Tuesday, May 03, 2005

St. Janus

<< Patrick:

I think Steve Hays pretty obviously believes that the placing of people like Fr. Brown on the PBC proves that the Catholic Chuch has liberalized itself, even if you yourself would avoid making such an error. Hays has repeatedly pointed to these appointments to "prove" that Dave and others are not really in line with the Church as a whole: he seems to have no grasp of the distinction between the sinfulness of members of the Church (including her highest officials) on one hand, and the teaching and life of the Church on the other. >>

No, actually the beauty of my argument is that it works either way. If you have Evangelicals who converted to Rome for conservative reasons, for a foundation of religious certainty, and if Roman Catholics are supposed to defer to the PBC, then if Evangelical converts do not defer to the PBC, their conversion is insincere.

But my argument doesn’t depend on that particular prong of the dilemma. Suppose a convert to the faith says, as a matter of principle, that he is not bound by the PBC?

Suppose he says, To hell with the PBC? I can believe whatever I want about the Bible. I can be to the right of the PBC or the left of the PBC?

Now, if he wants to take this position, then that plays into my argument just as well. For it makes a mockery of having a PBC in the first place. And it makes a mockery of the magisterium which put it in place.

What’s the point of the PBC if not to set the parameters for what is out of bounds? If you choose, let us say, to take a more traditional view of Scripture, then you are not looking to the modern magisterium for guidance. You are forming your own views independent of the magisterium. And if you, as a Catholic, don’t take the institutions of the RCC seriously, why should anyone else?

BTW, let us keep in mind that the PBC is not merely some adjunct body under the magisterium. Its membership is not limited to lowly members of the priesthood. Its membership includes some bishops and cardinals who are members of the magisterium in their own right.

But, yes, I happen to think that the choice of a subordinate says something about the superior who chose him. A superior chooses a subordinate who is simpatico with his own views. He doesn’t choose a subordinate who subverts his own views—not knowingly, at least. And if he does mistakenly make such a choice, he can unmake it as well. It is striking to see the number of Catholics who play dumb about something so very obvious as this.

Yet it isn’t merely a matter of inference. For even when we go further up the food chain, we find that the very same folks who thumb their nose at the PBC feel just as free to flip off the Prefect or the Pope when you cite their liberal views of Scripture, or salvation—or whatever else.

In the end, what’s the difference between a liberal and a conservative Catholic? Liberal Catholics dismiss conservative expressions of the magisterium, while conservative Catholics dismiss liberal expressions of the magisterium.

And that’s fine with me. They’re just doing my job for me. With enemies like that, who needs friends?

Of course the RCC has liberalized. You can see this in many respects and at many levels. Just compare Vatican II to ecumenical councils before it (e.g., Vatican I, Florence, Lateran IV), and you can see for yourself that the RCC has liberalized in its doctrine of Scripture, tradition, and salvation.

You have to wonder what would ever count as evidence against the RCC from the way that some of the converts talk. No matter how high-placed the source, they excuse it. If you want to see where the extremes of blind faith, skepticism, and libertinism meet, just tune into an “Evangelical Catholic" defending his new-found faith.


  1. Here is the website for the Pontifical Biblical Commission:


    It's sometimes argued that because the PBC is no longer part of the Magesterium, its views aren't binding. However, Cardinal Ratzinger stated that the PBC had the support of the Magesterium and he approved at least a couple of their documents.

    Speaking of the PBC's documents, for some reason only recent documents are on-line. Why doesn't the Vatican scan in the documents that apparently say RCs should accept Mosaic authorship of the Pentetauch? I guess, as Nixon's press secretary once said, those statements are "inoperative."

  2. This argument seems like a very strong dilemma argument. It mirrors to a much superior degree what I've written on my nascent blog, though you are much more to the point than I am.

    I have wondered as of late just what exactly a RC would view as fatal to the RCC. Based on the wranglings by the commenters at Dave Armstrong's site and others, it seems that RCism enjoys the same sort of plasticity as does Darwinism, Marxism, and Freudianism.

    But Dave Armstrong and his posters have spoken....the matter is closed.

  3. Steve,

    Roman Catholics are supposed to defer to the PBC in the same way any reasonable person should defer to any body of experts. Of course, the Catholics for whom the documents of the PBC are the most immediately relevant are the Scripture scholars, who are themselves experts, and can form their own educated conclusions about the same matters the PBC deals with. And the regular lay folk honestly don't have any real need to concern themselves with the kind of rarified scholarly matters that concern the PBC.

    No, this is not proof that Catholics denigrate the Bible. The way a lay Catholic--someone who is not a scripture scholar--approaches the text is and ought to be more along the lines of lectio divina. The point is to come to know the Lord better by reading His word. The point is not to become an expert about the human sources of that Word, or about the proper dating for that Word, or what have you. IOW the kinds of things that are important to scripture scholars qua scripture scholars simply are not important for lay Catholics, or Protestants, qua believers seeking to know and love their God. So concerns about the status of the PBC are simply not relevant to the lives of most Catholics, or to their religious certainty.

    In the case of the scholars--and the apologists, who are more directly relevant here--things are somewhat different. Apologists qua apologists seek to defend the Faith against objections. Scholars qua scholars seek to understand some bit of reality. (I keep doing the "qua" bit to highlight the fact that all of these folks ought to also be humble believers, for whom the primary concern in their lives ought to be the same as the concern of the regular lay Catholic--i.e. coming to know and love God above all things. But specifically as *scholars* that's not, and shouldn't be, their main goal.) As such, the apologist *has to* critically interact with documents like the documents of the PBC. It's quite acceptable for the apologist to say, of a non magisterial documents, that there's a mistake. This doesn't undermine the person's religious certainty, either. It's because of his certainty in his religion that he's able to be sure that it's the PBC document that's mistaken, and not the magisterial document with which he corrects it. (Incidentally, this is all hypothetical. I myself do not grant that there's anything particularly liberal about the recent document of the PBC, and I've briefly said why on Dave's blog.) Of course, the apologist should defer to the PBC as an expert body, and approach the texts respectfully, seeking to learn rather than correct. But this is not to say that the apologist should suspend his critical faculty and just drink in the document as though it were inspired.

    Steve, you simply drain all nuance from the things you talk about. There is room for a great deal of freedom within the Church. It's not just the precise details of the teaching on Providence that remain undefined. (I noticed your terrible confusion about the Catholic notions on Providence in your post on saying "no to God"!) There is a great deal of room to engage in theological and philosophical speculation. Exactly what is allowable as a matter of *discipline* may change as the times change. But disciplines and doctrines are quite distinct. Further, the real point of religious certainty is the certainty that we are worshipping God as he desires, by celebrating Mass each and every day. The liturgy is the heart of the Church. Catholics ought to be Catholic because they believe Christ is really present in His Church, in particular in the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist. As long as they believe that (and all that it entails), abstruse worries like what human being penned the Petrine epistles are hardly of interest. (Always provided, of course, that the primary authorship of the Holy Spirit is affirmed.)

    I think the real problem with your discussions of the Catholic Church is that you assume that to be Catholic is to be a robot, simply believing whatever someone in a collar tells you to believe. And, you add, that since one person in a collar will sometimes contradict something said by someone else in a collar (whether at the same time, or over a period of centuries), there really is no such thing as a solid basis for Catholic doctrine. You're wrong. But neither I (who do not have much time for engaging in internet apologetics) nor Dave, nor anyone else online can really educate you enough about the Church to help you pick up on the nuances. For that, you've got to serious Catholic writings, and, perhaps, even go to mass.

    I probably won't do a lot of arguing here, though I'll reply to specific objections to points I've made in this post. I do wonder if you're prepared to concede the other points I made about your grasp of Catholicism--specifically, your failure to understand Molinism and your utter failure to understand St. Francis.

  4. Patrick, your comment should be sealed in glass and used for a test for people who want to develop control over spontaneous, uncontrollable laughter.

    This part: "IOW the kinds of things that are important to scripture scholars qua scripture scholars simply are not important for lay Catholics, or Protestants, qua believers seeking to know and love their God." I found particularly challenging regarding controlling my laughter. The fact is, Patrick, you as an RC wouldn't even know what a Bible IS without the work (not to mention the sacrifice) of Protestant 'lay' people. No, Patrick, Protestants tend not to leave anything to 'experts' regarding the Word of God. And thank whatever your notion is of God for that, RC, otherwise the darkness you now live in would be absolute.

    On this that you wrote: "But neither I (who do not have much time for engaging in internet apologetics) nor Dave, nor anyone else online can really educate you enough about the Church to help you pick up on the nuances. For that, you've got to serious Catholic writings, and, perhaps, even go to mass." In other words: Steve, you must be much less rigorous with your seeking of truth to understand things Roman Catholic. Your problem is one that neither I nor Dave Armstrong can help you with because you frankly just need to get a lobotomy, and perhaps suffer coma. Also, kick the Holy Spirit out of your soul. He is very incompatable with understanding and accepting the 'nuances' of Rome...

  5. Patrick,

    I would be interested in knowing why you consider the PBC's statements to be not "particularly liberal."

    Of course, if the typical liberal is R. Bultmann and a centerist R. Brown, then you certainly have a point. But if Catholics not too long ago were supposed to believe in Mosaic authorship of the Penteteuch and now Benedict XVI thinks Genesis 1 was written during the exile, that's clearly a liberal trajectory.

    I would have thought that Catholic apologists would want to defend the claim that Jesus spoke Matt. 16:18 and that Peter wrote the two epistles that bear his name.

  6. Steve, I've already addressed your question in brief on Dave's blog. You didn't care to listen then, and I don't think you'll care to listen now. So I won't bother to repeat myself.

    Geneva, thanks for your comments. But I'm curious--who are you responding to? Not me, certainly.

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