Saturday, August 30, 2008

"By any standard."

“By any standard, Governor Palin is less prepared as commander in chief than Obama.”

I usually agree with Medved, but I’m puzzled by his standard of comparison.

To begin with, Palin, unlike Obama, isn’t running for the top job, so the comparison is inapt.

But suppose we do compare them? I’m happy to concede that Palin has a thin resume. No reason to deny the obvious.

That doesn’t mean that Obama’s resume is heftier than hers. And I like what I see in her thin resume a good deal more than what I see in his thin resume. Let’s take stock:

He has a law degree from an Ivy League law school. This is the sort of Far Left institution that’s produced a runway court system. Rogue judges who shred the Constitution. And Obama shares their philosophy.

After that he spent a few years as an ambulance chaser…I mean…“community organizer.”

He also hobnobbed with an impenitent member of the Weather Underground. And he attended a racist, anti-American church for 20 years.

He has no executive experience. What about legislative experience?

Well, he had a lot of experience in the Illinois state legislature voting “present.” He also opposed the Born-Alive Act.

And he’s a first-term US senator who is using his Senate seat purely as a launch pad to run for President.

Did I leave anything out?

I suppose that by the standards of Gore Vidal, Ramsey Clark, and Noam Chomsky, Palin is less prepared to be Commander-in-Chief than Obama.

So, I guess Medved is right. Tautologically speaking, if you judge the two candidates by any standard whatsoever, then you can dredge up a “standard” by which Palin is less prepared than Obama.

Rolling a hard six

Most conservatives I’ve read are hailing John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin. A partial exception is Ramesh Ponnuru. Let’s examine his reservations:

“Palin has been governor for about two minutes. Thanks to McCain’s decision, Palin could be commander-in-chief next year. That may strike people as a reckless choice; it strikes me that way. And McCain's age raised the stakes on this issue.”

This raises a number of issues:

i) Suppose, instead of Palin, McCain had tapped someone like Richard Perle to be his Veep. Few men have more foreign policy or national security experience than Perle. Perle would have no difficulty stepping into the job if McCain were sidelined.

If McCain had chosen Perle instead of Palin, would the liberal media be hailing McCain’s choice? Would they be praising Perle’s magnificent credentials? I don’t think so.

Whoever McCain were to pick, the liberal media would pounce.

ii) I agree with Ramesh that, at present, Palin would be underqualified to take over from McCain in a crisis. But I’d rather see her at the helm than Obama or Biden. And I also prefer to her Ridge or Romney or Lieberman.

iii) We also need to distinguish between personal qualifications and professional qualifications. I suspect the spontaneous approval with which her nomination was greeted was due in large part, not to her profession experience, but her life-experience. Many conservatives identify with her life-experience. They’re less concerned with what’s on her resume than with her personal views, and the way she lives what she believes, day in and day out.

They also like a candidate who knows the price of gas because she fills her own gas tank.

“As a political matter, it undercuts the case against Obama. Conservatives are pointing out that it is tricky for the Obama campaign to raise the issue of her inexperience given his own, and note that the presidency matters more than the vice-presidency. But that gets things backward. To the extent the experience, qualifications, and national-security arguments are taken off the table, Obama wins.”

Several more issues:

i) This is true up to a point, but it’s exaggerated. It’s not as though McCain was always running against Obama’s Veep or Hillary’s Veep (if she’d gotten the nomination instead of Obama).

ii) Because Obama is vulnerable on the issue of inexperience, he tried to recast the issue in terms of judgment over experience. But it’s not as if McCain ever cast the issue in reverse: experience over judgment. Not only does McCain have more experience than Obama, but McCain also thinks he has better judgment than Obama—or Biden.

iii) My reasons don’t have to duplicate the reasons given by one campaign or another. I can have my own reasons.

For example, Biden has more experience than Palin, but he lacks judgment. He has the wrong worldview. So his experience is useless. If you plug experience into the wrong worldview, the output is no better than the input. For good or ill, your worldview filters your experience.

iv) In addition, there are different kinds of experience. We all know about well-credentialed time-servers who hold one high-level position after another. They have a great-looking resume.

Yet they never distinguished themselves. They never made a difference.

Holding a high-level position is not, itself, an accomplishment. It’s what you do with it that matters. What to you have to show for your time in office? What did you do to make things better?

“And it’s not just foreign policy. Palin has no experience dealing with national domestic issues, either.”

True. On the other hand, she has executive experience, which is more than we can say for Obama, Biden, or McCain.

Also, gubernatorial experience can tie into national domestic issues. Take the issue of energy.

“Tokenism. Can anyone say with a straight face that Palin would have gotten picked if she were a man?”

i) There’s a catch-22 here. On the one hand, the GOP is faulted for not reaching out to women or minorities. But when it does reach out, that’s “cynical,” that’s “tokenism.”

Does Ramesh think the GOP shouldn’t tap talented women or minorities because that would be “tokenism”—or be seen as tokenism?

In that case, how could you ever get started? How could you ever recruit anyone different?

ii) Tokenism is choosing a person just because of his or her identity, without any regard to other qualifications.

Is that what McCain did? Does Palin bring nothing to the ticket besides her chromosomes? No.

Imagine the reaction from the party base if McCain had chosen Olympia Snow or Christie Todd Whitman for the job instead of Sarah Palin!

There’s nothing wrong with making a pragmatic choice or tactical calculation as long as the person you choose also has the right views and values.

You have to win before you can govern. And it’s possible to make principled choices which also help you win. That’s prudent and perfectly ethical.

“Compatibility. It doesn’t seem as though McCain knows Palin well. Do we have much reason to think they would work well together? “

What alternative candidate did Ramesh have in mind? Joe Lieberman?

“Debates. Maybe, as Jonah said the other day, Biden will look like a bully going up against her—and maybe she’ll shine. But I can think of a lot of other picks who would have been lower-risk.”

It’s a tradeoff. She brings some potential assets to the campaign that safer candidates would not. The more you gamble, the more you can either win or lose. McCain is rolling a hard six.

Sometimes he runs a little ahead of Obama, sometimes a little behind. I assume he wanted something that would break the stalemate. A tie-breaker.

“I am not even sure that the pick will have quite the galvanizing effect on conservatives that it seems to be having now as it sinks in. The concerns I’ve mentioned here—about her readiness and her credentials—are the kind of thing that many conservative voters take seriously.”

Frankly, I have far fewer problems with Palin than McCain (not to mention Obama and Biden). And I like her a lot more than some of the other names that were floated (e.g. Ridge, Romney, Lieberman).



“Would you mind if your daughter or niece (assuming you had one) wanted to get involved in martial arts.”

Of course, that’s not the issue. I don’t have a problem with a woman who takes martial arts. That’s good self-defense. I believe in self-defense.

Can a woman with martial arts training beat up a man without martial arts training? I’m no expert, but it clearly confers an advantage which she wouldn’t otherwise enjoy. Likewise, I have no problem with a woman who owes a gun to protect herself.

But, as you recall, I framed the issue in terms of Hollywood superheroines. Can a woman with martial arts training beat up a man with martial arts training?

Hollywood begins with a premise of equality. This isn’t based on empirical evidence. This is based on its a priori ideological commitments.

It then puts female characters in ridiculously unrealistic situations. And the audience is supposed to swallow that because we’d be male chauvinist pigs if we didn’t.

Well, I reject the coercive propaganda. Don’t lie to me, then tell me I have to swallow your lie because you’ll call be bad names if I don’t go along with the lie.

And, ironically, nothing is more sexist than feminism. If a woman feels the need to prove that she can do whatever a man can do, then she suffers from an inferiority complex.

And she’s measuring her own accomplishments by masculine standards of excellence. So there’s a self-loathing quality to the exercise.

Also, in order to “level the playing field,” feminism also tries to emasculate men. So feminism is sexist in reference to men and women alike.

“Or the military”

That’s a complicated question:

i) In principle, I don’t have a problem with women in technical support positions. Or a doctor or a nurse, &c.

ii) In some situations, technology can also compensate for physical limitations. For example, a woman can be a fighter pilot.

On the other hand, if she’s shot down, she will instantly lose her hitech compensations. In that situation, she will be at a disadvantage compared to a male soldier.

iii) I don’t think we should lower physical fitness standards to accommodate a coed military.

iv) I don’t think a mother of underage kids should leave her kids behind to do a sixth-month tour of duty.

v) A coed military introduces a sexual dynamic that undermines unit cohesion.

“Or other activities generally dominated by males?”

That’s too vague to respond to. Should a 110 lb. policewoman accompany a 240 lb. prisoner? No. He could easily overpower her.

“Or would you counsel her that it would be abnormal and advise against it?”

Too vague to answer in general.

Friday, August 29, 2008



I'm a big fan of this show [the Sarah Connor Chronicles].

Your objection that it should have been written so as not to undercut gender-stereotypes is problematic for three reasons.

You mean feminist gender-stereotypes of the Hollywood superheroine variety?

First, because not all women in real life fit the stereotype, whether you like it or not.

I assume you’re referring to something like this:

Or this:

Second, because a woman who fits all the stereotypes would not be entertaining to watch.

It might not be as unintentionally entertaining as WBAN, but normal men and women also enjoy watching normal men and women behaving normally. I realize that’s an alien concept to you.

And third, because you are reinforcing the stereotype of evangelicals as backwards and gender-repressive.

“Gender-repressive”? You mean self-hating androgynes, bigenders, Genderqueers, and butch-femme feminists?

"I'll be back!"

The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a recent SF series. It’s a spin-off from the famous movie franchise. It tries to stay faithful to the original premise, and—to that extent—reflects the limitations of the original, but it also takes it in a new direction. The most interesting developments occur in two later episodes (“The Demon Hand,” “What He Beheld”). More on that later.

This time around, Sarah Connor is played by Lena Headey, an elegant Englishwoman. There are certain problems, both with the character and the casting.

Sarah Connor is heir to the women’s lib tradition of the kickboxing superheroine. It’s a tedious, unconvincing convention which is foisted on us by Hollywood feminism.

This is exacerbated by the fact that Headey is not as gutsy as Linda Hamilton in the part.

Not only doesn’t she look the part, but she doesn’t sound the part. Like most beautiful women, Headley has a soprano speaking voice, which doesn’t work very well when she’s trying to belt out lines like a drill sergeant.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have strong female characters. But the part should be written in such a way as to play to feminine strengths, not masculine strengths.

For example, if you going to cast a beautiful woman in the role, the logical way to write the part is for the character to outwit the enemy by making deceptive use of her charm and beauty. It’s no mystery that beautiful women have a certain power over men, and can use that to get their way. The femme fatal is the classic example.

And it can be used for good as well as evil. A Mata Hari type.

Of course, that doesn’t work on a Cyborg, but the development of the Skynet program is dependent on various human beings.

To some extent, Sarah’s protectiveness of John reflects a native, maternal instinct. But human females lack the natural equipment of a she-bear or lioness. They weren’t designed to raise the young all by themselves.

And there’s something incongruous about a mother trying to physically protect a teenage boy.

This is not to say that casting Headley in the role is a total failure. She’s a fine actress. When she’s allowed to be feminine, she’s very effective. And she’s more appealing than Hamilton.

Up to a point, Thomas Dekker is okay in the part of John Connor. He’s boyish enough to be fairly convincing as a teenager. And his slight build is fine for a computer nerd.

However, it’s hard to see him as the future Savior of mankind. He doesn’t come across as a natural leader or inspirational figure. He’s just a kid.

If the battle with Skynet were purely a case of technological warfare, then a geeky wunderkind could take the lead. But the battle with Skynet also involves hand-to-hand combat with Cyborgs. It takes a warrior to inspire another warrior. To be a leader of commandos. Dekker isn’t cut out to play that role—even if you mentally age him 10 or 20 years.

Beyond the limitations of the actor are the limitations of the character. For a teenage boy, he’s abnormally submissive to his mother. It would be more realistic as well as more dramatically useful if the screenwriters gave him a bit more of an independent streak. It would expose him to danger.

The most interesting character is Cameron Phillips, John’s android bodyguard. She’s another superheroine, and, superficially speaking, she’s even less convincing in the role than Sarah.

But in this case it works because the incongruity is deliberate. Girly-girl ballerina on the outside, hyperalloy combat chassis on the inside.

To some extent she’s a variation on Data. An inhuman machine which will be humanized by its contact with humans.

She starts out as a highly intelligent, but amoral, apathetic machine. Clearly the intention of the producers and screenwriters is to make her more human, even more genuinely feminine. Make the inside correspond to the outside.

However, this raises questions about the whole AI premise. Even if we grant, for the same of argument, that computers can duplicate (or surpass) human intelligence, this doesn’t mean that what it feels like to be human is transferable to a machine. There’s more to humanity than raw intelligence or abstract information.

Our finitude gives rise to certain needs which can either be fulfilled or frustrated. Our fallenness gives rise to sinful emotions or gracious emotions. Our physicality gives rise to certain emotions distinctive to embodiment. Likewise, the process of maturation is distinctive. So is the bond between parents and children, siblings, lovers, age mates, and so on.

Is this really transferable to a machine, albeit an intelligent machine? Is this something an outsider can learn through observation. Or is it something you must actually experience. Something irreducible to the first-person experience of an insider?

At this same time, this makes Cameron unintentionally comical. There’s a childlike frankness about her, because she fails to register the human significance of what she says. She can imitate humans, but it’s literally skin-deep.

Another problem is that Sarah sends Cameron on various assignments, or takes Cameron with her. The problem with this is that while Cameron is uniquely equipped to perform certain assignments, her absence leaves John defenseless. Kickboxing and bullets are no match for a terminator. Only a terminator can square off against another terminator.

A couple of male actors play father figure types to John. And the character of an FBI agent is played with emotional depth and complexity by Richard Jones.

The most interesting development in the first season is the religious turn. At one point Sarah says: “There are things machines can never do. They cannot possess faith, they cannot commune with God. They cannot appreciate beauty, they cannot create art.”

And John says that Cameron will never have a soul. Of course, the producers and screenwriters may have the characters say some of this to later prove them wrong.

Ellison and Silberman get into a conversation about Bible prophecy, from Matthew and Revelation. Ellison also conducts a group Bible study.

There are some other nice touches, of things we take for granted, such as Derek walking barefoot in the autumn leaves.

There’s a scene in which Derek takes John to the park. There they see younger, earlier versions of Derek and his kid brother, who is John’s father (Kyle).

This raises a time-travel paradox. If you travel back in time, could you bump into your younger double? Can two of you coexist at the same time?

What if, at that point, one of you were killed? Would the other die as well? Is there a causal asymmetry between the younger and older self or selves? If, at that point, the younger version were killed, would the older version survive? Conversely, if—at that point—the older version were killed, would the younger version survive?

These are deep metaphysical questions which the episode doesn’t attempt to answer. Like the bedroom scene of Cameron dancing the Pas de Chat, it’s poignant, but is a realistic—even if you grant the narrative assumptions (AI, time-travel)?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Catholic serial killers

I sense that David Waltz is a serial killer. He hasn’t given me cause to change my original assessment. And the fact that to date in our dialogue he has proposed no other valid explanation confirms my initial suspicion.

If he is not a serial killer, he has yet to explain to me how he is not; and if he doesn’t, then I submit that my charge of serial murder still stands.

"Clean, articulate" minorities

Joe Biden notoriously characterized Barak Obama as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

Biden got away with it because Biden is a white liberal, and if you’re a white liberal bigot, you get a pass.

It’s not that Biden is consciously racist. What comes through is the subliminal racism. He has such low expectations for blacks that he’s impressed by someone like Obama, since Obama is an exception to his low expectations.

And this isn’t limited to Biden. This is typical of the white liberal establishment. It reacts the same way to Obama as Biden, although it’s not as indiscreet as Biden.

I don’t doubt that Obama is bright and articulate. He’s far more articulate than George Bush or John McCain, to take two examples. But he’s overrated.

Of the top of my head, I can think of three other black public speakers who strike me as being more intellectually nimble and verbally agile than Obama: John McWhorter, Tavis Smiley, and Marc Lamont Hill.

And that’s even before we compare him to a real heavyweight like Tom Sowell.

Or suppose we compare him to another Democrat politician: Bill Clinton. Honestly, who’s the more fluent speaker?

Obama’s good with a teleprompter, but he’s not good at ad libbing.

Obama is overrated because white liberals have such low expectations of blacks. And they clearly have a very limited exposure to “clean, bright, articulate” blacks, in Biden’s invidious comparison. They mainly associate with other white liberals.

For them, blacks are abstractions. They treat them like stray cats. Something to be taken in and fed and petted and nursed back to health by the liberal white veterinarian or pet-owner.


david waltz said...

Now, I do believe that it reflects Steve thoughts on post-apostolic hermeneutics (and yours), and say this because of his firm emphasis on what he terms “the grammatico-historical method”, and the fact that to date in our dialogue he has proposed no other valid hermeneutic. And further, since I sense that you and Steve hold similar views on this issue, I also gave some weight to your response to the question I posed to Steve (“And the primary hermeneutic of Jesus and the Apostles was?”), for Steve did not directly respond to it, but rather, recommended a book. So right or wrong, that helped to form my assessment.

If Steve does not believe that GMH is THE hermeneutical principle by which one is to approach the Scriptures, but rather, that it is the Apostles hermeneutical principle which should take precedence, then he (and you) sure have a funny way of saying so.

Yes you have, and so has Steve by relegating GMH above the apostles hermeneutic; my-oh-my, what am I missing here…

Really? You (nor Steve) have directly answered my questions concerning your governing hermeneutic method and that of the apostles—specifically, once again (man this is getting old) does the hermeneutic method of the apostles establish a governing method for your (or Steve’s) hermeneutic? If it does not then I stand by my charge of irrelevancy…if not, I submit you (nor Steve) have not said so in the past—i.e. your charge “you lied” is pure sophistry.

Neither you, nor Steve, have given me cause to change my original assessment, for you both continue to avoid answering my question directly; here it is again: is Apostolic exegesis/hermeneutic your governing principle in your approach to interpreting the Scriptures? [If it is not, and you embrace GMH instead, then the Apostles hermeneutic is “irrelevant” to your prime governing principle (and by irrelevant, I mean as a presupposition—but, I sense you already knew this)].

Several more problems:

1.On the one hand, Waltz says I espouse the grammatico-historical method. On the other hand, Waltz says I haven’t stated my governing hermeneutical method.

Of course, this is incoherent. If I espouse the grammatico-historical method, then that is my governing hermeneutical method. Waltz both attributes a hermeutical position to me while simultaneously denying that he knows what my hermeneutical position is.

And if he doesn’t know my governing hermeneutic, then he’s in no position to put words in my mouth.

2.He then indulges in fallacious reasoning. Let’s recast his accusation in syllogistic terms:

a) Steve espouses the grammatico-historical method
b) The grammatical-historical method is contrary to apostolic exegesis
c) Ergo: Steve thinks the hermeneutic of Jesus and the His apostles is irrelevant

Now, the major premise is correct. The problem begins with the minor premise. Waltz is imputing his own evaluation of the grammatico-historical method to me. Waltz is the one who drives a wedge between apostolic exegesis and grammatico-historical exegesis, not me.

I don’t share his evaluation, and I’ve said nothing to indicate that I share his evaluation. Indeed, I’ve indicated that I do not share his evaluation.

As a result, the conclusion is false since his conclusion derives from a false premise. He imputes his own position to me (in the minor premise)—a position I repudiate.

As I said before, someone that lacking in critical detachment is incompetent to attack my position.

3.Waltz justifies his own position by referring the reader to an article by Peter Enns. An article posted at Peter Enns’ own blog.

But this raises another question: how could you spend any amount of time at Enns’ blog and be unaware of the fact that there is another side to the argument? The raison d’etre of his blog is to respond to his critics.

Indeed, you’d have to be Rip Van Winkle to be unaware of the firestorm which Peter Enns ignited. Negatives reviews by Beale, Carson, Currid, Frame, &c. A book edited by Beale and Carson in response to Enns et al. Another book by Beale, due out this Fall, in response to Enns et al. The fact that he was terminated by his employer (WTS).

4.That’s why I referred Waltz to a book in answer to his question. If he’s a genuine seeker of the truth, then he’s duty-bound to acquaint himself with both sides of the argument.

5.I’ve already posted on the relation between apostolic exegesis and grammatico-historical exegesis:

6.BTW, I didn’t “distance” myself from Calvin’s view of private judgment. Rather, I took no position on that question one way or the other. I’m not going to get sidetracked into exegeting Calvin, then comparing my view with his view. That framework is irrelevant to my post.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Filtering Scripture While Waltzing

David Waltz wrote:
Second, for your argument to have solid import, you must demonstrate that official/infallible decrees/dogmas on faith and morals (my list, not yours) are somehow “unclear”.
I replied:
So, on the one hand Scripture is unclear, but on the other (your list) is somehow "clear." How, David, is this NOT a case of you acting like a typical Catholic?
Because Scripture IS cyrstal clear when one is armed with the proper ‘filter’.

By way of reply:

How does anybody know that Rome provides the proper filter? In order to know which filter is the right one, we must have some idea of what the right one must look like before you find it, or is it just one of those things you know when you see it, sort of like the right color of blue shoe that will match your purse? Where's the supporting argument?

Remember, Waltz says he is a seeker of the truth.
I have no culteral, monetary, family, or an other ‘externals’ one might postulate, to keep me a committed Papist—if I became convinced later today that the RCC was indeed a false Church, I leave it…
David is waltzing his way through a search for "truth." Yesterday it was Mormonism (Edit: David informs us he was once an Arian), today it's Romanism. Apparently Mormonism (Edit Arianism) did provide the correct filter for Scripture for a time, but now Rome does, and not Protestantism broadly or a particular Protestant tradition more narrowly. He says he's committed to "truth," yet he is still seeking for the truth. How does he know what truth will look like if he needs to find the right filter for Scripture itself - God's own words, no less?

And he's still not answered us as to how exactly God's Word is clear but Magisterial statements are more clear. On the one hand, he attacks the perspicuity of Scripture but he doesn't seem to apply the same standard to Magisterial statements. How, exactly does this make him a atypical Catholic? So far, all he has done is demonstrate that his position cashes out no differently in substance than his fellow Roman Catholics on the internet.

Indeed, if we're going to start talking about the need for filters, then how does one filter Magisterial statements? What is the appropriate filter for them? Do we take the Magisterium's own standards to do that for granted? If so, then that's obviously circular. We are to filter the Magisterium with the Magisterium - one self appointed authority with the same authority. That invites a vicious regress. How do we confirm that is the right "filter?" If it takes Scripture to do that - yet Scripture's proper "filter" is the Magisterium, we've done nothing to change the argument.

Another possible solution is to try and parse out what is "infallible" and what isn't within a single Magiseterial statement, but that seems arbitrary. How exactly does one do that?


Whatever hermeneutic the Apostles used, it most certainly did not yield for them The Papacy, purgatory, indulgences, a mediatorial priesthood, Marian dogmas like the Assumption, Infallability, and other such Roman religious innovations.

That's an excellent observation. As a committed Papist who believes that Scripture requires the "proper filter" in order to be clear, then are we to conclude that the hermeneutic of Jesus and the Apostles is reflected in Magisterial teachings? If so, where is that supporting argument? How exactly do the dogmas listed above reflect the hermeneutic of the Apostles if any of them are to deduced from Scripture? If these can't be deduced from Scripture, isn't it reasonable to conclude, in that case, that Rome's "filter" does not reflect that hermeneutic, and if not, then which "filter" does?

Inarticulae Infidei

“During the ongoing dialogue, it became readily apparent that Steve embraces nuda sciptura, rather than sola scriptura. Steve maintains that one does not need any tradition when approaching the Scriptures, but rather, one only needs a "sound" hermeneutic—but what is a "sound" hermeneutic?”

Of course, I never said that when we exegete the Bible we should disregard the history of interpretation. Indeed, I’m on record as saying that when we exegete the Bible we should take the history of interpretation into account. Give it a respectful hearing.

And that’s not limited to “Reformed” interpretations of Scripture.

But the history of interpretation is not, itself, a method of interpretation.

Waltz has forgotten the context of his own question, which had to do perspicuity and schism.

“Steve embraces the "the grammatico-historical method" and maintains that the clarity of true doctrine/s will emerge if one is armed with this hermeneutic. I then posed a question: was this the hermeneutic of Jesus and His apostles? His answer: the hermeneutic of Jesus and the His apostles is irrelevant. I kid you not…”

That’s a polar misrepresentation of what I actually said.

I guess, in David’s furry brain, because he thinks that there’s a disconnected between apostolic exegesis and grammatico-historical exegesis, then if I endorse grammatico-historical exegesis, I’m dismissing apostolic exegesis.

But this involves him in imputing his own assumptions to me, then deriving a conclusion which reflects his own self-projection.

If David is that deficient in critical detachment, he has no business defending his faith or attacking mine.

“Steve’s approach has been criticised by an Evangelcial scholar.”

And Peter Enns’ approach has been criticized by other Evangelical scholars:

Is David ignorant of the counterargument? Or is he aware of the counterargument, but suppresses the counterargument to give his readers a misleading impression of the actual state of the debate?

The Blue Danube


Me: First, Tavard’s essay argues (with solid evidence) that the Bull Unam Sanctum, “does not…meet the requirements of Vatican Council I on infallibilty.”

i) Irrelevant. You must apply private judgment to any magisterial statement, whether fallible or infallible. The same hermeneutical considerations apply in each case.

ii) A magisterial teaching doesn’t have to be infallible to be obligatory. Different magisterial teachings involve different degrees of obligatory force.

iii) The classification of magisterial statements as fallible or infallible is, itself, a fallible interpretion. Hence, your reply only pushes the problem back a step. Tavard is not the magisterium. Tavard is having to sift the magisterium.

iv) Tavard minimized Unam sanctum because he was an ecumenist. Unam sanctam is a stumbling block to ecumenism.

However, Unam sanctam isn’t that easily disposed of. To some extent, at least, it was reaffirmed by two ecumenical councils.

v) One strategy is to argue that it was only reaffirmed in part. However, Tavard himself rejects the partitioning of magisterial statements. For him, it’s a take-it-or-leave-it affair. As he rightly points out, it’s arbitrary to say one sentence is infallible, but the next sentence is fallible. The conclusion is infallible, but the supporting argument is fallible.

“Second, for your argument to have solid import, you must demonstrate that official/infallible decrees/dogmas on faith and morals (my list, not yours) are somehow “unclear”.”

i) Produce your infallible list of infallible decrees.

ii) You must demonstrate that magisterial teaching is more perspicuous than Biblical teaching.

iii) Consider disputes over the interpretation of Vatican II.

“You do not make a “dent” by using a Bull that is not part of the corpus that needs to be judged.”

Whether or not Unam sanctam is “part of the corpus that needs to be judged,” is, itself, a value-judgment. You must apply your private judgment to that document to arrive at that classification. So you’re concealing the problem by taking a key assumption for granted, then introducing your objection further downstream.

“And third, as one who embraces “private judgment”, how does your “typical exchange” apply to me?”

You’re prevaricating. You don’t embrace private judgment in the same sense as Protestant theological method.

“Then you embrace a different form of sola scriptura than the confessional Reformers; your form would be more in line with a Socinus, than with a Calvin.”

Then you embrace a different form of Marian virginity than the Bible writers; your form (in partu/post partum) would be more in line with Gnosticism and Docetism (e.g. the Protevangelium of James, the Acts of Peter), than with a Matthew or Luke.

“Me: And they were interpreting the OT in a manner contrary at many points with the hermenutical principle you embrace.”

That’s an assertion, not an argument.

“Me: This raises two questions for me: first, when did the Catholic Church become “a schismatic church”;”

Over time. Cumulative error.

“And second, is there any church and/or individual who does not have some error in their teaching and life?”

Apostles and prophets are infallible in their teaching.

“Me: And the primary hermeneutic of Jesus and the Apostles was?”

G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.


“And what then if you disagree? Why bother studying Scripture yourself if you're going to accept the creeds or the exegesis of Calvin without reservation? Just listen to them and THEN read the Bible through that lens. It seems silly to pretend you're going to read Scripture AS IF you were going to come up with your own conclusions if you have no attention of accepting those conclusions. It's just a game of "let's see how accurate my initial instincts are".”

That’s an amusing charge considering the fact that Perry Robinson regularly accuses me of being a theological maverick who bucks Reformed tradition.

If you want a specific example, I don’t accept the Westminster Directory of Worship as my rule of worship. Try again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Barking up the wrong pedigree


I must be atypical then, for affirm that there exists a positive Catholic sense of “private judgment”, as well as a negative one (see my comments HERE and HERE).

Actually, you do a perfect job of illustrating the mentality of a typical Catholic. I said that when we answer a Catholic on his own grounds, it doesn’t make a dent. I then transcribed some portions of an article by Fr. Tavard to demonstrate my point.

How did you respond? It didn’t make a dent! You blew right past my entire argument.

So far from being an atypical Catholic, you’re a stereotypical Catholic.

Lane’s assessment concerning “private judgment” is worth repeating:

“The Reformers unequivocally rejected the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church. This left open the question of who should interpret Scripture. The Reformation was not a struggle for the right of private judgement. The Reformers feared private judgement almost as much as did the Catholics and were not slow to attack it in its Anabaptist manifestation. The Reformation principle was not private judgement but the perspicuity of the Scriptures. Scripture was ‘sui ipsius interpres’ and the simple principle of interpreting individual passages by the whole was to lead to unanimity in understanding. This came close to creating anew the infallible church…It was this belief in the clarity of Scripture that made the early disputes between Protestants so fierce. This theory seemed plausible while the majority of Protestants held to Luthern or Calvinist orthodoxy but the seventeenth century saw the beginning of the erosion of these monopolies. But even in 1530 Casper Schwenckfeld could cynically note that ‘the Papists damn the Lutherans; the Lutherans damn the Zwinglians; the Zwinglians damn the Anabaptists and the Anabaptists damn all others.’ By the end of seventeenth century many others saw that it was not possible on the basis of Scripture alone to build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general assent.” (A.N.S. Lane, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey”, Vox Evangelica, Volume IX – 1975, pp. 44, 45 – bold emphasis mine.)

Several issues here:

i) I frame the issue in terms of private judgment because I’m answering the Catholic apologist on his own grounds. That’s how Catholics typically frame their objection to the Protestant rule of faith.

Whether that’s an accurate description of how the Protestant Reformers framed the issue is beside the point. I’m answering the Catholic on his own grounds.

ii) If you think that quoting the Protestant Reformers disproves my position, then you’re barking up the wrong pedigree. The mere opinion of the Protestant Reformers is not, itself, an argument. I’m not a Protestant because I simply wanted to swap one tradition (Catholic tradition) for another tradition (Protestant tradition).

I never start by asking myself, “What did Calvin believe?” “What did Luther believe?”—then adjust my interpretation of Scripture to match theirs. I don’t begin with Protestant creeds or Reformed confessions.

Rather, I begin with Scripture. After doing my exegesis, I will compare my exegetical results with the Protestant creeds or Reformed confessions. It just so happens that my exegetical theology dovetails with Calvinism. But I’m a Biblicist first, last, and always.

You can find Calvinists who begin with their creeds, confessions, and catechisms. That’s their point of reference. If you want to debate that sort of Calvinist, I suggest you pick a fight with someone like Scott Clark.

For myself, I prefer the theological method of a Calvinist like John Murray.

I’m not trying to trace my bloodline back to Calvin to legitimate my theology. I’m not asking Calvin to take a paternity test to see if I belong to the Reformed family tree. My only concern is with the scriptural pedigree of my belief-system.

iii) Every Christian generation has its own challenges and responsibilities. We must be faithful to the situation that God has put us in. Our duty is not to be actors or antiquarians who simply imitate whatever our Christian forebears did. Our duty is to apply Scripture to our own circumstances, which may or may not parallel the situation of the Protestant Reformers.

iv) The warrant for sola scriptura doesn’t depend on whether it can satisfy some a priori condition which we stipulate, like perspicuity or private judgment.

Rather, the warrant for sola Scripture depends on what rule of faith God has imposed on his church. We don’t need to justify God’s judgment.

iv) It’s pretty anachronistic to keep drawing invidious comparisons with the Anabaptists, as if today’s Amish (to take one example) are interchangeable with the Münsterites or Zwickau Prophets. The traditional, knee-jerk antagonism towards the Anabaptists is terribly dated. It’s time to move beyond that.

For example, John Murray, although he was a staunch Scots-Presbyterian and founding faculty member of Westminster, reviewed two books by a couple of Anabaptist writers (Wenger, Herschberger). Murray didn’t dismiss them out of hand. He didn’t demonize the authors as Anabaptist hellspawn. Rather, he gave them are respectful hearing, commended the good things they said, and took issue with where they went wrong.

In my opinion, Anabaptism is asking many of the rights questions. It sometimes gives the wrong answers to its own questions. If you want to take old polemical scarecrows down from the attic, I’d suggest, once again, that you pick a fight with someone like Scott Clark.

If push comes to shove, you’d be infinitely better off as an Anabaptist than a Roman Catholic. So odious comparisons don’t work in your favor.

v) I wouldn’t say, without qualification, that Scripture is its own interpreter. Background information (e.g. biblical archeology) is pertinent to the interpretation of Scripture.

vi) It’s not our place to posit an a priori ideal, like unanimity, then select a hermeneutical method to further that end. Unanimity is a psychological state (of the reader). It has nothing to do with the meaning of a text. Our hermeneutical method should concern itself with meaning, not unanimity. With authorial intent, not reader intent.

Whether an interpretation is correct, and whether an interpretation commands general assent, are two distinct and sometimes opposing issues.

The way in which Jesus and the Apostles construe Messianic prophecy didn’t command the general assent of their Jewish audience. Many Jews repudiated the Messianic claims of Jesus. Does the absence of general assent somehow disprove dominical and apostolic exegesis?

vii) A correct interpretation can be divisive. Unanimity is no index to true interpretation. The preaching of Jesus and the Apostles was very divisive. And they were preaching from the OT scriptures.

viii) If some people willfully misinterpret the Bible, that also serves the purposes of Scripture, for Scripture is—among other things—a standard of judgment.

ix) ”Who should interpret Scripture?” That’s a simplistic question. Some people are more competent than others. We don’t deny that God has given teachers to the church. But when, say, an evangelical commentator interprets the Bible, he appeals to reason and evidence—not his own authority. It should be possible for an intelligent layman to see how the commentator arrived at his interpretation, using responsible methods of exegesis.

“For me the real issue is SCHISM not “private judgment”;

i) That’s the issue for you because you speak as a Roman Catholic. Since you think the church of Rome is the one true church, then “schism” would be a break with the one true church.

Of course, that merely begs the question in favor of Roman Catholicism. Since a Protestant like me doesn’t share your ecclesiology, I also don’t share your priorities vis-à-vis “schism”.

The church of Rome is simply a local church. Because it was situated in the capital of the Western Roman Empire, because it resorted to fraud (e.g. the False Decretals), and because the papacy was aligned with the crown, it rose to the top of the heap. But those are hardly criteria for the true church. To the contrary, they expose the worldly paternity of the Roman Catholic church.

ii) Do people sometimes leave a church for the wrong reasons? Yes. Do people sometimes start a new church for the wrong reasons? Yes.

iii) But it would be a sin not to break with certain corrupt denominations—like the church of Rome.

The Catholic church is a schismatic church. Through it’s unscriptural theology and corrupt morality, it broke with the true church, instituted by Jesus Christ.

“I exercise “private judgment” on a regular basis, putting certain limits on its use by always stopping short of SCHISM.”

I also believe in putting “certain limits” on private judgment. It’s not an autonomous principle. Private judgment must employ sound hermeneutical methods (e.g. the grammatico-historical method).

That’s why I believe in limiting the private judgment of popes, bishops, and church fathers.

The real issue is fidelity to the word of God.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Catholic augury

In a typical exchange between a Catholic and a Protestant, a Catholic will say that we need a Magisterium to rescue us from the vicissitudes of private judgment—to which a Protestant will counter that a Catholic must apply his own private judgment to the interpretation of Magisterial statements.

Since this reply answers the Catholic on his own grounds, the Catholic ought, at that point, to withdraw his objection. Instead, it doesn’t make a dent.

I think a major reason for this reaction, or lack thereof, is that the Protestant response too abstract. The whole point of the Catholic appeal to a Magisterium is to offer an intellectual shortcut. Hence, Catholics who use this argument don’t conduct serious research in church history or canon law. As such, they exhibit a very naïve attitude towards the interpretation or application of Magisterial pronouncements. They act as if it’s no different than reading the local newspaper.

But the interpretation of a Magisterial document or pronouncement often requires a highly specialized knowledge of arcane church history, historical theology, and canon law. And beyond the interpretation is the question of how to apply a past Magisterial teaching to the present. What abiding value or timeless truth, if any, can we extract from the historical formulation?

Let’s take the famous or infamous bull by Pope Boniface VIII: Unam sanctam. This is a brief statement of a few paragraphs:

Now I quote some passages from the analysis of Unam sanctam by Fr. George Tavard. Pope John XXIII named Tavard a peritus conciliaris at Vatican II, where he also served as a consultant to the Pontifical Secretariat for Christian Unity.

Several theological lines converge and meet in Unam sanctam. The ‘mystical’ conception of the celestial and ecclesiastical hierarchies, deriving from the writings of (Pseudo-) Denys the Areopagyte, and significantly altered in the Middle Ages. It was in favor with the Franciscan School, especially St. Bonaventure. As the orthodox Franciscans, reacting against the heterodoxy of the Spirituals, were staunch promoters of papal supremacy, the expression of this supremacy in terms of the hierarchy of creation came, as it were, naturally, although this implied, in fact, a gross distortion of what Denys had meant by hierarchy, “The Bull Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII,” Paul Empie & T. Murphy, eds., Papal Primacy and the Universal Church (Augsburg 1974), 109.

In the same line, the exegesis of scriptural passages is highly spiritual, not to say allegorical. This was a common method of illustrating theological or canonical positions (109_.

The theology of the plenitudo potestatis of the pope. Originally used by St. Leo, who contrasted it with the pars sollicitudinis granted to his legates, it came to be applied to papal, as being intrinsically different from episcopal, authority: the pope alone has plenitudo potestatis, whereas the bishop has only partem sollicitudinis, that is, a participation in the pope’s authority. This second sense of the expression had appeared for the first time in the False Decretals of Isidorus Merctor. Gregory VII had used both senses. The Decree of Gratian included it with its original meaning. But St. Bernard gave it, in the De Consideratione, the latter sense. It is in use in the curial style in Rome since Celestine III (1191-98) (109-10).

In this context, the expression is taken in three different senses:

Plenitudo potestatis designates papal authority in its universality, extensively, but not essentially, different from episcopal authority (v. gr., Huguccio).
• It designates papal authority as essentially different from episcopal authority (Innocent III), but within the ecclesiastical order.
• It designates papal authority as supreme even outside of the ecclesiastical order, i.e., the pope’s power over kings and emperors and his right to interfere in the temporal order (Innocent IV, 1243-1254, claiming the right to dispose of all benefices in France, a point which was not admitted by St. Louis IX, 1226-1270).
• In its extreme form, plenitudo potestatis is identified by some canonists with God’s own power over creation. It is limited only by the Christian faith, which the pope has no right to change (v. gr., Durand de Mende, Bernard of Parma, [d. 1266], Innocent IV) (110).

The theology of the two powers, by which the Middle Ages tried to regulate the relations of pope and emperor: since the ninth century (Hincmar of Reims, Nicholas I, 858-867, John VIII, 872-882), the bishops and popes, faced with the degradation of the Carolingian monarchy in France and Lotharingia, had upheld the principle that a king who turns bad loses thereby his legitimacy. As a necessary consequence, the spiritual authority was judge of the king’s exercise of his function and, by extension, of the capacities of a claimant to the throne. The ceremonies of the coronation were widely interpreted in this sense. In the thirteenth century itself, the emperors reversed the meaning of the principle: in order to safeguard the harmony of the two powers, the emperor shares both: he is priest and king; he must judge the pope in case the pope turns bad. Whence the conflict between Frederic II and Innocent IV, both using the same theoretical conception, but putting the onus on preserving the harmony of the corpus [christianorum], the former on the emperor, the latter on the pope (110-111).

Direct sources: The bull may have been written by Matthew d’Aquasparta, Franciscan, cardinal and friend of Boniface. (In his Quodlibet VII, p9, Mathew teaches that papal authority extends to infidels, Jews, pagans, and Moslems.) One of the other sources of the language of the bull is the canonist Gilles of Rome…the doctrine of Gilles de Rome throws light on the meaning of “instituere” as used by Boniface VIII (111).

Remote Sources: The most important precedents of it are: the decree of Nicholas II (1059), which reserved papal election to cardinals, thus neutralizing the imperial or popular control of the papacy; the Dictatus Papae of Gregory VII (1075); the third Lateran Council (1179) under Alexander III (1159-1181), when for the first time the decrees of a general council were promulgated by the pope rather than by the council (de consilio fratrum nostrorum et sacri approbatione Concilii); the policy of Innocent III (1198-1216), who persuaded several kings to become legal vassals of the pope (Sicily, Anjou, Portugal, Hungary, England, Ireland); the action of Innocent IV in deposing Frederic II, his bull Eger cui levia of 1245, where the pope’s universal authority over temporal government was said to be founded on the power of the keys, and his unusual claim that the pope governs ‘not by human policy, but by divine inspiration’; the Second Council of Lyons (1274), under Gregory X (1271-1276), where the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Paleologos signed a profession of faith containing the follow passage… (111-12).

The history of the two centuries that followed the publication of Unam sanctam shows clearly that this bull was not received by all theologians and canonists of the times as binding on the Christian faith. It goes without saying that in any case one cannot speak of ‘infallibility’ at that period. The first use of the term ‘infallible’ as applied to the pope appears in 1320 in the works of Agostino Trionfo (Summa de potestate ecclesiastica, LXIII, 1. ad 1). In the language of that period, one can speak of plenitudo potestatis. This, however, was not universally accepted in the sense of Unam sanctam, where it entails hierocracy and implies the pope’s authority over princes (112).

The violent reaction of King Philip had political and mercenary more than theological motives. Yet the subsequent policy of the king, who managed to have a French pope, Clement V (1305-1314), elected in 1305 and to move his living quarters to Avignon, cannot be dismissed as purely political. It corresponded to another view of the relationship between the two powers. This was implicitly recognized by Clement V: on February 1, 1306, his brief Meruit considerably toned down Boniface’s doctrine concerning the subordination of temporal authority to the pope (112-113).

(In his account, Congar depicts the theologians of the fourteenth century as divided along four lines. (1) The hierocrats: besides Matthew d’Aquasparta and Egidius Romanus, Jacques de Viterbe (d. 1307) Barthélemy de Lucques (d. 1327), Agostino Trionfo (d. 1328; de duplici potestate praelatorum et laicorum; De potestate collegii mortuo papa), Alvaro Pelayo (d. 1349 or 1353; De planctu ecclesiae), Guido Terreni (d. 1342; Questio de magisterio infallibili), Henri Trotting de Oyta (d. 1397; In Sententiis), the anonymous Determinatio compendiosa (1342). These, with minor differences, considered the pope to be the head of the mystical body, wielding authority over all men and all things  (113).

(2) Others recognize the autonomy of the temporal order, in the line of the theology of Thomas Aquinas; Jean Quidort of Paris (d. 1302), De potestate regia et papali), Pierre de la Palu (d. 1342; De potestate papae). This Thomist position subordinates the temporal to the spiritual in the order of final causality, not, as for the hierocrats, in the order of efficient causality (113).

(3) Some assert the autonomy of the temporal order without qualification: the Ghibeline party in Italian politics, Dante (1265-1321; De monarchia), and, in a more extreme form, Marsiglio de Padua (d. 1342; Defensor pacis). Several statements from the Defensor pacis were condemned by John XXII on October 27, 1327 (DS, 941-946).

(4) William of Ockham (d. 1349), Dialogus Adversus haereticos, in his conflict with John XXII over the Franciscan idea of Christian perfection defines papal authority as purely spiritual. He admits a primacy in the church, even a plenitudo potestatis over temporal matters, but only if temporal authority fails to function. He also admits that a General Council may be called without a pope when this is necessary for the good of the Church (113).

This division of opinion on the questions which Boniface VIII tried to settle in his bull Unam sanctam become sharper with time. The conflict between conciliarists and papalists was yet to come; the fifth session of the council of Constance (April 1415) was to ‘define’ an ecclesiology at odds with that of Boniface VIII (113).

Until the end of the Middle Ages, the church’s formal doctrines were still determined by their reception by the body of the church. Although never clearly formulated in theology, this principle had been affirmed by Hincmar de Reims in the ninth century. It was accepted by the canonists who, like Huguccio or Hostiensis (Henri de Séguse, d. 1271), assimilated the church to a medieval corporation. It persisted into the fifteenth century with Cardinal Zarabella (d. 1417) and Panormitanus (Nicholas de Tudeschis, d. 1445) and was predominant among the theologians of the Council of Constance (113-14).

Some theologians distinguish between the conclusion of the bull (DS, n875), to which they ascribe permanent value, and the preliminaries, which they regard as too time-conditioned to be authoritative. Thus Cardinal Journet or the author of the remark in DS, p279: ‘the final sentence alone is the dogmatic definition.’ In line with this, the last section of Unam sanctam was the only one mentioned by the eleventh session of the Fifth Lateran Council (bull Pastor aeternus, condemning the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, 1438, a decree in 23 articles, with a conciliarist orientation, signed by the king of France, Charles VII, and accepted by the Sorbonne). The Lateran Council explicitly stated that it also stood by the declaration of Meruit of Clement V. Congar, who mentions this distinction between the body of the text and its conclusion, does not endorse it clearly (114).

Fr. Chenu identifies the ‘permanent value’ of Unam sanctam as ‘the dogmatic teaching that all political action falls under the light and within the scope of grace.’ He adds: ‘No doubt the arguments of this document are steeped in an unacceptable theocratism; but this resulted from a theology that is outmoded today, and it does not nullify the truth that was enunciated.’ Such an interpretation severs the message from the medium, a procedure which, as will be explained below, I cannot accept. The bull then becomes an allegorical document expressing a truth in terms that are no longer acceptable (theocratism). Chenu effectively discerns the pope’s motivation; this, however, does not adequately account for the formulation of his doctrine (114-15).

The problem raised by Unam sanctam is that of doctrinal formulation. Several remarks are called for. First, I cannot see how one can, in a statement about doctrine, separate the conclusion from the preliminaries which introduce it and, by outlining its context, determine the features and the limit of its horizon (116).

Second, this relates to the question of theological method.
Either the conclusion need not follow upon the premises. In that case it must be somehow protected from error by a sudden charism, but at the cost of the intelligibility of the discourse of which it is a part. It would then be theologically legitimate, although rationally absurd, to elaborate the arguments after reaching the conclusion, and these arguments need not be logically cogent as long as they are apologetically effective.
Or theological language must follow the rule of all language, i.e., effectively reflect the ongoing effort of the mind searching for intelligibility. In this case the conclusion will flow from the premises and preliminaries as stated in the discourse (116).

Fourth, one may express this in more familiar terms: Boniface did not state the conclusion of the bull by itself, but as explained in the context of the bull. In this context, the conclusion refers to the pope’s authority over ‘every human creature’ insofar as this human creature wields, or is subject to, temporal authority. The conclusion reflects the same theology as the complete bull. Its meaning is restricted and its validity qualified by the theology of temporal and spiritual power which the bull embodies (117).

Fifth, if it is advisable to speak in terms of infallibility, we should not say that infallibility protects one sentence from error, while the rest of the discourse may well be erroneous. Rather, the whole discourse conveys, or does not convey, a truth (117).

It is not a fruitful exercise to try to abstract a core of permanent truth from such a culturally dated and politically limited document as Unam sanctam. That such a core of permanent truth may be arrived at, I would not deny. But this core is not evident from what the text itself says. We may reach it by making educated guesses as to what can, may, or ought to have been at the back of Boniface VIII’s mind. This result is so dependent on our knowledge of the historical, social, and psychological conditions in which Boniface VIII lived and worked, that, if it properly belongs within the field of scholarly investigation, it cannot be claimed as a norm for the faith of Catholics who are utterly remote from those conditions (117-18(.

The distinction of John XXIII between the ‘substance’ and the ‘formulation’ of the faith raises a major question here. For the substance of speech is never given without a formulation, and furthermore, in the analysis of language that I would accept, no two formulations ever cover exactly the same substance. If substance is the meaning, the formulation is itself a syntactic combination of themes without which no meaning is available. Accordingly, the suggested contrast between ‘substance’ and ‘formulation’ is misleading. It tends to raise a barrier between the substance or ideal content of doctrine, and its formulation, as though the substance of doctrine could stand by itself in a Platonic world of essences (118).

Keep in mind that Fr. Tavard was an ecumenist, writing in the wake of Vatican II, so he is inclined to minimize the relevance of Unam sanctam to our own time. A Catholic theologian of an earlier era might well be inclined to offer more of a hardline interpretation and application:

Tavard’s analysis illustrates the extreme intricacies and vagaries of interpreting a Magisterial statement from the past, as well as relating that statement to current Catholic theology. You have to look forward and backward. Backward to precedents leading up to the statement to rightly construe the statement in its historical context—and forward to subsequent interpretations and subsequent developments.

Keep in mind that Unam sanctam is just one Magisterial statement among thousands and thousands. Imagine having to bring the same erudite investigation to every Magisterial statement.

And Unam sanctam is a very brief Magisterial statement. The longer the statement, the longer the analysis.

Catholics delude themselves when they suppose that they can sidestep the ambiguities of Biblical exegesis by punting to the Magisterium. Magisterial tradition generates its own hermeneutical layers. Its own imponderables.

And, at least in the case of Scripture, it is God’s will that he rule his people through his word. So we have more reason to believe that our exegetical efforts will be more successful in the case of Scripture than in the case of tradition.

I suspect many Catholics vainly imagine that they don’t have to sift through Magisterial tradition since a compendium like the Catechism has already winnowed the wheat from the chaff. But that’s an illusion. As Cardinal Dulles, along with then-Cardinal Ratzinger, explain:

“The various teachings in the Catechism have no greater authority than they had in the documents from which they are drawn,” A. Dulles, Magisterium: Teaching and Guardian of the Faith, 84.

“’The individual doctrines that the Catechism affirms have no other authority than that which they already possess,’ wrote Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in ‘The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Optimism of the Redeemed,’ Communio: International Catholic Review 20 (1993): 469-84, at 479,” ibid. 84n4.

For example, Ratzinger, now pope, thinks that Vatican II teaches the Pelagian heresy. So taking refuge in the Catechism, with its derivative doctrine, is no escape.

Busy Wasting Time

The issue of time management came up in a recent thread. What the Bible says about how our time should be spent is often different from the common standards of the world (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, Matthew 6:19-20, 19:27-30, 24:42-51, Luke 9:57-62, 10:38-42, Acts 6:2, Romans 13:11-14). I wrote on this subject a few years ago, and I recommend reading some related articles on how Americans spend their time here and here. From the first of those two articles:

Countless news stories tell us we're running ourselves ragged. And everyone thinks it's true. Lots of Americans say [they] have no free time. We all seem to be rushing everywhere.

Sherri Kowalski is busy. She's a working mom, who's in a constant struggle to get everything done.

She has two kids, and a husband who helps. But there's a lot to do: laundry, cooking, cleaning, helping kids with their schoolwork. When we visited her home, she was so busy she didn't even sit down to eat her meals.

Everyone we interviewed said they were pressed for time.

It made me want to seek out some real data on this. I talked with sociologist John Robinson of the University of Maryland, who's been trying to measure how much time we have for several decades. Since 1965, Robinson has had people keep time diaries, so he could calculate how much free time people really have.

I assumed that we've lost free time since 1965, but Robinson said that's not the case.

Surprisingly, since 1965 we've gained an hour more free time every day.

"There is a discrepancy between what people say and what they report when they keep a time diary," he said.

Sure enough, when Kowalski and some of the other people we met at the mall kept Robinson's time diaries, what they wrote down didn't always match what they'd said.

Sherri had twice as much free time as she'd estimated. She finds time to exercise every day, and she often goes to a tanning salon. Kowalski also watches some TV; that's the No. 1 free time activity in America.

We have more free time now, say the experts, because we're working less, marrying later, having fewer children, and retiring earlier.

If we're so stressed for free time, it's hard to explain how 36 million people can find time to golf, and 65 million people can go camping, and hundreds of millions go to the beach, the movies, and sports events.

Economist Stephen Moore says, "One of the reasons that Americans feel so pressed for time is there's so much more to do in life today."

The fact that people have more free time than they suggest helps explain why there's a multi-billion-dollar movie industry, a multi-billion-dollar pornography industry, a multi-billion-dollar video game industry, etc. It's not that people don't have time to listen to Christian teaching on their radio or read a Christian book. They choose to listen to trivial or vulgar music on the radio or read a romance novel or a book on how to make more money instead. It's not as if high school students and retirees are so ignorant of the Bible, ignorant of church history, and uninvolved in the church because of a lack of free time. "Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time" (Ephesians 5:15-16).

Sunday, August 24, 2008



“Yes. As long as each Protestant feels that he/she possesses the keys of authority and has the "right" to read and interpret scripture for themselves.”

Are you defining the power of the keys in terms of the authority to interpret Scripture? If so, what makes you think that’s what the keys stand for in Mt 16:19?

“Then every Protestant will continue in Satan's trap of self-Papacy.”

Being pope has a lot of perks. Rome is a nice place to live. Lots of sunshine, fine art, gourmet cuisine, and beautiful women.

So when you equate the Protestant rule of faith with self-popery, that’s a great selling point for self-popery.

And if Rome is already taken, I’ll become the pope of Venice or Marseilles.

“Origin erred in not including in his interpretation of Matthew 16:15-19 Jesus' direct quote from Isaiah 22:22. In Isaiah 22:22 the Jewish king's keys of authority were given to one man and one man only, not to multiple men.”

In that case, Peter was the first and last pope. After all, the papacy consists of multiple men. Don’t you guys believe in apostolic succession?

(BTW, where can I find the infallible, Magisterial interpretation of Isa 22:22? I do hope you didn’t interpret that passage on your own authority, since that would be self-popery.)

Indeed, according to Isa 22:25, the position of Eliakim had an expiration date. It would terminate in his own lifetime. So if you apply that passage to the papacy, it wouldn’t be a prooftext for the papacy, but a disproof. So I really appreciate your drawing that to my attention.

“So, the question for Protestants to answer is "Did Jesus, the Jewish King of Kings, give his keys of authority to one man or to all men?"”

Of course, that’s a false dichotomy. It isn’t a choice between one or all. It could be some.

You seem to be assuming that the power of the keys is a different prerogative than the power to bind and lose. Yet Jesus explicates the power of the keys in terms of binding and loosing. And that prerogative is extended to the rest of the disciples in Mt 18:18.

So, yes, Jesus gave his keys to more than one man.

Christianity's History Of Opposition To Abortion

Kathryn Lopez just posted about some comments Nancy Pelosi made on this morning's "Meet The Press" on the issue of abortion. From the transcript:

MR. BROKAW: Senator Obama saying the question of when life begins is above his pay grade, whether you're looking at it scientifically or theologically. If he were to come to you and say, "Help me out here, Madame Speaker. When does life begin?" what would you tell him?

REP. PELOSI: I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator--St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose. Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of when the child--first trimester, certain considerations; second trimester; not so third trimester. There's very clear distinctions. This isn't about abortion on demand, it's about a careful, careful consideration of all factors and--to--that a woman has to make with her doctor and her god. And so I don't think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins. As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this, and there are those who've decided...

MR. BROKAW: The Catholic Church at the moment feels very strongly that it...

REP. PELOSI: I understand that.

MR. BROKAW: ...begins at the point of conception.

REP. PELOSI: I understand. And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy. But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And we want abortions to be safe, rare, and reduce the number of abortions. That's why we have this fight in Congress over contraception. My Republican colleagues do not support contraception. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, and we all do, we must--it would behoove you to support family planning and, and contraception, you would think. But that is not the case. So we have to take--you know, we have to handle this as respectfully--this is sacred ground. We have to handle it very respectfully and not politicize it, as it has been--and I'm not saying Rick Warren did, because I don't think he did, but others will try to.

If Pelosi thinks we don't know when life begins, then why doesn't she err on the side of life? Life is more important than a legal freedom to choose abortion.

Despite some exceptions in ancient times and many more exceptions in recent history, Jewish tradition and Christian tradition have generally been opposed to abortion:

"Jews found deliberate abortion unacceptable; they also rejected exposure of children. Yet their opinions differed widely as to the penalty for accidental or therapeutic abortions. Christians viewed the fetus as God’s creation. They insisted that the destruction of the fetus was murder and that the perpetrators should be punished as murderers. Didache 2.2 and Barnabas 20.1-2 prohibited abortion as murder. The earliest information in the New Testament seems to occur in the vice lists, where pharmakeia may refer to the drug used in abortions. Clement of Alexandria quotes an earlier Christian writer who inferred from Luke 1:41 that life begins at conception (Ecl. 41; 48-49; cf. his own words in Paed. 2.10.96). The apologists defended Christians against charges of immorality by noting the community’s rejection of abortion (Athenagoras, Leg. 35). Some Christians practiced abortion, however, as Hippolytus (Haer. 9.7) and Cyprian (Ep. 52.2) indicate. The Council of Elvira, ca. 305 (can. 63; 68), enacted punishments against infanticide, perhaps abortion. The Council of Ancyra, 314 (can. 21), prohibited abortion. Basil (Ep. 188.2), Ambrose (Hex. 5.18.58), and Jerome (Ep. 22.13) supported that stance. Augustine (Quest. Exodus 9.80 and Quest. Hept. 2) differed as to when life began, but he found intentional abortion of the formed fetus to be murder. John Chrysostom (Hom. 32 in Rom.) viewed deliberate abortion as murder." (Frederick Norris, in Everett Ferguson, ed., Encyclopedia Of Early Christianity [New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999], p. 7)

It should be noted that when Hippolytus and Cyprian refer to professing Christians committing abortion, they do so disapprovingly. Hippolytus is criticizing the low standards of the Roman bishop Callistus and the people influenced by Callistus when he comments:

“Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time!” (The Refutation Of All Heresies, 9:7)

The passage Frederick Norris cites from Cyprian contains a description of various sins committed by a man named Novatus. Cyprian writes (this Letter 48 I’m citing is the same as Letter 52 cited by Norris, since different editions of Cyprian have different numbering):

“The womb of his wife was smitten by a blow of his heel; and in the miscarriage that soon followed, the offspring was brought forth, the fruit of a father's murder. And now does he dare to condemn the hands of those who sacrifice, when he himself is more guilty in his feet, by which the son, who was about to be born, was slain?” (Letter 48:2)

Thus, Hippolytus and Cyprian can be added to the list of early Christians who condemned abortion. When they refer to some professing Christians committing abortion, they do so with disapproval.

And Norris’ list of fathers isn’t exhaustive. Other names could be added. Tertullian, for example, repeatedly condemns abortion in multiple contexts (Apology, 9; On The Soul, 25; etc.), Minucius Felix condemns it (The Octavius, 30), etc.

In scripture, life begins at conception (Numbers 11:12, Job 3:3, Psalm 51:5, Song of Solomon 3:4, Luke 1:36, 2:21). Advocates of legalized abortion sometimes cite some passages of scripture to argue for life beginning after conception, but every passage they cite requires reading unreasonable assumptions into the text.

Concerning the early Christians' opposition to infanticide and their care for abandoned children, see here.

Did Peter found the church of Rome?


“It's not unknown to them. They know that the apostles founded the church of Rome, just like historians do.”

Is that what historians know? What historians have you actually read on the subject?

Like many laymen, JJ is one of those Catholics who seems to get his church history, not from historians or other scholars, but from Internet popes like Karl Keating and Dave Armstrong. These are Catholics who don’t’ even study Catholic scholarship.

Part of the problem is that a lot of Catholic laymen aren’t intellectuals. So they don’t read serious historical or exegetical literature. They only read popularizers. Or watch EWTN.

Joseph Fitzmyer has written the standard Catholic commentary on Romans. It’s a monument of erudition. Here’s some of what he says about the “founding” of the Roman Church.

“In Acts 2:10 Luke lists among the ‘Jews and proselytes’ gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Assembly (or Pentecost [see the NOTE on 15:24]) ‘Roman sojourners’ (pace Brown [Antioch, 104n215], epidemountes does not mean ‘residents’ [of Jerusalem]; they were rather pilgrim ‘sojourners’). Acts 6:9 also knows of a ‘Synagogue of the Freedmen’ (Libertinon), that is, of liberti, Jewish slaves who had managed to gain their freedom in the Roman world (see Sanday and Headlam, Romans, xxviii). These freedmen could actually have come from anywhere in the Roman Empire, but many of them might well have been descendants of Jerusalem Jews taken to Rome by Pompey as prisoners of war in 63 BC, who came to form a great part of the Jewish population there,” J. Fitzmyer, Romans (Doubleday 1993), 29.

“If some of the Roman sojourners in Jerusalem were among the three thousand Jews converted to Christianity according to the Lucan account (Acts 2:10-11,41), they may have formed the nucleus of the Christian community in Rome on their return there. Thus the Roman Christian community would have had its matrix in the Jewish community, possibility as early as the 30s, and thus was made up at first of Jewish Christians and God-fearing Gentiles (or even of proselytoi, Acts 2:11, also mentioned in Roman Jewish funerary inscriptions), who had associated themselves with Jews of Rome,” ibid. 29.

“The Letter to the Romans itself is actually the earliest document that attests the existence of the Roman Christian community, which Paul knows to have been in existence for ‘for many years’ (15:23),” 29.

“Much later, Eusebius tells of Peter arriving in Rome on the heels of Simon Magus to preach the gospel there in the second year of Claudius…The Catalogus Liberianus, dating from AD 354, also speaks of Peter as the founder of the Roman church, having exercised an episcopate of twenty-five years. This is undoubtedly part of a later legendary tradition tha sought to explain where Peter went when he departed Jerusalem ‘for another place’ (Acts 12:17). Eusebius’s notice encounters the difficulty that Paul in Gal 2:7-9 (written ca. 54) knows that Peter was still in Jerusalem for the so-called Council (dated ca. 49) and had apparently not yet left the eastern Mediterranean area; similarly Acts 15:6-7,” 29-30.

“A more reliable tradition associated with Paul with Peter as ‘founders’ of the Roman community, not in the sense that they first brought Christian faith there, but because both of them eventually worked there and suffered martyrdom there (or in its immediate environs), and because their mortal remains were in the possession of the Roman church (see Ignatius, Rom. 4.3; Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 3.1.1, 3.3.2 (SC 2:11.22-23,32-33]),” ibid. 30.

“In any case, Paul never hints in Romans that he knows that Peter has worked in Rome or founded the Christian church there before his planned visit (cf. 15:20-23). If he refers indirectly to Peter as among the ‘superfine apostles’ who worked in Corinth (2 Cor 11:4-5), he says nothing like that about Rome in his letter. Hence the beginnings of the Roman Christian community remain shrouded in mystery. Compare 1 Thess 3:2-5; 1 Cor 3:5-9; and Col 1:7 and 4:12-13 for more or less clear references to founding apostles of other locales. Hence there is no reason to think that Peter spent any major portion of time in Rome before Paul wrote his letter, or that he was the founder of the Roman Church or the missionary who first brought Christianity to Rome. For it seems highly unlikely that Luke, if he knew that Peter had gone to Rome and evangelized that city, would have omitted all mention of it in Acts,” ibid. 30.

“Most likely the Christian community in Rome began not under any direct evangelization of the area, as it did in parts of the eastern Mediterranean, but through the presence of Jewish Christians and Gentiles associated with them who came to live there and went about ordinary tasks and secular duties. Slaves brought to Rome, merchants who came from other parts of the empire, and other individuals probably carried the Christian gospel there. Neither the Letter to the Romans nor the Acts of the Apostles alludes to any initial evangelization of Rome by a particular missionary, but Paul does send greetings to Andronicus and Junia, whom he recognizes as ‘my fellow countrymen’ and ‘outstanding among the apostles’ (16:7) and who may have been among such Jewish Christians who originally came from Jerusalem. The community undoubtedly also grew by the gradual immigration of Christians themselves, who traveled to the capital during the 40s via the Jewish diaspora,” ibid. 30.

Ambrosiaster tells us about Roman Christians: ‘It is evident then that there were Jews living in Rome…in the time of the apostles. Some of these Jews, who had come to believe (in Christ), passed on to the Romans (the tradition) that they should acknowledge Christ and keep the law…One ought not to be angry with the Romans, but praise their faith, because without seeing any signs of miracles and without any of the apostles they came to embrace faith in Christ, though according to a Jewish rite’ (ritu licet iudaico, a phrase found only in the cod. K; In ep. ad Romanos, prol. 2: CSEL 81:1.5-6),” ibid. 30-31.

“Suetonius, then, would have been referring to a conflict between Jews and Jewish Christians of Rome in the late 40s; the constant disturbances would apparently have been caused by Jews who opposed those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah or Lord, and who consequently differed in their interpretation of the law and threatened thereby ethnic unity and identity. These disturbances were happening so frequently (assidue tumultuantis) that they become the reason for the imperial banishment of Jews and Jewish Christians from Rome. Among the latter would have been Prisca and Aquila, who left Italy for Corinth (Acts 18:2),” ibid 31.