Friday, May 27, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: Communion of saints II

In Part I we looked at sainthood and sanctity as part of justification. We had to do this because we needed to establish that God can and does make people holy, and that we are all called to that holiness as part of our life in Christ. Sainthood is the result of justification through God’s sanctifying Grace.

Now we look at saints and their role within the Christian community. As I said before, the Church doesn’t make saints; rather, saints make the Church. And this is a wholly orthodox position:

After confessing “the holy catholic Church,” the Apostles’ Creed adds “the communion of saints.” In a certain sense this article is a further explanation of the preceding: “What is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints”(Nicetas of Remesiana, Explanation of the Creed 10)? The communion of saints is the Church (CCC 946).

We see in the New Testament that St. Paul addresses his letters to those “called [to be] holy [hagiois]” (Rom 1:7; cf. 1 Cor 1:2, 2 Cor 1:1, Eph 1:1, Phil 1:1, Col 1:2). In narrow scope, the communion of saints is the communion of Christians as the Body of Christ (Rom 12:4-5; cf. 1 Cor 6:15, 12:20-27; Eph 5:30). But that’s the horizontal axis; the vertical axis is through time: We are bound not only with Christians today but with Christians throughout history.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: Communion of saints I

“Only God can make saints!”

Yes, indeed. To deny the need for God’s grace for sanctification is heresy. The Catholic Church doesn’t even claim to be the primary agent for the transformation; the best the Church can allege in any particular case is an “assist” or a “save”.

By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors (cf. Lumen Gentium 40, 48-51). “The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history” (John Paul II, Christifideles Laici 16:3). Indeed, “holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal”(CL 17:3).[1]

In fact, it would be truer to express the dynamics the other way around. The Church doesn’t make saints; rather, saints make the Church.

Defending the communion and intercession of the saints takes some work, especially if you’re doing it “on the fly”. There are several related issues: How do we know that the Blessed Mother, saints and angels can “hear” our prayers?  Are they omnipresent?  Isn’t our prayer supposed to be directed to God alone?  Is there Scriptural evidence to back this up?  What about proofs from the Fathers?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Protecting the myth of childhood

When the John Jay report came out Tuesday, I sat back for a day or so, assessing the reactions. However, since the blogosphere shows all the ADHD tendencies of the MSM — just think of the dog in Up (“Squirrel!”) — by the time I was ready to write anything, the new focus was Harold Camping and his Apocalypse Not.

However, Mark Shea wrote a bit on Friday in his personal blog that bears some further comment. A reader had sent him a link to George Weigel’s National Review post, “Priests, Abuse and the Meltdown of a Culture”, with the subjoined comment:

Forgive me, though, for thinking that the author’s objecting to the term “pedophilia” as “malicious” where “ephebophilia” is the correct term seems a laugher. As a daddy to two boys that are 11 and 13, they still seem like children to me if technically they are no longer “pre-pubescent”. Get a grip.

Shea agrees, and I can’t say I blame him:

The whole “it wasn’t pedophilia, but ephebophilia” thing seems like the sort of pettifogging distinction without a difference that butt-saving bureaucrats like to make. Let me put it this way: if some priest laid a hand on my 15 year [old] kid, I wouldn’t stand there parsing distinctions about pedophile vs. ephebophile. I’d call the cops. I’d also engage in intense interior debate about the morality of beating the living daylights out of the priest who harmed my kid.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Some dim errors of Brights

Very strange ... I made a couple of minor corrections, and it re-published. This is probably due to the issues Blogger was having last weekend (5/13/11). Ah, well, here it is again:

Do enough reading around the Catholic blogosphere, and you’ll see some anonymous “Bright” who’s left a sneering comparison between belief in God and belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, flying spaghetti monsters, what have you in the combox. Such a person may be very intelligent indeed, although he’s left us no way to be certain of that; all he’s left us with are signs of immaturity and depressing rudeness.

Back in February, I wrote of flying spaghetti monsters and invisible pink unicorns as weak analogies whose true purpose is to appeal to the auditor’s pride (argumentum ad superbiam) by making belief in God look ridiculous. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, however, don’t even rise to the level of “boggart-Gods”, because they were never meant to be taken as gods in the first place.

In fact, if our sophomoric Bright were to actually use his superior intelligence, he might start by asking himself why people believe in God when they don’t believe in “equally obvious” imaginary beings such as jolly old Saint Nick[1] and Peter Cottontail. It might even be profitable to explore the reason behind perpetuating a fictional character like the tooth fairy to act as a mask for parental gifts when eventually the child must be disabused.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: Did the Church Fathers believe in sola scriptura?

A correspondent sent me a post written by “Tur8infan” of Alpha & Omega Ministries (James White — yes, I believe, that James White — Director). This writer takes a Catholic apologist named Bryan Cross to task for this paragraph, which occurs in the combox discussion of his article:

The term “refute” means “shown an argument to be unsound”. The bishops did not “refute” Arianism; they condemned it, by defining the Faith by way of an extra-biblical term: homoousios. They were unable, by Scripture alone, to refute Arianism. The Arians could affirm every single verse of Scripture. That’s precisely why the bishops had to require affirmation of the term homoousios. So if the bishops had no authority by way of apostolic succession, then their requirement of affirming homoousios would have had no more authority than its denial by the Arians. Scripture alone was insufficient to resolve the dispute, precisely because both sides could affirm every verse in Scripture. And since sola scriptura denies the transfer of authority by way of apostolic succession, therefore the Council of Nicaea and the Creed, given sola scriptura, only have authority if you agree with its interpretation of Scripture.

“Tur8infan” then proceeds to beat Cross over the head with citations from the Fathers, in a fantastic display of the straw-man fallacy (Cross was not disputing whether the Fathers ever argued homoousios from Scripture, or whether Arian bishops were apostolic successors). In doing so, he misses Cross’ point: that the argument wasn’t truly settled until the Council of Nicaea.

Now if that were the only problem, I wouldn’t bother you with it. But “Tur8infan” wraps up with this stunning claim: “The Scriptures are our rule of faith, as was the case in the time of the early church.
“Orth.— Do not, I beg you, bring in human reason. I shall yield to scripture alone.
Eran.— You shall receive no argument unconfirmed by Holy Scripture, and if you bring me any solution of the question deduced from Holy Scripture I will receive it, and will in no wise gainsay it” (Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Dialogues 1).
(*whistle*) Personal foul! Fifteen yards and loss of down for Quoting Out of Context!

Teachers are not welfare recipients

Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.
—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Doctor John Zmirak, writing for the resurrected Crisis, has proposed an interesting fallacy for our use in pro-life apologetics: Frédéric Bastiat’s “broken window”.

The “broken window” fallacy fixates on the more obvious, concrete aspects of a problem and asks us to ignore or discount the less obvious, more abstract aspects. For instance, an example would be the pro-choice demand that we focus on the pain, outrage and trauma suffered by the victim of rape or incest; by the light of what we can see (the suffering of the mother), the claims of what we can’t see (the unborn child) appear to be so much theoretical fluff. And yet the suffering and death of the unseen, unborn victim of abortion is just as real; if Johnny Unborn’s claim to a right to life is so much ivory-tower blather, so is his mother’s.

But in the process of making this excellent argument, Dr. Zmirak passes through economic territory, using the plight of the Wisconsin teachers as an example of the seen/unseen problem:

We can see the bedraggled, outraged schoolteacher picketing the statehouse, and hear his concrete, specific claims of why he needs more money. To quote former President Bill Clinton, we can feel his pain. We do not typically see the millions of taxpayers who share the cost of employing these teachers [emphasis mine] and literally can’t imagine what else they might do with the money the government didn’t confiscate.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An exercise in logic by a stupid old faith-head—UPDATED

Yesterday, in a fit of pure mischief, I did what I normally don’t — I tossed a couple of hand grenades in a combox full of New Atheists. Since the combox belonged to a regular journal article and not to a specific writer’s blog (where you would expect people of similar minds to hang out), I didn’t feel too bad about it.

One reply I got, from “Dave”:

The problem basically is, you and all the other believers in all the diverse religions in the world will shut your ears to the logic that says for a start, two religions cannot be correct because they contradict each other.  For example, the gods of Islam and Catholicism are not the same god, no matter how you try and make it so.  So we see convinced passionate faith from both and yet a Hindu knows with equal certainty both are wrong.

Now it’s time to play “Spot the Fallacy”! A believes p; B believes q (not-p); C believes r (not-p and not-q); therefore, p, q and r are all false? Aren’t we missing just a few steps between premises and conclusion?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Our Lady of Good Counsel

Pasquale Sarullo, Our Lady of Good Counsel

In some ways, this is the toughest subject I've ever tackled.

You see, for many years my prayer life was exiguous at best. Occasional mental quips or comments directed at God, formally praying the three or four times a year I actually went to Mass, and saying grace at dinner was the extent of it. I had forgotten the mysteries of the rosary; I'd never properly learned more than a few proper prayers (and even now there are many traditional prayers I haven't memorized).

My road back to the Church has been, for the most part, an intellectual journey. By that, I'm not making any claims to Deep Thought; I stand in awe before such illumined minds as Thomas Merton and St. John of the Cross, not to mention the inexplicable riches of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. But it's been difficult for me to pick up the habits of a life of prayer now that I'm somewhere beyond the midpoint of my life.

Where is Our Lady in all this? As I explained about a year and a half ago (you have to go to the end of the post to see it), there were things about the Blessed Mother I didn't get. Only once I started looking at the faith through the eyes of an apologist were those issues resolved. But on the visceral level, where faith truly lives … well, I already have a mother, whom I love, cherish and respect.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Circular letter likely to be self-enforcing


This isn’t a motu proprio. This isn’t an instruction, like Universae Ecclesiae was. Like Fr. Federico Lombardi said, “The aim of the letter is to have a common denominator of principles.” Not only is this what we’re given, this is pretty much what we were told to expect.

Which, of course, made it all that much easier for David Clohessy of SNAP to go on another one of his tirades:

“Bishops ignore and conceal child sex crimes because they can …. So any ‘reform’ that doesn’t diminish bishops’ power and discretion is virtually meaningless.” [We’ll be coming back to this ….]
And the new Vatican statement will not require bishops to report suspected abusers to the police, he anticipated.
“They aren’t binding or mandatory, just suggestions,” [Clohessy] said. “Such voluntary ‘guidelines’ have been widely ignored for years in the past. Top church staff have known of clergy sex crimes and cover ups for decades, if not centuries.”

The “Belief Blog” authors, Richard Allen Greene and Hada Messia, note almost sardonically, “Clohessy spoke to CNN before seeing the Vatican’s statement.”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Will iPhones replace churches?

Lisa Miller, the former religion editor of Newsweek, sees in smartphone apps the death of the church as we know it. And from all appearances, she’s happy about it.

“With Scripture on iPhones and iPads, believers can bypass constraining religious structures — otherwise known as ‘church’ — in favor of a more individual connection with God,” Miller gloats in “My take: How technology could bring down the church” on’s “Belief Blog”. “This helps solve a problem that Christian leaders are increasingly articulating: that even among people who say that Jesus Christ is their personal Lord and savior, folks don’t read the Bible.”

Young Christians “have come to expect experiences that appear unscripted and interactive,” the Christian demographer Dave Kinnaman told the Christian magazine Charisma in 2009, “that allow them to be open and honest with their questions, that are technologically stimulating, that are done alongside peers and within trusted relationships.”
This yearning for a more unmediated faith — including Bible verses live in your pocket or purse 24/7, available to inspire or console wherever and whenever they’re needed — has met an enthusiastic embrace.

“It is not too much to say that the King James Bible … democratized religion by taking it out of the hands of the clerical few and giving it to the many,” Miller claims a little earlier. “Just like the 500-year-old Protestant Reformation …, changes wrought by new technology have the potential to bring down the church as we know it.”

Oh yes, those big, bad clerics. Christianity versus “Churchianity”.

Friday, May 13, 2011

If everyone in the world were Catholic ...

Simcha Fisher has posted an excellent takedown of people who react badly to her having eight children, especially since Number Nine is on the way. Her point, boiled down, is: “They’re my kids, not my political manifesto! Get over yourselves!”

Amen, sister! Testify!

While most of her followers (I’m one of maybe three men; the rest are all mothers, mostly of four or more children) extended their congratulations, commiserations and occasional “Hey, I’m pregnant too”, one — Mary, a woman trying to work her way out of atheism — had this thought:

I think the issue is not: whether your adding more people to rural NH is going to overwhelm the world, but rather that [the Catholic Church] puts forth doctrine that basically always calls more children (rather than less) as a blessing, deems a mortal sin as using any method of contraception (including coitus interruptus as they talked about in the article you referenced) or having a contraceptive mentality even within a committed marriage.
Personal choices have global repercussions when they are adopted globally. … Behavior only has consequences when it is amplified by many adopters. You know this. If everyone suddenly converted to Catholicism and practiced it according to doctrine, there would be a birth explosion, and you know that.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A heartless defense of children's dignity

In a society seemingly dedicated to killing children, it’s refreshing and delightful to find couples who have an always-room-for-one-more attitude. And it’s also heartbreaking when such a loving couple has difficulties in conceiving and carrying children to term.

For that reason, it’s hard not to feel like a heartless bastard when you have to explain the Catholic Church’s opposition to in vitro fertilization. It’s like telling your son or your daughter that they can’t have that dog in the window: no matter how well you explain it, you’re afraid all your child is going to get out of the explanation is that you’re a big meanie and that you don’t love him.

In 2009, Sean and Carolyn Savage were caught in a media storm when she received another couple’s embryo by mistake. After birth, the child was immediately handed off to his genetic parents. That very day, the Diocese of Toledo released a statement condemning IVF.

Now Sean Savage, a “cradle Catholic”, has written a post for CNN’s Belief Blog, arguing that the Church should change its teaching on IVF. As much as I sympathize with the Savages’ situation, I find it odd that they didn’t learn from the experience. You’d think giving birth to someone else’s baby might have caused some deeper reflection.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Playing the bully card

Almost any day of the week, you can hop onto the CNN, MSNBC or FOX News websites and read a story written with a naked political bias. Everyone knows this, though many people still praise such stories as “refreshingly honest” or “thoughtful” when in fact they’re hit pieces with no sense of objectivity.

Such was the case yesterday: Helen A. S. Popkin wrote a post attacking Alan Chambers of Exodus International, a Christian ministry that helps people who suffer from same-sex attraction. (She repeats a snark from Caitlin Dickson: “Remember Exodus International? The ministry that recently released and then lost an iPhone app that taught how to convert gay people to heterosexuality?”)

Chambers, in an interview with the Christian Post, took issue with the Google ad for the “It Gets Better” project, focused on “LGBT kids” targeted for bullying. “Children all over the world, including my two children are fans of ‘Toy Story’ and to see a character like that endorsing something that at this point children have no need to know about, it’s disappointing.”

The title of Popkin’s post? “Toy Story’s Woody bullied by anti-gay leader”.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

To a very special Mother

Fundamentalists and Evangelicals sing in truth, "What a friend we have in Jesus!" But I wonder what their Friend thinks about the way they talk about His Mother.

You may read the Bible. You may read it so much that you can rattle off whole chapters from memory without missing a word. But if you don't have a proper love and reverence for the Blessed Virgin Mother, then either you don't truly understand what you read, or your relationship with Jesus is way off. Or both.

Yes, Marian devotion can be overdone, just as you can have an inordinate or improper love for your own mother. But the opposite is just as true. "As a protestant," Randy at Speak the Truth in Love writes, "I looked at Mary and saw a concubine. Someone who performed a biological function. A surrogate mother. I was told to look at her and marvel at how amazing a thing she did. God using her body to bring Jesus to the world. That contemplating that was dangerous. It might lead me to worship Mary."

Yes, Randy has come past that point. And to be fair, there are Protestants who love Mary as well. "You Catholics don't have sole claim on her," one woman said, and I for one am willing to share. But to regard Mary as important only for her uterus? That wrongs not just Mary — and all women should take umbrage at it — but God as well.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Counting paper chickens

One recurring problem with mathematics is that mathematical models of reality tend to be mistaken for reality itself. I’m becoming more convinced that this is happening with economics.

Let’s look at money: pieces of paper (formerly pieces of precious metals) of arbitrary value traded in exchange for goods and services, also of a more or less arbitrary value, because it’s simpler than trading chickens and cows. In theory, it’s a refinement of barter, where one traded goods and services in exchange for other goods and services. Currency is in essence an IOU: “I don’t have a chicken, so I’ll give you this instead.”

The point to remember, though, is that the value of the exchange medium — gold coins, pieces of paper, wampum belts, whatever — isn’t in itself but in what amount of goods and services one can obtain with it. Objectively, the true wealth isn’t in the possession of cash but in the goods and services one can access.

But considering the bewildering variety of goods and services available on the market, wealth is nigh unto impossible to express unless reduced to some common denominator. So economists track the dollar values rather than the goods and services … and money becomes completely abstracted from what it represents.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: Apostolic succession

When discussing apostolic succession with an Evangelical/fundamentalist who’s using the New International Version of the Bible, you’ll have to explain first where the word “bishop” comes from.

“Bishop”, as I’ve explained over on the other blog, comes from the vulgar Latin word biscopus (LL. episcopus), which in turn comes from the Greek word episkopos. In NIV, episkopos is directly translated as “overseer”; while that is what the word means, it can lead a person who doesn’t know New Testament Greek to miss the connection. If you have a standard English dictionary that shows word origins, or if you have Strong’s Greek Lexicon, you can show it to them from there.

(As an added bonus — if you wish to be an insufferable know-it-all — you can also point out that “priest” comes from presbyteros, which is translated in most English bibles as either “leader” or “elder”.)

Now, remember that discussions about bishops and apostolic succession are truly fights over authority: authority to interpret the Gospel, authority to discern authentic doctrine, authority to bind the conscience of the faithful to the teachings of the Church. That’s why even a person willing to concede that sola scriptura is flawed doctrine will hold that apostolic authority ended with the passing of St. John the Evangelist (ca. 90).

Monday, May 2, 2011

Winds of change blowing in Queensland—UPDATED

This press release has appeared on the Vatican website (here translated from the Italian via Google Translate, with refinement by yours truly):

The Holy Father Benedict XVI has relieved from the pastoral care of the Diocese of Toowoomba (Australia) HE Bishop William M. Morris.

In response, Bp. Morris, 67, retired from his episcopate (a bishop doesn't stop being a bishop when he's relieved of his see). [UPDATE: See Dr. Edward Peters' comments on the legal and ecclesiological implications of "privation" versus "removal". The post was written after Bp. Jean-Claude Makaya Loemba was forced out of the diocese of Pointe-Noire (Congo), but it may apply here.]

According to The Australian, "In his letter, Bishop Morris said the Vatican's decision was sparked by complaints to Rome about an Advent letter he wrote in 2006. In that letter, he argued that with an ageing clergy the church should be open to all eventualities, including ordaining women, ordaining married men, welcoming back former priests and recognising the validity of Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church orders."

That, however, wasn't the only cause. There were also concerns about general absolution, the material contained in diocesan school sex-education programs, and the diocese's appalling vocations record (virtually zero over the last few years). Nor was the relief precipitate: According to the bishop's own letter, the Vatican had been talking with him over the last five years, and Abp. Charles J. Chaput of Denver led an apostolic visitation to Toowoomba to investigate.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

How much is "enough"?—UPDATED

If I am made to walk the plank by a pirate, it is vain for me to offer, as a common-sense compromise, to walk along the plank for a reasonable distance. It is exactly about the reasonable distance that the pirate and I differ. There is an exquisite mathematical split second at which the plank tips up. My common-sense ends just before that instant; the pirate’s common-sense begins just beyond it. But the point itself is as hard as any geometrical diagram; as abstract as any theological dogma.
—G. K. Chesterton, “Wanted, An Unpractical Man”,
What’s Wrong with the World

I don’t wish to waste time dissecting Maureen Dowd’s gasbag collection of gripes over John Paul II’s beatification. Frankly, most of it is the usual garbage: JP2 didn’t follow the mainstream Protestant communions’ bad examples. The one charge that merits looking into is this: “… John Paul forfeited his right to beatification when he failed to establish a legal standard to remove pedophiles from the priesthood, and simply turned away for many years.”

Beatification isn’t a “right”, but that’s not my point. Factually, Dowd’s charge is incorrect as well: a legal process was already established, although it was horrifically slow. And he did make changes to increase the speed in 2001, before the scandals broke open in 2002.