Friday, February 04, 2005

Second Dialogue With Alastair Roberts (Reformed) on Transubstantiation

Link to Alastair's response (and to my first reply to him). I shall reproduce it in full, and his words will be in blue.
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Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my posts.

You're most welcome, and thank you as well for your gentlemanly, thoughtful approach to dialogue. It is a true and rare pleasure to engage in discussion with you.

I was heartened to observe areas of common ground and would like to probe some of our differences a bit further.

Likewise . . .

I am trying to understand some of the key things that you are seeking to maintain in order that we may arrive at a better mutual understanding on this issue. To this same end I will try to more clearly articulate some of my fundamental concerns.

Very good.

I will probably write a few posts (provided that I can find the time) designed to tease out some of the roots to our differences. Hopefully any remaining misunderstandings will be uncovered in the process. I appreciate the frankness of your response. I see little benefit in a feigned
agreement or false peace between positions that remain opposed.

Yes; I agree. I attempt to approach these issues in an attitude of "charitable ecumenical realism": a position which I have set out in several papers. Honest, deeply-held differences are acknowledged and freely discussed (not papered-over) but without the animus that so often
accompanies discussions across "party lines" (indeed, hopefully within a context of actual friendship and a feeling of Christian brotherhood). I see successful models of this kind of ecumenism in the ECT accords and the ongoing Lutheran-Catholic dialogue. Anti-Catholics, of course, cannot have such a discussion because they demote Catholicism from Christianity. For them, then, it is always a superior-subordinate relationship; usually descending rapidly into outright condescension and a patronizing attitude. For obvious reasons, then, a Catholic simply cannot dialogue with them. I've tried for 14 years, and recently finally gave up on the attempt altogether.

There is no single area in which my theological understanding would not benefit from the corrective provided by other Christians.

This is exactly what I mean (i.e., the first half of my paragraph above). Good for you. This is the ecumenical attitude. It is the Christian spirit of humility, and what makes good discussion possible. I wholeheartedly agree with you again.

There is a significant possibility that there are some correctives that you can provide to my position on the Eucharist.

Likewise.

Whilst I see little hope of either of us persuading the other of our opinions in their entirety, I seldom leave a discussion without my view having been refined and challenged by the process of debate. I trust that this will prove to be no exception.

Same here. This has already been an excellent discussion, and I feel that it will only get better as we continue on, exploring different facets of the question.

Lord-willing, the following post will serve to identify areas of difference more closely. I intend this post as an extended expression of one of my root convictions about the Eucharist. I hope that you will regard it in this light, rather than as a direct challenge to your position. Ideally you will be able to respond by revealing to what degree the following points represent shared convictions, and to what degree your convictions in this area differ from my own.

Fair enough.

Finally, I would value your patience. I will probably not be able to respond to you as quickly as either of us would like. At the moment I am sorely lacking in both the time and the energy that I require.

That's fine. Just let me know, if you would, when new responses are up.

You describe transubstantiation as a ‘miracle’. I would resist using such language to describe what happens in the Supper, not because we do not eat of Christ’s body and drink of His blood,

I must "interrupt" you already, because this makes little sense to me. You want to maintain the realism of the terminology "we . . . eat of Christ’s body and drink of His blood," on the one hand, but you (in effect) immediately take it away with the other, by denying that it is supernatural. There are only so many choices here. If you want to take a merely symbolic view, then that is one way to resolve the dilemma. But you deny that position. You want to maintain "eucharistic realism," and even claim the description "transubstantiation" for yourself (I think, wrongly). Yet this can't be without some supernatural element being present.

The reason is rather obvious: bread and wine are clearly not Jesus' Body and Blood. They are, well, bread and wine. If you agree with me that something happens during a Christian service whereby Jesus' Body and Blood are now present in a "real" way, then either it is just word games (and thus reduces to Zwingli's symbolism, in my opinion), or there is truly something more present (and that, more than merely "spiritually," which is how God is with us all the time). But to the extent that the "more" is physical, it must be miraculous. I don't see how it could not be. We're not dealing with science and natural philosophy here, but with the "metaphysical" and spiritual mysteries of the faith.

Whatever you believe, it is assuredly supernatural or miraculous, because it involves notions and realities that transcend mere bread and wine. Any atheist would think we were both nuts, and perfectly irrational, and he would, precisely because he doesn't accept the supernatural (or spiritual realities). Those categories are nonsensical to him. I think an atheist would find it rather strange that you are denying the supernatural in your analysis, when to him it clearly would appear that supernatural concepts and entities are involved for either of our beliefs (which to him would probably seem to be only variations on a theme).

but because it generally presupposes a purely extrinsic relationship between some realm of ‘nature’ and another putative realm of ‘super-nature’. A miracle is an invasion of the former by the latter. I am trying to reject the idea of an extrinsic relationship in favour of a more intrinsic relationship.

First of all, I don't see why this dichotomy has to be made in the first place, or why you are inclined to believe that this ought to be the case. Where does that presupposition come from?

Secondly, it could be argued that the spiritual, theological realm is an ongoing supernatural reality. It is, in other words (at least in some sense), a perpetual "miracle." By definition, "supernature" is more than nature. The eucharist is one such entity. We're talking about more than bread and wine, and much more than bread and wine being piously regarded as only symbols for remembrance. Thus, again, the supernatural is, it seems to me, necessarily involved.

Thirdly, I find it odd that you would be inclined towards a less miraculous or non-miraculous conception, when all indications are that the New Covenant and the Eucharist instituted by our Lord Jesus Himself, have "miraculous" and "new" written all over them. Jesus referred back to the manna in the wilderness in his John 6 (quite eucharistic) discourse. Manna was miraculous. It wasn't natural. It came from heaven, by God's decree. The feeding of the five thousand -- closely examined -- shows signs of some sacramental, eucharistic meaning (and it was a meal, just as manna provided a good many meals for the Jews in the wilderness). That, too, was a miracle: an "intersection" between a powerful Lord and His people. When Jesus appeared to the dsciples after His Resurrection, He had a Body which was capable of very "unnatural" things, such as what appeared to be "walking through walls." That was beyond our normal humdrum experience, too. So where you see a routine meal, I see wondrous miracles and parallels to same all over the place. What's fascinating to me is why we have these different approaches at all. Why do you see it one way, and I, another? This is prior to the dogmatic, denominational considerations. It has to do with, rather, what you described as "root convictions." One reason I love dialogues like this one so much, is that it allows the participants a chance to explore the "whys and wherefores" of such prior convictions and presuppositions.

Chief among my problems with the doctrine of transubstantiation in many of its common forms is that the Supper is perceived as possessing some ontology peculiar to itself as ‘sacrament’, something that sharply separates it from the form of sacramentality possessed by the world in general.

This reveals, I think, some of the problems in your thinking. As I discussed in my last reply, sacraments are inherently a mixing of natural and supernatural, because what they mean is "some form of matter which conveys grace." Grace is a supernatural entity, not a natural one. So the dead guy is thrown onto Elisha's bones (natural) and he is raised from the dead (supernatural). Paul's handkerchief (natural) heals people (supernatural). Jesus uses mud to put into the blind man's eyes (natural), and he sees (supernatural). The woman touches Jesus' robe and is healed (this is what we call in Catholic theology a "secondary relic"). Water is poured on a baby's head (natural), and regeneration occurs (supernatural). Are not all these things "sharply separated" from the natural world in general? They're not natural at all, insofar as spiritual,
supernatural elements are involved in each one of them.

Rather than standing in a very clear continuity with the Passover that precedes it and the daily meals that surround it, the Eucharist ends up becoming something quite alien to these things — a miracle.

I don't see it as "alien" at all. If you go back to the roots of the Passover, that was as miraculous as any of the other major events in Hebrew and salvation history. The Jews were instructed to put lamb's blood "on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses" (Ex 12:7). God would see that and pass over each house which had it (hence the name), while He smote the Egyptian firstborn (Ex 12:12-13). This is thoroughly sacramental, and also equally supernatural and miraculous. It's not routine or "natural" at all. It has nothing to do with "natural" except that natural means were used to produce a supernatural, sacramental effect, according to the essential nature of all sacraments and sacramentals (in Catholicism, things such as holy water, relics, blessings, crucifixes, scapulars, etc.). The blood of lambs and goats somehow caused God to not judge sinners. Later, of course, the blood of Jesus the Lamb of God, would cover our sins and cause us to be spiritually saved, just as the Jews were physically saved from judgment (the former was a type or shadow of, and analogy to, the latter). That's supernatural. It seems to me, then, that all indications favor a "supernaturalist" conception of both Passover and the Eucharist which was a later development of it.

Once again, I am not denying that we feed on Christ in the Supper.

I don't have the slightest idea what you mean by that if you deny that it is a supernatural occurrence. I contend that unless it is miraculous, it reduces to pure Zwinglian symbolism, which is not supernatural at all. Anyone can sit there and remember what Jesus did for them. They can do that anywhere and at any time, and need no special service to do it.

What I am denying is the idea that the Supper is somehow some radically different entity from the Passover and our day-to-day meals.

Yes and no. It's not "radically different" from the Passover. It is a consistent development of it, in accordance with general New Testament and New Covenant principles of how things developed (Sunday worship as a development of the old Sabbath is another such instance). Jews observed Passover once a year. Christians observe the Eucharist every Sunday. It's more intense; the miraculous is made the centerpiece of worship in a way that Judaism couldn't do (for lack of the sheer number of Lambs, for one thing). Jesus has become our Passover Lamb. The parallels are striking and most fascinating. The Mass is also similar to our "daily meals" insofar as it is a communal gathering and partaking of (what was and still appears to be) bread and wine. Families gather together as a "community" to eat dinner; so do assemblies of Christians, the Family or People of God.

Catholic apologist Dr. Scott Hahn explored the relationship of Passover and Eucharist in his fascinating talk, "The Fourth Cup" (one of my very favorites of his). Here are some highlights (in green):

. . . we know the way the Passover has been celebrated for centuries, for millenia; it's a very ancient liturgy, it's well known, it's no secret. Jews still celebrate it according to the same structure. There are four cups that represent the structure of the Passover. The first cup is the blessing of the festival day, it's the kiddush cup. The second cup of wine occurs really at the beginning of the Passover liturgy itself, and that involves the singing of psalm 113. And then there's the third cup, the cup of blessing which involves the actual meal, the unleavened bread and so on. And then, before the fourth cup, you sing the great hil-el psalms: 114, 115, 116, 117 and 118. And having sung those psalms you proceed to the fourth cup which for all practical purposes is the climax of the Passover.

Now what's the problem? The problem is that gospel account says something like this: after the third cup is drunk Jesus says, "I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until I am entering into the kingdom of God." And it says, "Then they sang the psalms." Every Jew who knows the
liturgy would expect: and then they went ahead and said the grace and the blessing and had the fourth cup which climaxed and consummated the Passover. But no, the gospel account say they sang the psalms and went out into the night.

. . . Where did they go? Well, we just read, Gethsemane. And what did he do? He prayed, because his soul was so distressed. Notice what he prayed, and why, and how he did it. Three times he fell down to the ground and said to his Father, he cried out. "Abba, Father!" The most intimate of terms. "All things are possible to Thee. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt." Remove this cup. Take away this cup. What is this cup? Now, some scholars suggest that this harkens back to an image used by Isaiah and Jeremiah to speak about the cup of God's wrath that the Messiah, God's suffering servant, must drink. There's certainly some connection that can be made there, but much more likely, I think, is a connection between an interrupted liturgy that had been followed strictly up until the very end and this heartfelt, earnest plea and prayer of our Savior. Remove this cup. He also said, though, "I shall not taste of the fruit of the vine again until I enter into the kingdom."

. . . John sees in this so much more than we can get into, but one thing in particular. Verse 28, "After this" - at the very end of his cruel sufferings - "Jesus, knowing that all was now finished said, in order to fulfill the scriptures, 'I thirst.'" Now, he's been on the cross for hours. Is this the first moment of thirst. No, he'd been wracked with pain and dying of thirst for hours. But he says, in order to fulfill the scripture, "I thirst." Why? To fulfill the scripture.

"A bowl of sour wine stood there. They put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch - the same kind of branch the Israelites had to use to sprinkle the lamb's blood on the doorpost, coincidentally enough - and held it to his mouth. Before when they offered him wine, what did he do? He refused it: "I will not taste of the fruit of the vine I am coming into the kingdom." He skipped the fourth cup and then he went to pray, 'Remove this cup, not as I will , but as thou wilt,' And now he has gone and fulfilled that will to the uttermost, in perfect suffering obedience to the Father, in an act of unspeakable love.

"They put a sponge full of the sour wine on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine he said the words that are spoken of in the fourth cup consummation, "It is finished." What is the it referring to? That grammatical question began really bothering me at some point. I asked several people and their response was usually, "Well, it means the work of redemption that Christ was working on." All right, that's true, I agree it does refer to that, but in context. An exegete, a trained interpreter of the word is supposed to find the contextual meaning, not just import a meaning from a theology textbook. What is Jesus speaking of when he says, "It is finished?" I mean, our redemption is not completed once he - he's not yet raised. Paul says, "He was raised for our justification."

. . . He said, 'It is finished', and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit, his breath. The it, of course you realize by now, is the Passover sacrifice. Because who is Jesus Christ? He is the sacrifice of Egypt, the firstborn son. Remember, the Egyptians involuntarily had to offer up their firstborn sons as atonement for their own sins and wickedness. Christ dies for Egypt and the world. Plus, he is the Passover lamb, the unblemished lamb, without broken bones who offers himself up for the life of the world. This fits with John's gospel, because as soon as Jesus was introduced in chapter 1 of the fourth gospel by John the Baptist, what did John say? He said, "Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." And here is the lamb, headed for the altar of the cross, dying as a righteous firstborn and as an unblemished lamb. I believe that it's best to say in light of scripture that the sacrifice of Christ did not begin with the first spike, it didn't begin when the cross was sunk into the ground. It began in the upper room. That's where the sacrifice began. And I would also suggest that the Passover meal by which Jesus initiated the new Covenant in his own blood did not end in the upper room, but at Calvary. It's all of one piece. The sacrifice begins in the upper room with the institution of the Eucharist and it ends at Calvary. Calvary begins with the Eucharist. The Eucharist ends at Calvary. But in another way of thinking, it ain't over yet! Cause it ain't over till it's over. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, "Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed, therefore" - what? - we don't need to have any more sacrifice? Therefore we don't need to have any more ritual, therefore all we have to do is have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and invite him into our hearts and everything else is taken care of? No, he's too knowledgeable about the Old Testament to say any of that. He says, "Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed; let us therefore celebrate the feast." What feast? The whole Passover feast. It's not complete yet.

. . . You had to eat the lamb. It isn't enough to kill him. That is the satisfaction for sin, but the ultimate goal of sacrifice is not blood and gore and God making sure He sees the death. The ultimate goal is to restore communion, to have fellowship with God restored. And that's what's signified by eating the lamb. Who shares a common meal? Family. What is this a sign of? Covenant. And what is a covenant? A sacred family bond. In the Old Testament any family that sacrificed a lamb and sprinkled the blood had to eat the lamb.

. . . Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Once and for all on Calvary he's been put to death, therefore - what? Therefore we've nothing to do. Just celebrate the sacrifice, which is over and done with - No, something's missing. We need to eat the Lamb. We need to receive the Lamb to restore communion and to complete the sacrifice and to keep the feast. It's proper, and we now judge it to be necessary. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, "Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed and now let us celebrate the feast." And the next five chapters in many ways St. Paul describes how the Eucharist is to be celebrated, because it's the culmination of the Passover sacrifice.

This is a true sacrifice. It's an unbloody sacrifice, because we're not killing Jesus again. This was something I never really understood as a Protestant anti-Catholic. I thought for sure that because you speak of sacrificing in the Mass, that therefore in some way you believe we're killing
Jesus again and again and again, as though one dying is not enough. So we just assumed and I always taught that there was suffering imposed upon Christ supposedly in the Mass. This is blasphemous because his one act of dying wasn't enough and we had to continue to have him die and bleed and suffer, which is what the Mass is for. No way! That's anti-Catholic. No Catholic can believe that because the sacrifice of the Mass involves no bleeding , no dying and no suffering of the person of Christ, who is enthroned in glory and reigning triumphant in heaven. He is
resurrected. He is ascended. He is enthroned, and he rules as king of kings.

. . . In [Revelation 5] verse 6 John says, "I saw a lamb standing there as though it had been slain." The conquering king, the lion of the tribe of Judah , the root of David ruling and reigning in the new and glorified Jerusalem, up in heaven, and when you see him what's he look like? A lamb, looking as though he'd been slain. Why? because Revelation 5, and then 6 and 7 and 8 all describe what St, John saw in spirit on the Lord's Day up in heaven. And guess what? It's what you see in the spirit on the Lord's day down on earth. A Eucharistic liturgy. And the Lamb leads all of the saints and the angels and the people of God in this beautiful heavenly liturgy.

. . . In the early Church fathers it went without argument, it went without saying that the liturgy on earth was patterned after the vision that St. John had of the heavenly worship. But notice the appearance of our conquering king. He's a lamb looking as though he'd been slain. Why? Because the Holy Spirit resurrected the body of Jesus and it was ascended into heaven and it was enthroned and it appears as a lamb because the sacrifice continues. Because the Passover sacrifice in the Old Testament was not complete until all of God's people who trusted the Lord and wanted to obey the ordinance received the Lamb and received the covenant and the sacred family bond of the Lamb. And so likewise the New Covenant, the heavenly family the spiritual supernatural bond that unties us as brothers and sisters . . .

. . . Someone once said, "He hides his adorable humanity in the humble appearance of ordinary bread and wine so that we might find that peace and joy that comes from being despised and rejected as he was in his life." He hides his adorable humanity. Do we adore it? In the humble
appearance of ordinary bread and wine? He will sustain our soul and the life of the Spirit like bread and wine sustain the life of the body. So that we might find that peace and joy that comes from being despised. The world would laugh at such a statement. The Eucharist is proof that it's true. Peace and joy that comes from being despised and rejected as he was in this life. In the Eucharist he is forgotten, rejected and sacrilegiously received and profaned, yet he remains there to nourish us with his precious body and blood."

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The manner in which the Eucharist is practiced in many churches serves to present the Supper as separated from the rest of life.

Of course it is. It's not "usual" or "common" in everyday life to have Jesus walk into the room. When that happens, you get on your face on the floor at His feet, and beg for mercy (as Isaiah did when He "saw God" -- Isaiah 6:1-5). Thus, Catholics worship Jesus in the Eucharist, and confess our sins before receiving Him. And we genuflect and bow our heads at the consecration. It's the most glorious part of the liturgy, and the reason we are all there. This is "real presence." Jesus is "really" there, just as if we were back in Galilee with Peter and the fishermen. You want to talk about Real Presence, but you also don't want to act as you would if Jesus made a post-Resurrection appearance and stood before you, right by your computer, as you are reading this. What would you do, then? Would you say, "well, my Lord, I do adore You and worship You and serve You with all my heart, but I don't believe that this meeting with you should be regarded as separate from the rest of my life. It's not supernatural. It's only natural. You lived as a Man and here you are now with me." Is that not a rather obvious reductio ad absurdum? I think so.

Rather than being the fulfilment of all that our daily meals were designed to be, the Supper soon loses all resemblance to any other supper.

Just as Passover is no ordinary supper; nor was the miracle of manna in the desert, nor was the feeding of the 5000, nor the Last Supper itself, nor the pictures we have of heavenly worship in Revelation, in which St. John saw Jesus as a "lamb slain." I don't know where you get this. Passover had to do with sacrifice, It was no ordinary meal at all. Jesus is the New Testament Passover Lamb. He was sacrificed on our behalf. The Mass makes that one-time sacrifice present here and now. Time and space are transcended (just as in heavenly worship). Jesus is the Sacrifice. We still have priests today, who offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, with the people. We commemorate the cross, and Jesus is actually present as well. Otherwise, the Eucharist is no different in kind than the Passover. If nothing supernatural occurs, it is even lesser in a major way than the Passover. But the New Covenant pattern is for more supernaturalism and greater things to occur. Baptism actually confers regeneration, and all believers can be filled with the Spirit. That is far more than the precursor to that ritual, circumcision did (it was a physical sign and no more, as far as I know).

I strongly believe that the Supper should be regarded as one of one daily meals. For this reason, I am firmly in favour of the practice of celebrating the Eucharist within the context of a meal that the gathered assembly of the church all partake of. Sometime in the course of the meal, the bread should be taken by the head of the assembly and he should offer a simple prayer of thanksgiving (e.g. ‘Lord, we thank You for bread, which You have given to sustain men’s hearts’); then, after pronouncing the words of institution, it should be distributed by the deacons. At the conclusion of the meal the head of the assembly should take the cup, offer another simple prayer of thanksgiving (e.g. ‘Lord, we thank You for wine, which You
have given to make men’s hearts glad’); then the words of institution should be pronounced and the deacons should pass it around to the congregation. All the baptized (but only the baptized) should partake, young children included. Such a practice is far more preferable to partaking
while on your knees in front of a communion rail. This is a strange way to eat a meal.

Your description sounds like what we used to do at prayer meetings; just get some pita bread and grape juice and do a "communion service." But we believe that a validly ordained priest must preside. Not just anyone can do this. Catholics show signs of reverence when we meet and receive Jesus. You would do that if He walked into your room right now. So we Catholics act that way because we believe He is really present. What you describe could be done by anyone anywhere.

Once transubstantiation has been elevated to the status of ‘miracle’, it is effectively sundered from the OT rites that preceded it.

I think that is exactly the opposite of the truth, as I have shown above, through many examples. Is this about cessationism? Is that why you are reluctant to accept the miraculous? Does God still perform miracles today?

Transubstantiation is ‘supernatural’ in a manner that the Passover meal never was.

It "never" was? God passes over the Jews because of blood on doorposts and kills Egyptians, but that is not supernatural? No natural calamity would spare people because of blood on doors. It was of a piece with all the other plagues that God brought upon Egypt and Pharaoh. I find this
quite odd. It's a different kind of miracle, but it is still supernatural.

As a result the focus of Eucharistic theology is drawn away from the OT background to elaborate philosophical constructs designed to articulate the precise ‘mechanics’ of the miracle of transubstantiation.

If you don't like that, then ignore it. The Orthodox don't do much of that, but they still believe in transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood.

I am arguing that the ‘substance’ of the sacrament does not change from the old to the new covenant. In some sense or other, the ‘substance’ is Christ in both covenants (this is not to deny that we have a far deeper participation in Christ in the new covenant). The new covenant Eucharist is a ‘conjugation’ of a number of OT rites. The Eucharist is the fulfilment and consummation of the Passover as it is a manifestation of, and participation in, the new covenant order, where Christ is all in all. The Eucharist will one day itself be fulfilled and consummated in the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb. The Eucharist is a foretaste of the Marriage Supper in a similar manner to the manner in which the Passover was a foretaste in the Eucharist.

No particular comment . . . I can agree with some of this, but as it is unpacked, we would have disagreements too.

What is my point in all of this? My point is simply that the Supper is woven into the fabric of the whole of our lives. The Supper is somehow continuous with the meals that we eat from day to day; the Supper is somehow continuous with all of the God-ordained eating rites in the previous
history of the people of God. As James Jordan and others have observed, the basic form of the action in the Supper (i.e. taking, thanking, separating, renaming, distributing, evaluating, enjoying) is one that is more or less applicable to almost every series of actions in our lives. Man
takes parts of the world, restructures them, renames them, presents them in some form or other to different people, who evaluate these restructured parts of the world and (hopefully) go on to enjoy them. This pattern is exhibited even in the most mundane actions of life.

You can't remove the mystery of faith from the Eucharist. You can have all these other understandings, too, without removing the miracle. The Catechism acknowledges many different aspects of the Eucharist (#1322-1407).

Sinful man consistently approaches the sequence as follows: take, give thanks, restructure, rename, distribute, evaluate, enjoy (Romans 1:21). The ritual of the Eucharist is designed (among many other things) to impress upon us this second element in the sequence in order that we might live the whole of our lives eucharistically.

Sure; I have no problem with that.

The Eucharistic elements are some of the most common and fundamental elements of human life and culture. If they are drawn into the new world order, somehow the entirety of human culture is implicated also. By construing transubstantiation as a ‘discrete miraculous exception’ (Catherine Pickstock’s phrase), the fabric of this world is no longer implicated in the same way in the Eucharistic celebration. This is one of the chief things that concern me about the position that you seem to be articulating. Perhaps I am misunderstanding you here.

But Catholics don't eliminate the "communal meal" aspects of the Eucharist. I don't see why it has to be "de-supernaturalized" in order to have that understanding (we don't disagree on that). I think it is wrongheaded to view the matter as a continuation of daily life more so than to view it as a compelling, profound, existential experience of the central tenet of faith and greatest moment in the history of the world and of salvation history: the crucifixion and Jesus' sacrifice and atonement for the sins of the world. That's how we look at it: the cross is made present, and we receive our Lord. This is what Christian ritual and worship is about. It's not abstract. It is very concrete. And that is the sacramental, incarnational essence of worship.

The Body and Blood that we eat and drink are not just ‘phenomenologically’ bread and wine, but are completely continuous with the reality of bread and wine. The bread is not evacuated of its substance (as if it were a container) to make room for the Body; rather the bread now subsists in the Body and the Body is present in the bread. The bread now ‘lives and moves and has its being’ (for want of a better way of putting it) in Christ. The manner in which the bread is taken up into Christ and receives its substance from Him (by the work of the Holy Spirit) makes the language of ‘transubstantiation’ appropriate. As Pickstock expresses it in her defence of Aquinas’ doctrine, ‘the substantiality of the bread is not so much destroyed as more utterly constituted by being taken up into God.’ I find little to object to in this statement.

We've gone over this. I would simply reiterate again: if Jesus is truly present physically, as He was when He walked the earth, then you ought to adore Him in the worship service. If He's not there in that fashion you should cease talking about both transubstantiation and Real Presence. You want to strangely mix the two: have some kind of presence beyond what we have everyday, yet not worship. I wouldn't worship, either, if bread and wine were still there, because that is idolatry. It is precisely because I believe that bread and wine are transformed, that I worship my Lord Jesus at Mass. I bow my head and genuflect and receive kneeling (we have an altar rail at my church, which is liturgically traditional). We should all lie on the ground on our faces and heap dust and ashes on our heads (one could reasonably argue), but this is the way that the Church has decided that worship should be expressed, so I conform myself to those norms of worship.

I do not believe in impanation. What takes place in the Supper is not a matter of Christ coming into our world in order to inhabit it (as was the case in the Incarnation),

I wouldn't distance the Eucharist from the Incarnation. I want to make more connections, because I see them as very similar. But if you deny this, too, then that only shows me that you scarcely believe in Real Presence at all, as historically defined. I've tried very hard to see the Reformed (and Calvin's own) view of the Eucharist as some form of "Real Presence," but the more I learn, the more it seems apparent to me that the two concepts cannot be reconciled. Perhaps this is why (so I hear from many of the "high Reformed") many Reformed Christians today are practially Zwinglians with regard to the Eucharist? Calvin already took away too many essential aspects of the Eucharist. Others simply take it further, because once you depart from a received Tradition of Christianity (even a lesser denominational tradition or creed), the overwhelming tendency is for folks to become more and more liberal, and believe less and less (hence, theological liberalism itself, that we are all blessed with).

but is a matter of our world being drawn into and grounded in the resurrected and ascended Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit.

That has already occurred in all of creation, because of the Incarnation. I don't see how or why that would be construed as mitigating against transubstantiation.

It is a matter of the Church drawing its being from Christ. We are ‘transubstantiated’ from a gathering of faithful believers into the Body of Christ as we draw our substance from Him in the celebration of the Eucharist.

This is simply not what the word has meant, historically, or even linguistically. I'm afraid that the tendency to redefine words without reference to how they have been used before, and standard definitions, is a classic hallmark of liberal theology. I think you should be quite reluctant to adopt such a practice, because you obviously are no liberal. First (in liberal thinking), a word is co-opted and redefined. Then it is repeatedly used in that
way. Eventually the people at large adopt the new definition. Thus, by simply changing the meaning of words, traditional doctrines can be eroded. We see the same thing in the Catholic Church. "Real Presence" has been so eroded historically that 70% of Catholics have picked up this thinking, and deny transubstantiation, as defined by the Church.

Such a form of ‘transubstantiation’, which is the position that I essentially hold to,

You must know that the word transubstantiation has meant a certain thing, that can be identified. Why use the word, then, when you clearly have in mind something else? I've never understood this. It's as if you want to modify the Catholic belief by claiming the Catholic word for your own use.

is totally consistent with the claim that adoration of the elements is unbiblical and idolatrous.

Sure; if Jesus truly isn't there, then it would be (as worship of bread and wine is idolatry). If He is there, on the other hand, He should be worshiped, because the presence of bread and wine also would not necessarily change that obligation. It would be as if Jesus was standing there
with a loaf of bread. If you worshiped Him, the bread would be irrelevant. Or would you call that idolatry too? If you worshiped Jesus when He was sitting on a throne in heaven, would that be idolatry because you are worshiping the throne too? I don't get it.

The analogy between the manner in which the Christ is the body of Christ and the manner in which the bread is the body of Christ is also thoroughly appropriate within the form of transubstantiation expressed above. The Church gains its substance from Christ — we are bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh — but the Church is still in some manner distinct from Christ. In the same manner the bread and wine take their substance from Christ, but are not to be worshipped as Christ. The change in substance is not a sufficient proof for the validity of the common forms of Eucharistic adoration.

I remain perplexed as to how you work this out in your own mind. But I enjoyed the dialogue very much. Thanks again.

Published Articles in "This Rock" / Comic Tracts / Internet Ministry in the Overall Scheme of Things

This Rock (the preeminent Catholic apologetics magazine) published four of my articles in the year 2004. Here they are, linked directly to the online version of the magazine, on the Catholic Answers website. The most recent one (from the November issue) now appears for the first time on my blog or website, as a link:

"Catholics Need to Read Their Bibles," This Rock, February 2004, 20-22.

"On Sinners in the Church: How Could it be Otherwise?," This Rock, April 2004, 25-27.

"A Quick Ten-Step Refutation of Sola Scriptura," This Rock, September 2004.

"The Pleasures and Perils of a Catholic Apologetics Apostolate," This Rock, November 2004.

Also, my conversion story was published, way back in 1993:

"A Church Shopper's Road to Catholicism," This Rock, September 1993, 14-16.

[I should note that this was a very heavily-edited and modified version of my story, which was to be included in the bestseller Surprised by Truth the next year. That version was also edited, with some additions (but far less than this one). My own, unedited version is posted on my website]

Another paper of mine is also to be published in This Rock, about the "pleasures and perils" of Internet evangelism and apologetics (I could write a book on that! Those who have followed my activities lately, know the nonsense I have had to endure from misguided critics).

Also mentioned in the pages of this prestigious magazine, was the Catholic Information League, which was an effort by my good friends Dan Grajek (a skilled cartoonist), Joe Polgar, and myself, to do some "comic tracts" in order to counter Jack Chick and to provide some attractive, quick evangelistic tools. Dan and I had actually started writing these in 1985, when I was a Protestant campus missionary. One of our first ones, The Resurrection: Hoax or History?, was actually reproduced in This Rock in its much-appreciated write-up of the ministry in February 1994 (but unfortunately, it is not posted in the online version). CIL was also mentioned briefly in October 1993. Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. was the adviser and final editor of these tracts, and rumor has it that he once showed some of them to Pope John Paul II.

The front page of The Resurrection: Hoax or History? can be seen on the publisher's page. I wrote the entire text for this tract, as well as the following ones:

The Cloud of Witnesses

The Class Struggle

Mary: Do Catholics Have a Biblical View?

Joe Hardhat, the Quintessential Catholic: On Justification

Note that the conversion story and the comic tracts date from 1993 and 1994, two to two-and-a-half years before I ever went online (March 1996). I had also had articles published in the apologetics magazine, The Catholic Answer (then edited by Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas) three times, another similar magazine, Hands-On Apologetics, six times, and The Coming Home Newsletter (edited by Marcus Grodi), five times, before I had my own website (March 1997). So for those who think that the Internet "defines" me, and has been the more or less sole cause for my work being known at all, it's not true. I had also finished the initial 750-page version of my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, in 1994, and even the revised version in May 1996, only two months after I started doing apologetics on the Internet, and ten months before I had a website.

Don't get me wrong: I thank God for the Internet, I love the tremendous potential of it, and it has played a crucial role in my apostolate (beyond my wildest dreams), but my work has also extended beyond that venue. In fact, if you count Protestant apologetics activity, I had been very active in apologetics, evangelism of all kinds (sometimes in the streets), pro-life activism, and counter-cult research and evangelism (even including a radio appearance as a Protestant apologist) for more than sixteen years before I ever had a website.

I mention this partially to counter ridiculous claims from some quarters that I haven't "paid my dues" as an apologist, or that I shouldn't get paid anything for doing this (more than once I have been told to "get a real job"), or that I am insufficiently trained and "credentialed," or that I am only known at all because of Internet exposure (that anyone could achieve, etc.). None of that is true. It's just an effort to attack the Catholic Church and what we believe by means of going after one of its messengers, folks.

Anyway, thanks again from the bottom of my heart to all of you out there reading this, and especially to those who have encouraged me through the years, contributed financially, bought any of my books, and prayed for this work. I couldn't have done it without you, and without all three of those emotional, spiritual, and financial aids.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Possible References to the Deuterocanon (aka "Apocrypha") in Matthew (RSV)

Derived from pp. 800-804 of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 27th edition (Novum Testamentum: Graece et Latine, published by Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft; see the web page from Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin, which reproduced the list. I have also added my own suggested comparisons and possible parallels; these will be reproduced in green (NT); otherwise NT passages listed in Nestle-Aland will be in blue, and
Deuterocanonical passages in red. Alleged references listed by verse only at the end were deemed (by myself) dissimilar and questionable or non-convincing enough to not reproduce.

[Bible passages were retrieved from the RSV Bible, with Apocrypha, from the University of Virginia Electronic Text Center]

-------------------------------------------------

1a) Matthew 4:4

But he answered, "It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"

1b) Wisdom 16:26

so that thy sons, whom thou didst love, O Lord, might learn that it is not the production of crops that feeds man, but that thy word preserves those who trust in thee.

2a) Matthew 4:15

"The land of Zeb'ulun and the land of Naph'tali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles --

2b) 1 Maccabees 5:15

they said that against them had gathered together men of Ptolemais and Tyre and Sidon, and all Galilee of the Gentiles, "to annihilate us."

3a) Matthew 5:18

For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

3b) Baruch 4:1

She is the book of the commandments of God, and the law that endures for ever. All who hold her fast will live, and those who forsake her will die.

4a) Matthew 5:28

But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

4b) Sirach 9:8

Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman, and do not look intently at beauty belonging to another; many have been misled by a woman's beauty, and by it passion is kindled like a fire.

5a) Matthew 5:4

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5b) Sirach 48:24

By the spirit of might he saw the last things, and comforted those who mourned in Zion.

6a) Matthew 6:7

"And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

6b) Sirach 7:14

Do not prattle in the assembly of the elders, nor repeat yourself in your prayer.

7a) Matthew 6:9

Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

7b) Sirach 23:1,4

O Lord, Father and Ruler of my life, do not abandon me to their counsel, and let me not fall because of them!

O Lord, Father and God of my life, do not give me haughty eyes,

8a) Matthew 6:10

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.

8b) 1 Maccabees 3:60

But as his will in heaven may be, so he will do."

9a) Matthew 6:12

And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors;

9b) Sirach 28:2

Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.

10a) Matthew 6:13

And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.

10b) Sirach 33:1

No evil will befall the man who fears the Lord, but in trial he will deliver him again and again.

11a) Matthew 6:20

but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.

11b) Sirach 29:10s

10: Lose your silver for the sake of a brother or a friend, and do not let it rust under a stone and be lost.
11: Lay up your treasure according to the commandments of the Most High, and it will profit you more than gold.
12: Store up almsgiving in your treasury, and it will rescue you from all affliction;

12a) Matthew 7:12

So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.

12b) Tobit 4:15 [a]

And what you hate, do not do to any one . . .

12c) Sirach 31:15

Judge your neighbor's feelings by your own, and in every matter be thoughtful.

13a) Matthew 7:16

You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?

13b) Sirach 27:6

The fruit discloses the cultivation of a tree; so the expression of a thought discloses the cultivation of a man's mind.

14a) Matthew 8:11

I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,

14b) Baruch 4:37

Behold, your sons are coming, whom you sent away; they are coming, gathered from east and west, at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing in the glory of God.

15a) Matthew 9:36

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

15b) Judith 11:19

. . . you will lead them like sheep that have no shepherd, . . .

16a) Matthew 10:16

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

16b) Sirach 13:17

What fellowship has a wolf with a lamb? No more has a sinner with a godly man.

17a) Matthew 11:14

and if you are willing to accept it, he is Eli'jah who is to come.

[cf. Matthew 17:11 below]

17b) Sirach 48:10

you who are ready at the appointed time, it is written, to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury, to turn the heart of the father to the son, and to restore the tribes of Jacob. [see verses 1-9]

18a) Matthew 11:29

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

18b) Sirach 6:24s

23: Listen, my son, and accept my judgment; do not reject my counsel.
24: Put your feet into her fetters, and your neck into her collar.
25: Put your shoulder under her and carry her, and do not fret under her bonds.
26: Come to her with all your soul, and keep her ways with all your might.
27: Search out and seek, and she will become known to you; and when you get hold of her, do not let her go.

18c) Sirach 6:28s

28: For at last you will find the rest she gives, and she will be changed into joy for you.
29: Then her fetters will become for you a strong protection, and her collar a glorious robe.
30: Her yoke is a golden ornament, and her bonds are a cord of blue.
31: You will wear her like a glorious robe, and put her on like a crown of gladness.

18d) Sirach 51:26s

26: Put your neck under the yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by.
27: See with your eyes that I have labored little and found myself much rest.

19a) Matthew 12:4

how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but
only for the priests?

19b) 2 Maccabees 10:3

They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they burned incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence.

20a) Matthew 13:44

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

20b) Sirach 20:30s

30: Hidden wisdom and unseen treasure, what advantage is there in either of them?
31: Better is the man who hides his folly than the man who hides his wisdom.

21a) Matthew 16:18

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
[KJV: "gates of hell" / NIV: "gates of Hades" / the Greek is Hades]

21b) Wisdom 16:13

For thou hast power over life and death; thou dost lead men down to the gates of Hades and back again.

22a) Matthew 16:27

For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.

22b) Sirach 35:18-19 [mistakenly listed as 35:22 in Nestle-Aland (or in Jimmy Akin's chart); the chapter has only 20 verses]

18: And the Lord will not delay, neither will he be patient with them, till he crushes the loins of the unmerciful and repays vengeance on the nations; till he takes away the multitude of the insolent, and breaks the scepters of the unrighteous;
19: till he repays the man according to his deeds, and the works of men according to their devices; till he judges the case of his people and makes them rejoice in his mercy.

23a) Matthew 17:11

He replied, "Eli'jah does come, and he is to restore all things;

[cf. Matthew 11:14 above]

23b) Sirach 48:10

you who are ready at the appointed time, it is written, to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury, to turn the heart of the father to the son, and to restore the tribes of Jacob. [see verses 1-9]

24a) Matthew 18:10

"See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.

24b) Tobit 12:15

I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One."

25a) Matthew 23:38

Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.

25b) Tobit 14:4

Go to Media, my son, for I fully believe what Jonah the prophet said about Nineveh, that it will be overthrown. But in Media there will be peace for a time. Our brethren will be scattered over the earth from the good land, and Jerusalem will be desolate. The house of God in it will be burned down and will be in ruins for a time.

26a) Matthew 27:24

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves."

26b) Daniel 13:46 [b] [Susanna 1:46]

. . . "I am innocent of the blood of this woman."

27a) Matthew 27:43

He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, `I am the Son of God.'"

27b) Wisdom 2:13,18-20 [+12,14-17,21-22]

12: "Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training.
13: He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord.
14: He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
15: the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange.
16: We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father.
17: Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;
18: for if the righteous man is God's son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.
19: Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance.
20: Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected."
21: Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them,
22: and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hope for the wages of holiness, nor discern the prize for blameless souls;

See also (from Nestle-Aland list):

Matthew 5:2ss and Sirach 25:7-12
Matthew 6:23 and Sirach 14:10
Matthew 6:33 and Wisdom 7:11
Matthew 8:21 and Tobit 4:3
Matthew 9:38 and 1 Maccabees 12:17
Matthew 11:22 and Judith 16:17
Matthew 11:25 and Tobit 7:17 / Sirach 51:1
Matthew 11:28 and Sirach 24:19 / Sirach 51:23
Matthew 12:5 and Sirach 40:15 [?]
Matthew 16:22 and 1 Maccabees 2:21
Matthew 20:2 and Tobit 5:15
Matthew 22:13 and Wisdom 17:2
Matthew 24:15 and 1 Maccabees 1:54 / 2 Maccabees 8:17
Matthew 24:16 and 1 Maccabees 2:28
Matthew 25:35 and Tobit 4:17
Matthew 25:36 and Sirach 7:32-35
Matthew 26:38 and Sirach 37:2

Sunday, January 30, 2005


The prophet Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Or maybe not?

Are Catholics Permitted to Believe That Elijah and Enoch Were Taken Up To Heaven?

[long citations will be in blue; my book excerpt will be in green]

Blog participant Dev Thakur asked:


Did Enoch and Elijah really go to Heaven before Christ opened it up to us? How could that be? Or did they just go to "the heavens" and wait for Christ?
I replied:



As for Enoch and Elijah, yes, they did go to heaven. I wrote about this in my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, [p. 134 in Sophia edition] as a roundabout argument in favor of purgatory:
We know from Scripture that a few Old Testament saints went to heaven before Christ went to Sheol and led (presumably) the majority of the pre-Christian righteous there (Ephesians 4:8-10 and 1 Peter 3:19-20). Elijah went straight to heaven by a whirlwind, as we are informed in 2 Kings 2:11. It is also generally thought by all sides that Enoch went directly to heaven as well (Genesis 5:24). Moses came with Elijah to the Mount of Transfiguration to talk with Jesus (Matthew 17:1-3, Mark 9:4, Luke 9:30-31). By implication, then, it could be held that he, too, had been in heaven, and by further logical inference, other Old Testament saintly figures.

It follows that, even before Christ, there was a "two-tiered" afterlife for the righteous: some, such as Elijah, Enoch and likely Moses and others, went to heaven, whereas a second, larger group went temporarily to Sheol. Likewise, now the elect of God can go straight to heaven if sufficiently holy, or to purgatory as a necessary stopping-point in order to attain to the proper sanctity becoming of inhabitants of heavenly glory. Therefore, it is neither true that all righteous dead before Christ went solely to Sheol, nor that all after His Resurrection went, and go, to heaven. On the other hand, the reprobate dead in Sheol (or Hades) eventually are sentenced to hell (Revelation 20:13-15).


Jason then wrote on my blog:



I must take exception to your opinion regarding Enoch and Elijah. The common teaching of the Church is that no human could enter the beatific vision before Christ. Enoch and Elijah may have entered a natural paradise (as they never died), and, as many believe, are the two "witnesses" spoken of in Revelation who will come to earth.

"Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, 'hell'—-'Sheol" in Hebrew or 'Hades' in Greek—-because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for ALL OF the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the redeemer." (CCC 633)

Note that the Catechism does not make any exceptions.
I replied again:

According to Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., I am permitted to hold this opinion, as the Church has not finally determined the question. He wrote:

Presumably Elijah went to heaven without dying . . . No doubt Ecclesiasticus suggests that Enoch was directly taken to heaven.
Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman made a similar argument in his book, Meditations and Devotions [linked to this exact passage]:

IV. On the Assumption

(1) May 24

Mary is the "Sancta Dei Genetrix," the Holy Mother of God


As soon as we apprehend by faith the great fundamental truth that Mary is the Mother of God, other wonderful truths follow in its train; and one of these is that she was exempt from the ordinary lot of mortals, which is not only to die, but to become earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Die she must, and die she did, as her Divine Son died, for He was man; but various reasons have approved themselves to holy writers, why, although her body was for a while separated from her soul and consigned to the tomb, yet it did not remain there, but was speedily united to her soul again, and raised by our Lord to a new and eternal life of heavenly glory.

And the most obvious reason for so concluding is this—that other servants of God have been raised from the grave by the power of God, and it is not to be supposed that our Lord would have granted any such privilege to anyone else without also granting it to His own Mother.

We are told by St. Matthew, that after our Lord's death upon the Cross "the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints that had slept"—that is, slept the sleep of death, "arose, and coming out of the tombs after His Resurrection, came into the Holy City, and appeared to many." St. Matthew says, "many bodies of the Saints"—that is, the holy Prophets, Priests, and Kings of former times—rose again in anticipation of the last day.

Can we suppose that Abraham, or David, or Isaias, or Ezechias, should have been thus favoured, and not God's own Mother? Had she not a claim on the love of her Son to have what any others had? Was she not nearer to Him than the greatest of the Saints before her? And is it conceivable that the law of the grave should admit of relaxation in their case, and not in hers? Therefore we confidently say that our Lord, having preserved her from sin and the consequences of sin by His Passion, lost no time in pouring out the full merits of that Passion upon her body as well as her soul.


St. Alphonsus de Liguori, a Doctor of the Church, also used the analogy of Elijah ("Elias" -- the Latin form) to the Assumption of Mary, in his book, The Glories of Mary (1750):

The prophet Elias was carried to heaven in a fiery chariot . . . "But to conduct thee to heaven, O Mother of God," says the Abbot Rupert, "a fiery chariot was not enough; the whole court of heaven, headed by its King thy Son, went forth to meet and accompany thee."

(Part the Second; Discourse VIII: Second Discourse on the Assumption of Mary; section I: "How glorious was the triumph of Mary when she ascended to heaven"; p. 425 in my edition [translated and edited by Eugene Grimm, Brooklyn: Redemptorist Fathers, 1931)

Early bishops did, too:

Theoteknos, a 6th century Bishop of Jericho . . . argued that since Elijah ascended and since a place in heaven had been prepared for the apostles, so the much the more must Mary have ascended to a place prepared for her.

Pope John Paul II stated in a General Audience on July 21, 1999 that Enoch and Elijah went to heaven:



The depiction of heaven as the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God is joined with that of the place to which believers, through grace, can also ascend, as we see in the Old Testament accounts of Enoch (cf. Gn 5:24) and Elijah (cf. 2 Kgs 2:11).
The "Quick Questions" from This Rock (July-August 2002), dealt with the question as follows:

Q: In the Old Testament we see Elijah being taken (presumably) body and soul into heaven. I understood that according to Catholic teaching, only Mary has been assumed body and soul into heaven. Obviously, just men like Moses and Elijah could not get into heaven itself until Jesus’ time. But I’m still left with the quandary of Elijah: Was his body there ahead of Mary’s?

A: According to Scripture, Enoch and Elijah may have been assumed into heaven before the time of Christ. This is less clear in Enoch's case, since Genesis 5:24 says only that God "took" him, but doesn't say where. Sirach 44:16 and 49:14 make it clear that he was taken up from the earth, and Hebrews 11:5 adds "so that he should not see death."

In Elijah's case, 2 Kings 2:11 states that "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." 1 Maccabees 2:58 adds, "Elijah because of great zeal for the Law was taken up into heaven. " Taken at face value, these would seem to indicate that both Enoch and Elijah were assumed into heaven. But the Church teaches that heaven was not yet opened to the saints because Christ had not yet come. How can this be explained?

One possible explanation is to say that they didn't really go to heaven but to the abode of the dead where the souls of the righteous were waiting for the Messiah to open heaven. A difficulty is that the abode of the dead, or she'ol, is pictured in the Old Testament as being down (e.g., Num. 16:33 speaks of Korah and his followers going "down alive into she'ol"), yet Enoch and Elijah are depicted as being taken up.

Another possibility would be to say they were taken up but to a different kind of heaven than the one Christ opened. Or it is possible to say simply that they received entrance to heaven as a grace which came from the redemption Christ wrought – only they received it early, as did Mary when she was immaculately conceived. Like Mary, Enoch and Elijah may have been foretastes of the good things to come. In such a case, they would be exceptions to the rule. But God can do what he wants.


Valentine Long, O.F.M., in his book, The Mother of God (Franciscan Herald Press, 1976), further clarifies the issue for us:

Whether any human bodies but those of Mary and her divine Son are already in heaven, does not fall within the confines of doctrine. There may be others. But the faithful are not obliged to believe there are. The Church allows the possibility without enforcing it.

There are those, among the biblical scholars, who consider the possibility a distinct probability. They first point out an Old Testament passage which tells of Enoch suddenly disappearing from view because "God took him." and then another which specifies that "he was taken up from the earth" (Gen. 5:24; Sir. 48:9). They next quote from the New Testament this confirmative text: "Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him" (Heb. 11:5). Nor does the inquiry end with Enoch. A second prophet, who at the Transfiguration would reappear with Moses on Mount Tabor, on the hills of Moab was whisked away into the skies while his companion stood by in amazement. "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven is as plain words can say it, and the witness "saw him no more" (2 (4) Kings 2:11-12).

That Elijah departed alive in such a flurry, and momentarily reappeared at the Transfiguration, and according to a prophecy would return again to minister to his people, all reinforces the mystery of his present whereabouts. Where has he gone? Where has Enoch gone? Neither of them died. But since the heaven of heavens was closed to humanity before its Savior's death, the question arises: were they detained until then in Limbo and afterwards graduated to the beatitude of the angels? Limbo (known in the Old Testament as "Abraham's bosom") had certainly been the place of detention for departed souls fit for heaven as soon as their Savior would open it to them, but in the case of Enoch and Elijah we are dealing with animated bodies. Where now are these? Is it out of the question to suppose that the two may have been taken, body and soul, into heaven? The Church does not say.

Nor has her magisterium chosen to speak with finality on what happened to those many risen bodies of Good Friday. Did they die again? Or were they taken to heaven? Is St. Joseph there now, body as well as soul? A select group of theologians, an even larger group of mystics, and sometimes theologians who were mystics, think so. They think the Holy Family are all together again. They think that the body that labored so faithfully and lovingly to provide a livelihood for Jesus and Mary is with them in glory. Suarez does. But why go into the long enumeration? St. Francis de Sales in lauding the foster father to and beyond the skies was singing no solo but contributing to a chorus.

That should be sufficient, I think, to demonstrate that any Catholic is fully permitted to hold such a view.




Saturday, January 29, 2005


"Pet Sounds" (1966): in the opinion of many (including yours truly), the best pop / rock album of all time. It certainly profoundly influenced the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper": its main rival as the all-time best on music critics' fave lists.

Does Orthodoxy Allow Contraception Or Not? (Expanded)

My latest paper (62K; lengthened from 45K, with some interesting additional documentation, as of 5:15 PM EST on 1-29-05)


Friday, January 28, 2005

A Level-Headed, Sensible, Realistic, Respectful Ecumenism (Tom Hunt)

I received this from a friend of mine, Tom Hunt (huntt@waldorf.edu). I thought it was so well-written, that I wanted to share it with my blog readers:
--------------------------------------------

Letter to a Friend About Ecumenism

Jon,

Jon, you would be surprised with what conviction I defend evangelicals here in liberal Lutheran land. For many people I have met, a caricature is all they can see when they think of bible-believers, a picture of a person comes to mind who is mean, judgmental, and says "it's easy to get saved and be part of the party if you'll only be a narrow thoughtless anti-intellectual bigot." I find it amazing that this is the image they call up every time when you say evangelical. They can't see anything else. When you live inside the camp it's a hard fact to swallow, but it's true.

When I think of the evangelicals I immediately see some of the most thoughtful and noble people I have ever met.

You have to keep that in mind. I have a great deal of respect for the folks at TIU who had to ask me to leave. They have some convictions beyond "i'm ok - your'e ok". We have a LOT in common.

Ecumenism is at its best when people adhere strongly to their tradition. CS Lewis said he had much more in common with anyone who took his own religion seriously than with some one who lives on the periphery of all traditions, embracing none with any gusto.

C. S. Lewis of course had the courage and audacity to say that his position was correct, that other religions, outside of Christianity, though they contained much truth (especially in the moral sphere) were, at the end of day the woefully inadequate in addressing the real predicament in which man finds himself. Only Christianity attacks the problem of sin and redemption directly. Only Christianity shows God coming to man, where all other religions show man attempting to make his way to God.

So your complaint, "Although it is hard at times when those who think that their tradition is the only possible way begin to dialogue" is, in the grand scheme of things also a common complaint against the likes of Lewis, "how is any one supposed to dialog with a narrow minded person who thinks he is right and others are wrong?"

So our dialog, yours and mine, will always suffer the tension of the fact that 1) you really think the intercession of the saints is at best a sort of cultural-peripheral thing which can be regarded as non-essential and I really cannot live without their prayers. For you, devotion to the Theotokos is at best a quaint practice of misled, primitive people (and at worst outright idol worship) and for me is it absolutely central to the maintenance of a faith with historical and yes Christological teeth. For you the Pope is a good guy (well this one is, anyway) whom you are glad to call brother, but who attempts to play a role you think is at best unnecessary, and at worst a big hindrance. For me his unifying voice, and the authority vested in his office are two very good reasons why Christianity is still an indentifiable body of people to this day, in spite of all the troubles. And finally for you communion can be taken or left, done once a month, once a year, or whenever, by whomever, and for me it is in fact the Body Blood Soul and Divinity of Christ, who is the Bread of Heaven, who comes to me under the appearance of bread and wine in invisible but none-the-less very real glory and might.

We have real disagreements. When we dialog we can leave them aside. But we cannot pretend that either of us hold them to be non-essential.

With great love and the deepest respect,

your friend

Tom


Thursday, January 27, 2005

My Eclectic Musical Tastes and Instruments I Can Play

I don't think many people, who read my apologetic writings, realize how much into music I am. I always say that music and history were my first loves: long before I knew any theology from a hole in the ground. I can play (or have played at one time or another) seven instruments: piano (at least, earlier in my life, when I got good enough to play Chopin's Minute Waltz at age 11), trombone (I took lessons from the first chair trombone in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to get into a prestigious symphony band and symphony orchestra for the best public high school in Detroit: Cass Technical High School).

Cass has a long tradition of musical excellence. That was great: we played actual symphonies and other classical pieces. I played violin for a short time, then taught myself baritone, and (in 1980) guitar and blues harp (harmonica). I can also play the tin whistle. I'm sure I could also play drums if I had the chance, as I love percussion and rhythm. And trumpet and French horn would merely involve variants of the keys of baritone, so I'm sure I would be able to learn those if I wanted to (though they are more difficult, because of the smaller mouthpiece). The French horn is actually my favorite orchestra instrument to listen to.

By the end of high school, I was able to sight-read the score to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, and play the trombone solo in Mahler's Third Symphony. In high school, the brass section of our band had the thrill of once playing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. But alas, I never kept up trombone after graduating in 1976. It's not exactly the type of instrument that you sit around and play in the house! You have to be in a band, or forget it.

These days, I restrict myself mainly to listening and collecting music (I must have at least 2000 albums), and occasionally writing about it. Here are some of the things I have been buying and listening to lately:

I've recently been on a Cajun kick. The word Cajun comes the original Acadian. Acadia is present-day Nova Scotia, and the Acadians were the French settlers there. On our vacation last summer we camped for several days near a beatiful Acadian fishing village, Cheticamp, up in Cape Breton, which is the gorgeous Northern part of Nova Scotia. While there, I had the pleasure of attending a Cajun concert (even got to dance a bit). I was told that Cajun culture is quite distinct from French Quebec culture. The French in Nova Scotia, were, unfortunately kicked out of the land after the French and Indian War of the 1750s. Most of them were forced to relocate in Louisiana (much like the American Indians were forced to Oklahoma for a time, and then to various reservations, when their land was being stolen and their culture raped by the dominant European-American culture).

Despite this sad history, the music produced by the Cajuns is incredible. In Detroit (which was founded by a Frenchman, Cadillac, in 1701, and has a great French heritage of its own), we have a free world music concert every July, called The Concert of Colors. I have heard some amazing musicians at this great annual event, including early rock stars, such as Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and the one and only Ray Charles (Los Lobos, one of my very favorite rock groups, has also played there twice). One of the groups I got to hear was called the Bluerunners: a sort of "alt-Cajun" band. I liked them immediately, and finally got around to searching and finding five of their albums the other night on the Internet. The albums are as good as I remember them being in concert. They're extremely infectious. So far, I have listened to To the Country (1998) and Le Grand Bleu (2001). Their self-titled first album (1991), is available in a used copy on amazon for only 99 cents right now. Go get it if you like this kind of thing!

Wonderful stuff. For those unfamiliar with Cajun music, it is usually heavy on violins and accordions, which play a repetitious, catchy rhythmic background. Guitars are also prominent in the sound. Apart from that, it is sort of an amalgam of bluegrass and old-timey footstompin' acoustic folk music, and sounds somewhat like rockabilly (early white rock and roll). That's how I categorize it, anyway. Amazon usually allows you to hear short samples of songs. Try it, you'll like it, if you like roots country, bluegrass, or folk music. It's irresistible.

I also picked up last week a four-disc box set at a discount price, called Cajun Early Recordings: Important Swamp Hits Remastered (2004). These songs go back to the 1920s and 1930s, and collect the important early stuff (much like Jimmie Rodgers' and the Carter Family's roles in the formation of modern country music). For more about Cajun music, see Cajuns.com and Listmania! Cajun Music 101.

Excited about finding these albums, I looked for those of other musicians I had heard at the Concert of Colors. Prominent among these is Amampondo, an African group that offers some of the most exciting, pulsating music I have ever heard. Imagine the group Santana (their early stuff), only with far more complex African rhythms and additional percussion instruments, and ten times more intense and driving. I was able to purchase their album Vuyani (2000) for only 98 cents (that offer is still available for used albums on amazon). I also ordered State of Emergency (1995).

To get great deals on music, compare amazon (especially used copies) with the prices on the website Music Stack. Between those two, you're not likely to get a cheaper price. If you do, please let me know about other services!

Another African singer I was privileged to be able to hear for free, is the magnificent world artist, from Bénin: Angélique Kidjo. I have her albums Ayé (1994), Keep on Moving (Best of) (2001), and Black Ivory Soul (2002). Listen to the amazon song samples. You'll love it! When I first saw her in concert, I was also introduced to Trilok Gurtu, whom my jazz / world musician brother-in-law Ken Kozora was raving about as "the best drummer in the world." Here I was listening to a blistering concert by a recent version of the band, War, and, intrigued by his description, I decided to leave that and make my way to a smallish tent out of the main outdoor arena.

What I discovered there was so extraordinary that I would never be the same again. Gurtu (at least lately) plays a sort of hybrid of African pop, Indian traditional music, with funk and rock and jazz elements mixed in. I was absolutely overwhelmed. I was in this little tent listening to an absolute master of his craft. I was in "music heaven." It was like how I imagine it would have been experiencing (no pun intended) Hendrix or Coltrane in person. The music is amazing. I have his albums, African Fantasy (2000), and The Beat of Love (2001): both (obviously) enthusiastically recommended, with my highest rating.

Another one of my great loves is Celtic music. We saw the Chieftains in concert once, and recently I purchased the album Runaway Sunday (1997), by the Irish group Altan, whom many consider the finest Irish group today, even better than the Chieftains (which is putting the bar very high). That's still available used at amazon for $1.88! Their shipping price is $2.49 per disc, so you can buy the album for only $4.37 postpaid.

To switch over to a very different genre, I've loved the German synthesizer / electronic group Kraftwerk since the mid-70s. It turns out I was 15 or so years before my time, as many are now saying that Kraftwerk was a major influence on current techno-pop and (various kinds of) electronic music. I got to see them in concert in 1981, when their album Computer World had just come out (with the hit song, Pocket Calculator). Other good albums by them are Radio-Activity (1975), Trans-Europe Express (1977), and The Man Machine (1978; featuring We Are the Robots). I ran across these albums on amazon and coudn't resist buying them, as I was dumb enough to get rid of all my old vinyl records from them (I had all of 'em).

I also picked up The Mix (1991), which slightly re-did some of their best songs, giving them more punch and rhythm (even a very infectious funkiness in some songs). It's fantastic. My kids love it! The most exciting thing of all was learning about a new album by them (the first since 1986): Tour de France Soundtracks (2003). It's excellent; more hypnotic and musically subtle than their old stuff. They've clearly been influenced, in turn, by all the electoric music that has come out soince their heyday.

I love rockabilly music. It's one of my very favorites. While in my local music store lately, I discovered new UK EMI releases (2004) of the best of Gene Vincent (of Be bop a lula fame) and Eddie Cochran (who was tragically killed in a car crash in 1960). These guys sizzle. It's great early rock and roll, with 30 and 32 songs on one CD.

I love 50s doo-wop vocal music, too. Recently I ordered the Very Best of the Spaniels (my favorite doo-wop group), and Very Best , Vol. 2. Anyone who likes this kind of music must (it's a legal requirement) obtain the The Doo-Wop Box and The Doo Wop Box Volume II (currently available for $40 and $30 used, on amazon).

Lastly (I could go on and on with this), I am crazy about a box set called Sam Cooke With the Soul Stirrers. I consider Sam Cooke to be the best singer of all time (in terms of actual voice quality and what he does with his voice). This music: sizzling 50s gospel which would make a dead man (even a mummy!) get up and dance and wave his hands (and perhaps get right with God, too), is extraordinary beyond description. I would say that in several respects it is even better than the bulk of Cooke's (very good) pop work. His singing in these earlier recordings is beyond belief: absolutely awesome. If you like either Sam Cooke or older gospel music, get this. You won't regret it.

I don't know a whole lot about 50s gospel, but I do know that another incredible group of roughly the same style is the Dixie Hummingbirds (Paul Simon had them sing back-up on his song, Loves me Like a Rock, in 1973). This is the stuff (speaking of gospel music generally) that led to R & B, which in turn was perhaps the biggest influence on the origin of rock and roll. It's an essential musical education.

It's really fun to listen to the sample on amazon of all these great old (and new) albums. Buying music is a lot less risky than it used to be, with all these advantages we have today, and you can get great deals on the Internet in such an easy way by just surfing around a bit (and knowing where to go to find them).

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Response to Anglican Edwin Tait, on Conversion and Historical Ecclesiological Arguments

See Edwin's paper, "Two reasons for converting," on his blog, Ithilien, which I recently highly recommended here. His words (reproduced in their entirety) will be in blue:

In following the stimulating discussions over at Pontifications, I've become increasingly convinced that there are two rather different reasons why people convert to Catholicism--unity and authority. By this I don't mean that the same person can't be concerned with both--probably most converts are. Indeed, it would be hard to follow the one impulse into Catholicism without also finding oneself in the wake of the other. But I think on the whole one or the other is likely to be more important, and if you listen to people talk about their reasons for converting (or for considering the possibility) you can usually figure out which.

I'm also not denying that there are many other reasons for considering Catholicism, of course. But in the absence of one of these two concerns (or of personal reasons for choosing Catholicism), any other reason is as likely as not to lead the seeker elsewhere. For instance, someone primarily concerned to recover sacramental piety and the beauty of the liturgy is likely to end up Anglican or Orthodox. Someone concerned for a coherent, logical theology with well-defined boundaries between truth and error may well become Reformed. Someone whose deepest desire is for an ancient, unchanging faith that is clearly reflected in the writings of the Fathers is likely to become Orthodox. And so on, and so forth.

The desire for unity and authority, on the other hand, can be fully and legitimately satisfied (for the Christian) nowhere else but in the Roman communion.

I accept that, of course, but I would quibble about the other factors. I am a Catholic in part precisely because I see Catholicism as the "unchanging" faith. I see it uniquely holding to ancient Christian morality in areas such as divorce and abortion. I see it acknowledging a papacy, which certainly seems to be a strong motif in the Fathers (with even current-day Orthodox and many Anglicans agreeing that papal primacy in some form was the norm throughout Church history). In areas where Catholicism appears, at first glance, to be significantly different from earlier Christianity, I think this is able to be sufficiently explained by development of doctrine (the factor that was most important in my conversion).

As a Protestant (unless one adopts a purely invisible view of the Church), one is continually yearning for a unity that is not fully expressed in one's own denomination. That just comes with the territory. And even the Orthodox, while they try to avoid the fact, have stubborn bits of evidence in their own beloved Tradition that the See of Rome has a unique role in the preservation of unity. That doesn't mean that the Orthodox position is incoherent--a unique role does not have to mean a necessary role.

No (strictly logically speaking), but I maintain that Church history in the first millennium shows that both the papacy and ecumenical councils were permanent aspects of ecclesiology. The fact that both Orthodox and Protestants either have neither, or in theory only, is quite telling and a good argument for the Catholic position.

It may be that Rome has in fact fallen into heresy,

Who would authoritatively decide that?

and can only fulfill its historic role through repentance and reconciliation with Orthodoxy. But meanwhile there is a vacant place in the choir--and it's the place of the conductor. The choir, being Orthodox and knowing all the chants anyway, can probably get on OK without a conductor. But it's still not quite the same.

Similarly, I think it's impossible to deny that the Church cannot speak with full and final authority if the voice of Rome is lacking. I am not a Catholic in part because I don't believe that the consent of Rome is sufficient to make a group of bishops an Ecumenical Council. But I am firmly convinced that it's necessary.

Then it seems to me that Catholic ecclesiology is closing in on you . . . you can hold such a view, but you will always be an odd duck in Anglicanism or Orthodoxy. The logic here leads inexorably to Rome, where there is a consistent, coherent position on such matters (agree or disagree).

One can't speak of "the Church" when speaking of dogmatic definitions without speaking of Rome. Any non-Roman ecclesiology is going to find its style a bit cramped when it comes to fighting heresy and laying down the boundaries of orthodoxy. It's going to have strong temptations to slide into either a sectarian orthodoxy that makes certain local peculiarities (such as the Protestant view of sola fide) Dogmas of the Church, or a barren swamp of tolerance that cannot name any heresy except whatever the broader culture of the given time and place considers offensive.

Why is this? I would like to see this developed a bit, and reasons given why. If the reason is lack of central authority, then I would ask why it is that many people have a hard time grasping what you see as rather obvious? And, conversely, how and why do you see it as obvious, while they don't?

People for whom either or both of these issues are desperately important are going to find it very difficult to resist the pull Romewards.

For me, a large part of my decision wasn't authority per se, but simply looking to see who held most closely to the Ancient Christian Faith as I understood it (through study) to be. It was more a matter of (historical) factuality than of epistemology and authority (though the latter played a
role, too). In other words, for me, the question, "What [or, Which] is the Church?" was one of plausible historical continuity, not a matter of which claimant had the best or most coherent functioning authority. Truth was paramount in my mind, not authority (which doesn't always coincide with truth).

It was the intersection of historical truths and ecclesiological claims which fascinated me and ultimately drew me in, via Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. In fact, my strong tendency was away from centralized or infallible authority, since my biggest beef was with infallibility. I fought that with all my might in the year preceding my conversion, utilizing Dollinger, Kung, Salmon: many of the most-used anti-infallibilist tracts. Cardinal Newman overcame my objection through the force of reason as applied to history, and the argument from analogy.

But depending on which issue is more important to them, they will experience that pull in quite different ways.

Everyone is different, certainly. The complexity and variation of the process of conversion (in any direction) makes it a very interesting topic to discuss.

For the authority-minded, everything tends to boil down to epistemology. How do you know that you are in possession of the truth?

Yes. I think this is very important, and it is a major reason that I am an apologist. Part of our job is to try to provide answers to such questions for (in my case) Catholics, and Christians generally, in areas where we all agree. I would argue that this question, in relationship to Christianity, inevitably becomes an historical one. That's how the system was designed. The resurrection was historical. So was the Crucifixion and Ascension and Post-Resurrection appearances. How and why we believe in those things is determined by legal-historical types of evidence; eyewitness testimony and so forth. Miracles which lead us to accept Christianity are matters of historical testimony.

This being the case, I would argue that the question of "which Church / denomination?" is also largely determined by history. And that, in turn, leads one to apostolic succession, which was the Fathers' criterion for genuineness and ecclesial status. Obviously, I'm a very "historical" guy, and devotee of Newman, but I truly believe that this question is extremely important for all who are considering conversion and wondering in what direction to go. I think it has to (and should) be faced by everyone.

How can you believe X and reject Y without having a theory in place that explains why one is true and the other is false? This is one of the issues that most clearly separates those drawn to Rome from those drawn to Constantinople. The Orthodox can never answer these questions in a very satisfactory way. They believe what they believe because it's been handed down. And they believe that the Church that handed it down is the true Church because--well, because it's the Church that has handed down the truth. Catholic online apologists jump all over this kind of thing, with great glee.

As they should, because if that is the argument, it is circular reasoning, and the heart cannot accept what the mind rejects as false. The Orthodox have to prove their "case" from history just like everyone else does. They can try to make such a case, and sustain it over against Catholicism. I think it fails, and won't withstand scrutiny, but in my opinion, this is the argument that they must make if they are to establish their own ecclesiological preeminence over against Rome. My main concern is with anti-Catholic Orthodox. Almost everything I have written about Orthodoxy was in response to the anti-Catholic brand of Orthodox. I think their historical argument is thoroughly self-defeating and intellectually-suicidal. The ecumenical Orthodox position, on the other hand, is, I think, ultimately incoherent, but not self-defeating by any means. I think it is quite a respectable position; just not as good as the Catholic one (as one would expect!).

For the unity-minded, on the other hand, the primary issue is one of allegiance. How can I live out the Christian life without having unswerving allegiance to the actual Christian community in which I participate? Nothing less than the Universal Church can demand that kind of allegiance.
Therefore, one can only live out the Christian life in a community with a credible claim to universality.

I think that's exactly right, and how, in fact, the apostles and fathers viewed the question.

A unity-minded person with no concern for the authority issue may well become Catholic without worrying about infallibility--but with a deep allegiance to the concrete reality of the Catholic community. Indeed, some such people become Catholic while disagreeing flatly with certain Catholic dogmas. This is much decried by conservative Catholics, but it happens.

It happens, but it is not in accordance with the Catholic system as it actually is. Part of what it inherently means to be Catholic (and, I think, Orthodox, as well) is to fully accept what the Church teaches, not to pick and choose. Why even be a Catholic if one thinks that way? Protestants have the right to private judgment (within denominational parameters). They can choose this from this tradition and that from that (this is what I did myself: very much so). To try to be a Catholic with the same approach is to simply be a Protestant-in-disguise. In a word, it's dishonest and deceptive at worst, and wrongheaded and misinformed at best.

To some extent, clearly, these two categories correspond to the labels "conservative" and "liberal." Certainly it's hard to imagine a liberal Catholic being "authority-minded," but the reverse is not necessarily true. "Liberal" is of course a relative term--a primarily unity-minded convert is probably always going to look "liberal" to the authority-minded.

Yes: the old thing about "no unity at the expense of truth." Orthodox Catholics believe that unity is grounded in the one truth (or, "fullness of the truth"). That is how it is achieved in the first place.

But such a person will most likely see the need for authority and dogma, and submit to all the teachings of the Magisterium. At bottom, however, the unity-minded person is not motivated primarily by the need for settled, authoritative dogma. (In the same way, authority-minded converts are usually acutely concerned for unity--my point is simply that the issue of authority tends to come first, with the need for unity being a consequence.) A unity-minded Catholic could submit quite happily to a church that got things doctrinally wrong, occasionally.

If they didn't believe in infallibility, sure. But then that gets back to my earlier point: such a perspective is not Catholic, by definition. You could only have such a view when you accept some form of non-binding, non-infallible Tradition, and still hold on to sola Scriptura as the rule of faith. In other words, Anglicanism (or "high" Presbyterianism or Lutheranism) fits the bill perfectly.

The fine points of ex cathedra vs. ordinary magisterium, vs. non-infallible statements that demand submission of will and intellect, are not going to bother such a person all that much.

Then (again) they should not deign to be Catholic, because to do so is to thoroughly misunderstand how the Catholic Church views itself.

Now the way I've put this probably tips my hand. In fact, my first interest in Catholicism was highly authority-driven. I wanted a haven of certainty, to preserve me from liberalism while rescuing me from fundamentalism. I didn't (and don't) trust myself to make up my own religion.

Great!

Yet the more I explored Catholicism the more problems and contradictions I found with this approach. Between the difficulty of interpreting all the Magisterial documents, the questions about what is and is not infallible, and the propensity for the Vatican to demand and conservative Catholics to give a high degree of assent even to non-infallible teaching, it all got very confusing.

But that is for the Church to do! This is one big reason why God wanted there to be the Church in the first place. When an individual tries to do this himself, he is still operating within the paradigm of sola Scriptura and private judgment -- precisely the things that the Catholic system disallows. One could reject Catholicism by using Protestant epistemological methods, but it would not be an examination of the system as it views itself internally. In other words, Catholic epistemology and self-justification is not made or broken by Protestant epistemology and self-justification (this is a somewhat subtle point, but an extremely crucial one, especially when talking about conversion).

The Protestant methodology of critique described above involves circular reasoning in the following way: The Protestant presupposes private judgment and the rule of faith of sola Scriptura, and also assumes that all Christian belief-systems must be subject to it. But of course, this is one of the very things in dispute between Protestantism on the one hand, and Orthodoxy and Catholicism on the other (with Anglicanism betwixt and between, as so often).

But this has to itself be established in order for the criticism to have any force. The Protestant can't simply presuppose all this stuff, analyze Catholicism by using it and then declare victory. And that is because Catholicism operates on a different rule of faith and a different epistemology than does Protestantism.

So immediately the question becomes, rather: "why does Catholicism disallow these beliefs and this epistemology? And why does Protestantism accept them?"How is that resolved? Well, it's resolved in the usual way that all such disputes are: by recourse to Scripture, Church history, reason, and (I would add) practical workability. Sola scriptura and private judgment (as an epistemological approach inexorably tied to sola Scriptura) fail on all four counts. These notions cannot be found in Scripture (despite many near-ingenious attempts to do so from our esteemed Protestant brethren). They can't be found in history, either (ditto to my last parenthetical comment). Both history and Scripture also offer tons of directly contrary evidence. Nor are they reasonable or workable.

So the bottom line is that the Protestant cannot establish on external, objective, independent grounds the principle that he so often presupposes and judges the Catholic Church by. But the Catholic Church can easily demonstrate its authority principle of the "three-legged stool" (Scripture, Church, Tradition), based on reason, practicality, Scripture, and history (including apostolic succession). Things developed, so that has to be taken into account, but no incoherence occurs in the Catholic system, whereas the Protestant principle of authority and its rule of faith are plagued by incoherence and inconsistency.

Getting back to the larger question at hand: one can believe that it is difficult to interpret all these magisterial documents, and wonder about some things, yet accept the Church's authority on faith, based on a number of various criteria, which taken together, and cumulatively, convince one that the Catholic Church is what it claims to be.

As C.S. Lewis said, "the rules of chess create chess problems." Catholics can easily look at all these alleged "historical difficulties" the way a Protestant approaches alleged "biblical difficulties." In both cases, there are things difficult to understand, yet in both a certain proposition is believed in faith; then scholars can certainly grapple with all the "problems" (real or alleged). That's their job. Individuals (in either system, though less so in Protestantism) do not have that burden, because no one can figure out everything, and must accept many things on authority and/or faith. We do that in areas such as science and nutrition; we also have to at some point in theological matters. Theology shouldn't be any different than anything else (from a broad philosophcial perspective). Faith has to be exercised, obviously, and that is a super-rational (not irrational) process, but insofar as reason is involved, one shouldn't set up an unattainable standard for theology as opposed to other areas of knowledge and belief.

There came a point where it seemed to me that so many of my issues were at a high level of abstraction and had little to do with the problems I faced in actually living the Christian life. As the years passed, while my interest in Catholicism never went away, I gradually moved over from the "authority" to the "unity" side of the scale. Side of the scale, be it said, not end of the spectrum. I always have been and am concerned with both issues. But it now seems to me that the Church can live relatively well (though not perfectly) without the kind of authority offered by Rome.

On what basis? How does this overcome the necessary factors that you yourself outlined above?
It's no longer clear to me (if it ever was) that doctrinal certainty is so much more important than some of the practical issues with regard to which the Roman Communion is manifestly imperfect.

I contend that this viewpoint cannot be squared with the biblical one, where it seems to me that all doctrine is considered to be highly important and non-negotiable (we especially see this in St. Paul's writings). A serious, troubling line is crossed when one argues in this fashion. It's one thing to be an agnostic and say that one isn't personally sure what is true about doctrine x or competing doctrines of x. It's quite another to reach the somewhat-despairing conclusion that doctrinal certainty can be softened in such difficult areas, and that this is how things should be. The former arises simply from human limitation and uncertainty and legitimate working-through of doctrinal beliefs. The latter, however, is, I believe, a serious compromise of ancient Christian and biblical principle with certain tenets of modernism or postmodernism. Catholics and Orthodox do not think in this way, and neither did the early Protestants. It is only modern Protestants and liberals in all three camps who think that way.

I have illustrated the change in this regard in Protestantism by observing that the early Protestants cared so much about their being only one truth concerning baptism or the Eucharist, that they killed (or "excommunicated") each other over such differences. Today, on the other hand, many Protestants think "who cares what you believe about baptism. Come on in, the water's warm" (no pun intended). It's gone from one pole to the other. Apart from the killing and persecution, the early Protestant view is far closer, I think, to that of the apostles, the Bible, and the fathers.

That is my argument on this, and it is not the equivalent of calling you personally a "liberal." Oftentimes, in the past, when I have tried to show that a certain particular belief is much more consistent with a liberal outlook than a traditional one, I have been falsely accused of categorizing the person's entire theology as "liberal" or "heterodox." That doesn't follow at all from what I have stated. Nor do I believe it. It's simply an argument about one thing (in this instance, how one views "doctrinal certainty").

If I do become Catholic some day, it will not be because I'm convinced that we must have an infallible authority. It will be because I'm convinced that I cannot in good conscience give my heart to any Christian body not claiming to be the Universal Church. Infallibility would, in that case, simply be one of the things that came with the package.

Again, you are approaching the question as a Protestant would. Of course you don't believe infallible authority is necessary. This is (one big reason) why you are a Protestant, because by definition that is what Protestants believe (Scripture is the only infallible authority). But this is the rub. To be a Catholic, one must accept the different rule of faith involved in same, which is contrary to private judgment and sola Scriptura. One accepts the full, binding authority of the Church, and part of that understanding is infallibility.

You may arrive at the Catholic position by any number of doctrinal and intellectual and faith avenues which have little to do with infallibility (in my case, I started with the moral issues and questions about internal inconsistencies in Protestantism), but once you get there and have decided to swim the Tiber, you must accept this in faith, and grant even internal assent to it. If not, you have not fully converted, as far as I am concerned. And that is not just my opinion. It is that of Aquinas, Newman, and magisterial statements by the Church Herself.

Pontificator, on the other hand, seems to me to be primarily authority-driven. Not of course that he isn't concerned for unity as well. But in recent posts he seems increasingly concerned with issues of epistemology. He's been reading a lot of Newman and seems convinced by Newman's view that the only real alternative to skepticism and individualism is the infallible authority of the Catholic Church.

Yes, but that is another huge discussion. I would state it myself as "the only fully consistent and coherent and fully satisfying alternative to skepticism and individualism . . . " Insofar as one is searching for those things, it does, I suppose, reduce to a state of affairs where (ultimately)
the Catholic Church is the "only" alternative. I don't wish at all to exclude Orthodoxy from the equation (nor does my Church), but obviously, I am Catholic rather than Orthodox, and I believe there are solid reasons for preferring one over the other (just as most Orthodox would think from their converse perspective).

For me, the coup de grace that fully convinced me to abandon this approach was William Abraham's book Canon and Criterion. I disagree with significant parts of Abraham's argument, largely because I think he ignores the distinction I've been making in this post and assumes that the only basis for being (let alone becoming) a Catholic is the concern for an authoritative epistemology.

It seems to me that what you are doing is simply hanging on to peculiarly Protestant epistemology and private judgment. You're (in effect) asserting that it is superior to the Catholic and Orthodox self-rationales and justifications. I would, of course (being the Socratic that I am) go on to challenge you why you think that (which gets into a sort of fascinating "meta-epistemology"). That gets down to brass tacks and clarifies the fundamental epistemological differences real fast!

But I find his basic premise thoroughly convincing. Abraham argues that the importation of epistemology into Christian dogma (in the West) has been thoroughly disastrous. For the early Church, according to Abraham, the norms of belief and practice (making up what he calls the "canonical heritage") were simply given. On the dogmatic level, they didn't need to be justified. They just needed to be accepted.

That's right. They were accepted in the same way that most Christians accept the existence of God. It was on a pre-rational basis, based more on intuition and faith. It is an innate thing. Choice of a church is not quite like that, but there are certain things (the whole body of dogma and moral teaching) that are accepted on faith, and that was what it meant to be a Catholic, through the centuries. Therefore, it would have been meaningless and not an option to sit there and pick and choose what one thinks the Church got right and what it got wrong. The fathers would have said: "the Church decrees thus-and-so. Who are you to disagree, and on what basis? You don't decide these things. The Mind of the Church does."

The reasons why any given individual chose to believe the Christian faith might vary, and were not themselves part of the Faith.

Yes. I agree. But then, does this not nullify much of your own analysis above? If you say you agree with this, then it wipes out much of your contention that you can decide as an individual what you will accept and not accept. You're doing epistemology while claiming that you deny that it is ultimately decisive in matters of faith and ecclesiological adherence. Thus, the question becomes, again, "What is the Church?" And that goes back to history and competing claims having to do with apostolicity and indefectibilty and unity and maintenance of orthodoxy over against heresy over time.

If Abraham is right, then the Catholic internet apologists who chase the Orthodox round the Golden Horn asking them "how do you know a Council is ecumenical" are pursuing a red herring.
I strongly disagree. It was crucial to know which council was orthodox and which wasn't. Otherwise, you have a situation where, e.g., the "Robber Council" of 449 in Ephesus is orthodox, and heresy is promulgated at the highest conciliar levels. But it was not orthodox, and that was determined authoritatively by Pope Leo the Great. I contend that the papacy is a divinely-instituted office (biblically-based) for the purpose of maintaining unity and doctrine both. 449 offers a sterling example of why it is necessary. 1968 and Humanae Vitae offers another. If Athanasius contra mundum was necessary way back when (over against Arians), then Paulus VI contra mundum was necessary in our own age of sexual revolution. With virtually every Christian group caving on the issue (even, increasingly, the Orthodox, sadly enough), Paul and the Catholic Church stood alone, and maintained the ancient teaching which was dead set against contraception as a mortal, grave sin.

It either is a grave sin or not. If one claims that it isn't, then they have to explain why all Christians until 1930 got this wrong. If it is, on the other hand, then one must explain why almost all Christians except Catholics have gotten it wrong in the present age. Or one simply gives up moral and doctrinal certainty, and that opens up a whole 'nother can of worms (and is unbiblical, and even illogical, for my money). I don't find the alternatives to the Catholic position on this at all plausible, historically, or with regard to traditional Christian morality, and that is another major reason why I am Catholic, because I was looking for the ancient Christian Church and looked around and saw everyone compromising on a moral issue that I increasingly came to regard as highly important (being a pro-life activist).

Such decisions are made on an ad hoc basis. This Council is ecumenical for one reason, and that Father is a Doctor of the Church (to use a Western term) for another. The reasons are not themselves part of the Faith.

That doesn't follow. If a council denies crucial doctrines, such as christology (which the Robber Council did, being Monophysite), it is heretical; therefore, the reason it was rejected had directly to do with the Faith itself, and its maintenance. The line is drawn precisely based on the
parameters of received orthodoxy. Where the pope and Rome came in (then and now) was to make this decision authoritative and binding, so the infighting about it would cease.

To resist heresy one doesn't need to have an authority one knows beforehand to be infallible. One simply needs (as Abraham has argued in his more recent book The Logic of Renewal) to have the will to exercise discipline.

You can argue that, but you still need the authority, and no one but Catholics have a sufficiently powerful and authoritative figure to do that. You can say he isn't infallible, but unless he is authoritative enough for his decree to be binding (which, practically speaking, is scarcely different than being infallible), then Christians can always simply dissent, and the problem remains. So authority, the binding nature of same, and infallibility ultimately go hand-in-hand, I think, once they are worked-through, both in theory and (most importantly) in practice.

This does not dispose of all concerns with authority, of course. The See of Rome is clearly part of the canonical heritage (this is one of the things I don't think Abraham recognizes adequately), even if its current claims are not. Rather, what Abraham's argument demolishes (if we accept it) is the epistemological argument for authority. If certain structures of authority are necessary, they are necessary simply because they are part of the tradition. They are not necessary on a priori philosophical grounds.

I say that they are necessary on biblical and practical grounds. That would be my argument. We can pursue that in due course if you like.

The need for unity, however, remains intact. How can we speak of the canonical heritage if we cannot claim full membership in the historic bearer of the canonical heritage? This is, for me, the great issue. I'm going to try to lay out a possible Protestant answer to this question in subsequent posts. I welcome comments (or even anathemas).

I'm glad you welcome comments, and I hope we can discuss this in great depth. I don't think any Protestant attempt to establish unity will be any more ultimately successful (on any level) than attempts at a working, plausible authority. The nature of the system dooms it to failure in these
repects. I don't even have to argue that. History itself makes this abundantly clear. And if you didn't fully realize that yourself, I don't believe you would be so conflicted about it. You yourself wrote, in your paper, The ecclesiology of Limbo (12-5-04):


I am still a member of the Episcopal Church, only because I have not yet decided in what direction to jump. We both agree that Anglicanism cannot command our ultimate allegiance. Can any earthly church do so?

There is no easy answer to that question . . . I know and confess that I have lived for some years now in limbo. I have known since before I became an Episcopalian (in the spring of 1998) that my desire for truth and communion would never be satisfied in Anglicanism. I have persuaded myself that it would not be satisfied anywhere on earth.

. . . in the absence of solid and specific reasons not to trust Rome, a general commitment to the ecclesiology of limbo is not only insufficient but pernicious.
I must confess that I don't fully understand this perspective, inasmuch as it causes you to remain Anglican, with this more-or-less despairing attitude towards Anglican claims (whatever they are, historically and today). It seems to me that you would almost of necessity (I use the word lightly here) have to convert to Catholicism, because (so it seems to me; perhaps I have misread you) you think it has more truth than Anglicanism. You could also convert to Orthodoxy, but I have seen you write that you are a "westerner," so presumably that would tip the scale (rightly or wrongly) Romeward.

Note to others: I'm not trying to overtly "convert" Edwin; I am merely asking him to clarify his own statements of disenchantment with his own present communion as an ultimately satisfying resting-place. I find this dilemma that he describes difficult to comprehend because I was always fairly happy as an evangelical and didn't have this ongoing conflict within me. We tend to understand less those things which are further from our own experience.

Much as we might disagree on some things, Edwin, I always greatly appreciate your transparent honesty, your grappling with the issues, and the thoughtful challenges that you issue in your writings. Thanks for the opportunity to make a critique of your post. It's been my pleasure to engage you.

God bless.