Saturday, October 22, 2005

Nullifidian nullities

Jonathan Prejean has posted some comments on my blog in response to my pot-of-gold thread. That’s his prerogative, though not one he reciprocates over at his own blog.


For some reason, oddly enough, Protestants seem quite incapable of comprehending that "private judgment" is not an epistemological category, but an ontological one.


Perhaps we use it to denote an epistemic category because that’s the way it’s ordinarily used by Catholics and Protestants unlike—contrary to Prejean’s eccentric usage.

Prejean is looking up words in The Humpty-Dumpty Dictionary of the English Language. As that great lexicographer expressed himself:

“When I use a word,” Humpty-Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—nothing more or less.”


"Private judgment" does not refer to the independent exercise of one's faculties; everyone must do that to some extent or another.


The reason that Prejean is trying to redefine the phrase is to take the sting out of it. He wants to deny that Catholics and Protestants both exercise private judgment but simply apply it to different documents: the Catholic to tradition and the Protestant to Scripture.

He wants to make you believe that private judgment is something deeper than that to avoid the charge that Catholics are in the same boat as Protestants.

This is why he’s admitting that the independent exercise of one’s faculties is unavoidable. He’s attempting to get that out of the way as soon as possible by seeming to concede the Evangelical comparison, but then pretending that the right of private judgment is something different entirely.

It’s like Arabs who cede land to Israel after losing it in the last war, to then claim that they never lost it since they “gave” it away—albeit after the fact.

With Prejean, it’s all about maneuvering to gain a tactical advantage. As long as you can shift the burden of proof you never have to prove a thing.


Nor does it refer to the basis of one's subjective certainty, which everyone also determines individually.


Once again he’s skewing the issue. No one defines private judgment as the basis of one’s subjective certainty. The contention, rather, is that a Catholic is vulnerable to the same subjective uncertainties as a Protestant.


Rather, and quite simply, it refers to the question of whether right belief is a mental state derived from Scripture based on interpreting Scripture with a correctly disposed heart.


Again, this is a nonstandard usage. A person’s state of heart has nothing to do with the right of private judgment. An unbeliever is capable of rightly understanding a passage of Scripture while a believer is capable of misconstruing a passage of Scripture. That’s not the point of contrast.

Remember that the right of private judgment was framed in a specific historical context. The principle is opposed to a particular version of the argument from authority.

It opposes a blind appeal to ecclesiastical authority. It is opposes an argument from authority without an argument for authority.


A Catholic would assert that such a claim absolutely disqualifies someone from even being an interpreter of Scripture, because it necessarily posits an autonomous basis for interpretation apart from the ontological Body of Christ. Properly speaking, the accusation of "private judgment" is a transcendental argument for the ontological inadequacy of any attempt to derive tenets of faith from Scripture. That doesn't mean that arguments can't be made from Scripture in a fashion that resembles those of Protestants, but they merely attempt to exploit the truth that is already (inconsistently) held by such people to destroy their inadequate worldviews.


Translation: “Catholics can’t justify their theology on exegetical grounds. Evangelicals have the better of the exegetical arguments. So it’s futile for Catholics to keep on fighting a lost cause.”

“Since they beat us fair and square, our rearguard action is to introduce this nifty blocking maneuver. Since it’s a losing battle to beat the Evangelicals on their own turf, o we’ll simply pretend that they never had a right to interpret the Bible in the first place!”

Remember what I said: with Prejean it’s not about the actual play, but the pre-game jockeying for a favorable position.

Notice that nothing has changed since Trent. This is why the Reformation was necessary. It comes down to the same authoritarian assertion: “You have no right to question your superiors! Just shut up and do as you’re told!”


The bottom line is that the Body of Christ is ontologically identifiable with the Church itself, and the recognition of the revealed Christ is identical with this identification, so that any attempt to interpret Scripture outside the regula fidei of the Church is a nullity. The ontological ground of faith is the reality of the risen Christ in its full implications and significance (which the Eastern Fathers called the "skopos" of Scripture, and St. Irenaeus called the "regula fidei"): the dependence of creation on the Creator, the transcendence of the Creator, the significance of the Incarnation, and the resultant effectiveness of salvation. If one denies the _skopos_ in any part (as heretics do), one does not acknowledge the Christian faith, and therefore, one has no adequate basis for Scriptural interpretation. What allows the very freedom of interpretation described above is the commonality of the _skopos_, the acknowledgment of the Word Incarnate for our salvation.


He continues with his blocking maneuver and his totalitarian rhetoric.

Observe the absence of anything resembling an argument. All we’re treated to is one big fat assertion larded with all manner of question-begging claims.

Before we lose our way in the fog-machine of his portmanteau verbiage, a couple elementary remarks are in order.

i) Evangelicals don’t need some fancy-pants metaphysical scheme to justify their rule of faith.

The Bible wasn’t written for sophisticates. The Bible is addressed to a wholly general audience and not an intellectual elite.

The purpose of the grammatico-historical method is, as much as possible, to recover the common knowledge of the original audience. To assume their viewpoint.

ii) When the prophets confronted the corrupt religious establishment, they quoted directly from Scripture. When Jesus confronted the corrupt religious establishment, he quoted directly from Scripture. When the Apostles confronted the corrupt religious establishment, they quoted directly from Scripture.

Evangelicals simply pitch their approach to Scripture at the same level as Scripture itself has chosen to position itself.

But Catholicism is too proud to lower itself to the level of Scripture.

Prejean’s policy would not only disqualify the Evangelical: it would disqualify the prophets and Apostles and Jesus Christ himself, for they all reasoned directly from Scripture and appealed directly to the laity.

Let Prejean have his Popes and prelates, bishops and archbishops, cardinals and cardinal archbishops: for my part, I’ll settle for a carpenter and a few fishermen.


The only question is whether Protestants will allow themselves to realize that the faith in human language as an "image" of divine communication (by application of J.L. Austin's speech-action theory and the so-called "accommodation" of God to human language) is entirely inadequate for that purpose. The absurd anthropomorphism required to picture the members of the Trinity actually speaking to one another is an obvious clue, but one that seems to have escaped all but the most subtle of presuppositional apologists. See, e.g.,


I agree that the members of the intramundane Trinity do not literally speak to another, although the members of the economic Trinity do address each other (e.g. Jn 12:28).


No, I mean (hypostatically) the actions of the entity are identifiable with the actions of Christ in a systematic way (e.g., the Liturgy is actually Christ doing something). Consequently, the authority of the entity is identifiable with the authority of Christ. When the Church acts qua Christ, the authority is identical with Christ's. To the extent I act as Christ, I am part of the same Body. This is the concept of synergism that pervades all of Scripture; humans can act in a way that is truly God's act. The notion of Catholic authority is that one's judgment qua individual must necessarily concede to the Church's judgment qua Christ, and in that judgment qua Christ, there must be an essential sameness (because Christ is not divided against Himself).


i) Notice that this is exactly how a cult-leader immunizes himself from accountability. To question the cult-leader is to question God Himself.

This is the stuff of the suicide cult. This is the stuff of the Inquisition. This is the stuff of the totalitarian state. This is the stuff of the jihadist.

Imagine if a guy like Prejean were in a position of power over you. Just think about that for a moment.

And keep that in mind when you hear some apostate Protestant go misty-eyed over “catholicity,” or inform you that we’re still under the Pope.

Have you ever noticed that those who wax nostalgic for the past happen to be those who never lived in the period for which they’re wistful?

And doesn’t it remind you an awful lot of the tin-foil hatters who’ve so spoiled by the blessings of American citizenship that they turn against their own country in fear and loathing?

ii) He offers no exegetical argument for the brazen claim that a human act can be identical with a divine act. Sounds like Prejean has a bad case of the Messiah-complex. Let us hope it can be treated before it enters the terminal stage.


As such, I consider it highly improbable, considering Who is revealed, that God would reveal Himself through text. He could do so, no doubt, but it would be a bit perverse from a presuppositional standpoint to reveal something by a method that by definition is inadequate to the task, rather like Picasso attempting to convey his artistic vision in a typed page. Requiring that much direct intervention, that much identification between the individual's volition and the Holy Spirit, strikes me as little better than appealing to private revelation. Rather than positing such a thoroughly inadequate means of revelation supplemented by such drastic intervention, I would think that it would be far more aesthetic to conclude that God did not Incarnate Himself meaninglessly, and that His ongoing revelation is (ontologically) of one kind with His Incarnation. This leads to a fundamentally Christological and Eucharistic hermeneutic, unique to Scripture. Hence, the distaste for "private judgment," which more or less presumes a presuppositionally inadequate form of revelation that must be supplemented by God's direct personal revelation of Himself.


The difference, here, is that an evangelical takes his doctrine of revelation from revelation.

But Prejean simply denies propositional revelation. It matters not to him that Scripture expressly identifies itself as the word of God. It matters not to him that verbal inspiration figures in the self-witness of Scripture. For, as you can now see for yourself, Prejean is not a Christian, but a Deist.

For him, textual revelation is inartistic. And interventionist Deity isn’t pretty enough for his aesthetic sensibilities. Such a God doesn’t pass the sniff test.


My point is that someone who doesn't even *claim* to be acting as Christ in the teaching role clearly isn't, which means that either you're appealing to direct unmediated revelation from God Himself (pretty implausible, I'd say), hence "private judgement," or you're admitting that what you believe was not revealed to you by Christ.


i) The Bible has a familiar term for someone who claims to be acting as Christ: he goes by the name of the Antichrist. I’m grateful to Prejean for having clarified his intellectual commitments.

ii) Christian theology has never been limited to the teaching of Christ. It is based on the entire Bible, inclusive of the OT and NT.


But I notice that you've substituted "like" for "as," which means you're using exactly the language of private judgment. I'm not talking about similarlity or analogy; I'm talking about ontological identity. The action IS God's; it is not LIKE God's. If you claim to be Christ-like, then you aren't even advancing a cognizable claim of truth by my lights.


Not only is Prejean a Deist, he is also a pantheist. How the two go together is admittedly a bit mysterious, but by the alchemy of Zubirian potions and potations, all things are possible.

The more you read Prejean, the more the mental image forms in your mind of a man in a padded cell typing furiously into his wireless laptop.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The secular death-wish

From abortion to infanticide to euthanasia, the creed of liberalism is death. That’s the common thread, the common denominator.

Even sex, which is supposed to be about new life, becomes a recipe for death under the secular scalpel.

Concomitant with the liberal death-wish is the denial of death. As Jan Bremmer has noted, “It is one of the characteristics of modern life that the dead no longer are significant in our lives: typically, in Holland graves can be cleared away after only ten years,” The Rise & Fall of the Afterlife, 86.

One obvious reason for paving over graveyards is that unbelievers don’t like to be reminded of their own mortality.

We can also see this in the increasing recourse to plastic surgery to recreate the illusion of youth.

Cher is a good example. The Sixties counterculture was a youth culture. Cher is a child of the youth culture.

There’s only one problem with a youth culture: there’s no future in being young. Youth is a very perishable commodity.

And yet, through the marvels of plastic surgery, Cher at 60 can look like Cher at 30.

Yet it must be odd to look like 30 on the outside, but feel like 60 on the inside.

Yet another reason for paving over the cemeteries is that the average unbeliever has no sense of continuity with the dead. “First you die, then you rot,” so the saying goes.

If there is no afterlife, then death severs, once and for all, the bond between generations.

By contrast, Jews and Christians traditionally had family crypts. This was owing to their firm faith in the resurrection of the just.

For a Christian, a cemetery is an emblem and portent of the communion of the saints—of the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before and await our arrival (Heb 11-12).

After I take my mother to her hair appointment, I drive to a cemetery a few miles away. It’s a nice play to pray.

It’s interesting to spend an hour in a cemetery—to see a trickle of people come and go, to bring fresh flowers, say a prayer, and leave.

Time without space would induce a sense of extreme fragmentation in our lives, for time is fleeting.

Space introduces a sense of stability and continuity. You can never revisit the same time, but you can revisit the same space. Space erects damns and levees within the fluidity of time.

A tombstone is a symbol of union, disunion, and reunion. For those who live and die in Christ, it is a promise, etched in stone, that they are waiting for us and we are going to them.

In Catholicism you have prayers for the dead. This is decadent, but is also, like most heresies, a half-truth.

The dead can do nothing for the living, and the living can do nothing for the dead.

We don’t always know if a loved one died in Christ. But we can pray to God that our loved one died in Christ. We can continue to pray that prayer even after their gone, for even though death has sealed their fate, God is not bound by our ignorance. Even after they’re dead, we can pray that God brought them to faith before they died.

The effect of prayer is not necessarily bound by the timing of prayer. The fact that I pray for an outcome which is now a thing of the past does not infringe on divine omniscience of God, for God doesn’t have to wait until I pray to act on what I pray. God is not bound by time in that sense. So even though prayer cannot affect what was, prayer can affect what was to be—even after the past is past—from our finite point of view.

After all, the unknown is the arena of prayer, whether the imponderables of the future or the past. We don’t pray for the known, but the unknown.

By the same token, Pentecostals are half-right. They’re wrong to suppose that God must do whatever they pray for. Indeed, the best way of finding out that God doesn’t have to do whatever you pray for is to pray for is to name it and claim it and watch all your insolent, unanswered prayers slap you in the face like a sandstorm.

But while presumption in prayer is sin and folly, a certain boldness is a good thing--for what do we have to lose? We may not always get what we ask for, but we rarely get what we never ask for.


What's happening in Russia, on the other hand, should cause tears. Mark Steyn has written a short survey of the state of affairs in Russia that breaks the heart and troubles the soul:

Russia is literally dying. From a population peak in 1992 of 148 million, it will be down to below 130 million by 2015 and thereafter dropping to perhaps 50 or 60 million by the end of the century, a third of what it was at the fall of the Soviet Union. It needn't decline at a consistent rate, of course. But I'd say it's more likely to be even lower than 50 million than it is to be over 100 million. The longer Russia goes without arresting the death spiral, the harder it is to pull out of it, and when it comes to the future most Russian women are voting with their fetus: 70 percent of pregnancies are aborted.

Read that last sentence again. But it's not just demographics--it's demographics and frightening externalities:

[Russia] has the fastest-growing rate of HIV infection in the world. . . . The virus is said to have infected at least 1 per cent of the population, the figure the World Health Organization considers the tipping point for a sub-Saharan-sized epidemic. So at a time when Russian men already have a life expectancy in the mid-50s--lower than in Bangladesh--they're about to see Aids cut them down from the other end, killing young men and women of childbearing age, and with them any hope of societal regeneration. By 2010, Aids will be killing between a quarter and three-quarters of a million Russians every year. It will become a nation of babushkas, unable to muster enough young soldiers to secure its borders, enough young businessmen to secure its economy or enough young families to secure its future. True, there are regions that are exceptions to these malign trends, parts of Russia that have healthy fertility rates and low HIV infection. Can you guess which regions they are? They start with a ' Mu-' and end with a '-slim'.

What Steyn is getting at is that as it dies, Russia "could bequeath the world several new Muslim nations, a nuclear Middle East and a stronger China." Calamity heaped on top of tragedy.


Pot of gold-5

Thanks for the email. In answer to your objections:

i) I don't need to defend my own interpretation to show that the opposing interpretation is flawed. I only have to defend my own interpretation if I advance my interpretation as an alternative. I have no problem with your question, but we need to be clear on the burden of proof.

ii) The first question we need to ask in reading the Bible is not, "What makes sense to me?" but, "What would make sense to the original audience?" given its cultural preunderstanding and position in redemptive history and progressive revelation.

Jesus was addressing a Jewish audience prior to the institution of the Lord's Supper. The Eucharist was not their frame of reference. In context, their frame of reference was the wilderness wandering and the feeding of the 5000, which immediately precedes this pericope. They were the target audience, not us--and their historical horizon supplies our own compass points.

iii) Bread is the staff of life. Manna fed the Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness. Hence, it prefigures the sacrificial death Christ inasmuch as the type and antitype alike are life-giving, but with a difference. The shed blood of Christ confers eternal life upon his people.

iv) A metaphorical reading of Jn 6 makes no less sense than a metaphorical reading of Jn 10 or a metaphorical reading of Jn 15.

v) Meaning is a relation. What we mean is how we mean our words to be taken by our audience.

Ordinarily, you write and speak to be understood, which takes the common knowledge of your reader or listener into account. There's a lot you don't say and you don't need to say because language is a social code with a background of shared assumptions.

I don't think that Jesus went out of his way to be unintelligible, do you?

vi) Sure, Jesus can teach something knew. But telling an audience something they can't possibly understand is a pretty poor teaching technique. They can't learn what they can't understand. Surely Jesus was, among other things, a master communicator.

vii) The question is not whether your audience can misunderstand your words, but whether they can understand your words.

viii) The problem with the Pharisees was not their rejection of new teaching, but their rejection of old teaching. Jesus constantly reasons with them from the OT.

In some respects, the Pharisees had a pretty good idea of what Jesus was getting at. They saw him, not without reason, as a threat to their hegemony. He repudiated the authority of the oral Torah. And if Messiah has come, who needs the Temple anymore?

That's one of the ironies threading through the Gospels. His enemies are often quicker to pick up on his claims to divinity than are his followers.

ix) Likewise, the disciples are constantly reproved for their failure to grasp what they were in a position to grasp.

x) There are many specific objections to the sacramental reading of Jn 6. The hermeneutical objection is of broader importance because a flawed hermeneutic will introduce a systematic error into our reading of Scripture generally. Among more specific objections:

a) If the sacramental reading were true, then every communicant is heaven-bound without exception (Jn 6:54). Do you believe that? Do you believe that everyone who ever went to the communion rail is saved?

That's not catholic theology. In catholic theology, sacramental grace is resistible. And there are various impediments to the right reception of the Eucharist, viz., an invalid sacrament, a wrong intention on the part of the priest or communicant, the wrong communion elements, &c.

b) There's an interplay of literal and figurative language in Jn 6. Literal faith in Christ (v47) is picturesquely redescribed as eating Christ (v50f.).

c) John is fond of spiritual metaphors. Why take Jn 6 literally, but Jn 10 or Jn 15 figuratively?

d) Like the synoptic Gospels, the Fourth Gospel is basically self-contained in the sense that the Apostle John can't assume that his readers have access to Luke or 1 Corinthians or other NT books. So his work needs to be comprehensible on its own terms.

Now, the Fourth Gospel doesn't record the institution of the Lord's Supper. So, again, his readers don't have that point of reference when it comes to Jn 6.

e) Although I doubt you're a big fan of Calvinism, there is, nonetheless, a deep predestinarian strain running through the Fourth Gospel. Indeed, it is on display in Jn 6 and elsewhere.

But sovereign grace is at odds with sacramental grace. If you channel saving grace through the sacraments, then it can't be sovereign since sacramental grace is indiscriminate and resistible whereas sovereign grace is discriminating and irresistible.

f) A leading theme of the Fourth Gospel is the culpability of those who refuse to take Jesus at his word. But if his words in Jn 6 are simply incomprehensible, then in what sense are they guilty of unbelief?

g) "Flesh" is an allusion to the Incarnation (1:14), not communion.

h) As I point out in my recent essay "On taking John 6 literally," the sacramentalist backs away from a literal reading of Jn 6 by introducing distancing devices to insulate his claim from palpable falsification.

i) On a more general note, there's a tension between faith in Christ and sacramentalism. Those who view the sacraments as a means of grace are trusting in the sacraments, the priest, the church, for the source of salvation, and not in Christ. The sacraments become a surrogate Christ--a substitute for the real thing.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Holy Hive

Once upon a time, in the land flowing with milk and honeysuckle, all was sweetness and light. All was love, all was one. Thus commenceth the Mother Goose nursery rhyme of natural history.

But after the Beeformation, to continue with our fairly tale, there were several different species of beelievers. There were the honeybees. They lived in the One Holy Hive, otherwise known as St. Beeters. It was a splendid edifice of Beenaissance architecture, erected by the carpenter bees, and funded by Beeters Pence.

The Holy Hive was headed by the Queen Beeshop. Whenever the old Queen Beeshop died, her successor was chosen at a beeatific conclave. The candidate with the best waspish waistline was elected to become the next Queen Beeshop. The present Queen Beeshop is Beeatrix XVI who, as legend has it, is descended by unbroken succession from St. Beeter, the first Queen Beeshop.

The Queen Beeshop was the Beediatrix of the drones. She supplied the honeycomb of merit.

In Beeology, the true body of the Queen Beeshop subsisted under the species of honey by the miracle of transwaxification. The Beeblical basis for this dogma was the verse: “Except ye eat the beeswax and drink the honey, ye have no life in you.” They also subscribed to beeptismal regeneration.

As the exclusive channel of honey, there was no salvation outside the hive. Their favorite Beeble verse was: “Oh death, where is thy stinger?”

Yet there was a rival hive of Bumblebees which regarded itself as the true hive. The Bumblebees and the honeybees originally belonged to the very same hive, but that’s before they had a nasty falling out over the date of Beester, otherwise known as Quartobeecimanism.

The Bumblebees were of the view that true beelievers were saved by process of beeification, in which they came to participate in the beeing of the Beeotokos.

They were also distinguished by their veneration of beecons. For them, heaven consisted in the Beeatific vision.

Beyond these two parties was a subspecies of Anglicized honeybees. This hybrid species could never quite make up its mind what it was, flitting from one hive to another in a perennial identity crisis.

Finally, there were the terrapins. According to honey beeologians, the terrapins were said to share a common ancestry with the honeybees.

Their evolutionary emergence was explained by appeal to the development of tonsure in Charles Cardinal Darwin’s classic Origin of the Beecies. For this reason, the honeybees referred to the terrapins as separated beethren.

Since every turtle carried his home on his back, chelonian theology denied that salvation was confined to members of the One Holy Hive, otherwise known as St. Beeters. The terrapins were firm believers in prima Beeble, taking their doctrine of revelation from the Beeble saying: “the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”

They also observed the sacrament of turtle soup once a week. And many were subscribers to the doctrine of beelievers beeptism.

There were different kinds of terrapins: land tortoises, freshwater turtles, and marine turtles, with many subspecies besides.

The honeybees were scandalized by the sheer variety of terrapins. However, chelonian theology regarded this diversity as no more scandalous than the wide variety of cats and dogs, birds and horses.

Spammers galore

I see that spammers have made their presence felt at Triablogue. I suppose I could simply close the comments feature, but that's rather extreme. Readers of Triablogue are grown-ups. They can make allowance for this. I'm not Mother Hen. I don't protect them from themselves or others. Liberals like to treat adults like children. Not me.

Sometime when I'm too tired to make intelligent use of my time, I'll go back through the archive and delete the spam.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Fences make good neighbors


Best of the Web Today - October 19, 2005

"Egypt has started to build a security fence around the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to try to stop attacks on the town, security officials say," reports the BBC:

*** QUOTE ***

The officials said the fence would stretch for 20km (12 miles) and force vehicles wanting to enter the town to pass through one of four checkpoints.

*** END QUOTE ***

Can we expect to hear wails of outrage about the indignities suffered by Arabs who are subject to checkpoints? Or does that only apply when it is Jews who are seeking to protect themselves from terror?


The depopulation of hell


Among the Greek Fathers, Irenaeus, Basil, and Cyril of Jerusalem are typical in interpreting passages such as Matthew 22:14 as meaning that the majority will be consigned to hell. St. John Chrysostom, an outstanding doctor of the Eastern tradition, was particularly pessimistic: “Among thousands of people there are not a hundred who will arrive at their salvation, and I am not even certain of that number, so much perversity is there among the young and so much negligence among the old.”

Augustine may be taken as representative of the Western Fathers. In his controversy with the Donatist Cresconius, Augustine draws upon Matthew and the Book of Revelation to prove that the number of the elect is large, but he grants that their number is exceeded by that of the lost. In Book 21 of his City of God he rebuts first the idea that all human beings are saved, then that all the baptized are saved, then that all baptized Catholics are saved, and finally that all baptized Catholics who persevere in the faith are saved. He seems to limit salvation to baptized believers who refrain from serious sin or who, after sinning, repent and are reconciled with God.

The great Scholastics of the Middle Ages are not more sanguine. Thomas Aquinas, who may stand as the leading representative, teaches clearly in the Summa Theologiae that God reprobates some persons. A little later he declares that only God knows the number of the elect. But Thomas gives reasons for thinking that their number is relatively small. Since our human nature is fallen, and since eternal blessedness is a gift far beyond the powers and merits of every created nature, it is to be expected that most human beings fall short of achieving that goal.

The leading theologians of the baroque period follow suit. Francisco Suarez, in his treatise on predestination, puts the question squarely: How many are saved? Relying on the Gospel of Matthew, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and Pope St. Gregory, he proposes the following estimation. If the question is asked about all men living between the creation and the end of the world, the number of the reprobate certainly exceeds that of the elect. This is to be expected because God was not rightly known before the coming of Christ, and even since that time many remain in darkness. If the term “Christian” is taken to include heretics, schismatics, and baptized apostates, it would still appear that most are damned. But if the question is put about those who die in the Catholic Church, Suarez submits his opinion that the majority are saved, since many die before they can sin mortally, and many others are fortified by the sacraments.

Suarez is relatively optimistic in comparison with other Catholic theologians of his day. Peter Canisius and Robert Bellarmine, for example, were convinced that most of the human race is lost.

Several studies published by Catholics early in the twentieth century concluded that there was a virtual consensus among the Fathers of the Church and the Catholic theologians of later ages to the effect that the majority of humankind go to eternal punishment in hell.

About the middle of the twentieth century, there seems to be a break in the tradition. Since then a number of influential theologians have favored the view that all human beings may or do eventually attain salvation.

One might ask at this point whether there has been any shift in Catholic theology on the matter. The answer appears to be Yes, although the shift is not as dramatic as some imagine. The earlier pessimism was based on the unwarranted assumption that explicit Christian faith is absolutely necessary for salvation. This assumption has been corrected, particularly at Vatican II.


Till hell freezes over

Salvation Outside The Church?
Tracing The History of The Catholic Response
By Francis A. Sullivan, S.J.

The axiom "outside the Church no salvation, " proudly proclaimed by Catholics (and many other Christians) in earlier centuries, has fallen on hard times. Vatican II teaches that God's saving grace is offered to every human being, including those who have never been evangelized and those who sincerely deny God's existence. This apparent reversal is a crucial test for the standard theories of development of doctrine. Can the concept of "development" encompass such an about-face?

For those already familiar with the subject matter, the book contains few surprises. Omitting the biblical data, it starts with Justin and Irenaeus. Sullivan shows that until the mid-fourth century, the necessity of belonging to the Church was employed only in controversy with heretics and schismatics, but the later fathers taught that Jews and pagans would be lost if they did not enter the Church. Under the influence of Augustine, many medieval theologians took the view that since apostolic times salvation was impossible without explicit belief in the Trinity and the incarnation. The fact some persons had not been evangelized was taken as evidence that God foreknew that they would have rejected the gospel, had it been preached to them. Thomas Aquinas seems to accept this view.

Pope Boniface VIII in his bull Unam sanctam (1302) and several medieval councils (notably Lateran IV and Florence) embraced an apparently rigid interpretation of the maxim that one must belong to the Catholic Church to be saved. After the discovery of the new world, Jesuits such as Suarez, de Lugo, and Bellarmine interpreted the papal and conciliar decrees as not requiring actual membership in the Church on the part of persons who had no opportunity to know the true faith. It became common to say that non-Catholics of good will belonged to the soul, but not to the body, of the Church. Pius XII distinguished between membership in fact (in re) and in desire (in voto). When Leonard Feeney, in 1949, adopted a harsher interpretation, his doctrine was condemned by Rome.

The last chapter deals with the teaching of Paul VI and John Paul II on the salvific value of non-Christian religions. Paul VI, influenced by Danie'lou and others, denied that these religions mediated salvation. John Paul II, while insisting that all salvation is mediated through Christ, apparently leaves room for subordinate mediation by other religions. While recognizing that the present Pope has spoken very circumspectly, Sullivan interprets him as being more optimistic than Paul VI about non-Christian religions.

The axiom "outside the Church, no salvation," Sullivan concludes, is an imperfect way in which Christians have expressed their belief that the Church plays a necessary role in God's salvific plan. While the belief itself is a dogmatic truth, not subject to change, the formulations have been historically conditioned and require revision.

Avery Dulles, S.J.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Evidence of evolution

I don’t remember for sure, but I think it was in a book by Dawkins that I ran across an argument for the evolution of marine mammals from land mammals: to wit: marine mammals propel themselves through water by wagging their tails up-and-down instead of side-by-side like fish.

Even if this indicated common ancestry, I don’t see how it indicates the direction of descent. Why not say that land mammals were descended from marine mammals?

But that question aside, dogs wag their tails side-by-side, and I also observed, on a recent walk, that ducks also wag their tails side-by-side. So do crocodilians.

So, by evolutionary logic, land mammals and marine mammals belong to one evolutionary tree while dogs, ducks, and alligators belong to a different evolutionary tree.

In addition, if marine mammals are descended from land animals since they both wag their tails up-and-down, then, by parity of reasoning, ducks, as aquatic animals, are descended from dogs or protodogs since they both wag their tails side-by-side.

Now all we need to cinch the argument is a fossil dog with a duckbill and feathers.

Where would we be without the theory of evolution to help us sort things out?

On taking John 6 literally

Roman Catholics claim to take Jn 6 literally, unlike the Baptists. But what exactly does it mean to take Jn 6 literally, and who is more literal, the Catholic or the Baptist?

1.Here is what I take a literal interpretation of Jn 6 to mean. Some time around the year AD 30 or so, Jesus performed three nature miracles (the multiplication of food, walking on water, stilling the storm) situated on or about (the E. shore of) the Sea of Galilee.

The next day, in a synagogue located in Capernaum, on the NW shore of the Sea of Galilee, a debate took place between Jesus and the Jews, prior to the Last Supper, centering on a comparison and a contrast between Jesus and the manna in the wilderness.

2.What does a “literal” Catholic reading of Jn 6 amount to? They treat Jn 6 as an allegory of the Mass. What it symbolizes is what takes place whenever the Mass is celebrated, every day, in different parts of the world.

They justify this anachronistic and allegorical interpretation on the grounds that they deny the historicity of the original setting and substitute, in its place, a sitz-im-leben supplied by the life of the Johannine community at the tail-end of the 1C or so, residing in Asia Minor or Shangri-la. By “they,” I mean the standard Catholic commentators on John like Ray Brown and Rudolf Schnackenburg.

3.There is also a striking difference in how a Catholic and a Baptist defines a true body. For a Baptist, the true body of Christ would be the same sort of body—indeed, the very same body—as we see on display in the Gospels and Acts (Mt 28:9; Lk 24:39-40,42-43; Jn 20:17,20,24-29; Acts 1:4; 10:41).

This would be the visible, tangible body of a 1C Palestinian Jewish man, of a certain height and weight—a body that you and I would recognize for what it is.

For a Catholic, however, the true body of Christ is an invisible, intangible, unrecognizable entity hidden beneath the species of bread and wine.

One can’t help noticing that the way in which a Catholic defines the true body and real presence of Christ bears a startling resemblance to those millennial cults (e.g., Millerites, Campingites, J-Dubs, hyperpreterists) which predict the visible, bodily return of Christ, only to redraw the terms of fulfillment when their prediction fails to materialize. They assure us that Christ really did return, and is truly is present with his people, but you just can’t see him, that’s all. He actually did come back in AD 70…or was it 1844?…or was it 1914?…or was it 1994?