Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Worst of Both Worlds

What if you were to combine the worst elements of traditional Catholic hymns (and the worst element I can think of is, "It's in a language the singers often don't understand") with the worst elements of hippie Catholic folk-pop (which I don't think need listing)?

Ahem.



I suppose I should be pleased the song's in Latin, since that's the official language of the Roman Rite, but honestly, it really doesn't gain anything in translation. A sarcastic commenter responded, "Very generous of you! Now we who love the Extraordinary Form can sing it at Mass too!  Thank you so much! :)" Because that's what the Extraordinary Form needed.

A Telling Comment

Back in March, I posted on Georgetown's Law's "Lavender Graduation." It is, in the words of Dean of Student Mitch Bailin,"a special ceremony designed to celebrate the contributions and achievements of Georgetown’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender graduating students." My argument is pretty simple: there's simply no way a self-proclaimed Catholic university can affirm this. It's beyond inconsistent with Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Church's guiding principle on the role of Catholic universities, and it's atrocious: to segregate students out (even with their consent) to praise those who openly flaunt Catholic sexual ethics is patently contrary to the Catholic principles allegedly under-girding the school. Nor is this Dean Bailin's first offense on this front. No institution can simultaneously promote Catholicism and homosexuality. "A house divided," and all that (cf. Matthew 12:25).

Yesterday, a commenter graced my blog with what almost seems like performance art, responding to the post (and this is the entire comment, mind you):
mmm...papist intolerance
I love the comment, because it sums up everything I could say about the supposed push for "tolerance" from the New Left (and particularly, from gay activists). It's "tolerate what we like, and if you oppose our political goals, we'll attack and denigrate you freely, since you're obviously the one motivated by 'hate.'" This is the pattern we've seen in places like California after Prop 8, where those who dared opposed the GLBT movement were subjected to blacklisting, harassment, and even violence, all in the name of "tolerance." In his or her own tiny way, this "klobb3425" has carried that black tradition forward. In a two-word phrase, Klobb both uses an anti-Catholic slur, and attacks Catholics for being the bigots. This, with no seeming sense of irony (or grammar). Brilliant. One almost wonders if Klobb is trying to show the absurdity of the GLBT argument for intolerant "tolerance."

Now, I question: what precisely was the intolerance Klobb complained of? My not-particularly-novel suggestion that homosexuality isn't compatible with Catholicism, or the Catholic interpretation of Scripture? Seemingly not. After all, Klobb's own anti-Catholicism seems to be a direct result of the same understanding that you can't simultaneously promote Catholicism and homosexuality. Given the choice, I choose Catholicism, since it can saved my soul; Klobb chooses homosexuality, and doesn't bother to explain why. Of the two of us, I attempted to show why homosexuality was objectively wrong; in the comment, Klobb responded with name-calling, declaring Catholics "papists," something a blog named "Shameless Popery" is pretty okay with.

I believe that the comment is good, in spite of itself: good, in that it draws out the venom into the open. Georgetown should be aware that at its core, the GLBT movement is, almost by definition, anti-Catholic. The GLBT movement has, as its political core, the belief that homosexual acts are not fundamentally different than sexual relations. Catholicism rejects this wholly and completely. has, as an unchanging dogma, the belief that homosexual acts are depraved, contrary to the will of God, and contrary to the good of the individual, and that unlike heterosexual inclinations, cannot be acted upon in a healthy way ever. She declares homosexual urges "intrinsically disordered," since unlike heterosexual urges, there's not a good underlying them (i.e., the healthy desire for marriage and family).

All of that said, the Church's relationship to individuals experiencing same-sex attraction is one of profound love and maternal aid. This reflects Our Lord: God loves, and sent His Son to die for, homosexuals and those experiencing same-sex attraction. God hates and abhors homosexuality, as Scripture makes clear. There's no grand contradiction there. One might love their alcoholic uncle without loving the daily temptations he struggles with (or gives in to). We, likewise, should truly love the sinner and hate the sin. That this may be a time of spiritual benefit, instead of mere conflict, let me conclude by highlighting the important work of the group Courage. It's a Catholic apostolate, faithful to the Magisterium, with the specific mission of assisting Catholics with same-sex attractions in living out their lives faithfully. Fr. Paul Scalia, who is actively involved in Courage, has explained the Church's stance on homosexuality, by noting that unlike both gay bigots and anti-gay bigots, the Church (and Courage) understand that individuals are more than the sum of their sexual attractions, and that there's a world of difference between same-sex attraction and living a homosexual lifestyle. If you feel called to it, you can make a donation on their front-page. They do very good work for those struggling with one of the hardest temptations mortal men suffer from.

Monday, August 30, 2010

One Atheist's Take on the Anti-Papal Fervor in the UK

Padraig Reidy, Irish-born self-proclaimed "professional atheist" (in other words, a former deputy editor of the atheist magazine New Humanist), has penned an interesting article for the Guardian entitled, "I'm an atheist but this anti-Catholic rhetoric is making me nervous."

The article's worth reading, but a little background may be in order. The pope is planning the first ever papal visit to the United Kingdom, and it's reopening some pretty tender wounds, and exposing some ugly anti-Catholic bigotry. For most of the last half-millennium, the Bishop of Rome was quite unwelcome on English soil, but things have changed somewhat. Pope John Paul II had a pastoral visit in 1982 (the difference between a pastoral and official visit is whether you're going to visit just the Catholics in the country, or to meet with the heads-of-state as well -- on this trip, Benedict will meet with both the Queen and the Prime Minister), and Britain is certainly not as bigoted towards Catholics as it used to be.

Nevertheless, strong vestiges remain. Tony Blair converted to Catholicism, but had to wait until after his term in office, due to a somewhat jarring, still-operative law forbidding the Prime Minister and Crown from being Catholic. The official explanation for the anti-Catholic laws is that the Crown and Prime Minister hold positions within the Anglican Church, the UK's state religion, so it doesn't make sense to allow a Catholic to occupy that office. But of course, it's only Catholicism which is forbidden. The current PM, Gordon Brown, for example, is a member of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland, which isn't part of the Anglican Communion.

Additionally, you can't tell the story of British oppression of Catholics without telling the story of British oppression (and periodic enslavement) of the Irish. Padraig Reidy is in a unique position to see this, as an Irish atheist still viewed suspiciously - as a potential Catholic - by his British classmates. The oppression of the two groups was circular in reasoning: the Irish had to be enslaved because they were a nation of "superstitious" Catholics, and thus, primitive peoples in need of British civilization; Catholicism had to be banned because it was a foreign threat, and one need look no further than Ireland to see its pernicious influence. The Catholic Church in the UK is notoriously weak, from the top down, at evangelizing powerfully. It remains vibrant because of a strong immigrant presence, Poles and Filipinos, as I understand it. This, of course, reinforces the stereotype that to be Catholic is to be unpatriotic, or at least, non-British.

Finally, anti-Catholicism has seen a surge in the UK for the same reason it's seen a surge in the US: the goals of the New Left in both countries are radically at odds with Catholic teaching. Obviously, it's not the Church which has changed here: She's always been against the murder of the unborn, against contraceptives and free love, against homosexual sex and gay marriage, and so on. But as "pelvic issues" have taken a place at the very heart of both American and British liberals' agendas (as well, quite frankly, as British conservatives'), there's only one Church standing in the way. And that Church must be demonized and manhandled, apparently.

Below Reidy's article, a commenter notes in passing, "Anglicans are allowed to make Anglicanism a small part of their identity. Catholicism seems all too often to consume the identity of its adherents." Now, the person commenting views this as a negative, but the point is obviously in the Church's great defense. Anglicanism isn't hated by the liberals because it's not a threat. It's long been irrelevant, a mere civic religion. Even with as badly battered (both from the insides and out) as the Catholic Church in Britain has been, She's the most active religion in England. In the mid-90s, for example, there were about 26 million self-proclaimed Anglicans, compared to only 5.6 million self-proclaimed Catholics, yet Catholics outnumbered Anglicans in the pews by a half-million (1.7 million Catholics v. 1.2 million Anglicans on a given Sunday). Since that time, those disturbingly-low figures have gotten even worse. Catholic Mass attendance has plummeted in half, and there are now about 875,000 Catholics and 860,000 Anglicans in the pews. Fewer than half of Britons today believe in God, even though nearly three-fourths consider themselves "Christians." So the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom is dying, but less quickly than the Anglican Church. And for those hundreds of thousands of folks for whom She still matters, it's frequently the sort of "consuming the identity" the commenter talked about: you can't really be a part-time Catholic, and being Catholic genuinely changes the way you view the world, and a whole slew of social issues. Meanwhile, the Church outside of the UK is quite alive, to the befuddlement of Britons. All of these factors combined mean a whole slew of people - from atheists to "Catholic" "reformers" - have plans to hasten the Church's demise.

In any case, the comments confirm the Guardian author's point. Even though this is an atheist-penned article, and even though the author offers his own criticism of the Church, the commenters waste no time unloading a truckload of venom. The eighth comment sums it up accurately: "Wow, 30 mins and already all the comments entirely validate the point of the article. Sterling work." It doesn't get better after that. The Church in the United Kingdom, the British people generally, and atheists everywhere (including Mr. Reidy) could greatly use your prayers.

Marian Days!

Despite growing up in Missouri, I had not until very recently learned that one of the US' largest Catholic events takes place in my home state. Turns out, sleepy Carthage, Missouri (2000 Census population: 12,668) is home every year to a three-day Vietnamese-American Catholic bonanza called Marian Days in early August. The event averages 50-70,000 people a year, and is believed to have drawn about 80,000 this year.



This seemed pretty surreal to me at first. If you were to ask me to draw up a mental image of summer festivals in southern Missouri, Vietnamese Catholic outdoors Masses in honor of Mary probably wouldn't have been the first thing to pop into my head.


The event certainly has its annoyances and areas of concern. I could have lived without the thousands of balloons being paraded during Mass, and there's always a risk with events like these that they become more about celebrating your ethnic identity than anything religious: call it St. Patrick's Day Syndrome. But it's hard to argue that the event doesn't radiate a profound reverence even amidst all the fun and festivities:




One of the first questions I had when I heard about this was what the town's reaction was. After all, Carthage is a small, largely white, largely Protestant town, and yet for 72 hours a year, it's overwhelmingly Catholic, and largely Vietnamese-American. Turns out, relations are apparently quite good. That's according to both event organizers and city officials. Marian Days brings in tourist dollars, and the city takes care of its guests with classic Midwestern hospitality:
Marian Days also involves a year’s worth of planning for city officials such as Carthage Police Capt. Randee Kaiser.

With six police agencies involved, planning and preparing the community for Marian Days takes meetings and the pooling of resources. Roadblocks must be manned, cameras set up on the grounds and refreshments and communications between officers arranged.
That's pretty standard-fare, I suppose, but I was struck by what the article mentioned next. Given that the town has a population of upwards of 15 thousand people, it doesn't quite have the hotel space for 70 thousand visitors arriving at once, so the vast majority of the pilgrims sleep outside in tents. Turns out, the city of Carthage works with the townspeople to determine who is, and who isn't, willing to let people camp out on their front lawns. That's hospitality right there.



In any case, the festival itself looks amazing. Outdoor Masses, long processions, food, music, family, camping, etc. To draw tens of thousands of pilgrims to such an event speaks well of the Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American Catholic culture, which (along with many other immigrant enclaves) are doing their fair share to reawaken American Catholicism. Anyways, Whispers in the Loggia and the Catholic Key both have good coverage of these years event, and both blogs have incredible pictures and/or video which are alone worth the visit.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Catholicism v. Sola Scriptura

What I've done in this post (which wasn't ready by yesterday afternoon, sorry) is outline the Scriptural support for the Catholic position on Scripture and Tradition, and then explained the two best arguments against sola Scriptura, the "Self-Refuting" Argument, and the Canon Argument. The post is long (about 4,000 words), but I think it's worth reading, and I've tried to cut extra verbage.
Preface: Background
Now, there are basically two camps of believers in sola Scriptura. Both camps agree, in the words of the Reformed blogger E. Michael Patton, that "The doctrine of sola Scriptura is the belief that the Scripture is the final and only infallible authority for the Christian. In other words, it is the ultimate authority." One camp ("Tradition 1") believes that there are other fallible-but-binding authorities, capable of telling us how we ought to interpret Scripture, while the other camp ("Tradition 0," or more pejoratively, solo Scriptura) denies all binding authority besides Scripture. This is an important difference to understand:
  • The believer in Tradition 1 would likely say that all Christians are bound by the doctrine of the Trinity. Although it's not explicit in Scripture, there's solid Church Tradition, enforced by the Creeds, which show that the Trinity is implicit in Scripture. If your reading of Scripture doesn't lead you to the Trinity, your reading is wrong. So the Church, Creeds, and/or Tradition still has a role to play in telling us how to understand the Bible; but all doctrines must ultimately be derived from Scripture.
  • An adherent to Tradition 0 would be powerless to stop someone from interpreting the Bible in a non-Trinitarian way. After all, the Church is just a group of believers, and Tradition is just dead believers, so who's to say that the majority is always right?
But while these two camps differ in some important aspects (as the example shows), it's what they agree on that I've got in my sights today: the notion that all doctrine must be ultimately derived from Scripture. Here's a brief synopsis of the Catholic positions, followed by relative short explanations of the two arguments refuting this notion.
I. The Catholic Position
Patton does a good job of keeping the Catholic position simple in this graph:


There are two key Scriptures to know in discussing this. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 is beautifully clear on this issue, and I quote it frequently:
But we ought to give thanks to God for you always, brothers loved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in truth. To this end he has (also) called you through our gospel to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.
This passage teaches a lot:
  1. Scripture itself is a Tradition. Tradition means something passed on, and the Scriptures are passed on from generation to generation from the Apostles to the present age. Many Protestants claim to reject "Tradition." If they really did that, they'd have to reject Scripture, and everything else they'd ever had taught to them, including the entire Gospel, since Paul is clear to describe his own epistles (and those of the other Apostles) as Tradition. It's from verses like this that we get the term "unwritten Tradition" to refer to any Tradition not found in the Bible, but nota bene: these teachings were written down by the Early Church Fathers. It isn't as though Catholics are playing a global game of telephone.
  2. Oral and written Tradition are Distinct. Paul clearly considers Scripture and unwritten Apostolic Tradition as being complementary, but not identical. They're complementary, because they proclaim the same Gospel message: salvation through Jesus Christ. But they clearly contain some distinct information: otherwise, he wouldn't have been careful to instruct us to follow both. If oral Tradition was just the Bible aloud, there'd be no reason for us to follow anything other than Tradition by epistle.
  3. "The Gospel" includes Scripture plus unwritten Tradition. In order that we might be saved, God "called you through our [that is, the Apostles'] gospel to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." This is the saving Gospel, and Paul describes its components as oral and written Tradition.
  4. Apostolic Tradition isn't a "tradition of men." In Mark 7:7-13, Christ condemns the Pharisees for turning the "traditions of men" into doctrine, and replacing and contradicting true doctrine in the process. But Paul is clear: the oral traditions the Apostles are passing on aren't of men, but are of God. Paul says it's God Himself who called the Thessalonians through "our Gospel."
The second passage to consider is 2 Timothy 1:8-14,
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed preacher and apostle and teacher. On this account I am suffering these things; but I am not ashamed, for I know him in whom I have believed and am confident that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day. Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the holy Spirit that dwells within us.
This passage reaffirms the same points made before, that the Gospel was something Timothy heard, and not just read (although it clearly consisted of a read portion as well, since he'd already received 1 Timothy from Paul at this point). But more importantly, Paul is showing how this extra-Biblical Tradition will be kept safe. It's to be guarded by the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. It's frequently argued that unwritten Tradition becomes unreliable over time. Paul gives us two reasons why that won't happen:
  • First, Christians like Timothy took care to protect the then-unwritten parts of the deposit of faith. That's why we can look to the writings of the Fathers: everything they did, from their apologetical writings, to the early liturgies, to even their art, tells us about what they were taught and what they believed.
  • Second, and more important, the Holy Spirit is in control! We ultimately don't have to worry about "lost Traditions" or false traditions becoming indistinguishable from true Tradition because God the Spirit is on the job.
This is no different than Sacred Scripture. Just as we don't have the original homilies preached by the Apostles, we don't have the original New Testament manuscripts. But we trust that what we do have now is substantially the same, even if there are insignificant translation errors here or there. Now, the above two reasons are the same reasons both Catholics and Protestants believe we haven't lost or distorted any books of the Bible: Christians took deliberate care to protect the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit is sovereign. Those exact same arguments apply to extra-scriptural Tradition, as Paul makes clear here.

So that's the Catholic position in a nutshell: the Deposit of Faith consists of both those things the Apostles wrote, and those things they taught but never wrote down themselves. Both are protected by the Holy Spirit, and preserved by and through the Church. They tell the same story (salvation through Jesus Christ) but include different details, including some important details. The way I personally think of Tradition is as a "fifth Gospel." Just as Matthew and Mark tell the same story, but include and omit different details (including biggies like the Virgin Birth), Tradition and Scripture tell the same story as well, but with different details. With that laid out, let's look to two reasons why the contrary view, sola Scriptura, is plainly false.
II. The Self-Refuting Argument
Scripture doesn't teach (and the early Church didn't understand Scripture to teach) that Scripture is the sole infallible source of doctrine and practice. Since the doctrine of sola Scriptura isn't derived from Scripture, it fails by its own terms. There are a few concessions which I think Catholics should pay close attention to. I've labeled them (A), (B), and (C).
(A) The first of these I've mentioned before on the blog, and many thanks to Nick for highlighting it on his own blog. The quote is from Reformed apologist James White, who argues here:
You will never find anyone saying, "During times of enscripturation—that is, when new revelation was being given—sola scriptura was operational." Protestants do not assert that sola scriptura is a valid concept during times of revelation. How could it be, since the rule of faith to which it points was at that very time coming into being? One must have an existing rule of faith to say it is "sufficient." It is a canard to point to times of revelation and say, "See, sola scriptura doesn't work there!" Of course it doesn't. Who said it did?
Here's the reason that's important: the instructions of the New Testament were originally written for believers in the Apostolic Age, and by definition, prior to enscripturation. Since:
  1. Everything in the New Testament was written during an age when, as James White notes, sola Scriptura wasn't in effect (and couldn't have been, by definition).
  2. All of the verses addressing the status of Scripture are present-tense, and originally intended for believers of the Apostolic age (That is, the Bible contains no prophesies about how in the future, we will no longer need anything besides the Bible).
  3. Therefore, nothing in the New Testament prescribes the Bible alone as the sole (And, in fact, the Bible frequently exhorts believers to follow Apostolic Tradition in non-written form as well).
The next time someone tries to proof-text 2 Timothy 3:14-17 to argue for "sufficiency of Scripture" remember that Scripture wasn't "sufficient" when Paul wrote those words. The same Paul, in fact, says as much in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, when he instructs believers to hold fast to Apostolic Tradition-by-epistle (Scripture) and orally transmitted Apostolic Tradition.

(B) The second admission I think is important is from Keith Mathison. This is from pages 20-21 of The Shape of Sola Scriptura:
Among the apostolic fathers, one will search in vain to discover a formally outlined doctrine of Scripture such as may be found in modern systematic theology textbooks. The doctrine of Scripture did not become an independent locus of theology until the sixteenth century. What we do find throughout the writing of the apostolic fathers is a continual and consistent appeal to the Old Testament and to the Apostles' teaching. During these first decades following Christ, however, we have no evidence demonstrating that the Church considered the Apostles' teaching to be entirely confined to written documents. This first generation of the Church saw many laymen and elders (e.g., Polycarp) who had been personally acquainted with one or more of the Apostles and who had sat under their preaching. We have no reason to assume that the apostolic doctrine could not have been faithfully taught in those churches which had no access to all of the apostolic writings.
So not only does the Bible not teach sola Scriptura, but the early Church didn't believe in sola Scriptura either. [Additionally, the Apostolic Faith can be assumed to have been faithfully transmitted to the students of the Apostles. Because after all, if the Apostles were such poor teachers that even their students who spent years at their feet learning couldn't understand their teachings, why in the world would we expect that we -- who have only read a letter or two from any given Apostles -- have a better grasp of what they taught? So the teaching can reasonably be said to either have been understood by the Apostles' disciples, or to be lost to time forever (a proposition all orthodox Christians reject). Now, if this is true, of a whole litany of controverted Catholic doctrines can be settled in the Church's favor -- things like Eucharist, which was attested to quite clearly by St. Ignatius of Antioch, another of the Apostle John's disciples (along with St. Polycarp). I point this out, not to steer the conversation away from sola Scriptura, but to recognize that even those claiming to follow "Tradition 1" frequently reject the actual teachings of the Fathers on a whole litany of issues.]

(C) The final admission is the culmination of the first two, in that it's pretty charts showing the early Church was taught Scripture plus Tradition. E. Michael Patton has a pretty fascinating primer on why he believes in sola Scriptura (worthwhile for any Catholic looking to understand why some smart Protestants take that approach to Scripture). In it, he provides two charts which I found pretty helpful, trying to outline the sola Scriptura version of history (from a "Tradition 1" perspective). Both of these graphs tell a story, and both have a hidden -- and false -- premise. Here's the first:

The solid and dotted lines are really important on this chart. Michael's argument is that Tradition existed as a separate binding source of revelation only until the New Testament was complete. Two major flaws with this line of thinking:
  1. For this to be true, it must be the case that 100% of the Gospel is found in Sacred Scripture. Paul clearly says that "our Gospel," that is, the Apostolic Gospel, consists of both written and oral teachings. No verse anywhere refutes or reverses this, and says, "Okay, now everything's written down." So to believe this argument, you must believe that some post-Biblical development nullified and reversed clear Biblical teaching.
  2. This notion that "Scripture + Tradition" gets replaced with just "Scripture" is clouded in real murkiness. There's not a single point on the chart in which some post-Apostolic revelation tells us we don't need to listen to 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 anymore... it's just assumed that the passage faded out as the line goes from solid to dashed. If we're going to believe that the Scripture is no longer in effect, it'd be nice to know when it was nullified, and who nullified it.
Finally, where in Scripture is Patton getting any of this? Answer: nowhere. Scripture doesn't have anything to say about Tradition eventually being replaced by the rest of Scripture. All of this is Protestant re-writing of history, and isn't supported by the Church Fathers, much less Sacred Scripture. The second chart is similar to the first:


This suffers the same flaws as the first one. It assumes, absent any Biblical evidence, that all of the Apostles' teachings were eventually condensed into the New Testament. But it also adds a new flaw, by arguing that at a certain point, "Unwritten Tradition Becomes Unreliable." This is two flaws in one:
  1. It's contradicted expressly by 2 Timothy 1:8-14, which provides that the Holy Spirit protects the Deposit of Faith, including (expressly) those things which Timothy "heard." The belief that "Unwritten Tradition Becomes Unreliable" isn't just not found in the Bible, it's opposed from the Bible.
  2. It assumes that unwritten Tradition stays unwritten.
But beyond that, this is some shaky history. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 is Sacred Scripture. Patton and other believers in sola Scriptura want us to believe that this part of Scripture ceased to be true when the rest of Scripture was completed... or perhaps when all the books were widely available... or perhaps when the New Testament was formally canonized. This part is never very clear. But how do we know that this is true? This part isn't clear either. Read the writings of the Fathers at the points Patton points to, and you'll see they don't believe in sola Scriptura. If there really was a change in the Church, going from two sources of revelation to only one, we should have some Biblical and Patristic support for that change. There is literally none. Reading the writings of the Church Fathers alive when this supposedly occurs, you'll find not one of them mentioning any transition of the sort. Not a single one refers to anything like this.

In fact, sola Scriptura itself is a "tradition of men." It's not just unbiblical, it's contrary to the plain Scriptures, assumed into existence through Medieval logic, and it plainly wasn't the teaching of the Apostles or their earliest followers. (Mathison, in Shape of Sola Scriptura, claims later Early Church Fathers believed the doctrine, which is untrue but irrelevant. At most, this would only show that a heresy entered the Church in the second or third century.) So by the very standards of any form of sola Scriptura, the doctrine of sola Scriptura cannot be sustained by appeal to the Scriptures -- and extra-Scriptural, manmade traditions are obviously invalid as a source of doctrine.
III. The Canon Argument
This argument is quite simple. Belief in sola Scriptura requires a knowledge of which writings are Scripture and which aren't. Yet nothing in any one Scripture says which other books are inspired. That is, there's no inspired table of contents. The overwhelming majority of the books of the Bible don't even attest to their own inspiration, either explicitly or implicitly. This is particularly true for the New Testament. The doctrine, "these 73 (or 66) books are inspired Scripture" isn't found, implied, or even hinted at in any of the Scriptures." Frank Beckwith addressed the argument well in the comments here (look for the text "But while this consensus was forming"). Interestingly, when intelligent Protestants like Greg Koukl (who Beckwith is responding to) attempt to defend the canon as inspired, they wind up making an argument for the Catholic canon. The Church councils Koukl refers to in the above link affirmed the 72-book Catholic canon, as the top commenter quickly noted.

Now, R.C. Sproul has admitted that he believes, along with "Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and so on," that "the canon of Scripture is a fallible collection of infallible books." That's a startling admission. Sola Scriptura says all doctrines must come from the Bible, and yet it can't even tell us which books make up the "Scriptura"? Patton admits more: since Protestants reject any notion of infallible interpretation of Scripture, he notes that "Protestants have a fallible interpretation of an fallible canon of infallible books." That's in stark contrast to the strong foundation a Catholic can have, particularly in those areas where the Church has infallibly declared the teaching derived from the Bible on a certain point.

This isn't an idle query. The Reformers ripped seven books out of the Bible (the Deuterocanon), books which are affirmed by every other Christian Church. By what authority did they act? And if they're (by their own admission) not inspired by the Holy Spirit in taking this step, who's to say the Reformers were right? Yet the overwhelming majority of Protestants haven't even read the Deuterocanon, and reject it prejudicially (in the literal sense of that term).

Patton gives two answers to why Protestants and Catholics are on the same boat. First, he says that Protestants can be substantially certain, even if they don't have infallibility. But since Protestants are taking the minority view (representing about 25% of Christians globally) and taking the novel view (using a canon not found until the 16th century), where is the substantial certainty? Even if they personally have a strong feeling that the Reformers got the canon right, where's an objective basis supporting this view? The second argument is built upon the first, and clarifies it. This is how Patton understands the question:


This understanding is wrong. Patton's description of Catholics is correct: our own faith is quite fallible, and must always be checked by infallible Scripture, Tradition, and the Church. That's solidly Biblical (2 Timothy 3:14-15; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Timothy 3:15).
Tradition and the Church, in turn, present the infallible 72-book Catholic canon of infallible Scripture, and the believer accepts or rejects it in toto. Trying to pick and choose is a rejection of the canon, just as surely as someone who believes only the half of the Trinity about Three Persons, and not the half about One God doesn't believe in the Trinity.

But the Protestant doesn't just have a fallible belief in infallible Scripture. He has a fallible belief about each infallible book, and a fallible belief that a fallible Protestant group decided correctly in removing books from the Bible.
Since the Protestant's belief isn't in the Church canon, but the individual canonicity of each book, so Patton's graph should have had hundreds (or even thousands) of arrows signaling fallible beliefs about Scripture. Here's a list of books which were, historically speaking, contenders for the canon. It includes some 99 books. Protestants, lacking both an infallible canon and any historical reason to believe in the 66-book Protestant canon, often rely instead on Calvin's weak argument that true Christians know which books are in the Bible by the inner working of the Holy Spirit: an argument which would render the entire pre-Reformation Church as non-Christians, as well as Reformers like Luther who rejected some of the books of the Bible. Taken seriously, this would mean that the Protestant possesses a moral responsibility to attest to why they reject 33 of these 99 books. Why those 33? Why those 66? And beyond this, a number of them are much longer in Greek than Hebrew. Esther, for example, doesn't mention God in the Hebrew version (the one accepted by Jews and Protestants). The Greek version (accepted by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and the Early Church) is much more obviously religious, as opposed to simply historical -- it actually mentions God, for example! On what basis does the Protestant take the not-particularly-religious version of Esther? Again, for Catholics, the answer to all of those questions is simple: the Church says this is the canon, and any deviation is therefore wrong. Reject the inspired canon in favor of individual determination, and you're in a real pickle. It's simply impossible to have even a reason certainty that you've got the canon question right.

But all of this ignores the more pressing issue. The canon of Scripture is a doctrine, and an important one: the most important one, in fact, to the Protestant, since all other doctrines proceed from the canonical books. And yet this vital doctrine is not found in the Bible. So sola Scriptura is false. Period. It doesn't matter if you're going by the internal surety you feel the Holy Spirit providing you when you read certain books, or going by the consensus of the Reformers, or any other reason. You're deriving the most important doctrine -- the doctrine which determines the validity of all other doctrines -- on the basis of something other than Scripture.
IV. Conclusion
Those are the arguments in a nutshell. The Bible, by its own terms, does not set the canon, and does not declare itself the only source of doctrine, but does declare that the Gospel includes orally-transmitted Apostolic Tradition, and does provide a Divinely-protected way for that Apostolic Tradition to be protected and transmitted to future generations.

This issue is a home run for Catholics, because the Scriptures are clearly on our side. In response, Protestants (ironically) violate sola Scriptura, and try and defend the doctrine on the basis of logic, the writings of the Reformers, misinformed early Church history, and appeals to an interior light of the Holy Spirit. Not only are these appeals wrong (or irrelevant, like what the Reformers wrote on the issue), but they are obviously contrary to the idea that doctrines may only be derived from Scripture -- the defenses themselves serve as powerful arguments against the doctrine.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Good Catholic Priest, and a Funny Catholic Joke

Hopefully, later today, I'll have a post on sola Scriptura done and ready to go. But for now, I wanted to share a good joke I heard yesterday morning from Fr. Pat Tobin, a truly remarkable priest. If you're not familiar with him, check him out: he's almost certainly a saint. He gave retreats with Mother Teresa for many years, started the first (and largest) food bank in Kansas City and a variety of other still-active social programs, and is powerfully pro-life. He avoided the trap many Catholics fall into, where they advocate for the unborn or the poor. He has an incredible amount of energy for any one person to have, but especially for an eighty year-old man. Even the Catholic breakfast I saw him at was sheer generosity: he was asked to fill in last-minute, and happily obliged, after finishing at morning Mass. He said something witty and profound during the question and answer session that describes him well: "I know what I need to do next, but I don't know what I need to neglect." That's a problem that I think a lot of Catholics face: so many good causes, so little time. Seeing someone as active as Fr. Tobin facing that same frustration was edifying.

Anyways, since he was a last-minute replacement, Fr. Tobin had a couple of stock jokes he used to put the audience into a hearty mood. One of them I found very funny. Paraphrasing somewhat, the joke went like this:
A Catholic priest used to go down to the racetrack every week. He'd walk up to a certain horse, bless him, and then go and bet on him. Every week, whichever horse he blessed would - against all odds - come in first. Word spread of this soon enough, and a number of the priest's Protestant friends heard of this. One week, they followed the priest to the track, and bet on the horse they saw him with. To their shock, the horse finished dead last, staggering to the finish line. Angered, the priest's friends demanded an explanation: "Every week, you bless a horse, and he finishes first. The first week we rely on your blessing, the horse finishes dead last! What gives?" The priest shook his head, and said, "That's the trouble with you Protestants. You don't know the difference between a blessing and Last Rites."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Religious Intolerance and "Islamophobia"

Frank Beckwith had a great post responding to Time Magazine's latest cover, which reads "Is America Islamophobic?" To answer Time's question, there are certainly some people who have irrational fears about Islam. No question. But those folks are clearly in the minority, as Islamic-related polls tend to show pretty clearly. More troubling is the tendency for some on the Left to label any opposition, even legitimate opposition, as simply a "phobia," suggesting that the holders of this view are psychologically disturbed, not simply reasonable people who hold other views. By this standard, there's only one reasonable option, which just happens to be the one Time believes. So the question is provocative, and as Beckwith points out, "an argument stopper," "meant to undermine and not advance rational discourse on a matter of public controversy."

But then he makes a much more interesting and important point:
But it should go without saying that offering critical comments about a religion or its beliefs and practices is not automatically the result of inaccurate observations and/or bigotry. For if that were the case, then the worst bigots in the world would be the New Atheists who maintain that all religious beliefs and practices are not only false but harmful. Because the New Atheists seem to be the darlings of the Time magazine set, one can only conclude that the difference between a bigot and a respected intellectual is that the former rejects one less belief than the latter. This results in the amusing judgment that it is intolerant and bigoted to believe one religious belief is true and all others false, but the pinnacle of tolerance to believe that none are true and all are false. This is, of course, perfectly stupid, though considered the height of sophistication by the most cerebral custodians of our public culture. This is why they prefer power over reason; they can only win with the former but not the latter.
This is a brilliant point, and illustrated well by reading virtually any atheistic comments on religious articles. Take, for example, this one. It's an article in which the Iraqi bishops decry the way America has stabilized the country, and argued that it's lead to a sharp increase in violence against Iraqi Christians. There's much that can be said about this argument, but instead, we get this silly atheistic drivel instead, from the comments:
If you ask me, get rid of religion and there's very little to fight about. No religion, no wars, no ethnic cleansing. Peace.
Replace "religion" with "Islam," and you've got what's being decried as "Islamophobia" by Time. And frankly, replacing "religion" with "Islam" makes sense here: after all, if the commenter is trying to relate his comment to the article at all (instead of just venting irrelevant hate towards God in any combox he can find), then he presumably is bemoaning the increased religious violence against Christians... violence all done in one direction, and all done in the name of one religion. Nobody's claiming that the Iraqi Christians are persecuting their Muslim neighbors. So really, this comment is making the same claim that the "Islamophobes" are making: that this violence is done in the name of Islam, and therefore, Islam must be eliminated.

I suppose it's also worth mentioning that this comment isn't just hateful: it's ignorant, stupid, and dangerous:
  • It's ignorant, in that the person speaking clearly has no knowledge of history. In 1969, for example, atheist Communist China and the atheist Soviet Union nearly started a nuclear war over a border dispute (fortunately, the largely-religious US diffused the situation). In fact, even a casual understanding of the history of warfare shows that religion is one of the least likely causes, on the whole - when compared to economic, political, ethnic, and nationalistic factors. Try to explain the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War by resorting to religion as the motivating factor, and you'll quickly see that these histories don't make any sense. Certainly, religious issues were involved, but they were effects, not causes (for example, the Baptists went into schism between Union and Confederate Baptists). As I've said before, atheists make up a tiny fraction of the global population, but a majority of genocidaires (Hitler, Stalin and other Soviet leaders, Pol Pot, Mao, etc.). So religion isn't a major cause of wars, and the irreligious are more likely to cause massive bloodshed.

  • The comment's stupid, because it's facially invalid. It brings up "ethnic cleansing," which by definition is motivated by the desire to eliminate an ethnicity, not a religious system. A racist white Presbyterian, for example, hates black Presbyterians and not white Methodists -- that's a clue his hatred isn't motivated by religion, or solved by eliminating religion.

  • The comment's dangerous because it says we should "get rid of religion." The Soviet Union attempted to do just that in the course of its bloody, atheistic history. Communist China is attempting to do the same today. In both cases, this has caused, not prevented, massive bloodshed. Whether the commenter meant to encourage eliminating religion violently is a fair question, but that's the way his views have been implemented in real life.
It's ironic that he should end his hateful comment by saying "peace," and it reminded me of nothing so much as Jeremiah 6:14, "They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, 'Peace, peace,' But there is no peace." Likewise, he's opted for a superficial solution to a problem he doesn't begin to understand (or seem to have put much effort into trying to understand), and advocates hate and under the veil of "peace."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Why "Lord of the Dance" Should be Taken Out of Church

Growing up, my favorite "hymn" was Sydney Carter's Lord of the Dance, because I found it upbeat and catchy -- to be quite frank, it wasn't far removed, musically, from a lot of popular children's artists. Raffi, for example, could easily have been a folk-Christian writer, by tweaking his lyrics slightly. Today, I still can see the musical appeal of Lord of the Dance, and certainly, when I remember the other hymns from growing up, I can see why I liked this one. The most damning indictment that can be made of the lot of modern Church music is that the songs aren't hymns, but attempts to write Christian pop (or folk, or light rock) songs, and failed attempts. They're trying to create worldly music, and failing even by those standards. It's like spiking the punch with Diet Coke.

Today, I was reminded of Lord of the Dance, which I haven't sung - or thought much of - for years, because I came across Sydney Carter's obituary. It provides more than enough reason for the song to be banned from every church:
The number's success stems from two elements. It has a lively, catchy tune, adapted from an air of the American Shaker movement. But the optimistic lines "I danced in the morning when the world begun/ and I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun" also contain a hint of paganism which, mixed with Christianity, makes it attractive to those of ambiguous religious beliefs or none at all.

Carter himself genially admitted that he had been partly inspired by the statue of Shiva which sat on his desk; and, whenever he was asked to resolve the contradiction, he would declare that he had never tried to do so.

However, he admitted to being as astonished as anyone by its success. "I did not think the churches would like it at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord. . .

"Anyway," Carter would continue, "it's the sort of Christianity I believe in."

I don't see any way, given this information, churches could continue to carry the song as a Christian hymn. The image of a dancing Christ isn't even found within the Bible; the image is very much that of the Hindu goddess Shiva. The lyrics are also, as the obituary writers note, vaguely pagan. And given that the hymn's author acknowledges that both the inspiration and text of the hymn are heretical and "dubiously Christian," how could anyone possibly defend keeping this as a Christian hymn? At another point, he said, "By Christ, I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other lords of the dance." I think the question Christians have to ask themselves is this: is there any requirement above "it sounds pretty, and maybe mentions God" to be considered as a hymn anymore? Because if so, I think leaving this "hymn" in is indefensible.

To make all of this worse, Sydney Carter is also the author of another pretty disgusting "hymn" called Friday Morning, which has the shockingly blasphemous lyrics:

You can blame it on to Pilate,
You can blame it on the Jews
You can blame it on the Devil.
It’s God I accuse.

“It’s God they ought to crucify
Instead of you and me,”
I said to the carpenter,
A-hanging on the tree.
The "hymn" manages at once to deny the Divinity of Christ and curse God for not stopping the Crucifixion. Later, it says, "And your God is up in Heaven / And He doesn't do a thing, / With a million angels watching / And they never move a wing," before (I kid you not) damning God to Hell. It's the sort of thing you might expect at a summer camp for the most bitter anti-theists. Yet stunningly, even this God-hating song somehow briefly made it into hymnals. Carter's obit says:

The Conservative politician Enoch Powell and the Daily Express called for his poem Friday Morning to be banned because of its lines "It's God they ought to crucify/ Instead of you and me. . ." The American Armed Forces even announced that they were having this removed from their hymnal. "Until somebody rang me up to say it had been taken out, I didn't even know it was there," Carter commented.

The bizarre notion of churches singing songs damning God is a reminder of modern Christianity's disastrous flirtation with the most deadly of heresies, and the jarring way in which heretical music in particular often slips under the radar even at many otherwise good churches.

So given that Carter:

  1. wasn't Catholic, even in name,
  2. was (quite literally) a God-hating heretic, who penned poems spitting in God's face,
  3. wrote Lord of the Dance to reimagine Christ as a Shiva-like Diety instead of as Jesus,
  4. acknowledged it was heretical and only vaguely Christian, and
  5. admitted that his own version of Christianity was as warped as his hymn's,
...any guesses as to how he was treated by liberal Catholics? Two ways you can figure out the answer. One is to read his obit, which says:

He remained a regular contributor to Christian journals, including the Roman Catholic Tablet, where his wise and often humorous contributions were much appreciated.

The other is just to check out the popular "Catholic" hymn books: for example, the Gather hymnal, which still features him, or Oregon Catholic Press', which even allows you to buy the hymn by itself or as part of Rise Up & Sing. Let's pray for the day that the restoration of orthodoxy is complete, and we can be free of this terrible stain on the Church.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Prophetic Book of Tobit, Revisited

On Wednesday, I posted about how the Book of Tobit (considered Scripture by Catholics but not Protestants) is clearly prophetic, in that it accurately describes the inner sanctum of the Throne of God, information a non-inspired writer obviously wouldn't have. Namely, the Book of Tobit quotes the angel Raphael as describing himself as one of the seven angels before the Throne. The Book of Revelation (specifically, Rev. 8:2) now confirms that there are, in fact, seven angels before the Throne -- information not available prior to the writing of Tobit. In talking with a Protestant friend of mine, she pointed out an element which I had missed, but which supports this conclusion even more.

In Tobit 12:12, Raphael says,
"I can now tell you that when you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed, it was I who presented and read the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord; and I did the same thing when you used to bury the dead."
In Revelation 8:2-5,
And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
This description in particular is counter-intuitive: Jews and Christians believe that God is all-knowing and all-powerful. He's not only capable of hearing our prayers directly (Genesis 21:17; Psalm 66:19), but of knowing what we're going to pray before we pray it (Matthew 6:8). He has literally no need for intermediaries - in this case, His angelic Pony Express. But yet again, our loving God deigned to include His creations in His most intimate acts, a pattern we see throughout His Creation.

It's telling that the author of Tobit (or more accurately, Raphael) records not only the seven angels standing at the Throne of God, but also their role as intermediaries of prayers. As before, this isn't information one would naturally guess, and to my knowledge, this is the only time in the Old Testament that we hear of angels as intermediaries for prayer. Once again, it would be hard to imagine stronger evidence for the idea that Tobit is an inspired book.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The "Ground Zero" Mosque

As you're probably aware, there are currently plans to build a massive thirteen floor, $100 million mosque near Ground Zero, the site of the September 11th attacks. It's a tasteless move, orchestrated by some seemingly uncouth characters. The original name for the mosque (it's now slated to be Park51) was Cordoba House, a reference to the partial Muslim conquest of Spain. Now, in fairness, the Islamic group behind the proposed mosque claims that this is an ecumenical outreach, and that the original name was intended as a reference to a period of religious tolerance under Islamic leadership. The story is that the building just happens to be two blocks from Ground Zero, since space is hard to come by in New York. Maybe so. Perhaps no one involved in the planning considered the implications of building here, or the statement building a mosque here would make. But they know now. Someone might foolishly propose a ecumenical pork-chop dinner to foster Christian, Muslim, and Jewish unity. Simple enough mistake. But if, after learning that Jews and Muslims don't eat pork, the organizers continued with the plan, we'd have reason to suspect their good faith.

Let's start off with two obvious points:
  1. The proposed mosque, including its location, is certainly protected by the First Amendment.
  2. Putting a gigantic mosque near Ground Zero is tasteless, and morally repugnant to any morally sane person -- regardless of religious affiliation.
Put another way, the mosque can and may be built there, but it shouldn't be. This is something which the majority of New Yorkers affirm. For the first point, banning the construction of a specific religion's building at a particular site is about as unconstitutional a law as you could get. Try and imagine what a law preventing this mosque from being built would look like. Short answer: it would either blatantly violate thee Constitution, or would be obviously deceptive (a law to prevent all new construction in this area, etc.), or both.

For the second point, I don't think I need to explain how building a massive mosque near an enormous massacre done in the name of Islam is a slap in the face to victims and humanity as a whole. The entire move looks like a Muslim group gloating over an abhorrent attack on innocent civilians. And this is true regardless of your thoughts on Islam -- indeed, many liberal Muslims agree. As Catholics, the Orthodox are dear to us, yet if there was a proposed Orthodox church being built at the site of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre (where some 8000 Muslim Bosniaks were massacred for religious and ethnic reasons), hopefully Christians of all stripes would stand with outraged Muslims in opposition to the church being built at that spot. It's not that we don't want the Orthodox to build churches - the opposite is true - but that we don't want them to build churches on the site of massacres done in the name of the Orthodox faith. It's an issue of good taste. Build your house of worship, but build it elsewhere. That message is no more anti-Islamic than it is anti-Orthodox (or any other example you want to use).

As the Wall Street Journal notes, in the 1980s, a group of Carmelite nuns had purchased an abandoned building on the outskirts of Auschwitz, which they used to pray for the victims. Unlike the Park51 mosque, there was no question of the Carmelite's good faith here. They mourned for the victims and prayed for their souls. Yet Jewish groups were hurt by the presence, and the well-intentioned effort became a lightening rod of controversy. As a result, John Paul II asked them to move. Continue their wonderful apostolate, but do it elsewhere, so as not to rub salt in the wounds of the mourners.

All of this is common-sense. As I noted, this is the majority view within New York. But some political folks seem completely unable to grasp the notion of being able to do something you shouldn't. First, there was Obama's massive unforced error. He decided, inexplicably, to give a public speech in favor of the right to build the mosque, without so much as a word suggesting the mosque is a terrible idea. What he said was technically correct, just a speech praising the Westboro Baptist Church's legal right to picket military funerals with awful signs would be an accurate statement of the law. But Obama seemed to have little understanding of the human element - why this is an objectively bad idea, even if it's a legal one. Stranger still, he decided to make his first entry into this public debate at a Muslim iftar in honor of Ramadan. So in front of an almost all-Muslim audience, he came out seemingly in support of the mosque. The next day, Obama backed down, telling reporters he wasn't (necessarily) supporting the mosque, and wouldn't give an opinion one way or another. On the other hand, the reaction from right-wing folks like Andy McCarthy has been similarly absurd.

There is one aspect of all of this that has particularly troubled me that I haven't seen other Catholics speak out on. Fox News' Greg Gutfeld has proposed building a Muslim gay bar nearby Park51. On the one hand, it illustrates the point nicely: Gutfeld is intentionally spitting in the face of Muslims. It's vile, but legal. So he can, but shouldn't do it. On the other hand, Gutfeld claims to be serious about this, and says he's spoken to investors. It seems weird to have to point out that opening a Muslim gay bar isn't consistent with Catholic morality, but National Review's resident Catholic, Kathryn Jean Lopez seems to have forgotten this. It's one thing to say to Muslims who support the mosque, "you wouldn't like it if a gay bar were opened next door to spite you." It's quite another thing to actually support the repulsive example in question. It's the childish logic, "let's be as offensive as the people who are offending us," and yet another example of how much of this conflict is Christians being asked to choose between secularism and Islam. It's a false choice: we reject both, while acknowledging the good found in both (respect for rights and respect for God, respectively).

All that said, I fully support those Christians taking a strong stance against this, because it's just crass and immoral. The supporters of this mosque should be shown the errors of their way and constantly entreated to reconsider this idea. And maybe, in the process, we can get more people to support the rebuilding of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox church. If you're not familiar, St. Nick's was an Orthodox church destroyed in the September 11th attacks, and the church has been unable to rebuild because of the massive red tape. That's a First Amendment issue which everyone should be able to rally around.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Prophetic Book of Tobit

Tobit is one of the seven books which Protestants omit from the Bible, and which they consider Apocrypha. But if you pay close attention, you'll see that the New Testament proves Tobit to be prophetic. If you're not familiar with the book, the short version is that the Archangel Raphael appears to Tobit disguised as a man. Eventually, he reveals himself in Tobit 12:15, saying,
"I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord."
Three verses prior, he explained that, "I can now tell you that when you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed, it was I who presented and read the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord." This is prophetic in at least two ways:
  1. Look to how Gabriel introduces himself in Luke 1:19. He begins:
    "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God."
    It's a remarkably similar structure: the angel's identity is defined by his standing before the Presence and Glory of the Lord. So Raphael is talking like an angel. But if this is uninspired Apocrypha, how would the writer know how angels described themselves? Tobit is the first example we have of this. It isn't like the author of Tobit was just mimicking the Old Testament. Heck of a good guess!

  2. Raphael describes himself as one of seven angels ministering before the Lord. Nothing in Scripture up to this point says anything of the sort: Raphael is the first to reveal this. Yet the Book of Revelation affirms this: yes, there are seven angels who serve before the Throne of God (Revelation 8:2). Again, if Tobit is Apocrypha, how the heck did the author know the most intimate details about the Throne of God in Heaven, when they hadn't been revealed previously?
So at two different points in the New Testament, we see confirmation of truths first revealed in the Book of Tobit. If that's not prophetic, it'd be hard to point to anything which was. Given this, on what grounds can anyone deny the inspiration of the Book of Tobit?

EDIT: Just couldn't help myself. Here's Willie Nelson and Ray Charles, claiming the seven angels are Spanish, and can turn dead people into angels. Theologically sound? Not quite. Great song? You bet.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why Mathison is Wrong on Salvation Outside the Church

Last week, two of the issues I addressed were the question of salvation outside the Church and Keith Mathison's book The Shape of Sola Scriptura, part of an ongoing critique. Well, here's the perfect storm -- it's Mathison's attempted critique of the Church for allegedly switching positions on the question of whether non-Catholics can be saved.

As you might know, Mathison is convinced that the Magisterium can just make up, willy-nilly, dogma, and that Catholics will just blindly accept whatever they're told, even if it explicitly flies in the face of every scrap of Scripture and Tradition. This is based on larger confusions he has about the nature and limitations of papal infallibility, but suffice to say for now, Mathison's view of the Church ("Tradition III") is 180 degrees opposed to the limitations the Magisterium recognizes on Her own authority. In any case, Mathison claims on page 135:
With Tradition III, Rome has, in effect, freed herself not only from Scripture but also from the burden of her own past authoritative doctrinal decisions.
To prove this, he offers in a footnote (fn. 25) what he believes is proof of this claim:
A perfect example of this may be seen in the dogmatic change that has taken place on the issue of salvation outside of the Roman Catholic church. The papal bull Unam Sanctum (1302) and Cantate Domine [sic] (1441) expressly state that there is absolutely no possibility of salvation for any man outside of visible union with the Roman Catholic church and subjection to the bishop of Rome. The decrees of Vatican II (1962-65), however, expressly allowed for the possibility of salvation, not only for non-Roman Catholic Christians, but also for Jews, Muslims, pagans, and even those without an “explicit knowledge of God.” The issue is not which if either of these two positions is true. The issue is the fact that they cannot both be true, and the fact that the second cannot seriously be considered a “development” of the first. The bulls decree that it is “altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff” (Unam Sanctum). Vatican II decrees that it is not altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff; in fact it is not even necessary for salvation that a person be Christian. The two doctrines are in direct and complete contradiction with each other, and no amount of explanation can hide that plain fact.
There are thus at least five serious errors in this footnote alone:
  1. Mathison claims that Unam Sanctam and Cantate Domino require visible union with the Church. They don't. They require union with the Church, but the Church has from its beginnings recognized that there are some Catholics known only to God who are not in juridical, visible union.

  2. Mathison claims that Unam Sanctam and Cantate Domino expressly require visible union. Whereas #1 might be a matter of simply misinterpreting the implications of the documents, #2 is just flatly false. Feel free to check out either bull (since this express requirement is supposedly found in both). Find anything that even speaks of visible union, much less requires it. (Remember again that the Coptic delegation at the Council of Florence approved of Cantate Domino, and weren't in visible union with Rome. According to Mathison, they approved a Church document which damned them to Hell).

  3. Mathison claims Vatican II expressly allows the possibility of salvation of those without explicit knowledge of God. First, there is a very narrow sense in which that is true: anyone can be saved (atheist, theist, whatever), if they come to Christ. That's the normal Christian understanding, and not what he means. He means instead that, according to Vatican II, atheists who die atheists might go to Heaven. Nowhere does Vatican II claim this. Rather, the only Vatican II document using the phrase "explicit knowledge of God" is Lumen Gentium, and it says:
    Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.
    So atheists who seek after the True and the Good (which is to say, atheists searching for God), but who have not yet come to an explicit knowledge of Him can be promised two things: (1) God will aide them by providing them "the helps necessary for salvation" -- that is, whatever it is that they're missing that's keeping them atheists, God will give them graces sufficient to overcome that; and (2) whatever they've found in groping for the True and Good will be considered preparation for the Gospel. Both #1 and #2 require, as a starting assumption, that they (1) still need to be saved; and (2) still need the Gospel. That's the opposite of what Mathison is claiming Vatican II teaches.

  4. The claim "Vatican II decrees that it is not altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff" is just bizarrely untrue. Vatican II acknowledges that some who aren't visibly subject to the pope are saved. But it explicitly says that the Roman Pontiff is earthly head of all the Church, including those not in full visible union. This is Lumen Gentium again:
    The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church.
    That's the same Vatican document Mathison is quoting from, and it says the exact opposite of what he (without citation or reference) claims.

  5. Mathison claims that Vatican II decrees that "it is not altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff." Again, that's just false. I showed in #4 that this is a horrible misrepresentation of what the Council actually taught, but more simply, find any Conciliar decree declaring that one need not be subject to the Roman Pontiff. You won't find it because it doesn't exist.
In #1, 3, and 4, Mathison misunderstands the evidence, and presents as true things which just aren't. This is forgivable, but evidence of a general sloppiness which pervades the book. He assumes he understands things he doesn't, and doesn't seem to consult with any Catholic sources before declaring to Catholics what the Church actually teaches. More problematic are the times in #2, 3, and 5, in which Mathison doesn't just take away the absolutely-wrong conclusion, but claims, without ever citing to a single Church document, that they explicitly say or decree something which they just don't. Here, there's not even room for argument over interpretation. He's just claiming (three times in a single footnote) that explicit evidence exists where it doesn't.

My continual grievances with this book have been: (1) he doesn't have a firm grasp on the evidence he's citing; (2) he doesn't consult with Catholics, or seemingly anyone who does have a firm grasp on the issues he's dealing with; (3) he doesn't quote the document. If Mathison had quoted Unam Sanctam and Lumen Gentium, it'd have been clear that they weren't saying what he said they were saying. But he doesn't, and I end up having to write lengthy blog posts refuting arguments that even basic research should have prevent him from making in the first place.

In Case You're Confused by the Apparent Contradiction....
The Church has always held both: (1) that the Church is an indispensable part of salvation, such that you cannot be saved without Her (since Christ has but one Body and one Bride); and (2) that some will be saved without express membership in the Church. The teachings are in seeming tension (just as "One God," and "Three Persons" are in seeming tension), but they don't contradict. To paraphrase Karl Rahner, everyone saved is Catholic, even if some are "Anonymous Catholics" who may not grasp their membership in the Body (this is, of course, less important than Jesus knowing you're in the Body). This isn't some new modern teaching: in the earlier, more exhaustive post, I quoted St. Justin Martyr, who spoke of how Socrates seemed an atheist to his peers, but was spiritually a follower of the Christ he didn't know by Name. So this isn't a "development" at all: it's the clear teaching of Tradition. It's only a contradiction if you claim that visible union is required, which Mathison does, but the Church doesn't (and in fact, condemns as heresy).

The truth of the matter is that there are differences in perspectives (some like to focus more on the fact that you must be Catholic to be saved; some like to focus more on the fact that not everyone saved realizes that they're Catholic), these two teachings aren't particularly hard to hold simultaneously. US law requires that only American citizens may vote: it doesn't restrict voting to those who are within the visible US borders, and it doesn't restrict it even to those who consider themselves Americans. You can be an angry anti-American US citizen living in Paris, and you're still an American. If that's not a logical contradiction (and it's not), then the Catholic Church's position isn't, either. And it's worth noting in passing that almost all Christians hold to some variation of this: believing that we're only saved through Christ, but that some were saved before Him, by Him, without explicit knowledge of Him or membership in His Church.

Monday, August 16, 2010

School of Faith

In the Kansas City area (on the Kansas side), an incredible new apostolate has been underway. It's a series of fascinating classes related to the Catholic faith. This fall, they're offering the following courses:

Prayer & Spirituality / 12 Weeks
  • Monday Evenings, 7:00 PM St. Michael the Archangel, Leawood
  • Thursday Mornings, 6:30 AM Sacred Heart, Shawnee
Apologetics for Beginners (Part One of two parts) / 12 Weeks
  • Wednesday Mornings, 9:30 AM * St. Michael the Archangel, Leawood
  • Wednesday Evenings, 7:00 PM Prince of Peace, Olathe
  • Thursday Mornings, 9:30 AM * Sacred Heart, Shawnee
Enkindle 24-Week Walk Through the Catechism (Part One of two parts) / 12 Weeks
  • Monday Evenings, 7:00 PM Christ the King, Topeka
  • Tuesday Afternoons, 1:00 PM Nativity, Leawood
  • Tuesday Evenings, 7:00 PM Nativity, Leawood
  • Saturday Mornings, 6:45 AM Holy Trinity, Lenexa
First Thursdays One Night Each Month Beginning September 2 / New Topic Each Month / FREE
  • 1st Thursday Evenings, 7:00 PM Holy Spirit, Overland Park
Fall Mini-Course Praying the Gospel Four-Week Bible Study Through the Mysteries of the Rosary / FREE
  • Mondays in October, 7:00 PM Cure of Ars, Prairie Village

There are five people teaching the courses:
  • Mike Scherschligt, STL (Marianum, Rome)
  • Troy Hinkel (doctoral candidate in Church history)
  • John-Mark Miravalle, STL, STD (Regina Apostolorum, Rome)
  • Leon Suprenant (University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, J.D.; Franciscan University, Masters in Theology)
  • Matthew Tsakanikas, STL (John Paul II Institute, Lateran University, Rome.)
Leon, you'll note, is the author of Catholic Hour, and has an incredible bio, sharing my dual loves for litigation and Catholicism. All five of the teachers have actual training in theology - they're not simply interested Catholics, but interested, knowledgeable, trained Catholics, objectively qualified to teach the courses.

Courses are either free or $150/semester, depending on the course. But if you can't afford the course (or you live too far away, or the timing doesn't work, etc.), you can get audio versions of previous semester's courses online for free. The free audio includes the following courses so far:
So far, I've just dabbled, having just heard about this at Mass this morning, but with so many easily-available resources, I've got no excuse not to check them out more. And now, neither do you!