Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Catholicism in the dock, part 4

Continuing my episodic review of Thomas Joseph White's In the Light of Christ:

We should note that none of this entails that Christ suffers the wrath of God the Father, or that he is punished as one deemed guilty on our behalf. This is a theory of penal substitution that was popularized especially by John Calvin, and that some Catholics have held, but which ciphers from traditional Catholic teaching about the atonement. it is true to say that Jesus takes upon himself our punishments, in the sense that he endures consequences of original sin that are collective punishments for man sin (suffering and death). He also confronts the horror of our moral iniquity with unique insight, due to his understanding of the damage done by human evil, and he mourns for our human guilt with intense suffering of contrition of heart, due to the perfection of his charity. Fundamentally, though, Christ's mystery is in no way one of his own guilt, but of his infinite innocence in the face of our sinfulness. The passion is not a mystery of divine wrath and vengeance but of divine justice, mercy, and reparation. There is no problem with the use of the language of "substitutionary atonement," but there is a question of what this language connotes. Jesus' substitutionary atonement for our sins is above all something positive, not something negative. He substitutes his love, his justice, and his obedience there where the human race has lacked love, justice, and obedience. He "remakes" our condition from within, "justifying us," presenting us anew to the Father as authentic "children of God" by grace, grace merited for us by the only-begotten Son, in and through his passion (170).

i) I agree with White that Christ doesn't suffer the Father's wrath. The atonement concerns the satisfaction of divine justice. It's not satisfaction made by one person of the Trinity to another person. Divine justice is common property of the Trinity, not a distinguishing property of one Trinitarian person in particular. In redemption, the Son doesn't make atonement to the Father. Rather, God, in the person of the Son, satisfies divine justice. From God, by God, to God.

ii) However, the wrath of God is a central theme in Scripture. The atonement of Christ averts the wrath of God. White erects a false dichotomy between divine wrath and divine justice, but divine wrath is a colorful, anthropomorphic description of divine justice and judgment. 

iii) Jesus suffers "contrition of heart"? Since Jesus is sinless (indeed, impeccable), he can't be penitent. There can be no vicarious contrition in the atonement. 

iv) The Reformed doctrine of penal substitution is positive rather than negative. Not merely acquittal, but the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the elect.

v) Justification doesn't remake us from within. Justification is an ascribed status. Regeneration and sanctification remake us from within. The Holy Spirit remakes us from within. 

vi) There's an exegetical case for penal substitution. Cf. Simon Gathercole, Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul (Baker 2015); S. Jeffery, M. Ovey, & A. Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (Crossway 2007); Thomas Schreiner, “Penal Substitution View,” J. Beilby & P. Eddy, eds. The Nature of the Atonement (IVP 2006).

Christianity proposes that the final end of man is to see the essence of God, that the human intellect might see God face to face, "as he is" in his eternal mystery" [1 Cor 13:12; 1 Jn 3:2; Rev 22:5]…The beatific vision entails knowledge not only of God himself and of his Trinitarian life. To see God is to participate in some degree (as God wishes) in the knowledge of all things that God himself knows. So to see God face to face is also to understand the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and the Church "from within," in the eternal light of God…The insight into Christ that is given to the blessed amounts to an inversion of what we experience in our earthly lives. In this life, through the grace of faith, we come to know the divinity of Christ primarily through the medium of his human actions and sufferings. We discover who Christ is through his incarnate human life, his teachings, miracles, passion, and resurrection. In the life of the world to come, however, the human soul knows the divinity of Christ immediately by the grace of the vision, and "sees" the mysteries of the life of Christ (his Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection) in the light of the glory of God…In the life of the world to come we will contemplate these same mysteries through the medium of the divine essence, in the splendor of the deity of Christ. There we will perceive "the Lamb that was slain," who is now alive forever, in the glory of his resurrection. What will result is the holy liturgy of heaven, a hymn of thanksgiving, where the souls of the saints praise God continually, in union with the risen Christ and with the Blessed Virgin Mary (273,275-276).

i) There's his perfunctory appeal to Scripture. However, the dogma of the beatific vision makes a much more specific claim than his prooftexts. They don't say or imply the beatific vision. At best, they might be consistent with the beatific vision, but by the same token, they might be inconsistent with the beatific vision–since mere consistency is compatible with divergent positions. 

ii) The development of doctrine is supposed to be constrained by what's inferable from the deposit of faith. But the beatific vision goes well beyond that's inferable from his prooftexts. So he has no evidence that the beatific vision is true. It's just a pretty idea. This is a problem with Catholicism. Pious Catholics like White are entranced by the idea of Catholicism. But ideas aren't the same as facts. White is staking his immortal destiny on flights of fancy. 

iii) His prooftexts say nothing about the Virgin Mary.

iv) I'm not sure what White means by claiming we come to know Christian mysteries "from within". That has a pantheistic tinge, as if we can enter into God's viewpoint. But we can never perceive things the same way God perceives them. We remain creatures. The divine essence is not our medium. God's mode of knowledge is unique to God. 

v) In general, we experience God indirectly through the world he has made. It's possible for God to communicate telepathically, but even then, direct revelation is adapted to human intelligence. Our finite mind is the filter. That's not a problem because God created the filter. God created the human mind. As such, it can be an adequate medium. White's position is subversive to the categorical distinction between God and man. 

vi) In the world to come, we will still experience Jesus through the medium of his Incarnate persona, like how Jesus appeared to John on Patmos (reminiscent of the Transfiguration). We won't bypass our finitude or the Incarnation. 

Nothing could be more serious than what happens after death. The stakes could not be higher. Everything to gain if you're right and everything to lose if your wrong. Therefore, it's all-important to base your views of salvation on reliable evidence. But what is White's source of information? It's not natural theology or revelation. It's not the deposit of faith. It's just wishful thinking. 

The Catholic tradition has always taught that there are degrees of holiness of those who attain to heaven, based on the degree of charity that each soul attained in his or her earthly life. The intensity of the beatification of each person is based on the intensity of his charity in this world…The souls of the saints are like cups of various sizes, some very small and some very great. Each can receive a different amount of the living water of grace that pours forth eternally from the side of Christ, and yet all are filled to the brim, eternally running over (277). 

i) White is substituting imagination for fact.

ii) Even on its own grounds, the claim is illogical. Why would degrees of holiness by frozen at the time of death? Why wouldn't heaven be an opportunity for all saints to achieve perfect holiness? 

There is a communion of saints that exists in the heart of the Church, of prayers shared in common by the living and the dead. There is also a spiritual ecology of interdependence between our world and the world of those who have died. We can pray for the souls in purgatory. The souls in heaven can intercede for us (277).

That's Catholic dogma, but there's no reason to believe it's true. Suppose, for argument's sake, that the dead can pray for the living. If so, that in no way implies that saints who are perfect strangers to you and me are in any position to pray for us. It might make some sense to say a dead Christian relative could pray for me. They know who I am. Even that's speculative. It's inhumane to suppose Mary can simultaneously process millions of prayers everyday, in hundreds of foreign languages. 

Even in heaven, in the joy of the beatific vision, the soul remains incomplete without a body…It is difficult to see how a human person can live forever without a body… (279).

That's certainly a problem in Thomistic anthropology. If the soul is the form of the body, how does the soul survive death? That's not just my impression. For instance:

“It is a savage superstition to suppose that a man consists of two pieces, body and soul, which come apart at death; the superstition is not mended but rather aggravated by conceptual confusion, if the soul piece is supposed to be immaterial...In truth a man is a sort of body, not a body plus an immaterial somewhat; for a man is an animal, and an animal is one kind of living body; and thinking is a vital activity of a man, not of any part of him, material or immaterial. The only tenable conception of the soul is the Aristotelian conception of the soul as the form, or actual organization, of the living body; and thus you may say that a man thinks with his soul, if you mean positively that thinking is a vital activity of a living human being, and negatively that thinking is not performed by any bodily organ” Peter Geach, God and the Soul, 38.

“There is a primary principle of the life of any kind of material thing...This primary principle I call its soul...The vegetative functions are performed in animal life too. But except for growth they are transposed to a new key. And similarly the remaining vegetative functions and the animal activities and powers are transposed in the life of man. For here there is something new: the intellective principle is the differentia of the human soul” “Has Mankind one Soul?” Elizabeth Anscombe, Human Life, Action and Ethics,18,22.

“There is no reason whatever for believing in a temporal immortality of the soul apart from the resurrection; above all there is no ‘natural immortality of the soul’ that can be demonstrated by philosophy...I take the Christian doctrine of immortality to be the doctrine of an unending human life, happy or unhappy, after the resurrection and not the doctrine of an immortal sort of substance, the soul, to which is appended the doctrine of the resurrection because a disembodied soul is not a complete man, though I know that in apologetics the matter is often presented like that” Anscombe, “The Immortality of the Soul,” Faith in a Hard Ground, 77.

“Well, he [Aquinas] investigated it [postmortem survival]. It was for him a serious problem precisely because he believed the Aristotelian principle – the soul is the form of the body...Probably he did [think this]. I would say to him it was a problem and it is not clear that he solved the problem, Anscombe, "The Existence of the Soul," 53f.

But on something like Cartesian dualism, I don't think it's difficult to see how disembodied souls could live forever. To extrapolate from biblical visions of heaven, heaven is like a vivid, collective dream. 

Their bodies will remain truly material, but will be subject to the spiritual soul in a much more perfect way, even as the soul is itself enlightened by the beatific vision, and so  perfectly subject to God. That is to say, in the resurrection from the dead, the material body will be highly "spiritualized" by the dominance of the soul, and the grace of the beatific vision will irradiate the whole human subject, affecting the sensations and feelings of the resurrected body, as well as the physical integrity and material quality of the body (279-280).

This is where White's anthropology pulls is opposite directions. On the one hand it's hard for hylomorphism to make room for an immortal soul. On the other hand, the dogma of the beatific vision makes the body an impediment to spiritual apprehension. 

1 comment:

  1. Roman Catholicism teaches that human reason can prove that God is; and, even infer that He is eternal, infinite, good, bodiless, almighty, all-knowing, etc. He is "most real being," "true being." Humans are like Him (analogous), but we are imperfect being. The God of Roman Catholicism, born in the Latin Middle Ages, is not " the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but the God of the savants and the philosohers," to adapt the celebrated phrase of Blaise Pascal.

    Following the Holy Fathers, Orthodoxy teaches that the knowledge of God is planted in human nature and that is how we know Him to exist. Otherwise, unless God speaks to us, human reason cannot know more. The saving knowledge of God comes by the Savior. Speaking to His Father, He said, "And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou has sent" (John 17: 3).

    Roman Catholicism teaches, also, that, in the Age to Come, man will, with his intellect and with the assistance of grace, behold the Essence of God. The Fathers declare that it is impossible to behold God in Himself. Not even divine grace, will give us such power. The saved will see, however, God as the glorified flesh of Christ.

    Historically, the Roman Catholic theology never made the distinction between God's Essence (what He is) and His Uncreated Energies (by what means He acts). St. Gregory Palamas tried to explain this distinction through a comparison between God and the Sun. The sun has its rays, God has His Energies (among them, Grace and Light). By His Energies, God created, sustains and governs the universe. By His Energies, He will transform the creation and deify it, that is, He will fill the new creation with His Energies as water fills a sponge.