepted as Scripture by the Jews all over the Roman Empire, who then painstakingly preserved copies of the manuscript.
  • All Hebrew manuscripts were normally written at later dates, by the priests, about their ancient heroes.
Not only is this assertion untrue, not only is it just typed out without support, but it is logically self-refuting. If the Book of Daniel was made up in 167 B.C., then Daniel never existed. If Daniel never existed, he wasn't an ancient hero of the Jews. Apply that logic to every other major Jewish figure. Don't get wrong, the Jews did make up myths about the heroes of the Old Testament -- we even have some of these ancient stories. But they made no pretense of being Scripture, and weren't confused as such. And the myths relied upon the Scripture. For example, we mockumentary Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter only works if the audience is aware of the real-life Abraham Lincoln.

So even your own idea, about myths being created about the ancient hero of Daniel requires that a real-life Daniel existed, and that the Jews knew who he was. He did, and they did, and the reason was the real-life Book of Daniel.
  • "One of these Daniel prophesies, the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem is even more revealing, the Romans and Josephus were all too aware of these prophesies by Daniel and made Jesus Christ repeat them in both Mark and Matthew."
Of course, this is loony. The Romans were pagans, and Josephus was a Jew, neither of them had anything to do with Matthew or Mark's Gospel whatsoever, and neither of them embraced or believed the New Testament. To suggest that pagans and Jews "made Jesus Christ" say certain things in the Bible is just bizarre. It's literally alleging that the Christians didn't write the Christian New Testament -- but it's even stranger, since it's saying that the enemies of the first century Christians wrote the Book. It's like arguing that Janet Reno made up the Branch Dravidian religion, or that Hitler wrote the US Constitution, because he was, as we know, "aware of" it, and that's all it takes, apparently.

Instead of just making assertions, at least outline how in the world this could ever make sense. You're alleging first, that the Jewish priests forged the Book of Daniel, and somehow tricked the very people who had been faithfully reading and preserving the Scriptures for centuries; and second, that the Romans and Josephus then forged the New Testament Gospels, despite not being Christian. What evidence do you have of any of these theories? How did the disciples of the Apostles not know about this?

The problem with your whole theory is that it relies upon the dead letter. Yet we have strong historical evidence of the existence of Christian communities as far away as India within the first century. These communities, speaking various languages and located far from the Roman Empire, were immune to any imperial tomfoolery, so the presence of the Ethiopian Copts and the Indian Mar-Thomists shows your theory as total bunk. St. Jerome said in his Dialogue Against the Luciferians:
Do you demand Scripture proof? You may find it in the Acts of the Apostles. And even if it did not rest on the authority of Scripture the consensus of the whole world in this respect would have the force of a command. For many other observances of the Churches, which are due to tradition, have acquired the authority of the written law, as for instance the practice of dipping the head three times in the layer, and then, after leaving the water, of tasting mingled milk and honey in representation of infancy; and, again, the practices of standing up in worship on the Lord's day, and ceasing from fasting every Pentecost; and there are many other unwritten practices which have won their place through reason and custom. So you see we follow the practice of the Church, although it may be clear that a person was baptized before the Spirit was invoked.
In other words, there was a thriving global network of Christian churches from extremely early in Christian history. This creates a near fool-proof guard against error and forged holy books. Had the Romans attempted to write a new New Testament, the people using the real New Testament would have called foul. It's not as if someone just found a dusty KJV on the ground and started Christianity thinking, "This must be Scripture!" So real people, with older copies of the manuscripts, would know if you tried to import a forgery. There were numerous copies of the NT, in whole or in part, in the early Church.
  • The Romans had their own interpretation; "There had spread over all the Orient an old an established belief that it was fated at that time for a man coming from Judaea to rule the world. This prediction, referring to the emperor of Rome, as it turned out, the Jews took to themselves, and they revolted accordingly."–Suetonius, Vespasian 4.5
This is true, although you misquoted it. The Christians recognized that the Oriental pagans had been prophesying the coming of Christ as well -- see Matthew 2:1-12. But Suetonius' explanation is stupid: the Roman Emperor wasn't from Judea, and it didn't refer to him. So there was a real prophesy, recognized as valid by the Romans, Jews, Christians, and Asian pagans. The Romans thought it was fulfilled in the Emperor, but it obviously wasn't (he wasn't from Judea). The Jews thought it was fulfilled in Simon bar Kokhba, leader of the Jewish revolt, but it wasn't (his revolution failed, and he was proven a false Messiah). The eastern Magi and later, the Christians, believed it was Christ, and they were right. How does this harm the Christian case?
  • While in Mark, Jesus is made to talk about fishers of men, Josephus tells of a battle on the Seas of Galolee between Titus' army and the Jewish forces. The Jewish boats are capsized and the Roman soldiers spear them like fish. Hence they become fishers of men.

    In 'Caesar's Messiah,' Dead Sea Scrolls archivist Joseph Atwill found 12 such parallels, in consecutive order, between the so-called ministry of Jesus and the military campaign of the Roman Emperor Titus.
This is warped. Matthew 4:18-20 says:
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.
And you read that as, "Come, follow Me, and I will make you throw spears through the Jews"? And how is throwing spears through someone, even in a naval battle, "fishing" in any sense? Peter and Andrew are explicitly using a net, not spearing the fish. Let me put it this way. If Christians had claimed that the naval battle against Titus was a "fulfillment" of Matthew 4:18-20, non-Christians would immediately balk, because that's incredibly weak evidence. But you're willing to swallow it whole, because it contradicts Christianity. What Christ said of you in Matthew 23:34 is true.
  • What you seem totally unaware of, is that there are no original Jewish scriptures. They were all destroyed by the Romans and the Christians. What you read today is a translation from the Greek Septuagint.
Again, your knowledge of history is disturbingly bad. The reason there aren't original copies of the Hebrew manuscripts is that they were written on ancient papyrus, and it decays easily. So they were copied numerous times. There's no evidence of the Christians destroying any of the originals... at all. That's just nonsense, since the Christians affirm the Old Testament Scriptures as being true. And the Jews have plenty of extra-Biblical records, like the Talmud. Yet there's no record of any of your claims (that someone started circulating a new book, Daniel; that the Christians destroyed every copy of the Old Testament, etc.).

Finally, you're just wrong that modern versions are based on the Septuagint (the LXX). To my knowledge, no Bible is based on the LXX. Certainly, neither the Vulgate nor the Masoretic Text (the two most important translations) were based on the LXX's translation. Easily-understood chart showing the translation families here. Modern Biblical translations are based on earlier translations than the Vulgate relied upon, because archaeology has gotten better.
  • You are not giving the Romans enough credit. They were not only great militarily, they were also devious snakes. To learn more about how the Romans subverted the teachings of Yeshu and the Nazoreans and proclaimed them the revelations of their godman Jesus Christ visit: http://www.nazoreans.com
Right. Your website, which I perused briefly, is full of more absurd ahistorical nonsense. My favorite part:
Jesus remains in England until the late 20s when he returns to Israel to begin his ministry, or whatever, with some of his brothers serving as Apostles. Working in the Temple he becomes all too aware of the discrimination against members of the Nazorean sect. He takes Mary as his wife at Cana. He then agrees to a mock crucifixion...
It's like you're not even trying to put forward a historically valid argument. Here's a quick thought: how likely is it that the Romans were so cunning that they duped everyone on Earth, but you and Joseph Atwill are so smart that you saw past the Global Cabal?

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Sign of Peace

The Sign of Peace is one of the parts of the Liturgy which extends all the way back to the Apostles. However, it's taken a few different forms, and has had different meanings attached to it.
I. The Sign of Peace in the Bible
To begin with, the Sign of Peace was originally a kiss. In the New Testament, we are commanded to "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (or something very similar) in Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, and 1 Peter 5:14. Kissing was a typical form of greeting in first-century Israel, but the Apostles are clearly talking about something distinct from a typical greeting - it's called the "Kiss of Agape" and "Holy Kiss" every time. This calls to mind John 14:27, in which Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

Additionally, there are hints of the Kiss of Peace elsewhere, namely, in Luke 22:47-48, which the Church Fathers are the perfect Kiss of Peace, in that Christ kissed and loved even Judas, while Judas was betraying Him to death. Of this, St. John Chrysostom says: "For even if [your enemy] were upon the point of thrusting a sword down into thee, and to plunge his hand into thy neck itself, kiss this very right hand! since even Christ kissed that mouth which wrought His death!" And St. Augustine saw a prefigurement in the Kiss of Peace in Genesis 8:11. After the Flood, Noah sends out a dove, and upon her return, "in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf," a sign to Noah that the Flood was over, and that New Life was sprouting.

Nowawadays, a kiss is generally not considered a normal or appropriate greeting in this culture, so we use other signs in place of a Kiss, which is also why the term "Sign of Peace" is used today. In some countries, it's a bow, in some, it's a handshake, but it's not necessary to be a literal kiss.
II. The Sign of Peace in the Liturgy
Another change has been the placement in the Liturgy. Many early liturgies are believed to have had a Sign or Kiss of Peace in some form in two places: before the Offertory, and at the end of the Lord's Prayer. The reasons are straightforward: Matthew 5:23-24 warns us to forgive our brethren before we offer our gifts at the altar. And in the Lord's Prayer, we ask God to "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us," so it seems fit to then make sure we're forgiving them of any trespasses. Many Liturgies now only have one of the two. The Roman Canon has the Sign of Peace at the end of the Our Father, while the Penitential Rite at the start of Mass is our chance to seek forgiveness by publicly confessing our sinfulness.

Different regions in the Church seem to have settled into different liturgical orders. Although there are plenty of exceptions, the general trend was:
  • The East, including Asia and Greek-speaking Europe, had (and still have, in many cases), the Kiss of Peace, Commencement, and then the Lord's Prayer.
  • The West, including both Latin-speaking Europe and North Africa, had the Lord's Prayer, Commencement, and then the Sign of Peace. Pope Gregory rearranged the Roman Canon, moving the Lord's Prayer, so that it became: the Commencement, the Lord's Prayer, and then the Sign of Peace.
The East: Justin Martyr describes the Kiss of Peace as right before the Offertory in Chapter 65 of his First Apology, written in the 150s A.D.:
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 γένοιτο [so be it].
So Justin Martyr, living in the East (the modern-day West Bank), is describing a classically Eastern Liturgy: the Prayers of the Faithful, Kiss of Peace, and then, once everyone has forgiven each other, the Eucharistic Liturgy begins.

The West: St. Augustine, in his Sermon 227 (found in relevant part on page 197-198 here) describes the North African Liturgy:
Then, after the consecration of the Holy Sacrifice of God, because He wished us also to be His sacrifice, a fact which was made clear when the Holy Sacrifice was first instituted, and because that Sacrifice is a sign of what we are, behold, when the Sacrifice is finished, we say the Lord's Prayer which you have received and recited. After this, the 'Peace be with you’ is said, and the Christians embrace one another with the holy kiss. This is a sign of peace; as the lips indicate, let peace be made in your conscience, that is, when your lips draw near to those of your brother, do not let your heart withdraw from his. Hence, these are great and powerful sacraments. Do you wish to know how they are commended? The Apostle says: "Whoever eats the body of Christ or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord."
So as with the Gregorian Roman Canon, the Consecration occurs, followed by the Lord's Prayer and Sign of Peace, which are intended to prepare us spiritually to receive the Eucharist.
III. What Peace?
Sadly, the Sign of Peace, in recent years, has lead to ironic in-fighting amongst Christians. The fight has been largely over the meaning of the Sign of Peace, and how it should be done. There are largely two schools of thought:
  1. The Sign of Peace is an expression of our love for one another, and is best expressed through warmly embracing one another in some way. This is something of the 1 Peter 5:14, where a warm greeting is extended between Christians.
  2. The Sign of Peace is an expression of God's Love for us, and is best expressed by the priest extending a sign of peace to us (and the congregation returning it), as the priest stands as a representation of Christ for us in this role. This is the school of thought which focuses on how the Sign of Peace is given in John 14:27: the Presider (Christ) extending it to the Apostles, instead of "how the world gives it," by Christ having the Apostles shake hands.
Of course, there's no reason both camps can't be right. After all, if the 1 Peter 5:14 is truly extending a Kiss of Agape, a Holy Kiss of Peace, they can do so only because it's not peace as the world gives it. Much of the debate is embittered by broader post-Vatican II fights within the Roman Rite, namely because the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is very much in the John 14:27 camp, while in practice, the Ordinary Form of the Mass often takes the 1 Peter 5:14 view to an extreme, with the priest leaving the sanctuary to gladhand the congregation, while the Body of Christ is left on the altar. Additionally, lots of people are uncomfortable with strangers or shaking hands.

This is one area, however, where there is a lot of Patristic and Biblical support for the reform of the Mass. Augustine, for example, is clearly in the 1 Peter 5:14 camp. But there may be a way to extract the best of both worlds. That may be what the Vatican has in the works, in fact. Cardinal Arinze suggested in 2008 that the pope might consider moving the Sign of Peace to before the Offertory. The idea is simple: the 1 Peter 5:14 version of the Sign of Peace is great, but it's pretty out-of-place at its current place in the Mass, because it disrupts the Eucharistic Liturgy. We're on our knees, worshiping God in near silence with all eyes on the priest, and on the Host, and then we stand up, say the Our Father, and shake hands with one another, in some cases, welcoming them to a Mass now 90% over.
IV. A Possible Solution?
Here's my idea:
  • Keep the Penitential Rite: we confess our sinfulness here to both God and "you, my brothers and sisters." This is a good start, and an important time to reflect on any sins we may need to ask forgiveness for
  • Sign of Peace before the Offertory: in the 1 Peter 5:14 sense, with a sharing of a Sign of Peace between neighbors. Give people a moment to genuinely recount their faults and ask forgiveness of their neighbors. This fulfills Matthew 5:23-24, by ensuring clean hearts before we offer the Sacrifice of Christ to His Father.
  • Sign of Peace after the Lord's Prayer, before Communion: here, in the John 14:27 sense. In other words, should be reverted to its classic Latin Rite form, in which it's just between the priest, representing Christ, and the congregation. This is more appropriate for the place in Mass. It also is in keeping with 1 Corinthians 11:28, as St. Augustine notes, by providing a moment of self-examination right before Communion.
Having two signs of peace is nothing new. In fact, the Liturgy which gave me the idea was perhaps the oldest existent Liturgy Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari, also known as the Liturgy of the Blessed Apostles. It was composed by two of St. Thomas' disciples in India, and has, in some form, has been in use since the generation after the Apostles up until today. Since it's of Syriac Indian origin, it's distinct from the liturgical trends both in the Latin West and Greek East. It has a Sign of Peace before the Consecration, like the East, (in part X of the Liturgy, in the link above). For this one, the people give the Kiss of Peace to one another. Then, after the consecration, the priest, and then the people, pray the Our Father, the priest says, "Peace be with you," and the people respond, "With thee and with thy spirit," but it's exclusively between the priest and the people, not the people and each other. This second one is very close to the practice of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. That's exactly what I think should be done.

Another example, admittedly at the extreme, is the Divine Liturgy of St. James (which is believed to date back, in some form to 60 A.D.), in which the priest says "peace be with you" to the congregation seven times, and the deacon two more. On the fifth of these nine times, the congregation exchanges a Kiss of Peace. At this point, it's shortly before the Consecration. The eighth time the priest extends the Sign of Peace to the people, it's right before both the priest and people receive Communion, and is to ensure that their hearts are clean before coming to receive Christ.

The advantage to both of these is that it takes the best of both worlds.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Eucharistic Prayer IV: The Unknown Eucharistic Prayer

Yesterday, my girlfriend went to daily Mass at Blessed Sacrament in Arlington, and came away a bit confused by the Liturgy -- she explained to me that it sounded like the Mass, was clearly not being improvised by the priest, and yet was different at almost every point from what she was used to. Turns out, it was the pretty obscure Eucharistic Prayer IV.

If you're not familiar, there are four Eucharistic Prayers which the priest may do in a normal Mass. You may not have noticed that there is more than one variation on the Eucharistic Prayer, but I bet if you're Catholic, you'll recognize at least two of the first three. The area most people notice is at the Institution (the part of the Mass where everyone kneels, leading to the Consecration of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ), since everyone's attention in on the altar, and what the priest is doing:
  • Eucharistic Prayer I is the 1600 year old Roman Canon, and begins the Institution by saying, "The day before He suffered, He took bread in His sacred hands, and looking up to heaven, to You, His Almighty Father, He gave You thanks and praise; He broke the Bread, gave it to His disciples, and said...;"
  • Eucharistic Prayer II, based upon the Liturgy of St. Hippolytus of Rome, begins the Institution this way: "Before he was given up to death, a death he freely accepted, he took bread and gave you thanks, He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said...;"
  • Eucharistic Prayer III, a modern reorganization of the Mass done primarily by Cipriano Vagaggini (who wanted things in a more structured order, and more explicit emphasis on the Holy Spirit), begins the Institution: "On the night He was betrayed, He took bread and gave You thanks and praise. He broke the Bread, gave it to His disciples, and said..."
  • And finally, Eucharistic Prayer IV, based upon two liturgies from the East -- the Apostolic Constitutions of Antioch and St. Basil's Byzantine Liturgy -- has the longest introduction to the Institution: "He always loved those who were His own in the world. When the time came for Him to be glorified by You, His Heavenly Father, He showed the depth of His love. While they were at supper, He took bread, said the blessing, broke the Bread, and gave it to His Disciples, saying..."
...at which point all have identical words of Institution.

Eucharistic Prayer IV's eastern tilt is obvious: the Roman Rite, historically, is succinct, while the Eastern half of the Church is known for its verbosity. Don't get me wrong: the Roman Rite goes long, but it does it by adding more and more, like including lengthy litanies of the saints; but typically, if we pray something once in the Roman Canon, we usually don't pray it again.* On the other hand, Eucharistic Prayer IV just keeps bringing up the glory and grandeur of God, and His work in the various covenants. Oh yeah, Eucharistic Prayer IV is also structured to allow the least adaptation and modification, which might be a good reason to encourage bringing it into fuller use.

Here's an easy side-by-side comparison of the four different Eucharistic prayers. My personal preference is still for Eucharistic Prayer II for daily Masses, since it's succinct without leaving much of anything out, and Eucharistic Prayer I for Sunday Masses, since it's probably the best of the four (not to mention the only one to mention Melchizedek). But I do think that more liturgical "space" needs to be made for Eucharistic Prayers III and IV to have a little room to flourish, if we're going to keep them as valid alternatives to the first two.

Ah yes: on a completely personal note, I have completed the bar exam, will find out my results on or about September 15th, and will now prepare for my next major test: the MPRE, the ethics exam for new lawyers. Thank you so much for all of your prayers - it was solely by the grace of God that things went as well as they did, whatever the outcome, and I have a real peace about everything.

*There are a few exceptions: both the Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God") and the Kyrie Eleison ("Lord, Have Mercy") draw their beauty in part from repetition. The latter prayer is an ancient Greek prayer, and is probably the oldest part of the Mass.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Just Can't Resist

Rarely is one's entire belief system dismantled as quickly as Deepak Chopra's is here:


The argument works, of course, against post-modernism, and all forms of truth-claims which claim that "the truth is that there is no truth." But most of the people peddling that junk don't walk broadside into their inconsistencies in front of a studio audience.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Salvation by Faith Working in Love

Picking up where I left off yesterday, I had been talking about how Pope Benedict has argued that "Luther's phrase, 'faith alone' is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love." It's a provocative argument from the Roman Pontiff, but one not dissimilar to Cardinal Newman's argument that saving faith and obedience are the same thing.
1. Obedient v. Disobedient Faith
As Fr. William Most explains, Paul means three things when he uses the term "faith":
1) If God speaks a truth, we believe it in our mind;
2) If He make a promise, we are confident in it;
3) If He tells us to do something, we must do it-- "the obedience of faith" : Rom 1:5.
Now, the first two, even by themselves are meritorious. Romans 4:3 reminds us that by Genesis 15:6, Abraham "believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." But from this must come the third part of faith -- the obedience of faith. After all, James 2:19 notes that even the demons have these first two forms of faith. And as James continues:
Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called "the friend of God." See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
So Abraham is faithful not because he has just the first two forms of faith, but because he has all three. Protestants often claim that you can't have the first two forms of faith without the third, but this is wrong -- as noted, the demons do.
2. Loving v. Unloving Faith
The other way in which faith is formulated in two separate sense is faith with or without love. This is best seen in 1 Corinthians 13. For example, in 1 Cor 13:1-3, Paul says:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
This chapter posed a very serious problem for Luther. First, Paul says that faith without love is nothing. And second, Paul speaks of the various spiritual gifts a bit later in the chapter, and says that love is greater than faith. Now, from Luther's perspective, if you truly believed Jesus was Lord, that faith would necessarily result in love and good works. But here, Paul's talking about people for who that just isn't so. They believe that Jesus is Lord, they perhaps even believe He's calling them to love, but they just don't.

There's an important difference to draw out here: Luther argued that faith without love wasn't faith; but Paul argues that it is faith, simply a worthless faith. Paul Althaus, a liberal Lutheran theologian from the mid-twentieth century, describes Luther's take on this passage, and why it's wrong:
The correspondence, or much more correctly, the unity of the Lord and of the Spirit exclude the possibility of Paul saying as Luther does that “the Spirit, or the gifts which He grants, can be present even without faith in Christ…” Luther must assert this because his understanding of faith eliminates the possibility of a faith in Christ which would be without love. God can certainly work such a faith but it cannot possibly be the same as saving faith in Christ. Luther must therefore make a distinction between the faith of 1 Corinthians 13:2 and saving faith in Christ. He minimizes the significance of the former by calling it “hypocritical,” “put on,” and “false.” In Luther’s thinking, men who have such a wonder-working faith (without love) are unbelievers when judged by the standard of faith in Christ. The question is whether or not Paul would have agreed on this. Is Luther’s alternative between true faith which is active in love, and “false,” “hypocritical,” or “put on” faith, adequate in view of the faith of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 13:2? Paul depreciates that faith only in comparatively in its relationship with love (1 Cor. 13:13) but not in and of itself. Luther declares that faith which does not result in love is no faith at all. Paul declares that the man who has only this faith without love is “nothing.” He does not say that such faith is no faith at all.
(The Theology of Martin Luther, pp. 443-444)
In the context of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is explaining why out of faith, hope and love, "the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13). He's comparing real faith with real hope and real love, and saying that love still greater, because real faith, by itself, isn't enough.

Now, obedient faith and loving faith aren't separate things -- they're one in the same. You cannot obey God without loving Him and your neighbor, since the entire Law is built on the twin commandments of love (Luke 10:26-28). That's the prescription given by Christ: love God and your neighbor, and you'll live. Don't, and you won't. So faith, obedience, and love, are wrapped up into a single action, our loving submission to God, expressed through loving obedience. John 15, which I'll get to in the last section, addresses this beautifully. To obey Christ, you must love: "This is my command: Love each other" (John 15:17; see also John 15:12). And to persevere in the love of Christ, you must obey: "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love" (John 15:10) Obedience and love are inseparable parts of a growing faith.
3. Faith Working in Love: The Key to Salvation
The KJV version of Galatians 5:6 nails it: "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love." Paul's phrase, also translated "faith working through love" sums everything I've said up succinctly: for faith to be worth anything, it must not be mere belief, or even belief combined with trust, but belief, trust and loving obedience.

This, of course, leads to James' message in James 2. James makes it crystal clear that mere belief and trust is insufficient, since even the demons have it, and aren't saved. And what's more, they believe and trust that God means what He says even more than we do -- they've seen His Power firsthand. I've heard Protestants refer to this as "mere intellectual assent," but it's not -- it's truly believing that what God has promised is going to happen. But that's not a saving faith (obviously). What's missing is their submission to God and their obedience. That's why James hits so heavily on the theme of good works. God calls us generally to love our neighbor, and calls us to specific good works as well (Ephesians 2:10). If we do these good works, we're obeying Him. We're being faithful, and we're being justified. If we don't do these good works, we're disobeying Him, and we're being faithless. James sums it up simply: "For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead"(James 2:26). This is exactly what Paul's driving at in 1 Corinthians 13:2.
4. Understanding the Relationship between Faith and Obedience
The relationship between faith and obedience is where things can be a bit confusing. When James speaks of "faith," he means #1 and #2 above (believing and trusting in God), without necessarily accompanying obedience. As noted above, this belief and trust can exist without obedience: it's just dead (as James says), and worth nothing (as Paul says). Paul sometimes means faith in this way (as in 1 Corinthians 13), but sometimes uses it as a shorthand for obedient faith, as in Romans 1:5.

The easiest way to understand the relationship is this: obedience and love are the fruits of faith. To love and obey God, you must first believe in Him, and trust in Him. As, Psalm 111:10 says, the fear of the Lord is "the beginning of wisdom" and obedience of God's commandments -- you must believe before you can obey. That doesn't mean all faith bears the fruit of love/obedience, just that only faith bears this fruit. There's no other source.

Imagine explaining to someone the ingredients to grow an apple tree. The only ingredient is an apple seed, planted in the right environment (rich moist soil, with plenty of room to grow). So "seed alone" is enough. But at the same time, the seed must be growing into something more than a seed, and it must eventually produce branches and fruit -- something which may not happen (if the seed dies, or the soil dries up, etc.). In a sense, then, Luther is right, that faith is all you need: it's in the sense that to have an apple, you only need an apple seed. That apple contains within it everything necessary to grow into a full-grown tree capable of bearing good fruit. If you don't like the analogy, blame Paul: he describes good works as the fruit of faith in Colossians 1:10. But an apple seed and a fruit-bearing apple tree are very different, and in that sense, the seed alone isn't sufficient -- it needs to grow into a plant to be of any use. Otherwise, it's worth nothing.

So where Luther was wrong was that he believed that all true seeds of faith eventually bore the fruit of good works, so that as long as you had a seed, you knew you'd eventually have fruit. That's not true. The parable of the sower appears in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8 -- in all three versions, the exact same seed is thrown, and yet depending of the soil (the disposition of the hearer of the word of God), it either dies out at once, grows and then dies out, or grows and bears fruit.

John 15 contains a similar parable, in which Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches (John 15:5). And it is only by Christ the Vine that we can bear fruit, since "No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me" (John 15:4). That's the part Luther got right. But he's wrong in thinking that all of the branches will bear fruit, and that all of the branches will remain in Christ: John 15:2 speaks directly to the reality that some branches will be cut off for not bearing fruit. And the fruit He's talking about is love and obedience, as mentioned above (see John 15:10, 12, 17). That's pretty blatant. Some Christians will be attached to the Vine of Christ, but won't love and obey, and will be cut off. Period, end of story. Those dead branches, once again, are the same as the dead Christians of James 2, the unproductive soil from the Synoptic Gospels, and the worthless faithful of 1 Corinthians 13 -- every New Testament writer is presenting the same point, many straight from the mouth of Christ.

So faith, apart from love/obedience, is useless, dead, dried up. In that sense, Luther was wrong. But "faith working in love" is what we need, and all we need. There's no need for works of the law, etc. - just faith working in love, alone. In that sense, Luther was right.

Since justification is the overwhelming reason Protestants cite for refusing to be Catholic, I'm curious to hear what the counter-arguments are here. Can a person believe in Christ and not obey Him?

Monday, July 26, 2010

An Interesting Sermon on Justification and Sola Fide

I think a lot of the disputes on justification are more smoke than fire -- Catholics and Protestants use different terms (or worse, use the same terms, but mean different things), but seem to largely agree on the fundamentals, quite frankly. Given this context, I think it's best if we just set the Catholic and Protestant labels aside for a moment. Here's a sermon on justification which I think is absolutely worth your time. Read it over, and figure out if you agree or disagree with the merits of the sermon itself. The first paragraph is background, but it gets interesting very quickly:
On the journey we are making under St Paul's guidance, let us now reflect on a topic at the center of the controversies of the century of the Reformation: the question of justification. How does man become just in God's eyes? When Paul met the Risen One on the road to Damascus he was an accomplished man; irreproachable according to the justice deriving from the Law (cf. Phil 3: 6), Paul surpassed many of his contemporaries in the observance of the Mosaic Law and zealously upheld the traditions of his fathers (cf. Gal 1: 14). The illumination of Damascus radically changed his life; he began to consider all merits acquired in an impeccable religious career as "refuse", in comparison with the sublimity of knowing Jesus Christ (cf. Phil 3: 8). The Letter to the Philippians offers us a moving testimony of Paul's transition from a justice founded on the Law and acquired by his observance of the required actions, to a justice based on faith in Christ. He had understood that what until then had seemed to him to be a gain, before God was, in fact, a loss; and thus he had decided to stake his whole existence on Jesus Christ (cf. Phil 3: 7). The treasure hidden in the field and the precious pearl for whose purchase all was to be invested were no longer in function of the Law, but Jesus Christ, his Lord.

The relationship between Paul and the Risen One became so deep as to induce him to maintain that Christ was no longer solely his life but also his very living, to the point that to be able to reach him death became a gain (cf. Phil 1: 21). This is not to say he despised life, but that he realized that for him at this point there was no other purpose in life and thus he had no other desire than to reach Christ as in an athletics competition to remain with him for ever. The Risen Christ had become the beginning and the end of his existence, the cause and the goal of his race. It was only his concern for the development in faith of those he had evangelized and his anxiety for all of the Churches he founded (cf. 2 Cor 11: 28) that induced him to slow down in his race towards his one Lord, to wait for his disciples so they might run with him towards the goal. Although from a perspective of moral integrity he had nothing to reproach himself in his former observance of the Law, once Christ had reached him he preferred not to make judgments on himself (cf. 1 Cor 4: 3-4). Instead he limited himself to resolving to press on, to make his own the One who had made him his own (cf. Phil 3: 12).

It is precisely because of this personal experience of relationship with Jesus Christ that Paul henceforth places at the center of his Gospel an irreducible opposition between the two alternative paths to justice: one built on the works of the Law, the other founded on the grace of faith in Christ. The alternative between justice by means of works of the Law and that by faith in Christ thus became one of the dominant themes that run through his Letters: "We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law; because by works of the law no one will be justified" (Gal 2: 15-16). And to the Christians of Rome he reasserts that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rm 3: 23-24). And he adds "we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (ibid., v. 28). At this point Luther translated: "justified by faith alone". I shall return to this point at the end of the Catechesis. First, we must explain what is this "Law" from which we are freed and what are those "works of the Law" that do not justify. The opinion that was to recur systematically in history already existed in the community at Corinth. This opinion consisted in thinking that it was a question of moral law and that the Christian freedom thus consisted in the liberation from ethics. Thus in Corinth the term "πάντα μοι έξεστιν" (I can do what I like) was widespread. It is obvious that this interpretation is wrong: Christian freedom is not libertinism; the liberation of which St Paul spoke is not liberation from good works.

So what does the Law from which we are liberated and which does not save mean? For St Paul, as for all his contemporaries, the word "Law" meant the Torah in its totality, that is, the five books of Moses. The Torah, in the Pharisaic interpretation, that which Paul had studied and made his own, was a complex set of conduct codes that ranged from the ethical nucleus to observances of rites and worship and that essentially determined the identity of the just person. In particular, these included circumcision, observances concerning pure food and ritual purity in general, the rules regarding the observance of the Sabbath, etc. codes of conduct that also appear frequently in the debates between Jesus and his contemporaries. All of these observances that express a social, cultural and religious identity had become uniquely important in the time of Hellenistic culture, starting from the third century B.C. This culture which had become the universal culture of that time and was a seemingly rational culture; a polytheistic culture, seemingly tolerant constituted a strong pressure for cultural uniformity and thus threatened the identity of Israel, which was politically constrained to enter into this common identity of the Hellenistic culture. This resulted in the loss of its own identity, hence also the loss of the precious heritage of the faith of the Fathers, of the faith in the one God and in the promises of God.

Against this cultural pressure, which not only threatened the Israelite identity but also the faith in the one God and in his promises, it was necessary to create a wall of distinction, a shield of defense to protect the precious heritage of the faith; this wall consisted precisely in the Judaic observances and prescriptions. Paul, who had learned these observances in their role of defending God's gift, of the inheritance of faith in one God alone, saw this identity threatened by the freedom of the Christians this is why he persecuted them. At the moment of his encounter with the Risen One he understood that with Christ's Resurrection the situation had changed radically. With Christ, the God of Israel, the one true God, became the God of all peoples. The wall as he says in his Letter to the Ephesians between Israel and the Gentiles, was no longer necessary: it is Christ who protects us from polytheism and all of its deviations; it is Christ who unites us with and in the one God; it is Christ who guarantees our true identity within the diversity of cultures. The wall is no longer necessary; our common identity within the diversity of cultures is Christ, and it is he who makes us just. Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther's phrase: "faith alone" is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 14).

Paul knows that in the twofold love of God and neighbor the whole of the Law is present and carried out. Thus in communion with Christ, in a faith that creates charity, the entire Law is fulfilled. We become just by entering into communion with Christ who is Love. We shall see the same thing in the Gospel next Sunday, the Solemnity of Christ the King. It is the Gospel of the judge whose sole criterion is love. What he asks is only this: Did you visit me when I was sick? When I was in prison? Did you give me food to eat when I was hungry, did you clothe me when I was naked? And thus justice is decided in charity. Thus, at the end of this Gospel we can almost say: love alone, charity alone. But there is no contradiction between this Gospel and St Paul. It is the same vision, according to which communion with Christ, faith in Christ, creates charity. And charity is the fulfillment of communion with Christ. Thus, we are just by being united with him and in no other way.

At the end, we can only pray the Lord that he help us to believe; really believe. Believing thus becomes life, unity with Christ, the transformation of our life. And thus, transformed by his love, by the love of God and neighbor, we can truly be just in God's eyes.
Guessed who the speaker is yet? Catholic or Protestant?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Abortion, Healthcare, and PCIP Coverage

Michael Ciccocioppo, Executive Director of Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, remarked on my post on taxpayer funded abortions under Obamacare...

Even if Obama's HHS writes a policy saying that abortions won't be covered under the Preexisting Conditions Insurance Program, there is no federal law preventing the PCIP from paying for abortions. The first claim for abortion services that is denied by PCIP will be challenged in court by pro-abortion advocates and the courts will decide whether or not the program will pay for abortions.

That's almost certainly true, unfortunately. Here's what it comes down to: if a court finds that the law Congress passed requires that abortions be paid for, an Obama executive order will do literally nothing to stop that. Executive orders deal with how a law is executed, and the president can only act where he has discretion to act. So if Congress passes a law that says "Do X," the president can sign an EO saying that we'll do X using all union labor, or do X in a particular manner, etc., but he can't legally order that we won't do X.

That's the critical thing that pro-lifers have been concerned about with Obamacare. The bill which passed looks, to all the world, as if it covers payments for at least some abortions. Pro-choicers claimed it didn't, but this claim has been incredibly suspect from the start, for a simple reason: if the bill didn't cover abortions, why were they such big fans? When it came down to Stupak and a few other "pro-life" Democrats standing between Obamacare passing and failing, Obama agreed to pass an Executive Order which would ensure that the bill didn't pay for abortions.

This option, which had been floated before, was rejected by the USCCB's legal experts as being a complete sham, for the reasons I mentioned above: if the bill says "pay for abortions" an executive order that just says "no" is unconstitutional, and a vague "hard-to-say what it's saying" executive order just won't have any effect. Now, we're gearing up for a bizarre battle, where the same pro-choice groups which claimed that Obamacare didn't cover abortion are going to claim that it does. This will put the government in the position of arguing that Obamacare doesn't cover abortions, after pro-lifers have publicly declared that it does.

But here's where pro-lifers might be able to prevail in court: the language used in the Obamacare legislation is intentionally vague. Nobody (or almost nobody) in Congress wanted to write a bill saying, "...and pay for abortions." So it's written in inscrutable legalese which might or might not cover abortion. And if it is a genuine "might or might not" issue, that's probably an area where the president can legally issue an executive order, explaining how the bill is going to be interpreted and executed (again, as long as it isn't against the plain language of the statute, and here, the statute doesn't have plain language at all). As Michael said, "there is no federal law preventing the PCIP from paying for abortions." But if there's an executive order which prevents it, that might still work. For example, there was no federal law which required or forbade discrimination within the armed services, which gave Truman the legal wiggle-room to desegregate them by executive order; so the best option pro-lifers have is to claim a similar absence of law here. The healthcare bill doesn't help us, but it's possible it doesn't hurt us, either.

So hopefully, the pro-life side has been wrong about the effect of the executive order, and the impact of the original legislation. Of course, even if that's the case, the court would then have to find that the executive order prevents funds being used for abortions, which is another open question, because that's not the outcome the president who wrote the executive order wanted. He wanted to cover abortions while pretending not to. At the end of the day, this is going to come down to a court interpreting a vague bill and an even vaguer executive order which may or may not require or forbid abortion coverage within Obamacare. That's an eerie place to be, since so much of it turns on arbitrary judicial interpretations.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Mass Done Right

I've done my share of kvetching about the Mass done poorly -- those Masses with sappy songs about and to us; those homilies which start out bland and end up heretical; all done within the confines of a church which looks like a conference room in wartime. I mention these things for one major reason: Beauty points to God. And that has two implications: first, right worship of God is beautiful worship; and second, beauty has the power to draw us closer to God as surely as Scripture does.

But rather than just focusing on our failing to attain that beauty, here's a story about how the Catholic Church, in the form of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia, came through for an Evangelical who was disillusioned with the loss of beauty within his own religious tradition. His post is good, and worth reading in full. After mentioning the old Gospel song “Give Me That Old Time Religion,” his mind was drawn both to beautiful music, and old-time religion, both of which the Church (both Eastern Orthodox and Catholic) provided for him at a time it was much needed, as he reminisced over the loss of solid Protestant hymns:

It is a time I miss, as I stand in church in my jeans, the pop/rock strains of the latest contemporary music filling the room. I miss the old days of singing “Amazing Grace,” “Revive Us Again,” or “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.” I miss the days when church on Sunday was a little less like the rest of my week, the days when it was something special and sacred.


I hesitate to bring all this up, because sometimes I feel like an old man, yelling at the neighborhood kids for walking on his lawn. Musical styles change, people will say. We have to appeal to the new generation, people will say. Dressing up for church scares away the poor, people will say. I appreciate these arguments, and I am sure there is something to them. However, I cannot help but feel that there is more at work here than simply a change of style. It seems to me that what we are experiencing is a loss of our sense of the sacred.

It was a Saturday in 2006, and I was stepping cautiously into the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia. Unless one counts a few masses in Iraq held in the shared chapel, I had never before set foot in a Catholic church. It was the most beautiful church I had ever seen. As I walked in, I was faced with the holy water font, a reminder of my baptism. The walls were covered with paintings and stained glass windows, showing stories from the Bible and from the lives of the saints. All along the sides of the church were the stations of the cross. In front was the altar, an object that held far more meaning in this Catholic house of worship than in any Protestant church I had previously attended.


Soon after my Saturday visit, I attended mass. I sat with a kind married couple, whose Bible Study I had participated in earlier that morning. I saw people walk in, drop to one knee beside their pew and, facing the alter, cross themselves in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We knelt to pray, we said the Creed, we prayed the Our Father, we sang hymns (to include one in Latin!). I watched the procession, as the priest walked down the center aisle, holding the Sacred Scripture over his head. We heard more scriptural readings than I had ever heard in one service before. We stood, out of respect, during the reading of the Gospel.

Though I, as a non-Catholic, did not receive Holy Communion, I felt that I had truly participated in the reverent, holy worship of God. This was not a show put on for my benefit. There was no rock band on a stage, there was no multimedia display. And when the priest elevated the Host and said, “This is my body,” I felt that I truly was in the presence of Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity.

It was much the same at St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, also in Savannah. I walked in alone, not knowing what to expect. Here I found the same reverence as at St. John’s. The people lit candles, kissed icons, and made more signs of the cross than I had ever seen in my life. Incense filled the air, the choir sang (again, without a rock band) in Greek and English, following a liturgy whose age is comparable to the settled canon of the New Testament. When it came time for the Eucharist (communion), even infants in their mothers’ arms were brought forward to receive.

Having experienced the reverent, sacred liturgies of both East and West, it has proved difficult to find the same level of worship in modern Evangelical Protestantism. The statues and icons of Christ and the saints have been torn down, the stained glass windows have been smashed, and the sacraments have been reduced to mere symbols. Even the great hymns of Protestantism have begun to disappear.
Beauty matters. More than we know, I think.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

First v. Second Amendment: There Can Be Only One!

A weird phenomenon is afoot in Middle American Catholicism. States are passing conceal-and-carry laws, and Catholic churches are putting up signs forbidding guns in church. It's certainly a weird thing for non-Midwesterners to see when they're coming in to church. It's about to spread, as the same pattern is happening down in Louisiana.

This is (hopefully) a non-story. But I am struck by one thing: are these signs effective? They're in direct response to conceal-and-carry laws. This seems to presuppose that there are people who:
  1. Really wanted to bring their gun to Mass, but couldn't, because the state didn't allow concealed-carry until now;
  2. Now can, and still really want to, bring their gun to Mass, and without the bold action of the bishops, were planning on coming packed to pray; and
  3. Are going to be deterred by a sign on the church door which says "No Guns."
Don't get me wrong: there are probably crazy people out there who want to bring guns into Mass for scary and dangerous purposes. But something tells me that these "no guns" signs aren't going to do a whole heck of a lot to stop them, just as the gun control laws on the books probably weren't doing a whole lot.

I get that many businesses don't want customers in there with loaded weapons, even if the customers have no criminal intent at all -- the mere presence of a loaded weapon creates some risks. Apparently, there are actual problems with people bringing guns into bars and restaurants. But Mass? Have we been having problems with people casually carrying weapons, loaded or unloaded, concealed or open, into Mass?

The whole exercise strikes me as the bishops being overly cautious, to the point of comedy. Then again, it's hard enough to get priests to preach on unpopular topics even without adding the idea that somewhere in the crowd, the sheep are arming themselves.

Edit: Unsurprisingly, Diogenes had a much funnier take. I defer.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Utilitarian Argument for Catholic Sexual Ethics, Part II

In response to my original post on this subject, Steve makes three arguments:
First....
There are several ridiculous arguments here, but Policy consideration #4 is a real clinker: homosexual sex and non-intercourse "come with the costs of emotional bonding and enhanced risk of STD... [and] the benefits for the sexual partners are fleeting." Wrong. You point out yourself, "if person A and person B only ever sleep with one another for the duration of their lives, there's virtually no chance of either acquiring an STD." Regardless of whether persons A and B are both men, both women, or one of each. (In fact, even nonadulterous polygamy also carries no risk of STD: if virgin A marries virgins B and C, and none of the three ever commits adultery, there is no risk of STDs.) Nor are the sexual benefits any more fleeting for a married homosexual couple than for a married heterosexual couple (fertile or not).
This is really a lot of claims wrapped up into one, so let me pick it apart:
  • It's worth mentioning at the outset that #4 wasn't just about homosexual sex and non-intercourse, but also about intercourse with contraception, or the intent to abort. As the title of #4 said, "Sex without a willingness to produce a child costs more than it benefits." My point was simple: sexual intimacy brings with it emotional intimacy and emotional attachments. The biological reason for this is to create a family, a unit capable of raising a healthy child. But when sex is being done without any possibility of family, these attachments do more harm than good. This is for two reasons. One, the primary intent of the attachments (to create a family) isn't there. Two, the risk of abandonment is greater. Sexually active couples with no children are less stable than sexually active couples with children. Rates of infidelity are dramatically higher amongst the non-married than the married, and married couples without children are more likely to cheat than married couples with children. So what you get is serial monogamy, with the result that there's more heartbreak and emotional disturbances, less stability, increased risk of divorce later in life, and radically increased risks of STDs. So the argument wasn't primarily about homosexuality, and it certainly wasn't about polygamy (which wasn't mentioned, and which can also be open to new life). I address polygamy elsewhere, but not in #4.

  • Next, Steve argues that two things have the same cost-benefit relationship as the ideal of marriage I'd discussed earlier in that post: (1) two virgins of the same sex becoming involved in a "married" sexual relationship, and (2) three virgins becoming involved in a polygamous "married" sexual relationship. For the reasons that I discussed above, all other things being equal, the same-sex couple is more likely to cheat, because they're less likely to have kids (assuming, for the sake of argument, that same-sex couples operate the same as childless heterosexual couples, which I'll get to in a moment).

  • But one factor which I'd be remiss to ignore is that same-sex "marriages" aren't the same as actual marriages, in terms of rates of infidelity. In gay marriages, the odds of multiple partners are through the roof compared to heterosexual couples. The New York Times reported on a Bay Area study that found that about 50% of same-sex marriages were "open," in that one or both partners openly had other sexual partners. When you add in the number who are secretly cheating on their partner, or who aren't (but have, in the past), and the rates are shockingly high. The study in question looked at both gay and lesbian couples, so this isn't just a natural result of maleness. One possible explanation is that since both spouses may be sexually attracted to the third party, each are more likely to approve of the infidelity -- in other words, that the jealousy that comes with heterosexual marriages means that spouses are more protective, and less likely to permit infidelity. I don't think this explains everything, but it's probably at least a factor. So in other words, when I say that "if person A and person B only ever sleep with one another for the duration of their lives, there's virtually no chance of either acquiring an STD," I'm almost by definition speaking of a heterosexual couple, since there are few (if any) homosexual couples that fit this mold.

  • Finally, to address Steve's second hypo, within a polygamous relationship, the odds of a partner either lying about prior sexual experience, or cheating during the relationship, so the risk of STDs (either from prior sexual partners, or from infidelity) rises. Additionally, these forms of relationships are less conducive to child-rearing... that is, children raised with polygamous parents turn out worse, for reasons both psychological and sociological.
Finally, and more to the point, traditional marriage exists to create a stable environment for children to grow up. It's not (primarily) about romance, although romance in a marriage is wonderful, and almost certainly makes the Marriage Thing work a lot better. And on the whole, traditional marriage works. Although married couples cheat, and divorce rates are disturbingly high, the married are much less likely to cheat than non-married couples, less likely to cheat frequently, less likely to leave their stable sexual partner, etc. Comparing the married to the cohabitating, for example, shows this clearly. Marriage isn't a silver bullet, and there's lots more that needs to be done, particularly in this society, but if anything can provide a stable environment for growing kids, it seems to be heterosexual marriage. The state has an obvious legal interest in creating the legal bonds of marriage, then, since those bonds have a demonstrable positive effect on innocent third-parties (children). All of this raises an obvious question, though: what's the state's interest in creating same-sex "marriages"? Why should the state be involved in a gay relationship, and create legal barriers to break-ups? This is particularly true if, as demonstrated, gay marriages aren't stopping sexual promiscuity, but it'd be true in either case. Without even a potential for biological children, the legal structure called "marriage" is just completely inapplicable.

Second...
On one point I'm sincerely curious: you state that when "there is no possibility of children," the phenomenon of emotional bonding poses "a very real danger to those being bound to one another." What danger are you talking about? What danger is there for, say, a woman who has undergone a hysterectomy and a man who is infertile due to cancer treatment, if they become "emotionally bound" to one another.
Love and intimacy have natural risks, risks that everyone (heterosexual or homosexual, married or dating) exposes themselves to. You become vulnerable, you become attached, and when and if they leave, it hurts like crazy. You come to rely on someone, and then one day, they're gone. This human willingness to open one's self up to vulnerability and pain exists for one primary biological reason: because that reliance is helpful for child-rearing. When we start playing around with those powerful forces of love, sex, and intimacy, without both their biological and moral grounding, we're playing with fire. So the "very real danger" I mentioned exists for all forms of sex and intimacy, including marital heterosexuality (ask anyone who has ever been left by their spouse). It's just that in the particular case of traditional marital sexuality, there's an obvious benefit which outweighs these risks, which is the possibility of children. Second, as mentioned, childless couples are less stable and more prone to cheating, so they're actually getting higher risks, with far less discernable benefits.

Third...
I suggest you justify yourself honesty. Catholic sexual ethics follows directly from the assumption that the church is infallible. It's a simple argument: it's right because the church teaches it and the church is infallible. The only reason to fabricate a non-religious justification for Catholic sexual morality (as you try to do) is to justify it without assuming an infallible church. But that's impossible. Catholic sexual morality is logically flawed without assuming an infallible church. So why bother (unless you don't believe in your heart that the church is infallible)?
This is ignorant on a number of levels. To begin:
  • "I suggest you justify yourself honesty. Catholic sexual ethics follows directly from the assumption that the church is infallible. It's a simple argument: it's right because the church teaches it and the church is infallible. [...] Catholic sexual morality is logically flawed without assuming an infallible church. So why bother (unless you don't believe in your heart that the church is infallible)?" Actually, Catholic sexual ethics are directly and explicitly rooted in natural law, particularly on the subject of gay marriage. If you troubled yourself to read up on this issue, you'd see what I mean. In other words, the Catholic Church itself says that gay marriage is against nature, and the intrinsic qualities of marriage. If I were to say that this is true only because of Church infallibility, I'd be disagreeing with the Church. So no, I agree with the Church's position 100%, and if you read the stuff the Church has said on this, you'd see similar (and better) arguments. Catholics expressly believe that not all Truth is revealed through special revelation, and that there are some truths knowable to everyone, regardless of whether or not they've picked up a Bible or heard of the Church. For example, murder isn't just wrong because the Church says it is -- everyone can know it's wrong through the right of reason unassisted by the Church or Scripture. Likewise, the Church says the same for gay marriage -- anyone who thinks through the intent and purpose of marriage can deduce why no society prior to the 1970s ever embraced gay marriage (regardless of that society's religious disposition).

  • "The only reason to fabricate a non-religious justification for Catholic sexual morality (as you try to do) is to justify it without assuming an infallible church. But that's impossible. " This is absolute nonsense. The Aztecs, pre-Columbus, practiced very strict monogamous heterosexual marriage, except for nobles (who were permitted multiple wives for political purposes). Are we to suggest that the legal norm of traditional marriage amongst the Aztecs was because they believed in the Holy Catholic Church? The Aztecs, of course, are only one example. Virtually every culture on earth practiced monogamous heterosexual marriages. Those that didn't almost universally practiced polygamous heterosexual marriages. Even amongst cultures that embraced homosexuality, they rejected homosexual marriage, because marriage is an institution directly tied to the creation of a new family.
There's an attempt by fans of gay marriage to say that the only reason to oppose gay marriage is religious, and that religious reasons aren't valid. Both halves of that claim are ridiculous. First, gay marriage isn't wrong because the Bible or the Church say it's wrong, but because it's against nature itself, and the presence of innumerable cultures, worldwide, saying the same thing (but with different, or no, religious basis for marriage) shows as much. The Catholic Church's own argument acknowledges as much - people knew gay marriage was wrong before the Church was even on the scene.

And second, religious reasons are fine, if they're rooted in natural law. In other words, a US law that says "everyone must go to Mass" would be invalid, since it's based expressly out of Magisterial teaching, and there's no possible secular purpose. But a law which says, "don't murder" is completely valid, even if proponents were motivated by a religious opposition to murder. Likewise, the claim "all men are created equal," is a moral claim intrinsically tied to Theistic morality (since naturalism doesn't arrive at this conclusion). So to say that religious arguments aren't valid is to undermine the very structure on which the nation is founded.

Hopefully, that answers everything, Steve. If not, the combox is open, and I'll do my best to respond in a timely manner (it's the last week before the bar exam, so we'll see how timely that is). Pax Christi!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Food for Thought

(1) The stock left-wing claims about the sex abuse scandal are that it was caused by celibacy, and that the cover-up was caused by an all-male priesthood. Given those claims, consider this tidbit: the world's first Lutheran bishop has resigned, because she covered up sex abuse committed by non-celibate Lutheran pastors. Sort of makes Maureen Dowd's claim that the solution to the sex abuse scandal is a female pope seem even stupider than it already did.

(2) On a related note, Mark Shea's recent post on the sex abuse scandal is worth reading, hitting on many of the same themes I've been addressing lately. In this all, let's be really clear about one thing: even though the Roman Catholic clerical abuse scandal isn't the only (or even the most widespread) child sex-abuse scandal, but it is a scandal nonetheless.

(3) Even if Catholic priests abused children at a similar rate as the general adult male populace, and even if other denominations' clergy were equally guilty, and even if other denominations acted similarly spineless in the face of abusing priests and pastors, that doesn't negate the factor that this is an enormous problem which requires serious contemplation and action. Priests should behave better than the general populace, and even better than non-Catholic clergy. Ordination does something, and besides, seminary is partly a screening process. If the priests being churned out are no better, morally, than those who have never been through seminary, then seminary isn't having its desired effect on their moral aptitude for the priesthood. Period.

Something terrible has happened at the hands of those in the office of shepherd over the flock of Christ, abusing the least of these. It's past time for us to have an adult, serious discussion about the causes and cures of the sex abuse scandal, but part of that process is refuting and rejecting the bomb-throwing of Dowd & co., with its disregard for facts and context.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ironic Beyond Belief

Wall Street Journal: "To Protest Hiring of Nonunion Help, Union Hires Nonunion Pickets"

Get this. Unions are protesting two things: that certain companies hire nonunion workers, and that the pay is low. But the union members don't want to actually protest themselves, so they hire nonunion members to protest for them... and pay them minimum wage.

Someone needs to organize a union picketers' union, so they can go on strike and demand better wages.

What the article doesn't mention is that this union doesn't even bother making personalized signs. It just has a form sign that has a blank space, after which it says "does not pay area standard wages & benefits." They just fill in the name of the business they're protesting that morning. They protest frequently in the area where I work (when I'm not studying for the bar, that is). And it's always just bizarre passing them on the street. They'll be protesting T.D. Bank allegedly not paying enough, while they're (a) not employees of T.D. Bank, (b) not members of the union protesting T.D. Bank's wages, and (c) making less than the people who are striking over low pay ... while being paid by the union allegedly concerned about workers' rights.

To defend this absurdity, we get this choice quote:

The union's Mr. Garcia sees no conflict in a union that insists on union labor hiring nonunion people to protest the hiring of nonunion labor.

He says the pickets are not only about "union issues" but also about fair wages and benefits for American workers. By hiring the unemployed, "we are also giving back to the community a bit," he says.

It's a bad economy, and it's better to be employed at low wages than to be unemployed. I get that... but am I the only one who finds that argument strange coming out of the mouth of a union rep?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

More Eerie Stuff from the 1970s

Bear in mind that the Catholic sex abuse scandal was at its worst in the last 1960s through the 70s. There are a lot of factors which contributed to things suddenly getting very, very bad: the seminaries went from overly-strict to overly-lax in the aftermath of Vatican II; there was a sense that "anything goes" and that dogmas (including those pesky sexual ethics) held today were going to evolve or change tomorrow (so why bother obeying them now?); and the Western world in general was gripped with a radical sexual revolution which not infrequently targeted children for "liberation."

In that vein, here's a 1974 children's program called Free to Be... You and Me, about discovering gender/sex. In the clip, two babies squabble about which sex they are, until their diapers are changed:

It's got lines like the boy saying he wants to grow up to be a cocktail waitress, which seem wholly unfit for children's programming, especially coming out of a baby's mouth (then again, the baby is voiced by Mel Brooks, so it could have been much worse, I suppose). Today, I think most people would say that children's programming shouldn't be in the business of hinting to kids to look in their underwear.

Much worse was what happened in Germany. In a telling caption, Der Spiegel notes:
Children playing in an anti-authoritarian Kinderladen in Bochum in 1971. Many such daycare centers in this period sought to educate children to be free of sexual inhibitions. This often led to questionable practices including fondling with adults.
The article to which it is attached (which is too vulgar for me to link) describes numerous instances of sexual abuse, as adults (including parents and teachers) sought to "educate" children about sex/gender/sexuality by molesting them. Another caption reads:

Alexander Schuller founded a Kinderladen in the Berlin quarter of Wilmersdorf in 1969. Many of the parents who sent their children to the daycare center were determined to encourage their children to show and touch their genetalia. "I found it incredibly difficult to take a stance," says Schuller now. "I felt that what we were trying to do was fundamentally correct, but when it came to this issue, I thought: This is crazy, it just isn't right."

Even a prominent leftist German politician all but conceded that he sometimes molested children in his care during this period.

None of this, obviously, justifies those priests who molested and raped children. But perhaps it's helpful context in trying to figure out how something so monstrous could have happened so frequently. The Western world rapidly went from a place where any open discussion of, or encouragement of, sex was forbidden to one where "anything goes." All too many priests who should have known better, were drawn in by the glamor of evil, indulging in fornication, homosexuality, and pedophilia. All too many bishops who should have known better lacked the backbone to stand up to popular opinion.

Well, popular opinion's changed now. What was once viewed (in at least some progressive corners) as liberating children sexually is now rightly viewed as life-shattering abuse. Those bishops and priests who marched to the tune of popular opinion are now damned by popular opinion. Let it be a lesson to all of that while we are called to be in the world, we're not called to be of the world. Even secular society expects us to behave better than them (even if they hate us for it sometimes).

Friday, July 16, 2010

Great News!

The Obama Administration backed down in the face of a pro-life uproar, and won't be paying for abortions in Pennsylvania and New Mexico, as originally planned. More here. Prayers of gratitude are in order.

Why Pray for the Faithful Departed?

I had lunch with a Baptist friend of mine, who was troubled about CCC 1271. Yeah, he'd been reading the Catechism (which puts him ahead of a lot of Catholics). He was very uncomfortable with the idea that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered for the faithful departed that they might enter Heaven. It had everything - the Eucharist, prayers for the dead, purgatory, and a seeming emphasis on works instead of faith. Of course, it's directly faith here, but I can see why this would be a general "yikes!" moment for Protestants. Here's my best explanation of why we believe this to be so. I put aside two major issues: the point of justification (Baptism v. moment of belief) and the Eucharist, because those weren't really his question. It was more just, why pray for the faithful departed at all, if Christ saved us once and for all on the Cross? Here's my response:
I. The “Once for All” Sacrifice of Christ Can Be Applied as Often as Necessary
All of our forgiveness has a single source: the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross in c. 33 A.D. There can be, and are, multiple applications of that same Infinite source, without diminishing it. So, for example, every sinner who turns to Christ for forgiveness is forgiven at that moment. They went from being unsaved to saved, and Christ doesn’t have to re-die for that to be possible. I think we agree on this point. Both of us say that at least once in our lives, this application has occurred, either in our initial point of belief, or in our Baptism.
II. Post-Justification Sins: Mortal and Venial.
After you believe and are baptized, there’s still the possibility of sin. That’s why we pray daily for forgiveness in the Our Father (Matthew 6:12-13). And note that the forgiveness we pray for is even conditional on an action of our own: “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Now, post-justification sin takes two forms. Mortal, or deadly, sin re-separates us from Christ. If we do one of these sins, we risk damnation. This is the situation I’ve argued Simon the Sorcerer was in. He believed and was Baptized (Acts 8:12), which is exactly what it takes to get saved (Mark 16:16). In other words, the plain language of Scripture teaches up that he got saved. But after that, he sinned (Acts 8:18-19), and became resnared by sin (Acts 8:20-23). This is also the situation of the heretics in 2 Peter 2. They were ransomed by Christ, and then denied Him, earning damnation (2 Peter 2:1). Like the angels who fell from Heaven, they fell from grace (2 Peter 2:4). 2 Peter 2:20-22 says that they had escaped corruption by knowing Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (it explicitly points to their washing, in v. 22), but became re-entangled in sin, and are worse off than before they were saved. So these are all cases where someone was “once saved,” but isn’t saved any longer. But that doesn’t mean each and every sin cuts a believer off from Christ, or we’d all be damned.

Venial sin isn’t deadly to a Christian (it is to a non-Christian). So, James 5:16-17 says that:
If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray.
All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.
So two conditions: it must be a brother in Christ (that is, a Christian), and the sin must not be mortal. If the person isn’t a believer, they’re not saved. If the person is a believer, but commits unrepented-of mortal sin, they’re not saved (that’s Simon, and the heretics of 2 Peter 2, again). But most believers commit venial sins – sins which aren’t enough to cut us off from Christ, but which are still sins.

Here’s why venial sins matter. Revelation 21:27 says that “nothing impure” will ever enter Heaven. We are purified by Christ at the point of initial justification, yet we re-dirty ourselves through subsequent sin. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t need to ask for forgiveness. So we still need to be re-forgiven (since we’ve re-sinned), but we don’t need to be re-baptized. That’s what Jesus suggests in John 13:10, as well – those who have already “had a bath” (been baptized) don’t need another bath. They just need their feet washed (the removal of the dirt which builds up every day).

But what about those Christians who die in a state of venial sin? They’re saved (because they’re Christian believers, not cut off from Christ by mortal sin), but are not completely cleansed of sin (since they’ve sinned since Baptism, and not turned to God for forgiveness of these venial sins). They cannot yet enter Heaven, because they have impurities, and nothing impure enters Heaven. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 describes the process as a fiery purgation. Paul is dealing only with believers, who have the foundation of Christ. Some of them build upon this foundation well, with gold, silver, and costly stones; others build upon it poorly, with wood, hay, and straw. On the Day of Judgment, each man’s “work” (Paul’s term), “will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work.” He continues, “If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

So Christians who have a foundation of Christ, but build upon it poorly, with a life of unrepented venial sins, will be saved, but will suffer loss (after death, you’ll note, from the context). These are the “fires of purgatory.” We’re being purged of our impurities, not out of God’s wrath, but out of His Goodness (since we don’t want those sins in us anyways). Hebrews 12:5-11 says that it’s precisely His children who God painfully rebukes and disciplines. Catholics view purgatory as more of the same – God is rebuking and disciplining the saved, to prepare them for Heaven, since they’ll be perfect by the time they enter Heaven. Note that God rebuking and disciplining us doesn’t diminish Christ’s Sacrifice. Or put better, Christ’s Sacrifice doesn’t eliminate the need for God’s rebuke and discipline. In fact, Hebrews says it’s only the saved who need rebuke and discipline. Hebrews 12:8 says that God doesn’t do this with the damned because there’s no point, and v. 10 says that this is necessary “that we may share in His holiness.”

III. CCC 1371 is Soundly Biblical, and Comports with Historical Christianity
This gets us (finally) to the initial question. CCC 1371 says that “the Eucharistic sacrifice is also offered for the faithful departed who ‘have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified,’ so that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ.” It then provides two quotes from two prominent early Christians supporting this. The first is from St. Monica, quoted favorably by her son, St. Augustine, in his book Confessions. Augustine lived from 354-430 A.D., and is one of the Fathers of Western Christianity. He’s one of the two greatest theologians since St. Paul (the other being St. Thomas Aquinas). His mother, St. Monica, was born in 331. The second quote is by St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 A.D.). To put this in historical context, these are two prominent Christians discussing prayers for the dead before the Nicene Creed as we know it is even completed. This is ancient Christianity. It also pre-dates Christianity. We see prayers for the dead explicitly in 2 Maccabees 12:43-45. A few things you should note. First, Jews at the time of Christ believed these books were canonical, and He never refuted them. He even quoted, on numerous ocassions, from the Greek version of the Old Testament, which contained these books as Scripture. Second, the early Christians nearly all believed that this book was canonical. Even those who thought that they weren't viewed the books as edifying and orthodox (the question was only whether they were inspired, and/or whether they should be read in Church). So there was basic unanimity on the idea that prayers for the dead are healthy and right.

In conclusion, we pray for those who died in venial sin (just as James 5:16-17 says to) that they may enter into the light and peace of Christ – that is, that the discipline of God may be short, merciful, and successful in achieving the goals which Hebrews 18:10 says it is intended for (to share in the holiness of Christ forever). Hope that helps!