"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Please pray for Michael Spencer and his family

I recently learned that Michael Spencer (aka IMonk) has been quite seriously ill. Ryan at BHT explains:

After being very dizzy and sick for three weeks, Michael was given a non-specific cancer diagnosis last week. He was scheduled for a biopsy, and possibly more tests, today (Tuesday, [Dec 22]), but he was too weak and dehydrated from being so sick lately. The doctors decided to admit him to the university hospital in Lexington to hydrate him, and get him ready for the biopsy. The latest word was that he was feeling better after receiving fluids. We are expecting a more concrete diagnosis/prognosis later this week.

According to the most recent update, Michael is presently in the University of Kentucky Medical Center, scheduled to undergo surgery today (Dec 24) at 7:15 AM (EST). Please pray for Michael and Denise and their family.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Still looking for a Christmas gift?

Consider the new CD titled "Christmas at Ephesus" by these Benedictine sisters in Kansas City, Missouri. Last year I described our visit to Kansas City to be there when a friend of ours become a postulant. She is now a novice, and her new name is Sister Justina.

These sisters have recently produced a CD of twenty-three beautiful Christmas songs, including some that they have composed. Many are in the form of traditional chant. Here's their version of Silent Night:

Listen to four more tracks on this CD (and purchase it) here. By doing so you will do two good things at the same time; you will acquire beautiful and edifying music for you and your loved ones, and you will help support these amazing sisters, who now number over twenty.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Two Bad Arguments Against The Immaculate Conception


The Virgin Enthroned
c. 1120
Maria zur Höhe, Soest, Germany

This past Tuesday (December 8) was the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day in which Catholics celebrate the conception of Mary without original sin, in the womb of her mother Anne. Over the past week I encountered two arguments against this doctrine.

The Orthodox Church in America recently stated this on on its website:

The Orthodox Church does not accept the teaching that the Mother of God was exempted from the consequences of ancestral sin (death, corruption, sin, etc.) at the moment of her conception by virtue of the future merits of Her Son. Only Christ was born perfectly holy and sinless, as St Ambrose of Milan teaches in Chapter Two of his Commentary on Luke. The Holy Virgin was like everyone else in Her mortality, and in being subject to temptation, although She committed no personal sins. She was not a deified creature removed from the rest of humanity. If this were the case, She would not have been truly human, and the nature that Christ took from Her would not have been truly human either. If Christ does not truly share our human nature, then the possibility of our salvation is in doubt.

Grace, in Catholic theology, is not merely divine favor, but is also a participation in the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4) To receive sanctifying grace through baptism is to be granted a participation in God's own nature, and in that sense to be deified is to be granted to share by a divine gift in God's very nature. That participation in God's nature is in seed-form in this present life, and is perfected in the life to come, in the Beatific Vision, where we shall be like Him perfectly, because we will see Him just as He is. (1 John 3:2) Glory is the culmination of grace; grace is the seed of glory.

So this first argument against the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception runs like this:

(1) If Mary had been immaculately conceived, then during her life on earth she would have been deified.

(2) If Mary had been deified while on earth, she would not have been truly human, and the nature Christ took from her would not have been truly human.

(3) But Christ was truly human.


(4) Mary was not immaculately conceived.

What is wrong with this argument? The first premise is true, if we understand 'deified' in the Catholic sense I explained above. The third premise is also true. The second premise, however, is not true if we understand 'deified' in the Catholic sense. Deification, whether in this life, or in the life to come, does not detract from our humanity or make us non-human. The baptized infant does not cease to be human at the moment of baptism. Grace builds on nature; grace does not destroy or nullify nature. Even if Mary was given the preternatural gifts enjoyed by Adam and Eve prior to their Fall, this would not have made Mary non-human, because it did not make Adam and Eve non-human. Adam and Eve did not change species when they fell. They lost sanctifying grace and the preternatural gifts, but they remained human by nature. So the argument is not sound, because the second premise is false. In order to make the argument sound, we would have to use a definition of 'deified' that is contrary to Catholic theology. In other words, in order for the argument to be sound, we would have to construct a strawman of the Catholic position. That's the first argument.

I discovered the second argument when I was recently directed to a post titled "The Holy Tradition and the Veneration of Mary and other Saints in the Orthodox Church," written by Very Reverend John Morris, and posted on the "Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America" site. He too offers an argument against the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. He writes:

The Orthodox Church calls Mary "immaculate," and "all pure," as a manifestation of the Orthodox understanding of salvation as deification. Orthodox Christians believe that through the grace of God Mary has been deified or made by grace what God is by nature or, as St. Paul wrote, "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another …" Vladimir Lossky wrote, " … the very heart of the Church, one of her most secret mysteries, her mystical center, her perfection already realized in a human person fully united to God, finding herself beyond the resurrection and the judgment. This person is Mary, the Mother of God." Thus salvation for Orthodox theology is more than the forgiveness of sins or justification, but is also the transformation of the believer by the grace of God to become a partaker of the Divine Nature. Orthodox Christians see the realization of salvation in the deification of Mary.

However, Orthodox Christians do not accept the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. On the contrary, Orthodox believe that the Blessed Virgin was born in ancestral sin just like any other person. This is important because if Mary had not been born in ancestral sin, God could not have assumed sinful human nature from her. As St. Gregory Nazianzen wrote, "For that which He has not assumed He has not healed." If God had not assumed sinful human nature from the Blessed Virgin, He could not have saved sinful human nature through the Incarnation of Christ. Indeed, a prayer addressed to the Virgin Mary from the service of Compline contains the beautiful words, “thy glorious birth-giving has united God the Word to man and joined the fallen nature of our race to heavenly things."

A Catholic can fully agree with everything in the first paragraph, but Rev. Morris' argument against the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is found in the second quoted paragraph. The argument goes like this.

(1) If Mary had not been born in ancestral sin, God could not have assumed sinful human nature from her.

(2) If God had not assumed sinful human nature from the Blessed Virgin, He could not have saved sinful human nature through the Incarnation of Christ.

(3) But God saved sinful human nature through the Incarnation of Christ.


(4) Mary must have been born in ancestral sin.

It is one thing to assume human nature from sinful humans. It is quite another to assume a sinful nature. There are not two human natures, because there are not two species within a genus 'human'; 'human' is a species, not a genus. There is human nature with sanctifying grace, and human nature without sanctifying grace. Human nature without sanctifying grace is human nature in a state of original sin. Human nature with sanctifying grace is human nature participating in the divine nature.

So the second premise of Rev. Morris' argument amounts to this: Unless Christ received a human nature lacking sanctifying grace, He could not redeem those lacking sanctifying grace. That is essentially saying that unless Christ had original sin, He could not save those in sin. But that is false. If Christ Himself had original sin, then as the Church Fathers teach, Christ too would have needed a Savior. So Christ did not need to lack sanctifying grace in order to redeem those lacking sanctifying grace. On the contrary, He needed to be free from original sin in order to redeem those under sin. So the second premise of this argument is false. Christ needed to receive our human nature in order to redeem us, but He did not need to receive sinful human nature (i.e. human nature in a state of sin) in order to redeem man from sin. And because the second premise is false, therefore the argument is unsound.

Moreover, because Christ did not need to receive sinful-human-nature (i..e human nature in a state of sin), He did not need to receive human nature from someone lacking sanctifying grace in order to redeem those lacking sanctifying grace. Otherwise, Mary would have had to be in a state of mortal sin when Christ was conceived. But no one in the history of the Church has ever believed such a thing, nor do the Orthodox believe such a thing.

So both of these Orthodox arguments against the Catholic doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception are unsound.

Immaculate Theotokos, bring all your children to unity in the truth. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe


Today, December 12, is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Many people do not know anything about this historical event, even though it is undoubtedly one of the most important events in the history of Christianity in the Americas. As a result of the miracle of Mary’s apparition to a native American peasant named Juan Diego and the appearance of her image on his tilma, over eight million native Americans were converted to Christianity in the seven years from 1531 to 1538. Prior to this event, the Aztecs were offering thousands of human sacrifices per year in central Mexico, including child sacrifice. The conversion of the Aztecs to Christianity ended the brutal practice of human sacrifice.

The image above is the image that miraculously appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego when he opened it before the bishop. The image shows Mary as a humble but royal maiden. Under her feet is the moon, which for the Aztecs represented the devil. In this image we see Mary as the woman described in Revelation 12. To read a fuller account of this miraculous event see here, here, and here. Or read Warren Carroll’s Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness (Christendom Press, Front Royal, Virginia, 2002).

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen..

(cross-posted at CTC)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Early Church Fathers on the Eucharist and the Liturgy

The Last Supper (c. 1470)
Jaume Huguet

Last night, Professor Feingold (Ave Maria University) continued his lecture series on the early Church Fathers for the Association of Hebrew Catholics. Last night's lecture was titled "The early Church Fathers on the Eucharist and the Liturgy." He first presented what we know about the early liturgy of the Church, and its continuity with the liturgy of the synagogue. Then, starting in the first century, and ending with St. John Chrysostum in the late fourth century, he showed that the Fathers believed and taught the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the ecclesial dimension of the Eucharist, the sanctifying power of the Eucharist, and the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist. He showed that the idea of transubstantiation was present in the Fathers, and was not a medieval novelty. The Q&A following the lecture included a number of very good questions from a Protestant point of view. During the Q&A he explained exactly why Protestant communities do not have the Eucharist, and why having Holy Orders is essential for a valid Eucharist. The lecture and Q&A are both freely available for download as mp3 files here. Or listen to them by pressing 'play' below:



Monday, November 30, 2009

Pope Greets Ecumenical Patriarch on the Feast of Saint Andrew

The photograph at right (and the one at left) were taken three years ago today, on the Feast of St. Andrew. Pope Benedict's line of succession goes back to the Apostle Peter. The Patriarchs of Constantinople trace their succession back to the Apostle Andrew, Peter's brother. One source in the tradition tells us that St. Andrew preached in "Cappadocia, Galatia, and Bithynia," and "afterwards in Byzantium where he appointed St. Stachys as its first bishop."

Today Pope Benedict XVI sent the following letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

To His Holiness Bartholomaios I
Archbishop of Constantinople
Ecumenical Patriarch

Your Holiness,

It is with great joy that I address Your Holiness on the occasion of the visit of the delegation guided by my Venerable Brother Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to whom I have entrusted the task of conveying to you my warmest fraternal greetings on the Feast of Saint Andrew, the brother of Saint Peter and the protector of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

On this joyful occasion commemorating the birth into eternal life of the Apostle Andrew, whose witness of faith in the Lord culminated in his martyrdom, I express also my respectful remembrance to the Holy Synod, the clergy and all the faithful, who under your pastoral care and guidance continue even in difficult circumstances to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The memory of the holy martyrs compels all Christians to bear witness to their faith before the world. There is an urgency in this call especially in our own day, in which Christianity is faced with increasingly complex challenges. The witness of Christians will surely be all the more credible if all believers in Christ are "of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32).

Our Churches have committed themselves sincerely over the last decades to pursuing the path towards the re-establishment of full communion, and although we have not yet reached our goal, many steps have been taken that have enabled us to deepen the bonds between us. Our growing friendship and mutual respect, and our willingness to encounter one another and to recognize one another as brothers in Christ, should not be hindered by those who remain bound to the remembrance of historical differences, which impedes their openness to the Holy Spirit who guides the Church and is able to transform all human failings into opportunities for good.

This openness has guided the work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, which held its eleventh plenary session in Cyprus last month. The meeting was marked by a spirit of solemn purpose and a warm sentiment of closeness. I extend once again my heartfelt gratitude to the Church of Cyprus for its most generous welcome and hospitality. It is a source of great encouragement that despite some difficulties and misunderstandings all the Churches involved in the International Commission have expressed their intention to continue the dialogue.

The theme of the plenary session, The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium, is certainly complex, and will require extensive study and patient dialogue if we are to aspire to a shared integration of the traditions of East and West. The Catholic Church understands the Petrine ministry as a gift of the Lord to His Church. This ministry should not be interpreted in the perspective of power, but within an ecclesiology of communion, as a service to unity in truth and charity. The Bishop of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity (Saint Ignatius of Antioch), is understood to be the Servus Servorum Dei (Saint Gregory the Great). Thus, as my venerable predecessor the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wrote and I reiterated on the occasion of my visit to the Phanar in November 2006, it is a question of seeking together, inspired by the model of the first millennium, the forms in which the ministry of the Bishop of Rome may accomplish a service of love recognized by one and all (cf. Ut Unum Sint, 95). Let us therefore ask God to bless us and may the Holy Spirit guide us along this difficult yet promising path.

(Continue reading)

H/T: ByzTex

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What a homily: An Anglican on the Unity of the Church

'We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.’

+ In the name of the Father …

Every Sunday, week by week, and on certain other feast days, we recite the Creed, and during this Advent, I shall preach on each of its four Sundays on the Church that we say in the Creed we believe to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic. ...

So I start by examining the statement that we believe that the Church is One – although it is very much the case that every part of ‘We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church’ supports and is supported by each of the others. It is one statement, not four.

We believe that the Church is One.

continue reading

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Early Church Fathers on Mary as the New Eve

Madonna and Child with Angels
Duccio di Buoninsegna (1300-1305)
Last night Professor Lawrence Feingold (Institute for Pastoral Theology, Ave Maria University) gave a lecture to the Association of Hebrew Catholics on the subject of the early Church Fathers on Mary as the New Eve. The full audio (and Q&A) of the lecture can be downloaded for free here.

First he spoke briefly about the Catholic conception of the development of doctrine, and how Mary herself provides the model for understanding the Church's ever-deepening understanding of the deposit of faith. Then he showed how Scripture itself points to Mary as the New Eve, and how the early Church Fathers recognized and developed this doctrine of Mary as the New Eve, all holding her to be without sin. He carefully explained how the developing understanding of Mary as the New Eve gradually unveiled the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

In the second part of his lecture he examined the later Church Fathers. From the sixth century on in the East, three Marian feasts were celebrated: the Annunciation on March 25, the Nativity of Our Lady on September 8, and the Dormition commemorating Mary's holy death on August 15. In this part of his lecture Professor Feingold presented a summary of the Mariology of the Eastern Fathers after Nicea. Then he discussed the theological debate concerning the Immaculate Conception in the Latin West, as that led into the time of the Scholastics. He explained why theologians such as St. Bernard, St. Thomas, and St. Bonaventure denied the Immaculate Conception, and how Bl. Duns Scotus resolved the problem. Eventually in 1477 the feast of the Immaculate Conception was made a feast for the universal Church, and in 1708 it became a holy day of obligation in the universal Church (though it had already been a holy day of obligation for centuries in the East). Then in 1854 Pope Pius IX defined it as dogma with the solemn bull, Ineffabilis Deus.

Since the Catholic doctrines concerning Mary remain one of the difficulties for Protestant-Catholic reconciliation, and since understanding Mary as the New Eve serves as the key, I think, to understanding the basis for the other Marian dogmas, considering together what the Church Fathers say about Mary as the New Eve is a very helpful way of resolving the Protestant-Catholic disagreements concerning Mary. Those disagreements can be seen clearly in the recent Evangelicals and Catholics Together document titled "Do Whatever He Tells You: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian Faith and Life." It presents both points of view (Catholic and Evangelical Protestant), as well as the common ground both sides share. Some of the Protestant concerns raised in the ECT document are addressed in Professor Feingold's lecture. (Click here to download the mp3 of Professor Feingold's lecture and the Q&A following it.) Or listen to them directly below:



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Evangelicals and the Crisis of Authority

Jim Tonkowich has written a must-read article titled "Evangelicals and the Crisis of Authority." The article describes a present authority crisis at Calvin College regarding homosexuality and academic freedom. One person is quoted as saying "academic freedom means I can interpret Scripture in any way I see fit." The article considers the possibility that this seeming primacy of individual interpretive judgment is intrinsic to the essence of Protestantism. But in the last third of his article Jim concludes that that is a false understanding of Protestantism. I have quoted that last section in full:

[Timothy] George argues that Luther and the other Reformers were far more nuanced than a cursory reading of the dialogue at Worms indicates. Rather than seeing themselves as creating something new based on individual insights, they "saw themselves as part of the ongoing Catholic tradition, indeed as the legitimate bearers of it." The Reformers had a "sense of continuity with the church of the preceding centuries." Neither Luther nor John Calvin rejected the past or even the Roman Church in its entirety.

While the Reformers believed Scripture alone was the final authority for life and doctrine, they insisted that assent to ancient creeds was also incumbent upon Christians. They were so strongly persuaded, says George, that they saw justification by faith, the cornerstone of the Reformation, as "the logical and necessary consequence of the ecumenical orthodoxy embraced by Catholics and Protestants alike."

As to academic freedom, the Reformers were marked, "by their desire to read the Bible in dialogue with the exegetical traditions of the church." George writes:

In their biblical commentaries… the Reformers of the sixteenth century revealed an intimate familiarity with the preceding exegetical tradition, and they used it reverently as well as critically in their own expositions of the sacred text. The Scriptures were seen as the book given to the church, gathered and guided by the Holy Spirit.

These three, the sense of continuity with the Church through the ages, an embrace of ecumenical orthodoxy as expressed in the creeds, and a determination to read the Bible with the Church, form guardrails for academic and personal freedom and inquiry. They prevent biblical interpretation from falling prey to the latest cultural fad, the hippest intellectual fashion, and individual predilections.

As John Armstrong comments:

[W]e need to recover a proper emphasis upon tradition. Some Christians are accused of being stuck in the past, especially by progressive and more liberal Christians. I believe the much greater danger is an uncritical acceptance of new teachings and practices that undermine the historic faith itself. We need what my friend, the late Robert Webber, called "ancient-future faith." It is right to lean into the future and to prepare for what the Spirit will do. But the Spirit does not lead us to abandon the historic faith in the process.

Christian freedom—academic freedom and personal freedom—is not the right to interpret the Bible in any way we see fit and then act on our interpretation. It is the freedom to be fully human in company with and under the authority of the Church throughout the ages and in accord with the unchanging truth that is in Jesus Christ.

The solution to this authority problem, according to Jim, is that present-day Protestants need to recover a sense of continuity with the Church, embrace the orthodoxy of the ancient creeds, and read the Bible in dialogue with the exegetical traditions of the Church. The problem with Jim's suggestion is that it is just that, a mere suggestion. It has no authority. The things he proposes are all good things, but they are not, and cannot be, the solution to the authority vacuum within Protestantism. An authority problem cannot be solved without authority. Appealing to "the authority of the Church,"as he does in the last line of his article, is impossible when "the Church" is ultimately defined by each individual in terms of "those who agree with my general interpretation." Jim is trying to hang on to the solo scriptura / sola scriptura distinction in order to salvage Evangelicalism's decay. But as Neal Judisch and I recently argued in "Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority," there is ultimately no real distinction between solo scriptura and sola scriptura. By its rejection of apostolic succession Protestantism necessarily makes the individual the ultimate interpretive authority. And that entails that anyone can reject the ancient Church and her creeds as outdated and antiquated, and give no heed to the various exegetical traditions. Merely calling for a "sense of continuity" and an "embrace" of the ancient creeds and for reading the Bible in continuity with ancient exegetical traditions will not stop the flowering of the seeds sown almost five hundred years ago, when Protestants rejected apostolic succession and the authority of the Church. In doing so, they unwittingly made each man his own pope, though the full fruits of this sowing remained hidden under the gradually declining inertia of Catholic Tradition. Those who sow rejection of apostolic succession must ultimately reap the individualism and fragmentation of "solo scriptura." As Louis Bouyer argued:

The Protestantism which rejects the authority of the Church because it rejects all authority has come out of the Protestantism which rejected the authority of the Church because of the fear it wronged that other authority, held to be sovereign, of the Scriptures. If it was possible for the first to come from the second, it must somehow have been contained therein.

The only solution to this authority problem is a recovery of apostolic succession.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Guide to Rational Ecumenical Dialogue

Two years ago today I wrote, "One Precondition for Genuine Ecumenical Dialogue," in which I pointed out the distinction between rational dialogue and sophistry, and then described three signs of sophistry.

As surprising as it may sound, a major impediment to fruitful ecumenical dialogue is an unfamiliarity with the rules of rational dialogue, including the basic rules of logic. Many persons in the general populace have never taken a course in logic or even studied logic, and the result is that relatively few people know how properly to engage in rational dialogue. The new media encourages a soundbyte mode of interaction, which is usually unproductive and often counterproductive. It lends itself to sophistry rather than furthering mutual understanding and converging upon the truth. When the rules of rational dialogue are not followed, discourse tends to descend into the cacophony of narcissism and verbal violence. In many cases this is precisely what we find in comboxes. Here are some things that anyone who wishes to participate in ecumenical dialogue needs to know.

First, we need to know what an argument is. In common popular usage, an 'argument' is thought of as a quarrel or debate. But with respect to logic, an argument is a set of propositions or statements, one of which (called the 'conclusion') is said to follow from the others (called 'premises'). An argument is the smallest unit of speech containing reasoning from one proposition to another. So if some instance of communication does not include arguments, then that communication is only a series of assertions or questions. If it is part of an interchange, asking and answering questions can allow for shared contemplation and consideration of respective positions. And such exchanges can be very effective at paving the way for presenting arguments from shared common ground, because sincere questions and authentic answers are absolutely essential for coming to understand each other. And sometimes when we come to understand two positions more clearly, the superiority of one over the other becomes self-evident, and does not need to be demonstrated by further argumentation. But merely exchanging assertions is not shared reasoning by which two or more persons move together rationally toward agreement about the truth. In general, without arguments there can be no mutual movement of the intellect toward a shared conclusion. Merely trading assertions is futile, and for that reason a wise person will not do it.

In rational dialogue, when someone presents an argument, we evaluate the argument according to two criteria. First we evaluate the truth of the premises. That is, we check each premise to determine whether it is true. If we find that one or more of the premises is not true, then we show why those premises are false, or why the available evidence indicates that those premises are false. Then we evaluate the form of the argument. That is, we make sure that the conclusion follows from the premises. If the conclusion does not follow from the premises, then we show how the truth of the premises does not guarantee that the conclusion is true. However, if we find that the premises are all true, and that the conclusion follows by necessity from the premises, then we accept the argument as a sound argument, and we accept the truth of its conclusion.

So there are essentially three possible proper responses to a deductive argument. Either we show the argument to be unsound, or we accept the truth of its conclusion, or we withhold judgment for the time being, explaining that we need time to think about it or investigate it more deeply, and we take the time to think about it, until we can either refute the argument or accept the truth of its conclusion. We do not change the subject or criticize the person presenting the argument or talk about ourselves. Arguments are not properly evaluated by self-referring statements, such as, "I don't buy that argument" or "I am unpersuaded" or "I am skeptical" or "I am ...." The question at hand is not about oneself, but about whether the argument is sound. So talking about oneself is changing the subject, and avoiding the question at hand. The only two ways to refute an argument are to show one or more of the premises to be false or show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. That is why none of the following statements refutes an argument:

(1) "That argument does not work."

(2) "That argument is unhelpful, uninformed, unimpressive, strange, betrays ignorance."

(3) "That argument is absurd."

(4) "That argument is convenient."

(5) "That argument is old/tired/tiresome/stale."

(6) "That argument is impossible."

(7) "That argument is unsatisfactory."

(8) "That argument is offensive." (or hurtful, harmful, disrespectful, toxic, tragic, appalling, painful, unpleasant, insulting, bigoted, stupid)

Other points:

(9) "I'd like to suggest that ... " or "I suggest that ..." or "I submit that ..." are not arguments; they are mere suggestions. Merely adding this phrase to the beginning of a claim does not turn it into an argument.

(10) An assertion is not an argument; it is merely an assertion. Assertions demonstrate nothing, establish nothing, show nothing, unless the authority of the speaker is sufficient to establish the truth of the assertion. An assertion without an argument is implicitly therefore an argument from authority, namely, the speaker's authority, and thus the speaker is implicitly presupposing that he or she is an authority on the subject in question, having sufficient authority on the subject so as to establish publicly the truth of the assertion merely by making the assertion.

(11) Avoid begging the question (i.e. presuming precisely what is in question between you and your interlocutor).

(12) We rightly accept or reject claims ultimately by their truth or falsity, not by whether believing them has (at least for some) desirable or undesirable consequences. A truth can lead to or result in undesirable consequences, and a falsehood can lead to or result in desirable consequences.

(13) "Your attempt rings hollow" transfers focus to the will (i.e. an 'attempt'), which is internal and subjective, rather than keeping the focus on one's argument, which is external and objective. It also uses an entirely subjective and vague evaluative criterion (i.e. "rings hollow"), rather than using "truth" and "falsity", "soundness" and unsoundness" as criteria.

(14) Similarly, an argument is not properly evaluated by whether it is "compelling," "convincing," or "persuasive," or "plausible". Those are subjective criteria. Just because I am not compelled, convinced, or persuaded by the argument, or do not find it plausible, does not show that the argument is unsound. (Only if I were the Logos Himself would this follow.) To use one's own not-being-persuaded, not-being-convinced, not-being-compelled, or not-finding-plausible, as the criterion by which to evaluate arguments is to treat oneself as God, and for this reason can be referred to as the divine identity fallacy.

(15) "That argument doesn't hold water" is not a refutation of an argument.

(16) "I would argue that x" is not an argument for x, but a claim that under other conditions, one would provide such an argument. This phrase is typically used because of a conflation of 'argument' and 'claim.' It is the subjunctive phantom argument fallacy.

(17) "That argument is hard to take seriously in all honesty." The fact that a person has difficulty taking an argument seriously (in all honesty) is not a refutation of the argument, but a statement about the person.

(18) "Why do you feel the need to say things like [x]?" This is an ad hominem. Instead of showing that x is false, it sophistically calls into question the interlocutor's motivations, by framing them in terms of misguided feelings aimed at alleviating some psychological need. Psychological deconstruction avoids refuting the interlocutor's claim, but instead presumes its error and attempts to construct a psychological reason for the interlocutor's [alleged] error. This is a form of the bulverism fallacy. Another example of this fallacy can be seen when criticisms of position Y are re-described (by an interlocutor) as fears of position Y. The bulverism fallacy can also be seen in cases where the decision to accept position X is treated by others as arising from some psychological desire for comfort, security, money, acceptance, power, etc. rather than as a result of arriving at the conclusion that X is true. Another form of the bulverism fallacy is the "if you disagree with me, you must be experiencing an illusion" stance. Rather than showing that the interlocutors are wrong, it presumes that the interlocutors are wrong and attributes their disagreement with the speaker to illusion, hallucination, disordered desire, or other epistemic or cognitive failure on their part.

(19) Abusus usum non tollit. Abuse does not nullify proper use. If people have appealed to a truth T in order to attempt to justify or rationalize harmful behavior B, that does not falsify truth T. The abuse of a truth does not falsify that truth. So appealing to truth T in order to rationalize wrongful behavior B is compatible with T being true. The objection conflates the truth and the misuse of the truth, by treating criticism of the misuse of the truth as if such criticism also shows T not to be true.

(20) "Go read a book" or "Go read book x," or any other imperative, does not refute an argument or falsify a claim.

(21) "Only someone who has never contemplated x or attempted y or been through z would make that argument or think that argument a good or sound argument." This is the ad hominem fallacy, and leaves the argument unrefuted. On ad hominems in general, see comment #28 in the Virtue and Dialogue thread.

(22) Criticisms of X are not endorsements of Y. Responding to another person's criticism of X with a criticism of Y, as if that nullifies the criticism of X, is a form the tu quoque falllacy.

(23) Questions are not arguments. Questions are not reasons. Questions are questions. One kind of sophistry is treating questions as substitutes for arguments.

I will be updating this page on a regular basis, with the intention of making it into a more thorough guide for rational ecumenical dialogue. If you have any suggestions, I'd be glad to hear them.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Russian Orthodox Relations: a Warming and a Cooling

Rorate Caeli posted an article two days ago indicating a possible forthcoming meeting between Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kirill, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. Yesterday the Telegraph published an article titled, "Russian Orthodox and Catholic Church may end 950-Year Rift." The article begins:

Relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church have been tense for centuries, but in a sign that relations are finally thawing, Archbishop Ilarion, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign relations department, said that both sides wanted a meeting, although he emphasised that problems remained.

Ilarion spoke of a rapprochement under Pope Benedict XVI that would allow for a meeting with the new Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Kiril, who took up his office in February after the death of the previous patriarch.

"There have been visits at a high level," said Illarion. "We are moving towards the moment when it will become possible to prepare a meeting between the Pope and the Moscow patriarch." (Continue reading)

This comes after yesterday's news that the Russian Orthodox Church may sever relations with the German Evangelical Church over the latter's election of Margot Kassman (in the photo at right) as its bishop.

The Russian Orthodox Church may sever relations with the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), a major Protestant church of Western Europe that has elected a woman to chair the EKD's council.

The Orthodox clergy say this runs counter to evangelical principles. Analysts fear this could provoke a big inter-faith conflict.

Bishop Margot Kassmann, the first woman to lead the Evangelical Church in Germany, which unites some 24 million Protestants of more than 20 Lutheran and Reformed churches, was elected at the council's meeting on October 28. The 51-year-old bishop of Hanover is divorced and has four daughters.

"We plan to celebrate 50 years of dialog with the German Lutheran Church in late November and early December," Hilarion, the bishop of Volokolamsk and head of the Moscow patriarchy's external church relations department, said on Wednesday. "The celebrations will also mark the end of that dialog."

The Russian Orthodox Church does not accept female clergy. (Continue reading)

H/T: Koinonia, ByzTex, Ad Orientem.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Early Church Fathers on Scripture (Prof. Feingold lectures)

Christ Appears to two Apostles on the way to Emmaus
Duccio Buoninsegna (1308-1311)
Dr. Lawrence Feingold of Ave Maria University recently presented two lectures on the early Church Fathers and Scripture, continuing his series of lectures sponsored by the Association of Hebrew Catholics, and devoted to the subject of the early Church Fathers. Last week's lecture was titled "The Early Church Fathers on the Authorship of the Four Gospels." The most recent lecture was titled "Patristic Exegesis: Biblical Typology." Both lectures can be downloaded as audio files (mp3) here. Or listen to them by pressing 'play' below. In the latter lecture he explained how the early Church Fathers understood Scripture to have a spiritual sense in addition to its literal sense. This spiritual sense could include an allegorical, moral, or eschatological meaning. He gave more detailed treatment to some of the writings of St. Melito (bishop of Sardis around AD 170) and of Origen.

Next Wednesday (November 18), Dr. Feingold will be giving a lecture titled "The Early Church Fathers on Mary as the New Eve." If you have questions about the subject of Mary as the new Eve, and you would like Dr. Feingold to address those questions during his lecture (or the Q&A following the lecture), please send them to me as soon as possible at my email address listed in my profile (lower left of this page), and I will forward them to him. A very helpful book on the subject of Mary in the Fathers is titled Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin in Patristic Thought, by Luigi Gambero.

Early Church Fathers on the Authorship of the Four Gospels


Patristic Exegesis: Biblical Typology


Friday, November 6, 2009

Is Sola Scriptura in the Bible? A Reply to R.C. Sproul Jr.

R.C. Sproul Jr. recently wrote a short article titled "Is Sola Scriptura in the Bible?" In light of our recent article treating the subject of sola scriptura, it might be helpful to examine Sproul's comments from a Catholic point of view. (Continue reading)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority

According to Keith Mathison, over the last one hundred and fifty years Evangelicalism has replaced sola scriptura, according to which Scripture is the only infallible ecclesial authority, with solo scriptura, the notion that Scripture is the only ecclesial authority. The direct implication of solo scriptura is that each person is his own ultimate interpretive authority. Solo scriptura is, according to Mathison, an unbiblical position; proponents of sola scriptura should uphold the claim that Scripture is the only infallible authority, but should repudiate any position according to which individual Christians are the ultimate arbiters of Scriptural truth. In this article Neal Judisch and I argue that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura with respect to the holder of ultimate interpretive authority, and that a return to apostolic succession is the only way to avoid the untoward consequences to which both solo scriptura and sola scriptura lead. (Continue reading)

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Internet Monk Interview

I mentioned a few days ago that Michael Spencer (aka Internet Monk) had asked me to do an interview for his site. He is going to post the interview in five parts. He has already posted Part 1.

Especially over the last year or so Michael has been doing things that no other prominent Evangelicals (that I know of) are doing.  It might be called an honest and transparent self-examination of Evangelicalism, seeking to determine its strengths and its weaknesses, its identity and its future. He's not doing it to be critical, but to save it. The fascinating part of this endeavor, from my point of view, is that in seeking to understand and preserve Evangelicalism, Michael, in a sense, has flung open the doors to receive insight from other Christian traditions. And that has begun an ecumenical conversation. Such conversations can easily devolve into ugliness, especially on the internet. But Michael runs a tight ship, and so has fostered a safe context in which these discussions can take place. The result is often that Baptists and Lutherans and Calvinists and Catholics and Pentecostals and Orthodox and Anglicans are all talking to each other in a friendly, respectful way, about their theology and practice. In this respect, what Michael is doing ecumenically is pioneering. So I'm grateful for his invitation to contribute to the discussion.

UPDATE: Part 2 is posted.

UPDATE: Part 3 is posted.

UPDATE: Part 4 is posted.

UPDATE: Part 5 is posted.

UPDATE: Michael's response.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

If Luther had lived in our time . . .

... instead of doing this ...

... he might have used buses.



Friday, October 30, 2009

A Parable for Philosophers

"Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all deeds
which among men are a reproach and a disgrace:
thieving, adultery, and deceiving one another."

 - Xenophanes, quoted by Sextus Empiricus in Against the Mathematicians.

There was once a religion whose adherents believed that God sometimes spoke falsehoods. One day a lover of wisdom came and rebuked them for believing this about God. They first replied by denying that they believed this about God. "We do not call it speaking falsehoods," they said, "We think of it as God's speech not being restricted to matching reality." The lover of wisdom replied, "If it were speaking falsehoods, what would be different about it?" They were silent, looking down anxiously and shuffling their feet. Finally, their high priest responded, speaking not to the wisdom lover, but to the others concerning the wisdom lover, saying, "The power of the a priori notion that God's speech must match reality is patent in him." The others all immediately looked relieved, and joined in patronizing derision of the wisdom lover. In response, the lover of wisdom walked away quietly. That evening he nailed the following notice to the door of their temple: "Here a god is feared; here no god is worshiped."

When the notice was discovered the people rioted, dragged the wisdom lover outside the city and picked up stones to kill him. "Why do you seek to kill me? he asked. "Because you falsely claimed that we do not worship God," they replied. The lover of wisdom looked intently at them and said, "If my speech did not match reality, then I have imitated the God you claim to worship, in which case you should praise me. But if I did not speak falsely, then why are you angry?" No one could answer him. The wisdom lover turned and walked through their midst toward the neighboring city, and no one touched him or said another word to him.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Early Church Fathers and Greek Philosophy (audio)

Professor Feingold (Ave Maria University), gave a lecture last night to the Association of Hebrew Catholics. His lecture was titled, "The Early Church Fathers and Greek Philosophy: St. Justin, St. Clement of Alexandria, and Origen." I think this was his best lecture so far in his series on the early Church Fathers. (Download the audio of last night's lecture and the Q&A following the lecture here.) He explained the different possible attitudes toward Greek philosophy, drawing from the writings of St. Justin, St. Clement of Alexandria (represented in the icon at right), and Origen. He also explained the difference between rationalism and fideism, showed why they are both errors, and how Catholicism avoids both errors. In addition he showed how Origen's misuse of philosophy led him into certain errors, and how Tertullian's rejection of philosophy led him into error. Both rationalism and fideism are common errors today among Christians. Rationalism requires that every mystery of the faith be verified by reason; fideism denies that philosophy has a role as handmaiden to theology. Professor Feingold also discussed the Church Fathers' understanding of the passage in Exodus regarding the plundering of the Egyptians on the night they departed from Egypt. In the last part of the lecture he discussed Pope Benedict's Regensburg Address on the relation of faith and reason, and the attempt by some to de-hellenize Christianity.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Reply from a Romery Person

Last week as I was preparing to go out of town for a conference, I received an interview request from Michael Spencer (aka IMonk) regarding the recent announcement by the Vatican concerning the establishment of Personal Ordinariates. These Personal Ordinariates will allow former Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining distinctive elements of Anglican "spiritual and liturgical patrimony." Among other things, Michael mentioned that he wanted to ask me some questions pertaining to a post titled "All the Romery People" authored by someone named JDK on a blog titled Mockingbird. I hadn't yet received the interview questions from Michael, so on the flight back to St. Louis, I wrote the following comments in response to JDK's "All the Romery People." (Continue reading)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stanley Hauerwas on Reformation Sunday

In the Reformation tradition, today is referred to as "Reformation Sunday." It is the Sunday in October closest to October 31, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg door (in the photo at right) in 1517. Some Protestants treat Reformation Sunday as a day to be celebrated. That is understandable if one conceives of Luther as a 16th century Moses who led God's chosen people out of the "Babylonian Captivity" of the Church into the promised land of Protestantism. But there is another way to conceive Reformation Sunday, even as a Protestant. In this other way, while there were indeed abuses in the Church that needed correcting, the Protestant schism was a tragedy with terrible effects on the world, especially in Europe, as many people lost their faith in God altogether on account of religious wars and all sorts of incompatible interpretations of Scripture. Indifferentism, liberalism and rationalism filled the authority vacuum. This schism to this day prevents Protestants and Catholics from sharing the same Eucharist, which is that sacrament by which we are one Body. (1 Cor 10:17) For these reasons, the other perspective sees Reformation Sunday as a day of mourning, not rejoicing. Celebrating an event causes the celebrants to overlook what was harmful about the event. The danger of celebrating Reformation Sunday is that one can, at the same time, even without intention, end up celebrating schism, when instead we should be mourning this schism, so as to remind ourselves of the daily need to be working to resolve this schism.

Stanley Hauerwas helps us see Reformation Sunday from that other perspective. His article can be found here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bulgarian Orthodox Leader Affirms Desire for Unity with the Catholic Church

Bulgarian Orthodox Leader Affirms Desire for Unity

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 22, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A Bulgarian Orthodox prelate told Benedict XVI of his desire for unity, and his commitment to accelerate communion with the Catholic Church.

At the end of Wednesday’s general audience, Bishop Tichon, head of the diocese for Central and Western Europe of the Patriarchate of Bulgaria, stated to the Pope, “We must find unity as soon as possible and finally celebrate together,” L’Osservatore Romano reported.

“People don’t understand our divisions and our discussions,” the bishop stated. He affirmed that he will “not spare any efforts” to work for the quick restoration of “communion between Catholics and Orthodox.”
Bishop Tichon said that “the theological dialogue that is going forward in these days in Cyprus is certainly important, but we should not be afraid to say that we must find as soon as possible the way to celebrate together.”

“A Catholic will not become an Orthodox and vice versa, but we must approach the altar together,” he added.
The prelate told the Pontiff that “this aspiration is a feeling that arose from the works of the assembly” of his diocese, held in Rome, in which all the priests and two delegates from every Bulgarian Orthodox parish took part.

“We have come to the Pope to express our desire for unity and also because he is the Bishop of Rome, the city that hosted our assembly,” he stated.

H/T: Overheard in the Sacristy

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tertullian and St. Cyprian: On the Unity of the Church (audio)

Professor Feingold's fifth lecture in his series on the early Church Fathers is now available for download here. The title of the lecture is "Tertullian and St. Cyprian: On the Unity of the Church." This lecture in particular is directly relevant to the purpose of this blog, in pursuing the reconciliation of all Christians in full visible unity. Tertullian and St. Cyprian [represented in the icon at right] were both African Christians, writing at the beginning and middle of the third century, respectively. In their writings we have a window into the early Church's understanding of the nature of the Church and the principle of the Church's unity. As you listen, ask yourself this: What are the implications of Tertullian and St. Cyprian's understanding of the Church for contemporary Christians, especially for Protestant-Catholic reunion? If you have thoughts or questions about the lecture (especially regarding Church unity), please free to comment below.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

William Chellis: "Why Rome is not my enemy"

Bill Chellis, the pastor of Rochester Reformed Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York, recently wrote a post titled, "Why Rome is not my enemy." He writes:

Some readers may be disturbed about the DRC trend toward inclusion of Roman Catholics. I wish to say a word in response. I am not unfamiliar with the Reformed Confessions' descriptions of the Bishop of Rome as the anti-Christ. I am also perfectly aware that our theologians have often argued that the Mass as a form of idolatry. I understand that there are many conservative Protestant for which these statements are meaningful. While I understand these things, I cannot affirm them. In fact, the more I learn about Roman Catholic theology and church history, the more respect I have for our brothers and sister in Christ within the Roman Catholic communion.

(Continue reading)

I'm deeply grateful for Bill's charitable spirit toward the Catholic Church. This kind of approach by Protestant leaders is a beautiful example of the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing Christians toward unity through the charity that seeks unity in the truth. In this stance of charity, openness and mutual respect, ecumenical dialogue can be fruitful and efficacious.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pope Benedict Creates a New Structure for Anglicans to Enter into Full Communion with the Catholic Church

Damian Thompson's report is here. Fr. Z's comments are here. See also the CNA report and the AP article. The CDF document is here. The Joint Statement by The Archbishop of Westminster and The Archbishop of Canterbury (both pictured at right) can be found here.

This action by the Holy See opens the way for the reception into the Catholic Church of at least 400,000 Anglicans who in 2007 had requested full visible communion with the Catholic Church. This is one significant step in healing the schism that took place under King Henry VIII in the 16th century, separating Anglicans from the Catholic Church for now almost five hundred years. As a former Anglican myself, I'm delighted by this news. For all those praying and working for the reconciliation of all Christians in full visible unity, this news is a cause for celebration.

UPDATE: The Primate of the TAC responds.

UPDATE 2: Video

H/T: Kansas Catholic

Monday, October 19, 2009

Grace in action: Mother Teresa, an image of the Church

Six years ago today, Mother Teresa was beatified by Pope John Paul II, and became Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. At her death, the former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar said: "She is the United Nations. She is peace in the world." In this way, in her own person she typifies the Church, which in its catholicity is the United Nations, and as Christ's Body is peace in the world. We are Christ's hands and feet. The head cannot say to the feet, "I have no need of you." (1 Cor 12:21)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Archbishop Burke: Contraception and Abortion

Archbishop Burke is making history today, and by his most recent appointment stands poised to influence the future direction of Catholicism in America. Here I wish to talk about something he said recently. But first let me explain.

There comes a time when to remain silent is to become complicit. In the face of evils so grievous, there is only one upright option; we must speak up, speak out and do everything in our power to resist them. Which evils? Things like this, and this, and this. How do we respond to such evils? We have to expose the falsehood of the underlying causes, and show to the world the way of life and truth. The underlying causes of these evils include fundamental philosophical and theological errors. One such error is the nominalism that denies that things have natures, or that we can know the natures of things. When nominalism is combined with empiricism, the result is a scientism by which an abortionist sees no ontological difference between an unborn human and an unborn dog. If a person loses sight of that ontological difference, he has lost sight of the basis for ethical differences between dogs and humans. Without recognizing that ontological difference, one cannot see the intrinsic value and intrinsic right to life of a human being. That leads to the mistaken notion that the unborn child is valuable only if he or she is wanted by his or her mother, and that the child has 'rights' only if human laws grant rights to the child.

Another fundamental philosophical error is John Locke's notion of personhood as self-consciousness, according to which there can be a human being without a human person, when self-consciousness seems to be lost or not yet manifest. This error allows people to think that when they are killing unborn human beings, they are not killing human persons, only potential persons. It allows people to think that in starving Terri Schiavo, no person was being starved, only a 'vegetable.' In actuality, wherever there is a human being, there is a human person, because a person is an individual substance of a rational nature, as Boethius explained long ago. A human being is not a person inhabiting a body, or a body occupied by a another being -- i.e. a person. Rather, a human being is a human person. Wherever there is a human being, that human being is a human person, whether or not he or she presently has or manifests self-consciousness.

Another fundamental philosophical error, is an error about sex. In an age in which sex education is so strongly emphasized, it is no small irony that our culture is deeply uninformed about the philosophy of sex. We have become experts in the technique of sex, but we have become ignorant of the telos of sex. We have become like little children who have not yet learned of the "birds and the bees," because we have forgotten what sex is for. Like children in sweatshops we know all the ways this product can be put together, but we have no idea what is its purpose. So, as children do when they do not know the purpose of a thing, by default it becomes a toy. But life and death, joy and laughter, trust and betrayal, love and abuse, flourishing and extinction, fulfillment and suffering lie in potency in this 'toy.' And that is why it is no toy at all.

And that sets up what I want to say about some recent comments by Archbishop Burke. Last month he delivered a talk in which he said the following:

A second context of my remarks is the essential relationship of the respect for human life and the respect for the integrity of marriage and the family. The attack on the innocent and defenseless life of the unborn has its origin in an erroneous view of human sexuality, which attempts to eliminate, by mechanical or chemical means, the essentially procreative nature of the conjugal act. The error maintains that the artificially altered conjugal act retains its integrity. The claim is that the act remains unitive, even though the procreative nature of the act has been radically violated. In fact, it is not unitive, for one or both of the partners withholds an essential part of the gift which is the essence of the conjugal union. The so-called "contraceptive mentality" is essentially anti-life. Many forms of so-called contraception are, in fact, abortifacient, that is, they destroy, at its beginning, a life which has already been conceived.

The manipulation of the conjugal act, as Pope Paul VI prophetically observed, has led to many forms of violence to marriage and family life (Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae, "On the Proper Regulation of the Propagation of Offspring," 25 July 1968, no. 17). Through the spread of the contraceptive mentality, especially among the young, human sexuality is no longer seen as the gift of God, which draws a man and a woman together, in a bond of lifelong and faithful love, crowned by the gift of new human life, but as a tool for personal gratification. Once sexual union is no longer seen to be, by its very nature, procreative, human sexuality is abused in ways that are profoundly harmful and even destructive of individuals and of society itself. One has only to think of the devastation which is daily wrought in our nation by the multi-million dollar industry of pornography. Essential to the advancement of the culture of life is the proclamation of the truth about the conjugal union, in its fullness, and the correction of the contraceptive thinking which fears life, which fears procreation.

Archbishop Burke reminds us of the prophetic words of Pope Paul VI regarding the social consequences of disconnecting sex from its intrinsic telos by accepting the use of contraceptives. Given that disconnect, warned Pope Paul VI, sexuality will come to be reconceived as a channel for self-gratification, as opposed to self-donation. But when self-gratification becomes the conceived end of sexuality, then anyone or anything obstructing the way to that self-gratification is conceived as an impediment to the fulfillment of one's sexuality. And Pope Paul VI was right. In the sex-as-self-gratification mindset, when an unborn child frustrates that self-gratification, the child must be destroyed [warning, obscene language at the link]. In this way, contraception is intrinsically linked to the violence of abortion.

Many Christians do not realize that prior to 1930, all Protestant denominations agreed with the Catholic Church and with all Christians since the first century, that contraception is sinful. The Anglicans at the Lambeth Conference in 1930 were the first Christians in the history of Christianity to deny the immorality of contraception. Pope Pius XI responded to the Lambeth decision by writing Casti connubii, in which he taught that whenever the marital act is "deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life, [this] is an offense against the law of God and of nature." (Casti connubii, 56) All Christians had always understood that it was wrong to treat our sexual organs or the sexual act as a toy to do with according to our pleasure. But soon after the Anglicans gave in, all other Protestant denominations went along. Now, even the most conservative Protestant denominations think nothing of contraception, and many Catholics do not follow the Church's teaching against the use of contraceptives.

But let's consider some uncomfortable questions. What if there is an intrinsic connection between the popular acceptance of contraceptives, and the legalization of abortion? And what if there is an intrinsic connection between the acceptance of contraception among Christians, and the popular acceptance of contraception? If so, then there is an intrinsic connection between the acceptance of contraception among Christians, and the legalization of abortion. In that case there is a deep contradiction between picketing in front of an abortion clinic, and using contraceptives or being in a Christian denomination that condemns abortion but condones the use of contraceptives.

Given this intrinsic causal relation between contraceptives and abortion, if Catholics and Protestants seek to stand united in opposition to abortion, we must stand united in opposition to the use of contraceptives and the contraceptive mentality. As important and worthwhile as protesting outside of abortion clinics is (especially in saving the lives of children whose mothers are persuaded by our presence not to abort their child), we are there confronting the deadly symptoms of the moral disease, not its fundamental cause. To stop abortion we must teach society the "birds and the bees" in its true sense. We must show the intrinsic evil of contracepted sex by showing the personal and teleological nature of sex in its God-given beauty and fullness. But this teaching cannot be only in words; it must first be in deeds. If Christians wish to stop abortion, we must throw out our prophylactics, and get off the pill. Protestants and Catholics cannot effectively teach the "birds and the bees" to society until we ourselves know and practice the virtue of chastity, i.e. true sexual excellence.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Becoming Catholic: Deconstruction of a Deconstruction

Anthony Bradley recently wrote a short article in World magazine titled "Church hoppin' to Rome."Anthony's intention in the article is to address some of the conditions within Evangelical Protestantism that contribute to Protestants becoming Catholic. In his article he refers to a 2002 JETS article by Scot McKnight, writing:

In the September 2002 edition of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Scot McKnight’s article, "From Wheaton to Rome: Why Evangelicals Become Roman Catholic," offered good insight regarding the phenomenon of Protestants converting to Catholicism. The list included: (1) a desire for certainty, (2) a desire for history, (3) a desire for unity, and (4) a desire for authority.

Anthony then goes on to discuss each of these four desires. It should be pointed out that Scot's list leaves out the most important desire, the one that trumps all the others: the desire for truth. By this omission Scot implies that Protestants who become Catholic are doing so not primarily because of their desire for truth, and thus not because in their search for truth they believe they have found the true Church Christ founded, and in it the true doctrine of Christ handed down from the Apostles. In this respect Scot's deconstruction of Protestants who become Catholic implicitly treats them as persons who love something else more than truth, and are willing to sacrifice truth to attain it. That would not be a charitable assumption. In fact, it would be a subtle ad hominem, impugning the character of all those Protestants who become Catholic, and thus discrediting their decision to seek full communion with the Catholic Church.

In Scot's article we see that when converts to Catholicism talk about being motivated by a desire for the truth, he construes that as a desire for certainty. It is as though, for him, they aren't sacrificing truth for certainty; what they really want is certainty. But truth and certainty are not the same. Certainty is a subjective phenomenon, and many people who are certain about a position later come to discover that they were wrong about that position. Many Muslims and Mormons, for example, are certain that they are right. But presumably Scot would agree that Muslims and Mormons are in error in many important respects. Hence, since truth and certainty are not the same thing, it follows that the desire for certainty is not the same as the desire for truth. Therefore, Scot has indeed excluded "desire for truth" from his list.

Some forms of postmodernism construe the desire for truth as a desire for certainty, as though truth reduces to certainty, or is something entirely beyond our grasp as humans, and hence entirely beyond our capacity to desire or attain. Given that Protestants who become Catholic describe their journey as motivated by a desire for truth, an attempt to deconstruct their conversions as driven fundamentally by a desire for certainty, not for truth, deconstructs itself by revealing the influence of that postmodern philosophy.

St. Irenaeus and the Battle against Gnosticism (audio)

Professor Feingold's fourth lecture in his series on the Early Church Fathers is now available for download as an mp3 here. In this lecture he speaks about the second-century Gnosticism that St. Irenaeus refuted, and summarizes various aspects of the theology we find in the writing of St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, who lived from about AD 135 to around AD 200. St. Irenaeus was a pupil under St. Polycarp, who had sat under the Apostle John. Professor Feingold shows that the faith St. Irenaeus defends is the Catholic faith.