Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Mass and movie theaters

1. Catholic apologists like to poke fun at Protestant sacraments. When Protestants take communion, "they are just eating bread"–unlike the Mass. When they undergo baptism, they "just get wet". 

i) Now, there's a sense in which that's true. From a metaphysical standpoint, the bread is just bread, the wine is just wine. And guess what–Catholics are just eating bread like the rest of us. When people make the sacraments more than they are, it's a necessary corrective to explain that the bread is just bread, the wine is just wine. 

ii) But at another level that's simplistic and misleading. It's like saying the famous bust of Nefertiti is just a rock. That's true at a metaphysical level. The bust is composed of stone.

But in another respect, a statue isn't just a rock. A statue is representational. The bust of Nefertiti has a referential dimension. It stands for Nefertiti. It resembles Nefertiti. A symbol involves a relation that points beyond itself. 

Take people who have family pictures on their work desk or fireplace mantle or on their Smartphone. To a stranger, those pictures are just pictures. But if those are your family members, then looking at the pictures has an emotional resonance and recognition that's lacking in the case of strangers. 

2. Many of us have seen houses with a wall-length mirror in the living room or bathroom. It creates the illusion of space. It apparently doubles the size of the room. It looks like two halves of the same room. 

From a certain angle, it doesn't seem to be a mirror. Rather, it looks like you could walk right through the mirror into the room beyond the mirror. 

A related example is a wall-length flatscreen TV or a projector screen. The image has field depth. So it looks like the viewer could step right into that scene. Step right into that world–beyond the screen.

But, of course, that's an optical illusion. A 3D illusion. In each case, there's nothing in back of the image. It's just a projection. A one-dimensional image. Surface without depth or reality. 

To take another example: from time to time I experience migraine auras. At that point the best thing to do is lie down in a dark room until the aura dissipates. I can't read or write because the image is in front of what I'm trying to look at. The image is between me and what I'm trying to look at. I can't see through it or around it. 

3. Let's list some examples of Catholic theology:

• Purgatory

• Transubstantiation

• The Immaculate Conception

• The Assumption of Mary

• The Beatific Vision

• The intercession of the saints

• Baptismal regeneration

• Holy orders confer indelible mark on soul

• Blessing water and holy oil (sacramentals)

Now, what do these share in common? The common denominator is that Catholic believers posit something indetectable. Something behind-the-scenes. It isn't based on empirical knowledge. It isn't based on intuitive knowledge. There's no direct evidence that there is in fact anything in back of what they see or believe. Like a mirror, TV screen, or migraine aura, that's something they project onto reality. Something they imagine to be the case. It's not in the object but in their mind. A reflection of their own faith. Not behind the sensible world, but in front of the viewer, in his mind's eye. Between the believer, between the viewer, and the object. 

I'm not saying imperceptible things don't exist. I'm not saying we can't have indirect evidence for imperceptible things. But that's the rub with Catholic dogmas. There is no evidence. That's why they fall back on sheer ecclesiastical fiat. The raw authority of the church to arbitrarily promulgate dogma. 

Catholics are sitting in front of a mirror or projector screen. The sanctuary is their movie theater. An exercise in sheer belief and wishful-thinking that superimposes itself on the object. In reality, there's nothing above and beyond the object or their pious imagination.  


  1. The best that Thomas Aquinas could do was to say that Christ was present "sacramentally". The word "sacrament" didn't even come into the Christian lexicon until around the third century. And after that, for a long while, its definition was a wax nose (and it continues to this day). What's the difference between something being present "sacramentally" or "symbolically"? Here is Thomas's explanation:

    I answer that, This sacrament was appropriately instituted at the supper, when Christ conversed with His disciples for the last time. First of all, because of what is contained in the sacrament: for Christ is Himself contained in the Eucharist sacramentally. Consequently, when Christ was going to leave His disciples in His proper species, He left Himself with them under the sacramental species; as the Emperor's image is set up to be reverenced in his absence. Hence Eusebius says: "Since He was going to withdraw His assumed body from their eyes, and bear it away to the stars, it was needful that on the day of the supper He should consecrate the sacrament of His body and blood for our sakes, in order that what was once offered up for our ransom should be fittingly worshiped in a mystery."

    Secondly, because without faith in the Passion there could never be any salvation, according to Romans 3:25: "Whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood." It was necessary accordingly that there should be at all times among men something to show forth our Lord's Passion; the chief sacrament of which in the old Law was the Paschal Lamb. Hence the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 5:7): "Christ our Pasch is sacrificed." But its successor under the New Testament is the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is a remembrance of the Passion now past, just as the other was figurative of the Passion to come. And so it was fitting that when the hour of the Passion was come, Christ should institute a new Sacrament after celebrating the old, as Pope Leo I says (Serm. lviii).

    Thirdly, because last words, chiefly such as are spoken by departing friends, are committed most deeply to memory; since then especially affection for friends is more enkindled, and the things which affect us most are impressed the deepest in the soul. Consequently, since, as Pope Alexander I says, "among sacrifices there can be none greater than the body and blood of Christ, nor any more powerful oblation"; our Lord instituted this sacrament at His last parting with His disciples, in order that it might be held in the greater veneration. And this is what Augustine says (Respons. ad Januar. i): "In order to commend more earnestly the depth of this mystery, our Saviour willed this last act to be fixed in the hearts and memories of the disciples whom He was about to quit for the Passion."

  2. I've never thought of the beatific vision as per se a Catholic doctrine. Of course, we don't know what it will be like. We can't really imagine. But all Christians believe that "we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" and "now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face." This is why there are so many songs in the most Protestant of traditions--southern Gospel music--that talk about how in heaven I won't be looking at the gates of pearl and streets of gold but will be sitting at Jesus' feet, wanting to see Jesus, etc. And Protestant hymns as well. I just posted one of those recently on Facebook with the comment, "Beatific vision, southern Gospel version."

    1. The beatific vision has a specific meaning in Catholic theology, viz.

      CCC 1023: These souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature.