Saturday, November 04, 2017

Rome was against Bible reading before they were for it

Richard Phillips at Reformation 21 has provided a helpful survey of all the times when “Bible reading in the vernacular” was condemned, prior to it being accepted at Vatican II:

Rome's suppression of Scripture. To say the least, it is extensive! Consider the following:

• Pope Gregory VII: forbade access of common people to the Bible in 1079, since it would "be so misunderstood by people of limited intelligence as to lead them into error."
• Pope Innocent III: compared Bible teaching in church to casting "pearls before swine" (1199).
• The Council of Toulouse (France, 1229): suppressed the Albigensians and forbade the laity to read vernacular translations of the Bible.
• The Second Council of Tarragon (Spain, 1234) declared, "No one may possess the books of the Old and New Testaments, and if anyone possesses them he must turn them over. . . that they may be burned."
• In response to the labors of John Wyclif, the English Parliament (under Roman Catholic influence) banned the translation of Scripture into English, unless approved by the church (1408).
• The Council of Constance (Germany/ Bohemia, 1415) condemned John Hus and the writings of Wyclif because of their doctrine of Scripture and subsequent teachings. Hus answerd: "If anyone can instruct me by the sacred Scriptures. . . , I am willing to follow him." He was burned at the stake.
• Archbishop Berthold of Mainz threatened to excommunicate anyone who translated the Bible (1486).
• Pope Pius IV expressed the conviction that Bible reading did the common people more harm than good (1564).
It is true that in many cases, the papacy suppressed Scripture because it was being used to teach against the church. But this is exactly the point the Reformers argued: Rome would not allow the Scripture to speak with authority and for that reason suppressed it. Wyclif wrote: "where the Bible and the Church do not agree, we must obey the Bible, and, where conscience and human authority are in conflict, we must follow conscience." For this doctrine and its further implications, his body was exhumed and burned, his ashes scattered in a nearby river, and his Bible translation banned. So much for the Protestant "canard" regarding the Roman Catholic attitude to Bible translation, teaching, and distribution!

Friday, November 03, 2017

The Passion and the Passover

[Exod 12:1-20] Passover was originally a home-based rather than a temple-based ceremony. Israel had no temple at the first Passover, but the instructions made no allowance for a temple: families were to gather in their homes and every family was to make its sacrifice at the same time (12:6). It would never be possible for every family to sacrifice its lamb simultaneously on the one altar at one temple. However, Deut 16:2 states that Passover was to be sacrificed "in the place where Yahweh chooses to have his name dwell" (this is generally taken to be the central sanctuary), and v5 indicates that the Passover is not to be sacrificed in any of the other towns in Israel…It is possible that there was to be an official, national celebration of Passover at the temple in addition to (not instead of) the local celebrations. 2 Chron 30:1-18 describes a national celebration of Passover conducted at the temple. For practical reasons, this probably took place later than the normal Passover time.

This may explain a problem in the NT, that Mk 14:12-16 says that the first Eucharist in the upper room was a Passover meal, in contrast to Jn 18:28, who asserts that Passover had not yet occurred (John says that the Pharisees had not yet eaten Passover on the morning of Jesus's crucifixion), Possibly the Last Supper was a home-based Passover seder, while the Pharisees were preparing for the national, temple-based service that took place on the next day. D. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus (Kregel 2014), 361-62. 

Licona gospel examples, Part II: Fictions Only Need Apply

Catholic "unity"

“Roman but Not Catholic” Can Former Catholics be Saved?

The only people “who could not be saved”, it seems, are those Roman Catholics who would refuse to remain in it”
Hell: Is this the fate for former Roman Catholics? 
The work “Roman but Not Catholic” by Ken Collins and Jerry Walls is an incredibly thorough and yet well-ordered and concise treatment of issues that have spanned 2000 years.

The Roman Catholic Church, in its all-encompassing arms, must deal with different organizations and also different categories of individuals, and it seems to do its best to draw its fuzzy lines:

When the Roman Catholic Church looks in the direction of the broader church, beyond its Vatican walls, so to speak, it does so from the vantage point of the same three standards identified earlier as championed by both Bellarmine during the Reformation and its aftermath and by Pope John Paul II more recently in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint (1995): right faith, valid sacraments, and proper governance under the authority of the pope. In this specific context, with these standards well in mind, Rome engages in yet another round of wordplay by distinguishing the church (the [Roman] Catholic Church) from churches (plural) and then again the church (the [Roman] Catholic Church) from what are called ecclesiastical communities (p.113).

I’ve been asked to comment on an issue that is a particularly difficult one, especially for those among us who may have grown up or converted to the Roman Catholic Church, and then left that institution. The phrase is summed up in the following brief sentence, which seems nevertheless to have changed its meaning over time:

"Outside the Church there is no salvation"

The website “” (an online journal edited by the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Saint Benedict Center, NH), has helpfully collected a compendium of “popes through the centuries” who have “defended the doctrine ‘outside the Church there is no salvation’”.

The hidden exodus: Catholics becoming Protestants

A bit dated, but useful counterpoint to the "Surprised by Truth/Called to Communion" narrative:

Was it a Reformation?

Predictably, many lay Catholic pop apologists denounced the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. However, a more useful benchmark is presented by Cardinal Müller, whom Benedict XVI made prefect of the CDF. As such, his reaction to the Protestant Reformation is a barometer of contemporary Catholic theology from the standpoint of the center-right faction. I'll comment on his article:

There is great confusion today when we talk about Luther, and it needs to be said clearly that from the point of view of dogmatic theology, from the point of view of the doctrine of the Church, it wasn’t a reform at all but rather a revolution, that is, a total change of the foundations of the Catholic Faith.

In a sense that's true. The errors in Roman Catholic theology were already too structural and systematic to be amendable to reform. It was necessary to scrap the entire paradigm. 

It is not realistic to argue that [Luther’s] intention was only to fight against abuses of indulgences or the sins of the Renaissance Church. Abuses and evil actions have always existed in the Church, not only during the Renaissance, and they still exist today. 

That was the difference between Luther and Erasmus. It wasn't just a case of abuses, but the underlying theology. 

We are the holy Church because of the God’s grace and the Sacraments, but all the men of the Church are sinners, they all need forgiveness, contrition, and repentance.

I don't think sacraments make the church holy. 

This distinction is very important. And in the book written by Luther in 1520, “De captivitate Babylonica ecclesiae,” it is absolutely clear that Luther has left behind all of the principles of the Catholic Faith, Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, the magisterium of the Pope and the Councils, and of the episcopate. In this sense, he upended the concept of the homogeneous development of Christian doctrine as explained in the Middle Ages, even denying that a sacrament is an efficacious sign of the grace contained therein. He replaced this objective efficacy of the sacraments with a subjective faith. Here, Luther abolished five sacraments, and he also denied the Eucharist: the sacrificial character of the sacrament of the Eucharist, and the real conversion of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, he called the sacrament of episcopal ordination, the sacrament of Orders, an invention of the Pope — whom he called the Antichrist — and not part of the Church of Jesus Christ. Instead, we say that the sacramental hierarchy, in communion with the successor of Peter, is an essential element of the Catholic Church, and not only a principle of a human organization.

That is why we cannot accept Luther’s reform being called a reform of the Church in a Catholic sense. Catholic reform is a renewal of faith lived in grace, in the renewal of customs, of ethics, a spiritual and moral renewal of Christians; not a new foundation, not a new Church.

Good for Luther! What was needed was a root-and-branch repudiation of the Roman Catholic paradigm. Not a reform of the status quo, but a reclamation of the Biblical exemplar. Indeed, Luther didn't go far enough, but given where he started, given his theological conditioning, he made remarkable strides. He had the courage to be consistent to his vision. 

It is therefore unacceptable to assert that Luther’s reform “was an event of the Holy Spirit.” On the contrary, it was against the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit helps the Church to maintain her continuity through the Church’s magisterium, above all in the service of the Petrine ministry: on Peter has Jesus founded His Church (Mt 16:18), which is “the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself.

That's a logical reaction, given Müller's Catholic standard of comparison. However, the rote prooftexting is part of the problem. Consider, for instance, how he attaches a passage from one author (Matthew) to another author (Paul), as if both of them have the same referent, without regard to the very different context of each. 

We hear so many voices speaking too enthusiastically about Luther, not knowing exactly his theology, his polemics and the disastrous effect of this movement which destroyed the unity of millions of Christians with the Catholic Church. 

That's part and parcel of the Catholic polemic. Luther rent the body of Christ. Luther committed the sin of schism. The "sin of separation from the Church"–as Müller later says. 

But in reality, the pre-Reformation "church" whose demise Catholics lament was simply the state religion. And what made it the state religion was its adoption by the ruling class. Historically, that's how particular religions and religious sects acquire a monopoly. If they capture the favor of the king or emperor or empress, then that in turn is imposed from the top down through forcible mass conversion. Cuius regio, eius religio

What Luther disrupted was a religious monopoly, which achieved that unchallenged status through royal patronage. There's nothing idealistic about that. It's the marriage of church politics with power politics. 

The Reformation established the principle that the ruling class doesn't choose my religion for me. It took a while for that to be implemented consistently, but it was a necessary mid-course correction. The Reformation was a restoration movement. 

We can evaluate positively his good will, the lucid explanation of the shared mysteries of faith but not his statements against the Catholic Faith, especially with regard to the sacraments and hierarchical-apostolic structure of the Church.

Nor is it correct to assert that Luther initially had good intentions, meaning by this that it was the rigid attitude of the Church that pushed him down the wrong road. This is not true: Luther was intent on fighting against the selling of indulgences, but the goal was not indulgences as such, but as an element of the Sacrament of Penance.

Luther was right to discern that the problem ran deeper than hawking indulgences. The source of the problem was the theology of penance. Kudos for Luther! 

Nor is it true that the Church refused to dialogue: Luther first had a dispute with John Eck; then the Pope sent Cardinal Gaetano as a liaison to talk to him. We can discuss the methods, but when it comes to the substance of the doctrine, it must be stated that the authority of the Church did not make mistakes. Otherwise, one must argue that, for a thousand years, the Church has taught errors regarding the faith, when we know — and this is an essential element of doctrine — that the Church can not err in the transmission of salvation in the sacraments.

Again, that's a logical reaction, given Müller's sectarian frame of reference, but it's unconvincing to anyone who doesn't already share his partisan assumptions. And notice his selective appeal to divine guidance. Yet both sides can't be right, so however you slice it, God didn't preserve one side from error. But in that event, why assume the Catholic side was protected from error rather than the Protestant side? Müller's appeal is arbitrary. 

One should not confuse personal mistakes and the sins of people in the Church with errors in doctrine and the sacraments. Those who do this believe that the Church is only an organization comprised of men and deny the principle that Jesus himself founded His Church and protects her in the transmission of the faith and grace in the sacraments through the Holy Spirit. His Church is not a merely human organization: it is the body of Christ, where the infallibility of the Council and the Pope exists in precisely described ways. 

That's a false dichotomy. Rejecting the pretensions of Rome doesn't entail belief that the church is a merely human, merely fallible organization, which wasn't founded by Christ. And it doesn't require a Catholic view of sacerdotalism and sacramentalism. For instance, a Protestant can believe the church is indefectable in the sense that God preserves a remnant from apostasy. 

All of the councils speak of the infallibility of the Magisterium, in setting forth the Catholic faith. 

Notice the blatantly circular appeal. The Magisterium vouches for the infallibility of the Magisterium! As if that patently self-serving claim is evidential in its own right. 

Amid today’s confusion, in many people this reality has been overturned: they believe the Pope is infallible when he speaks privately, but then when the Popes throughout history have set forth the Catholic faith, they say it is fallible.

Of course, 500 years have passed. It’s no longer the time for polemics but for seeking reconciliation: but not at the expense of truth. One should not create confusion. While on the one hand, we must be able to grasp the effectiveness of the Holy Spirit in these other non-Catholic Christians who have good will, and who have not personally committed this sin of separation from the Church, on the other we cannot change history, and what happened 500 years ago. It’s one thing to want to have good relations with non-Catholic Christians today, in order to bring us closer to a full communion with the Catholic hierarchy and with the acceptance of the Apostolic Tradition according to Catholic doctrine. It’s quite another thing to misunderstand or falsify what happened 500 years ago and the disastrous effect it had. An effect contrary to the will of God: “… that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou has sent me” (Jn 17:21).

i) Rome wasn't always so magnanimous about the effectiveness of the Holy Spirit in Protestant believers.

ii) The context of Jn 17:21 isn't ecclesiastical, but Trinitarian. In Jn 14-17, as well as 1 Jn 1, there's a threefold unity. There's the intra-Trinitarian fellowship of Father, Son, and Spirit. Then there's Christians in fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit. Indeed, they wouldn't even be Christian apart from that. Then there's the mutual fellowship of Christians by virtue of their fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit. In Johannine theology, the unity of Christians is grounded in their participation in the paradigmatic unity of the Triune God. To be one with God is to be one with each othre. That's the source. It has no connection with "the sacramental hierarchy, in communion with the successor of Peter"–which is completely absent from Johannine theology. 

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Considering the New Atheism

Engaging Muslims faithfully

There Is Chaos in the Church, and You Are a Cause

95 Theses

One sinking ship–or many lifeboats?

This year, Reformation Day was a bit more significant than the average Reformation Day because it marked the 500-year-anniversary of the Reformation Day. Admittedly, picking a particular day is somewhat arbitrary. The significance is symbolic. But that's often true for commemorations. We don't celebrate the Lord's Supper on the same calendar date as the Last Supper. We don't even know when that was. 

On this occasion, Ryan T. Anderson, a high-profile Catholic culture warrior, posted a volley of antagonistic, denunciatory tweets. Perhaps it's not worth commenting on, but I'll say a few things. Before commenting on the particulars, I'll make a few general observations:

i) What was Ryan trying to accomplish? I understand that as a pious Catholic he won't join in the "celebration". He disapproves of the Reformation. 

But what's striking about his reaction is that he made no effort at rational persuasion. He gave Protestant readers no reasons to share his point of view. It was one question-begging assertion after another. A string of tendentious talking-points. 

So what's the point? Who's the intended audience for his tweets? If he thinks Protestant theology is that bad, shouldn't he be reaching out to Protestants by patiently explaining to us why he's right and we're wrong? 

Admittedly, Twitter is a poor medium for rational discourse, but then, why not use Facebook or write an essay or arrange a formal debate or series of debates? Just telling Protestants they are wrong without presenting an argument is totally unconvincing. 

ii) In addition, there's an ironic quality to his tirade. Is his own Catholicism consistent with post-Vatican II theology? His belligerent disapproval perspective would make more sense if our eternal salvation were at stake. It would make more sense if Protestants were hellbound. And that's the position Rome used to take regarding everybody who wasn't in communion with Rome. But nowadays, the Magisterium is flirting with hopeful universalism. So it's not as if Protestants have much to lose, even from a Catholic standpoint. 

iii) Another problem with his tweets is bigotry. To judge by what he said, it seems highly unlikely that he's had many, if any, conversations, with evangelical philosophers, theologians, Bible scholars, and church historians. His uninformed comments are a textbook case of prejudice.   

iv) In addition, he's like a man standing in front of a burning house, which happens to be his own house, while he lectures the neighbors on how their house is an eyesore. We watch him stand there, scolding us, while right behind him we see his own house in flames. 

Pope Francis is an aggressive modernist who's torching social conservatives like Ryan. Yet there stands Ryan, with that burning house at his back, scolding Protestants because we don't rush into his burning house. His angry comparison between Rome and the Protestant movement is unintentionally comical when his own denomination is on fire, and the sitting pope is the arsonist. 

And that's not primarily the impression of a Protestant observer. Many devout Catholics are terrified at what they see Pope Francis doing. This includes cardinals and bishops as well as conservative Catholic academics. Shouldn't Ryan be helping them douse the raging fire before he presumes to draw an invidious contrast between his own denomination and the Protestant movement? 

Many poorly formed Catholics become Protestant. Whereas many converts to Catholicism were once fervent devout Protestants. An asymmetry.

What is Ryan's sample? Is that a representative comparison? What's the data-base for Ryan's generalization? Or is this just anecdotal, based on his insular experience? 

"Orthodox Protestantism"? Which version of Protestantism is "Orthodox Protestantism"? Lutherans disagree with Calvinists, with Baptists, etc.

Okay, but which version of Catholicism? Francis is unweaving the Catholicism of Benedict XVI and John-Paul II. What about the long-gone but not forgotten Catholicism of anti-modernist popes like Pius IX and Leo XIII? 

“The more I prayed, studied history & theology, read the Bible & Church Fathers, the more I felt God calling me to be Protestant” said no one.

Even assuming that's hyperbole, just about any major Protestant seminary has one or more church historians. How many conversations has Ryan had with Protestant church historians? Or Protestant pathologists? Or Protestant theologians and Bible scholars? 

For that matter, modern-day Catholic Bible scholars typically debunk traditional prooftexts for Catholicism. Modern-day Catholic church historians typically debunk the traditional narrative of the papacy. 

The knots Protestants tie themselves into to deny the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. John 6, Last Supper, 1 Cor 11, all symbolic..

What Protestant commentaries has Ryan even studied on the subject? And not just Protestant commentators. Take Jerome Murphy-O'Connor's commentary on 1 Corinthians. 

Reforming the church (good) and creating a pseudo church (bad) are two very different things.

Does post-Vatican II theology regard Protestant denominations as pseudo-churches? Or is Ryan out of step with contemporary Catholic theology? 

2,000 years of unbroken Christian practice, east and west, Catholic and Orthodox, rejected. That’s the Reformation today.

If you turn a blind eye to all the internal dissension.

Because of the Reformation, millions of Christians lack intimacy with Christ in the Eucharist. That’s just tragic.

Which assumes that Christ is to be found in a wafer. But what if that's a pious projection? What if Catholics are fellowshipping with an ordinary cracker? Like pagans who pray to an idol. No one's home. 

Orthodox Churches have valid Eucharist. Reformation bodies do not.

Is that the position of post-Vatican II theology?

BTW, why does the Eucharist require a Catholic priest to be valid, but baptism does not? What's the principle? Or is the distinction ad hoc? 

At best, Reformation was tragic necessity. In actuality, much worse. Celebrating the division and disunity in the body of Christ is obscene.

i) To begin with, there's a difference between a celebration and a commemoration. 

ii) Ryan assumes that his religious sect is the body of Christ. I get that. But he doesn't give Protestants any reason to see things his way. Instead, he resorts to shaming rhetoric. 

iii) If, by contrast, we view the Roman church on the eve of the Reformation as a morally and theologically corrupt religious monopoly, then competition is a good thing. It was good to give people options. It was good to have emergency exits. From an evangelical perspective, moreover, the church of Rome has gone from bad to worse. 

What's better–one sinking ship or many lifeboats? Should everybody stay on board a sinking ship? If all the passengers go down with the ship, that's unity–but I'll take my chances with a lifeboat. 

iv) I don't normally think about being Protestant. I just study the Bible with the wealth of resources at my disposal. 

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Auricular Confession

Here's part of a debate I recently had with a Catholic apologist:

Notice how Catholics like Daniel shift priorities. The litmus test is no longer about confessing Christ, but confessing Mary. This is part of the Catholic racket. First invent make-believe sins: the sin of denying Roman Catholic dogmas. Then concoct a system of "reconciliation", in which you invent a sacerdotal office, then ascribe to your priests the make-believe authority to forgive make-believe sins.

Once again, notice how Daniel shifts the litmus test from confessing Christ to confessing patristic Mariology. Then he throws around the term heresy. Suppose I'm a heretic by the standards of his religious sect. So what? I'm a heretic by the standards of Mormonism, the church of Swedenborg, the Moonies, Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, &c. Since I don't acknowledge the dogmatic authority of his religious sect, the charge of heresy is only as good as the bogus authority of his sect. I don't care. That's not my touchstone. Divine revelation is my touchstone.

Confess your sins to someone you didn't sin against, and the priest will give you false assurance of divine forgiveness by presuming to confer absolution absent divine authority to do so. Great system.

The One True Empty Shell

Some converts to Catholicism are very smart, which is ironic. Striking that smart guys are so easily suckered by such a transparent scam. The way they act, it doesn't matter if what the pope teaches 99% of the time is false, if what cardinals, bishops, priests, Catholic college and seminary profs. teach 100% is false, so long as it's not stamped "official". 

Doesn't matter how morally corrupt the clergy are, from top to bottom (case in point: priestly abuse scandal). 

All that matters is having this empty shell of the One True Church®.

And even the infallibilist caveat is a scam, because that caveat is circular. If a pope or council says something manifestly wrong, then that doesn't disprove infallibility–that just goes to show they weren't speaking infallibly on that particular occasion. So even in principle, there can never be any evidence that falsifies the infallibilist claim. 

The church can never officially contradict dogma or de fide teaching, so any reversal on doctrine or policy is, by definition, unofficial, was never dogma, never de fide in the first place. Once again, no evidence can ever count against the claim. Like Hume on miracles or methodological atheism. 

All this intellectual effort and passion in defending a hollow shell of a church, with enough loopholes to shield their paradigm from any possible disproof. A classic cult member mentality. 

Recently, as I was debating two Catholics, I cited this article:

Here are two successive popes who worked together for 25 years. Both attended the council. Both were players at the council. If they can't agree on what it means, where does that leave a less informed reader? Plus, Benedict 16 has revised his interpretation over the years.

Catholic apologists routinely attack sola scriptura by asking, "What's the point of an infallible Bible without an infallible interpretation?" Hence, the dire need for the Magisterium.

Well, by that logic, what's the point of an infallible council without an infallible interpretation? Can any Catholic show me where to find the correct interpretation of Vatican II? Where's the official commentary?

Of course, the reason for divergent interpretations of Vatican II is largely due to built-in ambiguity. It's a consensus document. Things are worded to give different factions elbow room. To get votes from competing parties. So the meaning of Vatican II is inherently uncertain, although it clearly  represents a dramatic departure from tradition in crucial respects. 

Star of wonder

Was the Star of Bethlehem a natural astronomical object? If it was supernatural or preternatural, why does Scripture call it a star? Two observations:

i) Sometimes the word "star" is used metaphorically, to stand for something else (e.g. Num 24:17; Judges 5:20; Isa 14:12; 2 Pet 1:19; Rev 1:16).

ii) Perhaps more to the point, in Matthew's account the object is called a "star" four times (2:2,7,9,10). The first time the object is introduced to the reader, it is the Magi rather than the narrator who uses that designation. It's initially called a star because it appears to be a star-like object to the Magi, when they saw it for the first time. That's their phenomenological impression. 

The narrator then picks up on their designation. The probable reason he calls it a "star" is not because he regards the object as a natural astronomical phenomenon, but in consistency with the Magi's usage. Because they classify the object as a star, because the phenomenon is introduced to the reader by quoting the Magi's description, the narrator simply continues with that designation. It would be confusing to the reader if the narrator suddenly used a different descriptor. His usage conforms to the usage of the Magi, because it has the same referent. He and the Magi are talking about the same thing–whatever that is. To shift from one designation to a different designation in the middle of the story would obscure the reference. 

Our rock

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Adam and Eve: a tested hypothesis?

Licona: unforced errors, pt. 1

Departing in Peace: Biblical Decision-Making at the End of Life

The Legacy of the Reformation

Brother, can you paradigm?

Roderick Chisholm famously delineated two divergent approaches to epistemology. He distinguished between "methodists", who begin with criteria, and "particularists", who begin with examples. Methodism is more deductive while particularism is more inductive.

Recently, as I was debating a convert to Catholicism, that distinction came to mind. The convert has a philosophical turn of mind. 

There are different types of converts to Catholicism. In my experience, Catholicism is appealing to philosophically-oriented guys. They are methodists. They are captivated by the Catholic paradigm. It's a complex paradigm that massages their intellectual pride. And its complexity renders it resistant to easy disproof. The Catholic paradigm has escape clauses, so that when you raise evidential objections to Catholicism, they can evade the objections by making vague appeals to the theory of development, or degrees of authority, and so on. 

As I was talking to this convert, I mentioned dramatic reversals in Catholic theology, such as salvation outside the church, and the contrast between mainstream Catholic Bible scholarship and the anti-modernist injunctions of the BPC c. Leo XIII.

It became evident that I was drawing a blank. The convert had no idea what I was referring to. 

That's because the convert is a methodist rather than a particularist. He didn't begin with facts about Catholicism, but the entrancing paradigm. As a result, his conversion is deeply uninformed. He's ignorant of many historical facts about Catholicism which he needs to know to properly assess the evidence for or against Catholicism. And that's because his point of entry into Catholicism isn't primarily evidential; rather, he's smitten by the idea of Catholicism.  

Now I think we need to strike a balance between methodism and particularism. We shouldn't be straight particularists. We need to steer clear of falling into the trap of positivism. Facts must be interpreted. What counts as factual is in itself an interpretive judgment. Evaluating evidence is a value-laden enterprise. So we need criteria.

But by the same token, we shouldn't be straight methodists. We mustn't operate with a fact-free, a priori filter that has no evidential grounding in reality. An extraneous interpretive grid we impose on the world, which arbitrarily screens out inconvenient facts. We need to combine inductive and deductive approaches. 

In my experience, converts to Catholicism use the Catholic paradigm as a shield to ward off factual objections, but how do they know that their paradigm is true in the first place? Is there a tipping point where the paradigm takes on too much water? Or is the Catholic paradigm unfalsifiable? If so, how is that distinguishable from a religious cult?  


A common rap against vicarious atonement, penal substitution, sole fide, and imputation is the charge of legal fiction. Merit and demerit are not transferrable. 

Keep in mind that that's just an intuitive objection. It's not a claim that's demonstrably true or false in the sense that a weather forecast is demonstrably true or false. Moreover, intuition often depends on the particular illustration.

Consider an analogy. Take the caste-system in the stereotypical high school. An honor/shame culture in miniature. You have high-status students and low-status students. 

Imagine the cafeteria. A low-status student is walking past the tables, looking for a spot to sit, as he carries his lunch tray. As a low-status student, he's picked on. In addition, he can't sit just anywhere. Some students don't want to sit by him. 

Another student sticks his foot out and trips the low-status student. He falls down, spilling the food and drink on his clothes. The other students cheer. He feels humiliated. 

Then another student gets up and walks over to him. A high-status student. He's the star quarterback. Most popular kid in school. Hip and cool. The boys wish they could be him while the girls wish they could be with him.

The quarterback has achieved status. He attained his topspot on the pecking order through athletic prowess, by winning state championships.

The cafeteria falls dead silent, waiting to see how the high-status student will respond to the plight of the low-status student, sprawled on the floor. Will he make fun of him? Will he shame him further by taunting him. The suspense is intense.

The quarterback reaches out his hand, raises the fallen student, and pats him on the chest. His action instantly transforms the social dynamic. By siding with the humiliated student, by expressing symbolic solidarity through his physical gesture, he transfers his high-status to the low-status student. He instantly elevates the student's social standing. The unpopular student now has ascribed status by virtue of his patron's achieved status. 

By the same token, the quarterback's action implicitly condemns the schadenfreude of the other students. Now they feel humiliated. His noble action exposes their ignoble reaction. His gesture lowers their status. They've gone down a notch while the unpopular student went up a notch. As students exit the cafeteria, the pecking order has undergone a sudden adjustment. 

Autumnal Christianity

Is Christianity dying? Or is Spring just around the corner?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Sensus plenior

Sensus plenior is a way some interpreters classify apostolic exegesis. They think NT writers discover meanings in the OT that aren't really there. Put another way, they think apostolic exegesis is at odds with grammatico-historical exegesis. At variance with original intent, the historical context, &c., I could give a more detailed definition, but that's not the point of my post. I think interpreters who apply that rubric to the NT have failed to think deeply enough about how NT writers arrive at their interpretations as well as the context of the OT passages they adduce. But that, too, is not the point of my post. And I've discussed the hermeneutics of typology and prophecy on many occasions. 

However, I think the sensus plenior rubric is applicable to a different genre. When I watch certain movies and TV dramas, especially ones that resonant with me, I mentally recontextualize them by viewing them through a Christian prism. They have a significance for me that goes beyond what the generally secular directors and screenwriters had in mind. I consider what the plot, characters, setting, and dialogue connote from a Christian frame of reference.

And that's not just the case of a viewer superimposing his own interpretive filter onto the story. For what makes a story significant, what makes anything at all important, is the Christian reality which even secular directors and screenwriters tap into. In a godless universe, no facts have greater moral or existential significance than other facts. It's all just stuff that happens. Nothing intrinsically or ultimately good or bad. In a Christian world, by contrast, every event is significant. When some people fritter away their lives in trivial pursuits, that's significant–because it squanders the gift of life. 

In addition, I sometimes mentally rewrite the plot. Contemplate unexplored alternatives. 

Or I interject myself into the plot. What if I found myself in that situation? What would I do? 

In one sense, directors and screenwriters want to involve the audience in that way. Want the  audience to identify with the hero or anti-hero. 

But this is also a way for Christians to engage and appropriate stories that are often not intentionally Christian, and certainly not consistently Christian. Ironically, we can find more value in some stories than the storyteller could justify from his own viewpoint. And that's not just a case of foisting extrinsic value onto the story. A story only has value insofar as it derives from reality that can underwrite the moral and existential significance of human lives.  


In some OT passages, the Angel of the Lord is depicted in ways identical to, and distinctive to, Yahweh. Recently, I was listening to a debate in which a Muslim apologist attempted to neutralize that comparison by resorting to the familiar strategy of saying that's because the angel of the Lord is a representative of Yahweh, an emissary of Yahweh, so that he's been authorized to speak for Yahweh as if he himself is Yahweh. There are, however, some fundamental problems with that comparison:

i) Both Judaism and Christianity arose in pervasively idolatrous, polytheistic cultures. Both Judaism and Christianity arose in explicit opposition to pagan polytheism and idolatry. They go out of their way to draw an intransgressible boundary between the Creator and the creature. 

ii) Compare a human king to the crown prince. The reason his subjects, as well as his enemies, treat the crown prince with the same deferential fear as the king is because the prince is the next king. He's in line to succeed the king. So you had better treat him as if he's the king, you better treat him with due deference, because it will be too late to honor him after he assumes the throne if you dishonor him while he is still crown prince. Indeed, how is the best time to ingratiate yourself with him.  

Put another way, there's no natural difference between a human monarch and his emissary. An heir apparent is the king in waiting. That's what makes him the highest-ranking emissary, if the king dispatches his son on a military or diplomatic mission. BTW, the Bible treats the Messiah as crown prince and heir apparent. The firstborn, &c. 

But that's precisely where the unitarian analogy breaks down if Jesus and/or the Angel of the Lord is just a creature. They cannot be agents of God in the sense that a prince is the king's representative. So the analogy is vitiated by a categorical disanalogy. 

iii) Indeed, in heathenism, there was no categorical difference between divinity and humanity. That ranged along a continuum. Gods and goddesses could sire offspring by human mates. Their offspring were demigods. 

It's precisely that blurring of the lines, so easy in heathenism, that's intolerable in Judeo-Christian theism. That's why both Testaments bend over backwards to prevent any possible confusion. 

Ironically, it's because the Bible is adamantly monotheistic that the unitarian appeal to agency runs counter to Biblical monotheism when unitarians claim divine ascriptions to Jesus and/or the Angel of the Lord simply reflect the conventions of agency. Consider Mercury. An Olympian emissary. Speaks with the authority of Zeus. But, of course, Mercury is a god in his own right.

The Bible cannot allow rational creatures to be depicted in terms interchangeable with Yahweh against a cultural backdrop in which the audience is conditioned to think of heavenly emissaries as members of the pantheon. In paganism, there's a divine hierarchy. Some gods rank higher, some gods rank lower. Upstart gods overthrow the old regime. The facile notion that the Bible can maintain its uncompromising hostility to paganism while describing Jesus or the Angel of the Lord in terms indistinguishable from Yahweh would utterly sabotage the Bible war against idolatry, polytheism, and demigods, if, in fact, Jesus and/or the Angel of the Lord are merely creatures. Even Israel, despite all the injunctions and sanctions against idolatry, was constantly teetering on the brink of reversion to ancient Near Eastern heathenism. 

Should God be easy to grasp?

Recently I was listening to part of a debate between a Christian apologist and a Muslim apologist regarding the Trinity. I appreciate that Muslims find the Trinity confusing. They think Christian explanations are special pleading. Laboring to make sense of nonsense. 

No doubt Muslim theism is easier to grasp than Christian theism. But is that a problem for Christianity or Islam? Muslims suffer from the faulty assumption that God ought to be easy to understand. And there are, indeed, many religions whose deities are easy to grasp. Humanoid deities (e.g. Zeus, Thor, Odin). Deities that personify forces of nature (sun gods, storm gods, volcanic gods).. Deities that reflect stereotypical social roles (e.g. father gods, mother goddesses, war gods, sex goddesses). Animal gods. 

Their nature is easy to grasp because they reflect the natural order. Human, subhuman, inorganic. But that's what makes then impossible gods. They are comprehensible to a fault. 

The true God, to be God, must be infinitely more complex than humans, so it's only to be expected that God will in some measure surpass human understanding. God wouldn't be God if his nature was transparent to reason. There will always be dimensions to the divine nature that transcend human reason. We're not that smart.

There are many things in the natural world that tax the limits of human intelligence. Take quantum mechanics. And God is more complex than anything in the created order. So there's no presumption that the true God will be easy to understand. Just the opposite. What's surprising is not how little we're able to grasp, but how much we're able to grasp. We need to strike balance between the opposite errors of rationalism and apophaticism. 

An assumption governing physics is that bigger things are composed of smaller things. Complicated things are composed of simpler things. Living things are made of death things (atoms, molecules). So at the rock bottom of reality must be ultimately simple constituents. Perhaps that's true in reference to physical existents. 

But according to Christian theism, the ultimate reality is complex rather than simple. The ultimate reality isn't less and less of something. Not a process of reduction. In Christian theism, the ultimate reality is not a monad, but a symmetry of persons.  

Martin Luther’s work from 1512–1517

Following up on some thoughts of mine to the effect that we ought to be thinking about a Reformation Season, I wanted to post some background information about Martin Luther. Much of this is something that many of us are familiar with, but as well, in the spirit of Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll, you’re never too advanced to remember to practice the fundamentals.

Luther combined the threefold office of sub-prior, preacher and professor. He preached both in his convent and in the town-church, sometimes daily for a week, sometimes thrice in one day, during Lent in 1517 twice everyday. He was supported by the convent. As professor he took no fees from the students and received only a salary of one hundred guilders, which after his marriage was raised by the Elector John to two hundred guilders.

He first lectured on scholastic philosophy and explained the Aristotelian dialectics and physics. But he soon passed through the three grades of bachelor, licentiate, and doctor of divinity (October 18th and 19th, 1512), and henceforth devoted himself exclusively to the sacred science which was much more congenial to his taste. Staupitz urged him into these academic dignities, and the Elector [Frederick the Wise] who had been favorably impressed with one of his sermons, offered to pay the expenses (fifty guilders) for the acquisition of the doctorate. Afterward in seasons of trouble Luther often took comfort from the title and office of his doctorate of divinity and his solemn oath to defend with all his might the Holy Scriptures against all errors. He justified the burning of the Pope’s Bull in the same way. But the oath of ordination and of the doctor of theology implied also obedience to the Roman church (ecclesiae Romanae obedientiam) and her defence against all heresies condemned by her.

With the year 1512 his academic teaching began in earnest and continued till 1546, at first in outward harmony with the Roman church, but afterward in open opposition to it.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

True love waits

3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth...25 When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he fathered Lamech...28 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son...32 After Noah was 500 years old, Noah fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Gen 5:3,25,28,32).

1. Commentators puzzle over the longevity of the antediluvians. There've been some ingenious efforts to decode the ages as symbolic, but I haven't seen any consistent numerological principle.

2. There's nothing especially surprising about the longevity of the antediluvians. From the standpoint of biblical anthropology, man originally had the capacity for biological immortality. That opportunity was lost when Adam and Eve were put out of reach of the tree of life, but in the world to come, the redeemed will regain what was lost in Adam.

3. A more puzzling, but neglected feature of the genealogies, is the age at which the antediluvians fathered kids. Was Adam a virgin until he reached 130? Was Lamech a virgin until 182? Was Methuselah a virgin until 187? Was Noah a virgin until 500 years of age? That would certainly make the antediluvians impressive, if discouraging, role-models for abstinence-only programs. Lends exponentially new meaning to "True love waits!"

On the face of it, there are two possible explanations:

i) The reason the antediluvians lived so long is because their lifecycle was slower. They took much longer to reach sexual maturity. Slower means longer. Like the difference between human years and dog years. Or to put it in reverse, the lifespan of postdiluvians is accelerated.  

ii) The other, perhaps more reasonable explanation, is that Gen 5 isn't recording the age at which they first fathered a son. Rather, the genealogies are selective. The purpose is to sample some representative descendants to establish a lineage. List enough descendants to trace a starting-point and end-point. 

If the age at which the genealogies record the birth of a son has that function or significance, then it's evidence that the genealogies are open rather than closed. If so, that has some bearing on using the genealogies to reconstruct an absolute chronology. 

Disunity Predates The Reformation And Is Rampant Among Non-Christians

We're getting the predictable media stories about how the Reformation supposedly brought about such lamentable disunity, like here and here. Stories like these don't mention that it was common for people to complain about widespread disunity in Christianity long before the Reformation occurred. Celsus raised the issue in his treatise against Christianity in the second century. Origen wrote a response to Celsus in the third century, and he made another point there that's ignored by media stories like the ones linked above. As Origen noted, we also find widespread disunity in philosophy, medicine, and other fields, not just in Christianity or only in religious circles. (To read more about what Celsus, Origen, and other pre-Reformation sources said on issues of unity, see here and here.) Maybe the media should run some stories on how lamentable it is that modern journalism is so fractured, with so many reporters and media organizations disagreeing about issues related to journalism, holding differing views of journalistic ethics, competing with each other, hating each other, working to undermine each other, and so on. Yes, there's a lot of disunity in professing Christianity. The same is true of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, atheism, science, medicine, politics, journalism, philosophy, etc.

The righteousness of God

Prooftexting apostolic succession

Acts 1:12-26 is a traditional prooftext for apostolic succession. I recently had an impromptu debate with a Catholic apologist over that appeal:

There is succession in the Apostolic offices (Acts 1:12-26).

That's about maintaining the symbolism of the Twelve after Judas defected. Which disproves your argument, since that means there can't be more or less than Twelve at a time. 

Whether the transfer of office was motivated, in part, by symbolism, this no way diminishes the fact that transfers of office occurred, and that the Apostles went on to install bishops. You know the history of the early Church, for goodness sake.

You're trying to ride two horses at once.

i) The Twelve is a closed number. Judas was replaced to maintain the symbolism. By definition, you can't extrapolate from a closed number (the Twelve) to an indefinite number beyond twelve at a time. The Twelve constitute a self-contained unit. There can only be changes within that unit. 

ii) You then play a shell game by switching from that to apostles appointing elders, as if that flows out of the appointment of Mathias. But that's categorically different.

Never claimed that 12 is a closed number, just that it had symbolic significance, which I grant may have motivated the transfer of office.

No transfer of office. To the contrary, the Twelve is, in the nature of the case, a self-enclosed numerical unit. You can't legitimately expand from that to more than twelve at a time. So your prooftext disproves your contention.

Pretty clear from the New Testament that 12 is more symbolic than a strict number.

Pretty clear that there were originally 12 disciples, corresponding to the 12 tribes of Israel, and when Judas defected, he was replaced to maintain that numerically closed unit.

Also, clearly Paul was an apostle, so no evidence 12 was a contained number.

A category error. The Twelve is not synonymous with the Apostolate. The fact that each of the Twelve might be classified as an apostle doesn't imply that all apostles are disciples in the exclusive sense of the Twelve. 

You can't even read your prooftext. Look at the qualifications for candidates to replace the seat vacated by Judas: "21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection."

That's a very restrictive pool to choose from. And that generation died out. So you can't very well use that as a paradigm for apostolic succession, since that disqualifies virtually member member of the Roman episcopate! But I do appreciate you unwittingly disproving the Roman episcopate.

There is no category error here. Paul was an apostle and not a member of the 12.

Which proves my point: the Twelve and the Apostolate are not equivalent. Keep in mind that "apostle" is a term of art in NT usage. Sometimes it has a more specialized meaning, sometimes a more generic meaning. 

The issue was whether an office could be transferred, and I substantiated that claim. We also know, historically, the apostles took as their mission to establish new Churches and ordain bishops, etc. So this idea that offices were not transferred, created, or established through the original 12 is just bizarre, frankly.

You're so blinded by traditional Catholic prooftexting that you can't even think straight. You prooftext is counterproductive to your thesis. At best, the appointment of Mathias would be an example of one apostle replacing another apostle. 

But Catholics don't think there's a permanent apostolic office with successive incumbents. They don't think apostolic succession means one apostle succeeding another apostle. Rather, they think bishops in union with the pope are the true successors to the Apostolate. Therefore, Daniel's prooftext either proves too much or too little. 

Acts 1 involves replacement of the same kind whereas apostolic succession involves a shift from apostles to bishops. Different principle.
It is the replacement of an apostle that is the matter here.
Replacing one apostle with another apostle isn't any kind of precedent for replacing an apostle with a bishop. You persist in your fallacious inference.