Sunday, February 29, 2004

Civil War #1: Slavery as the Stated Primary Cause for Secession

This will be the first of what I hope will be many threads about the Civil War, or War Between the States, or War of Northern Aggression (as it is variously known). I've asked several Southern or "Southern sympathizer" friends of mine (I'm a lifelong Michigander who loves the South and whose mother's father was born in Alabama -- my father was born in Canada, too, so I am half-Canadian) to write a guest post. So far, one has said he would in the near future. I am very interested in this topic and would like particularly to learn more about the Southern perspective on it.

One of my friends up here in Michigan is fond of telling me that slavery was not the primary cause of the Civil War (as I will call it, because of normative usage -- I don't begrudge people using the other terms at all). In digging up some resources for a new post on this topic today, I ran across the following very interesting information, which (I would contend) highly suggests otherwise.

It is from a website called "Declaration of Causes of Seceding States" and it simply cites the documents of secession from four Southern states: Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. Here are some highlights, but I would urge anyone who wishes to pursue this discussion to read the documents in their entirety, which will make abundantly clear that slavery was the overwhelmingly dominant reason for the secession of these states. I can't demonstrate that by the selected quotes I have chosen for (relative) brevity's and summary's sake (all bolded emphases added):


[Beginning]: The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic. This hostile policy of our confederates has been pursued with every circumstance of aggravation which could arouse the passions and excite the hatred of our people, and has placed the two sections of the Union for many years past in the condition of virtual civil war.

. . . A brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the Federal Government has been committed will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia. The party of Lincoln, called the Republican party, under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party . . . anti-slavery is its mission  and its purpose. By anti-slavery it is made a power in the state. The question of slavery was the great difficulty in the way of the formation of the Constitution. While the subordination and the political and social inequality of the African race was fully conceded by all, it was plainly apparent that slavery would soon disappear from what are now the non-slave-holding States of the original thirteen.

. . . The North demanded the application of the principle of prohibition of slavery to all of the territory acquired from Mexico and all other parts of the public domain then and in all future time. It was . . . her fixed purpose to limit, restrain, and finally abolish slavery in the States where it exists. The South with great unanimity declared her purpose to resist the principle of prohibition to the last extremity.

. . . The prohibition of slavery in the Territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by its [i.e., the Republican Party's] leaders and applauded by its followers. With these principles on their banners and these utterances on their lips the majority of the people of the North demand that we shall receive them as our rulers. The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization.

. . . for above twenty years the non-slave-holding States generally have wholly refused to deliver up to us persons charged with crimes affecting slave property.

. . . In several of our confederate States a citizen cannot travel the highway with his servant who may voluntarily accompany him, without being declared by law a felon and being subjected to infamous punishments . . .

For twenty years past the abolitionists and their allies in the Northern States have been engaged in constant efforts to subvert our institutions and to excite insurrection and servile war among us.

[End]: . . . by their declared principles and policy they have outlawed $3,000,000,000 of our property in the common territories of the Union; put it under the ban of the Republic in the States where it exists and out of the protection of Federal law everywhere; because they give sanctuary to thieves and incendiaries who assail it to the whole extent of their power, in spite of their most solemn obligations and covenants; because their avowed purpose is to subvert our society and subject us not only to the loss of our property but the destruction of ourselves, our wives, and our children, and the desolation of our homes, our altars, and our firesides. To avoid these evils we resume the powers which our fathers delegated to the Government of the United States, and henceforth will seek new safeguards for our liberty, equality, security, and tranquillity.

[Approved, Tuesday, January 29, 1861]


[Beginning]: In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

[Short paragraphs of grievances follow -- eleven of which give specifics: of those, six mention slavery or race; e.g., "It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst."]

[End]: Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property. For far less cause than this, our fathers separated from the Crown of England.

Our decision is made. We follow their footsteps. We embrace the alternative of separation; and for the reasons here stated, we resolve to maintain our rights with the full consciousness of the justice of our course, and the undoubting belief of our ability to maintain it.

South Carolina

[begins with an exposition on the sovereignty of states, but as soon as specifics are mentioned, slavery is obviously the primary consideration]

. . . The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.

. . . In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

. . . We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

[End]: . . . A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.

The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.

Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation, and all hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanction of more erroneous religious belief.

We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.

[Adopted December 24, 1860]


[begins with the history of Texan independence and conditions of joining the United States as a state]

. . . She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery-- the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits-- a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?

. . . The States of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, by solemn legislative enactments, have deliberately, directly or indirectly violated the 3rd clause of the 2nd section of the 4th article [the fugitive slave clause] of the federal constitution, and laws passed in pursuance thereof; thereby annulling a material provision of the compact, designed by its framers to perpetuate the amity between the members of the confederacy and to secure the rights of the slave-holding States in their domestic institutions-- a provision founded in justice and wisdom, and without the enforcement of which the compact fails to accomplish the object of its creation . . .

In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.

[ten short paragraphs of grievances follow: seven of which mention slavery]

. . . We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights [emphasis in the original]; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding

[adopted: February 2, 1861]

* * * 

Lenten Meditation #1: The New Testament on Suffering With Christ

From my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (1996), pp. 158-161.

Matthew 10:38 / 16:24 [RSV] And he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

(see also Mark 8:34-35)

The disciple of Christ is called to suffer (Matthew 10:22, Mark 10:37-39, Luke 6:22, Acts 14:22, Romans 5:3-5, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Philippians 1:29, 1 Thessalonians 3:3, 2 Timothy 1:8, 2:3, 3:12, Hebrews 5:8, James 1:2-4,12, 1 Peter 1:6-7, 2:20-21, 4:12-19, Revelation 1:9).

No biblically informed Christian would dispute that. Controversy only arises over whether such sufferings can improve one's estate vis-a-vis salvation, or help anyone else in the Body of Christ. Catholics believe that all our sufferings can be a source of grace for the one experiencing them as well as helpful with regard to the spiritual graces of another (Romans 15:1, 1 Corinthians 12:24-26), to whom these penitential sufferings are applied (as in intercessory prayer), thus giving suffering the highest possible purpose and meaning.

Furthermore, the painful experience of being corrected by God, as parents discipline their children (Leviticus 26:23-24, Deuteronomy 8:2,5, 2 Samuel 7:14, Job 5:17-18, Psalm 89:30-34, 94:12, 103:9, 118:18, 119:67,71,75, Proverbs 3:11-12, Isaiah 48:10, Jeremiah 10:24, 30:11, 31:18, Zechariah 13:9, Malachi 3:3, 1 Corinthians 11:32, Hebrews 12:5-11, Revelation 3:19), is quite similar to the Catholic notion of temporal punishments for sin, which can be lessened by penance.

St. Paul explicitly expounds the Catholic doctrine of penance, suffering, and vicarious atonement in the following sixteen passages:

Romans 8:13, 17 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live . . . and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

(see also 1 Corinthians 15:31, 2 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Peter 4:1,13)

1 Corinthians 11:27, 30 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord . . . That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

(see also 11:31-32, 1 Corinthians 5:5)

2 Corinthians 4:10 Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

(see also 2 Corinthians 1:5-7)

Philippians 2:17 Even if I am to be poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.

(see also 2 Corinthians 6:4-10)

Philippians 3:10 That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

(see also Galatians 2:20)

2 Timothy 4:6 For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come.

(see also Romans 12:1)

In this verse and in Philippians 2:17, the Greek word for libation and sacrifice is spendomai. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament which was the Bible of the early Christians, this term is used for a variety of offerings and sacrifices commanded by the Mosaic Law (for example, Genesis 35:14, Exodus 29:12,38 ff., Leviticus 4:7 ff., 23:37).

Most intriguing is its occurrence with reference to the Messiah, Jesus, in Isaiah 53:12: . . . he poured out his soul to death . . . It appears, then, that St. Paul is stressing a mystical, profound identification with Jesus even in His death (as also in 2 Corinthians 4:10 and Philippians 3:10 above).

This comparison leads inexorably to the Catholic doctrine of vicarious atonement among members of the Body of Christ. In some mysterious, glorious way God chooses to involve us in the very Redemption (always in a secondary and derivative sense, but actual nonetheless), just as He voluntarily involves us in His Providence by means of prayer and evangelism, and in His Creation by our procreation and childbirth.

Our sufferings become identified with those of Christ (instances of the stigmata, whereby saintly persons -- such as St. Francis of Assisi -- actually receive the wounds of Christ in their bodies, are an extremely graphic image of this scriptural teaching).

Since we are the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 1:22-23, 5:30, Colossians 1:24 below), such a "radical" convergence is not to be unexpected. For instance, when St. Paul was converted to Christ, Jesus said to him, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting (Acts 9:5). This couldn't literally refer to Jesus the Divine Person since He had already ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9-11). Rather, Jesus meant that Christ's Church really was His Body, whom Paul (Saul) was persecuting (Acts 8:1,3, 9:1-2).

Jesus also identifies the Church with Himself in Matthew 25:34-45 (25:40 -- brethren. Compare Matthew 12:50, 28:10, John 20:17). Thus, Jesus' sufferings are ours, and ours are His in a very real sense, as St. Paul unmistakably teaches, particularly and most strikingly in Colossians 1:24:

Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

(see also 2 Corinthians 11:23-30, Galatians 6:17)

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Why Catholics Believe in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

The following is based on a chat on a blog with two Protestants (both Presbyterian, I believe, and one a pastor). It is, therefore, written in the first person. Their thoughts are paraphrased in brackets.

* * *

[It was stated that nothing in the New Testament "even remotely suggests" the perpetual virginity of Mary.]

But there is nothing in the Bible that even remotely suggests the biblical canon, either, yet you accept a tradition handed down to you by a local council, approved by the pope (excepting the "apocryphal books" which were also accepted by that council and never separated from the other books in Scripture until the 16th century).

This is the point: we all accept some traditions which are not, or may not be (arguably) explicitly biblical, or in the Bible at all. You haven't answered my question yet (this is now my 3rd time asking -- Ted Koppel style) about why Protestants have shifted away from this and why Luther and Calvin accepted it, but I am happy to answer your question (Why do I believe in this doctrine?). I believe it first of all because it is received Christian tradition; denied by virtually no one until liberal theology started becoming a force. That's an argument in and of itself, of course, but we all accept received traditions in some manner.

You accept the Westminster Confession and TULIP and the Protestant canon, and so forth. A Catholic accepts the perpetual virginity of Mary, as it is a dogma, proclaimed early on by an ecumenical council (Ephesus, 431). That's more than enough reason for us, given our epistemological presuppositions and our Rule of Faith.

But of course you are probing beyond that and want to know the biblical and theological "why's". That's fine; that's what I do as my profession: an apologist, and I appreciate the opportunity and your congeniality and graciousness to this Catholic guest on your blog.

The Catholic believes about this the same thing that he believes about the Immaculate Conception of Mary: neither doctrine is ontologically, intrinsically necessary. Rather, both are seen as "fitting" and the way things should properly be. I can't think of a Protestant parallel to this offhand but I'm sure there are some.

It was fitting (but not absolutely necessary -- where it couldn't have been otherwise in any other world) for Mary to be without sin (actual and original) because she was the Mother of God (Theotokos). Likewise, we think it is altogether fitting that she remain a virgin after bearing Christ.

Partly this is because of the nature of the miracle itself: Mary was a virgin and we believe that even the birth was miraculous (that Mary's virginity -- without getting physiologically graphic -- was retained even during and after the birth). This is traditional Catholic dogma (and, I believe, Orthodox, too).

It strengthens and supports the doctrine of the Virgin Birth (Mariology is always christocentric). It's a miracle to have a virgin birth: a conception without the participation of a man. If Mary had had other children, and a normal sexual life after, people could always say, "well, how do we know that Jesus' birth was before she started being sexually active? Why should we believe all this Holy Spirit 'overshadowing' foolishness?"

I believe that is part of the traditional theological reasoning on this, though I am basically speaking for myself here, not necessarily "officially" for what the Catholic Church would say. If we pursue this, of course I could look up what Aquinas and Augustine and others said about it.

The second thing is the appropriateness or propriety that the womb which bore the God-Man should not bear another child. One either grasps and accepts that notion or they don't. It is not an argument from reason or Bible but from propriety (which is a very subjective thing and often culturally determined). It can't and won't be perceived or understood by the usual Protestant outlook of "everything must be fairly explicit in the Bible or else we reject it utterly."

Traditional Catholic thought (particularly regarding Mary) does not operate along those lines. The Church ponders things for centuries. It did so with regard to christology (up to 451 and even after if we include the Monothelite controversies); it did with regard to the biblical canon (up to 397) and it did so with Mariology.

So that is the argument from tradition and "fittingness." I know it sounds very foreign to Protestant ears, but I can't help that, in explaining why we believe as we do, and how I understand the belief, in my apologetic, reason-loving mind. The biblical data is another matter; of a different nature. What we have would not require (and perhaps not even suggest) this belief on the surface, but I think that when we examine it closely, it at least suggests it, or at the very least shows us that the data we do know about is perfectly compatible with the notion. One can make many deductions from what we know: some of which rule out that blood brothers are being referred to in specific instances of adelphos.

There are other "situational" arguments from plausibility, such as: "where were Jesus' siblings when He went to the Temple at age 12? If he had them, certainly they would have been around, no? -- unless there was a 12-year gap between births. The narrative (Lk 2:41-52) gives not the slightest hint that there were any brothers involved. When Joseph and Mary were looking for Him, it doesn't say they went to His supposed five brothers and four sisters (I would certainly do that first, as a parent); rather, "they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances" (Lk 2:44; RSV). When they leave, it reads, "And he went down with them and came to Nazareth . . . " (2:51).

Now, this doesn't technically rule out siblings, true, but it sure doesn't positively suggest them, does it? If I took my three sons and a daughter down to Cedar Point for a day of fun, would I talk about it as "I took my first son . . . " without mentioning the other three? No, not likely. You could do that if you were talking about one child specifically in another context ("Joe's a good kid; we have a lot of fun together; the other day I took him to the carnival . .," etc.), but chances are if you were simply describing the day, you would mention all the children.

Why did Jesus ask John to in effect be Mary's son after He died? Semitic custom would have dictated that He ask His blood brothers to do so. All you have to go by, on the other hand (that I can see) is mention of "brothers" -- but this proves nothing because there is such a wide range of meaning for the word adelphos.

[The pastor stated that the Bible gives "explicit" reasons for not accepting perpetual virginity.]

This I deny. It's based on an interpretation of the meaning of adelphos in specific instances that is by no means necessary or certain (or even plausible, I would contend). Unless you have some new arguments I haven't run across before . . .

[The second person said that much of my biblical argument was merely an argument from silence.]

I don't see how. I gave two positive arguments: Jesus at the temple at age 12 and John taking Mary as his "mother" rather than all these supposed siblings running around everywhere. I also noted that there were deductive arguments that ruled out blood brothers in various specific instances. I have yet to present that, so all my cards aren't on the table yet.

Tradition trumps the (current, not traditional) Protestant position on this one. The ancient Church was right when its councils proclaimed on things like the Holy Trinity and the canon of Scripture. I see no reason to believe that it erred with regard to the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin in 431.

And what is the "positive" evidence to deny this? Interpreting adelphos literally as "blood brothers" when any lexicon will quickly show you that it has a very wide range of meanings.

Sometimes Protestants will say, "well then, why didn't the Bible use the Greek term for "cousins"? The reason is simple. Adelphos and the Hebrew equivalent (I forget what it is) functioned much like our word "brother" in English. We have the word "cousin" too, but we use "brother" for friends, ethnic groups, religions (e.g., how Catholics say "separated brethren" and Protestants will say "my Catholic brother"). We say "brother in Christ," "brothers" in terms of fellow soldiers, the "big brother" mentoring system where the man is not a sibling and functions like a father in some cases, etc. So the word can mean sibling, but it can also mean much else. In Semitic culture, extended family was much more important too, so a cousin could be called a "brother."

The biblical evidence can be summarized as follows:

1. Many Protestants assume that whenever they read of Jesus' "brothers," this is referring to His siblings, other sons and daughters of Mary. But it is not that simple. Adelphos, the Gk. word for "brother" in the NT, has multiple meanings (like the English word), and they all appear frequently in Scripture. In addition to sibling, it can also denote

(1) those of the same nationality (Acts 3:17;
Rom 9:3);
(2) any man, or neighbor (Mt 5:22; Lk 10:29);
(3) persons with like interests (Mt 5:47);
(4) distant descendants of the same parents (Acts 7:23,26; Heb 7:5);
(5) persons united by a
common calling (Rev 22:9);
(6) mankind (Mt 25:40; Heb 2:17);
(7) the disciples (Mt 28:10; Jn
(8) all believers (Mt 23:8; Acts 1:15; Rom 1:13; 1 Thess 1:4; Rev 19:10).

Clearly, then, this issue is not at all settled by the mere word "brother" / adelphos in the Bible, and a more in-depth examination of the biblical data will be necessary.

2. "Brethren" - Biblical Exegesis

A. By comparing Gen 14:14 with 11:26-7, we find that Lot, called Abraham's "brother", is actually his nephew.

B. Jacob is called the "brother" of his Uncle Laban (Gen 29:10,15).

C. Cis and Eleazar are described as "brethren", whereas they are literally cousins (1 Chron 23:21-2).

D. "Brethren" as mere kinsmen: Deut 23:7; 2 Sam 1:26; 1 Ki 9:13; 2:32; 2 Ki 10:13-14; Jer 34:9; Amos 1:9.

E. Neither Hebrew or Aramaic has a word for "cousin." The NT retains this Hebrew usage by using adelphos, even when non-siblings are being referred to.

F. In Lk 2:41-51, Joseph and Mary take Jesus to the Temple at the age of twelve, with no sign of any other siblings.

G. Jesus Himself uses "brethren" in the larger sense (Mt 23:1,8; 12:49).

H. By comparing Mt 27:56; Mk 15:40; and Jn 19:25, we find that James and Joseph - mentioned in Mt 13:55 with Simon and Jude as Jesus' "brethren" - are also called sons of Mary, wife of Clopas. This other Mary (Mt 27:61; 28:1) is called Mary's adelphe in Jn 19:25 (two Marys in one family?! - thus even this usage apparently means "cousins" or more distant relative). Mt 13:55 and Mk 6:3 mention Simon, Jude and "sisters" along with James and Joseph, calling all adelphoi. Since we know that James and Joseph are not Jesus' blood brothers, it is likely that all these other "brethren" are cousins, according to the linguistic conventions discussed above.

I. Even standard evangelical Protestant commentaries such as Jamieson, Fausset & Brown admit that the question is not a simple one: "an exceedingly difficult question . . . nor are opinions yet by any means agreed . . . vexed question, encompassed with difficulties." (commentary for Mt 13:55)

J. Some Protestant commentators maintain that Mt 1:24-5 ("Joseph knew her not till . . .") implies that Mary had marital relations after the birth of Jesus. This does not follow, since "till" does not necessarily imply a change of behavior after the time to which it refers (cf. similar instances in 1 Sam 15:35; 2 Sam 6:23; Mt 12:20; Rom 8:22; 1 Tim 4:13; 6:14; Rev 2:25).

K. Likewise, "firstborn" (Mt 1:25) need not imply later children. A mother's first child is her "firstborn" regardless if any follow or not (Ex 13:2). Also, in the Bible, "firstborn" often means "preeminent," and even applies to those who are not literally the first child (Jer 31:9), or, metaphorically, to groups (Ex 4:22; Heb 12:23). Thus, "firstborn" in Mt 1:25 actually is more of an indication that Jesus is Mary's only child, than that there were others. This position is held by many evangelical Protestant scholars on these criteria, rather than Catholic dogmatic grounds.

* * *

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Thoughts on Mary in "The Passion" and So-Called "Catholic" Elements

First of all, I am always interested in speaking the language that my Protestant brothers and sisters can relate to, according to the dictates of Vatican II, ecumenism, and my emphasis of building bridges between the two camps (stressing things where we entirely agree) and working for greater mutual respect and understanding. So in the present context, I naturally tended to write in ways which did not sound specifically "Catholic." St. Paul urged us to "be all things to all people."

Secondly, I actually don't believe there is all that much in the film specifically "Catholic" at all. What is there is explicitly biblical, for the most part. We can all agree on this. It has been said a lot that Protestants don't emphasize the suffering of Christ as much as we do, and tend to go right to the Resurrection and Glorified Jesus (I heard a Protestant scholar from Fuller Seminary on a news show yesterday humbly concede this very point).

This is true, but I would contend that it is not intrinsic to Protestantism. I think it is a failure in practice and in emphasis that has come about probably largely due to over-reaction against Catholicism.

It's not inherent in Protestantism because Lutherans (the original Protestants) have a robust theology of the cross, and traditional or "Anglo-Catholic" high church Anglicans hold to many of the same beliefs and emphases that we do. Many individual Protestants of many stripes do not fall into this trap. I was never of this mindset when I was a low church evangelical Baptist-type Protestant -- who didn't care much for liturgy or sacramentalism -- (though I certainly understand these things better as a Catholic than I used to). We would put out our little sculpture of Michelangelo's Pieta during Easter season just as we do now. We understood this. It was common (biblical) sense.

I have a little semi-humorous response that I make when a Protestant asks me why I am concentrating on Jesus on the cross when He is in heaven now. I ask them, "then why do you reflect upon Jesus in a manger as a baby at Christmas, then?"

Failure in practice in Protestantism is the same as the failures in practice of Catholics; e.g., our abysmal lack of Bible knowledge and Bible study. That is not intrinsic to Catholicism, but it is, sadly, the way things are for many, many Catholics (for a variety of reasons), and Protestants understand this far better than we do. We can help each other and complement each other. Likewise, the ignorance of Church history among many Protestants . . .

That said, I do think there were arguably some particularly "Catholic" elements in the film (in some sense) and I will now note them. One was the wiping up of the blood of Jesus after the scourging. That is very "Catholic" because it constitutes a relic. But even here, this is a "biblical thing" at bottom, not a "Catholic thing," because the Bible reports how the bones of Elisha brought a dead man to life; the shadow of Peter healed people, and Paul's handkerchief did the same.

Therefore, to the extent that Protestants would frown upon this, they are not being as "biblical" as we are. Ironic, isn't it? Opposition to this would be every bit as irrational and unbiblical as opposition to crucifixes or meditation upon Jesus' sufferings in the Rosary or in other ways. It so happens that we Catholics "get" this and many Protestants don't, but that doesn't make it intrinsically "Catholic" -- just "Catholic-practiced" and (mostly) "Protestant-ignored."

One might say that the big role for the Blessed Virgin Mary in the film was a "Catholic thing." I don't see how, because this is simply historical fact. We know from the Bible that she and John and a few other women were the only followers of Jesus present at the crucifixion. So it is not unreasonable to assume that she was present for some or all of the other proceedings (especially since it was all on one day and mostly in one area). Mainly it shows her following Jesus and suffering with Him, empathetically and maternally.

This is simply history (or reasonable assumptions about what probably occurred). It is no more "Catholic" (whatever one's Mariology might be) to show a mother concerned about her son being tortured and killed than it is to show John watching the whole thing, too, or for any of us "watching" vicariously through the medium of cinema.

The film presents a visual representation of the "Pieta": Mary holding her dead Son Jesus (as in Jesus of Nazareth which had a very moving similar scene -- that gets me every time -- , but with Mary wailing uncontrollably). Is this peculiarly "Catholic"? If it is, it is only insofar as Protestants wish to deny that it might have happened just like that, since Mary was at the cross, and loved her Son, and would want to hold Him even in death, as the natural impulse of any mother (or father) would dictate. So I just don't see it. That is not Catholic theology (i.e., no more Catholic than Protestant): it is simply being a normal human being and a mother.

What I found very "Catholic" myself was the careful way in which Gibson portrayed Mary: she was (of course) extremely distraught and in agony, yet it was with a certain stoicisim and acceptance that this was the way it had to be (and this interpretation was followed through in the "pieta" scene as well).

She knew her Son came to die and redeem the human race and she knew it early on (arguably from Simeon's prophecy (Luke 2:35) but in all likelihood earlier, because she knew He was the Messiah (right from the angel at the Annunciation) and if she knew her Scripture she would have known that Messiah was to suffer and even die for us (e.g., Isaiah 53). Furthermore, He talked about it quite a bit. The disciples may have been dense about that, but it doesn't follow that she was, too. She heard this and understood it. Views about the "ignorance" of Mary with regard to Christ's mission are unbiblical, implausible, and "liberal" in the same way that views about Jesus' "ignorance" are.

Therefore, Mary willingly accepts His passion and death. That doesn't mean she was overjoyed about it (any more than Jesus Himself was); only that she suffered in a way that excluded the total despair of a person who has lost all hope and sees no meaning whatsoever in some suffering or calamity. There is a huge emotional and existential difference between despair and a distraught state and utter, black despair without hope or meaning.

I believe Gibson was consciously aware of this and incorporated it into the film; otherwise Mary would have cried and carried on much more than she did (just as we viewers cried and carried on).

Lastly, here is what I thought was perhaps the most distinctively "Catholic" moment in the film (and no one I have yet read caught it). It's just my opinion and mere speculation, but see what you think: During the "pieta" scene, Mary looks straight at the camera for a long time and I agree that this could be read as her saying "why did you do this to my Son?," or "look what love my Son had for you."

But a detail I noticed was that her right hand was opened, either heavenward or towards the viewer (I'd have to see it again). That might be construed as Mary offering Jesus her Son up to the Father, much in the way that we participate in the Sacrifice of the Mass every Sunday. This is quite Catholic. My wife noted that it might also signify Mary saying, "come accept the salvation that my Son just made possible by His horrible suffering." Mary in turn helped make that possible by bearing Jesus in the first place (being the Theotokos); thus participating in the Incarnation, without which there is no Redemption.

Does that make Mary equal to God or Jesus, or make her role in salvation history at all equal or on the same level as the work of Jesus. No, no, and NO (with the highest emphasis). But it does make her a key human "player" in redemptive history. And that is very "Catholic" indeed, but also -- I firmly believe -- not contrary to biblical teaching, even if not explicitly spelled out in it.

But I admit that this is speculation based on one observation of a gesture in the movie. Take it for what it's worth. If Gibson ever confirms this, then my impression will have been justified.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

"The Passion": My Reaction (and Yours)

The following is one of the most difficult things I have ever written (and writing comes very easy for me), because words are so utterly inadequate to describe the impact of this film. One could cite Holy Scripture, but Christians are already familiar with that, and the biblical passion is a different thing than the filmed version of it (i.e., one is real; the other is artistic depiction, which can be done in many kinds of ways). I'll try to do the best that I can do, given these limitations. I wanted to write "fresh" from seeing the movie . . .

One could talk about the now-familiar phenomenon of the silent audiences after it is over (so I will). I didn't look around too much because I was almost in front (I didn't want any distractions), but I did see many people sitting in stunned shock, teary-eyed, in a daze.

The two women about ten seats away from me in my row certainly broke down several times, but that wasn't all that different from my own reactions (I maintained general composure -- being a guy and all -- but I had to wipe my eyes three times so I could keep watching).

The most difficult scene to endure for me was the one where it shows the Blessed Virgin Mary comforting Jesus as a child, juxtaposed with His carrying of the cross and His mother watching in agony and yearning to comfort Him again. I don't think any mother in the world could get through that dry-eyed (and fathers are not all that different, when it comes down to it). It's enough to break your heart all by itself in a film otherwise far and away the most emotionally intense imaginable.

Driving home, about 15 minutes after it ended -- in a daze and moved beyond words, I happened to look over to a car at an intersection and I noticed a couple waiting at a red light, both with their heads tilted to the side and buried in their hands.

This is the way to do a biblically based movie. It is absolutely realistic; it shows what it would have been like to be there at the time. It took over a hundred years for the movies to finally show the day of crucifixion as it was. We have long since known all the technical and physiological details of crucifixion, scourging (and those scenes in the movie are arguably more excruciating than even the crucifixion, apart from the unbelievably graphic "nails" sequences), the brutality of Roman soldiers, etc., from historical research.

But no one (for some odd reason) ever put it all together in one film, as Mel Gibson has done. The Passion, in its extraordinary realism, makes the similar scenes of Jesus of Nazareth (my favorite Christian movie up till now, and superb in its own right) look like a tea party in the park.

It is real and gory and gruesome and almost impossibly painful and gut-wrenching to watch, while at the same time the direction and cinematography and acting and editing and music are all first-rate (so that it is so much more than what a video recording of the same events might have looked like).

It is art gloriously at the service of history and Christianity. The use of slow motion and flashbacks to related incidents; the devil figure, insinuations of demons (both outward and inner ones) the crushed-yet-accepting reactions of the Virgin Mary, the mocking soldiers and sneering Jewish leaders: all are brilliantly done.

What I felt as I watched it, is fairly simple to at least summarize, if not to fully describe: how it feels "on the inside". I kept thinking to myself: "God loves us THIS much; He was willing to go through all THIS! What love, what love, what love, what mercy, what forgiveness; what an awesome, GOOD GOD we have! How unworthy WE are to deserve any of this . . . "

Those who know a bit of theology about what God had to do and what He chose to do, may know that both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas held that there could have been another way to accomplish redemption: God being God (with all power and knowledge). That only makes the impact of this film all the more profound: Jesus went through these unspeakable tortures for our sake.

He did it willingly. He knew what was to happen (many passages in Scripture). He chose to suffer for us and with us, because that is such a prominent characteristic of life for most human beings throughout history -- for the purpose of saving our souls (we who are absolutely unworthy of such salvation).

And beyond that, the biblically literate person knows that our Lord Jesus had the load of the entirety of human sin on His shoulders as well. There is no way to adequately portray the unfathomable horror and ugliness and "cosmic catastrophe" of that, even in a remarkable film like this. It can't be described in words, either (even the Bible doesn't attempt to say all that much about it). It can scarcely be comprehended by our small human minds.

That's what I thought of and felt soul-deep while watching this film. You can read the well-known passages in the Scripture, such as "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). We Christians hear and read that all the time and casually process it into our brains, more or less abstractly.

But a film like this shows what the kind of love that the God-Man Jesus has for us, entails. We believe it, but The Passion gives us a chance to SEE it and experience this love, right before our eyes and deep down into our hearts and souls.

And that is the beauty and power of dramatic presentations of the biblical events -- especially of the life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They appeal to the whole person and make the Bible come to life. I've always been very moved by the better biblical films (sadly, there aren't many which don't have some phony or corny or "Hollywoodish" elements in them).

This one is perfect. I don't see how it could have been done any better. I'm no film expert, but I could easily see how someone might think this is among the best movies ever made, in any genre. After all, Gibson won the Oscar for Best Director and Best Movie for Braveheart, so he is not without great skill as a filmmaker.

How one reacts, watching this, is not just the emotion that any normal human being would feel, seeing a person tortured and mistreated for the better part of two hours; it is the realization of what redemption cost God. And the more we realize what it cost Him, the more we see how utterly lost in sin we all were before the spiritual power of regeneration was graciously applied to us by God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, as a result of what Jesus did for us on that dreadful, horrific Good Friday.

If this film doesn't move a person down to their bones and fingernails and the deepest recesses of their souls, -- both emotionally and (hopefully) spiritually -- then they are as un-alive as a rock. And no one who is not changed in some way for the better by watching this, has any inkling of the sublime events which it portrays.

To recognize that level of spiritual deadness in oneself (itself only by the grace of God) would be even more terrifying that what the sin of mankind caused Jesus to have to endure -- what this film enables us to SEE as we never have before; "Jesus died for you" -- , yet it would be the first step towards redemption and salvation (which, in a word, is the entirety of what this film is about).

May all Christians unite in our prayers and efforts: that this extraordinary movie may bring about many changed lives, and more and more committed disciples of our Lord Jesus. This is our moment. The time is now. Let's stop our stupid and petty in-fighting (over these basic issues where we should all readily agree) and show the world what Christianity is really all about. The film is the first step: our behavior as Christians is the crucial second part of the witness. Please God, be with us; it's the least we can do to thank You for what You have done for us . . .

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Luther Favored the Death Penalty for Anabaptists

By Dave Armstrong (2-24-04)

If I hear another Lutheran try to deny that this is true, I think I'll scream. It's happened once again, and comically (for those who love irony as I do), from one who has been a vocal critic lately with regard to my supposed profound ignorance about Luther. He wrote on the Catholic Message Board:

. . . he was imperfect too. But not all the stuff you have read is true. He was not a fornicator, he was a good father and husband. His language was sometimes enough to make your skin crawl. He was "rough", but not evil. There were Lutherans who took things too far and yes they killed people for their beliefs. Not a good thing, not Luther either.

Here are the documented facts:

Luther sanctioned capital punishment for doctrinal heresy most notably in his Commentary on the 82nd Psalm (vol. 13, pp. 39-72 in the 55-volume set, Luther's Works, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan et al), written in 1530, where he advocated the following:
A question arises in connection with these three verses [Psalm 82]. Since the gods, or rulers, beside their other virtues, are to advance God’s Word and its preachers, are they also to put down opposing doctrines or heresies, since no one can be forced to believe? The answer to this question is as follows: First, some heretics are seditious and teach openly that no rulers are to be tolerated; that no Christian may occupy a position of rulership; that no one ought to have property of his own but should run away from wife and child and leave house and home; or that all property shall be held in common. These teachers are immediately, and without doubt, to be punished by the rulers, as men who are resisting temporal law and government (Rom. 13:1, 2). They are not heretics only but rebels, who are attacking the rulers and their government, just as a thief attacks another’s goods, a murderer another’s body, an adulterer another’s wife; and this is not to be tolerated.
Second. If some were to teach doctrines contradicting an article of faith clearly grounded in Scripture and believed throughout the world by all Christendom, such as the articles we teach children in the Creed—for example, if anyone were to teach that Christ is not God, but a mere man and like other prophets, as the Turks and the Anabaptists hold—such teachers should not be tolerated, but punished as blasphemers. For they are not mere heretics but open blasphemers; and rulers are in duty bound to punish blasphemers as they punish those who curse, swear, revile, abuse, defame, and slander. With their blasphemy such teachers defame the name of God and rob their neighbor of his honor in the eyes of the world. In like manner, the rulers should also punish—or certainly not tolerate—those who teach that Christ did not die for our sins, but that everyone shall make his own satisfaction for them. For that, too, is blasphemy against the Gospel and against the article we pray in the Creed: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins” and “in Jesus Christ, dead and risen.” Those should be treated in the same way who teach that the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting are nothing, that there is no hell, and like things, as did the Sadducees and the Epicureans, of whom many are now arising among the great wiseacres.
By this procedure no one is compelled to believe, for he can still believe what he will; but he is forbidden to teach and to blaspheme. For by so doing he would take from God and the Christians their doctrine and word, and he would do them this injury under their own protection and by means of the things all have in common. Let him go to some place where there are no Christians. For, as I have often said: He who makes a living from the citizens ought to keep the law of the city, and not defame and revile it; or else he ought to get out. We are told that when the holy fathers at the Council of Nicea heard the doctrine of the Arians read, all hissed unanimously, and would not listen or permit any argument or defense but condemned them out of hand, without disputation, as blasphemers. Moses in his Law commands that such blasphemers and indeed all false teachers should be stoned (Lev. 24:16). So, in this case, there ought not to be much disputing; but such open blasphemers should be condemned without a hearing and without defense, as Paul commands (Titus 3:10): “A heretic is to be avoided and let go, after he has been admonished once or twice”; and he forbids Timothy to wrangle and dispute, since this has no effect, except to pervert those who hear (1 Tim. 6:20). For these common articles of all Christendom have had hearing enough. They have been proved and decreed by the Scriptures and by the confession of the whole church, confirmed by many miracles, and sealed by the blood of many holy martyrs. They are testified to and defended in the books of all the doctors. They need no more discussion and clever interpretation.

(Luther's Works [LW], Vol. 13, 61-62; bolding added)

Is this merely my interpretation of his words and thoughts? Hardly. The famous Luther biographer Roland Bainton wrote:

In 1530 Luther advanced the view that two offences should be penalized even with death, namely sedition and blasphemy. The emphasis was thus shifted from incorrect belief to its public manifestation by word and deed. This was, however, no great gain for liberty, because Luther construed mere abstention from public office and military service as sedition and a rejection of an article of the Apostles' Creed as blasphemy.

In a memorandum of 1531, composed by Melanchthon and signed by Luther, a rejection of the ministerial office was described as insufferable blasphemy, and the disintegration of the Church as sedition against the ecclesiastical order. In a memorandum of 1536, again composed by Melanchthon and signed by Luther, the distinction between the peaceful and the revolutionary Anabaptists was obliterated . . .

Melanchthon this time argued that even the passive action of the Anabaptists in rejecting government, oaths, private property, and marriages outside the faith was itself disruptive of the civil order and therefore seditious. The Anabaptist protest against the punishment of blasphemy was itself blasphemy. The discontinuance of infant baptism would produce a heathen society and separation from the Church, and the formation of sects was an offense against God.

Luther may not have been too happy about signing these memoranda. At any rate he appended postscripts to each. To the first he said,

I assent. Although it seems cruel to punish them with the sword, it is crueler that they condemn the ministry of the Word and have no well-grounded doctrine and suppress the true and in this way seek to subvert the civil order.

. . . In 1540 he is reported in his Table Talk to have returned to the position of Philip of Hesse that only seditious Anabaptists should be executed; the others should be merely banished. But Luther passed by many an opportunity to speak a word for those who with joy gave themselves as sheep for the slaughter.

. . . For the understanding of Luther's position one must bear in mind that Anabaptism was not in every instance socially innocuous. The year in which Luther signed the memorandum counseling death even for the peaceful Anabaptists was the year in which a group of them ceases to be peaceful . . . By forcible measures they took over the city of Munster in Westphalia . . .

Yet when all these attenuating considerations are adduced, one cannot forget that Melanchthon's memorandum justified the eradication of the peaceful, not because they were incipient and clandestine revolutionaries, but on the ground that even a peaceful renunciation of the state itself constituted sedition.

(Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New York: Mentor, 1950, 295-296; bolding added)

Luther signed his name in assent to the 1536 pamphlet written by Philip Melanchthon (noted by biographer Bainton above), in which Melanchthon wrote:

That seditious articles of doctrine should be punished with the sword needed no further proof. For the rest, the Anabaptists hold tenets relating to infant baptism, original sin, and inspiration which have no connection with the Word of God, and are indeed opposed to it. . . . Concerning such tenets, this is our answer : As the secular authorities are bound to control and punish open blasphemy, so they are also bound to restrain and punish avowedly false doctrine, irregular Church services and heresies in their own dominions; for this is commanded by God in the other commandment where He says : "Whoso dishonours God's name shall not go unpunished." Everybody is bound, according to his position and office, to prevent and check blasphemy, and by virtue of this command the princes and magistrates have power and authority to put a stop to irregular Church worship. The text in Leviticus xxiv. goes to show the same thing : "He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death." The ruling authorities, however, must suffer themselves to be property and correctly instructed in order that they may be certain how to proceed, and that nobody may do wrong. Now there are some among these articles of faith which signify very much. For think what disaster would ensue if children were not baptized; what would be the final outcome but thoroughly heathenish existence? Item, infant baptism rests on such sure foundations that the Anabaptists have no legitimate grounds for rejecting it. Item, if they say that children do not need forgiveness of sins, that there is no original sin, such statements are downright and very dangerous errors. Besides this the Anabaptists separate themselves from the churches, even in those places where pure Christian doctrine prevails, and where the abuses and idolatrous practices have been abolished, and they set up a ministry and congregation of their own, which is also contrary to the command of God. From all this it becomes clear that the secular authorities are bound to suppress blasphemy, false doctrine, and heresy, and to inflict corporal punishment on the offenders. In the case of Anabaptist tenets which are opposed to the secular government the matter is easier to deal with ; for there is no doubt that in such cases the stiffnecked recalcitrants are sure to be punished as sedition-mongers. Also when it is a case of only upholding some spiritual tenet, such as infant baptism, original sin, and unnecessary separation, then, because these articles are also important. . .  we conclude that in these cases also the stubborn sectaries must be put to death.

(cited in Johannes Janssen, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 volumes, translated by A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 [orig. 1891]; Vol. X, 222-223; bolding added)

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Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The Biblical Evidence for Relics & its Protestant Detractors

From my book: The Catholic Verses (2004).

2 Kings 13:20-21 [RSV]: So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. 21 And as a man was being buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Elisha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood on his feet.

As an introduction to the Catholic conception of matter as a conveyor of grace: the fundamental assumption behind things such as relics and sacramentals, I shall cite John Henry Newman, from his famous, profoundly influential work, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, written in 1845, while still an Anglican (but just before he converted to Catholicism):

Christianity . . . taught that the Highest had taken a portion of that corrupt mass upon Himself, in order to the sanctification of the whole; that, as a first fruits of His purpose, He had purified from all sin that very portion of it which He took into His Eternal Person, . . . It taught that the Highest had in that flesh died on the Cross, and that His blood had an expiatory power; moreover, that He had risen again in that flesh, and had carried that flesh with Him into heaven, and that from that flesh, glorified and deified in Him, He never would be divided. As a first consequence of these awful doctrines comes that of the resurrection of the bodies of His Saints, and of their future glorification with Him; next, that of the sanctity of their relics . . .

(Part II, Chapter X, Section 1, 401-402)

Thomas Howard, also an Anglican on the verge of conversion to Catholicism at the time he wrote the following, picked up the same theme of the unbiblical Protestant tendency to pit matter against spirit:

By avoiding the dangers of magic and idolatry on the one hand, evangelicalism runs itself very near the shoals of Manichaeanism on the other – the view, that is, that pits the spiritual against the physical.

(Evangelical is Not Enough, 35)

Catholic apologist Bertrand Conway elaborates:

The Catholic Church does not teach that there is any magical virtue or any curative efficacy in the relic itself. The Church merely says, following the Scriptures, that they are often the occasion of God’s miracles. In the Old Law we read of the veneration of the Jews for the bones of Joseph (Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32), and of the prophet Eliseus which raised a dead man to life (2 Kings 13:21) . . .

(The Question Box, 373)

With this background, let’s examine some examples of how Protestants have interpreted 2 Kings 13:20-21. Adam Clarke, in his Commentary – somewhat typically, it seems – admits the validity of the principle involved but then immediately proceeds to irrationally mock the Catholic belief-system concerning relics which derives from it:

This shows that the prophet did not perform his miracles by any powers of his own, but by the power of God; and he chose to honour his servant, by making even his bones the instrument of another miracle after his death. This is the first, and I believe the last, account of a true miracle performed by the bones of a dead man; and yet on it and such like the whole system of miraculous working relics has been founded by the popish Church.

With this sort of mentality, I guess the examples from the Bible, and explicit biblical precedents and proof texts for any Christian belief or practice are irrelevant. Clarke’s hidden hostile assumption seems to be that the only criterion we have for knowing that a belief is false and implausible (regardless of the biblical data) is whether the “popish Church” espouses it. If it does do so, it must be false.

Presbyterian Matthew Henry, in his very well-known Commentary, manages to recognize the implications of the verse without adding the gratuitous swipe against the “papists”:

This great miracle . . . was also a plain indication of another life after this. When Elisha died, there was not an end of him, for then he could not have done this. From operation we may infer existence . . . Elijah was honoured in his departure. Elisha was honoured after his departure.

To conclude this discussion on relics, I would add that veneration is essentially different from worship or adoration (reserved for God alone); it is a high honor given to something or someone because of the grace revealed or demonstrated in them from God. The relic (and the saint from whom it is derived) reflects the greatness of God just as a masterpiece of art or music reflects the greatness of the artist or composer.

Therefore, in venerating it, God is being honored. The saint is being venerated only insofar as he or she is reflecting God’s grace and holiness. If such an item is worshiped, the person doing it is not following Catholic teaching, which fully agrees with Protestantism with regard to the evil of idolatry, or putting something besides God in the unique place of God.

In the passage above, matter clearly imparted the miraculous and grace from God. That is all that is needed for Catholics to reasonably and scripturally hold such items in the highest regard and honor (veneration). It wasn’t necessary for the whole doctrine to be present in the verse; only the fundamental assumption behind it (matter can convey grace), which is the basis for the Catholic belief and practice.

Many Protestants (including Martin Luther himself, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, Churches of Christ) accept this principle with regard to the waters of baptism, which – so they hold – cause spiritual regeneration to occur, even in an infant.

As for the “graven image” of Exodus 20:4: what God was forbidding was idolatry: making a stone or block of wood God. The Jews were forbidden to have idols (like all their neighbors had), and God told them not to make an image of Him because He revealed Himself as a spirit. The KJV and RSV Bible versions use the term graven image at Exodus 20:4, but many of the more recent translations render the word as idol (e.g., NASB, NRSV, NIV, CEV).

Context makes it very clear that idolatry is being condemned. The next verse states: “You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (NIV, NRSV).

In other words, mere blocks of stone or wood ("them") are not to be worshiped, as that is gross idolatry, and the inanimate objects are not God. This does not absolutely preclude, however, the notion of an icon, where God is worshiped with the help of a visual aid.

Idolatry is a matter of disobedience in the heart towards the one true God. We don't always need an image to have an idol. Most idols today are non-visual: money, sex, lust for power, convenience, our own pride or intellects; there are all sorts of idols. Anything that replaces God as the most important thing in our life and the universe, is an idol.

Idolatry is also a “heart issue.” It's all about what is going on interiorly, just as lust is. One can lust without having a person of the opposite sex right in their vision. The heart is always key in Christianity. Catholics and Orthodox worship Jesus through images (including crosses, crucifixes, and statues of Jesus), and we venerate saints via images.

The frequent Protestant objection and opposition to veneration of images or of relics (as in this case) is as silly as saying that a person raising their hands towards God in worship and praise during church is worshiping the ceiling. That person may not have an image of God in their mind, but they use the symbolism of "upwards" as being directed towards God (yet God is everywhere, so they could just as correctly stretch their arms downward or sideways).

We are physical creatures; God became man, and so by the principle of the Incarnation and sacramentalism, the physical becomes involved in the spiritual. Icons and relics are both based on these presuppositions.

2 Kings 2:11-14: “And as they still went on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 And Elisha saw it and he cried, ‘My father, my father! the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and rent them in two pieces. 13 And he took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other; and Elisha went over.”

Acts 5:15-16: “. . . they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.”

Acts 19:11-12: “And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” (cf. Mt 9:20-22)

Elisha’s bones were a “first-class” relic: from the person himself or herself. These passages, on the other hand, offer examples of “second-class” relics: items that have power because they were connected with a holy person (Elijah’s mantle and even St. Peter’s shadow), and third-class relics: something that has merely touched a holy person or first-class relic (handkerchiefs that had touched St. Paul).

Surveying a few examples of Protestant commentary on these verses, we find again that no real substantive objection is raised, so that, therefore, the Catholic basis for relics, grounded in these passages, stands unrefuted.

Thus, Matthew Henry refers to Elisha taking up Elijah’s mantle “not as a sacred relic to be worshipped.” Catholics do not worship relics, but venerate them, because they represent a saint who in turn reflects the grace and holiness of God. Henry offers no essential disproof that this is indeed a relic, only a potshot against a straw man.

God ultimately performs all miracles by His power, but in this case and many others He uses physical objects to do so (e.g., Moses’ staff, a Temple made of stone and wood). Belief that God can use something in His creation for a miraculous purpose does not in any way, shape, or form imply that God is not responsible or the cause. Adam Clarke cynically comments on St. Peter’s shadow, offering seven “disproofs” of relics:

A popish writer, assuming that the shadow of Peter actually cured all on which it was projected, argues from this precarious principle in favour of the wonderful efficacy of relics! . . . Now, before this conclusion can be valid, it must be proved: 1. That the shadow of Peter did actually cure the sick; 2. That this was a virtue common to all the apostles; 3. That all eminent saints possess the same virtue; 4. That the bones, &c., of the dead, possess the same virtue with the shadow of the living; 5. That those whom they term saints were actually such; 6. That miracles of healing have been wrought by their relics; 7. That touching these relics as necessarily produces the miraculous healing as they suppose the shadow of Peter to have done . . . no evidence can be drawn from this that any virtue is resident in the relics of reputed or real saints, by which miraculous influence may be conveyed.

I shall briefly reply to Clarke’s seven points of contention:

1) That St. Peter’s shadow was instrumental in healings is at least as reasonable and plausible an assumption from the text as its denial.

2) and 3) Whether all the apostles and saints possessed this characteristic is logically irrelevant to the fact that it occurred with Peter and thus sets a biblical precedent for Catholic belief in second-class relics.

4) This is a non sequitur. The evidence for bones also potentially having such power is proven from the example of Elisha.

5) Whether a person was a saint is a matter of rigorous historical inquiry in the Catholic Church (usually taking many years).

6) Whether miracles have occurred historically as a result of relics is also a matter of historical substantiation. They certainly have, but proof of that is beyond our purview here.

7) Catholics are not saying that healing necessarily follows from contact with a relic, only that it may, and that this is one legitimate means that God may in some instances use to heal and otherwise bestow grace upon sinful men.

Clarke’s case against relics based on this Scripture passage is nonexistent (and mostly merely declarative, to the exclusion of substantive rational argument): a combination of irrelevancies, straw men, wrongheaded analogies, conclusions that don’t follow, unwarranted demands, and outright skepticism of the occurrence of the supernatural (many Protestants – called cessationists -- believe that all miracles ceased with the apostles). Matthew Henry, in his commentary on Peter’s shadow, is not nearly so skeptical as Clarke:

[I]f such miracles were wrought by Peter's shadow, we have reason to think they were so by the other apostles, as by the handkerchiefs from Paul's body (ch. xix. 12), no doubt both being with an actual intention in the minds of the apostles thus to heal; so that it is absurd to infer hence a healing virtue in the relics of saints that are dead and gone.

This is excellent and no different from the Catholic view, except for the last clause, which does not at all logically or biblically follow. Rather than recognize this instance as a clear proof of the principle of relics, Henry belittles relics as “absurd” with one portion of a sentence – itself containing an altogether unproven assumption: that in order for a healing to occur, it must be the intention of a person performing it (thus ruling out miracles as a result of relics, by definition).

But whence comes this “criterion”? To the contrary, Elisha was dead but his bones still raised a man from the dead. He certainly had no intention of healing that person (unless he did so from heaven). By Henry’s reasoning, then, that clear biblical example would be absurd. He himself grasps the implication when commenting on Elisha’s bones, but contradicts himself here and can’t bring himself to admit anything that might have a “Catholic odor” to it.

Catholics, however (like the overwhelming number of those in the early Church), are not limited by this bias against matter as a purveyor of grace and the notion of relics itself, and so can accept the Bible’s teaching, wherever it leads.

Likewise, John Calvin’s “argument” against relics in his commentary on Acts 19:11-12 contains plenty of mockery, straw men, and sophistry:

[T]he Papists are more blockish, who wrest this place unto their relics; as if Paul sent his handkerchiefs that men might worship them and kiss them in honor of them; as in Papistry, they worship Francis’ shoes and mantle, Rose’s girdle, Saint Margaret’s comb, and such like trifles. Yea, rather, he did choose most simple things, lest any superstition should arise by reason of the price or pomp.

But Calvin’s exegesis does not overthrow the fundamental principle illustrated by these texts, which form a strong biblical basis for the Catholic conception of relics – which belief suffers no harm whatever from all the above Protestant commentary.

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Monday, February 16, 2004

Preliminary Replies to Atheists' Questions About Christianity (Particularly the Trinity and Salvation) (vs. Dr. Ted Drange)

This exchange took place on an Internet List devoted to the question of God's existence, in late April 2001. I had just recently arrived. Dr. Drange's words will be in blue. The first series of questions (in red) was asked by another atheist who didn't want his words recorded. But the short questions themselves seemed to perhaps be from another source, so I have retained them, as a valuable means for allowing an explanation of Christianity.

* * * * *
Catholicism is a rather complex system in some ways, simple in another sense, just as (I would say) atheism and agnosticism are (or the various forms of Protestantism, for that matter). But granted, there are a lot more particulars, historical arguments, abstract theological constructs, spirituality and pious practices, and revelation to contend with, so I don't blame anyone for lacking full understanding or being confused (especially with all the misinformation and prejudice around).
I'd be happy to help explain in due course whatever you are curious about, to the best of my knowledge (I may deem a few subjects inappropriate in this context - at least in depth). But I also want to learn your rationale as an atheist/agnostic. I don't want this to turn into (solely) "1001 questions for the Catholic" (with no single one adequately dealt with - I've been through that routine many times, and it is fruitless). It's gotta be a two-way street. Not that I think you're doing that (or anyone else thus far). I just want to make my opinion clear as to why I am here.
All answers are possibly subject to later revision, as all of thesematters can get very complex. But here are my quick replies:
 (Q1) Is God a person?
 No, God is three Persons. :-)
This is ungrammatical. The term "God" is singular, not plural.
Yes, but multiple personalities in the Godhead are plural, so this creates a grammatical conundrum not easily resolved, because it is beyond our experience as human beings.
Do you mean, perhaps, the following (which would be grammatical): God is a group of three persons?
Good enough I guess. How about "God are three persons"? Seriously,though, one could say: "God is such that He remains one God, whilesubsisting in three persons."
You said that God is three persons. The appropriate pronoun for three persons is "they."
As persons, yes, but because the three are one God (monotheism as opposed to tritheism) it is conventional to refer to God in the singular, or to each Divine Person in the singular.
If not, how might he be described?
As the Holy Trinity, or God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit: three Persons equal in essence, eternal existence, power, and glory. This is no different than an orthodox Protestant or Orthodox position; we are all agreed on this. The only ones who disagree are fringe groups (in terms of historic, mainstream, "orthodox" trinitarian Christianity) like Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and suchlike.
What properties are possessed by each of the three persons of the Trinity that are NOT possessed by the other two? (Just one such property for each would do.)
Jesus has a body. Jesus could die (as a man). Jesus could eat fish. TheFather has an ontological priority (but not superiority: "the Father sentthe Son" / "I and the Father are one"). The Holy Spirit proceeds(ontologically, or logically) from the Father and the Son. This is thedoctrine of filioque, ("proceeds" in the Nicene Creed) which is acontroversy between Catholics and Orthodox.
How about the following: "God the Son is able to walk five steps, but neither God the Father nor God the Holy Spirit are able to do that"?
Indeed, as I already alluded to above.
And here's another: "God the Father knows the exact date of the Second Coming, but God the Son does not know it."
I think Jesus was saying that in reference to His humanity alone, since in His Godhood He is omniscient just as the Father is. That gets into the doctrine of the Two Natures, which is far too complex to delve into at any length here (nor do I wish to, as that is a fit topic for theologians, not laymen like myself).
"(It's unclear whether or not God the Holy Spirit knows it.)"

I would suspect that He does, but I'm not absolutely sure. A Catholic friend of mine, Mike Breslin, sent the following clarifying remarks about this question:
There is but one intellect and one will in God. Father [John A.] Hardon once said that instead of saying that the three Persons in the Blessed Trinity "share" the divine intellect and divine will, it is better to say that all three "completely posses" the one divine intellect and one divine will. That there is only one will in God can be seen from the fact that if there were multiple wills in the Trinity then they could conceivably be opposed to each other and, as we all know, God is one. Thus the same for the other spiritual faculty, the divine intellect. As further backup to this, Father Hardon once said that anything God does outside of Himself, such as His interaction with the created universe, is done by all three Persons in the Trinity (due to one will and one intellect); it is mainly in the relations between the Persons that they can act separately.
Thus, Father said, when Jesus prayed the "Our Father", He was praying to the Father; when we pray "Our Father", we are praying to the Blessed Trinity. Another thing that falls out from this is that the created universe was created by the Trinity; God the Father cannot act alone without the participation of the Second Person and Third Person. What we do is to attribute creation to the Father as a way of helping us distinguish between the Persons, so we don't lose sight of this important doctrine and risk becoming Unitarians. But in reality the entire Trinity created the universe. When God does something external to Himself, all three Persons partake of the action.
So your answer to Ted above should have been "Yes, anything one of the Persons knows, all of the Persons know, as there is only one divine intellect in God").
I would particularly like an example of a property possessed by God the Holy Spirit that is not possessed by God the Father.
He proceeds from the Father. He also indwells believers, which is His sole domain, I believe.
(Q2) Does God exist in space?
The Father and the Holy Spirit do not, as they are spirits. The Son does, because He is incarnate (i.e., He took on flesh, the literal meaning). Greek carne, I believe, from which we get "carnivorous," etc. "Carnival" has the same root; it comes from Lent and abstaining from meat. But I digress . . . Forgive me if I go over things you guys are all familiar with already.
How could God the Son sit at the right hand of God the Father if only the former and not the latter exists in space?
Because this is an anthropomorphism. The "arm of God" in Hebrew thought means the power of God.
Also, where, exactly (or approximately, if you don't know exactly), is God the Son located?
In heaven, bodily (but I'm not sure that heaven is considered to be inspace itself); everywhere (as a function of His omnipresence: "I am with you always"), and miraculously in the Eucharist.
Where is heaven located? Is it quite far from here?
It is not located in space, as far as I know. It is a spiritual reality,and spirit doesn't possess extension or dimension.
Are there any saints there already?
If so, then will they make a trip back to earth for the General Resurrection?
Some may, yes, as accounts of the Second Coming indicate.
How will the resurrected bodies move from earth to heaven?
Boeing 757's I believe. The reservations are already made . . .
Will it be faster than the speed of light?
No; slightly less, so the aesthetics of the trip can be better enjoyed.
(Q3) Does God exist in time?
How about God the Son? Surely he exists in time. After all, he is
supposed to be between the First Coming and the Second Coming.

As a man, yes. As God, no. He is both God and Man. This is the Two Natures, again, formulated (i.e., fully developed) at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
You here seem to assume that God the Son exists in both space and time.
As a human person, obviously.
(Q4) Is God disembodied?
If that means once having had a body and losing it (as I believe it does), no. The Father and the Spirit have no body; never did, and never will; the Son does (we just celebrated His bodily Resurrection at Easter), and will not ever lose it. He has a "glorified" Body now, with extraordinary characteristics, as we believe all of us who make it to heaven eventually will also have, as a result of the General Resurrection.
(Q5) Is God the creator of space and time?
Which one did it, the Father or the Son? Or did they do it together?
The latter, since they both possess this attribute.
(Q6) Does God have desires?
Yes, as a function of love. E.g., He desires all men to be saved, eventhough He knows full well that they will not be, due to the free will Heallows them to have.
Does each member of the Trinity desire all men to be saved?
Is there a conflict of desires there (between all men being saved and humans having free will)?
Yes, between the perfect divine will and human free will and free agency. The possibility of non-salvation exists because man has been allowed to freely choose his destiny, so as to not be merely a robot.
Also, why would a man freely choose to be unsaved?
Ignorance; various bondages, blindnesses, addictions, deceptions, pride, self-will, psychological deficiencies, deprivations of childhood orenvironment, excessive self-importance, substance abuse, etc. (some false ideas would be, e.g., heaven is boring; God is a stick-in-the-mud,
Christians are boring and ignoramuses - better to be with the exciting,"intelligent" sinners in hell, etc. Party time, blah blah blah).
We maintain that anyone who truly understood and believed in what God has in store for those who are saved, could not refuse it, in one sense, but then sin and evil mitigate (and any number of erroneous philosophies and notions) against such an understanding and comprehension. People want freedom to live as they please. The very stereotypes that even intelligent people carry about concerning the Christian notion of heaven suggests that much mistaken thought is at play here. People would rather foolishly carp on about playing harps on a cloud than to ponder a serious philosophical reflection uponimmortality and the purpose of human life.
Is it because he believes that he would suffer less in that situation than he would as a saved person?
Presumably, that might be one reason such a person would give, if he thinks such choice is grounded in reality in the first place.
If so, then would that be a true belief or a false belief?
Why do you use the pronoun "he" for God?
Because that is how He revealed Himself. It is anthropomorphic for God the Father and God the Sprit (also referred to as "He") and literal for Jesus, as a Man. When we get into this business of personal pronouns, that is part of revelation, as is most of this discusssion. Christians believe in revelation, of course, so when you are asking us about our beliefs, we necessarily have to often refer to it.
(Q7) Does God feel emotions?
Jesus certainly did, being a human being. He wept; He got very angry at hypocrisy and spiritual pride; He anguished in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Father - technically - does not have "emotions" as human beings do, colored by senses and (in fallen creatures, unlike Jesus) all sorts of conflicting desires, which He is not burdened by. German Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott states: ". . . affections such as longing, sadness, hope, anger, can be attributed to God only in an anthropomorphic sense." {Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 1955; rep.: Rockford, IL: TAN Publishers, 1974, 45} Of course, the precise definitions of "desire" and "emotion" involve long discussions, and I am no expert on those areas, by any means. I don't usually take a Thomist approach in my philosophy or apologetics, though I am very fond of the cosmological argument, and am thoroughly empirical as well.
Is Jesus still a human being? Does he still feel emotions?
Yes, yes. Divine Person is the more technical term, I think.
(Q8) Does God desire worldwide belief among humans that he had a son called Jesus who died and rose again?
Do most people believe that?
More than any other world religion, but still a minority.
If not, how come?
The factors above recounted, and many more, I'm sure. Some have never heard the Christian message, so they are judged by what knowledge they have, as it is taught in the Bible.
If God desires that something be worldwide, why is it not worldwide?
Because of human free will. But Christianity is far more worldwide than any other religion, especially with the modern media and now the Internet.
(Q9) What was the aim of having Jesus die on the cross?
To redeem mankind, atone for the sins of the world, and make it possible for men to attain to salvation, and reconciliation and eternal life with God. We were always intended to be in union with God, as that is our fulfillment. We are made in His image. And that includes atheists, whether they know it or not. :-)
Why didn't God simply declare to humanity: "You are hereby redeemed"? Why go through the sacrifice bit?
I think it was to show that God was willing to relate to us, even to the extent of the most miserable suffering, betrayal, misunderstanding; everything that Jesus had to endure for our sakes. Whatever He allows to happen to us, He also chose to experience Himself. I think that is unutterably profound. I know you probably don't believe it, but perhaps you and other atheists and agnostics can at least appreciate the moral beauty of such a notion. Most people I have ever talked to admire Jesus as a person and ethical teacher.
I know it is written "Without blood, there is no remission of sin," but
why even have such a rule in the first place? It seems irrational.

Not in the context of trying to get through to primitive societies (theancient Hebrews) that sin entails a cost. So the OT sacrificial systemand Law was set up as a "tutor" (as Paul refers to it). Thus Jesus followed through with the symbology of a "slain lamb," as a fulfillment of OT Law and ceremony.
(Q10) What is it that we are saved from?
Sin (evil) and damnation (separation from God). Or, another way of putting it is the "world" (Greek, cosmos, or "world-system"), the "flesh" (i.e., concupiscence, in moral theology), and the devil (Satan, the fallen angel who rebelled against God and desires to take as many of us humans with him as he can, as all sore losers do :-)."
Does Satan ever succeed in getting anyone damned who would otherwise have been saved (i.e., had there been no Satan)?
I'm sure he does, by definition. But ultimately each person makes theirchoice. If they allow themselves to be influenced by various factors, then they will be more susceptible to Satanic deception. In that sense Satan would be a secondary cause, but the final responsibility always comes down to the person.
(Q11) What must we do to get saved?
Accept God's free grace made possible by Jesus' work on the Cross, which enables us to live righteously, repent and avoid mortal sin, and thereby attain to eschatological salvation. We can lose the free gift of salvation by lapsing back into serious sin, because we must cooperate with God and His grace, being free creatures and possessed of an independent will. Calvinists explain this simply by saying that such a person was never saved, or "elect" in the first place. But the NT refers often to a vigilance concerning one's own salvation, lest it be lost. The Apostle Paul compared this ongoing process to an ancient Greek foot race (perhaps a reference to the Olympic Games), where the persevering receive a "crown."
How does the sacrifice of Jesus enable people to live righteously?
By making possible the acquisition of more grace, which enables one to live righteously. We can't do it on our own.
Job lived righteously even before that event.
But grace and the efficacy of Christ's atonement extends retroactively,back in time.
Also, I have a particular interest in Christian universalists who believe that the sacrifice of Jesus got everyone saved, without exception. Some of them see no need for repentance, since they say that neither repentance nor anything else is a requirement for salvation.
That is hardly Christianity. It is a gutted version, if at all. Certainlyit can't be harmonized with the teaching of Jesus, so how, then, can it claim to be a religion ("Christian") which follows Him?
My question for you is this: assuming that those universalists who do not repent nevertheless live righteously (and commit no mortal sins), can they get saved?
It depends on how much they know. "To whom much is given, much isrequired." Catholics believe in what we call "invincible ignorance" and varying degrees of culpability, based on what knows. We also hold that if one truly does know the requirements to be saved, but rejects them with sufficient reflection and full consent of the will (requirements for a mortal sin), then he or she cannot be saved, as they would be culpable for acting upon what they know.
If one truly understands the Christian doctrine, truly knows thatJesus is Lord and Savior, etc. (God makes that determination, not me or any other human being) and rejects that with full consent of the will (not, e.g., while high on cocaine or in the depths of depression, and so forth - things which cause the will to be dysfunctional or inoperative altogether), then they will assuredly be damned. All Christians would agree on that.
I doubt that that is the case with anyone here, though of course I havenot been here long, and know very little about anyone personally, let alone the extent of their knowledge of historic Christianity. I am going by my past experience in these matters, particularly with atheists and those who like philosophy. But the point is that I routinely assume that people are not willfully rejecting what they know to be true. That's why I am so keen on granting sincerity to my dialectical opponents. It seems to me that that is fundamental to all constructive discussion.
I've been discussing and arguing about these things for 20 years. I know very well what I am talking about on this one (about the sheer lack of theological knowledge in the general public; even among intellectuals and academics). People need to simply become more informed, what with all the silly stereotypes and gross caricatures of Christianity about.
I grew up with these, too. I'm no different than anyone else in thatregard. I had to unlearn every one of them, and then dozens more distortions about Catholicism in particular, after 1990. My childhood was about as secularist as they come in America. I had to learn on my own all the theology I now have obtained. I certainly didn't receive much in the nominal Methodist church I went to till only the age of 10. From 10 to 19 I was (more than anything else) a pagan or secularist with occultic leanings (though I never denied God's existence); then I converted to evangelical Protestantism; finally to (evangelical and orthodox) Catholicism.
If a person rejects Christianity, having truly understood it, that's onething. Even God gives them that freedom, so I must allow them that freedom, too. If they want to live separated from God, Whom they might see as some sort of tyrant or over-dominant father figure or something (any number of false conceptions), or even if they fully understand and believe in God, and still reject Him, or deny His existence, period, then God lets them. But when they reject a caricature of Christianity and of God, that's where my role as an apologist comes into play, to at least do my best to see thatthey know precisely what they are rejecting.
But I also believe G.K. Chesterton's maxim (which hits upon another angle of this):
Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.
How much wisdom and perceptiveness of human nature - typical of GKC - is present in those words!