Friday, September 14, 2012

Roman Catholic authority and the Soviet propagandistic “correct” understanding of things

Given that Fr Bryan thinks that the Roman Catholic hierarchy is able to “[ponder] the word of God in [its] heart and [hear] the voice of God accurately” in such a way that it can “proclaim the truth of the Gospel to the World”, I asked him, How do you account for something like this?

In the link provided, I note that “Augustine's understanding/translation of iustitificare, a Latin term which he held to mean “to make righteous” was “a permissible interpretation of the Latin word”, was “unacceptable as an interpretation of the Hebrew concept which underlies it” – and that this mistranslation became the foundation for the whole Roman Catholic teaching on “justification”.

That is, Augustine missed quite thoroughly the concept of what the Old Testament meant when it said that God was going to “justify” Israel and bring salvation.

I noted further, “This isn’t the only case in which a mistranslation gets made into [Roman Catholic] dogma”.

Fr Bryan did not respond, but this exchanged followed:

Someone named Dennis said:


Regarding #957, your argument goes under the assumption that McGrath is correct and Augustine is wrong. So, it all depends on whom you take as your authority. You implicitly trust McGrath more than Augustine. I disagree. As a matter of fact, I think most people would trust Augustine much more than they would trust McGrath.

I replied:

Dennis, your appeal to authority is very revealing.

There’s no assumption at all, in the whole piece. We know that words have actual meanings, and we know what those meanings are, and that Augustine didn’t now Hebrew. We know where his understanding of iustitificare came from, and how, precisely, things went wrong. There’s not an assumption in the whole piece.

Dennis replied:

What I’m saying is we all have an authority. Mine is the Church who has decided on this. Yours is your understanding of McGrath. I think your reading of McGrath is biased on your understanding of Scripture and your disposition on the Catholic Church.

My authority, Dennis, happens to be “what’s true”. What’s really going on there. Your appeal to “authority” to decide a translation issue reminds me of something that Václav Havel wrote in The Power of the Powerless, when he was locked in the deepest bowels of the Soviet system of propaganda:

For even though our dictatorship has long since alienated itself completely from the social movements that give birth to it, the authenticity of these movements (and I am thinking of the proletarian and socialist movements of the nineteenth century) gives it undeniable historicity. These origins provided a solid foundation of sorts on which it could build until it became the utterly new social and political reality it is today, which has become so inextricably a part of the structure of the modern world. A feature of those historical origins was the “correct” understanding of social conflicts in the period from which those original movements emerged. The fact that at the very core of this “correct” understanding there was a genetic disposition toward the monstrous alienation characteristic of its subsequence development is not essential here.

Rome provides the “correct” understanding authoritatively, even if the underlying facts are all wrong. Just like the brutal Soviet regime.

Which came first, however? Which learned this tactic from the other?

It’s true, correlation is not causation. But if its “genetic disposition” looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, you have to ask yourself at some point, is it related?


  1. One thing that's ironic is that if a pope (past or present) issues a controversial statement, then Catholics can hand-wave it away because, well, he wasn't speaking ex cathedra as pope on a matter of faith and morals while standing on one foot and singing Ave Maria, etc.

    But in this case, Augustine's teaching on justification is treated as if it were infallible because dot dot dot

    It's true that Augustine's view has been more or less baked into the fabric of the Vatican's teaching on justification, but why is this so? Augustine didn't have the ability to speak ex cathedra. And if it's said that the Magisterium recognizes that Augustine had (supposedly) a compelling case for infused justification, then why would the Protestant be wrong for recognizing a compelling case for imputed justification?

    1. Hi Semper, the Roman Catholic view of "justification" (infused grace) is connected to a lot of different things in a lot of different directions. That includes such things as free will, predestination, perseverance, etc. It is "ontologically-based" -- which means it does not deal with our legal status before God, but our actual status. The Hebrew concept that Augustine missed was the legal aspect.

      But in the meantime, given Augustine's position as probably the latest and greatest and most knowledgeable of the "patristics", but at the headwater of the "medievals", his work had a disproportionate influence on the Medieval theologians.

      Augustine's "goof" was just one portion (an important one) that got factored into nearly everyone's (all the medieval theologians) theologies of justification. It's true, there were some who almost advocated a grace-alone-by-faith-alone, nearly legal and heavily predestinarian viewpoint (such as Thomas Bradwardine), all the way to something quite semi-pelagian (i.e., Gabriel Biel), which Luther most strongly responded to.

      Of course, Trent was responding to Luther, and they chose the view most starkly contrasted with his -- the wrong one -- and that's how the Augustininan goof became enshrined in infallible dogma.

  2. Hi John,

    The selective adoption of Augustine by Roman Catholics is blatant. While I don't know as much about the justification issue - and am glad for your work on it - I have been amazed at how the RC's have thrown Augustine completely under the bus in the issues of contraception, conception and sex.

    So it seems so very arbitrary to have them cling so slavishly to his view on this topic and to completely disregard his teaching on the others.

    Oh, well. Arbitrary is as arbitrary does.


    1. Hi Constantine -- I think it's part of the RCC schtick to "pick and choose" among Augustine's teachings. It gives them the air of being more important than he was.

  3. John,

    I’m not believing it because Augustine wrote it. I’m trusting the Church in her judgment that Augustine’s view is correct.

    You obviously disagree because your judgment is that the Church’s view is wrong. I disagree with you.

    Your authority lies in yourself (or McGrath?) Either way, it’s not with the Church.

    My authority, Dennis, happens to be “what’s true”.

    No, I don’t think so. I’ve read your writings long enough and have interacted with you enough in the past to know what you think and what you know. It is frightening. My honest assessment is that as educated as you like to try to come off, you don’t understand Scripture. Stop reading McGrath or other writers and start reading Scripture. Let it sink in because you truly don’t understand it.

    1. Hi "TheDen" -- you know, authorities do not decide what words mean. Words owe their meaning to common usage. And so, McGrath (especially his sources) did not authoritatively say what these words meant in their day. Somebody read all the literature and noted the usage.

      It's people like you and the "Dennis" up above who are the frightening ones, people who need an "authority" to tell them what words really mean.

    2. John,

      I am the "Dennis" commenting over at Green Baggins.

      We all have an authority. You choosing to believe McGrath makes him an authority in your eyes.

    3. McGrath is just the conduit, reporting on what the words meant. That doesn't make him an authority.

      If I tell you that the Steelers beat the Jets last night, 27-10, but the pope tells you that the Jets really beat the Steelers, who do you believe?

    4. John,

      There is only one truth. The Truth isn't necessarily how you read Scripture. It's what Jesus Christ handed down. The Pope and the Magisterium guard that truth. It's not your interpretation of the words. If Jesus Christ said, "Don't Sin" then we don't sin. It's not up to us to find loopholes in the words because that's not what it's about.

      As for me, I'm a Lions fan--which is tough enough as they've been bad for so long.

    5. Dennis, you said "If Jesus Christ said, "Don't Sin" then we don't sin. It's not up to us to find loopholes in the words because that's not what it's about."

      But there are loopholes to sin, for Roman Catholics. This should interest you:

      What’s tripping you up here is thinking that venial sins are violations of God’s law. So you’re not yet seeing the basis for the difference between mortal and venial sins. Venial sins are not violations of the law; they are not violations of love. They are deficiencies or defects in carrying out the love that is the spirit and principle of the law. So to view venial sins as merely more rule violations is to approach the whole question through the list-paradigm, rather than through the agape paradigm, which gets ‘behind’ the list to the spirit or principle (i.e. agape) of the law, thus allowing for a distinction between actions that violate this spirit, and those that are still ordered by this principle but fall short of its perfect expression.

      And if that's not good enough, Bryan explicated further, saying that if you do sin, all you gotta do is to say an act of contrition before your next confession and that'll be all right.

      It is weasel language like this that first hinted to me that I should be making my way out of the Roman Catholic Church, and none too soon.

      That aside, there is weasel language on the "development" of the papacy, on the "magisterium" itself; all over the place.

      I can't believe that a Roman Catholic is attempting to accuse me of "finding loopholes" to what Jesus said.

  4. John,

    There are no loopholes to sin. If we sin, we repent. Regarding Bryan Cross’ statement, there’s nothing wrong with what he says. Venial sin is a time when we aren’t loving God fully. And while I wouldn’t word his comment about the “Act of Contrition” the same way, there’s nothing wrong with what he says. The point is a person must be contrite. It’s not the “Act of Contrition” that God is looking for. It’s contrition. So, what Bryan is saying is that we be contrite (by saying the “Act of Contrition”) and go to confession when we can.

    This is not “weasel language.” It’s an understanding of our relationship with God that you don’t have.


    1. You don't just gotta "repent". You've gotta "do penance". In fact, post-baptism (and post-giving-of-grace), there's just a whole bunch of stuff you've "gotta do". Perhaps you've seen the sacramental treadmill chart. No such system exists in Scripture. Up above, you were saying that I don't understand Scripture. Perhaps you can tell me in Scripture where it says (for example), missing Mass is a mortal sin? (And if you're sitting there calculating the instances in which it is not, you are the one not understanding what a relationship really is all about).