Sunday, July 24, 2005

Is Purgatory a "Place"?: Misconceptions From Fr. Ambrose About My Opinion (and the Church's View) / Also: Development & Alleged Historical Revisionism

One Fr Ambrose (Orthodox -- his words will be in red) has been on my case yet again at the Catholic Answers Forum. In this instance he (to be as charitable as I can) misunderstands my position on purgatory: as to whether it is a state, condition, or place, or all of the above, or whether the Church has rendered a decision one way or the other. I always seek, of course, to conform my own theological beliefs to that of the Church, and this particular topic is no exception. As far as I know, I have not taught or written anything contrary to what the Church has held, concerning purgatory (or anything else, as far as I know, though I could certainly be inadvertently wrong on some things somewhere, like anyone else). In any event, Fr. Ambrose has not demonstrated that I have done so. He has simply made an unsubstantiated (false) claim about my opinion. Here is what he wrote on 22 July 2005 (post #41 in this thread):


. . . Btw, Dave Armstrong teaches that Purgatory is both a place and a condition. Why then is it always strongly denied on this Forum that Purgatory is a place? You can see how confusing this is for outsiders when Catholics themselves contradict one another.

(emphasis in original)

"Maccabees", a Catholic, in post #54 casually assumes that this report of my belief is correct and comments:


Dave Armstrong is simply wrong here as he conflicts with the pope on this as well as Aquinas. I think John Paul II and Saint Thomas Aquinas the great doctor of the church trumps a catholic website run by a well intentioned layman but without vatican endorsement. I am sure I can find some things you would disagree with written by and EO layman.
Of course he is correct in his general principle of how Catholic authority works. If I clash with John Paul the Great or St. Thomas the Doctor of Theology, I lose; I concede; I surrender immediately. But have I in fact clashed with them concerning purgatory? The question of fact is the problem here. I deny it, and shortly I will prove that this report is false. Maccabees cites a report on a talk by Pope John Paul II:


In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him.

"Incorporeal things are not in place after a manner known and familiar to us, in which way we say that bodies are properly in place; but they are in place after a manner befitting spiritual substances, a manner that cannot be fully manifest to us." [St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Supplement, Q69, a1, reply 1]
[see documentation]
Amen! Absolutely! I have no problem with any of this at all; not in the slightest, and I've not taught differently, anywhere. Now, why don't we take a few minutes to examine what I have actually written, and get beyond innuendo. And then, we must ask ourselves: "how did Fr. Ambrose come to the conclusion that he came to? On what basis, if it can't be found in my writing?"

In my Biblical Overview on Penance, Purgatory, and Indulgences, I cite Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., who was my initial mentor into the Church, and a major orthodox Catholic catechist, prolific author, and a close advisor to both Pope Paul VI and Mother Teresa:


The place or condition in which the souls of the just are purified after death and before they can enter heaven.

[from: Modern Catholic Dictionary, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1980, 452, "Purgatory")

Note that Fr. Hardon (like the Church herself) has not stated the matter dogmatically, one way or the other. As for my own words in the paper, I never used the word place at all. Now, if someone wants to contend with the wording of Fr. Hardon's statement, then I would note that the very same phrase "place or condition," is used in the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1910. Furthermore, St. Thomas Aquinas himself -- when discussing purgatory -- sometimes used the terminology of place in his Summa Theologica:


Nothing is clearly stated in Scripture about the situation of Purgatory, nor is it possible to offer convincing arguments on this question. It is probable, however, and more in keeping with the statements of holy men and the revelations made to many, that there is a twofold place of Purgatory. one, according to the common law; and thus the place of Purgatory is situated below and in proximity to hell, so that it is the same fire which torments the damned in hell and cleanses the just in Purgatory; although the damned being lower in merit, are to be consigned to a lower place. Another place of Purgatory is according to dispensation: and thus sometimes, as we read, some are punished in various places, either that the living may learn, or that the dead may be succored, seeing that their punishment being made known to the living may be mitigated through the prayers of the Church.

Some say, however, that according to the common law the place of Purgatory is where man sins. This does not seem probable, since a man may be punished at
the same time for sins committed in various places. And others say that according to the common law they are punished above us, because they are between us and God, as regards their state. But this is of no account, for they are not punished for being above us, but for that which is lowest in them, namely sin.
(Supplement, Appendix 2, Q1, A2)

To paraphrase "Maccabees," "I think Saint Thomas Aquinas the great doctor of the church trumps an opinion by a well intentioned Catholic layman on a forum run by well intentioned Catholic laymen." Note that in (the report of) Pope John Paul's remarks, the language of place is not so much condemned as false, but rather, described as inadequate to sufficiently describe spiritual realities. This is often the case (particularly with regard to the Holy Trinity and the Blessed Eucharist), so it is not to be unexpected that human language would exhibit some shortcomings with regard to the intricacies of the afterlife.

After all, we refer all the time to angels or unresurrected souls being "in heaven," and they have no bodies. The Bible refers to "souls" in heaven which are "under the altar" (Revelation 6:9). God the Father (an invisible Spirit-Being) is referred to (spatially) as "sitting on a throne," and so forth. It's simply a manner of speaking.

In fact, Pope John Paul II spoke in the same fashion, in his catechesis at the General Audience of 21 July 1999: (emphases added)

Heaven is the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God

Metaphorically speaking
, heaven is understood as the dwelling-place of God, who is thus distinguished from human beings (cf. Ps 104:2f.; 115:16; Is 66:1). He sees and judges from the heights of heaven (cf. Ps 113:4-9) and comes down when he is called upon (cf. Ps 18:9, 10; 144:5). However the biblical metaphor makes it clear that God does not identify himself with heaven, nor can he be contained in it (cf. 1 Kgs 8:27); and this is true, even though in some passages of the First Book of the Maccabees "Heaven" is simply one of God's names (1 Mc 3:18, 19, 50, 60; 4:24,
55).

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). Thus heaven becomes an image of life in God. In this sense Jesus speaks of a "reward in heaven" (Mt 5:12) and urges people to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (ibid., 6:20; cf. 19:21).


As long as the theology behind the concept is correctly understood, and clarifications made (as I have done), this is not a theological problem or "difficulty" at all, let alone fodder for the annoyingly frequent off-the-mark polemics of Internet discussion boards.

In the same paper, I also made clear my position on purgatorial "fire" (a sub-topic which was also brought up in the same Catholic Answers Forum thread, though not in connection with my own views):


The Catholic Church has not declared dogmatically whether or not there is "fire" in purgatory, and the "fire" might be metaphorical, yet the idea of refinement is present either way.
Now, I don't expect Fr. Ambrose to have a copy of my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (Sophia Institute Press, 2003), but if he did, he would (or should I say, "could"?) quickly discover that I am not in any disagreement with the Church on this matter at all, since I state on page 120 of that book:


The Catholic Church has not defined whether Purgatory is a place or a process,
or whether it contains real fire.
Period. End of sentence. The Orthodox value keeping an open, non-dogmatic mind on theological matters that cannot be determined with certainty, so I should think that Fr. Ambrose would be happy to learn that the above is both the Catholic Church's position and my own. But let's continue our survey of my papers on purgatory to try and determine where it was that Fr. Ambrose received this mistaken notion of my view. In my Dialogue on Different Aspects of Purgatory and its Relation to Baptism and Penance, again, the word place (as a description of purgatory) never occurs. In A Fictional Dialogue on Purgatory, I use the phrase, "a third place or state," which is precisely the usage of Fr. Hardon, St. Thomas, and the older Catholic Encyclopedia; reserving dogmatizing judgment as to whether purgatory is definitely one or the other thing, and recognizing the limits of human language, where such sublime spiritual matters are concerned. Thus, I write in this vein also, in my Short Exposition on Purgatory:


The souls in purgatory are spirits without bodies, so the suffering is a spiritual, "mental" chastisement from God (a very common biblical theme) in order to purify us and make us holy, not physical torture.
This doesn't mean that I am positively asserting that purgatory is a literal place. No. Context and overall theology must also be taken into account. If asked whether purgatory is more of a place or a state or condition (or if clarifying, as presently), I immediately affirm, like Pope John Paul II, that it is more properly understood as a state or condition of an immaterial soul (which does not have spatial qualities, hence, technically, cannot be in a "place"). Yet in common language, this is how we talk, because it is our experience. Since the Bible does the same (it uses phenomenological language according to a human perspective, such as in, e.g., many anthropomorphic descriptions of God), it's a big non-issue. Once again, as is distressingly common in theological discourse (and also biblical exegesis and prooftexting), the context and nature of language has been misinterpreted, and an inappropriate "either/or" mentality utilized to make a polemical "hit."

What can one do? One can only explain and clarify, as I have done. Hopefully, that will be sufficient to put the matter to rest. In any event, no one likes to have their views misrepresented. This is particularly true of a Catholic apologist, who seeks to (or should be seeking to) always teach and defend doctrine in accord with the Mind of the Church. And it is also disturbing to all orthodox Catholics to see Catholic teaching on any given topic pilloried and caricatured, as is occurring in the thread under consideration. So maybe -- hopefully -- this effort on my part has "killed two birds with one stone," so to speak.

----------------------------------------------------
On 7-25-05, Fr. Ambrose, made aware of my reply, made another remarkably obtuse "counter-reply." Here it is:


Gracious, I don't have time at the moment to read such a lengthy monograph.

Here we go again with this nonsense of any substantive response (in this case, trying to correct misrepresentation, which always takes some significant space, by its very nature), being too "lengthy". At least he qualified his disagreement with "at the moment." Perhaps he will make time in the near future to trouble himself to read my clarification, including this second one (and to actually adequately reply to it as well, would be a nice bonus, too, but one can't have everything these days . . .).

In the meantime, Fr. Ambrose, who has written 4,836 posts, according to the forum tally, has written no less than 26 posts on this topic (out of 78 total, as of this writing, or 33%), in this thread. Including his citations of others' words (by his reasoning below, they somehow become "his own" anyway), his word count thus totals 5,038. Yet my "lengthy monograph" of 1,832 words (a mere 36% of his grand total) is somehow objectionable, when I attempt to clear up a falsehood that he was spreading about my views. Nice try at dodging the issues at hand . . .

Now Fr. Ambrose has been thoroughly corrected, but chooses to continue (typical of many vociferous opponents of the Catholic Church):


But I see he makes an attempt to rebuke me:
"As for my own words in the paper, I never used the word place at all."
Dave Armstrong wrote just as I quoted him and he certainly uses the word
"place":

"The place or condition in which the souls of the just are purified after death and before they can enter heaven. The souls are purified by atoning for the temporal punishments due to sin by their willing acceptance of suffering imposed by God....."

Board member "Ghosty" makes the appropriate reply:


Fr. Ambrose, you need to be more careful in your accusations . . . You fail to mention that this quotation in question comes from a citation of John Hardon's work, not anything written by Dave Armstrong himself. . . . You say you don't have the time to read "such a lengthy monograph", but perhaps that's exactly your problem. If you don't have the time to read and/or research what people actually say/believe/teach, perhaps you should refrain from commenting on them based on your limited perusal.

Precisely! Fr. Ambrose didn't have time to read a post in its entirety (while writing 26 of his own in one thread, most critical of the Catholic Church on a Catholic forum, that he apparently expects everyone else to read), but nevertheless he made enough time to distort my clarification my beliefs which he distorted. He has plenty of time to do that, but not to properly respond or be corrected on a simple matter of fact as to what someone else believes.

I made it very clear that I favorably cited Fr. Hardon, using "place" in a very specific (non-exclusive) sense, that is also used by St. Thomas Aquinas. I then distinguished between the citation and "my own words." This isn't rocket science. But again, when you are looking to refute someone else regardless of the actual evidence at hand, none of that seems to matter. Logic and fact alike go by the wayside. Fr. Ambrose continues his folly:


The whole doctrine is confusing enough for outsiders without a Catholic apologist of his renown denying or changing or maybe simply forgetting what he has written.

Now this gets into even more outrageous territory, close to outright, deliberate lying, which is particularly scandalous in a priest, and even for a layman, since bearing false witness violates the Ten Commandments. I neither denied, nor changed, nor forgot what I have written. What I have done is clarified my belief and my exact meaning, which has not changed at all and is perfectly clear, once explained, as far as I am concerned. But to read his cynical "take," I am now trying to fudge or obfuscate or explain away my own writings, rather than be "corrected" by him. There is no need to do so, as my belief is perfectly understandable. I can see misunderstanding something once, but not twice, after the writer himself has taken the time to carefully clarify. To continue on with the bogus accusation now is inexcusable.

This leads me to believe that there is a strong bias here which is clouding Fr. Ambrose's judgment. Indeed, this is borne out in reading some of his other posts in this thread:


Not even Catholics are agreed on Purgatory any more. This is quite evident when you read other threads here about Purgatory where Catholics are arguing with Catholics.

Their primary problem seems to be the changes in the teaching after Vatican II.

If you are offended by that statement, then read through the Purgatory threads where Catholics themselves speak of this. The older Catholics have retained a teaching from before Vatican II and the younger Catholics have never been exposed to it and they refuse to accept that it was ever taught. When statements from previous Popes and Councils are offered, younger Catholics exhibit a need to negate them or to re-interpret them so as to squeeze them into the modern teaching.

So yes, it is very likely that I do not understand the teaching.

This is the typical "traditionalist" Orthodox or Catholic distortion and old wives' tale of doctrine supposedly being radically changed at Vatican II. It did not at all. I explained the discussion about "place vs. condition." But Fr. Ambrose didn't have time to read that, so he will likely continue on with misrepresentations, not only of my own position and writing, but of the Catholic Church's position on this and who knows what else? What is really going on here, in my opinion, is the usual, garden-variety rejection, and/or inadequate grasp of the nature and fact of doctrinal development (also distressingly common in "traditionalist" and anti-Catholic circles). What is merely a development is, therefore, seen as a reversal in doctrine or a contradiction.

I did a search of the forum to see what Fr. Ambrose has written elsewhere, and indeed my strong suspicion was confirmed:


The Church has no doctrine of the development of doctrine. Whatever existed in the apostolic age is normative for us.

The Orthodox approach may be found in the exquistely beautiful words of one of the holy Fathers of the West, Saint Vincent of Lerins . . .


(post of 4-21-05)
He then goes on to cite famous passages from this saint, from his Commonitorium. The trouble is, in the same exact work, St. Vincent gives us the most explicit patristic treatment of doctrinal development. He sees no disconnect whatsoever between doctrines staying essentially the same and being unchanging in that respect, while developing in terms of our deeper understanding and comprehension of them. So why is he cited as a supposed witness against development when he teaches it more clearly than any other Father (Cardinal Newman used his words as a virtual starting-point for his famous Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine)? This is a very common error: used by, for example, anti-Catholic Protestant William Webster (I refuted him at length twice, when he used this tactic to go after Vatican I and its doctrine of papal infallibility).

It's also a myth to act as if Orthodoxy has no development of doctrine, whereas Catholicism does, and its development is tantamount to "evolution" or reversal (hence the muddleheaded charge that Vatican II fundamentally changed things in the Catholic Church). So it is a miscomprehension in both ways: redefining Orthodox development as non-development or nonexistent and Catholic development as corruption of what came before.

In any event, Fr. Ambrose's curious cynicism where I am concerned, is nothing new. It's not surprising that he would cast doubt on the sincerity of my own explanations for my own words, since he has written in the past:


I must say that not everybody is keen on Dave Armstrong nor Fr Hardon. As Catholic polemicists they sometimes misrepresent the teachings and practices of
non-Roman Catholic Churches and downplay the historical evidence which is
inconvenient to the modern Roman Catholic position.

(post of 6-3-05)
Of course, no documentary evidence was given here, either. Do I detect a certain pattern? yet elsewhere, Fr. Ambrose refers to me as "the world's eminent Catholic apologist" (4-29-05, message #197) and "someone recognised as one of the most competent Catholic apologists alive and someone who is in the position to have his finger on the pulse" (4-28-05, #165) and "one of Catholicism's greatest apologists, . . . I trust his extensive and hands-on knowledge of the Catholic Church" (4-28-05, #184). If that is the case (of course it is not!) and I distort and misrepresent my own positions, and even cynically change them when confronted with my allegedly devious practices, then Catholic apologetics is in a very sorry state indeed, since its preeminent representative is essentially a dishonest sophist, according to Fr. Ambrose. With "friends" like these, who needs enemies, huh?

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

This sad tale keeps getting more pathetic. Fr. Ambrose is obstinately keeping up his false charges in the face of all logic and evidence:

Please READ the article. It is Dave Armstrong's and he gives the words as his very own words in the second paragraph.

"BIBLICAL OVERVIEW OF PENANCE, PURGATORY & INDULGENCES: "Saved As By Fire" Written by Dave Armstrong in 1994. Uploaded on 22 August 2001.

[he then provides the URL]

Well, I've read the article. I can even top that. I wrote it! Moreover, amazingly enough, I even know what I meant!, and (oddly enough) when I was citing someone else and when I was not! And I reiterate again that this assertion is simply untrue. Apparently, Fr. Ambrose is unfamiliar with the method of indented citations. I used that "technique" in this paper. I cited Fr. Hardon, in an indented passage, followed by his name: "{John Hardon}". Since it was a short overview I didn't provide full documentation (relatively rare for me) ; yet the indentation made it clear that it was a citation. I never cite anyone in this paper without using indentation. I did, however, provide full documentation above, in this present clarification (thus proving that Fr. Ambrose has not yet read this paper; not even the initial part that he has started "responding" to). The other three instances of indentation are also all citations as well: from Ludwig Ott, Trent (full documentation) and C.S. Lewis (name of book and page number).

Fr. Ambrose does claim to have at least read the old paper under consideration:


I read the entire article which we are discussing and from which I took the
quote.. and I feel entitled to comment accordingly.

Apparently, however, unless he reads my clarifications in the present paper or has someone on that board mention them to him, he will continue misunderstanding how an indentation different from most of the text (as in general usage) means that someone else is being cited. This is highly strange, since the very board on which he writes uses the same method. It indents citations and puts them in a box, and doesn't utilize quotation marks.

"Ghosty" comments on this bizarre ongoing misrepresentation:

I'm not trying to be rude to you, I'm trying to correct a serious error in your citation. You are attributing to Dave Armstrong a quote that is not his, and one that he does indeed cite. He is rightly perturbed at your misrepresentation of his beliefs, whether or not you came by it innocently.

I'm certainly not trying to be rude when I say that you must be MUCH more careful in your citations and attributations if you intend to continue arguing about Catholic theology. It only leads to further misunderstandings on both sides.

Finally, he does get it, after the second or third reading:

Yes, you are right and David Armstrong has lifted the passage from John Hardon. He has incorporated it into his article as his own belief. It is not possible to say that views are being attributed to Armstrong which he does not hold himself.

That's correct (as many or most citations -- including this one -- imply agreement with the writer utilizing them), as explained above, but then the question becomes: how do we interpret the language "place or condition" (particularly, "or") in context. That is another major aspect of this discussion, and one that I delved into at significant length, above. Hopefully, it won't take two or three readings to grasp this argument of mine also. But it's very frustrating to carry on some semblance of dialogue, or even clarification, when one party isn't willing to give one the courtesy of addressing their concerns and explanations, yet wants to continue making unwarranted charges. Fr. Ambrose continues in the same post:

Do you think that since 1994 when Armstrong wrote his article and calls Purgatory a place he has changed his belief on the matter? Presumably he held this belief up until at least 2001 which is when the article was uploaded to the Net.


As noted above (how many times must I repeat this?), I wrote in 1996 (when I finished the manuscript of my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism: "The Catholic Church has not defined whether Purgatory is a place or a process, or whether it contains real fire." This trumped-up "controversy" is getting so ridiculous that I actually went to consult my original typewritten manuscripts for the first draft of my book, which was completed in 1994. It absolutely proves that I haven't changed my mind at all on this matter, as fr. Ambrose keeps insisting I must have done.

For in this 59-page treatise, completed on April 21, 1994 (of which my overview was an abridgment), I not only cited Fr. Hardon's words that appear in the overview, but also (in agreement) a more lengthy citation of his from The Catholic Catechism (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1975). This book happens to be one which he himself gave to me, and it was the required reading in order to be received into the Church by Fr. Hardon, in February 1991.
One must interpret anyone's words in the context of their overall thought; especially if there is some misunderstanding or controversy. So what does Fr. Hardon write in this book?:

In spite of some popular notions to the contrary, the Church has never passed judgment as to whether purgatory is a place or in a determined space where the souls are cleansed. It simply understands the expression to mean the state or condition under which the faithful departed undergo purification.

(pp. 274-275)

Fr. Hardon thus states that the Church hasn't decided the matter. That was his view, and I received my initial understanding of it from him and accepted his opinion. It has remained my opinion from then until now. I accepted what he wrote in his book when I read it in early 1991 and have seen no reason to change my views. Therefore, to claim that I have either changed my view or am seeking to revise the history of my own opinions since 1994 (or 1991 as it were), is utterly absurd. I have the proof. Must I send Fr. Ambrose a photocopy of my original manuscript? Or will he question the authenticity of that, too?

Quite ironically, I actually cited another portion of this same exact citation recently, when asked by "BWL" on my blog about purgatory and masses for the dead. That can be seen in the recent Q & A thread, in a post of 7-23-05. I had the citation handy because it is sitting in a file. I have been uploading various portions of my original 750-page recently, and this was to soon be uploaded (e.g., one on Tradition, which was the post immediately preceding this one). If I had happened to do this paper before this present controversy, it would have provided further proof of my actual views.

"Maccabees" at this point realized what was going on and issued an admirable statement of regret for earlier comments (for which I am grateful, and sorry if I was too harsh in my reply to his comments), first citing Fr. Ambrose (I have corrected a few typos):

Gracious, I don't have time at the moment to read such a lengthy monograph. But I see he makes an attempt to rebuke me:

Actually it is shorter than your (Father Ambrose) typical monograph that we are forced to read daily. You have clearly misrepresented the man and I apologize to him because I assumed you (Father Ambrose) were quoting the man in context and not misrepresenting Catholic teaching.

Undaunted, Fr. Ambrose carries on his increasingly surreal campaign:

David Armstrong lays out his position very clearly in the paragraphs with which he commences his article. He believes that Purgatory is "a place and a condition."
I AM NOT MISREPRESENTING HIM !!!
Please read his article uploaded to the Net in 2001. There are multiple links
to it above.

He absolutely IS MISREPRESENTING ME !!! I've explained till I am blue in the face how this language of "place" OR "condition" (per St. Thomas Aquinas, Fr. Hardon, and the old Catholic Encyclopedia) is to be understood and properly interpreted. But he can't even reproduce what Fr. Hardon wrote, that I cited, correctly. Fr. Hardon wrote: "place OR condition," not "place AND a condition." The difference is crucial. And now I have cited him from elsewhere, explaining exactly what his position was on this. He asserts that "place" has never been dogmatically declared by the Church, and opts more for the notion of "state" or "condition." End of story. End of controversy . . . Lord grant me patience!

"Maccabees" then posted (again, I corrected some typos):

I read his blog; he clearly clarified what he meant by place; it is in the same context [as in] Aquinas which is entirely acceptable for the modern Catholic. Sorry I have no qualms with the man; he clarified where he stands and where your polemics have misrepresented him.


Pope John Paul II, in a talk in 1999, clarified how language is difficult in discussing sublime spiritual realities. This doesn't overturn anything in Catholic dogmatic tradition; it merely develops what has always been believed:

In the context of Revelation, we know that the "heaven" or "happiness" in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit.

It is always necessary to maintain a certain restraint in describing these "ultimate realities" since their depiction is always unsatisfactory. Today, personalist language is better suited to describing the state of happiness and peace we will enjoy in our definitive communion with God.

The Holy Father makes the same distinction when discussing hell (General Audience of Wednesday, 28 July 1999). Interestingly, the English translation included the phrase, "Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy." Catholic apologist Andrew Solt, on whose page this talk was reproduced, noted (italics and bolding added):

[The original Italian says, "(PiĆ¹ che) More than a place, hell indicates..." This suggests correctly that although hell is not essentially "a place," rather the definitive loss of God, confinement is included. Thus, after the general resurrection the bodies of the damned, being bodies not spirits, must be in "some place," in which they will receive the punishment of fire.]

Pope John Paul II discussed purgatory in his General Audience of Wednesday, 4 August 1999; one heading stated: "Purgatory is not a place but a condition of existence." The meaning of this has been explained above: spirits do not possess dimension or spatial characteristics, so in that sense one cannot speak of "place." Yet in the English language, "place" is sometimes used as a synonym for "condition" or "state" and perhaps this also explains some of the confusion. For example, in my Webster's New 20th Century Dictionary (Cleveland: World Publishing Company, 1968; 2289 large pages), no less than 25 definitions of place are given, including the following:

16. (another's) situation or state; as, you would have acted quite the same if you were in my place.

In common English, this sense is used; for example:

I came to a place in my life where I stopped worrying so much.

Or (even more poetically or metaphorically):

A loving relationship is a place where one can fully express one's feelings and trust another.


Note that this is a use of place for an ultimately non-material entity: human relationships or love.

Thus, again, we see that this is a matter of context and language. Place in this sense can be used as interchangeable with "state" or "condition" so that there is no contradiction, rightly-understood. It's all much ado about nothing. When older Catholic writers use the term "place" for purgatory (just as John Paul II did with regard to heaven and hell also) it is in this sense. Nothing has changed. The doctrine has remained the same. But in the rush to find Catholic contradiction and equivocation all of this is ignored.


Saturday, July 23, 2005

Reflections on Tradition, Sola Scriptura, Perspicuity, and the Canon

From the first draft of my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (1994). This portion was completed on September 14, 1992.
-----------------

I. Tradition: Catholic Commentary

1. Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

"Tradition first means all of divine revelation, from the dawn of human history to the end of the apostolic age, as passed on from one generation of believers to the next, and as preserved under divine guidance by the Church established by Christ. Sacred Tradition more technically also means, within this transmitted revelation, that part of God's revealed word which is not contained in Sacred Scripture." (5:437)

"Catholicism believes that the whole content of God's revealed word is not limited to the biblical page. But it also sees that the Bible and tradition are intimately related, in fact are interdependent . . . The two may not be separated . . . Moreover, both have been left with the Church and in the Church as a `sacred deposit,' which may not be profaned either by adulteration or competition with mere human wisdom." (4:47-48)

2. James Cardinal Gibbons

"The Church is the divinely appointed Custodian and Interpreter of the Bible . . . God never intended the Bible to be the Christian's rule of faith, independently of the living authority of the Church." (3:63)

3. Robert Hugh Benson

"A Church that appeals merely to ancient written words can be no more at the best than an antiquarian society." (14:876/1)

4. John Henry Cardinal Newman

"Catholics hold that the apostles made over the divine revelation to the generation after them, not only in writing, but by word of mouth, and in the ritual of the Church. We consider that the New Testament is not the whole of what they left us; that they left us a number of doctrines, not in writing at all, but living in the minds and mouths of the faithful." (14:876/2)

5. Karl Adam

"Because they are inspired by the Holy Ghost, the Scriptures, and especially the New Testament, are always for the Catholic too, the classical source of Christianity. They present, so to speak, the conscious mind of the Church. But the Catholic is convinced that the Church has also what might be called a subconscious mind. It consists of those remembrances, ordinances and traditions of primitive Christianity received directly from Christ but handed on only orally by the Apostles, which were not expressly formulated in Holy Scripture, although in the strictest sense they embody a primitive Christian deposit of faith. This extra-Biblical stream of tradition must have existed from the beginning, since the first disciples, like their Divine Master, at first spread the Good News only orally, and it was by oral teaching alone that they aroused the faith of the first Christian communities." (7:57-58)

6. Thomas Merton

"Christian tradition, unlike all others, is a living and perpetual revolution . . . The presence of a strong element of human conservatism in the Church should not obscure the fact that the Christian tradition, supernatural in its source, is something absolutely opposed to human traditionalism.

"For the living tradition of Catholicism is like the breath of a physical body. It renews life by repelling stagnation. It is a constant, quiet, peaceful revolution against death . . .

"To those who have no personal experience of this thing, but who see only the outer crust of dead, human conservatism that tends to form around the Church the way barnacles gather on the hull of a ship, all this talk of revolution sounds foolish . . .

"The notion of dogma terrifies men who do not understand the Church. They cannot conceive that a religious doctrine may receive a clear and definite and authoritative statement without at once becoming static and rigid and inert and losing all its vitality. And in their frantic anxiety to escape from any such conception they take refuge in a system of beliefs that is vague and fluid, a system in which truths pass like mists and waver and vary like shadows. They make their own personal selection of ghosts, in this pale, indefinite twilight of the mind, and take care never to bring them out into the full brightness of the sun for fear of a full view of their unsubstantiality." (3)

II. Defenses of Tradition / Critiques of Sola Scriptura

1. John Michael Talbot

"I cannot return to my former strict fundamentalist thinking. This thinking placed absolute authority in the Bible, totally writing off tradition as `perversion of the Word' . . . The oral and written traditions of the early church produced the written Word; therefore, the written Word can only be properly interpreted by going back to examine the witness of the early Church fathers in order to establish what those traditions were . . . Consequently, a Catholic too has a zeal for the Word. But that Word is not limited to a black-and-white page that never grows or breathes. That Word is a living Word . . . That Word is a living Jesus! Nor is it solely interpreted by private individuals who set up their own separate churches, but rather by an authority traceable to Jesus and the apostles in Scripture and tradition through apostolic succession." (10:94-95)

2. Cardinal Gibbons

"When our Redeemer . . . established His Church, did He intend that His Gospel should be disseminated by the circulation of the Bible, or by the living voice of His disciples? . . . I answer most emphatically that it was by preaching alone that He intended to convert the nations . . . No nation has ever yet been converted by the agency of Bible Associations.

"Jesus Himself never wrote a line of Scripture . . . When He sends them on their Apostolic errand, He says: . . . `Preach the Gospel to every creature' (Mk 16:15). . . The Apostles are never reported to have circulated a single volume of the Holy Scripture . . .

"Thus we see that in . . . the New Dispensation the people were to be guided by a living authority, and not by their private interpretation of the Scriptures. Indeed, until the religious revolution of the 16th century, it was a thing unheard of . . . that people should be governed by the dead letter of the law either in civil or ecclesiastical affairs . . . The Word of God, as well as the civil law, must have an interpreter, by whose decision we are obliged to abide . . .

"It is clear that the Scriptures could not at any period have been accessible to everyone. They could not have been accessible to the primitive Christians, because they were not all written for a long time after the establishment of Christianity . . . And what would have become of them if the Bible alone had been their guide?

"The art of printing was not invented till the 15th century (1440). How utterly impossible it was to supply everyone with a copy of the Scriptures from the 4th to the 15th century! . . .

"But even if the Bible were at all times accessible to everyone, how many millions exist . . . who are not accessible to the Bible because they are incapable of reading the Word of God!" (3:65-70,72)

3. Ronald Knox

"If no Christian had ever put pen to paper, there would have still been a stream of oral tradition which would have reached right down to our own day . . . We do not pretend that there is . . . a whole deposit of tradition which has never yet seen the light of day. But we do contend that you cannot expect every single element of that tradition to appear in written form among the scarce literary relics that have come down to us from the first two centuries. A belief may happen to be old without happening to have been written down in the very earliest times, especially since we know that there was in the early church a disciplina arcani, a system by which Sacramental doctrine was expounded, not to all comers, but only to those who
were actually under instruction . . .

"There is a very long step between a pious belief which has carried weight with a few thousands of simple souls, and a belief which is sufficiently embedded in the structure of Christian tradition to be quoted, by a learned and responsible author, as an accepted fact. It does not appear earlier in literature? But consider what a proportion of earlier literature has perished. Oral tradition is untrustworthy? We think so, because we live in an age when everybody reads and derives his knowledge from reading; in more primitive circumstances memory is more tenacious." (2:130-132)

4. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI)

"An exegesis in which the Bible no longer lives and is understood within the living organism of the Church becomes archaeology . . . The last word about the Word of God as Word of God does not in this conception belong to the legitimate pastors, the Magisterium, but to the expert, the professor with his ever-provisional results always subject to revisions . . .

"The science of the specialists has erected a fence around the garden of Scripture to which the nonexpert now no longer has entry . . . Every Catholic must have the courage to believe that his faith (in communion with that of the Church) surpasses every `new Magisterium' of the experts, of the intellectuals. It is a prejudice . . . if it is asserted that the text is understandable only if its origin and development are studied." (4)

5. G.K. Chesterton

"I have never been able to understand where people got the idea that democracy was in some way opposed to tradition. It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record. The man who quotes some German historian against the tradition of the Catholic Church, for instance, is strictly appealing to aristocracy . . .

"Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead . . . The two ideas of democracy and tradition . . . are the same idea." (11:47-48)

"To an impartial pagan or sceptical observer, it must always seem the strangest story in the world; that men rushing in to wreck a temple, overturning the altar and driving out the priest, found there certain sacred volumes . . . and (instead of throwing them on the fire with the rest) began to use them as infallible oracles rebuking all the other arrangements. If the sacred high altar was all wrong, why were the secondary sacred documents necessarily all right? If the priest had faked his Sacraments, why could he not have faked his Scriptures? . . .

"Nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution . . . But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion . . . This principle applies to a thousand things, to trifles as well as to institutions, to convention as well as to conviction." (9:29,35-36)

6. Peter Kreeft

"What do [Protestants] think Catholics believe about Scripture? That it is second to the Church and that the Church teaches things quite independent of it. They think that we, like the Pharisees condemned by Jesus, confuse human tradition with divine revelation . . .

"There are at least four things wrong with the `sola Scriptura' doctrine:

"First, it separates Church and Scripture. They are not two rival horses in the authority race. Rather, they are one rider (the Church) on one horse (Scripture). The Church as writer, canonizer and interpreter of Scripture is not another source of revelation, but the . . . guardian and teacher of the one source, Scripture. We are not taught by a teacher without a book or by a book without a teacher . . .

"Second, `sola Scriptura' is logically self-contradictory, for it says we should believe only Scripture, but Scripture itself never says this . . .

"Third, `sola Scriptura' violates the principle of causality: that an effect cannot be greater than its cause. The Church (the Apostles) wrote Scripture, and the successors of the Apostles (the bishops of the Church) decided on the canon . . . If Scripture is infallible, then its cause, the Church, must also be infallible.

"Fourth, there is the practical argument that private interpretation leads to denominationalism . . . But denominationalism is an intolerable scandal by scriptural standards - see John 17 and 1 Corinthians 1.

"Fifth, `sola Scriptura' is unhistorical. Why? Because the first generation of Christians did not have the New Testament, only the Church to teach them . . .

"The Catholic Church does not claim to be divinely inspired to add any new doctrines, only protected to preserve and interpret the old ones, `the deposit of faith.' It does not foster additions but guards against subtractions. All the doctrines of the Church derive from Scripture. In fact, Aquinas identifies sacred teaching with Scripture." (5)

7. Karl Adam

"The New Testament . . . is by no means an exhaustive expression of . . . apostolic tradition . . . Oral tradition . . . is more comprehensive than the Bible, for it attests a mass of ritual and religious usage, of customs and rules, which is only slightly indicated in the Bible." (1:155)

8. Louis Bouyer

"The Church in her magisterium is the first to recognise that she is subject to the Word of God . . .It is now absolutely clear, not only that Scripture is inspired, but that there is no other ecclesiastical document of which the same may be said, even a solemn definition of Pope or Council . . . The Bible alone can be said to have God for its author . . .

"The very thing that Protestants affirm about the supreme authority, unique of its kind, of Scripture, is likewise affirmed by the Church of today, as always, without reserve and with unequalled precision." (8:161-162)

9. Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman

"The Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this. And Protestantism has ever felt it so . . . This is shown in the determination . . . of dispensing with historical Christianity altogether, and of forming a Christianity from the Bible alone . . . Our popular religion scarcely recognizes the fact of the twelve long ages which lie between the Councils of Nicaea and Trent . . . To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." (6:7-8)

J. Derek Holmes, in a book about Newman's view of Scripture, summarizes this seminal thinker's ideas:

"In 1845 . . . Newman pointed out some other limitations of the Scriptures . . . The mere letter of the Bible could not contain the fulness of revelation; Scripture itself could not solve the questions of canonicity or inspiration; its style was indirect and its structure was unsystematic so that even definitions of the Church depended on obscure sentences . . . The inspiration of Scripture was as difficult to establish from the text of the Bible as the doctrine of apostolic succession . . .

"The Bible did not contain a complete secular history, and there was no reason why it should contain a complete account of religious truth. It was unreasonable to demand an adequate scriptural foundation for Church doctrines, if the impression gained from the Bible was of writers who took solemn and sacred truths for granted and who did not give a complete or full treatment of the sense of revelation . . . Scripture did not interpret itself, often startling facts were narrated simply, needing the understanding of the Church, and even essential truths were not made clear . . .

"Newman, it must be emphasized, held a `one-source theory' of revelation. He believed that the Church and Tradition taught the truth, while Scripture verified, vindicated or proved that teaching. The Bible and Tradition made up the joint rule of faith, antiquity strengthened the faint but real intimations of doctrine given in Scripture, the Bible was interpreted by Tradition which was verified by Scripture . . . The Bible was never intended to teach doctrine to the majority of Christians, but was written for those already instructed in doctrine . . .

"It might be possible for an individual Christian to gain the whole truth from the Bible, but the chances were `very seriously against a given individual' doing so in practice." (6)

Newman, bristling with insight, as always, gets right to the core of the issue in the following examples of his marvelous prose, with which we conclude this section:

"That Scripture is the Rule of Faith is in fact an assumption so congenial to the state of mind and course of thought usual among Protestants, that it seems to them rather a truism than a truth. If they are in controversy with Catholics on any point of faith, they at once ask, `Where do you find it in Scripture?' and if Catholics reply, as they must do, that it is not necessarily in Scripture in order to be true, nothing can persuade them that such an answer is not an evasion, and a triumph to themselves. Yet it is by no means self-evident that all religious truth is to be found in a number of works, however sacred, which were written at different times, and did not always form one book; and in fact it is a doctrine very hard to prove . . . It [is] . . . an assumption so deeply sunk into the popular mind, that it is a work of great difficulty to obtain from its maintainers an acknowledgment that it is an assumption." (7)

"It may be objected that there is no allusion to Catholic doctrines, even where one would think there must have been, had they been in the inspired writer's mind . . . That is, the tone of the New Testament is unsacramental; and the impression it leaves on the mind is not that of a Priesthood and its attendant system. This may be objected, yet . . . when the sacred writers were aiming at one thing, they did not go out of their way ever so little to introduce another. The fashion of this day, indeed, is ever to speak about all religious things at once . . . and those who are imbued with the spirit which this implies, doubtless will find it difficult to understand how the sacred writers could help speaking of what was very near their subject, when it was not their subject." (12:332-333/8)

"Induction is the instrument of physics, and deduction only is the instrument of theology. There the simple question is, What is revealed? All doctrinal knowledge flows from one fountainhead . . . If we would solve new questions, it must be by consulting old answers. The notion of doctrinal knowledge absolutely novel, and of simple addition from without, is intolerable to Catholic ears . . . Revelation is all in all in doctrine; the Apostles its sole depository, the inferential method its sole instrument, and ecclesiastical authority its sole sanction . . .

"Avowals such as these fall strange upon the ear of men whose first principle is the search for truth, and whose starting points of search are things material and sensible. They scorn any process of inquiry not founded on experiment . . . Catholicism, forsooth, `confines the intellect,' because it holds that God's intellect is greater than theirs, and that what He has done, man cannot improve. And what in some sort justifies them to themselves in this extravagance is the circumstance that there is a religion close at their doors which, discarding so severe a tone, has actually adopted their own principle of inquiry. Protestantism treats Scripture just as they deal with nature; it takes the sacred text as a large collection of phenomena, from which, by an inductive process, each individual Christian may arrive at just those religious conclusions which approve themselves to his own judgment. It considers faith a mere modification of reason, . . . Sympathy, then, if no other reason, throws experimental philosophers into alliance with the enemies of Catholicism." (9)

"It is not the necessary result of unity of profession, nor is it the fact, that the Church imposes dogmatic statements on the interior assent of those who cannot apprehend them. The difficulty is removed by the dogma of the Church's infallibility, and of the consequent duty of `implicit faith' in her word. The `One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church' is an article of the Creed, and an article, which, inclusive of her infallibility, all men, high and low, can easily master and accept with a real and operative assent. It stands in the place of all abstruse propositions in a Catholic's mind, for to believe in her word is virtually to believe in them all. Even what he cannot understand, at least he can believe to be true; and he believes it to be true because he believes in the Church . . .

"It also stands to reason, that a doctrine, so deep and so various, as the revealed `depositum' of faith, cannot be brought home to us and made our own all at once. No mind, however large, however penetrating, can directly and fully by one act understand any one truth, however simple . . .

"In the act of believing it at all, we forthwith commit ourselves by anticipation to believe truths which at present we do not believe, because they have never come before us; we limit henceforth the range of our private judgment in prospect by the conditions, whatever they are, of that dogma . . .

"He who believes in the `depositum' of Revelation, believes in all the doctrines of the `depositum;' . . . whether he knows little or much, he has the intention of believing all that there is to believe whenever and as soon as it is brought home to him, if he believes in Revelation at all. All that he knows now as revealed, and all that he shall know, and all that there is to know, he embraces it all in his intention by one act of faith; otherwise, it is but an accident that he believes this or that, not because it is a revelation . . .

"And thus it is, that by believing the word of the Church implicitly, that is, by believing all that that word does or shall declare itself to contain, every Catholic, according to his intellectual capacity, supplements the shortcomings of his knowledge without blunting his real assent to what is elementary, and takes upon himself from the first the whole truth of revelation, progressing from one apprehension of it to another according to his opportunities of doing so." (10)

III. Perspicuity: Catholic Critiques

1. William Reichert (A Recent Convert)

"Ironically, it was the first pope - the apostle Peter - who pointed out thr rather obvious fact that Scripture is not necessarily self-explanatory; it can be twisted by the unscrupulous to support virtually any theological position (2 Peter 3:16).

"All of this may seem rather evident to a Catholic, but in fact this semantic sleight of hand still fuels the Protestant Reformation. Vast numbers of Evangelicals still believe that Scripture is so perspicuous that it is, in effect, self-enforcing. That one can be so blind in the face of a multiplicity of interpretations within the Evangelical camp alone is nothing short of mind-boggling.

"Such diversity of interpretation can be justified, if at all, only by proclaiming that all such differences are really minor and don't matter (something that is most difficult to support in view of the fact that churches and denominations continue to splinter over such `minor matters'), that those who differ are ignorant (again, difficult to maintain in light of the view that Scripture is so simple a `plowboy' could understand it), or that those who differ are motivated by their own, or demonic, evil (sadly, a rather common accusation)." (11)

2. James Cardinal Gibbons

"Is the Bible a book intelligible to all? Far from it; it is full of obscurities and difficulties not only for the illiterate, but even for the learned. St. Peter himself informs us . . . `that no prophecy of Scripture is made by private interpretation' (2 Pet 1:20) . . .

"The Fathers of the Church, though many of them spent their whole lives in the study of the Scriptures, are unanimous in pronouncing the Bible a book full of knotty difficulties. And yet we find in our days pedants, with a mere smattering of Biblical knowledge, who see no obscurity at all in the Word of God, and who presume to expound it from Genesis to Revelation." (3:70)

3. Martin Scott

"No book interprets itself . . . Nor can it be said that being a divinely inspired book, its prime Author, the Holy Ghost, will guide the reader to the right meaning. The Holy Ghost cannot guide readers to contradictory meanings, and we know that many passages of Scripture have been interpreted by various people in an absolutely contrary sense . . . Every work of literature has its literal and figurative passages, its allusions to conditions of its own time and place, and various other peculiarities which constitute its distinctive feature. Shakespeare and Dante have had hosts of interpreters, learned men, scholars of highest repute, yet reaching different and often contradictory conclusions." (15:119)

4. Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman

"The early Church always did consider Scripture to be . . . a book with very recondite meanings . . . as regards its entire teaching. They considered that it was full of mysteries. Therefore, saying that Scripture has deep meanings, is not an hypothesis invented to meet this particular difficulty, that the Church doctrines are not on its surface, but is an acknowledged principle of interpretation independent of it." (12:333/12)

"Surely then, if the revelations and lessons in Scripture are addressed to us personally and practically, the presence among us of a formal judge and standing expositor of its words, is imperative. It is antecedently unreasonable to suppose that a book so complex, so unsystematic, in parts so obscure, the outcome of so many minds, times and places, should be given us from above without the safeguard of some authority; as if it could possibly, from the nature of the case, interpret itself. Its inspiration does but guarantee its truth, not its interpretation . . . The gift of inspiration requires as its complement the gift of infallibility." (13)

IV. The Canon

A. Protestant Observations

1. The New Bible Dictionary

"The epistolary material in the New Testament . . . possesses from the beginning a certain claim, if not to inspiration, at least to be an authoritative and adequate teaching on points of doctrine and conduct; yet it is clear that no letter is written for other than specific recipients in a specific historical situation . . .

"The Pauline corpus . . . from the start would enjoy high status as a body of authoritative Christian literature . . . There is no corresponding evidence for any such corpora of non-Pauline writings at so early a date.

"In no case does any writing explicitly or implicitly claim that it alone preserves tradition. There is no sense, at this stage, of a Canon of Scripture, a closed list to which addition may not be made. This would appear to be due to two factors: the existence of an oral tradition and the presence of apostles, apostolic disciples, and prophets, who were the foci and the interpreters of the dominical traditions . . .

"As regards the Gospels, Clement (First Epistle, c. A.D. 90) quotes material akin to the Synoptics yet in a form not strictly identical with any particular Gospel; nor does he introduce the words with any formula of scriptural citation. John is unknown to him. Ignatius of Antioch (martyred c. A.D. 115) speaks frequently of `the gospel': yet in all cases his words are patient of the interpretation that it is the message, not a document, of which he speaks . . . Whether John was known to him remains a matter of debate, in which the strongest case appears to be that it was not . . .

"There is considerable and wide knowledge of the Pauline Corpus in the Apostolic Fathers . . . Yet, highly valued as his letters evidently were, there is little introduction of quotations as scriptural. . . .

"Even where the gospel was highly prized (e.g. Ignatius or Papias), it is apparently in an oral rather than a written form. Barnabas is chiefly concerned to expound the Old Testament . . . Most of the Apostolic Fathers utilize what we anachronistically term `apocryphal' or `extra-canonical' material: it was evidently not so to them. We are still in a period when the New Testament writings are not clearly demarcated from other edifying material. . . .

"It was towards the close of the 2nd century that awareness of the concept of a canon and scriptural status begins to reveal itself . . . The challenge of heretical teachers . . . was largely instrumental in stimulating this . . .

"About this same time, Acts comes out of oblivion: previously it is scarcely known or quoted. . . Not all the books now included in the Canon are decided upon in any one church . . .

"[By 200 there was] a wide-embracing concept of the Canon but also . . . marginal uncertainties, omissions, and the inclusion of writings later rejected as apocryphal . . .

"Into the 3rd century . . . uncertainty remains in the case of Hebrews, some of the Catholic Epistles, and the Revelation of John. Uncanonical Gospels are cited, . . . and some works of the Apostolic Fathers such as the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd, and the First Epistle of Clement, are cited as canonical or scriptural. . .

"The position in the Church in the 3rd century is well summarized by Eusebius . . . he places as `disputed, nevertheless known to most' James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John . . .and the Revelation of John. . .

"Hebrews . . . remained in dispute for several centuries . . . In the West doubts persisted from the earliest days . . . Jerome reported that in his day the opinion of Rome was still against authenticity . . .

"For inclusion in this corpus there appear to have competed with all these such works as the Shepherd, Barnabas, the Didache, the Clementine `correspondence', all of which seem to have been sporadically recognized and utilized as scriptural. . .

"In the East the definitive point is the 39th Paschal Letter of Athanasius in A.D. 367. Here we find for the first time a New Testament of exact bounds as known to us. . . In the West the Canon was fixed by conciliar decision at Carthage in 397, when a like list to that of Athanasius was agreed upon." (16:195-198)

2. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

"The Four Gospels and the 13 Epistles by St. Paul, had come to be accepted c.130 and were placed on the same footing with the Old Testament between 170 and 220. The other New Testament writings were received later. Doubts persisted, especially in the case of Hebrews, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John and Revelation . . .

"The principle that only the Church has the right to declare a book canonical is recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, and the Church of England." (13:232)

3. Brooke Foss Westcott

"It cannot be denied that the Canon was fixed gradually . . .As long as the traditional rule of Apostolic doctrine was generally held in the Church, there was no need to confirm it by the written Rule. The dogmatic and constant use of the New Testament was not made necessary by the terms of the controversy or the wants of the congregation . . . But in the course of time . . . heretics arose who claimed to be possessed of other traditionary rules . . . Dissensions arose within the Church itself, and the appeal to the written word of the Apostles became natural and decisive . . .

"It will be impossible to close up every avenue of doubt, and the Canon, like all else that has a moral value, can be determined only with practical and not with demonstrative certainty." (14)

4. G.C. Berkouwer

"Men want to express explicitly that the church did not critically, by means of its own sifting and weighing, create its own canon, but that it was instead subjected to the canon in all its priority . . . There is an increasing awareness that no honor is being paid to the canon by neglecting its mode of coming into being . . . The description of the canon as a creation of the church is not in the least a uniquely Roman Catholic one . . .

"The Roman Catholics emphatically reject the view that the church posits her own canon. They claim only that, when the canonical process has come to a close, the magisterial church provides certainty . . . Behind this we find the well-known distinction between the canonical essence of Holy Scripture (`quoad se'), as it is grounded in divine inspiration, and the confirmation of these books as canonical by the church (`quoad nos') . . . The church can . . . only point to and name that canonical which is in itself already truly canonical. Yet, found amid the relativity of the varied historical considerations and judgments of the first few centuries, this authority is of great importance . . .

"It is not possible to identify this canon of the apostolic `a priori' with a list of the twenty-seven New Testament books . . . Nor does the Scripture itself testify to its boundaries." (15)

B. Catholic Observations

As the difficulty for Protestantism is obvious and fairly treated in the above Protestant sources, there is little need to cite Catholic opinion at length. Two quotations will suffice:

1. Martin Scott

"Scripture itself does not state what writings make Scripture . . . It was the Church which decided which were inspired writings, and formed them into the New Testament . . . It is all very well to say that Scripture is inspired, but we must also know what is and what is not Scripture. It was the Church that made this decision and thus made the Bible . . . The Church which made the Bible, likewise interprets the Bible." (15:119-120)

2. J. Derek Holmes, on Cardinal Newman's Views

"Newman claimed that the objections brought against the Catholic system were paralleled by those which could be brought against the canon of Scripture . . . The canon of Scripture and Catholic doctrines rested on the same foundation, and those who disputed the latter should also question the former . . . Church doctrines might only be obscurely gathered from Scripture, but Scripture was only obscurely gathered from history. It was impossible to accept the canon of Scripture without the authority of the ancient Church; the Bible and the Catholic system went together and the denial of one would lead to the denial of the other. The internal evidence of Scripture was inadequate for, or even contrary to, the idea of inspiration. It was impossible to believe in the infallibility of the Bible without accepting the infallibility of the ancient Church which also taught other, Catholic, doctrines . . . Revelation was not plainly in Scripture alone, but in the exposition of the Church and explanations of the Fathers." (16)

Sources

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

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

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

4. Hardon, John A., The Catholic Catechism, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975.

5. Hardon, John A., Pocket Catholic Dictionary, New York: Doubleday Image, 1980.

6. Newman, John Henry Cardinal, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Notre Dame, IN: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1989 (orig. 1845).

7. Adam, Karl, The Roots of the Reformation, translated by Cecily Hastings, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1951 [portion of One and Holy, 1948].

8. Bouyer, Louis, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, translated by A.V. Littledale, London: Harvill Press, 1956.

9. Chesterton, G.K., The Thing, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1929.

10. Talbot, John Michael, Changes: A Spiritual Journal, New York: Crossroad, 1984.

11. Chesterton, G.K., Orthodoxy, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1959 (orig. 1908).

12. Newman, John Henry Cardinal, A Newman Treasury, edited by Charles Frederick Harrold, New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1943.

13. Cross, F.L. & E.A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2nd edition, 1983.

14. Chapin, John, ed., The Book of Catholic Quotations, New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1956.

15. Scott, Martin, Things Catholics are Asked About, New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1927.

16. Douglas, J.D., editor, The New Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962.

Footnotes

1. The Confessions of a Convert, (early 1900s).
2. Present Position of Catholics in England (1851).
3. Seeds of Contemplation, New York: Dell, 1949, 77-78,80-81.
4. Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal (now Pope Benedict XVI), with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report, translated by Salvator Attanasio & Graham Harrison, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985, 75-76.
5. "Protestant, Catholic Views on the Bible," National Catholic Register, Nov. 3, 1991, p.10.
6. In Holmes, J. Derek & Robert Murray, On the Inspiration of Scripture, Washington, D.C.: Corpus Books, 1967, 7-8,10-11,15-16.
7. Newman, John Henry, Grammar of Assent, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1955 (orig. 1870), 296.
8. Newman, John Henry, Discussions and Arguments, London: 1872, 181.
9. Newman, John Henry, The Idea of a University, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1959 (orig. 1852), 228-230.
10. Newman, Grammar, 129-131.
11 "I Will be Where Peter Is," This Rock, Jan. 1990, 6-13, quote on p. 9.
12. Newman, Discussions, 194-195.
13. In Holmes, ibid., Newman's essay "On the Inspiration of Scripture," (1890), 111-112.
14. Westcott, Brooke Foss, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980 (orig. 6th ed., 1889), 4-6,502.
15. In Berkouwer, G.C., Studies in Dogmatics: Holy Scripture, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975, translated from Dutch edition of 1967 by Jack B. Rogers, 77-78,84.
16. In Holmes, ibid., 11-12.

Sam Cooke: The Greatest Singer of All Time: Chronological Discography

Many thanks to The Ultimate Sam Cooke Page for most of the following information.

"Throughout his career, Sam found his own unique way to move around a melody, stretching out a line, hesitating behind the beat, breaking up a single syllable word into several new parts, bridging lyrics with wordless vocalizing. There was jazz in the way he sang; there was blues. And, of course, he could rock. Author Daniel Wolff calls his special style a yodel, and Lou Rawls used the same word in trying to describe Sam's phrasing,although Rawls ultimately found it easier to simply imitate a few lines over the phone. Vamping, improvising, scatting, yodeling -words can deline but not quite capture the feeling of a certain sound. Sam may not have been the most powerful gospel singer, but he became one of the most magnetic and vocally inventive."

Michael Hill, notes for the box set, The Man Who Invented Soul.

"Sam Cooke was grounded in a very straightforward singing style: It was pure, beautiful and open-throated, extraordinarily direct and unapologetic. . . . He had guts as a singer. Sam also threw a lot of notes at you. Today you hear everyone doing those melismatic notes that Mariah Carey made popular. Sam was the first guy I remember singing that way. When he's singing, "I love you for sentimental reasons/I hope you believe me," the next line should be, "I've given you my heart." But he goes, "I've given you my-my-mah-muh-my heart/Given you my heart because I need you." It's as if he's saying, "Now that I've sung the word, I'm going to sing it again, because I've got all this feeling in my heart that demands expression." He could have given us less, and that would have been enough, but he put in all those extra notes, as in "You Send Me," where he's scatting between the lines: "I know, I know, I know, when you hold me."

"He had fabulous chops, but at the same time fabulous taste. I never felt that he was overdoing it, as I often feel with singers today. He stayed rhythmic and fluty and floaty; he always showed brilliant vocal control. . . . Sam was great to sing along with. He was my hero.

". . . I used to think he was just a great singer. Now I think he's better than that. Almost nobody since then can touch him."

Art Garfunkel, for Rolling Stone

SAM COOKE CHRONOLOGICAL DISCOGRAPHY

* = Written by Sam Cooke
Dates = recording dates
Major singles (A-sides) [titles] are in red
Top Ten singles (pop) [chart position] are in blue
Top Ten singles (R&B) are in green
Top Twenty singles (pop) are in purple

Album Guide

The Rhythm And The Blues RCA 1995
Greatest Hits RCA 1998
The Man Who Invented Soul (4 CD box set) RCA 2000
[includes the complete albums Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 and Night Beat]
Keep Movin' On ABKCO 2001
Night Beat RCA 2001
Sam Cooke With The Soul Stirrers, The Complete Specialty Recordings Specialty 2002
Sam Cooke's SAR Records Story ABKCO 2003
Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 ABKCO 2003

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

*I'll Come Running Back To You / August 21, 1956 / #1 R&B, #18 pop / Sam Cooke With the Soul Stirrers / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964

*I Need You Now / August 21, 1956 / Sam Cooke With the Soul Stirrers

Forever / December 12, 1956 / Sam Cooke With the Soul Stirrers

*Lovable / December 12, 1956 / Sam Cooke With the Soul Stirrers / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964

*That's All I Need To Know / December 12, 1956 / Sam Cooke With the Soul Stirrers

*I Don't Want To Cry / December 12, 1956 / Sam Cooke With the Soul Stirrers

That's Heaven To Me / April 19, 1957 / Sam Cooke With the Soul Stirrers

Mean Old World / April 19, 1957 / Sam Cooke With the Soul Stirrers

*You Send Me / June 1, 1957 / #1 pop, #1 R&B / The Man Who Invented Soul / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

*You Were Made For Me / June 1, 1957 / #7 R&B, #39 Pop / The Man Who Invented Soul / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

Summertime / June 1, 1957 / The Man Who Invented Soul / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964

Win Your Love For Me / June 6, 1957 / #4 R&B, #33 pop / The Man Who Invented Soul / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

*Just For You / 1957 / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964

For Sentimental Reasons / 1957 / The Man Who Invented Soul / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

Lonely Island / February 1958 / The Man Who Invented Soul

*Love You Most Of All / June 1958 / The Man Who Invented Soul / Greatest Hits

*If I Had You / 1958 / The Man Who Invented Soul

Desire Me / 1958 / The Man Who Invented Soul

Danny Boy / 1958 / The Man Who Invented Soul

Let's Go Steady Again / December 1958 (?) / The Man Who Invented Soul

*Only Sixteen / December 1958 (?) / #28, #13 R&B / The Man Who Invented Soul / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

*When A Boy Falls In Love / Early 1959 / Keep Movin' On / The Man Who Invented Soul

*Try A Little Love / Early 1959 / The Man Who Invented Soul / Keep Movin' On

Ain't Nobody's Bizzness If I Do / February 1959 / The Man Who Invented Soul

*No One (Can Ever Take Your Place) / February 1959 / The Man Who Invented Soul

I've Got A Right To Sing A Blues / February 1959 / The Man Who Invented Soul

*Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha / before March 1959 / #31 pop and #2 R&B / The Man Who Invented Soul / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

Little Things You Do / 1959 / The Man Who Invented Soul

*Chain Gang / January 25, 1960 / #2 pop and #2 R&B / Greatest Hits / The Man Who Invented Soul / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

The Great Pretender / January 25, 1960 / The Man Who Invented Soul

Teenage Sonata / January 25, 1960 / The Man Who Invented Soul

*Wonderful World / Early 1960 / #12 pop, #2 R&B / The Man Who Invented Soul / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

*Sad Mood / April 1960 / #29 pop, #23 R&B / The Man Who Invented Soul / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

*Love Me / April 13, 1960 / The Man Who Invented Soul

*You Belong To Me / September 9, 1960 / The Man Who Invented Soul

*Tenderness / October 1, 1960 / The Man Who Invented Soul

*One More Time / December 1960 (?) / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm And The Blues

Hold On / January 30, 1961 / The Man Who Invented Soul

That's It - I Quit - I'm Moving On / January 30, 1961 / The Man Who Invented Soul / Greatest Hits

*Cupid / April 14, 1961 / #20 R&B, #17 pop / The Man Who Invented Soul / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

Baby Won't You Please Come Home / May 19, 1961 / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm And The Blues

Don't Get Around Much Anymore / May 19, 1961 / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm And The Blues

Trouble In Mind / May 19, 1961 / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm And The Blues

Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out / May 19, 1961 / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm And The Blues

You're Always On My Mind / May 20, 1961 / The Man Who Invented Soul

Little Girl Blue / May 20, 1961 / The Rhythm and the Blues

I'm Just A Lucky So And So / May 20, 1961 / The Man Who Invented Soul

Exactly Like You / May 20, 1961 / The Man Who Invented Soul

But Not For Me / May 20, 1961 / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm And The Blues

Out In The Cold Again / May 20, 1961 / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm And The Blues

Since I Met You Baby / May 20th, 1961 / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm And The Blues

*Somewhere There's A Girl / June 28, 1961 / The SAR Records Story

*Feel It / August 9, 1961 / The Man Who Invented Soul

*It's All Right / August 9, 1961 / The Man Who Invented Soul

Frankie And Johnny / August 9, 1961 / #4 R&B, #14 Pop / The Man Who Invented Soul / Greatest Hits

*Twistin' The Night Away / December 18, 1961 / #9 pop, #1 R&B / The Man Who Invented Soul / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

Somebody's Gonna Miss Me / December 19, 1961 / #3 R&B / The Man Who Invented Soul

*Somebody Have Mercy / February 15, 1962 / #3 R&B / The Man Who Invented Soul / Greatest Hits

*Talkin' Trash / February 16, 1962 / The Man Who Invented Soul

*Movin' And A Groovin' / February 19, 1962 / The Man Who Invented Soul

A Whole Lotta Woman / February 19, 1962 / The Man Who Invented Soul

*Soothe Me / February 19, 1962 / The Man Who Invented Soul

*Bring It On Home To Me / April 26, 1962 / #11 pop and #2 R&B / The Man Who Invented Soul / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

*Having A Party / April 26, 1962 / #4 R&B, #17 pop / The Man Who Invented Soul / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

*Nothing Can Change This Love / August 23, 1962 / #2 R&B, #12 pop / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm And The Blues / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

*Baby, Baby, Baby / November 29, 1962 / The Man Who Invented Soul

Send Me Some Lovin' / November 29, 1962 / # 2 R&B, #13 pop / The Man Who Invented Soul / Greatest Hits

Chains of Love / December 14, 1962 / The Rhythm and the Blues

Smoke Rings / December 14, 1962 / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm And The Blues

Driftin' Blues / December 16, 1962 / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm And The Blues

Cry Me A River / December 16, 1962 / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm and the Blues

These Foolish Things / December 16, 1962 / The Man Who Invented Soul

Little Girl / 1962 / The Man Who Invented Soul

I Lost Everything / February 22nd, 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm and the Blues / Night Beat

Trouble Blues / February 22, 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm And The Blues / Night Beat

*Laughin' And A Clownin' / February 23, 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul / Night Beat

Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen / February 23, 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul / Night Beat

Mean Old World / February 23, 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul / Night Beat

Little Red Rooster / February 23, 1963 / #7 R&B and #11 pop / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm and the Blues / Night Beat / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

Shake, Rattle And Roll / February 23, 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul / Night Beat

*You Gotta Move / February 25, 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul / Night Beat

Lost And Lookin' / February 25, 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul / Night Beat

Fool's Paradise / February 25, 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm And The Blues / Night Beat

Please Don't Drive Me Away / February 25, 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm And The Blues / Night Beat

Get Yourself Another Fool / February 26, 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul / The Rhythm And The Blues / Night Beat

*Another Saturday Night / February 28, 1963 / #1 R&B and #10 pop / Keep Movin' On / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964

*Love Will Find A Way / February 28, 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul

*Cool Train / June 15, 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul

I Wish You Love / 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul

Willow Weep For Me / 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul

*Sugar Dumpling / September 11, 1963 / The Man Who Invented Soul / Keep Movin' On / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 / Greatest Hits

I'm Just A Country Boy / September 11, 1963 / Keep Movin' On

*Ain't That Good News / December 20, 1963 / #11 pop / Keep Movin' On / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964

*Keep Movin' On / December 21, 1963 / Keep Movin' On

There'll Be No Second Time / December 21, 1963 / Keep Movin' On

Basin Street Blues / December 21, 1963 / Keep Movin' On

The Riddle Song / December 21, 1963 / Keep Movin' On

*Meet Me At Mary's Place / January 28, 1964 / Keep Movin' On / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964

Rome Wasn't Built In A Day / January 28, 1964 / Keep Movin' On

Tennessee Waltz / January 28, 1964 / Keep Movin' On / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964

Falling In Love / January 30, 1964 / Keep Movin' On / The Man Who Invented Soul

*A Change Is Gonna Come / January 30, 1964 / #9 R&B and #31 Pop / Keep Movin' On / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964

*Good Times / February 2, 1964 / #11 pop / Keep Movin' On / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964
*Yeah Man / March 25, 1964 / Keep Movin' On

*(Somebody) Ease My Troubled Mind / April 9, 1964 / Keep Movin' On / The Man Who Invented Soul

You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You / April 9, 1964 / Keep Movin' On

Cousin of Mine / August 12, 1964 / Keep Movin' On

*That's Where It's At / August 20, 1964 / Keep Movin' On / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964

*It's Got the Whole World Shaking / November 16, 1964 / Keep Movin' On

*Shake / November 16, 1964 / #7 pop, #2 R&B / Keep Movin' On / The Man Who Invented Soul / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964

======================

*I'm Gonna Forget About You / ? / The Man Who Invented Soul

I Ain't Gonna Cheat On You No More / ? / The Man Who Invented Soul

With You / ? / The Man Who Invented Soul

Ain't Misbehavin' / ? / The Man Who Invented Soul

All The Way / ? / The Man Who Invented Soul

Crazy She Calls Me / ? / The Man Who Invented Soul

Don't Cry (On My Shoulder) / ? / The Man Who Invented Soul

I Belong To Your Heart / ? / The Man Who Invented Soul

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Harry Potter Series: Literary Magic or Magical Mystery Sewer?

I've added 64 new Harry Potter links to the bottom of my Romantic and Imaginative Theology page (an entirely new section). The articles / books / audio files are from all perspectives: 25 favor the series, 26 oppose it, and 13 offer both sides, or ambiguous or uncertain or neutral opinion. Almost all of the links are from a Christian perspective (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox alike; e.g., John Granger: a leading proponent, is Orthodox).

What is my own opinion on the matter? I think there are good points on both sides of the argument, and able, thoughtful, committed, respectable Christian proponents of both the pro and con positions. My wife and I both enjoyed the three movies a lot (qua movies and qua fantasy), but I don't read fiction, so I can't comment on the books themselves. I don't see a huge amount of difference between Harry Potter and Lewis and Tolkien, in terms of use of fantasy, though undeniably the latter two write from a far more explicitly Christian perspective (Anglican and Catholic, respectively).

That doesn't, however, necessarily mean that Harry Potter is a completely evil thing, though. Neither a mountain nor a sunset are "explicitly Christian" in terms of "ideological content," so to speak, but does that make them "bad"? Of course not. For what it's worth, J.K. Rowling is a member of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland. Presumably, her Christianity, then, would have some kind of presuppositional influence even in her constructed fantasy-world.

I would say that ultimately it comes down to individual choice and discernment. One should guide one's children in this matter in much the same way as they would be guided with regard to the time to start dating, or whether to home-school or perhaps allow them into public school, despite the potential dangers to faith there. It's simply too individual of an issue to make an ironclad rule.

If a child is prone to being led off in a million directions, irregardless of their ostensibly Christian belief-system, then chances are that danger might lurk in reading these books or watching the films (as in much other "non-Christian" material). If, on the other hand, the child is strong and persistently able to withstand any competing ideas, contrary to Christianity, then likely no particular danger would be present.

Watching the films didn't harm my Christian faith in the slightest. On the other hand, at an earlier point in my life, when my faith was not yet strong or fully-formed (to put it mildly), the movies quite possibly could have helped lead me astray, since I did, in fact, get involved to a considerable degree in occultic pursuits. The supernatural held a strong fascination for me (thankfully channeled later on into Christian supernaturalism). C.S. Lewis himself was also seriously involved in the occult in the period just before his encounter with the music and romanticism of Richard Wagner and a mythological sort of contemplation which he described as "Northernness":

Now, for the first time, there burst upon me the idea that there might be real marvels all about us, that the visible world might only be a curtain to conceal huge realms uncharted by my very simple theology. And that started in me something with which, on and off, I have had plenty of trouble since -- the desire for the preternatural, simply as such, the passion for the Occult. Not everyone has this disease; those who have will know what I mean [I do, very well] . . . It is a spiritual lust; and like the lust of the body it has the fatal power of making everything else in the world seem uninteresting while it lasts.

(Surprised by Joy, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1955, 60)
At times as I watched these movies, I must admit that for fleeting moments I felt precisely this "desire" that Lewis refers to. It's very difficult to describe without getting very heavy and mystical and philosophical, but it is a definite kind of coercion. I'm able to push it down because of strong Christian faith, but short of that, I can easily imagine (given my own background) someone with a similar bent being drawn into things which are harmful to their souls: true sorcery, witchcraft, Wicca, etc.: things which are definitely wrong and condemned in the Bible.

And that gets back to our main issue. Witchcraft or sorcery (everyone agrees) is portrayed in these books and movies. The side of "good" is chosen and ultimately triumphant, so there is little question of an advocacy of evil things. But on the other hand, overt hints of Christianity or God are missing (as far as I can see; perhaps the books are different). If parents allow their children to take part in this craze, then it must be with caution and discussion about the relationship of these stories to Christian doctrine and the ontology of the real, spiritual world that we live in. Fantasy is just that, but we know that the devil can use all things to lead people astray: especially if they are not vigilant.

Ultimately, then, I am not "against" Harry Potter, yet (similar to even many proponents) I would strongly urge a sharp watchful eye for potential spiritual danger, due to the nature of the subject matter, in proportion to the extent that one is prone to following non-Christian modes of thought and behavior, contra proper Christian boundaries and mature spiritual discernment. My view is very close to that expressed by the British Evangelical Alliance.