Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Early Protestants Were Ecumenical? NOT!

By Dave Armstrong (11-9-04)

I shall summarize some early Protestant allegedly "ecumenical" efforts (Luther's words will be in red; Calvin's in blue; Melanchthon's in green):

Diet of Augsburg (1530)

1) The Lutherans "would have nothing to do with the Swiss and Strassburgers, although they agreed with them in fourteen out of fifteen articles of faith" (Philip Schaff).

2) "Early in July the bishops presented their complaints to the Diet of the plundering and destruction of churches, seizure of monasteries and hospitals, prohibition of Masses, and attacks on religious processions by the Protestants. When Charles called upon the Protestants to restore the property they had seized, they said that to do so would be against their consciences. Charles responded crushingly: 'The Word of God, the Gospel, and every law civil and canonical, forbid a man to appropriate to himself the property of another.' He said that as Emperor he had the duty of guarding the rights of all, especially those Catholics unwilling to accept Protestantism or go into exile, who should at least be allowed to remain in their homes and practice their ancestral faith, specifically the Mass; the Protestants replied that they would not tolerate the Mass . . ." (Warren Carroll)

3) On July 6 Melanchthon made the incredible dissembling statement:

"We have no dogmas which differ from the Roman Church . . . We reverence the authority of the Pope of Rome, and are prepared to remain in allegiance to the Church if only the Pope does not repudiate us."

4) Luther wrote on the very same day: "Remember that you are not dealing with human beings when you have affairs with the Pope and his crew, but with veritable devils! . . ."

5) "On the 13th [of July] Luther announced from Coburg that the Protestants would never tolerate the Mass, which he called blasphemous, and said of the Emperor:

'We know that he is in error and that he is striving against the Gospel . . . He does not conform to God's Word and we do' . . .

"Luther stated in a letter to Melanchthon August 26:

'This talk of compromise . . . is a scandal to God . . . I am thoroughly displeased with this negotiating concerning union in doctrine, since it is utterly impossible unless the Pope wishes to take away his power.'

"In subsequent letters he declared that no religious settlement was possible as long as the Pope remained and the Mass was unchanged . . ." (Warren Carroll)

6) ". . . no Catholic of spirit and courage could be expected, let alone morally required, to give up all his religious rights without a struggle; and few Protestants, at this point, would allow Catholics to exercise those rights if the Protestants were strong enough to deny them. These were the irreconcilable positions taken by the two sides at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, which made those long and bloody years of conflict inevitable." (Warren Carroll)

7) "The city council [of Augsburg], however, set itself up in opposition, recalled (1531) the Protestant preachers who had been expatriated, suppressed Catholic services in all churches except the cathedral (1534), . . . At the beginning of this year a decree of the council was made, forbidding everywhere the celebration of Mass, preaching, and all ecclesiastical ceremonies, and giving to the Catholic clergy the alternative of enrolling themselves anew as citizens or leaving the city. An overwhelming majority of both secular and regular clergy chose banishment; . . . In the city of Augsburg the Catholic churches were seized by Lutheran and Zwinglian preachers; at the command of the council pictures were removed, and at the instigation of Bucer and others a disgraceful storm of popular iconoclasm followed, resulting in the destruction of many splendid monuments of art and antiquity. The greatest intolerance was exercised towards the Catholics who had remained in the city; their schools were dissolved; parents were compelled to send their children to Lutheran institutions; it was even forbidden to hear Mass outside the city under severe penalties." (Catholic Encyclopedia)


Diet of Regensburg (1541)

1) ". . . the conferees took up their differences on the Mass and the sacraments, which were absolutely irreconcilable. The Catholic Faith cannot be practiced without the Mass, and the Protestants had totally rejected the Mass. Just a week after the illusory agreement on justification, Cardinal Contarini wrote that he had been astonished to discover that the Protestants rejected both the Real Presence and veneration of the Blessed Sacrament outside Mass. On May 16 Contarini wrote to Rome: . . . 'strife proceeds neither from the Holy See nor from the Emperor, but from the obdurate adherence of the Protestants to their errors.'" (Warren Carroll)

2) ". . . the Protestant rejection of transubstantiation was more serious and Bucer, unlike Melanchthon at Augsburg, was very insistent on the rejection of papal authority. Union failed . . ." (Roland Bainton)

3) So we see that the Catholic side was willing to "compromise" on the Protestants' leading ("cardinal") concern: justification, but the Protestants would not flinch on matters of supreme importance and "non-negotiability" for the Catholics: transubstantiation and papal authority. We see almost the same exact dynamic and Protestant inflexibility at the Colloquy of Poissy in 1561 . . . it was far more objectionable for the Protestants to be totally dogmatic about their "new stuff" than for Catholics to be totally dogmatic about their "old stuff." (Dave Armstrong)

Colloquy of Poissy (1561)

1) ". . . The colloquy itself began September 9 with another speech by [Chancellor] l'Hopital urging religious unity and pledging that the government would no longer persecute the Calvinists. But . . . the Colloquy of Poissy was no exercise in 'ecumenism.' Even less than the Lutherans were the Calvinists interested in ecumenism, Like all revolutionaries, they would accept it only on their own terms. On this first day of discussion Beza threw down the gauntlet with the explicit and shocking denial of the Real Presence . . .:
If we regard the distance of things (as we must, when there is a question of His corporeal presence, and of His humanity considered separately), we say that His body is as far removed from the bread and wine as is heaven from earth." [September 9, 1561]

. . . The Real Presence, like the Incarnation, is a doctrine on which there can be no compromise for a serious Catholic . . . (Warren Carroll)

2) "Theodore Beza was given unrestricted opportunity to state the Protestant case. In so doing he not only failed to conciliate the Catholics but succeeded also in alienating the Lutherans by stating in the baldest terms the Calvinist doctrine of spiritual communion only in the Lord's Supper, seeing that the body of Christ is as far from the bread and wine as heaven from earth. Agreement on any such basis was of course out of the question." (Roland Bainton)

And now some new material:

Colloquy at Hagenau (June 1540)

"In January 1540 Luther, Melanchthon, and Zwingli's Successor Bugenhagen signed a statement declaring that religious peace could be established simply by the Emperor and the German bishops renouncing 'their idolatry and error,' and that 'even if the Pope were to concede to us our doctrines and ceremonies, we should still be obliged to treat him as a persecutor and an outcast, since in other kingdoms he would not renounce his errors.' It was the first explicit public announcement that the ultimate goal of the Protestants was the total destruction of the Catholic Church throughout the world. The German religious conference finally opened June 12 in the little town of Hagenau . . .

"The chief Protestant spokesman at the conference was Martin Bucer. Luther had always regarded religious negotiations of any kind with Catholics as bargaining with the Devil. Melanchthon, known like Bucer for his willingness to seek verbal formulas of concord which to some extent would cover up enduring fundamental differences, was absent; he sent word that he was ill."

(Warren Carroll, The Cleaving of Christendom [A History of Christendom, vol. 4], Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 2000, 176)

Colloquy at Worms: November 1540

"Undismayed by the failure of the Hagenau conference, the emperor made more strenuous efforts for the success of the coming colloquy at Worms. He dispatched his minister Granvella and Ortiz, his envoy, to the papal court. The latter brought with him the celebrated Jesuit, Father Peter Faber. The pope sent the Bishop of Feltri, Tommaso Campeggio, brother of the great cardinal, and ordered Morone to attend. They were not to take part in the debates, but were to watch events closely and report to Rome. Granvella opened the proceedings at Worms, 25 Nov., with an eloquent and conciliatory address. He pictured the evils which had befallen Germany, "once the first of all nations in fidelity, religion, piety, and divine worship", and warned his hearers that "all the evils that shall come upon you and your people, if, by clinging stubbornly to preconceived notions, you prevent a renewal of concord, will be ascribed to you as the authors of them." On behalf of the Protestants, Melanchthon returned "an intrepid answer"; he threw all the blame upon the Catholics, who refused to accept the new Gospel.

"A great deal of time was spent in wrangling over points of order; finally it was decided that Dr. Eck should be spokesman for the Catholics and Melanchthon for the Protestants. The debate began 14 Jan., 1541. A tactical blunder was committed in accepting the Augsburg Confession as the basis of the conference. That document had been drawn up to meet an emergency. It was apologetic and conciliatory, so worded as to persuade the young emperor that there was no radical difference between the Catholics and the Protestants. It admitted the spiritual jurisdiction of the bishops and tacitly acknowledged the supremacy of the pope by laying the ultimate appeal with a council by him convened. But many changes had taken place in the ten intervening years. The bishops had been driven out of every Protestant territory in Germany; the Smalkald confederates had solemnly abjured the pope and scorned his proffer of a council; each petty territorial prince had constituted himself the head and exponent of religion within his domain. For all practical purposes the Augsburg Confession was as useless as the laws of Lycurgus. Moreover, as Dr. Eck pointed out, the Augsburg Confession of 1540 was a different document from the Confession of 1530, having been changed by Melanchthon to suit his sacramentarian view of the Eucharist. Had the theologians at Worms reached an agreement on every point of doctrine, the discord in Germany would have continued none the less; for the princes had not the remotest idea of giving up their lucrative dominion over their territorial churches."

(Catholic Encyclopedia, 1910, "Religious Discussions")

Calvin to Melanchthon: June 18, 1550:

This is the sum of your defence: that, provided purity of doctrine be retained, externals should not be pertinaciously contended for . . . But you extend the distinction of non-essentials too far. You are aware that the Papists have corrupted the worship of God in a thousand ways. Several of those things which you consider indifferent are obviously repugnant to the Word of God . . . You ought not to have made such large concessions to the Papists.

(in Schaff, History of the Church, Vol. VIII, Ch. 11, § 90. Calvin and Melanchthon)

Calvin to Farel: March 15th, 1539

The King [Henry VIII of England] . . . retains the daily masses; he wishes the seven sacraments to remain as they are: in this way he has a mutilated and torn Gospel, and a Church stuffed full as yet with many toys and trifles.

(in Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters: Letters, Part 1, 1528-1545, vol. 4 of 7; edited by Jules Bonnet, translated by David Constable; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House [a Protestant publisher], 1983, 125-126; reproduction of Letters of John Calvin, vol. 1 [Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1858] )

Calvin on the Dissembling of Martin Bucer and Philip Melanchthon
If we think that Martin dissembles, why do we not thoroughly draw him out? Let us simply assent to the teaching of the Scripture, and we shall either win him over, with or against his will, to the light; or he certainly will not be able to use evasion, but will disclose whatever poison may be in his heart. But since we have not fully found out his opinion, we even shrink from confessing the truth, lest we may seem to assent to his views.

(Letter to Zebedee, May 19th, 1539, in John Dillenberger, editor, John Calvin: Selections From His Writings, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1971, 49-50)

. . . in the most important matters, catching at the approbation even of the philosophers, he [Melanchthon] openly opposes sound doctrine; or lest he should provoke the resentment of certain persons, he cunningly, or at least, with but little manliness, disguises his own opinion. May the Lord endow him with a more courageous spirit, lest posterity suffer great detriment from his timidity.

(Letter to John Sleidan: August 27th, 1554, in Dillenberger, ibid., 52)

Calvin Calls Lutheranism "Evil"

I am carefully on the watch that Lutheranism gain no ground, nor be introduced into France. The best means, believe me, for checking the evil, would be that the conbfession written by me in the name of the Price of Conde and the other nobles should be published . . .

(Letter to Heinrich Bullinger: July 2nd, 1563, in Dillenberger, ibid., 76)

Protestant Suppression of the Mass

(see sources and further related documentation in my paper: The Protestant Inquisition: "Reformation" Intolerance and Persecution)

1) Zwingli's Zurich banned the Mass in 1525. Churches and monasteries were destroyed.

2) William Farel abolished the Mass in Geneva in August 1535, and seized all the churches and monasteries. Iconoclastic riots occurred and Church money (10,000 crowns) was stolen.

3) "Martin Bucer . . . though anxious to be regarded as considerate and peaceable . . . advocated quite openly 'the power of the authorities over consciences' . He never rested until, in 1537 . . . he brought about the entire suppression of the Mass at Augsburg. At his instigation, many fine paintings, monuments and ancient works of art in the churches were wantonly torn, broken and smashed. Whoever refused to submit and attend public worship was obliged within eight days to quit the city boundaries. Catholic citizens were forbidden under severe penalties to attend Catholic worship elsewhere . . . In other . . . cities Bucer acted with no less violence and intolerance, for instance, at Ulm, where he supported Oecolampadius . . . in 1531, and at Strasburg . . . Here, in 1529, after the Town-Council had prohibited Catholic worship, the Councillors were requested by the preachers to help fill the empty churches by issuing regulations prescribing attendance at the sermons." (Hartmann Grisar)

4) In 1529 the Council of Strassburg also ordered the breaking in pieces of all remaining altars, images and crosses, and several churches and convents were destroyed (Janssen, V, 143-144). Similar events transpired also in Frankfurt-am-Main (Durant, 424). At a religious convention at Hamburg in April, 1535 the Lutheran towns of Lubeck, Bremen, Hamburg, Luneburg, Stralsund, Rostock and Wismar all voted to hang Anabaptists and flog Catholics and Zwinglians before banishing them (Janssen, V, 481). Luther's home territory of Saxony had instituted banishment for Catholics in 1527 (Grisar, VI, 241-242).

5) [In] Constance, on March 10, 1528, the Catholic faith was altogether interdicted . . . by the Council . . . 'There are no rights whatever beyond those laid down in the Gospel as it is now understood' . . . Altars were smashed . . . organs were removed as being works of idolatry . . . church treasures were to be sent to the mint. (Janssen, V, 146)

6) In Scotland, John Knox and his ilk passed legislation in which "It was . . . forbidden to say Mass or to be present at Mass, with the punishment for a first offence of loss of all goods and a flogging; for the second offence, banishment; for the third, death." (Hughes, 300)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

The Trials and Tribulations (but Mostly Joys) of Being an Apologist

By Dave Armstrong (10-14-04)

Jose Molina asked in BlogBack,

Dave, can I ask you a question? How are you able to do what you do?

By God's grace! "God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). I love this work, because God put that desire in me. This is what I am here on this earth to do. Everyone has a vocation. They just have to be willing to discover it and to pursue it for the sake of the Kingdom.

I'm Catholic and I love Jesus, the Bible, and the Church very much, but I cannot imagine doing apologetics or being a theologian. It seems like a tedious, nuanced, and perhaps frustrating vocation.

Sometimes, but most of the time it is very enjoyable. I have the freedom to pursue whatever motivates me at the time, and to follow my theological interests. There always seems to be something at any given time: doors or opportunities to do more apologetics. I simply walk through them. It's not like being a professor who has to do certain things, give lectures that maybe bore him, or write a paper he doesn't feel like doing. I do have that luxury, though, of course, I get relatively little remuneration.

You must peruse obscure books and chase ideas and beliefs down rabbit holes

Naw, I enjoy it. It's fun, because, like I said, I do whatever interests me at the time. If I am challenged, I get extremely motivated, because I love challenges.

and what do you get for all your hard work? You get people leveling insults like the following: [several examples given from my sidebar]

LOLOL. Every job has its frustrations. I'm sure all of you who have a boss looking over your shoulder, or boring work you don't enjoy, or weird co-workers, or who haven't been promoted or appreciated at work as they should be, or who are struggling with running your own business, have more frustrations than I do.

Opposition proves that I am hitting nerves and that I must be saying something that is effectively getting out my message. This is always the case (excepting those times when we really do screw up and cause people to get angry through our own fault). Virtually all the insults come from anti-Catholics. That's par for the course. They act that way with almost anyone who opposes (or exposes) their falsehoods about the Church or about people (personal attacks), and their false theology. I'm delighted about that, because it strongly indicates that I am doing something right.


Jesus told us we would have opposition, and would be hated (and to even rejoice when we are persecuted). The sad, tragic thing is that it so often comes from fellow Christians. This is how Satan divides the Body of Christ and conquers. I receive far less insults and ad hominem nonsense and slanderous bilge from atheists than I do from anti-Catholic Protestants.

I get a lot "back" from my work. I know I am helping people, because they are nice and considerate enough to let me know that. That's very rewarding and fulfilling because it is what I am trying to accomplish. It makes you feel good, and makes all the trials worth it. This is a "service" profession. I know that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, under God.

There's nothing like being right in the center of God's will. That's how life is supposed to work, and we aren't happy if we step outside of that "circle." I get to do what I enjoy doing (writing, dialoguing, research, sharing the gospel and the fullness of Catholic truth). I even get paid for it (something, anyway; I can always use more; the bills and debts seem to never end).

The personal attacks are more than made up for by kind folks like you and many others, who have encouraged me and said that they appreciate my labors. You can see those positive remarks on my sidebar and in my two papers, "Catholic Accolades for This Website" and "Non-Catholic Accolades . . ." That's enough for me. I know what is behind the personal attacks, so they are ultimately of little concern. Sometimes I get upset, because I am a human being and hate to be lied about and misunderstood, like anyone else, but mostly I consider them almost a joke; a source of humor. When I read the stuff I posted on my sidebar, I bust a gut laughing, it is so funny to me. My wife, of course, plays a crucial role in helping me deal with that junk, too, as I noted in my post about my 20th anniversary. I couldn't have done this without her.

It was much, much harder as a Protestant campus missionary from 1985-1989, because then I got virtually no positive feedback at all from anyone (except my wife Judy). I was doing all this work and only getting negative feedback, and was poor as a dog (at one point we even had to move in with my parents for a year, as a married couple). Two churches I was attending essentially did hardly anything to support me financially (though both gave me reason, initially, to believe that they would). I didn't seem to be accomplishing anything (this was before the Internet and I was confined to passing out paper materials).

It was a very difficult experience to go through. I never questioned God, but I sure didn't understand what was happening to me. It seemed absolutely absurd and ludicrous. I became quite cynical for a while; again, not about God, but about those who call themselves Christians, and who claim to "have a heart for missions." Now it is vastly different, because I have published books, and my website, and blog, and published articles in journals. Everyone needs to have that encouragement on the human level. I couldn't have done what I tried to do in the 80s very long (which is why I gave up in late 1989, thinking that I had been a total failure and not having any idea what I would do for a living).

But that was God's will. Everything is in God's Providence. We must rest in that, whether it is good or bad from our perspective. I think it is fairly obvious in retrospect that He was testing me to see how much I really was committed to my calling. This is how life and the Christian walk is. I had to go through that living hell to get to the fairly good place (humanly-speaking) where I am now. It's never "perfect." But if I pass whatever tests God has for me now, maybe it will be better in the future. Maybe not, too. I (like most of us) will probably have to endure many more trials before the end of my earthly sojourn. I want to accept whatever God has planned for me in the future. We all need to follow the light that He has revealed to us.

All in all, then, I am very happy doing this work. I love to get to my computer and do some more writing and sharing. I always loved ideas, long before I was ever serious about Christianity, and have an insatiable intellectual and theological (even historical) curiosity, so God used those desires (which were ultimately from Him, anyway) to lead me to the field of apologetics.Thanks for asking and for your encouragement! I appreciate it very much. And now I have another "paper"! LOL

Debate on the War in Iraq (vs. Secret Agent Man)

By Dave Armstrong (10-14-04)

I have tremendous respect for my (Catholic) friend "SAM"'s thinking and writing skills. That's why I am highly interested in this discussion. I will respond to comments he made in the "St. Blog's Parish Hall" Main Forum. I don't claim to know all the ins and outs of just war theory and various legal-ethical criteria for when war is justified, but I do have some general thoughts on the matter which I would like to try to convey (and see if they can stand up to scrutiny). SAM's words will be in blue:

[comments made on 11 September]

How do you "stop" someone from doing what you suspect that he might do in the future?

By disabling his capability to do what can be reasonably surmised that he will do, given the chance. If you catch a dirty old man with thousands of pictures of nude boys and a list of phone numbers of young boys (and he has a record of past molestation), you stop him from acting further and doing what anyone can see that he will likely do (after all, they nail men who are going to meet some young girl, by police officers pretending to be young girls on the Internet; that's preventive; a "preemptive strike").

If you catch a drug dealer with $10,000,000 of cocaine or some other drug, you confiscate the drugs. They weren't going to be used to create a fake white sand beach.

Likewise, if you have sufficient reason to believe that Saddam Hussein has nuclear capabilities, and the will to use such horrible weapons, and great hostility towards the US (and many of his own people), and connections to terrorists, you take action before something terrible happens.

As you indicate, the menace must be sufficiently immediate so as to justify dispensing with nice concerns about misinterpretations, future changes of heart, unanticipated events which may remove the threat altogether, etc.

I don't see how it has to be "immediate" so much as reasonably certain given present capabilities and will.

. . . did Iraq present that degree of immediate menace to the United States on March 19, 2003. I don't think it did.

Tyrants getting hold of nuclear weapons have been a legitimate concern for almost 60 years now. Again, "immediacy" is less ethically important and relevant than deleterious longterm consequences and likelihoods.

I think Iraq was a legitimate subject of great anxiety, but great anxiety about being burglarized isn't the same thing as waking up to find a stranger in your bedroom at 3:00 o'clock in the morning.

Obviously, we had an idea who might "burglarize" us or cause a possible proliferation of WMD to terrorists. It isn't like we are in our "bed" fantasizing about a completely fictional, paranoid "attack" that never comes. No; the proper analogy is to find a burglar out on the lawn (or even on the other side of the state) with plans to invade your house (or other houses with people you know and care about), and connections to other bad guys, and lots of weapons, and a criminal record (etc.). The anxiety thus becomes grounded in highly rational, deductive reality and straightforward prediction (in other words, compelling circumstantial evidence).


If I may be permitted to use Aristotle's distinction, that a "tyrannical" regime is one run for the personal benefit of the ruler to the exclusion of the common good, I think it's arguable that no regime is ever entirely "tyrannical."

I see, so then we are never (or only very rarely) justified in overthrowing tyrants and dictatorships because they don't exist by definition? This is an odd way to define away problems and to justify inaction. I know that is not your intent, but the result comes out practically the same, far as I can tell.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute (a/k/a Planned Parenthood), Saddam Hussein's abortion laws were far more restrictive than our own.

So were Adolf Hitler's . . .

Of course Saddam Hussein had no regard for the dignity of womanhood, mothering, or children. The man was, as Christopher Hitchens says, the head of a sociopathic crime family. But is it possible to portray Iraq under his rule as a society where the common good did not, in any respect, exist? I don't think so, . . .

I don't see that these fine-tuned distinctions are all that relevant, given all that we do know about Saddam . . . Again, one could say that about Hitler: all the good stuff he did for Germany and the German people.

So, what do we mean when we talk of "tyrannical regimes" which may be legitimately abolished by the unilateral decision of a foreign power?

It was not unilateral; it was sanctioned by the UN, and some 30 other countries have participated with us. But we mean regimes which are notoriously in violation of human rights, which are led by malevolent rulers, who have the will and capability of developing and using WMD, and who have known links to terrorists.

I would hope that the first thing we mean is that we're willing to discuss a level of criminality, evil, and abusiveness that we're willing to stomach before we decide to destroy another state.

Saddam's regime had that in great abundance. But note that taking down a tyranny is not the same as "destroying a state." Did we "destroy" Germany in WWII?

If any evil justified such a war, we should have to invade Sweden because of this. [he linked to a Christianity Today article]

This is curious reasoning. You think we could justifiably attack Sweden because one man was jailed for a month for supposed "hate speech" against homosexuals and suppression of freedom of religion and speech, yet mass murder of one's own people and designs to develop WMD and connections to worldwide terrorist networks are not sufficient? Wow . . .

If we decide not to invade Sweden, we've committed ourselves to accepting the continued existence of a regime that punishes or imprisons Christians for spreading the Gospel.

There are all sorts of sins and evils in the world. I don't see how giving one example of some tyranny in one state automatically means that we shouldn't attack any tyrannous regime. I've never understood this reasoning. One can't do everything. But that doesn't mean that one does nothing. If we couldn't do good acts simply because we are being so-called "hypocritical" by not doing every conceivable analogous good act, then we would do nothing at all, for to do anything would constitute automatic hypocrisy, which is a sin. So it is a vicious circle (and a rationalization for doing nothing, which is a sin of omission). In scale of evil, I see no comparison between Sweden and Iraq. Perhaps this was merely a reductio ad absurdum on your part (I'm not sure), but I don't think it succeeds in that purpose, either, because the comparison is too weak.

After that, it's a question of how much punishment, how frequently, how terrible, etc., a regime has to inflict on Christians before we'll act.

If genocide or other systematic mass murder is involved, I think we should act. We should act, therefore, in the Sudan. As for Iraq, we know Saddam killed his own people by the many thousands, and we had every reason to believe he would do much worse to outward enemies, if he had the power to do so.

Is America's addiction to abortion on demand, a never-ending river of pornography, and an exploitative economic system sufficiently "tyrannical" to qualify as a regime that should be destroyed? More people have died at the hands of American abortionists than Saddam and all his henchmen.

This is why I argued right after 9-11 that America was far past sufficient evil to warrant divine judgment. But you and I had a very spirited dispute about that and even recently you reiterated that you still disagreed with me. So what is it that you don't agree with in that belief of mine? That America should be judged? But you seem to argue that here (or something similar) -- at least by rhetorical analogy -- , so I am confused. I do confess that I would have to think quite a bit about why we shouldn't be destroyed as a regime. For one thing, there are no very large nations that are not themselves committing genocide against the preborn, are there? So who would destroy us? According to biblical history, God can use one wicked nation, however, to judge another. I argued that this may indeed have been what was happening in 9-11, even though it was an unspeakably evil act. But you vigorously disagreed, and still do (somehow). So please enlighten me as to where we agree and disagree here. Yet even if we are a "wicked" nation (and I argued that we are quite arguably the most wicked one, because we have more knowledge of what is right), God could still use us to judge another wicked nation, just as Babylon judged Israel.

[see my paper, The Judgment of Nations: Biblical Passages and Commentary]

The concept of tyrannical regimes that demand obliteration at our hands (or anyone else's) is a very dangerous idea.

That may be, but if we never did that, the world would be far worse than it is now. Were you against the Cold War, too? Were we to simply allow Communism to flourish unchecked because it is "difficult" and "dangerous" to ethically decide when to act to counter such tyranny and despotism? I think your position will ultimately create more problems than you think it solves (just as pacifism does).

It's true that, when we invaded Iraq, Saddam had used nerve gas to kill thousands and thousands of innocent people. But we weren't attacking Iraq to save those people. No use of American military power in 2003 could have saved them. They'd been dead for years before the first M1 rolled into Iraq.

Obviously. But this misses the point, which is precisely that if Saddam had the willingness to do such a thing to his own people, he would certainly do it against us and others (like Israel), especially since we had already defeated him in the Gulf War. So you see relevant facts but you analyze them wrongly. But beyond all that, I do happen to believe that it is a good thing to liberate peoples from tyrants like Saddam and the Taliban. Call that "naive idealism" or whatever you like, but I think it is very much in line with the many biblical injunctions to rescue the oppressed and to save those who are being led to slaughter. We talk about loving everyone in the world abstractly, as Christians, yet so often we'll do nothing to help rescue those being led to slaughter, simply because they are from another country, and due to all the UN- or French-type legal "diplomatic" and Chamberlain-like jargon that prevents much good action.

Should we have used military power at the time? I think, arguably, we (or someone else) should have.

Apparently you are forgetting that the UN and international mandate that we were operating on then forbade us from getting involved in internal Iraqi affairs. That's what we get when we depend totally on an international mandate: it prevents actions which you yourself think are justifiable. So you can't have it both ways: you can't be opposed to our more (not totally) "unilateral" action, and be in favor of the previous scenario in the Gulf War, which was designed only to get Saddam out of Kuwait (and possibly Saudi Arabia). We played that game then, and that's how it worked (Kerry talks the same game now, yet voted against the Gulf War which had every element he is demanding for the present war). Whatever one thinks of that situation, many thousands of Iraqis died at the hands of Saddam after we left. Thus, it has been argued that the present war is a continuation of the former, which met just war criteria more strictly (and "classically") than the present war.

But we didn't, and we're not entitled to do a selective rewind of history to justify present policy according to situations which have passed into history.

That's beside the point again. Saddam's killing of the Kurds showed what an evil man he is. We don't want such a man and regime getting hold of nuclear and biological weapons, because he would use them, and/or deliver them to terrorists who are even more willing than he is to use them (and to also kill themselves in so doing, if that is what it takes). But if our going there prevented more innocents from being slaughtered, then I say we did the right thing in that regard, too. We're using the military might that we have, not to conquer land, but to liberate people from tyranny and to prevent horrible use of WMD.

Shall we next invade Turkey and give the Armenian genocide as our justification? It's an absurd argument, . . .

Yes it is, but the only problem is that it is not the proper rationale for why we are there. I'm not sure anyone in government has argued in this way (though they may have). The example is used to show that Saddam is evil; it indirectly confirms that he should have been taken out because of his horrendous potential for even greater evil.

and President Bush's use of it does nothing but erode his own moral credibility.

You would have to document exactly what he said. I suspect that if he could clarify, that it would be in the sense I have argued, not in the sense of what you criticize as "absurd." In fact, we already know this, because Bush's rationale was 1) possession of WMD (or plans for same, which we KNOW he had for sure), and 2) probable links to terrorist networks.

On what moral basis would we justify choosing to save the people of Iraq, while leaving the people of Syria and North Korea in the same or similar amount of suffering?

Because 1) one can only do so much at any given time. This is especially true since Bill Clinton had gutted the military by nearly half. 2) Because Saddam had the greater willingness, capability, and means of delivering WMD, and connection to terrorists. 3) It was more related to our national security interests at this time, since there was a proximity to the terrorists and the oil reserves. That's the difference. I would favor taking some serious steps with the other two tyrannies, too. Absolutely. But one thing at a time. Again, because we can't do everything at once doesn't mean we do nothing and let the civilized world go to hell (as it was in grave danger of doing in the 30s and 40s).

I don't really know the answer to all this, except that I think civilization might be better served by a healthy prudence about invading and conquering "morally unacceptable nations."

So you tell me when we should invade? Only when they are bombing cities like London? Even then we had to be an ally with another tyrant who had killed (starved to death) 10 million of his own people (Ukrainians) in the previous decade. One might be able to make an argument that Hitler couldn't have been defeated without Russian help. Welcome to Realpolitik. I don't like it anymore than you do. But the real world involves such crazy scenarios. I'm all for prudence. I think plenty was exercised with regard to Iraq and Saddam. he had the entire 90s to straighten up his act. He did not. We were extremely prudent and patient (if not too much). I don't see how we could have been any more than we were.

Everyone's morally unacceptable, when you get right down to it. And there are higher values which can only be served by restraint and alternative strategies such as internal solutions.

So we just sit on a mountaintop and wish the bad guys away (much like Gandhi wanted to do with Hitler)?

Two wrongs don't make a right. If, having committed one wrong (an unjust attack on Iraq), one finds oneself in a position either to do good (like install a more civilized government) or compound the error (by restoring Iraq to the mercies of a sociopathic crime family), one must do the good.

But that's just it. You admit that installing the decent government is a good thing, yet you fail to see that we had to do what we did in order to accomplish that secondary benevolent goal. You think it was a bad thing to do that which we had to do to get to the good thing. I don't believe it was a "bad thing." I don't believe in "the end justifies the means" anymore than you do. I think it was fully justified by traditional just war theory which is properly developed in light of present nuclear and terrorist capabilities. Many Catholic thinkers have elaborated upon this argument (Weigel, and Novak for two, as I recall).

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Elaboration Upon One Biblical Argument for Purgatory (Matthew 5:25-26)

By Dave Armstrong (10-13-04)

In my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, I cited Matthew 5:25-26 and then St. Francis de Sales' excellent commentary on it, in my chapter on purgatory. Here is that portion (pp. 129-130 of the current Sophia Institute Press edition, but the footnote numbers are different):

Matthew 5:25-26 [RSV] Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.

(see also Luke 12:58-59)
St. Francis de Sales:
Origen, St. Cyprian, St. Hilary, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine say that the way which is meant in the whilst thou art in the way [while you are going with him to court] is no other than the passage of the present life: the adversary [accuser] will be our own conscience, . . . as St. Ambrose expounds, and Bede, St. Augustine, St. Gregory [the Great], and St. Bernard. Lastly, the judge is without doubt Our Lord . . . The prison, again, is . . . the place of punishment in the other world, in which, as in a large jail, there are many buildings; one for those who are damned, which is as it were for criminals, the other for those in Purgatory, which is as it were for debt. The farthing, [penny] . . . are little sins and infirmities, as the farthing is the smallest money one can owe.

Now let us consider a little where this repayment . . . is to be made. And we find from most ancient Fathers that it is in Purgatory: Tertullian,11 Cyprian,12 Origen,13 . . . St. Ambrose,14 St. Jerome15 . . . Who sees not that in St. Luke the comparison is drawn, not from a murderer or some criminal, who can have no hope of escape, but from a debtor who is thrown into prison till payment, and when this is made is at once let out? This then is the meaning of Our Lord, that whilst we are in this world we should try by penitence and its fruits to pay, according to the power which we have by the blood of the Redeemer, the penalty to which our sins have subjected us; since if we wait till death we shall not have such good terms in Purgatory, when we shall be treated with severity of justice.16

11 The Soul, 100,10.
12 Epistle 4,2.
13 Homily 35 on Luke 12.
14 Commentary on Luke 12.
15 Commentary on Matthew 5.
16 St. Francis de Sales, CON [The Catholic Controversy], 372-373.


Recently, a Lutheran pastor wrote to me. He had read material from two of my books on purgatory (and is increasingly convinced of the truthfulness of it), and was asking about this passage in particular. He asked me:

If we could nail down what the full range of experience was concerning debtor's prison in Jesus' day then perhaps I would find the clincher here. What I'm seeing from writings on other periods of history though is that there was little if any expectation of persons gaining freedom from debtor's prison. Couple that with Jesus' words in these passages which sounds like a warning to avoid debtor's prison (because by implication it doesn't sound like a comforting place given Jesus' comments) I'm not sure that one can put a positive spin on "...you will not get out until you (the sinner) have paid the last penny."

Here was my reply, in full:

My responses for now (without a great deal of additional study) would be the following:

1) First of all, there is an assumption by Jesus that it is possible to get out of this place: "you will never get out till . . . " This motif of being able to get out of debtor's prison is repeated by our Lord Jesus in Matt 18:30: ". . . put him in prison till he should pay the debt" (repeated in 18:34). This could not be said about hell at all, because no one can get out of hell. We wouldn't say of, e.g., a corpse in a casket: "he will never get out of there till . . . " To say such a thing presupposes the possibility of leaving the place. If one can't leave, it wouldn't be described in such a fashion. Therefore, if we apply the passage to the afterlife at all, it must refer to purgatory and not hell.

2) Secondly, purgatory is not all that "comforting." It is a place of punishment for temporal sins, and purging. We have hope, of course, because everyone there is saved and not damned, and it may be even more pleasant than this life, for all we know, but that doesn't make it all that "comforting" in an immediate sense, because we know from this life that purging ourselves of sins and sinful tendencies is not an easy process. We have plenty of analogies for purging in our earthly existence. So I don't see how this is a disproof at all. If one was trying to apply the passage to heaven, I could see that, but not if it is said to be a description of purgatory.

3) As for Jesus warning us to avoid this place (purgatory, as we believe), that makes perfect sense. No one has to go to purgatory, if they achieve sufficient sanctity by God's grace in this life. It is a good thing to avoid purgatory if we can. That's what Jesus is saying.

4) It can't apply to hell, either, because the "debts" are metaphorical for remaining sins on our soul. We don't get saved from hell by paying off our debts (in Catholic theology, by penance for temporal sins). We get out by means of the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross on our behalf. It is sheer mercy, not a mere debt-paying process (because none of us could ever pay off the debt in that case). This is good Catholic theology, too, I assure you. We don't gain salvation by our good works. That is the heresy of Pelagianism.

Jesus often uses the metaphor of "debt" for sins and the necessity of forgiveness (e.g., Mt 6:12-15, 18:23-35, Lk 7:36-50, 11:4). Therefore, it makes much more sense (granting these theological premises) that the passage refers to purgatory, since the "debts" are sins that we are still being purged of. We're not being punished eternally in this instance for the sins, but having them purged from us because we are already saved. That's why Jesus says that we can get out of the place or state. Again, we don't gain heaven and eternal life by paying off debts ourselves, because this would never be sufficient. But we can gain the entrance to heaven (having already been saved by the cross and God's mercy and forgiveness and election) by purging our sins entirely in purgatory by this painful process.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [a Protestant work], in its article on "Debt, Debtor" (vol. II, 814-815) states:

Debt and debtor are used in a moral sense also as indicating the obligation of a righteous life which we owe to God. To fall short in righteous living is to become a debtor. For this reason we pray, 'Forgive us our debts' (Mt 6:12).

Now, again, in Catholic theology, this is sensibly spoken of penance and purgatory, not of hell or of salvation. The above description fits very nicely with the Catholic (and biblical) concept of purgatory. We "owe God a righteous life"; not in order to be saved (as both Protestants and Catholics agree that we can be saved while still possessing actual sinfulness and less than perfect sanctity), but in order to (already saved) enter heaven, where no sin is allowed (Rev 21:27; implied also by the tenor and content of Isaiah 6:1-8, where the prophet Isaiah comes in contact with God).

5) Jewish tradition held to the practice of forgiving debts every seven years (Deut 15:1 ff.; cf. Ex 23:10-11, Lev 25, Neh 10:31). This was not always heeded (Amos 2:6-8, 4:1), but nevertheless, it is an indication that the notion of a debtor's prison was not always (or usually, it seems to me) a lifetime sentence. Otherwise, Jesus simply wouldn't talk in this manner. We must assume that His thought here represents the common understanding of that time and culture. There was also the Jubilee Year, whereby all debts were forgiven every 50th year (Lev 25:9,13,28, Num 36:4). Even slaves (enslaved due to debt) were to be freed (Lev 25:10,39). Properties were also restored to their original owners (Lev 27:17-29, 48 ff., 27:19).

6) The fact that Israelites at various times became corrupt, or that the poor were excessively oppressed by the rich and powerful (condemnations throughout the prophets), or that the Jubilee Year was not always properly observed, does not eliminate the applicability of the metaphor. Every analogy to human existence will be flawed to some extent because of human sin, but that doesn't wipe out the principle that our Lord was trying to put across by means of these metaphors. Men might oppress unduly (including debtor's prisons) but we know that God is just, and He will let us out when we "pay" what we owe.

7) Tertullian wrote around 212 A.D., concerning this passage:

. . . it is most fitting that the soul, without waiting for the flesh, be punished for what it did without the partnership of the flesh . . . if we understand that prison of which the Gospel speaks to be Hades, and if we interpret the last farthing to be the light offense which is to be expiated there before the resurrection, no one will doubt that the soul undergoes some punishments in Hades, without prejudice to the fullness of the resurrection, after which recompense will be made through the flesh also.

(The Soul, 58,1)

Hope that is helpful to you! I found it a very interesting study, myself. I love delving deeper into the Bible. It is always a great blessing and a further education.

May God abundantly bless the fruitfulness of your pastoral ministry,