Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Dialogue on Calvin's & Reformed Eucharistic Theology, Part II

I want to keep this near the top, and still an ongoing discussion; hence this new post. Please read and contribute. We can all learn a lot in this dialogue.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

The Problem of Authority: Luther, Calvin, & Protestantism

Excerpt from my upcoming book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Protestants Wish Away; Chapter Five: "Bible and Tradition"; section one: "The Necessity of Authoritative Interpretation" (commentary on the biblical passages Nehemiah 8:8, Acts 8:27-31, and 2 Peter 1:20):

Catholics hold that Scripture is a fairly clear document and able to be understood by the average reader, but also that the Church is needed to provide a doctrinal norm (an overall framework) for determining proper biblical interpretation (specifically, for “vetoing” that interpretation which is erroneous because it leads to doctrinal error). Both Luther and Calvin underemphasize the guidance of the Church in understanding the Bible and assert the perspicuity, or clearness, and self-interpreting nature of Scripture, in terms of its overall teaching. Luther wrote:

. . . the contents of Scripture are as clear as can be . . . If words are obscure in one place, they are clear in another . . . to many people a great deal remains obscure; but that is due, not to any lack of clarity in Scripture, but to their own blindness and dullness.

(The Bondage of the Will, II: “Review of Erasmus’ Preface”; ii: “Of the perspicuity of Scripture”; from Packer, 71-72)

The apostles promulgated an authoritative tradition, . . . and they didn’t tolerate dissension from it . . . Once again, we find that an important Protestant distinctive is not biblical. So how do they attempt to explain this discrepancy? John Calvin, in his Commentaries, makes the following argument, pertaining to 1 Peter 1:20:

But the Papists are doubly foolish, when they conclude from this passage, that no interpretation of a private man ought to be deemed authoritative. For they pervert what Peter says, that they may claim for their own councils the chief right of interpreting Scripture; but in this they act indeed childishly; for Peter calls interpretation private, not that of every individual, in order to prohibit each one to interpret; but he shews that whatever men bring of their own is profane . . . the faithful, inwardly illuminated by the Holy Spirit, acknowledge nothing but what God says in his word.

I would like to apply Calvin’s principle and reasoning and by so doing, demonstrate that it ultimately reduces to absurdity and the utmost impracticality. Calvin (like Luther) despised the sectarianism that proliferated as a result of Protestant principles of authority, such as private judgment and the perspicuity of Scripture.

But neither seemed to see the obvious causal connection between their new principles and the rapidly growing number of Protestant sects. Luther claimed authority to overthrow a host of traditions that had been held for 1500 years. On what basis did he do so? In order to probe that issue and get to the bottom of it, one might construct a hypothetical dialogue between Luther and a Catholic critic that would run something like the following:

Luther (L): The Catholic Church is incorrect in beliefs a, b, c, and d.
Catholic (C): Why do you say that?
L: Because what you teach is unbiblical.
C: What gives you the authority to determine such a thing?
L: My authority is the Word of God, to which my conscience is captive.
C: We grant your sincerity, but not everyone agrees with your interpretation of Holy Scripture. Why should we believe you over against Church Tradition?
L: Because God has appointed me as the restorer of the gospel.
C: How do you know that? Why should we believe it?
L: God's Word will make it manifest.
C: But what happens when your fellow Protestants disagree with you (e.g., Calvin, Zwingli, the Anabaptists)?
L: One must determine which view is more biblical.
C: How does one go about that, since your movement has no one leader, but rather, increasing numbers of sects who oppose each other on one or more grounds?
L: From now on I shall no longer do you the honor of allowing you—or even an angel from heaven—to judge my teaching or to examine it . . . Instead, I shall let myself be heard and, as St. Peter teaches, give an explanation and defense of my teaching to all the world -- I Pet. 3:15. I shall not have it judged by any man, not even by any angel. For since I am certain of it, I shall be your judge and even the angels’ judge through this teaching (as St. Paul says [I Cor. 6:3] ) so that whoever does not accept my teaching may not be saved — for it is God’s and not mine. Therefore, my judgment is also not mine but God’s.

[actual words of Luther: Against the Spiritual Estate of the Pope and the Bishops Falsely So-Called, July 1522; LW, 39, 239-299; quote from 248-249]

C: But Martin, don't you see that when Calvin or Zwingli disagree with you, that they do so on the same grounds you claim for yourself, and that no one can figure out who is telling the truth unless there is a "court of final appeal"?
L: My truth is plain in the Bible.
C: That's what Zwingli says too.
L: He is damned and out of the Church because he denies what has always been taught by the Church: that the body and blood of Jesus are truly present after consecration. It pains me that Zwingli and his followers take offence at my saying that “what I write must be true.” Zwingli, Karlstadt, and the other heretics have in-deviled, through-deviled, over-deviled, corrupt hearts and lying mouths.
C: The truth is that which has always been held by the Church (just as you yourself argued with regard to the Real presence in the Eucharist). Why, then, do you deny other Catholic doctrines that have an equally long history?
L: Because they are unbiblical.
C: According to whom?
L: According to the Bible.
C: As interpreted by you?
L: Yes, because, like I said already, whoever does not accept my teaching may not be saved — for it is God’s and not mine. Do we not read in the Old Testament that God commonly raised up only one prophet at a time? I say not that I am a prophet, but I do say that the more you despise me and esteem yourselves, the more reason you have to fear that I may be a prophet. If I am not a prophet, yet for my own self I am certain that the Word of God is with me and not with you, for I have the Scriptures on my side, and you have only your own doctrine.

[closely based on actual words from Luther’s tract, An Argument in Defense of All the Articles of Martin Luther Wrongly Condemned in the Roman Bull, 1521, in Jacobs, III, 13-14]

C: So we either accept your authority and word as the preeminent Bible expositor and deliverer of Christian truth of all time (and possibly a prophet), or so much the worse for us?
L: Yes, because God would have it so. You are obviously wrong and I must be right, because my teaching lines up with Scripture. You disagree with me not because of any lack of clarity in Scripture, but because of your own blindness and dullness.

And so on and so forth. It goes on and on like this, but the underlying assumptions of Luther are never proven; they are merely assumed. If a pope dared to proclaim such an unspeakably outrageous thing, Protestants would never accept it in a million years. But when Luther does it, it is accepted with blind faith that he is right and the Catholics are wrong, because "everyone knows" that Protestants are the "Bible people" and Catholics aren't! They follow crusty, dead traditions of men which were condemned by Jesus, and are like the Pharisees. Etc., etc.

That's what it always falls back on, because appeals to the Bible inescapably reduce to disputes over whose interpretation is correct. This is the circular nature of competing Protestant theologies. There is no way to choose between Calvin and Luther, except arbitrariness, irrational faith, or appeal to one's own judgment.

Calvin has no more authority than Luther did. They both simply proclaimed it and people followed them. At the same time they railed against the Catholic exercise of authority, which was self-consistent, and far easier to trace back through history, in an unbroken apostolic succession (precisely as the Church Fathers argued for their authority in proclaiming true doctrine over against heresy).

This was the inner logic and dynamic of Luther's new perspective, set forth at the Diet of Worms in 1521 (the famous confrontation where he cried, “here I stand!”).Yet few Protestants will admit that it is unreasonable or a circular argument, and far more objectionable and implausible than the Catholic stance in reaction to Luther. It sounds wonderful and noble and almost self-evidently true to choose (as Luther did at Worms) the "Bible and plain reason" rather than the "traditions of men." But of course that is a false dilemma and caricature of Luther's choice from the get-go.

It's a vicious logical circle for Protestants, any way one looks at it. This is what happens when “private interpretation” is championed, contrary to 2 Peter 1:20. It was already an unbiblical concept even before its fruit in history became evident.


Calvin, John, Calvin's Commentaries, 22 volumes, translated and edited by John Owen; originally printed for the Calvin Translation Society, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1853; reprinted by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI: 1979.

Jacobs, C.M., translator, Works of Martin Luther, Philadelphia: A.J. Holman Co. and the Castle Press, 1930; reprinted by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1982 , six volumes.

Luther, Martin, Luther's Works (LW), American edition, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan (volumes 1-30) and Helmut T. Lehmann (volumes 31-55), St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House (volumes 1-30); Philadelphia: Fortress Press (volumes 31-55), 1955.

Packer, J.I. and O.R. Johnston, translators, The Bondage of the Will, by Martin Luther (1525), Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1957; reprinted in 1995.

For more material along these lines, see my web pages:

Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition

The Church


Saturday, April 10, 2004

The Empty Tomb (William Lane Craig)

From, William Lane Craig, The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus
The Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb. From Matthew's story of the guard at the tomb (Mt. 27. 62-66; 28. 11-15), which was aimed at refuting the widespread Jewish allegation that the disciples had stolen Jesus' body, we know that the disciples' Jewish opponents did not deny that Jesus' tomb was empty. When the disciples began to preach that Jesus was risen, the Jews responded with the charge that the disciples had taken away his body, to which the Christians retorted that the guard would have prevented any such theft. The Jews then asserted that the guard had fallen asleep and that the disciples stole the body while the guard slept. The Christian answer was that the Jews had bribed the guard to say this, and so the controversy stood at the time of Matthew's writing. The whole polemic presupposes the empty tomb. Mahoney's objection, that the Matthaean narrative presupposes only the preaching of the resurrection, and that the Jews argued as they did only because it would have been 'colorless' to say the tomb was unknown or lost, fails to perceive the true force of the argument. The point is that the Jews did not respond to the preaching of the resurrection by pointing to the tomb of Jesus or exhibiting his corpse, but entangled themselves in a hopeless series of absurdities trying to explain away his empty tomb. The fact that the enemies of Christianity felt obliged to explain away the empty tomb by the theft hypothesis shows not only that the tomb was known (confirmation of the burial story), but that it was empty. (Oddly enough, Mahoney contradicts himself when he later asserts that it was more promising for the Jews to make fools of the disciples through the gardener-misplaced-the-body theory than to make them clever hoaxers through the theft hypothesis. So it was not apparently the fear of being 'colorless' that induced the Jewish authorities to resort to the desperate expedient of the theft hypothesis.) The proclamation 'He is risen from the dead' (Mt. 27. 64) prompted the Jews to respond, 'His disciples ... stole him away' (Mt. 28. 13). Why? The most probable answer is that they could not deny that his tomb was empty and had to come up with an alternative explanation. So they said the disciples stole the body, and from there the polemic began. Even the gardener hypothesis is an attempt to explain away the empty tomb. The fact that the Jewish polemic never denied that Jesus' tomb was empty, but only tried to explain it away is compelling evidence that the tomb was in fact empty.

. . . the tomb of Jesus was actually found empty on Sunday morning by a small group of his women followers. As a plain historical fact this seems to be amply attested. As Van Daalen has remarked, it is extremely difficult to object to the fact of the empty tomb on historical grounds; most objectors do so on the basis of theological or philosophical considerations. But these, of course, cannot change historical fact. And, interestingly, more and more New Testament scholars seem to be realizing this fact; for today, many, if not most, exegetes would defend the historicity of the empty tomb of Jesus, and their number continues to increase.

From: William Lane Craig, The Guard at the Tomb:

[P]erhaps the strongest consideration in favor of the historicity of the guard is the history of polemic presupposed in this story. The Jewish slander that the disciples stole the body was probably the reaction to the Christian proclamation that Jesus was risen. This Jewish allegation is also mentioned in Justin Dialogue with Trypho 108. To counter this charge the Christians would need only point out that the guard at the tomb would have prevented such a theft and that they were immobilized with fear when the angel appeared. At this stage of the controversy there is no need to mention the bribing of the guard. This arises only when the Jewish polemic answers that the guard had fallen asleep, thus allowing the disciples to steal the body. The sleeping of the guard could only have been a Jewish development, as it would serve no purpose to the Christian polemic. The Christian answer was that the Jews bribed the guard to say this, and this is where the controversy stood at Matthew's time of writing. But if this is a probable reconstruction of the history of the polemic, then it is very difficult to believe the guard is unhistorical. In the first place it is unlikely that the Christians would invent a fiction like the guard, which everyone, especially their Jewish opponents, would realize never existed. Lies are the most feeble sort of apologetic there could be. Since the Jewish/ Christian controversy no doubt originated in Jerusalem, then it is hard to understand how Christians could have tried to refute their opponents' charge with a falsification which would have been plainly untrue, since there were no guards about who claimed to have been stationed at the tomb. But secondly, it is even more improbable that confronted with this palpable lie, the Jews would, instead of exposing and denouncing it as such, proceed to create another lie, even stupider, that the guard had fallen asleep while the disciples broke into the tomb and absconded with the body. If the existence of the guard were false, then the Jewish polemic would never have taken the course that it did. Rather the controversy would have stopped right there with the renunciation that any such guard had ever been set by the Jews. It would never have come to the point that the Christians had to invent a third lie, that the Jews had bribed the fictional guard. So although there are reasons to doubt the existence of the guard at the tomb, there are also weighty considerations in its favor. It seems best to leave it an open question. Ironically, the value of Matthew's story for the evidence for the resurrection has nothing to do with the guard at all or with his intention of refuting the allegation that the disciples had stolen the body. The conspiracy theory has been universally rejected on moral and psychological grounds, so that the guard story as such is really quite superfluous. Guard or no guard, no critic today believes that the disciples could have robbed the tomb and faked the resurrection. Rather the real value of Matthew's story is the incidental -- and for that reason all the more reliable -- information that Jewish polemic never denied that the tomb was empty, but instead tried to explain it away. Thus the early opponents of the Christians themselves bear witness to the fact of the empty tomb.
Other apologetics resources concerning the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus:

Evidence for the Resurrection (Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli)

Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History? (Edwin Yamauchi)

Jesus' Post-Resurrection Appearances (Jimmy Akin)

Evidence for the Resurrection (Josh McDowell)

Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (William Lane Craig)

The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (William Lane Craig)

From Easter To Valentinus (William Lane Craig; refutation of skeptical theories about Jesus' Resurrection)

The Disciples' Inspection of the Empty Tomb (William Lane Craig)

Friday, April 09, 2004

Jewish Messianic Interpretation of Isaiah 53

From my much-longer paper (105K):
From: Christology of the Old Testament and a Commentary on the Messianic Predictions, Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg (1802-1869; Lutheran):

There cannot be any doubt that the messianic interpretation was pretty generally received in earlier times by the Jews. This is admitted even by those later interpreters who pervert the prophecy, e.g., Ibn-ezra, Jarchi [Rashi], Abravanel and Nahmanides.

The whole translation of the Chaldean Paraphrast, Jonathan, refers to prophecy to Messiah. He paraphrases the very first clause: "behold, My Servant Messiah shall prosper."

Rabbi Alschech, in Hulsii Theologia Judaica, pp. 321 ff., comments:

Upon the testimony of tradition, our old rabbis have unanimously admitted that king Messiah is here the subject of discourse. We, in harmony with them, conclude that king David, i.e., the Messiah, must be considered as the subject of this prophecy -- a view which is indeed quite obvious.

From: The Messiah Texts, Raphael Patai [Jewish], Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1979:

The Aggada, the Talmudic legend, unhesitatingly identifies him with the Messiah, and understands especially the descriptions of his sufferings as referring to Messiah ben Joseph.

[Concerning the suffering servant of Isaiah 42, 49, 50, 52, 53]

It is quite probable that the concept of the suffering Messiah, fully developed in the Talmud, the Midrash, and the Zohar, has its origin in the biblical prophecies about the suffering servant.

Some rabbis named the Messiah, "The Leprous of the House of Study," based on Isaiah 53:4 (B. Sanhedrin 98b).

"Elijah . . . says to him: 'Endure the sufferings and the sentence of your Master who makes you suffer because of the sin of Israel.' And thus it is written: 'He was wounded because of our transgressions.' . . . (Is 53:5) - until the time when the end comes." (Mid. Konen, BhM, 2:29)

From: http://www.yashanet.com/library/nterpret.htm

Nachmanides (R. Moshe ben Nachman) (13th c.):

"The right view respecting this Parashah is to suppose that by the phrase 'my servant' the whole of Israel is meant . . . As a different opinion, however, is adopted by the Midrash, which refers it to the Messiah, it is necessary for us to explain it in conformity with the view there maintained . . . And by his stripes we were healed -- because the stripes by which he is vexed and distressed will heal us; God will pardon us for his righteousness, and we shall be healed both from our own transgressions and from the iniquities of our fathers."

(From S. R. Driver and A. Neubauer, editors, The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters (2 volumes; New York: Ktav, 1969; pp. 78 ff.)

R. Elijah de Vidas (16th c.):

"Since the Messiah bears our iniquities which produce the effect of His being bruised, it follows that whoso will not admit that the Messiah thus suffers for our iniquities, must endure and suffer for them himself."

(in Driver, ibid., 331)

Rabbi Moshe Alshekh (El-Sheikh) of Sefad (16th c.):

"I may remark, then, that our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah, and we ourselves also adhere to
the same view."

(in Driver, ibid., 258)

From: David Baron (Hebrew Christian scholar)

That the generally received older Jewish interpretation of this prophecy was the Messianic is admitted by Abrabanel, who himself . . . interpret[s] it of the Jewish nation . . . "Jonathan ben Uziel interprets it in the Targum of the future Messiah; and this is also the opinion of our learned men in the majority of their Midrashim.”

Similarly another, Rabbi Mosheh el Sheikh, commonly known as Alshech (latter half of the sixteenth century), who also himself follows the older interpretation, at any rate of the first three verses (52:13-15, which, however, as we shall see, contain a summary of the whole
prophecy), testifies "that our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah."

In fact, until Rashi (Rabbi Solomon Yizchaki, 1040-1105) applied it to the Jewish nation, the Messianic interpretation of this chapter was almost universally adopted by Jews, . . .

According to Ibn Crispin, the interpretation adopted by Rashi “distorts the passage from its natural meaning”, and that in truth “it was given of God as a description of the Messiah, whereby, when any should claim to be the Messiah, to judge by the resemblance or non-resemblance to it whether he were the Messiah or not.”

From: S.R. Driver and Ad. Neubauer, editors, The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters (2 volumes; New York: Ktav, 1969)
(available online in abridged form at: http://www.saltshakers.com/lm/Fifty3.rtf)

Benjamin of Nehawend, a philosophic Karaite of much reputation (c. 800 A.D.), still believed that Isaiah 53 referred to the messiah (according to Yepheth ben Ali). "Many," Ibn Ezra says, in the middle of the twelfth century, "explained it as being of the messiah", on the authority of a traditional saying of the rabbis.
See also my related paper; a dialogue with an Orthodox Jew: Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Is the Servant of Isaiah 53 the Messiah or Collective Israel?

Dialogue on John Calvin's Mystical Eucharist (vs. Josh & Michael S. Horton & John Calvin)

I urge Catholics especially to read this dialogue carefully, in order to better understand Calvin's view, and that of our esteemed Reformed brothers in Christ, and how a Catholic might respond. I'm learning a lot, and I thank Josh for an excellent exchange. Alastair Roberts has said he will join in, too, in a few more days. Josh's words will be in green, Michael S. Horton's in red, and John Calvin's in blue.

For a previous related discussions, see: The Protestant Sacramentarian Controversies, and
Comparative Exegesis of Hebrews 8 / Sacrifice of the Mass (vs. James White).

* * * * *

Hi Josh,

Calvin . . . affirmed with Rome and Wittenberg that Jesus is fully and really present in the Eucharist (in His whole Person), and that He is received through the bread and wine by those who eat in faith (eating is the means of reception, but an eating in faith); He denied that the Body of Christ was locally enclosed within the elements, or that the elements were converted into the historical body of Jesus; and thought this to be unnecessary because of the work of the Spirit (a real miracle!).

This makes little sense to me. Either Jesus' body and blood are substantially present or not. If they are, then they are really there! You can't deny that the elements are transformed (Catholic view) or joined by the true body and blood (Lutheranism) and still hold that there is substantial or "real" presence. Why? Because this is an internal contradiction. Calvin is saying that Jesus is simultaneously there and not there. Even God is bound to that sort of elementary logical distinction. God can't be and not be at the same time. And He can't be "here" and "not here" at the same time.

So you appeal to "a real miracle!"? That won't do, because miracles are not irrational. The supernatural is not irrational; it simply transcends natural laws governing matter or is outside of it (as spirit, since science and naturalism deals with matter). It will do no good to simply say, "it is above our understanding, and so we will construct irrational scenarios and not try to make them coherent. It's a mystery . . . "

The bottom line is my original criticism about this "mystical view" of Calvin: if Jesus is really there it seems that he must adopt either a Catholic or Lutheran position. If He isn't really (substantially?) there, then the Calvinist eucharist is scarcely distinguishable fro the omnipresence of God or Zwinglianism. So God is there but is not "really" or "substantially" there. So what? How is that particularly special or unique? It still appears to me to be a "mystical Zwinglianism." I don't understand how saying Jesus is "mystically" (but not substantially) present is logically distinguishable from pure Zwinglian symbolism, or how this is a miracle at all, because Jesus is already "mystically present" at all times and even lives within us. What sense does it make to say that "He is always here spiritually and now He is here 'in Spirit 'more" than He was"? Spirits have no spatial or quantitative qualities. It reminds me of the Jehovah's Witness "invisible" return of Jesus in 1914. No one saw anything, but it really happened!

Against Zwingli and the Baptists, He maintained that the Eucharist, while partly consisting in signs (the elements), consisted of signs that pointed to and were means of receiving the reality.

That may be, but I don't see the logical distinction. Perhaps I am misunderstanding the position. Certainly you would agree that it is not all that easy to understand, no?

Simple contrast with transub.: no conversion of element into body and blood; no local or enclosed presence.

That's what I am saying: if you take away these things, the distinctiveness and "sacramentality" of the miracle is abolished, thus you deprive the rite of its very essence. Unless something physical is there, it can't be a sacrament, by definition, because a sacrament is the conveying of grace by physical means.

Affirmations with transub.: Real presence; body and blood truly received by those who eat in faith; body and blood objectively offered to all; sacrament means of receiving Christ.

But not substantially? Not body, blood, soul, and divinity? Again, if it is indeed a substantial presence, I don't see any rational explanations besides transubstantiation and consubstantiation (though I am quite open to further suggestions). If it isn't substantial, it reduces to symbolism, because (at least in my analysis, for what it's worth), why should we receive a spiritual presence that we already have through omnipresence and the indwelling? So it strikes me as betwixt and between; neither fish nor fowl.

Thanks for your thoughts, and I hope I have not been offensive. I'm just being open and honest and frankly sharing my theological opinion. No disrespect at all is intended.

* * *

In his article, "Mysteries of God and Means of Grace" , Michael S. Horton touches upon the themes which concern me in this discussion (with my interjections):

From the Reformed perspective, the "already" and "not-yet" of redemptive history bars us from a realized eschatology of Christ's physical presence on earth before the eschaton, marking our difference with Rome and Lutherans . . . While Calvinists ask Lutherans how Christ can be physically present at every altar and still be said in any sense to have a human body

That's simple: it is a miraculous sacramental substantial presence, not literally His human body, which would be a crass cannibalistic view.

Lutherans ask Calvinists how they can honestly say that they are really feeding on the true body and blood of Christ in heaven, without identifying this with a physical mode of eating . . .


. . . Although the signs (bread and wine) remain what they are, and Christ is received by faith and not by the mouth, the thing signified (Christ and his benefits) is so united to these earthly elements by Word and Spirit that I can raise my eyes to heaven and receive the food and drink of eternal life.

This is subject to my criticisms above. This seems like merely abstract playing with words rather than a real miracle.

Reformed people are sometimes unfairly regarded by Lutherans as holding that Christ is only spiritually present in the Supper. But in fact, the confessional Reformed position is that Christ is physically present in the Supper, at the right hand of God in his ascended body.

This is nonsensical, as I wrote last time. It's a self-contradiction:
1. Jesus is physically present in the Supper.

2. But He is physically present at the right hand of God.

3. We are physically present with Christ in the Supper.

4. But we are physically present with Christ at the right hand of God.

Contradictions: 1 vs. 2, 3 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3, and 1 vs. 4.
Why take this view but oppose the view that Jesus is sacramentally present in the Supper? God can perform miracles but He can't transcend the laws of logic. If we want to restrict ourselves solely to the literal post-Resurrection body of Christ, then we can't say that is "physically present" in the Supper while simultaneously at the right hand of God, because that is a contradiction, as much as it would be a contradiction to say that Jesus was physically present in Jerusalem during His crucifixion, but simultaneously at the Sea of Galilee.

But the Catholic view is not contradictory because the miracle of transubstantiation is an additional mode of presence of Jesus that is physical in a way approximating spiritual omnipresence (similar in a sense to His post-Resurrection body when He appeared to His disciples and seemed to walk through walls). We are not with Jesus in heaven yet but He is sacramentally and eucharistically with us, by the miracle of the transformation of the elements. In other words, one has to posit the additional miracle of transubstantiation (or at least consubstantiation) in order to have the physical presence.

Who are we to pull Christ down or, by an act of will, climb up to him? This is Paul's rhetorical question in Romans 10.

Indeed, but He (being God) can choose to make Himself present to us: body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the Eucharist.

For Christ is brought near to us by the preached Word, he says, although Paul surely did not believe that he was brought bodily to us in the sermon.

Then why talk of "physical presence" when it is not really literally what the Reformed believe? A "spiritual presence" is indistinguishable from a symbolic presence. It is the physicality which makes this sacrament miraculous.

Instead, the Reformed maintain that the Holy Spirit, in this Sacrament, raises us to Christ where, mysteriously, we feed on his true body and blood.

If you can believe that we are actually transported to heaven to meet Jesus there, why is it so difficult to believe that He can substantially be present here under the appearances of bread and wine? Both scenarios involve something which transcends our senses, and must be believed on faith. But I think one involves a logical contradiction and the other does not.

It is not a spiritual or symbolic presence of Christ, as if he were only spirit and no longer flesh, but the manner of eating is spiritual rather than physical. This is a key difference from the caricature. It is the mode, not the substance, that is spiritual.

We say it is the accidents which are spiritual and not what they appear to be. So Reformed say, "He is truly here physically, but you are not physically eating His body." Catholics say, "He is truly here physically, and you are physically eating His body, even though it appears to be merely bread and wine." I do see a certain symmetry between the two views because both are saying that you have to deny the evidence of your senses and believe that something miraculous is taking place. The difference is that we cannot yet be in heaven with Jesus because we are not yet glorified bodies and spirits as He is. He can make Himself physically present with us because He is God and can do anything. We can't literally be with Jesus in heaven until we die and go there or unless we have some miraculous experience like Paul, being taken up to the third heaven.

Sure, we must all admit that God could conceivably perform a miracle like that, too, but I see no reason to believe that He in fact does, because there is no indication in Scripture that such a thing occurs at every Eucharist. Thus, I would say that the Reformed view fails the tests both of Scripture and patristic belief.

It is not that Christ is only present in the Supper according to his divine omnipresence, but that he is truly and really present according to both natures (even physically present) in the Supper, but not in the bread.

This makes no sense, and is contradictory:
1. Jesus is physically present in the Supper.

2. Jesus is not physically present in the bread and wine.

3. But the Supper and the bread and wine are synonymous.

4. Therefore, it follows that Jesus is somehow physically present and not physically present at the same time, which is a contradiction and impossible.
So as far as I can tell, it is a less biblical position, far less in harmony with the patristic position, and logically contradictory as well. Three strikes and you're out . . .

Dr. Horton has certainly not explained how this can be, to my satisfaction. I still await cogent explanations for what I see as clear contradictions.

Historically, the Reformed have emphasized this line in the ancient liturgy of the Eucharist, the so-called sursum corda. It is the invitation to be lifted mystically into the presence of our faithful heavenly Shepherd.

This is yet another contradiction. If you want to stress the literal human body of Jesus in heaven (and the counter-charge is that we are somehow minimizing this in our view, and obliterating Chalcedonian Christology), and want to make the Eucharist dependent on, or limited by that, then it is strange to make Jesus "physical" in the Eucharist (but not in the bread) and to hold that "the Holy Spirit, in this Sacrament, raises us to Christ where, mysteriously, we feed on his true body and blood." It's this constant irrational shifting between "mystical" and "physical" which is the problem. The last quote implied a literal feeding on Christ, but He is in heaven, etc. . . . But now we are told that it is a "mystical" presence. So which is it? And how is any of this less difficult to believe than transubstantiation?

And even though he is ascended, to return physically in glory at the end of the age, he invites us now to come boldly into his Most Holy Place through his body and blood, the Temple's torn curtain.

I see little (if any) indication in either Scripture or the history of doctrine prior to Calvin and Zwingli that we somehow meet Jesus in heaven ("physically") during the Eucharist before we actually arrive there after death.

* * *

Hi Josh,

Thanks again for your comments. This is fascinating stuff. I had never heard before the notion that we actually go up to heaven when receiving the Eucharist. It's intriguing and interesting, but I don't believe it! And the reason I don't is because I don't find it in Scripture and I continue to find it illogical and contradictory.

Transubstantiation is not self-contradictory. It is a difficult concept, unusual, a profound miracle which requires exceptional faith, but involves no logical inconsistency. God can do any miracle He so chooses. He can transform the bread and wine into His Body and Blood. That makes sense to me because if God could become a Man He can make Himself substantially present in consecrated elements that were formerly bread and wine.

But the view you describe strikes me as quite incoherent. God became a Man, and He is omnipresent. But neither men nor heaven are omnipresent nor able to be transformed in a second. Jesus has a real body in heaven, and heaven is a place. We will go there one day if we are among the elect, or we will go to hell.

So why should we believe that we literally visit heaven when we receive the Eucharist? This sounds more like "beam me up Scotty" than biblical Christianity! Are you saying that we cease to be in the location we are worshiping in when we receive communion? We are then in heaven with the literal body of Jesus? How long do we stay there? How do we know when we have returned? Since heaven is distinct from the earth, we can't be here and there at the same time. So your position means we must leave the earth during communion. Apparently it has to be literal because you are saying we truly receive Jesus' body substantially, and you (following Calvin) restrict His literal body to heaven.

This requires a transformation of physics to the extent that a contradiction is involved. Why should I believe I am in heaven during this time when there is no outward evidence of it whatsoever? I suspect the comeback would be, "What's the essential difference? Why should we believe bread and wine have become transformed into body and blood?" It is true that transubstantiation goes beyond the senses too, but it involves God becoming bodily present to us here on earth. We know that is both plausible and entirely possible because of the Incarnation. Even before the Incarnation God appeared as a man, in theophanies.

But in the Calvinist view as you describe it, it is not God who miraculously appears; rather it is heaven and earth and man which are involved. Since heaven and earth are distinguishable, we can't say we are in both at the same time. Men are not like God. We have no attributes like omnipresence or bilocation. And I see no compelling reason to believe that God performs these super-extraordinary miracles every time we receive the Eucharist.

What is also curious to me is the comparison in this thinking between the concern that Jesus' body is in heaven (and if we allow His body to also be here on earth we are supposedly denying Chalcedon), with the simultaneous belief that mere men's bodies can be taken up to heaven while we are looking at them ostensibly remaining here in a church. One idea is replaced with another (in my opinion) far more implausible and a priori unlikely one.

The same serious problem remains: if you say we can only receive Jesus' body substantially in heaven, then we have to go there to receive Him, and this defies all outward appearances. It would require a miraculous transformation of our bodies, and some strange reversal of the location of heaven and earth. Calvin wrote in his Institutes (IV, 17, 12):

For as we do not doubt that Christ's body is limited by the general characteristics common to all human bodies, and is contained in heaven (where it was once for all received) until Christ return in judgment, so we deem it utterly unlawful to draw it back under these corruptible elements or to imagine it to be present everywhere.

This is the incoherence and implausibility of your view (as I see it) in a nutshell: Calvin limits Christ's body to heaven, as if it is unthinkable and a priori impossible ("utterly unlawful") for God to choose to make Himself present in the matter of bread and wine, just as He became Man. But then he turns around and grants these remarkable qualities to men, so that we can somehow go to heaven to receive Jesus' body which can only be localized there (as if it is more likely for God to let men have these qualities rather than Himself). Is this not strange?

While denying that Jesus can perform miracles with His body and become substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine, Calvin prefers to give the miraculous, spectacular qualities to men's bodies. But we're not the ones who walked on water, who walked through walls, who were resurrected from the dead (not yet) or who ascended to heaven (and came down from heaven also). Why is it "unlawful" for Jesus to become eucharistically present on earth, but totally believable for us to become present in heaven to worship God and receive Him? This makes no sense.

Furthermore, Calvin caricatures the Catholic and Lutheran Eucharist in saying that those positions require that Christ's body is "present everywhere," rather than the Holy Spirit. Omnipresence refers to spirit, not matter. Being present bodily in many places is not being present everywhere. If Jesus could multiply the loaves and fishes, why could He not multiply His body and blood, to be sacramentally and physically present in consecrated elements? I see (contra Calvin) no reason to believe why He could or would not do so. Calvin reiterates in IV, 17, 30:

Unless the body of Christ can be everywhere at once [same category mistake repeated], without limitation of place, it will not be credible that he lies hidden under bread in the Supper.


. . . placing the body itself in the bread, they assign to it a ubiquity contrary to its nature . . .

(IV, 17, 16)

So Christ Himself (Who is omnipotent; and Calvin accepts that, last time I checked) is limited by place, but we are not? God makes us somehow go to heaven to receive the Eucharist? If we can only receive Jesus substantially there, then we need to go there. But then we have characteristics which Calvin curiously denies even to Jesus' body. That is odd enough. If, on the other hand, we don't go to heaven to receive Him, then we do not receive His literal body, since Calvin (by some incomprehensible reasoning known only to himself) restricts it to heaven. Either way, it is implausible and illogical.

Calvin specifically restricts Christ's body to heaven. But he says that we go up to heaven only "with our eyes and minds":

But if we are lifted up to heaven with our eyes and minds, to seek Christ there in the glory of his Kingdom, as the symbols invite us to him in his wholeness, so under the symbol of bread we shall be fed his body . . .

(IV, 17, 18)

So here he denies that we literally go to heaven. Therefore, how can we receive Jesus' body substantially since Calvin has already limited Jesus to heaven? It can only (given simple logic) be symbolic, thus we are back to Zwingli again.
Calvin keeps contradicting himself over and over:

This Kingdom is neither bounded by location in space nor circumscribed by any limits. Thus Christ is not prevented from exerting his power wherever he pleases, in heaven and on earth.

(IV, 17, 18)

Huh??? Why, then, does Calvin rule out a local bodily presence on earth in the Eucharist, and rail against transubstantiation as if it were the devil himself?:

. . . we do not think it is lawful for us to drag him from heaven.

(IV, 17, 31)

Yet Calvin thinks his view:

. . . contains nothing either absurd or obscure or ambiguous . . .

(IV, 17, 19)

I beg to differ. Calvin rails against the Catholic view, yet when it comes time to explain the incoherence and contradictions in his own view, he conveniently appeals to mystery:

Now, if anyone should ask me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare . . .

Those who are carried beyond this by their own exaggerations do nothing but obscure simple and plain truth . . . we are now discussing a sacrament the whole of which must be referred to faith.

(IV, 17, 32)

I'm sure Calvin can't fully explain himself, but in any event, the presence of demonstrated logical contradiction would rule out a view, no matter how much or how little we understand it. And that is my present critique. Moreover, if his view requires faith, why can't Catholics hold to their beliefs in faith without being accused of a host of ridiculous things by Calvin?

But then I don't know how much Calvin's view developed after the Institutes. Perhaps these contradictions were alleviated. It doesn't seem like it, from what you are telling me.

Nor do I see such a thing in Scripture. God can make the Cross become present to us again in the Sacrifice of the Mass because He is outside of time and everything is "present" or "now" to Him. And so we see reference to a "Lamb slain" in heaven. But I see no indication that the Eucharist involves this "heavenly transplantation" that you speak of.

You gave a few biblical passages: Hebrews 6:4-8 is not about the Eucharist, but about apostasy. You can hardly deduce a heavenly eucharistic service from the phrase "tasted of the heavenly gift." Nor is it clear that "partakers of the Holy Spirit" refers to more than the Indwelling and the Spirit's guidance as the Paraclete.

As for Hebrews 10:19-25, Calvin himself relegates the passage to allegory, in his Commentary on Hebrews (dated 1549):

10:19: . . . he allegorically describes the access which Christ has opened to us.

He does, however, also state:

. . not only symbolically, but in reality an entrance into heaven is made open to us . . .

But he doesn't elaborate as to how this occurs. Nor does he seem to apply this interpretation to Hebrews 12:18-24, in the same Commentary.

That should be enough for now . . .

Your brother in Christ,


Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Abortion Discussion, Part III, Including the "Rape Exception" (with Sogn Mill-Scout)

My previous comments will be in red, Sogn's in blue, and my current replies in black.

* * * * *

Frankly I've always been deaf and blind to the fixation on 'closure' vis-a-vis people's remains, but it seems to be a typical human response to death. One limitation of the analogy, though, is that, presumably, a necessary condition of personhood is being alive. That is, after all, why we speak of a person's REMAINS, as opposed to the inanimate corpse or ashes or DNA traces being the actual person.

But my analogy was specifically directed to the idea that this identifies a particular person. We can know for sure that these remains are of this person, based on DNA. Therefore, it is nonsensical to deny the same identification to the youn fetus, who possesses exactly the same identifiers in his or her DNA.

Can you give me a succinct definition of 'person'?

That which is offspring of another person. This occurs at conception, and any other starting point is arbitrary; therefore not compelling. Conception is the point where I possess everything to make me unfold to that being (grown person) I am now. Development means development of the same entity.

So human development can only go back to the moment of conception, because there is no other logical point at which we can stop. Conception is that point at which everything we are (including our soul, if we add theology to the mix) began.

I find myself looking at it in very different ways depending on the context. On one hand it seems true to say "I came into existence when my parents conceived me 47.6 years ago." OTOH, it seems equally true to say "I am not the same person as the Sogn Mill-Scout of 40 years ago when I was a child in second grade."

You are different insofar as a second-grader differs from a 46-year-old man. But you are the same person. If the second-grader was not you, then who was he? He can't be someone else.

If I were to time-travel backward 40 years and meet the 7-year-old Sogn, it would seem ridiculous for an observer to say "this middle-aged man and this child are one and the same person." Or would you disagree with that?

Yes. Identity and "sameness" can be distinguished. "Person" by definition incorporates organic development. Absolute sameness (if we want to get very philosophical) changes every millisecond. That doesn't mean I am someone different from the person who began typing this very sentence. That was me; but just a younger me with some different cells than I have now (some died and some began). I have different air cells in me than I did a minute ago. Etc. So I am different in those senses, but I am still "me."

Perhaps this is where the supernatural soul comes into play again. Of course this is getting quite metaphysical and has nothing in particular to do with abortion, but it's fascinating nonetheless.

Your soul is absolutely individual to you. Since it is a spirit entity, it has an element of unchangeability that a body does not have. A soul is eternal, and it began at the moment of conception, so that it is the theological equivalent of a ray in geometry (I think I have that right; haven't done geometry in 30 years). It begins but then goes on forever.

Oh, you mentioned the "problem of overpopulation." What problem? That is merely another liberal myth, which has been exploded.

I don't know what's liberal about the concept,

The concept is neutral and a fact to be ascertained or discarded. I meant that liberals promulgate this myth.

but anyway, this claim is news to me. Of course not all parts of the earth are overpopulated - Antarctica isn't crowded yet! - but some regions surely are. Or would you say that India and China have healthy population densities?

I'm sure they are a bit crowded, but that is not the same as "overpopulation" as this tremendous risk to the earth. Dr. Jacqueline Kasun, is, I believe, the leading critic of this notion. See her article, "Overpopulation?"

I tend to identify the soul as the essence of the self, and if there is not yet anything remotely resembling a self (as in the case of a zygote), it's hard for me to grasp the concept of the soul as applied to such a being. Simply defining it as a non-material entity tells me nothing as it's a purely negative concept.

It's not a purely negative concept if one starts from the assumption of philosophical dualism: both matter and spirit exist. They are both "positive"; just different. It is only when you adopt materialism that "spirit" becomes a negative, because it is seen as the "opposite" of the matter. You really need to read my paper about dualism and consciousness. It's simply a collection of some of the best thought on the matter. You'll like it. Plenty of food for thought:

A Philosophy of Mind, Consciousness, and the Soul Consistent With Christianity (+ Part Two)

I have not yet carefully examined the doctrine of Immaculate Conception, and I don't pretend to understand it. Did Mary live a sinless life as Jesus did?

Yes. But it was possible for her to sin. She simply chose not to (as Adam and Eve could have). And she had to be freed from original sin to get her back to a place Adam and Eve were before the Fall. God, on the other hand, cannot sin, by nature.

I think it's better that so many people are uneasily living with a moral contradiction. I guess that's because I see that as a more hopeful or promising situation since there's already an active state of cognitive dissonance which could be exploited, whether Socratically or otherwise, to move people over to a consistent pro-life position.

I was speaking in terms of "to whom much is given, much is required." If these people know that what they are doing may very well be radically wrong, then they are more at fault and more wrong than those who are purely ignorant. So in that sense they are worse, but in another (the one you are highlighting), there may be more hope (but not necessarily) that they will change. The ignorant people, on the other hand, may very well change when they get the proper information (as I did, almost immediately).

Whereas the hard-core abortionists, like those extremist feminists we were just mentioning, have so hardened their hearts for the sake of consistency that they are much less likely to receive the truth.

This is a problem of the will, and rebellion.

Cognitive dissonance is one of Truth's (or God's) best opportunities, as I see it. Look at me in my recent turnabout. And I was converted from a carnivorous lifestyle to panzoism due to the same Chinese water torture process playing relentlessly on my acute cognitive dissonance toward animals. After all, which do you think is the more Satanic attitude? Look at the Lewis quote on your blog, where Lewis (courtesy of Milton, I guess) envisions Satan saying "Evil be thou my good." Once you manage to fully convince yourself that bad is really good you're truly perched precariously on the precipice of hell, wouldn't you say?

Yes. Our will and spiritual development will determine how we respond to the cognitive dissonance, which is the key here. If you and I had had our dialogue ten years ago (and you read Kreeft's book, talked with your wife, and whatever else you did), it is highly unlikely that you would have changed your mind, then, because you were in a different place (even an atheist, if I have the chronology right).

I did not hold my androgynist opinions "like a sheep, in ignorance." On the contrary, I was heavily invested in defending and reinforcing them, so it's all the more remarkable that they have since been undermined.

Yes. When I believed in so-called "pro-choice," and sexual and political liberalism, and feminism, and all the rest, I hadn't thought much about it on my own. I was only being a good little brainwashed clone, and product of the media, entertainment world, and the public schools and the big college that I went to (with a major in sociology and minor in psychology: two highly-secularized fields, like most today).

Isn't it an intrinsically evil act to kill babies, children, and defenseless women? You certainly claim that killing babies is intrinsically evil. Is it so only in the last few centuries, or perhaps only since Christ? But, no, I believe you've argued, at least in the context of panzoism, that intrinsically evil acts can't change over time. Hmmm. I think you can see where this is going. In certain ancient stories preserved in the early historical books of the Hebrew scriptures, God is clearly depicted as commanding His people, the Israelite army, to absolutely exterminate entire tribes or nations, explicitly including the women and children.

Numbers 31:13-18 (following the Israelite army's divinely ordained slaughter of the Midianite men)

[13] Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. [14] Moses was angry with the officers of the army-the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds-who returned from the battle. [15] "Have you allowed all the women to live?" he asked them. [16] "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD's people. [17] Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, [18] but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

Gruesome stuff! Was this slaughter not intrinsically evil?

As I said in my previous reply, this was all by God's command, and God has the prerogative to judge as He deems fit. No one can deny this if they accept a biblical worldview, or even accept a non-biblical theism where God is Creator. God could kill us all at this moment and it would be perfectly justified, because we have all rebelled against Him and failed to live up to His commands. But God is also loving, so He has mercy on us.

In the situations above, it was a specific historical circumstance. He was preserving His people, and He decided to judge other nations which had already become wicked. He judged Israel later, when they became wicked (using the Babylonians and Assyrians). Murder is intrinsically evil, but not all killing is murder, and God's sovereign judgment is not murder. He gave us life in the first place, and He can take it away.

1 Samuel 15:1-3

[1] Samuel said to Saul, "I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD . [2] This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. [3] Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, CHILDREN AND INFANTS, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'"

Perhaps abortionists are under the impression that God has commanded them to slaughter children in the womb. I'm not being frivolous, I'm just trying to illustrate why I view the bible differently than you and why, in particular, I find the doctrine of inerrancy preposterous. I'm also helping my case by citing your own insistence that intrinsically evil acts (presumably including killing infants) are such absolutely, for all time, and are not situationally relative.

I have answered, quite reasonably and plausibly, I think, given a prior commitment to theism and biblical revelation. In other words, this is no grounds for the charge of internal inconsistency. You simply haven't thought your position through properly.

The [raped] woman has unwillingly and through violence been invaded by an unwanted being who will force various degrees of serious change in her life, severely for at least nine months, and to a great degree indefinitely thereafter. The woman has a prima facie right to pursue her own life plans and to maintain control over her body. Another being cannot supersede that right unless she gives (at least tacit) consent by engaging in voluntary sexual intercourse. That prerequisite is emphatically not met by rape impregnation.

This is where human mercy breaks in upon strict standards of "fairness" or "justice." One has compassion on the small human being who didn't choose to come into existence as a result of the horror and violence of rape, either, and therefore, shouldn't be punished by torture and death simply due to unfortunate origin. I gave several analogies which defeated this scenario.

There is an irreconcilable conflict of interest here and the rape victim cannot be obligated to surrender control over her body

The child is not her body. You still talk the rhetoric of pro-abortion.

if she gave no form of consent to that sexual intercourse which caused the conception. She therefore has the right, partially analogous to self-defense, to reject the innocent incipient child within her, even though that child has an inalienable right to life. It does not have the inalienable right to possession of the mother for nine months or more. This is a tragic conflict of rights, to be sure, and I say again that I deem it laudably heroic or saintly if such a woman can overcome the violence done to her by accepting the child into her life. I cannot see, however, that such a course of action is morally obligatory, much less something to be forced upon the woman by legal coercion.

Because the first duty of law (and government, acc. to Jefferson) is to protect life. There are lots of terrible situations in life, but as Christians, we believe God's grace is sufficient to guide us through them and enable us to persevere. Christian ethics require heroism at times; no doubt about it. It's a very high standard. Murder of an innocent child does not cease to be so just because we are in a difficult bind and fell victim to a tragic, horrendous crime. We pay the consequence if we choose that course. Now we have committed a more terrible act than the rapist who victimized us: he raped, but we committed murder (and of our own child -- which remains true even if the father is a rapist).

Furthermore, on pragmatic grounds alone, from the point of view of outlawing and eliminating the vast majority of abortions, I think it would be extremely foolish for pro-lifers to hold out for an absolute ban if they could much more easily pass anti-abortion legislation by allowing an exemption for rape victims.

Yes, but we're far away from that, sadly. The pro-aborts (including Kerry) had to even protest about the bill where it is a further crime to kill a pregnant woman. God fobid we acknowledge the child as a human being or a person! That would never do (even though every pregnant woman knows this full well).

Killing a preborn rapist's child to restore the woman's control over her body is not murder.

It certainly is.

No contraceptive method is 100% effective, and any modestly informed sexually active person knows that. One must bear the responsibility of one's accidents when one knows (or ought to know) the risks involved. The act of violence that is rape is no accident and thus no responsibility accrues to the impregnated victim.

You acknowledge that this really is the right thing to do. You don't want to make it compulsory because it is difficult.

"Difficult" strikes me as a trivializing word.

The preceding strikes me as an unnecessary, judgmental sentence.

But leaving that word choice aside, your statement is incorrect. Saying that something is morally admirable and heroic is not tantamount to saying it's obligatory. It would, for instance, be very saintly and heroic for me to devote all my spare time to, say, volunteer work in a homeless shelter, or rescuing abused animals and/or children. It is not, however, morally obligatory for me to do that. We are not all called or obliged to be Mother Theresa. What I'm talking about is the common distinction between duty and that which is "above and beyond the call of duty." I don't believe we can rightfully mandate the latter by law.

You miss the distinction between not doing some heroic thing and doing a sinful thing. One can always say they could be more saintly than they are. That applies even to Mother Teresa, and everyone who ever lived, save Jesus and Mary. But the ethical difference between that and deliberately murdering an innocent preborn child is immense. Now you have committed an indefensible, immoral act.

The other reason I don't want to make it compulsory for impregnated rape victims to give birth is the pragmatic reason I mentioned above. From what I've seen, polls consistently show much stronger support for outlawing abortion if a rape exemption is included; support drops off precipitously when that exception is omitted. Don't you want to eliminate, say, 99% of abortions even if that leaves 1% legal? Or are you such a purist that you'd rather continue the status quo until you can get an absolute ban in effect?

No, I would support that, and then work for total pro-life consistency. Everyone who voted for both Bushes or Dole is doing this because that was their position. The merciful person will save the 99 drowning folks if they can, rather than sit and say they won't lift a finger unless all 100 can be saved. That's why I was in rescues. We were out to save this child about to be murdered in this clinic, today.

Sometimes morality requires heroism. If my wife gets paralyzed tomorrow and I have to take care of her as an invalid the rest of my life, that will require heroism and great sacrifice on my part, but I would be obligated to do it. That's how life is sometimes. There is a purpose to everything in God's Providence, even the bad stuff.

See, that's the very difference I'm talking about. You took a vow to your wife that explicitly invoked the risk of such horrible circumstances as you mentioned ("for better or worse, in sickness and in health"), whereas the rape victim in no way consented to taking on the obligation of a new life. Your care for your paralyzed wife would not be above and beyond the call of duty; it would be precisely your duty, given your marriage vow.

I grant the difference you note, but being the mother of a child completely dependent on you is another such obligation, even though you didn't consent to the conception. For that matter, every unplanned pregnancy in a marriage is of a similar nature. You could be doing everything right to avoid pregnancy (for good or bad reasons) yet here it is. Do you now have the right to kill the child because you didn't wish it to be? No. The rape situation is of the same kind, despite the fact of the trauma of the rape. The child is here now. One can either choose to nurture the child or kill him or her.

As for caring for a very sick spouse; sure that is part of the vow, but today, people are more and more willing to take any escape route from situations that are "inconvenient" to them. And so we have the assisted suicide movement. You yourself voted for euthanasia (and now regret it). Rather than care for a person in that situation, many would opt to kill them off. People are removing feeding tubes, even when they aren't caring for a sick person (the hospital is). My family went through this, as my brother died of leukemia. We didn't stop feeding tubes. But when he started failing in his kidneys and so forth, we didn't accept extraordinary measures to prolong an already miserable life. That is a big ethical difference, and is an entirely Catholic and traditional Protestant distinction.

As in the rape situation, it is an involuntary, difficult situation. Only one involves a vow to care "for better or worse, in sickness and in health," yes, but still, people don't reasonably expect to be in the situation of caring for an invalid, and it calls for heroic sanctity, whether one made a vow or not. The mentality today is "kill the person who makes life difficult, or who has a difficult life." But the Christian position is: "every life is infinitely valuable and made in the image of God."

I'm not saying the woman owns the child, nor that the child is not a distinct individual person. I'm saying the woman has not consented to giving that person possession of her womb, so she should not be forced by law to do so.

Then I eagerly await your response to my "child who turns up at the North Pole" analogy.

This is ingenious, and well worth pondering, but it fails to succeed by Catholic ethics and principles of moral theology. First of all, this is a rather extraordinary hypothetical. It's very surreal nature makes it less powerful of an argument because it is implausible to use a situation that would virtually never occur as an analogy for a situation that happens thousands of times a year (pregnancy by rape).

I don't see the improbability of a thought experiment as in any way relevant to the moral principle(s) it illuminates. You'll need to argue further for that claim. Furthermore, if you're right about this, then it militates equally against the very thought experiment you press upon me below (the arctic orphan).

I only said that relative rarity makes an argument less plausible, not invalid. These thought experiments are more effective if they have some chance of actually occurring in real life. After all, the analogy is to conception by rape, which happens thousands of times a year. How often do we wake up connected to a famous violinist using our kidneys against our will?

As for my analogy, that was intended as a defeater to yours (you have forgotten the overall context). In other words, my reasoning was, "I am not all that impressed by fantastic analogies which would hardly ever occur, but SINCE you bring one up, I will provide one which presses upon YOUR position and makes YOU squirm, and you will have to reply to the difficult dilemma it poses, as it is equally analogous to the rape situation as your example is." That was my reasoning.

Now this is true, but runs afoul of the nature of rape. Given the traumatic nature of the violation it may be psychologically impossible for some rape victims to accept the fact that the life within her is her child.

Then it is our duty to point this fact out to her, as compassionately as we can, and at the right time, painful as it might be.

You are proposing that we coerce rape victims, by law, into adopting a certain attitude toward the being to whose existence and dependency they did not only not consent, but fiercely and rightfully resisted when they were raped.

A consistent pro-life ethic of right to life of persons (defined as beginning at conception) would require this, yes. No one ever denied that every moral law and standard will create some very difficult situations. Good movies are filled with those. But we need to think about these terrible situations rationally, not just emotionally.

Married couples who didn't plan children, but now find that a pregnancy has occurred, are in an ethically similar situation, in terms of involuntariness. The only difference was the act of rape. The woman needs counseling and loving support after that, of course, but I don't see how it necessarily follows (even on an emotional or psychological plane) that she has to hate the child because of how he or she was conceived.

Wouldn't the same reasoning logically lead to hatred towards a born child who came from a terrible father who is now abusing the child and the mother too? That is no grounds to hate the child and kill the child. At least in rape, the crime was relatively short in duration. In child-beating and wide-beating and molestation and ioncest cases, it can go on for years. But do we conclude that the child should be killed? No. Nor should we decide that the child of rape has to be killed.

Let me make a hypothetical scenario of my own (if we're gonna "play philosophy"). Suppose you are living (for some unknown reason I don't have to come up with! Maybe you're a hermit or loner or something) 10 miles from the North Pole in a shack. You have a lifetime supply of food and medical stuff and everything else you need. Now, one day, a two-year-old child shows up out of nowhere. You have no idea how or why this happened -- not a clue. But it did, and the child is now here. And you have no contact with the outside world.

You had no "responsibility" for the child appearing. You weren't having sex. You had nothing to do with it. The child has nothing directly to do with you. Except that now, there she is (we'll make the child female, since I have a two-year-old girl myself :-), and she is in your care. According to your reasoning, you have a perfect right to toss this little girl out in the snow to die (well, okay; no suffering, so you instead can give her a sleeping pill and then suffocate her with a pillow). You have conceded that a conceived child is a person from the beginning. So there is no ethical difference whatsoever. If you can kill a child of rape in abortion, you can kill this little girl, and try to justify it. But who would do such a thing? It doesn't matter if you are "responsible" for her existence or not. She is in your care now.

This is ingenious, but not convincing. I think there's a qualitative difference between having a life violently implanted against your will within your body versus your scenario in which I'm merely being inconvenienced through no act of violence, nor is my body slipping out of my control because of the unexpected presence of this little girl.

One act of violence is not grounds for another one, far worse. As for bodies "slipping out of control," that would be news to my wife, who has had four children. You are being a bit melodramatic. I feel my waistline is slipping out of control. :-) My ears are out of control when my three boys and very loud young girl are all around. Life is filled with such situations. It doesn't make it right to murder an innocent child.

She has a right to life, to be sure, just as the violently conceived child of rape does. But the toddler's right to life conflicts with a much less compelling right on my part than is the case in rape pregnancy. The toddler's right conflicts only with my right, such as it is, not to be inconvenienced, or bothered, or interrupted in my activities. The right to life of the child of rape conflicts with the raped woman's vastly more weighty right to the security, safety, and control of her own body. To compare these two conflicts as if they are equivalent seems absurd to me. It also seems like yet another attempt to trivialize the situation of the rape victim - a disturbingly prominent theme in your absolutist moral scheme.

You forget that my analogy and thought experiment is a defeater to yours about the world famous musician with the kidney problem. That didn't involve violence or rape, and neither did mine. They are exactly analogous, as far as I can see. If you accept the reasoning of the other, whereby you can kill the violinist to preserve your "rights," then you have to accept the position that killing the poor little girl in the arctic is also perfectly acceptable. And this, of course, shows, why the experiment fails in the first place. We can imagine it in a bizarre scenario with a violinist stuck to us. But we can't imagine throwing a toddler out into the cold snow to freeze to death.

And kindly spare me the sanctimonious feminist bleeding-heart liberal, "how much more compassionate we are than you "absolutist" intolerant right-wing Christians" lecture about "trivializing" the plight and suffering of rape victims. I've done no such thing, and nothing I have written suggests it, so I resent this insinuation. It's an extremely difficult and painful ethical situation; no one denies that (no one I have ever met anyway).

I am simply following through what I believe is a consistent ethic of right-to-life. Every ethical viewpoint will entail very difficult situations. If you say I have no compassion for the woman (which is not true at all; I would gladly take such a woman into my home if finances allowed it, and adopt the child, too, if possible), I could easily reply "who are you to talk about 'compassion' when the result of your 'compassionate ethics' results in the death of a child and deprivation of its entire earthly life simply because of who his or her father happened to be? And you are willing to let this happen even while acknowledging that the child has a right to life."

Compassion? Remember, there are two human beings and persons involved here (as you only recently came to believe at age 46). It is hardly "fair" or "compassionate" to hold a position which --when balancing the interests of two human lives -- leads to one being killed and the other avoiding the trauma of pregnancy with the child of rape.

So your compassion for the woman (which I don't deny) leads to the quick solution of death for the second person involved. My compassion for the child (as well as the woman) leads to a difficult situation for nine months, but then the possibility of the woman giving the gift of life to counter the horrible crime which resulted in its commencement. She can feel good about that and not have the extra burden of having killed her child, in addition to the rape.

I say that is by far the better option of the two, and more compassionate even concerning the woman, because I am not advising her to commit a wrongful act that will not alleviate her trauma from rape (nothing can but time and God's grace, and loving concern from friends and family), but only add to her problems, since she will be committing an act even worse than the rapist did. She "defeats" the rapist by refusing to sink to his level or to be dominated by him to the extent of killing her own child. She will bear a life rather than taking one or making another miserable.

Think of the recent Good Samaritan laws passed in some jurisdictions, partly inspired by the death of Princess Diana. In the enactment of these laws it has (reasonably, IMO) been decided that the right of a passerby or neighbor not to be disturbed or inconvenienced or "put out" must be subordinated to the right to life of a victim of crime or accident whom the passerby or neighbor is in a position to easily help. Refusal to render assistance in such situations can and should be construed as depraved indifference (I don't know if that legal term is used in these laws, but that's the practical implication).

The case of the arctic orphan which you submitted is a classic Good Samaritan case. I would be guilty of depraved indifference to the fate of this child if I were to refuse to help her and thereby abandon her to certain death.

Great. You just defeated the reasoning of the philosopher you cited, because you have just accepted the fact (by consistent analogy) that you can't kill the violinist. To do so would be "depraved indifference." Since that analogy was to pregnancy by rape, and mine was analogous to it, you have just exploded your own case (without, obviously, even being aware of it).

You evidently want to assimilate rape victims to this kind of case, but I refuse to reduce a person's right to the security, safety, and control of her own body to a case of mere inconvenience.

Again, where pregnancy is involved, it is not just the woman's body. You have to eliminate this thinking from your brain. It's irrational: logically and ethically. Your only choice is to ditch the "violinist" argument, because I just defeated it decisively by your acknowledgement that you would not kill the little girl. That's what my analogy was designed to do, and it succeeded wonderfully!

FWIW I think a great number of people, other than strict Catholics, would agree with me (noted not as appeal to numbers but only to illustrate the normality or non-eccentricity of my view).

Let them come argue the case, then, and see if they would kill the little girl in my scenario.

You would be right if your artic orphan case were a sound analogy to the impregnated rape victim, but, as I explained above, it isn't.

I missed it. I saw no explanation that defeated the analogy and showed it was no such thing. If my scenario isn't analogous, then neither is your "sick violinist" analogy.

Are there medically POSSIBLE situations in which a birthing mother's life would be lost (so far as the doctor could determine) unless the doctor KILLS the child? I don't know, but if so, the woman's right to life must surely outweigh that of the child since this is a paradigm case of self-defense. Would you say that the mother would be within her rights to kill the child in self-defense to save her own life in that case, but her doctor (to whom she has entrusted her care!) would be morally forbidden to save her life and would thus let her (his primary patient) die to save the child? I hope that's not what you'd argue. I find the idea loathsome, but I know that is the impression some people have of Catholic morality, i.e. that when it comes right down to an inescapable CHOICE of lives (however unlikely in reality), the baby is deemed more important than its mother. I hope such people are misinformed because that's a horrible inversion of morality and would constitute another prima facie reason to reject Catholicism.

Nice wrongheaded sermon. As an abortionist (excuse me: serial child-killer) told me that this would virtually never actually occur, it is a moot point. No need to argue it.

This is another case where Catholic morality can seem heartlessly indifferent to suffering.

This, coming from a person who thought killing animals was indefensible cruelty but accepted abortion of human preborn persons until a few weeks ago? C'mon! It seems to me that the realization that you have been dead wrong on a crucial ethical issue involving millions of human lives legally slaughtered every year would cause you to suspect that you may not fully understand Catholic rationales for our ethics. And that would soften this strong, somewhat offensive "Catholics are so heartless" rhetoric that you want to maintain (a bit of "intellectual humility").

After all, it was the Catholic Church which was the greatest advocate of the position you have now adopted (with a few situational exceptions). Even anti-Catholics will acknowledge that, in trying to think of anything good at all in the Catholic Church. Kreeft is a Catholic, so am I. So that being the case, maybe we have some decent reasoning for other positions you deem "heartlessly indifferent," huh? Just maybe; a possibility . . .

I have always appreciated your dedication to dialogue, and your fairness with your disputants.

Thank you very much (I appreciate this compliment, especially in light of the common complaint against me from the anti-Catholics, that I have anything but a dedication to fairness or dialogue). And I would like to end on a positive note after another draining, emotional exchange. I reiterate my great admiration for your change of mind (and my criticisms above do not affect that if you read carefully), and for your own actively working mind and love of dialogue also.

Even where we completely disagree and you tick me off a bit, I respect that about you, and always will, because there aren't many who are willing to even work through issues at all. I'm proud that you want to "hang out" at my blog, and I think our dialogues can be helpful for many people to work through these issues, by reading passionate advocates on both sides who are amiable (for the most part!) with each other.

God bless,


Yet Another Lying, Dishonest Catholic Convert: John Henry Newman

From the article, "Newman's Liberal Problem", by Edward T. Oakes, First Things 132 (April 2003): 43-50.
. . . Unfortunately, Newman’s own personality—which some contemporaries thought, and many later admirers still think, to be mesmerizing and irrefragably honest, and which perhaps just as many contemporaries and later detractors experience as hypersensitive and jesuitically dishonest—has frequently proved to be too much of a distraction . . .

Frank Turner, professor of history at Yale University, must be counted among Newman’s most savage detractors. In his thoroughly scathing jeremiad, John Henry Newman: The Challenge to Evangelical Religion, Turner launches a sprawling attack on the man’s integrity. The author admits the task won’t prove easy, which surely must account for the book’s massive size and documentation. Focusing on Newman’s remarkable Apologia Pro Vita Sua, the greatest religious autobiography ever written in English and the only one that can bear being mentioned in the same sentence with St. Augustine’s Confessions, Turner sets out to undermine Newman’s account of his own motivations, the value of his historical scholarship, the fairness of his theological polemics, and, above all, the avowed reasons for his many conversions. The ambition is nothing less than to thoroughly discredit Newman as an apologist for Christian orthodoxy and—what is its counterpart—as a critic of liberalism.

. . . Turner, the scrupulously liberal academic, no less than the legions of liberal Catholics who deny the sum and substance of the Catholic sacramental system, would have us believe that Newman was either one of them or a charlatan in his piety—or, revealingly, both. But the truth of the matter is quite different. To modern liberalism’s sundry protests, the historical Newman would have reacted with horror, derision, and disgust, for they undermine the very possibility of the orthodox faith to which his life was committed. Turner, for all his scholarly energies, winds up devoting over seven hundred pages trying to fit his subject into an interpretive framework that Newman would have considered the antithesis of everything he stood for . . .
Joshua P. Hochschild, in a review of the book on amazon.com, wrote:

Turner proposes that the supposedly unifying feature of Newman's life-the philosophical critique of liberalism-is in fact an invention of the later Catholic Newman, a myth which Newman used to justify the behavior of his prior Anglican self, and which has been perpetuated by sympathetic Catholic hagiographers. According to Turner, a proper historical examination reveals that Newman's activity in the Oxford Movement was motivated more by political, psychological and personal preoccupations, and an emotional antipathy for Evangelical faith, rather than an intellectual critique of "liberal" ideas. But Turner's judgment is not so much the conclusion of historical research as the direct implication his historiographical assumptions. The integrity of the "continuity thesis" regarding the critique of liberalism must be ruled out by Turner a priori, because his historical method leads him to treat any sign of intellectual coherence as implying a "teleology" and "inevitability" directly opposed to historical "contingency."
From Philip Blosser's review on the same page:

One cannot help asking how a 724 page book of such unsupportable pretension can get itself published . . . One senses that Newman still poses a colossal challenge for many within the Protestant texbook tradition of ecclesiastical history, whether Protestants of the conservative evangelical variety or the liberal "Christianity-and-water" variety one finds here. To the former Newman is a challenge because of the transparent honesty and programmatic reflection with which he agonized his way out of his evangelical Protestant background and Oxford Tractarian movement--against the overwhelming anti-Catholic cultural biases of his British milieu--into the Catholic Faith. To the latter, he is an offense because of his utterly sincere supernaturalism and belief in objective and absolute truth, which sticks like a thorn in the side of their urbane, self-congratulatory naturalism, subjectivism and relativism. Turner shows utterly no appreciation or sympathy for these dimensions of Newman's convictions. Instead, one finds in this pretended biographer of a dogmatist a haughty contempt for all dogma (tenets of faith proclaimed by the Church as supernaturally revealed). Even Keble and Pusey are portrayed as sickly souls, which is more than any Anglicans worth their salt should tolerate. Turner consistently plays fast and loose with his facts, marshalling his historical data selectively in support of his foregone conclusions. He says nothing, for example, about those numerous eminent (and Protestant) Victorians who sided with Newman in his argument (in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua) against Kingsley's claim that he was insincere. Instead, quixotically tilting at a colossus of a man far greater than himself, Turner tries to belittle and besmirch a mind far greater than his-- a mind described by the Victorian Gladstone as "sharp enough to cut the diamond, and bright as the diamond which it cuts." Turner's volume is ineluctably self-serving, iniquitously malicious, incorrigibly biased, and irreparably flawed. For a thorough critique, see Stanley L. Jaki's review in the New Oxford Review (May 2003), pp. 37-46.
From George W. Rutler's review in National Review:

. . . This study, which goes up to Newman's conversion, is a rare revival of profound cynicism toward Newman's project. Turner is as genuinely bewildered as any 19th-century Protestant that a man with brains could take Catholicism seriously. "Popery" is almost as fluidly condescending on Turner's lips as when spoken by a Victorian Evangelical.

. . . The book's publicity says Newman's conversion to Catholicism (or, rather, "passage to Rome") was very much a result of "family quarrels, thwarted university ambitions, the inability to control his followers, and his desire to live in a community of celibate males." The book's supremely ironical proposition is that Newman was, either by calculation or self-delusion, "perhaps the most enduring Victorian skeptic."

Turner adds to the cauldron of Newman's alleged neurosis, mendacity, and repressed maladjustment, an obsession with his sister Mary. He reads significance into Newman's constant association with churches and oratories named Mary. That would not seem to be remarkable to someone familiar with the Catholic world, but of that culture the magisterial Turner seems at times quaintly innocent. Newman is drawn as a disruptive and confused schismatic.

. . . There are few bad guys among Newman's foes and few even normal ones among his friends. Charles Kingsley, whose imputation of dishonesty to Newman provoked the greatest autobiography in the English language, was merely "unfair." Turner dips into the bottom of the barrel to quote the yet-unconverted Henry Manning on the "want of truth" in Newman's crowd. Newman's two hostile (indeed, nearly mad) brothers, while acknowledged as peculiar, are cited as voices of reason . . .
For alternate interpretations of Newman's conversion, see:

Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Newman's famous conversion story and "spiritual" autobiography)

Newman's Conversion Story in His Own Words (Brief; edited by Dave Armstrong)

The Conversion of John Henry Newman (Peter A. Kwasniewski)

The Conversion of Mr. Newman (The Tablet, 25 October 1845)

The Religious Movement (Dublin Review, 1845)

Sermon on the Centenary of Newman's Conversion (Ronald Knox; 1945)