Monday, June 28, 2004

Further Challenge to "Reformed Catholics": Calvin's and Patristic Eucharistic Theology

Originally posted at the Reformed Catholicism site, on an appropriate thread: "Some Quotes from Calvin on the Eucharist, II," posted by Josh G.

I await an adequate response to two lengthy posts I wrote about this very topic (Calvin and the Eucharist). Both Josh and Alastair have noted how they have debated the issue with a "Roman Catholic". That was me! I don't feel that those discussions were anywhere near concluded, or that I received responses to many of my "hard questions" about Calvin's view (it was prematurely concluded), but in any event, I think it was a successful discussion in terms of increasing understanding and maintaining amiable relations. I do appreciate that.

Josh keeps maintaining that Calvin's view is in harmony with previous catholic tradition. This I vigorously deny, and agree with my friend Dave Brown's comments as well. This has not been established, and was the contention towards which I directly aimed my two recent papers. The "battle for Church history" has scarcely even been waged by reformed catholics, let alone won.

I again challenge you (in a friendly manner) to back up your contentions by responding to my material (and Dave Brown's). If you claim that you can synthesize Calvin's view with previous Christian doctrine throughout the Middle Ages and back to the Fathers, then by all means do it. It has not been done thus far.

Josh made the claim that Calvin's views "are actually in great continuity with those of the historic, pre-Reformation Catholic Church!" This is simply not true, as I believe I have already demonstrated, with copious patristic and Calvin quotations and analyses by noted Protestant Church historians such as Schaff and Kelly. That cannot simply be dismissed (as some have tried to do) as "out of context proof-texting." Sorry; you guys need to make your argument from substance, when dealing with a serious critique (which remains ecumenical and respectful).

Josh also wrote [in the comments]:

Yes, Calvin categorically rejected the theory of the Mass that was popular in his time: that it was a propitiatory sacrifice in addition to Christ's work on the Cross. But that view wasn't what the early Church meant by the Eucharist, as I demonstrated above.

This is (with all due respect) historical revisionism. It is ludicrous to claim that the Fathers did not accept the Sacrifice of the Mass (I pass by the misrepresentation that it is an "addition" to the Cross rather than a time-transcending re-presentation of same). I have recently challenged reformed catholics to tell me if they would worship with a Catholic at a Mass and consider it just another Christian service. This is crucial, in my mind, because if you claim to have organic continuity with patristic-era and medieval Christians (which you do, by definition, and your very title), then you would have to accept the Sacrifice of the Mass as fully Christian and able to be held in good conscience without Calvin's charge of "blasphemy, idolatry, sacrilege," etc.

This is what the Fathers believed too, if we must make such a broad generalization (as Josh has been doing). Philip Schaff wrote about the patristic period:

In general, this period, . . . was already very strongly inclined toward the doctrine of transubstantiation, and toward the Greek and Roman sacrifice of the mass, which are inseparable in so far as a real sacrifice requires the real presence of the victim . . .

The realistic and mystic view is represented by several fathers and the early liturgies, whose testimony we shall further cite below. They speak in enthusiastic and extravagant terms of the sacrament and sacrifice of the altar. They teach a real presence of the body and blood of Christ, which is included in the very idea of a real sacrifice, and they see in the mystical union of it with the sensible elements a sort of repetition of the incarnation of the Logos. With the act of consecration a change accordingly takes place in the elements, . . ."

(History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, A.D. 311-600, rev. 5th ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, rep. 1974, orig. 1910, 492-495)

Schaff continues in his next section:

The Catholic church, both Greek and Latin, sees in the Eucharist not only a sacramentum, in which God communicates a grace to believers, but at the same time, and in fact mainly, a sacrificium, in which believers really offer to God that which is represented by the sensible elements. For this view also the church fathers laid the foundation, and it must be conceded they stand in general far more on the Greek and Roman Catholic than on the Protestant side of this question."

(§ 96. "The Sacrifice of the Eucharist")

The Fathers believed (generally-speaking), not only in a conversionist view highly akin to transubstantiation, but also in the propitiatory Sacrifice of the Mass and adoration of the consecrated host. In other words, Calvin, on his view, would have to condemn them as vigorously (assuredly including good ole patron saint of Calvinism, St. Augustine) as he condemned his despised current-day "papists." That's why your historical view cannot hold water.

Likewise, another Protestant reference source:

It was also widely held from the first that the Eucharist is in some sense a sacrifice, though here again definition was gradual . . . In early post-NT times the constant repudiation of carnal sacrifice and emphasis on life and prayer at Christian worship did not hinder the Eucharist from being described as a sacrifice from the first . . . From early times the Eucharistic offering was called a sacrifice in virtue of its immediate relation to the sacrifice of Christ.

(F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, editors, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford Univ. Press, 2nd ed., 1983, pp. 476, 1221)

And Jaroslav Pelikan (Lutheran at the time of this writing):

By the date of the Didache [anywhere from about 60 to 160, depending on the scholar]. . . the application of the term 'sacrifice' to the Eucharist seems to have been quite natural, together with the identification of the Christian Eucharist as the 'pure offering' commanded in Malachi 1:11 . . .

The Christian liturgies were already using similar language about the offering of the prayers, the gifts, and the lives of the worshipers, and probably also about the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass, so that the sacrificial interpretation of the death of Christ never lacked a liturgical frame of reference . . .

(The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, 146-147)

These sorts of observations need to be answered, not just "preached at." If I am wrong in my analysis of Church history and what Fathers believed, then so are they, and these men are not (Roman) Catholics, they are Protestants, and very highly regarded as historians. If it comes to a choice in an opinion about the history of doctrine, between Josh and Alastair and Kevin Johnson and Joel Garver (much as I personally like all these guys and enjoy dialoguing with them) and Pelikan, Schaff, J.N.D. Kelly, and The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, I will choose the latter, thank you.

Now, if anyone cares to still reply to my two papers, here they are:

John Calvin and St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Comparative Eucharistic Theology

This was posted on June 14th. I received a "short response" by Kevin Johnson on 6-15-04 with the statement, "Hopefully I will have more time to respond in full later." I hope he (or someone else) will do so. Joel Garver posted a moderately long, but quite general response on 6-15-04. I fully responded to it in the next paper below (as I did to Kevin's remarks thus far):

Reply to Joel Garver and Kevin Johnson on Calvin's Eucharistic Theology Compared to St. Cyril of Jerusalem's and the Fathers (Generally-Speaking)

I posted this on 6-19-04, and have received no response to it from any "Reformed Catholic."

Not to belabor the point, but it seems to me that if your school of thought feels that it can better back up its contentions from Church history than a "Romanist" like myself or an Eastern Catholic like Dave Brown, then it should by all means do so. What are you waiting for? Your argument (it seems obvious) must be made with the necessary historical substantiation. If you directly clash with the likes of Schaff and Pelikan (not exactly flaming "Romanists"), then that is more than enough to give me pause with regard to disputed historical questions.

Alastair wrote, contra "ct" [in the comments section]:

When historical evidence is brought forward to counteract your claims you just assert them all the louder regardless. You are not very good at rationally engaging with the answers that are brought forward.

Well yes. I don't say you guys aren't very good at engaging arguments, but I still await that full engagement of my material, too, which is why I posted this here, since I have received only minimal response at my blog and no response to my further counter-replies.

[I further note in passing that an Eastern Catholic is not a "Roman Catholic" so that it is actually a slight and somewhat of an insult to make out that all Catholics who accept the papacy are "Roman Catholic" -- precisely why I use simply "Catholic" just as you use "Reformed" -- these words have become titles, just as "Reformed Judaism," etc., are]

To end a heavy comment on a light note, Josh wrote: "If RC Sproul's a Romanist, then I'm a hottentot."

Yes, and if Schaff and Pelikan are Romanists, I am a red-headed, green-eyed Rastafarian . . .

Thanks for your time, and I continue to commend y'all for many worthwhile emphases, such as, e.g., great critiques of solo Scriptura [solO, not solA] that we observed in this very thread; also your attempt to incorporate the history of Christianity into your worldview. That's great; it is only various specific claims that you make with regard to that history that I dispute.

In Him,


Friday, June 25, 2004

The Ontological Argument for God's Existence: A Discussion With Philosophy Grad Student Patrick

Patrick is a Catholic graduate student in philosophy. He wrote to me, asking if I would like to discuss the Ontological Argument, which is one of the classic theistic arguments (for God's existence), first developed by St. Anselm. He was replying to my section of my paper (most of it was a compilation of philosophers' writing): The Ontological Argument for God's Existence: "A concept greater than which first meets the eye". His words will be in blue. When portions of my earlier paper are cited, they will be indented.

Readers who want to understand and follow this discussion are strongly urged to read the original paper, or at least sections I and VII, which are Alvin Plantinga's argument, and my own amateur version, which is largely an apologist's additional commentary on, and "elaboration" (if I may call it that without presumption) of Plantinga's far more nuanced and solid statement. I will read both those sections right now to refresh my memory. I can barely keep up with this highly abstract and philosophically technical discussion myself, and told Patrick in an e-mail that he would "kick my butt" if we were to discuss this. But I always love a challenge, and make no pretense to having philosophical training beyond what I actually have (some eight classes and much informal acquaintance with various types of philosophy). I am here to learn as much as teach, with this one. Thanks to Patrick for being willing to discuss this fascinating topic.

* * * * *

June 18, 2004

A Reply to Armstrong on the Ontological Argument

I’m a regular reader of your excellent website; I find your writings on apologetics to be, as a rule, very well done. I have learned a lot from them myself, and I have recommended your work to many other people.

Thanks very much for your kind words, and the plugs! I appreciate it.

For some reason, I hadn’t read your work in philosophical theology until recently, though, and when I read your discussion of the ontological argument (henceforth, “OA”), I discovered some weaknesses that I wanted to bring to your attention.

Cool! I hope to learn a lot from you. This is the subject to do that, because it has traditionally not been one of my favorite theistic arguments. I'm very fond of the cosmological, teleological and moral arguments.

It seems to me that the most important oversight in your treatment of the OA is that you don’t take cognizance of the fact that arguments are powerful: they can teach you new things, but they can also make you stupider.

Interesting way to put it. I shall like to see how you "unpack" this.

It’s pretty obvious how an argument can teach you something. So leave that aside. Here’s how an argument can make you stupider. You look at the premises, and find that you believe them all to be true: indeed, you would (for the moment) claim that you know them to be true. You look at the argument’s structure, and find that it is deductively valid. But now you think really hard about the conclusion and find that you are unwilling to believe it. You reject the conclusion. But you’re not an illogical person: you recognize that the argument is valid, so you grant that if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. Since you grant that the argument is valid, but you deny that the conclusion is true, you must reject one of the premises, even though initially you believed them all. So you pick the one(s) to go, and you now believe less than you started out believing.

There are lots of unproven or inadequately established premises of arguments. I can readily see that. In fact, I would say that the self-evident nature of premises is perhaps the most difficult part of the process of logical argumentation.

Well, what if you’re wrong in your denial of the conclusion? What if the conclusion is true, and what if the premise you have now come to reject is also true? In that case, you started out the process knowing more than you ended up knowing. You started out with a piece of knowledge that you now have lost.

How to get to any knowledge in the first place is the fascinating thing. I love that intersection between logic and epistemology.

Now, let’s bring that point to bear on the OA. We will cover a lot of ground on this point, but remember that in the long run, we’re going to be coming back to whether the OA can make you stupider.

Before we get into that, I would say that the last thing I would ever say about OA is that it makes one "stupider." One is enriched by even following the logical steps involved. It's a real brain teaser. Even if it doesn't totally succeed (and I agree with Alvin Plantinga that it ultimately doesn't, in terms of proving God's existence -- I don't think any one argument does that), it is good and fun to ponder he logic involved and the deeper implications of it. That's what I got, anyway, out of studying it what little I did, in putting together my paper.

Take a nice simple version of the argument. The complicated one you discuss in your paper doesn’t actually say anything more than is said in the following:
1. God is possible.
2. Therefore, God exists.
I suppose so. But there are many logically sound steps in-between these which make OA a far more serious philosophical argument than this simplistic presentation would suggest at first glance (wouldn't you agree?).

Let’s interpret the first premise carefully, since there’s a lot packed in there. Let’s start with the meaning of “possible.” There is some controversy about the best way to approach this issue. Putting it very roughly: some people think that an object is possible because it exists in at least one possible world. (I will usually refer to “possible worlds” as p-worlds, for short.) Others think that an object exists in at least one p-world because it is possible. I believe the latter—I am a non-reductivist about modality (as is Plantinga).

The relationship between "existence" and "possibility" in both these scenarios is unclear to me. In my philosophical naivete, and in layman's terms, I would say that something is possible if it is rationally conceivable without an immediate contradiction or absurdity resulting (or not logically impossible). In other words, if it is intelligibly thinkable and not contrary to logic itself. Whether it in fact exists is (in my thinking) a separate question. I doubt that I used the right terms, but if you understand what I mean by this, is it a decent, defensible opinion to have?

This dispute between the non-reductivists and their foes, the (you guessed it) reductivists, is not relevant to our discussion here. I mention it only to note that the dispute exists. For our purposes, we need to take note of the following: whatever the order of explanation, if an object possibly exists, then it exists in at least one possible world. To say that “X is possible” is to say, then, that “X exists in at least one p-world.”

Again, I am reluctant to link the word "exist" with "possible." For me (again, in layman's terms), existence is tied up with actuality, not mere possibility.

(As an aside—you wrote that Plantinga asked the atheist to grant only that God is possible in some p-world. That’s not right. To say that God is possible is to say that God exists in some p-world. But p-worlds are not actual; they’re just possible. That’s why they’re called p-worlds. So Plantinga is still not asking the atheist to grant that God actually exists anywhere.)

Yes, I understand that. I would prefer to say that "God possibly exists in actuality" rather than "God exists is p-world 473." I always want to tie such speculation in with actuality.

Here we must make a vital distinction between metaphysical and epistemic possibility. I might ask you “is there life in outer space?” And you might answer, “I don’t know: it’s possible.” That answer is not about metaphysical possibility. You are not saying “there is some possible world where there is life in outer space.” What you are saying, rather, is “For all I know, there could (actually) be life out there.” You don’t know the actual answer—it’s an open question to you—but it seems like it could be so. This is epistemic possibility, and it has nothing to do with the ontological argument.

Okay. It looks like I confused that. I was, then, discussing epistemic possibility.

Take another example: I ask, a day after the big game, “Did the Pistons win Game Five?” You say, “Well, I had to shut it off in the third quarter, so I don’t know. They were behind by five when I turned it off, but they were on a run—I’d say it’s quite possible that they won.” That’s epistemic possibility, again. You aren’t speculating about how things could possibly be. You’re speculating about how things really are, in a case where you don’t know. Take this kind of possibility and chuck it aside. It will only confuse us, and it’s not related at all to the OA.

I'm not sure one can totally separate it at every level from OA. I like the way Charles Hartshorne described St. Anselm's argument:
One way to put Anselm's contention is this:
A. "Divinity exists" is, though not without difficulty, or without severe qualifications, conceivable by the human mind;

B. "Divinity does not exist" is strictly inconceivable (in a more than verbal sense) by any mind, being either self-contradictory or meaningless.
Thus the usual symmetry between the conceivability of existence and that of nonexistence is here upset in favor of existence. Taking this as the Anselmian position, refutation must consist in showing either that divine existence and divine nonexistence are alike conceivable, or that divine existence is inconceivable. These two ways of upsetting the asserted asymmetry, though obviously incompatible, are very commonly confused, and this is one of several defects which disfigure this prolonged controversy . . .

. . . His nonexistence must be unknowable absolutely. For, one who knows cannot know nonentity only, he must know something positive . . . divine nonexistence is unknowable absolutely, whether by divine or nondivine cognition. By contrast, divine existence is conceivably knowable, both by God Himself and also by any nondivine cognition able to connect effects with their universal Cause (not to mention able to understand the Ontological Proof). I conclude that the asymmetry to which Anselm points is quite real, and that on this main issue he is essentially correct, and his critics essentially mistaken. It is true, like it or not, that divinity, differing in this from all ordinary properties, cannot be conceived (relative to possible knowledge) unless as existent.
The kind of possibility that we’re interested in has to do with how things could be, and how things have to be. For example, could 2+2=5? No—it’s impossible. Could Ringo Starr have been a guitarist instead of a drummer? Sure—that’s possible. (Not epistemically possible: we agree that in fact, Ringo is a drummer. ) Could Ringo have been a dung beetle? Umm—that’s a tougher question. I doubt it. I think any human being is essentially a human being. (Meaning that if Ringo—or any of us humans—exist at all, we must exist as humans.) But I admit to not being absolutely sure about this. Here, then, I don’t know the answer. But we’re still talking about metaphysical possibility: we agree that Ringo, in fact, is not a dung beetle, but, rather, a Beatle. What we wonder is whether he could have been a dung beetle. And we might ask that very same question this way: “is there a possible world where Ringo is a dung beetle?” We might not know the answer. Similarly, we could ask about the above mathematical example this way: “is there a possible world where 2+2=5?” Here, we do know the answer: no.

One very helpful way to think about metaphysical possibility is to ask “could God bring it about that…?” So, is it metaphysically possible that 2+2=5? No—even God can’t make it the case that 2+2=5. But is it metaphysically possible that Ringo is a guitarist? Of course! God could easily have brought it about that Ringo became a guitarist instead of a drummer. Is it metaphysically possible that Ringo be a dung beetle? Here, again, I think not. God can obviously make dung beetles, but it’s not clear that he could have made a world where Ringo—that very person—was a dung beetle. (Kafkaesque imaginary scenarios don’t help here. What we imagine in the Metamorphosis is Gregor Samsa taking on the bodily appearance of a bug, not a p-world where he is just a regular old bug, born of bug parents, with a bug’s consciousness, and so forth).

We must also avoid getting hung up on so-called “accidental necessity,” according to which things that have already happened are now necessary even though it used to be that they could have gone otherwise. One might think it is accidentally necessary that I am a father, since now even God cannot make it the case that I never had children. That’s all true, but it’s irrelevant to the kind of modality that we’re concerned with. Even though God cannot now make it the case that, in fact, I never had children, it is still metaphysically possible that I never had children. That is, there are p-worlds where I never had children. There have to be such p-worlds, for there are, presumably, lots of p-words where I don’t exist at all. God didn’t have to create me in the first place: nothing about me is metaphysically necessary. (Note that even if I am essentially a human being, as I said perhaps Ringo is, that doesn’t mean that it is metaphysically necessary that I am a human being. If it were metaphysically necessary that I am a human being, then it would be metaphysically necessary that I exist, for I cannot be a human being if I do not exist. However, if I am essentially a human being, then it is necessary only that if I exist, then I am a human being. And this is a very different thing.)

Alright. That makes sense. Of course, God's unique properties, by definition, are the key and essence of OA and why it succeeds at all.

So I hope there’s some clarity now about the kind of metaphysical possibility we’re interested in. Now, we must next turn to the question of what’s a p-world? This, too, is a disputed question. David Lewis—a reductivist, for what it’s worth—believed that p-worlds are real, concrete universes like ours, only spatio-temporally isolated from ours. They’re not like the other worlds in the Narnia stories, which you can travel to by magic. They’re also not like the worlds in the alternate universe hypotheses in contemporary physics. They’re completely “apart” from ours. Lewis’s view is not widely accepted.

It doesn't strike me as very plausible or likely.

Plantinga’s view is rather different. To Plantinga, a p-world is a maximal consistent proposition. It’s a complete way things could have been, described down to its smallest detail.

I like this much better because it resonates with the notion of Providence (and possible Plantinga borrowed from that notion a bit?). I know that is not strictly philosophical, but then I am not speaking strictly from a philosophical perspective, so I can say it! :-)

So there’s a p-world where I’m wearing a different color shirt than I am, in fact, wearing, but where everything else is exactly like it is in the actual world. However, that world isn’t really a world like ours, it is really just a complete, maximal description of a world—a world that does not actually exist (and never will). You might do well to think of p-worlds as thoughts in the mind of God: they are ways he could have created things, if he had chosen to. There is no p-world where 2+2=5, because even God could not make a world where that was true. But there are p-worlds where I do not exist, and where I am president of the US, and perhaps even where I am a gallant talking mouse. There is a p-world for every way things could possibly have gone.

Yes, I agree. This also is similar to the theological concept of God's middle knowledge, or scientia media (I am a Molinist, and accept this, insofar as I understand it).

Since I exist only contingently, I exist only in some of these p-worlds. There are lots of ways things could have gone such that I never have come to exist. My grandfather could easily have been killed in WWII, for example. Or humans could have never been created. Or God could have chosen not to create anything at all. And so forth. If, however, something exists necessarily, then there is no possible way things could have gone such that it not exist. If God is a necessary being, then it is not possible for God not to exist.

Yes, but the trick, of course, is convincing the atheist that:
1) There is such a thing that we know as "God."


2) This "God" is a self-existent, necessarily-existing Being.
And if it’s not possible for God not to exist, then there is no possible world where he fails to exist. Things just couldn’t have gone that way. (Note, then, that thinking of p-worlds as “ways God could have made things go” is slightly misleading, since God doesn’t create Himself, yet he exists in all p-worlds. But God couldn’t have made things go such that he doesn’t exist: His own existence lies beyond his will, and is necessarily included in every possible way things go. This is just a minor complication which can, for the most part, be ignored. Incidentally, at this point, I am invoking God as a heuristic device: it doesn’t beg the question against the atheist to say “it’s helpful to think of p-worlds as ways God could have made things go.” The atheist can ponder that mental picture to learn something about the nature of possible worlds, even without for one moment pretending there’s anything to this whole “God” thing.)

Yes. Though in my experience (including dealing with more than one atheist philosopher or philosophy major / grad student) they are quite predisposed against doing even that. They are every bit as dogmatic (I think, irrationally so) as they claim theists are about our beliefs that God does exist, and what He is like.

OK, so remember, from a few pages back, that we’re trying to get straight on the first premise of the simple OA. That premise is “God is possible.” We should be OK now with “possible.” The premise, then, is claiming simply that there is a p-world where God exists: in at least one way things could possibly have gone, God is there.

But what does it mean to say “God is possible”? God is that being than which greater cannot be conceived. Part of what it is to be God is to be a necessary being. Imagine a really great being, loving, powerful, knowledgeable—but a being that could be killed. That might be a really great being to have as a friend. But it’s not God. (Here, of course, complications having to do with the Incarnation are left aside.) This is a conceptual matter. By “God,” I just mean, in part, a necessary being. So to say that God is possible is, in part, to say that it is possible for a necessary being to exist.

Okay, I follow you. That was what I had in mind in my argument.

Again, there’s nothing question-begging about this. I am not saying that God exists: I am simply clarifying my terms. The OA is an argument that purports to prove that something exists: namely, God. Well, what is this “God” the argument is trying to establish the existence of? Simply the greatest conceivable being. That’s what the OA seeks to prove the existence of. Perhaps there are other, competing notions of God out there. But that’s a sociological issue. Who cares if there are other notions of God out there? I’ve got a notion in hand here—greatest conceivable being—and I think it’s a pretty important notion. If such a thing could be shown to exist, that would be A Big Deal. So that’s the notion I’m using. I’m not saying such a thing exists, at this point. First, I simply say—here’s the notion I’m working with. Next, I simply say—that kind of thing is possible. Nothing dubious about any of this. (Of course, some might object that it is not possible, or that we couldn’t hope to know if it is possible: but those are not objections to the use of the notion. They’re objections to the soundness of the argument, or the knowability of its premise.)

I don't think OA proves God's existence, so I want to make it clear what I think it accomplishes. I agree with Plantinga that it shows that theism is equally as rational and plausible as atheism. I think that about several of the best theistic arguments, considered individually. It is the cumulative evidence and plausibility of all taken together which I feel makes theism practically compelling, if not logically so, in strict terms. This has been my opinion for many years now, and I haven't changed much in that regard.

So what premise one tells us is that there is a possible world where a necessary being exists. What does that mean? What it is to be necessary is to exist in all possible worlds. So, in that possible world where God exists, it is the case that God exists in all possible worlds. In that world, God not only exists, but exists necessarily—in that world, it is not possible for God to fail to exist.

But what is possible does not vary from world to world. Things are either possible or not possible. Similarly, what is necessary does not vary from world to world. Things are either necessary or not necessary. This is a vital point, and you seem to waffle a little bit on it, apparently endorsing the notion that possible worlds are not “accessible” from one another.

I think whatever confusion here arises from my use of the concept of epistemic possibility and the distinction between "contingently possible in actuality" and "logically possible in p-worlds," etc. I know I am probably not using the terms with precision (I'm very conscious of that, especially in dealing with a trained philosophical mind such as yours), but hopefully you can follow what my reasoning is, whether I am expressing it poorly or not. I am very much the empiricist and always want to talk about actual realities, and this is why I never liked OA nearly as much as the more empirical arguments.

But if you deny accessibility, then the OA simply fails. Fortunately, there is no good reason to deny accessibility, and every reason to believe in it. It just seems obvious that if X is possible, then it really is possible no matter what. One way to conceptualize metaphysical possibility, as I said above, is by asking, “could God bring it about that…” But obviously, God’s power does not change from world to world. Even if he hadn’t created angels—even in a p-world where angels do not exist at all—angels are still possible. God could have created them. (As an interesting aside: when great scholastics like Suarez talk about possibility and necessity, they don’t talk about p-worlds. Rather, they talk about what God could do by the “absolute power.” I tend to think they were getting at just this point.) Possibility and necessity are invariable across worlds.

If you are talking about logical possibility, yes. I agree.

So, premise one tells us that in one possible world, God exists—and exists necessarily. But if he exists necessarily in that world, that means he exists in all possible worlds. But guess what—the actual world is one of the possible worlds. And that means God exists in the actual world. (The “actual world” is, just like any other p-world, a maximal consistent proposition: it happens to correctly describe every single detail in the universe. So the actual world is not the universe—it’s a complete and true description of it. But part of the description is “God exists,” and the description is true. So from knowing that God exists in the actual world, we can infer that God exists.)

But how do we absolutely know that He exists, using only philosophy and not revelation? :-) I don't think it is possible -- not by philosophy alone. I do think, however, that we can achieve practical certainty by virtue of other kinds of knowledge, including supernatural.

So if premise one is true, it is not possible that God not exist. That means the argument is valid. Is premise one true? Yes, I think so.


But now we come back to the point with which I opened this section: my criticism of your account of the OA. If someone is deeply committed to atheism, he might simply say that because he knows that God does not in fact exist, he can learn from the OA that God is not possible.

And I would immediately ask him (being the Socratic in method that I am), "how do you know that God does not in fact exist?" And in trying to prove that "knowledge" he would run into all kinds of absurdities and inadequate claims that make it very difficult for him to be dogmatic about his atheism, and to claim that it is more rational and plausible than theism.

Look, that’s a very simple argument to make. The OA proves that if God is possible, then he exists. But if one denies the conclusion: if one claims that God does not exist, then one has to conclude that God is not possible.

But they have to show us why they reject the conclusion in the first place, and how the logic of OA fails. They need to show us, particularly, why the premise is false. Methinks that would be quite difficult to do.

That might be what you “learn” from the OA, for you might approach it this way: “of course God is possible: who could hope to prove he’s impossible? I’m not saying anything about what could possibly be the case: I’m just saying that in fact God does not exist. In the actual world, there’s no such thing as God.” If that’s your approach, then your first encounter with the OA will force you to either (1) change your mind about God’s actual existence, or (2) change your mind about God’s existence being possible. If you pick (1), that’s great. You’ve learned something—something vitally important. If, however, you pick (2), them you’ve just given up a piece of knowledge. You’ve become dumber.

Yes, but not (i.e., #2) because of OA; because of illogical and non-coherent atheist reasoning.

But, to be fair, many people find the argument from evil pretty impressive. They might think that the argument from evil shows that God does not exist.

I think it is the strongest argument against Christianity, and have believed this for a long time also.

The argument from evil, incidentally, doesn’t show that God is impossible, for it relies on the premise that evil exists. But it is a merely contingent truth that evil exists: in a world without evil, you could not run the argument from evil. So a person in this position might endorse exactly the line of thought I mentioned last paragraph—and it wouldn’t exactly be unreasonable dogmatism. It would just reflect on the force of the argument from evil. At any rate, all of this is to say that there are indeed grounds available to the atheist to deny the sheer possibility of God’s existence.

Yes; I think they fail, but I agree that there are halfway-reasonable grounds, at least prima facie. I don't think all atheists think the way they do because they are terrible people, utterly illogical, or because they are consciously rebelling against God. I do think sin affects reasoning in profound ways, however, as a general rule of thumb.

This leads me to a brief discussion of another area where I think you make a mistake. You appear to conflate conceivability, imaginability and possibility, and I think this conflation leads you to some trouble.

Yes, because I was not being technically precise in my use of those terms. I trusted that my meaning would be more clear in context, but that doesn't cut it for trained minds, because they will always note the imprecision of terminology.

You write, for example, that theists should be willing to grant that a world without God is possible. But to grant this is to fall into disaster. If there is a p-world without God, then God is impossible: this is simply the reverse of the OA. Theists absolutely cannot grant that there are any p-worlds without God.

I disagree, because, again, I am almost always concentrating on actual worlds. There is a possible actual world, such that God (the necessary being) does not exist. That is conceivable by a theist without for a moment being accepted as true. One can argue this for the sake of argument, without adopting it, just like any other proposition. I don't think this is a disaster at all; it is simply how reasoning works.

If we disallow all contrary propositions as even possible or conceivable under all conceivable circumstances, it seems to me that we make it very difficult to engage in the reasoning process. And we in fact do the same thing we often accuse the atheists of: we conclude that a state of affairs is absolutely impossible. We can't blame them for concluding this about God and then turn around and refuse to allow any conceivable possibility of an atheist universe. So yes, a theist and a Christian, by definition, and in one obvious sense, cannot deny that God exists, but they can step out of their own views for a second and conceive of an atheist world. If not, then we cannot (it seems to me) fully conceive of an atheist's argument, and we should not expect them to conceive of ours. We would and should, then, simply stop talking with them, as it would be literally meaningless and incomprehensible.

But that doesn’t mean that we have to say that when atheists talk about a world without God, they are just making meaningless noises.

That's right. But that is a far lesser "methodological concession" than the above.

Let me reproduce a bit of your paper here, so that I can reply in a little detail:
(anti-A2) No such thing as God exists, and no such thing can possibly exist in any possible, imaginable, conceivable universe.

Now, if that is true, then why is the topic of God and theism so prominent in philosophy? If indeed theism were as silly and foolish as belief in fairy tales, leprechauns, unicorns, mermaids, centaurs, or other fanciful, absurd mythologies, why does the question continue to occupy great minds (both in favor of theism, and opposed to it?). One doesn't devote any time to sheer nonsense: Alice-in-Wonderland worlds or linguistic gibberish, such as:

$#%&^%&^%foolishness#$#@#&^&()*&_(^GH%^<><>FD786IVbunkUVR(&VB^$E)+=??"FT _-_-_-_-V*TOUV&^RCV%&)*---hooey----}}{}|||||||(&^$%#@!)(@j@u@n@k@+-+-!:-)x:;\

No one (with three brain cells) seriously considers as any possibility that the earth is flat, or that the moon is made of green cheese. If the notion of God is in that kind of immediately dismissible category, then it is quite strange that rational, thoughtful, intelligent people devote so much time and energy to it. Therefore, the rational person must (given all these considerations) grant the bare possibility of God in another possible world, and this is all that premise A of the argument requires.
But your concerns here do not follow from (anti-A2). The atheist can easily grant that there are imaginable universes that include God: that we can talk meaningfully about things divine. (Not every atheist is a positivist!) But imaginability does not entail possibility. We can tell ourselves all kinds of stories without thinking them possibly true. I could write a science fiction story in which the cosmology is that the universe sprang into existence all by itself. That’s not just nonsense on the order of the string of letters and symbols in the quotation from your paper. But it is, nevertheless, impossible. Indeed, anyone who wishes to endorse a cosmological argument in any form must claim that it is impossible. If it’s possible that the universe simply have sprung into existence out of nothing, or that it be self-caused, then the cosmological argument simply cannot be successful.

I was (I think it is clear in context) putting the stress on "conceivable" and "imaginable" and, as you noted earlier, confusing those notions with "possibility." I was dealing mainly with the sort of atheist I have often dealt with, who think of God and Christianity in just these terms: as the intellectual equivalents of Santa Claus or the moon made of green cheese. Granted, that is not dealing strictly with OA, but it is dealing with certain widespread predispositions and prejudices.

Here’s another example where impossibility doesn’t equal nonsense. “Goldbach’s Conjecture” (going by memory here—I might have this wrong) is that every even number is the sum of two primes. Now, this conjecture, if true, is necessarily true. And, if it is false, it is necessarily false. At present, the Conjecture remains a conjecture—it has neither been proved nor disproved. But mathematicians are, I believe, working on it. Let us pretend that the Conjecture is, in fact, false. So the claim that “every even number is the sum of two primes” is necessarily false. But it is not nonsense. It makes perfect sense. It’s just not true. Indeed, genuine nonsense, of the kind in your random string of letters and symbols above, does not even bear a truth value: it makes no claim at all, and can be neither true nor false. The very fact that an atheist will assign a truth value—“necessarily false”—to the claim that “God exists,” shows that the atheist denies that claim is sheer nonsense.

Okay, but many seem to almost approach that negative view.

Now, as I alluded to just above, there are positivists (or, at least, there were positivists) who would claim that “God exists” is sheer nonsense.

Well, then those are the types I have too often run across.

And they would be disgusted at the proliferation of internet discussion groups about God, since all such talk is entirely meaningless.

The ones I have met often say that and then proceed to talk about it: an irony I have always richly appreciated. :-)

But that positivist position is wildly implausible. (Not to mention self-defeating: the “verifiability criterion of meaning,” according to which sentences are meaningful only if they can be empirically verified, is not itself empirically verifiable, and, thus either false or nonsensical. But leave that aside.)

I totally agree.

But most contemporary atheists have, I think, moved past the phase of trying to say that God-talk is all just nonsense, and have come to the phase where they think it is just all false.

That's an improvement. A good sign!

But once you arrive at a point where the claim is simply that theism is necessarily false, then the philosophical discussion of theism begins to make sense. There are theists out there who contend, with astounding rigor of argumentation, that their position is indeed philosophically defensible. The cosmological and ontological arguments (among others) have been with us for a long time. In addition to this, more recent work in religious epistemology has gone far towards undermining the claim of atheists to have the “default” position, or the atheist contention that belief in God is simply unjustifiable by means other than argument, or what have you.

That's the truly exciting stuff. Some of what I have read of Alston is along those lines (I met him briefly, once).

So there is a longstanding tradition of careful theistic argumentation which atheists, when they bother to try to defend their position, have to take into account: they can see that theism is not in the same “immediately dismissible” category as the claim that the moon is made of green cheese, or that the earth is flat.

Good for them.

Further, though, people do take some pains to convince certain people that the earth is round: they take pains to teach children this fact. Children, of course, would make the obvious assumption that the earth is flat, if the question were put to them. They have to be taught to ignore the way things appear, and think instead of a much bigger picture. Similarly, we might take pains to instruct people in a remote tribe who assume themselves to be living on a flat surface. These folks, by accident of birth, have never been instructed in the truth about the earth’s shape, and we might see fit to try to teach them. The kind of people we wouldn’t try to teach would be educated Americans who know all the evidence, but construct bizarre conspiracy theories to try to explain that evidence away. However, atheists might see certain educated Americans who were raised in the backwards tribes of the Bible belt as just in need of instruction about the non-existence of God as they would see the folks raised in remote tribes are in need of instruction about the roundness of the earth. That is, they might pity their theistic upbringing, and try to bring some light to the benighted.


So even if the atheist thinks that belief in God is epistemically on par with belief in leprechauns, he might take some pains to help some poor idiot see that God does not exist—especially since believers in God, unlike believers in leprechauns—actually still exert considerable (and pernicious, from the perspective of many atheists) political pull in our culture.

Some few lower themselves to such a pitiable state in order to enlighten us "dark ages" types.

So in saying that God’s existence is impossible, the atheist does not commit himself to saying that the claim “God exists” is nonsense; nor does he commit himself to saying that believers in God are not to be bothered with at all. He might grant that believers have interesting (though, ultimately, not compelling) philosophical support for their view. Or, he might deny that, but nevertheless want to try to convince theists of the error of their ways either out of pity, or out of something like a politicized desire to keep down the number of theists.

I think this is good to understand. Thanks.

I think that having said what I’ve now said, I’ve come to the end of my comments on your discussion of the ontological argument. Initially, this paper was about twice as long, because it began with a long discussion about what counts as a “proof.” You seemed to agree with Plantinga’s view—I think that view is false. Perhaps at some point I will send along that bit, if you’re interested, and we can chat about it.

I hope we will continue this on the blog. One round is certainly not enough for such a rich, challenging subject. Plantinga contended only that OA makes theism as rational as atheism; he did not claim that it proved God's existence. This is very much my own position. If you are of the opinion that Plantinga thinks OA proved God's existence, to my knowledge that is not his claim. But chances are you know more about it than I do.

Thanks for the opportunity to write, and my best wishes for the success of your ministry.

Thank you! It was my great pleasure, indeed, to interact with you. I hope we continue, and best wishes for your philosophical studies. I am excited to see any solid Christian enter the philosophical field. The more the merrier . . .

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Reflections on the Communion of Saints

This is the first of what will be a continuing series of posts (I will call them Reflections on . . . ) containing information collected in the early 90s for the first draft of my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (originally titled, The Credibility of Catholicism). This version ran about 750 pages and contained many citations (along the lines of Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict). I revised the whole thing in 1994, incorporating citations from the new Catechism and omitting much material (particularly early Protestant history). I think the revision makes for a much better book, yet what was deleted is not, I think, without value and usefulness.

Slowly I have put this material out in various ways (mostly website papers). I would like to publish what remains on my blog. I am always lacking space on my website (I have to pay when I use any more), so blogs are ideal to post lots of writing that is "sitting in the can" (in this case for eleven years). I hope you find these quotations edifying, educational, and spiritually helpful.

(P) = Protestant work
The Communion of Saints


What is the communion of saints? We shall begin with some definitions:

1. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The unity and cooperation of the members of the Church on earth with those in heaven and in purgatory. They are united as being one Mystical Body of Christ. The faithful on earth . . . are in communion with the saints in heaven by honoring them as glorified members of the Church, invoking their prayers and aid, and striving to imitate their virtues. They are in communion with the souls in purgatory by helping them with their prayers and good works . . . Venerating the saints does not detract from the glory given to God, since whatever they possess is a gift from his bounty . . . They reflect the divine perfections, and their supernatural qualities result from the graces Christ merited for them by the Cross.

(Hardon, 83, 448)

The Church founded by Christ has three levels of existence. She is the Church Militant on earth, the Church Suffering in purgatory, and the Church Triumphant in heaven . . . There is communication among these three levels of the Mystical Body. Those on earth invoke the saints in heaven and pray for the souls in purgatory. Those in heaven pray for the Church Militant and the Church Suffering; they obtain graces for us on earth and an alleviation of suffering for the poor souls. Those in purgatory can invoke the saints on high and pray for us struggling with the world, the flesh, and the evil spirit.

(Hardon [II], 90-91)

2. John McKenzie

The veneration of the saints is very simple . . . The saints are believed to represent the most notable successes ln the effort of the Church to lead the Christian life. Honor and imitation of the saints for this achievement do not differ in kind from the honor paid to the memory of any civic or cultural hero . . . The saints are considered as intercessors . . . The saints are the friends of God, and God is on good terms with his friends . . . It does not, as early Protestants said, derogate from the unique mediatorship of Christ. Roman Catholics do not consider that the saints have redeemed us by a saving act; they are themselves redeemed by the saving act . . . The saints are believed to have in an eminent degree that power of intercessory prayer . . . which the Bible . . . attributes to great persons.

(McKenzie, 231)

Revelation 5:8 and 8:3-4 . . . The four beasts and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and
golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints.

And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.

A. Ludwig Ott

The angels and the saints lay the prayers of the holy on earth at the feet of God, that is, they support them with their intercession . . . The propriety of invoking them logically follows from the fact of their intercession.

(Ott, 318)

Revelation 6:9-10 . . . I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

B. New Bible Commentary (P)

This incident forms an integral part of the last judgments on earth, for the prayer for vengeance (v.10) is answered, and the end thereby hastened; see 8:1-5.

(Guthrie, 1289)

This admission by a well-known Protestant commentary is of immense significance. For if the prayers of dead saints have such an importance regarding the end of the age on earth and the final judgment, who can estimate how weighty such prayers are for less earth-shattering matters (excuse the pun!)? The doctrine of communion of saints, then, would appear to be irrefutably presented in Revelation.

C. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary (P)

The elect (not only on earth, but under Christ's covering, and in His presence in Paradise) cry day and night to God, . . . pray . . . to their Head . . . who will assuredly, in His own time, avenge His and their cause.

(Jamieson, 1547, 846) {cf. Zech 1:12}

Luke 15:10 . . . There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. {cf. 15:7}

A. James Cardinal Gibbons

The angels are glad whenever you repent of your sins. Now, what is repentance? It is a change of heart. It is an interior operation of the will. The saints, therefore, are acquainted - we know not how - not only with your actions and words, but even with your very thoughts.

(Gibbons, 127)

B. Charles Hodge (P)

Hodge, perhaps the leading evangelical (Presbyterian) theologian of the 19th century, agrees with Cardinal Gibbons about the knowledge of angels:

In their intellectual faculties and in the extent of their knowledge they are far superior to man. Their power also is very great and extends over mind and matter. They have the power to communicate with one another and with other minds and to produce effects in the natural world . . .

The angels not only execute the will of God in the natural world, but also act on the minds of men. They have access to our minds and can influence them for good . . ., by the suggestion of truth and guidance of thought and feeling, much as one man may act upon another. If the angels may communicate one with another, there is no reason why they may not, in like manner, communicate with our spirits. In the Scriptures, therefore, the angels are represented as not only affording general guidance and protection, but also as giving inward strength and consolation.

(Hodge, 231-233)

As is to be expected, however, Hodge balks at taking the further step of accepting the intercession of angels:

The people of God . . . may rejoice in the assurance that these holy beings encamp round about them, defending them day and night from unseen enemies and unapprehended dangers. At the same time they must not come between us and God. We are not to look to them nor to invoke their aid.

(Hodge, 234)

1 Corinthians 4:9 . . . we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.

A. James Cardinal Gibbons

What does he mean, unless that as our actions are seen by men even so they are visible to the angels in heaven? . . . Our Lord declares that the saints in heaven shall be like the angelic spirits, by possessing the same knowledge, enjoying the same happiness (Matthew 22:30).

(Gibbons, 127)

Matthew 18:10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the
face of my Father which is in heaven.

A. Adam Clarke (P)

Our Lord here not only alludes to, but in my opinion establishes, the notion received by almost all nations, viz., that every person has a guardian angel; and that these have always access to God, to receive orders relative to the management of their charge. See Psalm 34:7; Hebrews 1:14.

(Clarke, 805)

B. New Bible Commentary (P)

Every believer may have been thought to have a guardian angel with access to God to report on his charge (cf. Psalm 91:11; Acts 12:15).

(Guthrie, 839)

If Jesus taught that He could have asked for the assistance of angels (Matthew 26:53) - and He certainly would not have been worshiping them in so doing -- then we, who obviously need their help far more than the Lord Jesus Christ, can do the same without necessarily engaging in idolatry (after all, anything can become an idol if we let it).

It stands to reason that if angels are so aware of our doings and even thoughts, as indicated in Luke 15:10 and 1 Corinthians 4:9, then they certainly would be cognizant of our pleas to them. Protestants can only deny this by maintaining that such requests are synonymous with either the worship of God or the communication with evil spirits by means of a medium or other occultic practice. This is nonsense. Fear of Catholicism must give way to an open-minded biblical inquiry. The Catholic Church, so its detractors claim, is guilty of "adding to the faith." Even if this were true, would it be any worse than Protestantism's tragic "shrinking" of Christianity down to a minimalistic, "lowest common denominator" type of belief-system? The present subject is a case-in-point, illustrating the bankruptcy of the truncated forms of Christianity existing within Protestantism, when it comes to so many avenues of grace which are either obliterated or ignored.

Matthew 17:1-3 . . . Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. {cf. Mk 9:4 and Lk 9:30-31}

A. Patrick Madrid

If Jesus didn't want any contact between saints on earth (as Paul anticipatorily calls Christians) and saints in heaven, why did our Lord make a
special point of appearing to Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration in the company of Moses and Elijah, two `dead' saints? (1)

B. New Bible Commentary (P)

The following excerpt illustrates well the Protestant uneasiness and bewilderment as to what this passage might imply (for the communion of saints):

Hypotheses advanced in explanation of the phenomena of this event differ widely, ranging from those which attribute no more than a legendary or symbolic value to the story, or explain it as a resurrection story read back into the earthly life of Jesus, to the other extreme of the spiritualists who claim it as a seance. In reply to the latter it may be pointed out that there was no communication from Moses and Elijah to the disciples, and the subject of discussion was the cross (Lk 9:31), not usually a topic at seances!

(Guthrie, 869-870)

C. George Haydock

It is hence evident, that the saints departed can and do, with the permission of God, take an interest in the affairs of the living . . . For as angels elsewhere, so here the saints also, served our Saviour; and as angels, both in the Old and New Testament, were frequently present at the affairs of men, so may saints. (2)

(Haydock, 1283)

Revelation 11:3 And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy . . . {Read Rev 11:3-13}

A. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary (P)

The actions of the two witnesses are just those of Moses when witnessing for God against Pharaoh . . . ; and of Elijah . . . De Burgh thinks Elijah and Moses will again appear, as Malachi 4:5-6 seems to imply (cf. Matt 17:11; Acts 3:21). Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ at the Transfiguration . . . As to Moses, cf. Deuteronomy 34:5-6; Jude 9 . . . Many of the early Church thought the two witnesses to be Enoch and Elijah (3). This would avoid the difficulty of the dying a second time, for these never have died [Gen 5:24; 2 Ki 2:11] . . . Still, the turning the water to blood, and the plagues (vs. 6), apply best to Moses.

(Jamieson, 1556-1557)

B. Wycliffe Bible Commentary (P)

Who are these two witnesses? . . . I think these witnesses must be regarded as individuals. Many assert that they are Moses and Elijah . . ., others that they are Enoch and Elijah.

(Pfeiffer, 1510)

1 Samuel 28:12,14-15 And when the woman saw Samuel [who was dead], she cried . . . And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped his face to the ground, and bowed himself.

And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? . . . {Read vss. 7-20}

Some commentators have denied that this was actually Samuel, thinking that "Samuel" in this passage was an impersonating spirit of some sort, conjured up by the medium ("the witch of Endor"). The current consensus, however, appears to be that it was indeed Samuel the prophet, in an appearance after his death:

A. New Bible Commentary (P)

The narrative strongly suggests that this really was Samuel, and not a mere apparition or hallucination. The foreknowledge and uncompromising statements attributed to him in the verses that follow also stamp him as being genuinely Samuel.

(Guthrie, 301)

B. Wycliffe Bible Commentary (P)

The more modern orthodox commentators are almost unanimous in the opinion that the departed prophet did really appear and announce the coming destruction of Saul and his army. They hold, however, that Samuel was brought up not by the magical arts of the witch, but through a miracle wrought by the omnipotence of God . . .

That the spirit of Samuel actually appeared was the view of the ancient rabbis. This is attested in the LXX translation of 1 Chr 10:13b - `And Samuel the prophet made answer to him'; and by Ecclesiasticus 46:20. The same view was held by Justin Martyr, Origen, and Augustine. Tertullian and Jerome maintained that the appearance of Samuel was a diabolical delusion.

(Pfeiffer, 292)

Ecclesiasticus 46:13,20 (KJV) reads:

Samuel . . . after his death . . . prophesied, and shewed the king his end, and lifted up his voice from the earth in prophecy, to blot out the wickedness of the people.

{Jeremiah also reappears on earth: 2 Maccabees 15:13-16}

C. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary (P)

The story has led to much discussion whether there was a real appearance of Samuel or not . . . Many eminent writers (considering that the apparition came before her arts were put into practice; that she herself was surprised and alarmed; that the prediction of Saul's own death and the defeat of his forces was confidently made), are of the opinion that Samuel really appeared."

(Jamieson, 226-227)

Matthew 27: 50,52-53 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost . . . And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose. And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.


1. John Henry Cardinal Newman

The Catholic Church allows no . . . Saint, not even the Blessed Virgin herself, to come between the soul and its Creator . . . The devotions then to angels and saints as little interfered with the incommunicable glory of the Eternal, as the love which we bear our friends and relations, our tender human sympathies, are inconsistent with that supreme homage of the heart to the Unseen.

(Newman, 284-285)

2. Ronald Knox

The great ones of the world live, indeed, in memory; public statues have set their features permanently on record . . . But their memory fades, when their generation has died . . . the man has become an idea. It is not so that the saints live; we conceive them . . . as personally intimate with us, as exercising a real influence, not as the source of a mental inspiration.

(Knox, 179)

3. James Cardinal Gibbons

To ask the prayers of our brethren in heaven is not only conformable to Holy Scripture, but is prompted by the instincts of our nature . . . The Communion of Saints robs death of its terrors, while the Reformers . . . not only inflicted a deadly wound on the Creed (4), but also severed the tenderest chords of the human heart . . . the holy ties that unite earth with heaven . . . If my brother . . . crosses the narrow sea of death and lands on the shore of eternity, why should he not pray for me still? What does death destroy? The body. The soul still lives and . . . thinks and wills and remembers and loves . . .

A heart tenderly attached to the saints will give vent to its feelings in the language of hyperbole, just as an enthusiastic lover will call his future bride his adorable queen, without any intention of worshipping her as a goddess.

(Gibbons, 131, 13)

4. Karl Adam

God . . . takes up into Himself the whole creation that culminates in human nature, and in a new, unheard of supernatural manner, "lives in it," "moves" in it, and in it "is" (cf. Acts 17:28). That is the basis upon which the Catholic veneration of the saints and Mary must be judged . . . The saints are not mere exalted patterns of behavior, but living members and even constructive powers of the Body of Christ . . .

The veneration which we give to angels and saints is essentially different from the worship which we offer to God . . . To God alone belongs the complete service of the whole man, the worship of adoration . . . But so pervasive . . . is God's glory that it . . . is reflected also in those who in Him have become children of God . . . We love them as countless dewdrops in which the sun's radiance is mirrored. We venerate them because we find God in them . . . Therefore are we confident that they can and will help us only so far as creatures may. They cannot themselves sanctify us .
. .

The divine blessing never works without the members, but only in and through their unity . . . Therefore, although the veneration of saints has undergone some development in the course of the Church's history . . . yet such veneration was from the beginning germinally contained in the nature of the Church as the Body of Christ . . . the fellowship and solidarity of His members . . . It is no pagan growth, but indigenous to Christianity . . . Popular devotion to the saints is in line with dogma and is utterly monotheistic in character . . . The devout Catholic . . . for the ordinary and fundamental concerns of his soul . . . practises . . . an immediate intercourse of prayer with God.

(Adam, 115-116, 123-125, 246)

A sound biblical basis for the veneration of saints can be found in the Pauline passages where the Apostle exhorts his followers to "imitate" him (1 Cor 4:16; Phil 3:17; 2 Thess 3:7-9) as he, in turn, imitates Christ (1 Cor 11:1 & 1 Thess 1:6). Also, we are exhorted to honor and imitate the "heroes of the faith" in Heb 6:12 & ch.11, and to take heart in the examples of the prophets and Job, who endured suffering (Jas 5:10-11).

5. Karl Keating

Consider how honor is given . . . It is customary to address a judge as "Your Honor" . . . On Mt. Sinai there was a command given to "honor thy father and thy mother" . . . children are . . . instructed to honor the Founding Fathers . . . If merit deserves to be honored . . . it surely should be honored among God's special friends . . .

This prayer for one another does not violate Christ's role as the one mediator, because ours is a secondary mediatorship that is entirely dependent on his . . . None of this violates the truth that without Christ our prayers to the Father would be ineffectual . . .

(Keating, 260-263)

6. Nicholas Russo

Our opponents should prove that, however subordinate are the honors we bestow upon the saints, they necessarily conflict with the honor . . . we are bound to render to God. But this . . . would prove too much; for if subordinate and supreme honors conflict, subordinate and supreme love would conflict likewise . . . The love we give to relatives and friends would necessarily detract from the love due to God. But this is necessarily false . . . Could we call him an idolater who should celebrate in song the flowers of the fields, the stars of the firmament, the majesty of the ocean? . . . Assuredly not; and why? Because it is God Himself we praise in admiring His works."

(Russo, 261-262)

7. Thomas Howard (P)

I had never heard the idea, taught in the Church for centuries, that in the act of Christian worship the scrim that hangs between earth and heaven is drawn back, and we in very truth join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven . . . It is an awesome picture of things . . . Evangelicalism had instilled in me a robust supernaturalism . . . It was, rather, that no one had ever bothered to open up this vision . . . a notion that would be theoretically affirmed by evangelicalism but which is not often dwelt on and is certainly not vivified in public worship . . . The host of apostles, evangelists, fathers, martyrs, confessors, doctors . . . was not really very present to us . . .

Their roots in history have been pulled up, and they are left with nothing but the Bible and the modern world. They forget that the Faith has been borne on human shoulders and in human hearts for 2000 years . . . Evangelical doctrine is correct, but there are immense treasures that it seldom dips into for the sake of its people.

(Howard, 57-59)

8. The Second Vatican Council (1962-65)

God shows to men, in a vivid way, his presence and his face in the lives of those companions of ours in the human condition who are more perfectly transformed into the image of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 3:18) . . . Exactly as Christian communion between men on their earthly pilgrimage brings us closer to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace . . . every authentic witness of love, indeed, offered by us to those who are in heaven tends to and terminates in Christ, "the crown of all the saints," and through him in God who is wonderful in his saints and is glorified in them. (5)

(Vatican II, 411-412)

9. A.W. Tozer (P)

Tozer, the much-beloved Christian writer and pastor of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, though denying the invocation of saints, writes luminously of the Mystical Unity of the Body of Christ:

In the Body of Christ the quickening Spirit flowing through every part gives life and unity to the whole. Our Christian brethren who have gone from our sight retain still their place in the universal fellowship. The Church is one . . . I suggest also that we try to acquaint ourselves as far as possible with the good and saintly souls who lived before our times and now belong to the company of the redeemed in heaven . . . I have no doubt that the prayerful reading of some of the great spiritual classics of the centuries would destroy in us forever that constriction of soul which seems to be the earmark of modern evangelicalism . . . Who is able to complete the roster of the saints? To them we owe a debt of gratitude too great to comprehend . . . They belong to us, all of them, and we belong to them. They and we . . . are included in the universal fellowship of Christ, and together compose "a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people," who enjoy a common but blessed communion of saints. (6)

10. Alan Schreck / C.S. Lewis (P)

C.S. Lewis vividly described how God might see all of his people as one vast, united family . . . In his book, The Screwtape Letters (7), Lewis has the demon Screwtape explain to a junior demon how Satan is aided by the narrow view of the church held by many Christians:

One of our great allies at present is the church itself . . . I do not mean the church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle that makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. . . .

One of Satan's chief strategies to defeat the church is to divide and isolate its members from one another and thus deprive them of the strength they can receive from their fellow members of the communion of saints."

(Schreck, 153-154)

11. C.S. Lewis (P)

Lewis wrote very ecumenically on this topic in one of his last books, from which we will agreeably quote, in conclusion:

. . . devotions to saints . . . There is clearly a theological defence for it; if you can ask for the prayers of the living, why should you not ask for the prayers of the dead? . . . I am not thinking of adopting the practice myself; and who am I to judge the practices of others? . . . The consoling thing is that while Christendom is divided about the rationality and even the lawfulness, of praying to the saints, we are all agreed about praying with them. `With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven' . . . You may say that the distinction between the communion of the saints as I find it in that act and full-fledged prayer to saints is not, after all, very great. All the better if so. I sometimes have a bright dream of reunion engulfing us unawares, like a great wave from behind our backs . . . Discussions usually separate us; actions sometimes unite us. (8)


Adam, Karl, The Spirit of Catholicism, translated by Justin McCann; revised edition, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1954 (orig. 1924).

Clarke, Adam, Commentary on the Bible, abridged one-volume ed. by Ralph Earle, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1967 (orig. 1832, 8 volumes) [Clarke was a Methodist].

Gibbons, James Cardinal, The Faith of Our Fathers, New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, revised edition of 1917.

Guthrie, D. & J.A. Motyer, editors, The New Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 3rd ed., 1970; reprinted in 1987 as The Eerdmans Bible Commentary.

Hardon, John A., Pocket Catholic Catechism, New York: Doubleday Image, 1989.

Hardon, John A. [II], Pocket Catholic Dictionary, New York: Doubleday Image, 1980.

Haydock, G.L. (commentator), Douay-Rheims New Testament, Rheims, France: 1582, {tr. from the Latin Vulgate}, Reprint: Monrovia, CA: Catholic Treasures, 1991.

Hodge, Charles, Systematic Theology, abridged one-volume ed. by Edward N. Gross, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988 (orig. 1873, 3 volumes).

Howard, Thomas, Evangelical is Not Enough, Nashville: Nelson, 1984.

Jamieson, Robert, Fausset, Andrew R., & Brown, David, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1961 (orig. 1864) [Fausset & Brown were Anglicans, Brown Presbyterian].

Keating, Karl, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988.

Knox, Ronald, The Belief of Catholics, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1927.

McKenzie, John L., The Roman Catholic Church, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1969.

Newman, John Henry Cardinal, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1956 (orig. 1864).

Ott, Ludwig, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1974.

Pfeiffer, Charles F. & Everett F. Harrison, editors, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Chicago: Moody Press, 1962.

Russo, Nicholas, The True Religion, New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1886.

Schreck, Alan, Catholic and Christian, Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1984.


1. Madrid, Patrick, "Any Friend of God's is a Friend of Mine," This Rock, September 1992, cover, 7-13; quote from p. 13.
2. Haydock, George Leo, Haydock's Catholic Family Bible and Commentary, New York: Edward Dunigan & Brother, 1859 / Reprinted: Monrovia, CA: Catholic Treasures, 1991.
3. At least one exception among the Fathers was St. Hilary of Poitiers (c.315-368), who believed the "two witnesses" to be Moses and Elijah.
4. The Apostle's Creed -- pretty much accepted by Christians of all stripes -- contains the line, "I believe in . . . the communion of saints." Protestants largely redefine the historical phrase in their own innovative fashion, excluding elements we have been examining.
5. Dogmatic Constitution On The Church, Lumen Gentium, chapter 7, "The Pilgrim Church."
6. Tozer, A.W., A Treasury of A.W. Tozer, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980, 168-170, "The Communion of Saints."
7. Lewis, C.S., The Screwtape Letters, New York: Macmillan, 1961, 12.
8. Lewis, C.S., Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly On Prayer, New York:
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1964, 15-16.

First Version: February 17, 1991
Revised and Expanded Version: December 14, 1993

Monday, June 21, 2004

Martin Luther Refutes Zwingli & Other Deniers of the Real Presence

From my latest book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants (Sophia Institute Press: due to be in stores any day now)
. . . [Martin Luther] believed in the Real Presence, although he denied transubstantiation and rejected the Sacrifice of the Mass. Luther (according to his nominalistic, anti-Scholastic leanings) didn’t want to speculate about metaphysics and how the bread and wine became the Body and Blood of Christ. He simply believed in the miracles of the literal presence of Jesus’ Body and Blood “alongside” the bread and wine (consubstantiation). In this respect, his position was similar to the Eastern Orthodox one.

It is enough for me that Christ’s blood is present; let it be with the wine as God wills. Before I would drink mere wine with the Enthusiasts, I would rather have pure blood with the Pope.

(Early 1520s; in Althaus, 376; LW, 37, 317)

The glory of our God is precisely that for our sakes he comes down to the very depths, into human flesh, into the bread, into our mouth, our heart, our body.

(in Althaus, 398; LW, 37, 71 ff.)

Protestantism’s founders vary in their interpretation of this verse and in their Eucharistic theology. John Calvin’s “mystical” view of the Eucharist is complex and not quickly summarized or refuted. Ulrich Zwingli (the Protestant “Reformer” of Zurich) held to a symbolic view, on the other hand, which seems to have prevailed among many evangelical Protestants today. We shall concentrate on the exegetical and logical weakness of Zwingli’s arguments in this chapter. He wrote about this passage:

In the words: “This is my body,” the word “this” means the bread, and the word “body” the body which is put to death for us. Therefore the word “is” cannot be taken literally, for the bread is not the body and cannot be . . . “This is my body,” means, “The bread signifies my body,” or “is a figure of my body.”

(On the Lord’s Supper, 1526; in Bromiley, 225)

Yet Martin Luther refutes this line of thinking, using the very same scriptures:

[T]his word of Luke and Paul is clearer than sunlight and more overpowering than thunder. First, no one can deny that he speaks of the cup, since he says, “This is the cup.” Secondly, he calls it the cup of the new testament. This is overwhelming, for it could not be a new testament by means and on account of wine alone.

(Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525; LW, 40, 217)

In that same work, Luther makes a fascinating argument that a purely symbolic Eucharist turns the sacrament into a futile work of man rather than a grace and blessing from God:

He thinks one does not see that out of the word of Christ he makes a pure commandment and law which accomplishes nothing more than to tell and bid us to remember and acknowledge him. Furthermore, he makes this acknowledgment nothing else than a work that we do, while we receive nothing else than bread and wine.

(Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525; LW, 40, 206)

Martin Luther rebukes the symbolic view of the Eucharist, held by most evangelicals today:

[S]ince we are confronted by God’s words, “This is my body” – distinct, clear, common, definite words, which certainly are no trope, either in Scripture or in any language – we must embrace them with faith . . . not as hairsplitting sophistry dictates but as God says them for us, we must repeat these words after him and hold to them.

(Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, 1528; in Althaus, 390)

[John 6]

Zwingli offers us an example of early Protestant “symbolist” reasoning:

There can be no doubt that only the spirit can give life to the soul. For how could the physical flesh either nourish or give life to the soul?

. . . with his own words Christ teaches us that everything which he says concerning the eating of flesh or bread has to be understood in terms of believing . . . . this passage tells us that the carnal eating of Christ’s flesh and blood profiteth nothing, and you have introduced such a carnal eating into the sacrament . . .

(On the Lord’s Supper, 1526; in Bromiley, 206-207, 210-211)

Martin Luther, however, expounded the text otherwise. Preaching on John 6, he stated:

All right! There we have it! This is clear, plain, and unconcealed: “I am speaking of My flesh and blood.”

. . . There we have the flat statement which cannot be interpreted in any other way than that there is no life, but death alone, apart from His flesh and blood if these are neglected or despised. How is it possible to distort this text? . . . You must note these words and this text with the utmost diligence . . . It can neither speciously be interpreted nor avoided and evaded.

(Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8, 1532; LW, 23, 133-135)

Luther’s eucharistic theology was not identical to Catholic theology, but it was far closer than to the symbolic view. To reiterate: he thought that Jesus’ Body and Blood were present “alongside” the bread and wine (consubstantiation) after consecration. So Jesus was really there, but the bread and wine were there, too (whereas in Catholic theology, they cease to remain bread and wine after consecration).

1 Corinthians 10:16: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

This verse again allows us to observe in a nutshell, traditional Protestant controversies in their own ranks. Catholics interpret it in a literal way, but Protestants differ amongst themselves. Zwingli special pleads in his interpretation of the passage:

[W]hen you offer thanks with the cup and the bread, eating and drinking together, you signify thereby that you are one body and one bread, namely, the body which is the Church of Christ, . . .

(On the Lord’s Supper, 1526; in Bromiley, 237)

But Martin Luther again ably refutes this specious interpretation, and offers us a unique insight into a Protestant exegete who had every motivation to disagree with the Catholic Church’s interpretation, but in the end was forced by the text to accept its straightforward meaning:

I confess that if Karlstadt, or anyone else, could have convinced me five years ago that only bread and wine were in the sacrament he would have done me a great service. At that time I suffered such severe conflicts and inner strife and torment that I would gladly have been delivered from them. I realized that at this point I could best resist the papacy . . . But I am a captive and cannot free myself. The text is too powerfully present, and will not allow itself to be torn from its meaning by mere verbiage.

(Letter to the Christians at Strassburg in Opposition to the Fanatic Spirit, 1524; LW, 68)

For Luther, the passage is quite compelling:

Even if we had no other passage than this we could sufficiently strengthen all consciences and sufficiently overcome all adversaries . . .

. . . He could not have spoken more clearly and strongly . . .

(Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525; LW, 40, 177, 181)

Luther thinks the realist, concrete, non-symbolic nature of the verse is obvious, to the point where he seems to be aggravated (the three-time repetition of “it is”) that others can’t see what is so clear:

. . . The bread which is broken or distributed piece by piece is the participation in the body of Christ. It is, it is, it is, he says, the participation in the body of Christ. Wherein does the participation in the body of Christ consist? It cannot be anything else than that as each takes a part of the broken bread he takes therewith the body of Christ . . .

(Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525; LW, 40, 178)

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. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

Again, many Protestants today have lost the sacramental outlook of Martin Luther (and to a lesser extent, even of John Calvin). Baptist apologist James White provides a contemporary version of Zwinglian symbolism:

Participation in the Supper is meant to be a memorial (not a sacrifice) of the death of Christ, not the carefree and impious party it had become at Corinth.

(White, 175)

Martin Luther would have a great problem with such reasoning, and in refuting it, he closely approximates what a Catholic response would be. He argues that it is pointless for St. Paul to speak of “sin” here (“profaning” in the text) if Jesus “is not present in the eating of the bread” and that “the nature and character of the sentence requires” this “clear” interpretation. Luther sums up his exegetical argument:

It is not sound reasoning arbitrarily to associate the sin which St. Paul attributes to eating with remembrance of Christ, of which Paul does not speak. For he does not say, “Who unworthily holds the Lord in remembrance,” but “Who unworthily eats and drinks.”

(Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525; LW, 40, 183-184)

I prefer what is often called the “superstition” of Martin Luther, St. Augustine, and the Fathers of the Church, as it seems to be far and away the most natural reading of all these texts. Augustine wrote:

[I]t is the Body of the Lord and the Blood of the Lord even in those to whom the Apostle said: "whoever eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks judgment to himself.”

(Baptism, 5, 8, 9; in Jurgens, III, 68)

The eucharistic “Catholic verses” are some of the most important in the entire Catholic exegetical and apologetic “arsenal.” It can be shown (and I think I have done so) that Protestants are trying to skirt around the edges of them, special plead, eisegete (reading their own prior biases into texts) and improperly denying the straightforward literal reading. This is odd, given the usual Protestant acknowledgment that Scripture is to be interpreted literally unless there are clear indications in the text otherwise.

These passages are so compelling that they played a crucial role in producing a near-unanimous patristic viewpoint of acceptance of the real presence in the Eucharist. Several major Protestant Church historians and experts on history of Christian doctrine note this (for example, Otto W. Heick, Williston Walker, Philip Schaff, Jaroslav Pelikan, Carl Volz). The historical facts cannot be denied. They are unarguable. As just one representative statement, I cite J.N.D. Kelly, perhaps the most-cited patristics scholar:

One could multiply texts like these which show Augustine taking for granted the traditional identification of the elements with the sacred body and blood. There can be no doubt that he shared the realism held by almost all of his contemporaries and predecessors.

(Kelly, 447)

Catholics need not be shy in defending transubstantiation or the real presence. The biblical evidence is very strong, and so is the history of the beliefs of the early Christians on this score. We have nothing to fear, and we can decisively win this battle of “competing eucharistic theologies” on the field of Scripture and history alike.


Althaus, Paul, The Theology of Martin Luther, translated by Robert C. Schultz, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966.

Bromiley, G.W., editor and translator, Zwingli and Bullinger, (The Library of Christian Classics series), Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953.

Jurgens, William A., editor and translator, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, three volumes, 1979.

Kelly, J.N.D., Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, revised edition of 1978.

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.

White, James R., The Roman Catholic Controversy, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996.