Monday, June 13, 2005

Catholics in collective denial

There are a number of different and often mutually exclusive strategies which Roman Catholics resort to to defend their faith. This is illustrated by a current thread over at Dave Armstrong’s outfit

First out of the gate is the flat denial:

1.Where did the church ever say that?


The Inquisitor:

Where does it say that Moses authored Genesis? That is an unproven assumption with no basis in fact. On Evolution, the Church is neutral, but if it ever definitively dismissed Evolutionary theory(as I believe it will), it will be a more nuanced position, like that of William Jennings Bryan during the Scopes trial. And as for Higher Criticism, I don't know what "Willie Mays"Hays is smoking, but it ain't all that good for him. So that dog won't hunt.


BTW, notice that the Inquisitor doesn’t even grasp the true nature of the issue. The issue is not whether Moses, in fact, authored the Pentateuch. As far is my argument is concerned, Daffy Duck could have authored the Pentateuch.

No, the immediate issue is whether, rightly or wrongly, the Catholic church has ever committed itself to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

Speaking for myself, there is, indeed, a basis in fact for the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. I myself have summarized some of the evidence in my essay on “Bible or Babel?”

But I’m not speaking for myself. Rather, I’m judging Roman Catholicism by its own rules.

Having posed this question, which he then answers in the negative (“that’s an unproven assumption with no basis in fact”), the Inquisitor receives an unwelcome reply to his rhetorical question:


Ben Douglass:

Where does it say that Moses authored Genesis? That is an unproven assumption with no basis in fact.

On the Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch
June 27, 1906 (ASS 39 [1906-07] 377f; EB 174ff; Dz 1997ff)
I: Are the arguments gathered by critics to impugn the Mosaic authorship of the sacred hooks designated by the name of the Pentateuch of such weight in spite of the cumulative evidence of many passages of both Testaments, the unbroken unanimity of the Jewish people, and furthermore of the constant tradition of the Church besides the internal indications furnished by the text itself, as to justify the statement that these books are not of Mosaic authorship but were put together from sources mostly of post-Mosaic date?
Answer: In the negative.
II: Does the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch necessarily imply a production of the whole work of such a character as to impose the belief that each and every word was written by Moses’ own hand or was by him dictated to secretaries ; or is it a legitimate hypothesis that he conceived the work himself under the guidance of divine inspiration and then entrusted the writing of it to one or more persons, with the understanding that they reproduced his thoughts with fidelity and neither wrote nor omitted anything contrary to his will, and that finally the work composed after this fashion was approved by Moses, its principal and inspired author, and was published under his name?
Answer: In the negative to the first and in the affirmative to the second part.
III: Without prejudice to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, may it be granted that in the composition of his work Moses used sources, written documents namely or oral traditions, from which in accordance with the special aim he entertained and under the guidance of divine inspiration he borrowed material and inserted it in his work either word for word or in substance, either abbreviated or amplified?
Answer: In the affirmative.
IV: Subject to the Mosaic authorship and the integrity of the Pentateuch being substantially safeguarded, may it be admitted that in the protracted course of centuries certain modifications befell it, such as : additions made after the death of Moses by an inspired writer, or glosses and explanations inserted in the text, certain words and forms changed from archaic into more recent speech, finally incorrect readings due to the fault of scribes which may be the subject of inquiry and judgement according to the laws of textual criticism?
Answer In the affirmative, saving the judgement of the Church.

For the authority of the pre-Paul VI PBC, see Pope Pius X, Motu Proprio Praestantia Scripturae, 18 Nov. 1907 (ASS [1907] 724ff; EB nn. 278f; Dz 2113f): “We now declare and expressly enjoin that all Without exception are bound by an obligation of conscience to submit to the decisions of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, whether already issued or to be issued hereafter, exactly as to the decrees of the Sacred Congregations which are on matters of doctrine and approved by the Pope; nor can anyone who by word or writing attacks the said decrees avoid the note both of disobedience and of rashness or be therefore without grave fault.”

Sal Ciresi does a good job of demonstrating that the documentary hypothesis is bad historical criticism qua historical criticism. You can get the proceedings of the second annual conference of CDBI from Catholic treasures, where he lays out his case.


Having given this ample and authoritative reply to the Inquisitor’s question, Patrick comes swooping in with Plan B, otherwise known as:

2. Who cares what the church said?



The point to make to Ben, I believe, is that these decisions of the PBC were never meant to be irreformable. At the time the PBC issued its above proclamation (and until we had solid reason to think the situation had changed: which we now do), it would have been "disobedient" and/or "rash" to reject its teachings: not heretical. In short, the PBC document has very little, if any, weight now.


Notice how totally unresponsive this is to the stated reasoning of the PBC:

i) Ben quotes Pius X as saying that the findings of the PBC were binding, not only at the time they were issued, but also extending into the future.

ii) In addition, the PBC appeals to “the cumulative evidence of many passages of both Testaments, the unbroken unanimity of the Jewish people, and the internal indications furnished by the text itself.”

How has that situation changed? The witness of Scripture is the same today as it was in 1906, is it not? The internal evidence is the same today as it was in 1906, is it not? Jewish tradition is the same today as it was in 1906, is it not?

iii)) What is more, the PBC appeals to “the constant tradition of the Church.”

Keep in mind that, according to Trent, and reaffirmed at Vatican I, Sacred Tradition is identified with the unanimous consent of the church fathers. By general reckoning, the last Latin Father was Isidore of Seville (6C) while the last of the Eastern Fathers was John of Damascus (8C).

So the cut off point would be the 8C. Even if our situation has changed, it is not our situation, here and now, but their situation, way back then, which is supposed to supply the benchmark.

Or take this statement:


Jordan Potter:

Yes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have not, to my knowledge, explicitly stated that Moses had nothing to do with the composition of the books of the Pentateuch. In any case, I think it's self evident that, whatever his exact role was in their composition, Moses was not the sole author of the Pentateuch. I mean, there's a passage in Exodus, I believe, that says it was written by Ithamar, Moses' nephew. I think there is plenty of leeway for exploring the processes by which the Pentateuch was written and compiled and edited without having to reject the tradition that the Penteteuch is in a real sense the work of Moses.


Observe how the orientation of the PBC has been turned on its head, as if the question of whether Moses had everything to do with the composition of the Pentateuch is equivalent to the question of whether he had nothing to do with it.

Oh, and don't you just love that reference to "Ithamar" as the ghostwriter of the Pentateuch?

Now we transition to yet another argument:

3.Original intent doesn’t count:



If Hays thinks that the Church "has changed its position on Biblical inerrancy as a result of Vatican II", then Hays doesn't know what he's talking about because no document of Vatican II does any such thing.

It might be argued, I suppose, that various theologically liberal factions within the Church have used the occasion of the Council as an excuse for ejecting inerrancy, but neither Vatican II nor the Catechism countenances any such thing.

He writes: "But when we get to Vatican II, certain caveats are introduced. Inspiration is limited to what the Bible writers are said to 'assert' or 'affirm,' while inerrancy is limited to the saving articles of the faith."

He asks, "Has Vatican II traded plenary inspiration for partial inspiration?"

He answers his own question: "If you study, not only the wording of the text itself, but also the conciliar deliberations which were going on behind-the-scenes, and even in open session, you will find that this is exactly what the bishops had in mind."

In the first place, what matters is the officially promulgated text of Dei Verbum, not the deliberations of the Council Fathers. To pretend otherwise is to misunderstand how the Magisterium works, which is more than adequately explained in Lumen Gentium - if Hays has ever bothered to read either one.

And what does Dei Verbum say? "For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.(1) In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him (2) they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, (3) they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. (4)" (DV 11).

Got that? "…in their entirety, with all their parts, … because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,…consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted."

And more: "Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation."

So does this mean what Hays is pretending - that inerrancy is only "partial" in the eyes of VII? Only if the same may be said of Protestants as well. Because it is a standard Protestant view to say that the Bible is inerrant in all that it affirms! The doctrine of inerrancy doesn't extend, for example, to the veracity of statements made by Satan; "all" that is inerrant in his case is the fact that Satan said those things, not that what he said was itself true (like, for instance, what he had to say to God about the likelihood of Job sinning).

In short: The official post-Vatican II position of the Catholic Church is the same as what was promulgated by Vatican II, which is the same as what the Church has always believed. For more, see the Catechism, #'s 105ff.

Oh, and by the way: Herbert Vorgrimler (whom Hays uses as a source) was a disciple of Rahner the liberal. Hardly one likely to faithfully represent the orthodox teaching of the Church.

Or would Hays approve if we quoted Clark Pinnock as representative of modern Protestant "orthodoxy"?

I suggest that Hays's time would be better spent reading the official documents of the Church, rather than what liberals say about those documents. It would also be more representative of what the Church believes today.


Where does one begin?

i) Actually, Vorgrimler didn’t pen the section of the commentary on Dei Verbum. That was written by Aloys Grillmeier. Vorgrimler was merely the editor. If Fred had bothered to do his own homework, he could have spared himself this basic blunder. Yet I’m the one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Uh-huh.

ii) But to play along with his argument, yes—Rahner was a liberal. Rahner was also a peritus to Vatican II. So why should we distrust a liberal like Rahner, but trust the institution which promoted him to the rank of an official consultant to the Council? The compartmentalized faith of a devout Roman Catholic is a wonder to behold.

iii) I'd add that one of the members of the editorial committee was a guy by the name of Joseph Ratzinger. Does Fred regard him as a liberal as well?

iv) Again, the issue is not whether Grillmeier is representative of what the church believes. Grillmeier is reporting on the words and actions of the bishops. These are the minutes of Vatican II.

v) Then you have the silly comparison with Clark Pinnock, as if Pinnock enjoyed the equivalent of magisterial standing in Evangelicalism when Evangelicalism has no magisterium to begin with.

vi) Fred is also misrepresenting the state of the debate. The point at issue was not whether every speaker within the sacred narrative is inspired or veracious. The issue, rather, is whether the authors of the sacred narrative were inspired and veracious when they turned their pen to the very broad category of secular rather than sacred matters of fact--the veritates profanae.

Likewise, as I’ve said on more then one occasion, if you want to know how the church interprets its own magisterial statements about the scope of Biblical inerrancy, just see how members of the magisterium in fact write about the historical claims of Scripture. See how Walter Kasper, now a top cardinal, treats the miracles of Jesus. See how Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, treats the authorship of Daniel.

But Catholics like Fred prefer to assume this simian see-no-evil, hear-no-evil pose.

vii) And if that were not enough, we are treated to the following quote from De Verbum: “"For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16).”

Fred somehow supposes that this undergirds his case, when, in fact, it undermines his case. For post-Vatican II Bible scholars routinely deny the apostolic authorship of all three parenthetical prooftexts.

viii) Yet these are just the appetizers. We haven’t even gotten to the main course, which is his delicious claim that “In the first place, what matters is the officially promulgated text of Dei Verbum, not the deliberations of the Council Fathers. To pretend otherwise is to misunderstand how the Magisterium works.”

Actually, the whole point of the classic, multi-volume commentary edited by Vorgrimler, which Fred has never evidently bothered to read, is to document how the Magisterium works.

What matters, in understanding the text of Vatican II, is not merely the bare text itself, but the context in which it arose. What did the bishops intend to exclude as well include in what they promulgated? What supplies the backdrop? What is the thing being opposed? Every affirmation is a denial of its contrary. This is especially germane in the case of a consensus document like Vatican II where various competing proposals were on the table.

As we know, from the actual floor debate, the precise point at issue was the veritates profanae. And that is where, at the instigation of Cardinal Koenig, the Coucil backed away from the position staked out by Trent and reaffirmed by Vatican I.

Then we come to the next argument:

4.Original intent is all that counts:




I do find it amazing how some Catholics argue from one little phrase in an Ecumenical Council, "for the sake of our salvation", the Church has repudiated 2000 years of Catholic doctrine.

It's almost as bad as radical Traditionalists who cite one passage from Florence ("…will depart into eternal fire") to "prove" that Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation. And at least the radical Traditionalists can produce a few more quotes…


i) As an aside, there has been a good deal more to my argument than one little phrase. And the traditionalist wing brings a lot more evidence to bear than one little phrase. Perhaps, though, Jason, like the Inquisitor, gets his information spoon-fed to him from Dave’s spin-machine.

ii) But moving on to the larger point, the funny thing is that Jason thinks he is actually seconding the sentiments of Fred. He hasn’t caught on to the fact that his own position is flat contrary to Fred’s. Remember that, for Fred, all that matters is the naked text, not the context, or original intent.

But when Jason brings up the case of Florence to illustrate his point, he ends up making the very opposite point. For the way in which Catholics like, say, McElhinney counter the traditionalist appeal to Florence is to say that you cannot take the words in isolation to the target-audience, or such unspoken assumptions as an informal tradition of the incorrigibly ignorant—who are exempt from the necessity of baptism.

Finally, when all else fails, we have the grand old stand-by:

5. Bigotry!



Any rationalization as to the justification of anti-Catholic comments made by Hays and Christian is nonsense. It is simple bigotry and hate and is sinful. Period.


Here the Romanist absolves himself of any moral or intellectual responsibility to answer a critic of the church, even if the critic is basing his case on official Catholic conduits, on the subjective grounds that the critic is a hateful sinful bigot, plain and simple. Period. Full stop. End of story.

This, of course, betrays the hidebound herd-instinct of a suicidal cult-member. Whether the object of faith is Mother Church or the Mother Ship, heaven or Heaven’s Gate, the Pope or little Bo-Peep, the chalice or the Kool-Aid, is simply an accident of birth and breeding.

In defending their faith, they are all over the map. They say that Rome is the way to go, yet their finger posts are pointing in every direction of the compass--save heavenward.


  1. Although I haven't been able to "source" this, it appears that Rahner was recently rehabiliated as an "orthodox" theologian by the RC church:

  2. I don't have any position of authority in the Church or any Catholic lay organization. I don't think that there is such a thing as an "official spokesperson" of the Church, not even the Pope speaking infallibly ex cathedra would qualify as such.

  3. CrimsonCatholic said...
    "I don't have any position of authority in the Church or any Catholic lay organization. I don't think that there is such a thing as an "official spokesperson" of the Church, not even the Pope speaking infallibly ex cathedra would qualify as such."

    Chalk up another one in the "You don't understand Catholicism Category".