Monday, February 28, 2011

Pope Peter, Part I: Strengthen Thy Brethren

This is my birthday week, and my confirmation saint is St. Peter.  So to celebrate, I've decided to try and do a post a day demonstrating Peter's primacy from different parts of the Gospel.

I. What Scripture Says

Today's is one of the simplest.  In Luke 22:24-32, Jesus tells the Apostles which of them is the greatest, and what it means to be the greatest:
24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
There are four things to draw from that:
  1. The Church is run by God and men.  Look at how Christ describes the role of the Twelve in Heaven: enthroned, with a Kingdom, sharing in Communion with Christ, and sitting in Judgment.  If a Catholic were the first to call St. Peter (or any of the Apostles) a king in Heaven, and declare him a Heavenly judge, people would call us idolaters.  Don't we know that only Christ is Judge, and is King?  Yet Christ Himself says so of the Twelve, because His Kingship and Might is something He lovingly shares, drawing these mere mortals into His eternal plans, both on Earth and in Heaven.  Many Protestants speak of the Church as a fleeting institution, describing "the Church age," for example.  Jesus Christ, on the other hand, depicts the Church as an Institution even in Heaven!

  2. Leaders in the Church are called to serve.  As laity, we love this message. Hurrah, someone is going to serve us!  But note this well.  Jesus is telling those in charge how they should act.  But He doesn't condition their power on it.  He doesn't say, 'Whoever serves is in charge,' but 'Whoever is in charge should serve.'  Sometimes, leaders in the Church fail -- or at least, we would do things differently.  That doesn't mean they're somehow not leaders now (pardon the double negative).  Christ is the One who chooses the leaders.  He chose the Twelve, including the radically unqualified traitor Judas, and the so-often incompetent other Eleven.  And yet to these Eleven (and Matthias), He promises eternal kingship in Heaven in Luke 22:29-30.

  3. Peter is called to serve the other Apostles, just as they are called to serve us.  In other words, the question arises who the greatest of the Disciples is. Jesus says that the greatest is the one who will serve the others, and then tells Peter that his job is to serve the others.  Just as the Twelve are called to serve us, Peter is called to serve the Twelve.  For this reason, the pope is called Servus Servorum Dei, or Servant of the Servants of God.

  4. Jesus is calling Peter individually.  In v. 31, Jesus says that Satan has desired to sift all of the Apostles like wheat. He's after them all!  And Jesus says, "But I have prayed for you, Simon."  To protect all of the Apostles (and by extension, the entire Church), Jesus is specially protecting one of them, Simon Peter.  He says this to Peter, publicly, by name.  And of course, Jesus knows that Peter will still fall, because Peter has a free will (it's worth noting that all of the Apostles, not just Peter, fled).  But Jesus makes it clear that the fall doesn't get rid of the graces He just prayed for, by saying "When you have turned back, strengthen thy brethren."

There's nothing anywhere in Scripture remotely like this for any of the other Apostles.  Jesus never tells one of the others that their mission is to strengthen the rest; He never tells one of the others that of the Twelve, it's this one that He's praying for, etc.   The point is just abundantly clear.  Christ describes ideal Church governance as service, calls all the Twelve to that, and then calls Peter to do for the Twelve what the Twelve do for the laity.

II. The Protestant Response

Protestant apologist Keith Mathison, in Shape of Sola Scriptura, fails to form any real response to this point.  In looking at the passage, Mathison focuses on the prayer that Peter's faith not fail (the "I have prayed for you, Simon" part), and says it was because of Peter's "special arrogance" (p. 192).  That point is utter nonsense. Luke 22:24 begins with the other Disciples comparing how great they are.  All of the Twelve at this point are quite sure of themselves. All Twelve will undergo challenges and temptations.  Satan has desired to sift all of them like wheat.  And he largely succeeds: while Peter denies Christ, the others run away scared. We often forget, in condemning Peter's denials, that the only reason that only Peter denied is that the rest ran away (Matthew 26:56-58).

In any case, whatever the merits of Mathison's argument here, it doesn't refute the fact that Jesus instructs that when Peter has turned back, he's got a special job.  To this, Mathison just folds, and pretends that this doesn't help the Catholic argument:
Ray also observes that Peter was the leader of the twelve.  However, since this is not disputed no response is necessary.  What neither Ray nor any Roman Catholic has demonstrated is that this text which involves a specific prayer for one specific man in one specific historical circumstance has anything to do with the modern Roman Catholic papacy. (p. 193).
This admission is huge, even if he pretends it's not. If the original structure of the Church was one man (besides Christ) leading and supporting the Twelve, who lead and support the rest of the Church, well, that looks very much like the modern papacy.  

Put another way, if Jesus Christ wanted the Church to look like the modern non-denominational churches, we'd expect the Church He established in the New Testament to look like a non-denominational church.  If He wanted a basic Presbyterian structure, we'd expect to see that. What we see is Jesus investing the power in the Twelve, and then centralizing it in a single man, Peter.  And if Christ set up an organized, multi-tiered Church with Peter in charge while He was still on Earth, why in the world would we expect anything else once He's in Heaven?  And when you consider the fact that only one Church, the Catholic Church, makes a serious claim to be that Church, it makes the Catholic claim quite clear.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Blessing from the East: Russian Orthodoxy's Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

An Eastern Orthodox reader of Mark Shea's blog asked:
Have you ever heard of Met. Hilarion Alfeyev? He's the No. 2 figure in the Russian Orthodox Church, the church's chief diplomat. He's only 44 years old. Super-brilliant guy, and startlingly open to the West. I heard him speak this past weekend in NYC, and let me tell you, this guy really gets it. He doesn't have that old-school closed-off approach, but he is not a religious liberalizer either. He's also a classical music composer, and was in NYC for the American premiere on Monday night of his "St. Matthew Passion." I've been listening to it on CD, and it's breathtaking. Take a look at the fragment below from a speech he gave in 2009, in which he posited a "Catholic-Orthodox Alliance."
The speech in question is here. In it, Metropolitan Hilarion criticized the lack of missionary zeal within the Orthodox Church, say it was un-Apostolic.  He went on to say:
In this missionary effort, I believe, the Orthodox Church needs allies, and its closest ally and partner is most likely to be the Catholic Church. There are well-known differences between Catholics and Orthodox on a certain number of doctrinal and ecclesiological points, notable on the understanding of the role of the Bishop of Rome. All these differences, however, appear to be rather minor in comparison to the fundamental elements of faith which are identical in both traditions. Both Churches have apostolic succession of hierarchy and de facto have mutual recognition of sacraments (while continuing not to have full Eucharistic communion). No less important is the solidarity between the Catholics and the Orthodox on major points of moral teaching, including questions of family ethics, human sexuality, bioethics etc.

It is against this background that I have repeatedly suggested that a Catholic-Orthodox Alliance should be formed. This alliance may enable Catholics and Orthodox to fight together for the preservation of traditional values and to combat against secularism, liberalism and relativism. Such alliance may help Orthodox and catholics to speak with one voice in addressing secular society, may provide for them an ample space where they will discuss modern issues and come to common positions. The two traditions can speak with one voice, and there can be a united Catholic-Orthodox response to the challenges of modern times.

The rationale behind my proposal is the following: our Churches are on their way to unity, but one has to be realistic and understand that it will probably take decades, if not centuries, before this unity is realized. In the meantime we desperately need to address the world with a united voice. Without being one Church, can we act as one Church, can we present ourselves to the outside world as a unified structure, as an alliance? I am convinced that we can, and that by doing so we may become much stronger.

Such an alliance, whatever it shape may be, may well include those representatives of Protestant and Anglican communities who associate themselves with a traditional rather than liberal “wing” of Christianity and who share the essential points of traditional Christian morality. I also believe that the Oriental Orthodox Churches should from the very beginning be a part of the alliance on behalf of the Orthodox family. There is no Eucharistic communion between the Eastern and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, but their spirituality and ethos, as well as their social and moral teachings are quite identical. Moreover, in an ecumenical context the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches have already proved to be able to act as one Orthodox family.

The modern battle between traditional Christianity on the one hand and secularism, liberalism and relativism on the other is primarily centred round the question of values. It is not a theological argument, because it is not the existence of God that is debated: it is the existence of an absolute moral norm, on which human life should be founded, that is put into question. The contest has an anthropological character, and it is the present and future of humanity that is at stake. By defending life, marriage and procreation, by struggling against legalization of contraception, abortion and euthanasia, against recognition of homosexual unions as equal to marital ones, against libertinage in all forms, the traditional Christians are engaged in a battle for survival of the Christian civilization and of those peoples who until recently identified themselves with Christianity.
This is exactly right. There are real differences between Catholics and Orthodox, and we shouldn't pretend that they don't exist, but if our obsession with our differences blinds us to our need to stand together against secularism, contraception, abortion, sexual immorality, euthanasia, gay marriage, and so on, we've really missed the forest for the trees. We should strive for total and absolute unity in the Truth, but there's no need to wait for the reunification of the Churches to begin working together.  And while this is true in a particular way for Catholics and Orthodox, it's true as well for all Christians who hold to bedrock Christian morality.  Conservative Christians (be they Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox) have ecclesiological and theological disputes amongst ourselves, but we share a common uncompromisable morality.

And Met. Hilarion seems to really practice what he preaches.  Part of this mission of uniting all of Christendom on morality has been chastising those Christians who have taken the wrong side. So when the head of the Anglican church, Rowan Williams, invited him to speak at the Annual Nicean Club Dinner at Lambeth Palace, Met. Hilarion chose to speak about the damage the liberal Episcopalians and Anglicans were doing to Christian unity, and to the word of God:
We [the Orthodox Church] are also extremely concerned and disappointed by other processes that are manifesting themselves in churches of the Anglican Communion. Some Protestant and Anglican churches have repudiated basic Christian moral values by giving a public blessing to same-sex unions and ordaining homosexuals as priests and bishops. Many Protestant and Anglican communities refuse to preach Christian moral values in secular society and prefer to adjust to worldly standards. 
Our Church must sever its relations with those churches and communities that trample on the principles of Christian ethics and traditional morals. Here we uphold a firm stand based on Holy Scripture.
It really takes a devotion to the Gospel to not water it down when you're preaching to a hostile crowd, particularly when you're invited as a guest. Met. Hilarion's candor, devotion to spreading the Gospel, and clear-sighted understanding of the problems that the modern world faces make him a really promising rising star within Russian Orthodoxy.  Better still, he's quite young (he's yet to reach his forty-fifth birthday), and he's already the second-highest ranking cleric in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Obama DOJ's Betrayal on the Defense of Marriage Act

Despite claiming during his presidential campaign that he opposed gay marriage, the Obama administration has intentionally undermined any attempt to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and the Justice Department has announced that they will not even defend the law (you can find Attorney General Holder's letter here). There are a lot of good arguments on the appropriate role of the state in promoting marriage.  I tackled that question a few weeks ago.  Today, though, I want to make sure that it's clear that regardless of one's views on gay marriage, the Obama administration's decision is a terrible and dangerous precedent.

As the L.A. Times notes, "until now, the Obama administration had taken the view that it had a duty to defend all laws, including measures it considered discriminatory, so long as they could be justified as constitutional." And that's not something quirky about the Obama administration.  The DOJ almost never abandons a federal law like this:
As a general matter, the Department has traditionally adhered to a policy of defending the constitutionality of federal enactments whenever "reasonable" arguments can be made in support of such statutes -- i.e., whenever the constitutionality of the law is not fairly precluded by clear constitutional language or governing Supreme Court case law. This practice has been predicated on the notion that because the political branches -- the Congress that voted for the law and the President who signed it -- have already concluded that the statute was constitutional, it would be inappropriate for DOJ lawyers to take it upon themselves to reject the constitutional judgment shared by the President and the legislature. 
There are, however, historical exceptions to this general practice. Almost all of the exceptions fall into one of three categories. The first category is cases in which intervening Supreme Court decisions have rendered the defense of the statute untenable. This category isn't really an "exception" to the "rule" as much as it is an illustration of how the rule operates in practice: The newly governing Supreme Court decision eliminates any reasonable argument that might have been made in the statute's defense, other than asking the Court to overrule its governing precedent (a tactic that the SG very rarely employs, but that is not unheard of, as in the second flag-burning case (Eichman), and inAgostini v. Felton). The second category involves statutes that in DOJ's view infringe the constitutional powers of the President himself (e.g., Chadha;Bowsher v. Synar). The third, and smallest, category involves statutes that the President has publicly condemned as unconstitutional. The most famous such case was probably U.S. v. Lovett, in 1946. More recently, after the first President Bush vetoed the "must-carry" provisions of a cable television bill on constitutional grounds and Congress overrode the veto, the Bush (41) Administration declined to defend the constitutionality of the must-carry provisions. (The Clinton Administration reversed this decision and subsequently prevailed in its defense of the law in the Supreme Court in the Turner Broadcasting litigation.)
And let's be clear: it's not hard to defend DOMA.  Obama's DOJ did it in 2009. The arguments that they can't think of, or which they now hold to be unpersuasive, are ones that they used -- and won with in court -- at the start of the president's term.

So while Justice Departments under both Republican and Democratic administrations have done (on rare occasion) what Holder, et al, are doing now.  But politics aside, they shouldn't, unless there are genuinely no reasonable bases upon which to defend the statute. That sort of policy is a dangerous affront towards the checks-and-balances which make American democracy so stable.

The role of the Executive Branch (and in a particular way, the Justice Department) is to execute the laws properly passed. Congress creates the laws, the sitting president has the chance to sign or veto the law, and if vetoed, the Senate can override that veto. Once every stage has cleared, the president and executive branch aren't supposed to pick and choose which laws are and are not going to be enforced. That abrogates the power properly vested in Congress. There's an apocryphal quote that after John Jay ruled that deporting the Cherokee was unconstitutional, President Jackson replied, "John Jay has made his decision; now, let him enforce it." That mentality creates a real constitutional crisis if it happens often.

Prosecutorial discretion, as I understand it, is better confined to applying the law to the facts. Determining if so-and-so did or did not violate the law, and if there's a reasonable likelihood of getting a conviction, etc. So when the Obama Justice Department decided that they wouldn't apply civil rights legislation against the Black Panthers, and there were murmurs from within the Civil Rights Division that they wouldn't apply these laws against any minority defendant, it was a likely abuse of prosecutorial discretion, but still within their rights.

On the other hand, there's what we have here: deciding whether or not the law should exist. That would consolidate every power (the legislative power to determine which laws are to be enforced, the judicial power to determine the Constitutional validity of a duly-passed law, and the executive power to execute the duly-passed law) in the Attorney General, who never even faces a democratic vote (and in the cases of recess appointments, may face no vote whatsoever). I mean, is there any question that Americans wouldn't have voted for Deputy Attorney General James Cole (an Obama recess appointee who said "The acts of Sept. 11 were horrible, but so are these other things," and equated it with the drug trade, and who the Senate refused to confirm) to control the executive, legislative, and judicial branches?

All that said, it's morally better to announce that you won't defend the law at all (enabling an interpleader, like the House, to step in), than to pretend that you're defending it, while rejecting literally every one of the reasons which won at the Circuit Court level (which Holder announced was the alternative, basically). The latter, more devious, strategy has been one that the Obama Justice Department has employed on a number of other cases.

So whether you love or hate DOMA, the refusal of the Justice Department to execute and defend the law is a real shame, and bad precedent.  (Also, is there any doubt at this point that Obama supports gay marriage? Is it even possible to think gay marriage should be illegal, while declaring unconstitutional that same position?)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What's Happened to the Modern Man?

The Wall Street Journal runs controversial, conversation-starter pieces as part of a weekly column called "The Saturday Essay."  In January, they ran an Amy Chua piece called "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," which set off a real firestorm. This past Saturday, they ran a piece called "Where Have the Good Men Gone?"  It's very good, and speaking personally, I can say that it's served its role as a conversation-piece.  It begins:
Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This "pre-adulthood" has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it's time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn't bring out the best in men.
One of the women quoted said that today's "guys" (those males too old to be boys, but who haven't earned the title of "men" yet) "are more like the kids we babysat than the dads who drove us home."  Here are a few of the seeming culprits behind the death of the "real" man:


College. College lasts forever, and student loan debt is crippling.  There are a lot of people in their mid-20s that are holding off on marriage because they (a) are still in school, (b) can't afford to start a family with six-figure student loan debt, or both.  So for the first time in American history, it's not unusual to find  28 year-olds who spent the last decade surrounded by excessive drinking, casual sex, four day weekends, and the like, without ever holding so much as a part-time job.  And then we act shocked when these people turn out to be irresponsible and self-indulgent.


Globalization.  It's a major asset these days to be able to travel halfway across the globe to close a deal.  And that's a lot easier if you're single.  Mobility is required in a way we haven't really seen before.

The Collapse of Gender Roles.  The message our culture has sent to men and women couldn't have been more stark in the past generation or so.  The "Girl Power" movement, with phrases like, "You Go, Girl" really reinforced the idea that women could do anything that they wanted to.  If you dreamed of being a mom and a high-powered executive, no problem! On the other hand, young men were sent a lot of signals that they were worthless or worse. The famous bumper sticker from the 1970s said, "A Woman Needs a Man Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle," and for many years, it seemed that every family-based sitcom featured a dumb dad getting bossed around by his wife and kids.  Then there's things like the t-shirt on the right (to get the gravity of what's being said, just imagine that the shirt said "girls," instead).

The results have been pronounced, if unsurprising.  More women graduate from college than men (34% of women aged 25-34 have a bachelor's degree, compared with just 27% of men), and Hymowitz notes in the WSJ article notes that "in a number of cities" young women are earning more than their male counterparts. Hymowitz concludes: "Why should they [men] grow up? No one needs them anyway. There's nothing they have to do.They might as well just have another beer."  There seems to be something to that.  What's more, this push for women to succeed (and for men to just stay out of the way) has come in the midst of something broader:
What explains this puerile shallowness? I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing. 
Today's pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn't say. He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can't act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.
Marriage and Sexual Morality.  Jen Fulwiler responded to the above essay by noting one thing that Hymowitz had missed:
I suspect that it was not the behavior of one gender that ignited this current animosity between the sexes; rather, I think it started when we, together as a society, started redefining marriage and sexual morality. 
When sex meant marriage, people got married earlier. When sex and marriage meant children, young men worked harder at younger ages to prepare to provide for a family. If a young man wasted his early 20s on inane pursuits, there were real consequences: he’d be viewed as irresponsible and a bad provider, and thus his opportunities for marriage (and therefore intimacy with a woman) would be drastically limited. Young women held men to higher standards. For them, a boyfriend wasn’t just someone to “hook up” with (to use Klausner’s parlance), but the potential future father of their children — and they expected him to act accordingly. And young women were motivated to shape up their behavior as well: a woman who didn’t show any interest in the self-sacrifice and maturity required for marriage would have a hard time getting dates.
This dovetails nicely with the point preceding it.  Young men no longer know what it means to be "men," and it seems no matter how they act, somebody's offended.  Is it really a surprise that so many young men just give up?

Consumerism. As a culture, we're more self-obsessed than ever.  Goods are cheaper than ever before: Americans spend less today on apparel than at any point in US history. And we spend less on food than any culture in history, ever. It's not that we're consuming less: the opposite is true.  Instead, it's that even in these rough economic times, we live in a Wal-Mart culture able to produce food and clothing at prices so low they'd be scoffed at a generation ago.  You would think, given all of this, that we'd be more open to spending disposable income on things like starting a family.  But instead, we've just become acclimated to always having whatever we want, whenever we want it.  And the Internet is capable of providing instant gratification in a way that even Wal-Mart can only dream of.  The type of man that this culture produces is irresponsible and self-indulgent, and women rightly find it repulsive. 

Loss of Religion.  The type of slothful and idle young man we're talking about isn't possible in a culture that takes its Christianity seriously.  Just read Luke 12:13-21, the parable of the rich fool.  Long story short: a man finds himself wealthy enough that he can afford to "eat, drink, and be merry," without having to work.  God takes his life, since the man's completely forgotten about Him.  And that's more or less what's happened here. We've stopped having to worry about whether we'll starve, and stopped having to trust in God. Eventually, we stopped thinking much about God at all. As a result, religion, and particularly Christianity, is on the decline in America.  This has had a lot of unforeseen consequences.  One of them is simple: Christian men know what manhood is from the Son of Man. The type of man that Hymowitz, et al, are tired of is a man that the Bible warns us not to be.  We're called to be courageous, strong, faithful and loving men (1 Corinthians 16:13-14), and all Christians are called to "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Colossians 3:12).  In particular, St. Paul instructs, "Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them," (Col. 3:19) and more radically, "love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her" (Ephesians 5:25).   In other words, the Bible paints a clear picture of what the ideal man should be like, and calls all Christian men (especially the married) to this ideal.  Without the Bible, and without traditional gender roles, men don't just naturally achieve these ideals.

So if you want "good men," or want to be "good men," turn back towards God and His Holy word.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jesus Christ and the Old Testament Canon

Yesterday, I argued that you cannot derive an accurate Old or New Testament canon from simply following the sources used by New Testament authors.  They quote approvingly of Enoch and Epimenides, while failing to mention Esther, yet of the three, only Esther is considered inspired. But there's a reason that the New Testament isn't a reliable way of determining the canon of Scripture.  It was never intended to do so.  And through this, if we pay attention, we can discern what God's telling us.

I. The Three Old Testament Canons

In broad terms, at the time of Christ and the New Testament, there were three schools of thought within Judaism about which Books were the inspired word of God:

  • The Sadducees taught only the Torah, the first five Books, were Scripture.
  • The Pharisees taught that the entire Hebrew TNKH was Scripture.  This is the same canon used by modern Protestants.
  • The Hellenistic Jews held an even larger canon, the LXX.  This is the basis for the Catholic canon.  (Other Greek versions of the Old Testament included additional sections which the Catholic Church rejects, like Psalm 151, but which the Orthodox Church considers canonical).
Because of the different canons, there were doctrinal differences, as well.  For example, the Sadducees rejected the resurrection of the dead, since they didn't see that teaching in the Torah.  On the other hand, bodily resurrection is taught in Daniel 12:1-3, so the Pharisees and Hellenists believed in it.  Paul would later exploit this conflict in Acts 23:6, while on trial before the Sanhedrin.  By making his trial about the question of bodily resurrection generally, rather than Christ's Resurrection specifically, Paul pitted the Pharisees and Sadducees against each other, until the Romans had to finally intervene (Acts 23:10).


II. Jesus' Resolution of the Canon Question

A. Jesus and the Sadducees


There were a few times in Scripture where Jesus squarely confronted the issue of the canon, and He seems to have gone out of His way to avoid answering them.  For example, in Matthew 22:23-33, we hear:
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question.  “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh.  Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.  At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.
So we know that the reason that the Sadducees don't believe in bodily resurrection is because they have an incomplete canon.  There's an easy answer to this question:

  1. Sadducees, you have the wrong canon.  The Pharisees and Hellenists are right in believing in other Books, which you reject.
  2. If you listened to those other Books, you 'd know that there was a bodily resurrection: just look at Daniel 12:1-3, and 1 Samuel 28, and Psalm 16:9-10, etc.

And Jesus almost seems to say this, by telling them they don't know the Scriptures or the power of God.  But then He surprises us.  The Scripture He quotes is Exodus 3:6 -- that is, it's from the Scriptures that the Sadducees already believe in.  This verse, He shows us, implies that the souls of the faithful departed are not annihilated, but live on.  In other words, when Jesus says “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God,” He's not telling them that their canon is wrong, but their understanding of the canon that they have.

Now, this incident, left alone, might lead us to think that Jesus agreed with the Sadducees' canon of Scripture -- that the Torah alone was inspired.  After all, He could have pointed to passages outside the Torah which were much more obviously pro-resurrection.  But He chose Exodus, instead, to make His case. But then He goes to the Pharisees, and does something similar.


B. Jesus and the Pharisees

Luke 11:37-51,
When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.

Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.

“Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.”

One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”

Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

“Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs.  Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all
.
In the Pharisees' canon (as in the Protestant canon today), the murder of Abel was the first murder, and the murder of Zechariah was the last, if you read the full Testament front to back.  Zechariah's is not the last murder in either the Sadducees' or Hellenists' canon. In other words, Jesus is condemning the Pharisees using the Pharisee Bible, just as He condemned the Sadducees using the Sadducee Bible.


C. What Should We Make of This?


It seems to me that Jesus' point is that it's less important how many Books you have, but how faithful you are to them. That is, the word of God, Scripture, is useful only if it points us to the Word of God, Jesus.  The Catholic Church teaches this, as well: “sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face (see 1 John 3:2)” (Dei Verbum 7).  If we're not seeing God through the mirror, the mirror is worthless.  Likewise, if we're not following Christ, proclaiming our alleged fidelity to the Gospel does us as much good as it did the Pharisees to proclaim their alleged fidelity to the Mosaic Law.

Look at the way that the early Christian authors were able to prove all of the major doctrines from the first five Books of the Bible alone.  In fact, just look at Genesis:

  • Genesis 1-2 teaches the Sabbath, and original sin, and the complementarity of man and woman, and the proper role of sex in marriage, and the unitive nature of sex.
  • Genesis 1:26 already shows us a God who is One, but who also describes Himself as "We," because He is Trinity.
  • Genesis 3:15 prophesied Christ, the Seed, and His Virgin Mother, the Woman.
  • Genesis 15:6 teaches justification by faith (as Romans 4 makes explicit).
  • Genesis 22 teaches the role of works in maintaining justification (as James 2:21-23 tells us).

That's just the tip of the iceberg, of course.  And just one Old Testament Book.  How wonderful it would have been to be with Christ on the road to Emmaus, when Jesus showed once for all that every Old Testament Scripture was Christological (Luke 24:27).

If you've ever wondered why the New Testament writers relied so heavily on the Pharisees' canon, instead of the broader Hellenistic canon, you have your answer here: they weren't trying to settle the debate on the canon, but show their Jewish peers how Christ is contained within every word of the canon that they already acknowledged.

III. Whose Canon is Correct?

All that said, it's easier to see God if you have a bigger mirror, so to speak.  The resurrection of the dead was in the Torah, but so subtly that the Sadducees missed it.  To those Jews blessed with the Book of Daniel, it was plainly clear.  The Incarnation of Christ is implicit in Genesis 3:15, but it's explicit in the New Testament. Having the fullness of Scripture is helpful, since it gives us more tools, even if it's possible to get by with fewer.

Fortunately, we're graced to have the New Testament Scriptures implicitly answering the canonical question.  In Acts 17:11, we hear:
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Berea, as you may know, is solidly Greek, not far from Thessalonica:


You don't get more Hellenistic than the middle of Greece.  There's virtually no question that the canon used by the Bereans was the Greek canon -- the same Old Testament canon used by Catholics, and rejected by Protestants. And how does Scripture treat that canon? Calling it "the Scriptures," and praising the Bereans for reading it.

So the Catholic canon is the right one.  But Acts 17:11 also serves as a warning for us Catholics. The Thessalonians also had a complete Catholic Old Testament... but didn't read it.  God has blessed Catholics with a broader Scriptural toolkit, so to speak.  But all too often, our Protestant brothers and sisters draw so much more out of their limited canon than we do out of our fuller one.  There's a joke that, in their Bibles, Catholics have seven more Books that they don't read.  Unfortunately, there's sometimes a lot of truth to that grim joke.  We should strive to be like the Bereans, using our innumerable gifts to their best advantage.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Can You Establish the Canon of Scripture from New Testament Citations?

I raised, to a Protestant seminarian friend of mine, the two basic problems with sola Scriptura ("Scripture Alone"): namely, that you can't rely upon Scripture alone to prove the doctrine of "Scripture alone," meaning that it's self-refuting; and that you can't even rely upon Scripture alone to determine which Books properly form the canon of Scripture.  Sola Scriptura is logically impossible for both of those reasons.

My friend advanced this rebuttal for the second of these points:
  1. Start with the "protocanon," those Old and New Testament Books which all orthodox Christians accept as canonical.
  2. From there, follow the citations within the Books themselves.  While it's true that no one Book lays out an inspired Table of Contents to the Bible, there are countless examples of New Testament Books treating other Books of the Bible, including other New Testament Books, as if they're Scripture.
A similar argument arises in the context of the Old Testament Deuterocanon, which Protestants call the "Apocrypha."  Protestants will not-infrequently argue that if the Deuterocanon isn't explicitly quoted in Scripture, it's because it was not considered Scripture by the Apostles.

There are a few major problems with this theory:
  • It doesn't solve the "sola Scriptura is self-refuting" problem:  To start with the protocanon in step 1, you have to rely on something.  Most likely, that something is the consensus of the modern Church, or of the early Church.  So you're still basing your Scriptures off of Tradition or the authority of the Church, rather than off of Scripture alone.  And if Scripture can come from Tradition and the Church, why can only Scripture?  Nothing in Scripture suggests that this is the case, and there's no logical reason I've ever heard.
  • This approach leaves out Books we know to be inspired.  Nobody in the New Testament ever cites Esther. Or Judges. Or Ruth. Or Song of Solomon. Or Ecclesiastes. Or Ezra. Or Nehemiah. And of course, most of the Books of the New Testament aren't quoted in any of the other Books, so you couldn't establish the canonicity of, say, Revelation or 2 Peter or the Gospel of John this way.
  • Conversely, this approach includes books we know to be uninspired. Jude quotes from the Book of Enoch in Jude 1:15, and he refers to the events of the Assumption of Moses in Jude 1:9.  Paul quotes the pagan philsopher-prophet Epimenides in Titus 1:12, even referring to him as a "prophet."  Now, working backwards, we can say that Paul likely didn't mean that he was inspired, but referred to his occupation, such as it was (the way we might call someone an Anglican priest, without acknowledging the validity of his ordination). But the whole point of this approach is that it's supposed to establish the canon, so you can't justify working backwards. If Paul calls someone a prophet, and quotes them in Scripture, or if Jude quotes a certain book to prove something did or didn't happen, this approach would require you to consider those Scripture. Otherwise, it's just special pleading.
So long story short, this approach produces an entirely screwy canon.  I'll have more later on why this approach misunderstands the use of Scriptural citations in the New Testament.


Update: here's the more later.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Luther and Sola Scriptura

Robert Ritchie said on my latest post on sola Scriptura:
Reading through your Sola Scriptura tagged posts, the thing that has most struck me is that the official doctrine of Sola Scriptura (i.e. a denial of (2)) is so obviously problematic that the most thoughtful of Protestants--people like C.S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, and Timothy Keller--would never explicitly defend it. Instead, as you have said "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." And they do this, it seems to me, because to do otherwise would be manifestly absurd.

My question, then, is do you know how this manifestly absurd doctrine arose historically?

My "barstool history" guess is that the reformers originally set out to reform the Catholic Church and did not object to the her authority in all its forms. One form they accepted was its ratification of the canon. That is, the reformers didn't believe in sola scriptura per se.

Years later it became clear that the reformed churches were no longer involved in reformation as such, but that they had started churches at odds with Catholic authority. But the reformed churches depended on Catholic authority for the legitimacy they possessed. This situation gave rise to a terrible corollary for the reformers: either the Catholics were right or they were both wrong. But the reformers shrunk from this corollary by inventing the doctrine of sola scriptura.

This is all just a guess. But if it is true, showing that Protestant theology hinges on an ad hoc intellectual manuever would be a powerful Catholic apologetic. For, as Ronald Knox has said: "It is a mark of intellectual cowardice, to shrink from corollaries. God wouldn't have given us an intellect, if he didn't want us to think straight."

So, given all the research that your posts show you to have done, I'll turn to you to ask: Have you seen the real history of the doctrine?
The traditional understanding of sola Scriptura can be traced back to Luther, who is believed to have said at the Diet of Worms something to the effect of:
“Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear and distinct grounds and reasoning—and my conscience is captive to the Word of God—then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.”
These may not have been his actual words (the earliest records are later, and at the start of a sort of hagiography of Luther as a modern saint). But almost certainly he said something to this effect.  In so doing, Luther was explaining that he wouldn't listen to Church Councils, since he thought that they were contradictory.

Now, it's immediately apparent, by Luther's concession to Scripture or reason, that sola Scriptura isn't workable in reality. But this is particularly true for the canon, as Luther himself realized.

Because he couldn't accept a canon based off of a Church Council (Carthage) or papal confirmation of that council (Damasus' ratification of Carthage's canon), he tried to create a canon using just Scripture and reason. The result was that he discarded the Deuterocanon as non-Scriptural, and was clear that he denied the canonicity of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation.

There's a very good account, from a Protestant perspective, outlined here.  What's disturbing is that the author of the post realized that Luther's right: without a Church Council confirming the canon of Scripture, who's to say which canon is right?  In Luther's translation of the Bible, you'd find near the end of the New Testament these words:

"Up to this point we have had to do with the true and certain chief books of the New Testament. The four which follow have from ancient times had a different reputation."
The four which followed - contrasted with the "true and certain chief books" - were James, Jude, Hebrews, and 2 Peter.
  • Luther denied that James was written by an Apostle, and said that whoever really wrote James "mangles the Scriptures and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture. He tries to accomplish by harping on the law what the apostles accomplish by stimulating people to love. Therefore, I will not have him in my Bible to be numbered among the true chief books." He also famously called this "an epistle of straw," and claimed that James was "flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works."
  • His view of Hebrews was higher - that the Book should be honored, but that "to be sure, we cannot put it on the same level with the apostolic epistles."
  • Luther also denied the authenticity of Jude, saying that "Concerning the epistle of St. Jude, no one can deny that it is an extract or copy of St. Peter’s second epistle, so very like it are all the words."
  • Luther's analysis of Revelation is very telling: "For myself, I think it approximates the Fourth Book of Esdras; I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it. . . .Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit leads him. My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book. For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it: Christ is neither taught nor known in it"
So the four books ranged from 'good book, but not Scripture' (Hebrews) to 'not even a good book' (Revelation) to insinuations of outright forgery (Jude).

Internet Monk, the Evangelical site I draw virtually all of those quotations from, points out the obvious: no Evangelical publishing house in America, nor any Christian bookstore, would ever dream of stocking a Bible teaching those kinds of doctrines.  And that's an important point to remember -- that it wasn't out of hatred of Scripture that Catholics burnt Luther's Bible-trashing Bibles, but out of love of Scripture.  I have little doubt that if Luther were writing today, Evangelical bonfires would blaze with his writings.

Many Protestants "defend" Luther by arguing that he eventually reversed course on these views.  But that's not particularly edifying, is it?  The founder of Protestantism denied, and then maybe recanted denying, four books of the Bible, after declaring that the Bible was to be the epicenter of Christian faith?  Is Luther going to fair better by being lukewarm than by being just cold to these Scriptures (Revelation 3:15-16)?

But the point isn't to trash Luther.  My point is simply that without a Church, Luther was left unsure (at best) of the canon, and a result, rationalized the idea of different Christians having different canons of Scripture.  Go back to that commentary on Revelation - he's got a relativistic idea that 'Revelation may be fine for you, but not for me.' Of course, when each Christian is free to construct their own canon from what they think the Spirit is telling them is Scripture, there's literally no way to have Christian unity.  There's also no coherent way to tell Christians not to embrace the Book of Mormon, which says in Moroni 10:4-5:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
That approach is almost exactly the approach Luther seems to outline in his commentary on Revelation.  Everyone chooses the Scriptures which seem right to them, and then follows those Scriptures. I've argued before that Protestantism leads to relativism, and that's what I meant by it.  As he made clear, Luther rejected James because he disagreed with what the Book of James said about justification.  What's to stop someone else from rejecting Matthew and Luke because of what those Books say about the Virgin Birth?  Who, if anyone, can police this, and say "if you reject those Books, you're no longer an orthodox Christian"?

So the problem of sola Scriptura was present from the start. Robert's right, though, that Luther's version of sola Scriptura isn't what later Evangelicals would call by the same name.  Luther, in using reason, listened carefully to what the Church Fathers said.  He also retained a strong Catholic ethic.  I think it was Hilarie Belloc who argued that the early Reformers didn't realize that they were forming a separate denomination, with both sides imagining that this conflict would sooner or later resolve, and everyone would carry on as a single Church.

But the theological ideas which Luther and his compatriots introduced can't have that result.  If everyone's free to make their own canon, it's naive to assume they're going to make the same one.  And if different groups of Christians have different canons, and no central Church structure which they listen to, of course they're not going to end up as a united body.  There's no way for them to determine who's right or wrong on anything, unless you rely on something arbitrary like popular Christian consensus (which is the typical Protestant gauge for orthodoxy, if we're being totally honest).

More Positive Signs from Egypt

I mentioned last month that there were some great stories coming out of Egypt.  After Islamist attacks on Coptic Christian churches, a number of Muslim newspapers denounced the attacks, and better yet, a huge group of Muslims formed a human chain around the Coptic Cathedral so that the Christmas Mass (celebrated on the Epiphany in the East, Jan. 6).  After I wrote that post, of course, things in Egypt changed pretty dramatically.  There was an enormous and largely-peaceful movement to topple the dictatorial government of Mubarak, which succeeded, of course.

Egypt's future hangs in the balance now: it could either become a shining example of a Mideast democracy, permitting religious freedom, or it could try and Muslim into another would-be Caliphate that oppresses Christians and Jews. The struggle for what comes next isn't settled yet, but I was immensely gratified to see this: during the protests, the Christians formed a human chain around the Muslims while they were praying.  The Muslims did the same in return.
On Friday, the holy day for Islam, Christian protesters in Tahrir Square joined hands to form a protective cordon around their Muslim countrymen so they could pray in safety.


Sunday, the Muslims returned the favor.


They surrounded Christians celebrating Mass in Cairo's central plaza, ground zero for the secular pro-democracy protests reverberating throughout the Middle East.
The article also noted that despite the although "police forces quit protecting anything - including churches - when the anti-Mubarak protests began two weeks ago, not one church has been attacked" since that point..

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kansas City, KS to host the Catholic New Media Conference 2011

This is exciting news I hadn't heard about before.  Apparently, the Catholic New Media Conference is being hosted in Kansas City this year, at the Archdiocese of Kansas City Kansas' Savior Pastoral Center, located at 12601 Parallel Parkway, Kansas City, KS 66109.  The Catholic New Media Conference is a big event for Catholic bloggers.  Since I'm that, and I'm from Kansas City, I may try and make it, but I'll have to wait and see what my schedule looks like.

By the way, the dates are September 30 – October 2, 2011. If you're not from Kansas City, you may not know why that's so important.  The first weekend in October is always the date of the American Royal BBQ Contest.  It's no exaggeration to say that this is the place to find quite literally the world's best barbecue, and best barbecue sauces.

So come for one, come for both.  You'll find plenty of bodily and spiritual nourishment, and there's always the off-chance we can publicly pressure Fr. Andrew into going, even if I can't go myself.  He's a priest of the Archdiocese of KCK with a blog, so I say: no excuse!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Genesis and Baptism Regeneration

The ancient term for the sacraments (and the name still popular in the East) is the "Mysteries."  It's also the term St. Paul uses for one of the sacraments, marriage, in Ephesians 5:31-32.  So when St. Ambrose (c. 337-397 A.D.) writes On the Mysteries, it means the same thing as On the Sacraments.  And that's just what the work is - a riveting exploration of the sacraments.

In one of the best parts, St. Ambrose looks at how the Bible, from Genesis forwards, testifies to regenerative Baptism - that God will save us through water.  His examples from Genesis are Noah's Ark (which St. Peter uses for the same point in 1 Peter 3:19-22), and Genesis 1:2, an allusion to Baptism most of us overlook:
9. Consider, however, how ancient is the mystery prefigured even in the origin of the world itself. In the very beginning, when God made the heaven and the earth, "the Spirit," it is said, "moved upon the waters." [Genesis 1:2] He Who was moving upon the waters, was He not working upon the waters? But why should I say, "working"? As regards His presence He was moving. Was He not working Who was moving? Recognize that He was working in that making of the world, when the prophet says: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all their strength by the spirit of His mouth." [Psalm 33:6] Each statement rests upon the testimony of the prophet, both that He was moving and that He was working. Moses says that He was moving, David testifies that he was working. 
10. Take another testimony. All flesh was corrupt by its iniquities. "My Spirit," says God, "shall not remain among men, because they are flesh." [Genesis 6:3] Whereby God shows that the grace of the Spirit is turned away by carnal impurity and the pollution of grave sin. Upon which, God, willing to restore what was lacking, sent the flood and bade just Noah go up into the ark. And he, after having, as the flood was passing off, sent forth first a raven which did not return, sent forth a dove which is said to have returned with an olive twig. You see the water, you see the wood [of the ark], you see the dove, and do you hesitate as to the mystery? 
11. The water, then, is that in which the flesh is dipped, that all carnal sin may be washed away. All wickedness is there buried. The wood is that on which the Lord Jesus was fastened when He suffered for us. The dove is that in the form of which the Holy Spirit descended, as you have read in the New Testament, Who inspires in you peace of soul and tranquillity of mind. The raven is the figure of sin, which goes forth and does not return, if, in you, too, inwardly and outwardly righteousness be preserved.
Noah and the Ark is described in Genesis 7 and 8, but the key passage for Ambrose seems to be Genesis 8:6-12.  St. Augustine, commenting on the same passage, had something similar to say on it:
That the raven sent out after forty days did not return, being either prevented by the water or attracted by some floating carcass; as men defiled by impure desire, and therefore eager for things outside in the world, are either baptized, or are led astray into the company of those to whom, as they are outside the ark, that is, outside the Church, baptism is destructive.

That the dove when sent forth found no rest, and returned; as in the New Testament rest is not promised to the saints in this world. The dove was sent forth after forty days, a period denoting the length of human life.

When again sent forth after seven days, denoting the sevenfold operation of the Spirit, the dove brought back a fruitful olive branch; as some even who are baptized outside of the Church, if not destitute of the fatness of charity, may come after all, as it were in the evening, and be brought into the one communion by the mouth of the dove in the kiss of peace.

That, when again sent forth after seven days, the dove did not return; as, at the end of the world, the rest of the saints shall no longer be in the sacrament of hope, as now, while in the communion of the Church, they drink what flowed from the side of Christ, but in the perfection of eternal safety, when the kingdom shall be delivered up to God and the Father, and when, in that unclouded contemplation of unchangeable truth, we shall no longer need natural symbols.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why "Scripture Alone" is Wrong In All Its Formulations

I know I've written on the sola Scriptura debate many times before, but I think there might be a simpler way of explaining the Catholic view than I've done in the past.  The difference between the Evangelical formulation of sola Scriptura, the classic Reformed formulation of sola Scriptura, and the Wesleyan notion of prima Scriptura can be confusing for Catholics (and not just Catholics - many Evangelical Protestants think they hold to the sola Scriptura of Luther, when they really hold something closer to the sola Scriptura of Finney).

Anyways, to reduce the question of the role of Scripture and Tradition to its bare bones, here are the three things being asked:
  1. What role, if any, should extra-Scriptural Tradition play in guiding or controlling our interpretations of Scripture?
  2. Can doctrines come from extra-Scriptural Tradition, if those doctrines are not taught in Scripture?
  3. Can doctrines coming from extra-Scriptural Tradition be "essential"?
The major splits between different Protestant camps come on their answer to #1.  Some say Tradition is binding on our interpretation of Scripture, some say it's a lens through which to view Scripture, and some say it plays little to no role at all.  That's an interesting debate, but let's leave it aside, because it's irrelevant to my point.  I'm more concerned about the other two questions, because on questions #2 and 3, there's near-unanimity within Protestantism that all doctrines must be derived from Scripture. It may be "Scripture as I read it," or "Scripture as read by the Church Fathers," but the outcome is the same. "No" on 2, and "no" on 3.

Of course, this is where the obvious problem comes in.  Scripture doesn't have an inspired table of contents. No Book in the Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant Bible teaches which other Books are inspired by God. Most of the Books don't even mention that they are themselves inspired, so you can't even rely on the circular "2 Peter is inspired because 2 Peter says it is, and it's inspired" argument -- because 2 Peter doesn't tell us if it's inspired or not.  Nor is there anything implicit within the Scriptures. 

To be clear, if God wanted us to believe in sola Scriptura, He clearly could have inspired one of the New Testament authors (St. John, for example, the last to die) to write an inspired "Table of Contents" to the canon, listing the other canonical Books, and declaring the "Table of Contents" itself canonical.  But that didn't happen, as everyone knows.  So no, the doctrine of the canon -- that is, the Church doctrine that says "these Books are in the Bible, and these other books aren't" -- is one derived from totally outside of Scripture itself.  So the answer to Question # 2 has to be yes.  If no doctrine can come from outside Scripture, you can't determine the canon. If you can't determine the canon, you can't derive any doctrines from Scripture, since you don't know which Books are Scripture.

This also answers Question # 3, for an obvious reason.  If you derive all doctrines from Scripture, as Protestants claim to, the single most important question is the question of "which sources are Scripture?"  All other questions, from "Was Christ God?" on down to "do works have a role in justification?" are answered in Protestantism from the canon.  An incomplete canon risks incomplete doctrine; an inaccurate canon risks inaccurate doctrine.  An obvious example: Mormons accept the Book of Mormon, which Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox recognize as non-canonical and inaccurate.  As a result of this faulty canon, the many faulty doctrines the Book of Mormon teaches mislead people into error.  So at least one essential doctrine, essential to the faith of all Christians, is taught on the basis of Tradition alone: the canon of Scripture.  So the answer to # 3 has to be yes.

Protestantism teaches "No" on Question 2, and "No" on Question 3, and is plainly wrong in doing so. Yes, doctrines can come from extra-Scriptural Tradition, even if those doctrines are not taught in Scripture; and yes, these doctrines include essential, binding ones.  If that's true for the doctrine most important to Protestants (the canon of Scripture), on what basis can we possibly claim it's not true of other doctrines?  Does Scripture give any indication that it will answer every essential doctrinal issue except the canon?  I know of no one willing to advance this argument.

So clearly, Catholics are right that it's possible for doctrines to come from extra-Scriptural Tradition alone, and that at least one doctrine (the canon) does, and that more might.  If this is true, there's no excuse for ignoring the Church Fathers. It's time for Protestantism to begin to take seriously the Catholic claim that the Church Fathers teach other essential doctrines not expressly found in Scripture.  

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Most Important Question in the Gay Marriage Debate

A lot of people, even a growing number of Christians, have trouble understanding opposition to legalized gay marriage.  After all, if the whole "marriage is one man plus one woman" thing is based on religious values, why force views those on other people? And what's the deal about destroying the sanctity of marriage?  How is a  heterosexual couple's marriage damaged in any way by gay marriage? For me, a single question helped clear up all of this...

“What is marriage?”




I. The Traditional View of Marriage, and Why Society Should Protect It

A. What Traditional Marriage Is

It seems to me that there are basically two views of what marriage is.  The first is the traditional view.  A good working definition comes from the Code of Canon Law, which says that marriage is that institution “by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (Can. 1055 §1).

This view of marriage isn't unique to Catholicism, or Christianity, or even religion.  Cultures across the world (with all sorts of religious views, or none at all) have understood marriage to be something very near this for as long as marriage has existed.  What's fascinating about this is that even with the diversity of marriage customs and norms, much remains the same.  Even cultures which permitted or encouraged polygamy recognized that the polygamy was heterosexual, and tied to procreation.  A man might have two wives, but he's just committing himself to caring for two families as a result.  And even cultures which encouraged homosexual and pedophilic sex (like Ancient Greece) never thought of those sexual and even romantic relationships as marriage-potential.

Perhaps more striking, the thing that gets overlooked is: all of these cultures have marriage. Many of the cultures punished premarital or extramarital sex; others simply declared that premarital sex acted as a marital covenant. If marriage is simply a social construct, it's certainly striking that all of these cultures across the globe, in both the New World and the Old, independently enshrined this construct at the heart of their cultures.


B. The Importance of Family

The reason for this universally-accepted tradition of marriage is obvious: family.  Parents are the primary educators of children, and they pass on the culture's values. Children raised in this environment are statistically better citizens: more law-abiding, less violent, and so on.  We're born with our own desires. It's largely through education, much of it at the feet of our parents, where we learn how we're supposed to act.

Even animals understand this instinctively.  You don't see birds just leaving their chicks to raise themselves, or be raised by some other bird, or by “the village.”  A great many species mate for life, and even amongst those which are effectively polygamous, there's a real sense of family tied to the biological parents of the animal youth. Obviously, this isn't true of all animals, but it's remarkable that it's true of any.  Now-Secretary Hillary Clinton wrote a book, It Takes a Village. Former-Senator Rick Santorum's response came with a more accurate title: It Takes a Family. Both sociologically and even biologically, he's right.

So “family” is critical to society.  And traditional marriage is critical to family.  The logic of it is obvious.  Our sexual desires are often fleeting, but when we act on them, and a child is conceived, that's a lifelong consequence.  In the absence of marriage, women in particular are vulnerable, since they're ones (biologically) who are left to raise the child, if the man splits.  By tying heterosexual, potentially-reproductive sex to marriage, society insures that a family is formed.

Given this, it makes absolute sense for society to enshrine traditional marriage into its laws and norms.  We want (and even need) a society in which there aren't a lot of children conceived out of wedlock, and that those children conceived out of wedlock are still raised in a family (thus the popularity of "shotgun weddings" and the like).  Enforcing this as the norm by law through legal recognition of the institution of marriage, and the thousands of incentives tied to marriage is absolutely sensible.  It's a principle that virtually everyone in history has understood (including those who freely engaged in non-reproductive sex outside of marriage).


II. The View of Marriage Behind Gay Marriage

A. The “Romantic” View of Marriage

Almost without exception, those in favor of gay marriage approach the question through the same lens.  You can discover this quickly, by asking, "Why should gays be able to marry other gays?"  The answer will nearly without exception be that  “these two people love each other.”  And for about two hundred years in the West, we've really harped on this notion that marriage is the result of romantic love.

Let's be clear a couple of things.  First of all, romantic love is ideal: I wish every married couple was romantic towards each other. The biological and spiritual purpose behind eros and romance is to help get through the rough patches in marriage, to make marriage joyful, and to remind us of the incredible love God has for us.  But let's be clear about something else: romantic love isn't necessary for marriage.  The canon law view calls it a "partnership," and in selecting the word, carefully avoided anything suggesting that romance was necessary for marriage.

Plenty of married couples find the spark dimmed or dead, and marriage can be rough-going sometimes.  When you swear your allegiance to another human being "for better or for worse" for the rest of your life, you're knowingly pledging that even though marriage might seem awful, you'll stick to it.  If marriage wasn't hard sometimes, so bad you wanted to quit, you wouldn't need to promise you wouldn't quit.  No one has to pledge to keep doing something they're obviously going to do, and enjoy doing, like eating or relaxing.  They'll just do those things without provocation.

So the problem with gay marriage is actually something distinct from the problem with homosexuality.  Homosexuality is wrong because it perverts sex from something reproductive into something non-reproductive.  But homosexual marriage goes a step further, and turns the bedrock of society, marriage and family, into something fleeting and pointless.

Here's what I mean.  If romance is the critical factor in marriage, just consider that married couples often don't feel romantic towards each other, even if they did at the outset.  It's easy to love the other person on your wedding day. It's harder when they've let themselves go physically, there's a screaming baby, and the house is a mess. Meanwhile, there may be someone else - a co-worker, a friend, whoever - who you do feel that "spark" with. The New York Times caused a minor controversy in December when it ran in its marriage section "Vows," a blurb spotlighting a couple who met while married to other people.  The story was told as if it was romantic to do the forbidden, and abandon your families for a new fling.  But this is absolutely consistent with this view of marriage.  So is the sky-high divorce rate in America, and the massive amount of infidelity, homosexuality, and premarital sex.  We're a culture taught to follow our hearts and our hormones, and those are fickle things.

B. Peering Over the Precipice

So here's my point.  Because the heart is fickle, don't condition marriage on romance.  If you're serious about being open to having children with this person, and working with them to raise children, and staying together until death, whether things are great or awful, great. If not, wait to marry until you get to that point with someone.  Marriage is one of the single most important decisions most people will make in their lives, and it rarely gets the serious treatment it deserves.

More importantly, even if individuals want to stupidly declare, in a fit of romantic passion, that they'll be together for better or worse (while closing their eyes tightly to what "worse" might mean), as a society, we need not indulge that madness.   Society has a huge vested interest in family, and by extension, traditional marriage. Society has no interest whatsoever in just-romantic marriage without a connection to family.

Interestingly, even many gay marriage advocates recognize this.  Alan Dershowitz at Harvard argued that the solution to the gay marriage debate is to end governmental recognition of marriage altogether.  Time Magazine agreed, arguing that marriage is just a religious or spiritual practice. This is the sort of end-point of the campaign to redefine marriage: leave "marriage" something so vague and meaningless, an idea whose meaning is unique to the person declaring him- or herself "married," that it ceases to be a protectable institution at all.  Of course, the consequence of trying to become the first society without marriage are ones that we can't even fathom.

The point is clear.  Society, including the state, has a clear interest in protecting marriage, if marriage means what it always has meant.  But if "marriage" becomes an amorphous and individualistic romantic concept, what role could society possibly have in regulating or promoting that?  So the end point of the gay marriage debate is necessary the implosion and unraveling of the institution of marriage, even if individuals still declare themselves "married" in non-recognized ceremonies.


III. Conclusion

Understanding this clash of visions explains nearly everything.  When opponents of gay marriage say that it destroys the sanctity of marriage, what they mean is that gay marriage is incapable of being marriage, as that term has been traditionally understood for thousands of years.  So a government that embraces gay "marriage" is a government that discards marriage (as traditionally understood) in favor of something much more volatile and dangerous. Likewise, if the government started to declare business merges "marriages," the term marriage would be deprived of its meaning until it meant something vague and sort of meaningless.

To imagine that a culture that drains "marriage" of its meaning, or tries to substitute (in its place, or in addition) something foreign as a new form of legally-sanctioned "marriage" can do so without it having far-ranging unintended consequence is naivety to an astonishing degree.

My point is that gay marriage is a sort of "point of no return" in a much broader fight that most Americans have somewhat disconnected from.  Rather than viewing this as a battle over "gay rights" or anything else, this needs to be understood as a battle of the definition of what "marriage" actually means, and whether marriage is a thing that society and government can and should fight for.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Setting the iPhone "Confession App" Story Straight

The media's been going crazy over a new iPhone app for Confession, the aptly named "Confession: A Roman Catholic App."  So let's just make one thing clear:  the iPhone app helps to remind people of their sins by asking personalized questions.  That is, if you put that you're a seven-year old girl, the app will have a list of possible sins -- and a very different list than if you put a 33 year-old man. It does not take the place of confession - it prepares people for confession. It also includes a copy of the prayers, in case you haven't been in a long time and are nervous about forgetting them. All in all, the application seems very helpful but relatively unremarkable outside of Catholic circles.  But the media has been acting like this is a world-changing event.

For example, Maureen Dowd dedicated a typically-obnoxious New York Times editorial to this app alone.  It's a grating experience to read the whole thing.  The editorial's title is "Forgive Me, Father, for I Have Linked."  The prayer, of course, is "Bless me, father, for I have sinned."  This sets the general pattern for the piece by establishing that (a) Dowd doesn't know anything about technology, and just uses the words in a random, Mad-Libs style, and (b) Dowd knows even less about Catholicism than technology.  For example, she begins her piece by mocking the Lord's Prayer, but just replacing the prayers with random meaningless strings of words.  For example, what does, "Thy Web site come, Thy Net be done" mean?  How does one's Net "be done"?  There was a time when the New York Times was one of the finest newspapers in the world.  Now, it's publishing the equivalent of "Be-Bop-A-Lula" over a prayer.  And, of course, a Catholic prayer.  You won't see Dowd (or anyone else at the Times) trying to turn the Muslim "Allah Akbar" prayer into a prayer praising Apple, say.

The editorial is revealing that Dowd's fantasy world, besides having its own syntax and language, also has Roman Catholic priestesses, something that this world doesn't have.  So she complains:
The app also tailors the questions if you sign in as a priest or a “religious.” For instance, if you say you’re a female and try to select “priest” as your vocation, a dialogue box appears that says “sex and vocation are incompatible.” So much for modernity.
"So much for modernity" suggests that we currently have Roman Catholic priestesses, and that this App wants to send us back into the past.  If someone told you that America doesn't have flying cars, you wouldn't say "so much for modernity" in response, unless you were a time traveler, new to English, or crazy.  We know Dowd's not a time traveler (and Pope John Paul II explicitly declared that the Catholic Church will not and cannot ever ordain women, and that no pope has the power to), but she's left the other two options wide open.

The comments make clear that the overwhelming majority of Dowd's readers thought that the app replaced confession.  The first person to comment wrote, "One good thing about the iPhone app -- it makes clear that confession is one of those rituals that should be phased out, and in the meantime, made optional." The second began, "Confession by Internet, even if oblique and hypothetical, kind of takes the sacred secrecy out of the sacrament, does it not?" Of course, the general tenor of all of the comments reveal that an overwhelming majority of  Dowd's commenters hate Catholicism and, often, religion in general.

Both the Vatican and the app developer have made clear that this app does not replace oral confession to a priest.  In her limited defense, Dowd did mention that that the application wasn't supposed to replace confession. But in fairness to the commenters (who almost all assumed it did), this was at the end of the editorial, and only a brave few can trudge all the way through a Dowd editorial.  Besides, a quite legitimate question to ask is: if this is only a guide to help people confess their sins, like thousands of existing websites, pamphlets, etc., why is the media focusing on this?  Why does this app warrant New York Times coverage?  Most of the Church's prayers are available in iPhone apps - there are missals walking you through the Mass (note: you still have to go to Mass), an iBreviary, and so on.

The only reason this story seems to be popular is that people think the app replaces confession.  So the media  coverage keeps "burying the lede" - putting the "this is not an i-Confession" disclaimer towards the end, where it's less likely to get noticed. So that's the point of this post: to make clear that no app replaces confession, and that the media is just being stupid about Catholicism again, and making people less informed than if they'd never picked up the paper.