Friday, January 27, 2006

Further Catholic Reflections on the Ethics of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

By Dave Armstrong (23 October 2006; revision of a similar paper, originally posted on 1-28-06)

My former words are in blue.

* * * * *

First of all, it should be stated upfront that I write relatively little about "political" issues (though when I do, I write as vigorously and passionately as I do on any other subject I deal with). I try very hard to stick to strict apologetics (i.e., theology). I do more of that than any Catholic apologist on the Internet today, I dare say, while many apologists these days seem to want to deal quite a bit with cultural, ethical, political, and social issues: much more than theology, it appears, in many cases.

I think they deal with non-theological matters too much, relatively speaking (if they are apologists by profession, or as a major non-occupational interest), though it is no big deal and I am not faulting them for it; it's just my own opinion on emphasis. People have only so much new subject matter to write about. So they have to address current events or ongoing controversies while they wait for inspiration and subject matter to produce something original. It's tough; I understand that. But it is passing strange that I have to receive this criticism, all of this being the case.

I have produced many popes, bishops, conciliar statements, leading theologians, well-known priests, and apologists who oppose those bombings as inherently contrary to just war tradition, and hence, proper Catholic ethics.

Catholic bomb proponents with regard to this issue have not produced a single one that I am aware of. If it is such a respectable Catholic position, then I wish they would do that. But they haven't, and I think that is very telling, if not compelling. We're not Protestants; we form opinions hopefully with the Mind of the Church in our own minds.

It goes without saying that no one can speak "magisterially" about Hiroshima except for the pope or an ecumenical council, which is why I haven't done so, and have appealed to exactly those Catholic authorities whom I believe have done so at some important level. I'm not a canon lawyer or a theologian, and don't claim to understand every jot and tittle of how that works in this particular instance, but I do know that what has been written is pretty straightforward and all in one direction, which ought to count for something for a Catholic. Hence, when I was asked if the nuclear issue was similar to that of capital punishment and just war theory in general, I answered:

No, because I don't believe that this particular instance can be squared with just war ethics. If indeed it can't, then obviously, it falls into a different category, since it would be immoral by its very nature . . . . If, on the other hand, it can be, then the answer would be yes. Then I would like to see some major Catholic teacher / figure / bishop, etc. state that it is morally defensible by just war standards.

(comment of 1-22-06)

Obviously, I was giving my own opinion (not pontificating or attempting to ridiculously speak magisterially), which I am perfectly entitled to have. If indeed the act is immoral (as I believe) then no Catholic could hold it. But note that I didn't rule out the contrary hypothetical: "If, on the other hand, it can be . . ." I was simply nothing that there is no middle ground here: it is either impermissible by Catholic ethical standards or it is permissible. Everyone I can find who has any authority says it is impermissible. So I (as an obedient Catholic who abides by the Mind of the Church - whether the specific issue is defined at some high level or not) follow their thinking, which is nothing new for me because I held the same view as a Protestant since the early 80s.



http://biblicalcatholicism.com/


I made my own view quite clear, again, on the next day, showing that I am not at all speaking as some "magisterium of one" (like the RadCathRs and integrists habitually try to do):

There is a sensible middle ground here, in what you are saying, Jim [Scott]. I agree that one can argue that a limited use of nuclear power is permissible and moral in a given circumstance. Pius XII himself said so. It is not inconceivable to make such an argument as a Catholic. Thus, I am not a "nuclear pacifist." Nor do I oppose deterrence. I accept it in precisely the way that JPII did.

However, concerning the particular instance of Japan (which is, after all, the only examples of military use thus far), I contend that the Church has condemned it, in the sense of it clearly being of the type that is condemned in the general teaching. It's condemned (by very strong deduction) at a lower level of teaching authority, but as I have shown, that is still sufficient to be binding and to prevent public contradiction of what has been stated.

Moreover, no one can find anything to the contrary, and it is condemned specifically in many lower-level statements, especially by Pope John Paul II. Such consensus proves to me that it is foolish and futile for any Catholic to attempt to argue otherwise (certainly publicly, at any rate). There may still be room for "conscientious objection" at least privately (I don't know; I'm no canon lawyer or moral theologian), but that doesn't mean that it isn't foolish to keep up the objection publicly, when the consensus in the Church is so crystal-clear.

Furthermore, these are two particular acts that we know a lot about, which is a lot more concrete than something like capital punishment or favoring a certain war: things which involve many variables. Those things are factually and situationally complex, so that men of good will obviously will come to different conclusions in different cases. But what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki forces one to take either one view or another (somewhat like the stark choice of accepting or decrying abortion). It's a known act. We know all about how it was planned and what occurred. What have popes and Councils stated about the matter? I have documented that. Pope Pius XII stated:

Even then, however, one must strive to avoid it by all possible means through international understanding or to impose limits on its use that are so clear and rigorous that its effects remain restricted to the strict demands of defense. When, moreover, putting this method to use involves such an extension of the evil that it entirely escapes from the control of man, its use must be rejected as immoral. Here there would be no longer a question of "defense" against injustice or a necessary "safeguarding" of legitimate possessions, but the pure and simple annihilation of all human life within the radius of action. This is not permitted for any reason whatsoever.

(source: Allocution {or} Address to the 8th Congress of the World Medical Association, 30 September 1954; cited in Gaudium et spes, at 80:3 as a background thought-source, and listed in AAS 46 [1954], p. 589; cited in John J. Cardinal O'Connor, In Defense of Life [Daughters of St. Paul: 1981]. Part of this book was reprinted in The Apocalyptic Premise: Nuclear Arms Debated, edited by Ernest W. Lefever and E. Stephen Hunt, Washington, D.C.: Ethics & Public Policy Center, 1982, pp. 295-308; entitled "The Church's Views on Nuclear Arms.")
Cardinal O'Connor remarked about the above statement:
This is a critically important statement that goes beyond the demand for what is usually called "proportionality" - that war is never justified if the means used, the cost, and the consequences seriously outweigh the anticipated gain, redress of wrong, or whatever. Here the pope goes directly to the heart of the crucial question about nuclear weapons, the question of predictability.
The Cardinal goes on to summarize what he believes the Church teaches on the matter. I agree with him. I disagree with my opponents. Those who are supposed to proclaim magisterially (I think it can be very strongly argued, as I am attempting to do right now) have done so in this case!

Gaudium et spes (80:3), from Vatican II, drew upon Pius XII's statement above, in its own very strong proclamation:
. . . the Council, endorsing the condemnations of total warfare issued by recent popes (3), declares: Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.

(Austin Flannery edition; Footnote 3: 3. Cf. Pius XII, Allocution, 30 Sept. 1954: AAS 46 [1954], p. 589; Christmas Message 1954; AAS 47 [1955], pp. 15 ff.; John XXIII, Litt. Encycl. Pacem in Terris: AAS 55 [1963], pp. 286-291; Paul VI, Address to the United Nations, 4 Oct. 1965: AAS 57 [1965], pp. 877-885)
The Walter M. Abbott version of the same passage follows:
. . . this most holy Synod makes its own the condemnations of total war already pronounced by recent popes (260), and issues the following declaration:

Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.

(the footnote 259 informs the reader that this passage "contains one of the few uses of the term "condemnation" in the record of Vatican II")
Likewise, Pope Paul VI wrote on 1 January 1976:
. . . If the consciousness of universal brotherhood truly penetrates into the hearts of men, will they still need to arm themselves to the point of becoming blind and fanatic killers of their brethren who in themselves are innocent, and of perpetrating, as a contribution to Peace, butchery of untold magnitude, as at Hiroshima on 6 August 1945?" . . .
And again on 1 January 1977:
The close relationship between Peace and Life seems to spring from the nature of things, but not always, not yet from the logic of people's thought and conduct. This close relationship is the paradoxical novelty that we must proclaim for this year of grace 1977 and henceforth for ever, if we are to understand the dynamics of progress. To succeed in doing so is no easy and simple task: we shall meet the opposition of too many formidable objections, which are stored in the immense arsenal of pseudo-convictions, empirical and utilitarian prejudices, so-called reasons of State, and habits drawn from history and tradition. Even today, these objections seem to constitute insurmountable obstacles. The tragic conclusion is that if, in defiance of logic, Peace and Life can in practice be dissociated, there looms on the horizon of the future a catastrophe that in our days could be immeasurable and irreparable both for Peace and Life. Hiroshima is a terribly eloquent proof and a frighteningly prophetic example of this. In the reprehensible hypothesis that Peace were thought of in unnatural separation from its relationship with Life, Peace could be imposed as the sad triumph of death. The words of Tacitus come to mind: "They make a desert and call it Peace" (ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant: Agricola, 30). Again, in the same hypothesis, the privileged Life of some can be exalted, can be selfishly and almost idolatrously preferred, at the expense of the oppression or suppression of others. Is that Peace?
Here are the words of the late great Pope John Paul II from September 1999:
We cannot forget that your country is one of the symbols of peace, as you have just emphasized, since the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a message to all our contemporaries, inviting all the earth's peoples to learn the lessons of history and to work for peace with ever greater determination. Indeed, they remind our contemporaries of all the crimes committed during the Second World War against civilian populations, crimes and acts of true genocide which we thought were for ever in the past but are still being perpetrated in various parts of the world. In order not to forget the atrocities of the past, it is important to teach the younger generation the incomparable value of peace between individuals and peoples, because the culture of peace is contagious but is far from having spread everywhere in the world, as is demonstrated by persistent situations of conflict. We must constantly repeat that peace is the essential principle of common life in all societies.
(see source)
In February 1981, John Paul the Great said at Hiroshima: "To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war." Furthermore, here is an excerpt from the US Bishops document: The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response (1983), which cites Pius XII:
1. Counter-Population Warfare

147. Under no circumstances may nuclear weapons or other instruments of mass slaughter be used for the purpose of destroying population centers or other predominantly civilian targets. Popes have repeatedly condemned "total war" which implies such use. For example, as early as 1954 Pope Pius XII condemned nuclear warfare "when it entirely escapes the control of man," and results in "the pure and simple annihilation of all human life within the radius of action." [64] The condemnation was repeated by the Second Vatican Council:

Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man itself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.[65]
148. Retaliatory action whether nuclear or conventional which would ndiscriminately take many wholly innocent lives, lives of people who are in no way responsible for reckless actions of their government, must also be condemned. This condemnation, in our judgment, applies even to the retaliatory use of weapons striking enemy cities after our own have already been struck. No Christian can rightfully carry out orders or policies deliberately aimed at killing non-combatants.[66]
True, this doesn't mention Hiroshima by name, but it certainly can be strongly, plausibly asserted that what it describes (as in Gaudium) would include Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville (IL), the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement to mark the anniversary of the bombings:

. . . we recall also the fateful days on which America became the first and last among the world's nations to use an atomic weapon. Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain permanent reminders of the grave consequences of total war . . . the permanent graves of Hiroshima and Nagasaki compel us to once again declare our rejection of total war . . .
Furthermore, to give but one example, prominent moral theologians casually assume that the bombings were "immoral" according to Catholic moral principles. I noticed one such statement in the densely-argued book Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism (Oxford, 1987) by the "conservative" moral theologians John Finnis, Joseph Boyle, and Germain Grisez. I looked up "Hiroshima" in the index, and the authors (no dummies, and quite acquainted with the traditional principles of just war and moral theology), quickly dismissed some argument trying to defend it. They also proved in short order (just as I have done in my research) that the plan was to bomb the cities and deliberately kill many civilians (utterly contrary to just war principles) , so as to destroy Japanese morale, and noted (as I did, again, long before I ever saw this book) that President Harry Truman later called these acts "murder" himself. I didn't write the page numbers down because I was looking for something else in the seminary library at the time, but they can be easily found via the index.

I've cited three popes and one ecumenical council, which directly draws upon the statement of Pius XII to make a very strong condemnation of something that I think includes these bombings within its purview.

If someone asks me as an apologist, "what does the Church teach about nuclear war, or about Hiroshima?," I answer to the best of my ability (in my case, very similarly to how Cardinal O'Connor answered the same question). I not only tell them what I believe the Church teaches, but (as far as I can determine and know, myself) the reasoning and some of the history behind that opinion, as that is what apologists do: give rational reasons for why we believe things, not merely what we believe.

To take a provincial, exclusivistic view of "apologetics as strictly theological only" is to fall into the same error that the fundamentalist Protestants fell into: by radically separating what they called the "social gospel" from doctrinal considerations. The liberals who were forsaking their traditional Protestant theological beliefs concentrated almost solely on social issues. The ones who retained the former beliefs concentrated almost exclusively on those and neglected the social, intellectual, and culturally transformative elements of Christianity.

We see those same dynamics (very much so) today, in Protestant and even political circles. Catholics are (or should be) much different than that. We (including apologists) combine both aspects, and do not dichotomize them against each other. Anything having to do with Church teaching, I will try to defend. That's my job. I discuss, for example, contraception, divorce, and racism. The last two are social issues. If they can be discussed, why not also matters of war and peace and just war, or, say, the excesses of capitalism and oppression of the poor (which is a huge theme in Holy Scripture)? These are clearly matters of high importance for Catholics and anyone who is conscientious about world affairs.

It is quite possible for me to cite others as to the situation and about what those in the Church have proclaimed about it. That makes perfect sense, yet some of my opponents on this issue didn't like that at all, and complain that I don't depend on my own self as the final determinant of my opinions on this (as they appear to do), but instead rely on others far more informed about the matter and authorities in the Church with regard to the particularly Catholic slant on the issue. They wrongly think that must be the fallacy of appeal to authority, by its very nature.

I have made no "magisterial statement." I again expressly deny having ever done so, and no one can produce a remark of mine which would qualify for such a thing - which would be utterly impossible anyway (not to mention ludicrous), as I am a nobody, and "magisterial" statements must come from popes and ecumenical councils.

It could very well be that the Church didn't condemn Hiroshima and Nagasaki specifically (i.e., by name) in Gaudium et spes, because it decries the tragedy that all war entails and consistently seeks to be a voice for peace, without ruling out the possibility of just wars and actions. That doesn't rule out the distinct possibility, however, that what was condemned there includes those acts as included within its description. The Church uses general language whenever it can. The classic example is Trent, where the Protestant founders (Luther, Calvin, etc.) were never mentioned, though their errors were condemned in no uncertain terms. Nevertheless, there are indications of a moral judgment, such as use of terms like "butchery" (Paul VI) and "crimes" (John Paul II).

It is true that Gaudium dealt with larger total war and Cold War issues (which is obvious from the context of 80:3), but not exclusively, since this passage cited as background thought Pius XII's allocution to the 8th Congress of the World Medical Association (30 September 1954) - cited above - in which that pope referred to "the pure and simple annihilation of all human life within the radius of action. This is not permitted for any reason whatsoever." Pius XII doesn't specify how large of an area, and according to Cardinal O'Connor, this statement even bypassed the criterion of proportionality. I have heard no argument back that it couldn't possibly include what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (only bald, dogmatic denials). Moreover, section 79 refers to general just war considerations, which are not solely dealing with total destruction of a global nuclear conflict:
. . . the natural law of peoples and its universal principles still retain their binding force . . . Any action which deliberately violates these principles and any order which commands such actions is criminal and blind obedience cannot excuse those who carry them out . . .

On the question of warfare, there are various international conventions, signed by many countries, aimed at rendering military action and its consequences less inhuman; they deal with the treatment of wounded and interned prisoners of war and with various kindred questions. These agreements must be honored; indeed public authorities and specialists in these matters must do all in their power to improve these conventions and thus bring about a better and more effective curbing of the savagery of war.
Thus, it seems quite plausible to me that the next section has a wider scope than simply the arms race and mutually-assured destruction. The rules of warfare and the just war tradition are also in mind, it seems. I believe that one can construct a strong argument that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were condemned, based on the characteristics in the conciliar condemnation as applied to that specific situation.

I have never claimed that President Truman was a war criminal; nor have I utterly condemned his decision to drop these bombs. In fact, I have stated over and over, the exact opposite. I completely agreed with George Weigel's "sympathetic but opposed" position.

I quoted another anti-Bomb writer in agreement, stating that he did not consider Truman a "bad man." I have denied numerous times that I consider Truman a war criminal or "murderer." Some people I cited think so, but I do not.

The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response
, written by the American bishops in 1983 offers one way of viewing the issue:

12. This passage acknowledges that, on some complex social questions, the Church
expects a certain diversity of views even though all hold the same universal moral principles. The experience of preparing this pastoral letter has shown us the range of strongly held opinion in the Catholic community on questions of war and peace. Obviously, as bishops we believe that such differences should be expressed within the framework of Catholic moral teaching. We urge mutual respect among different groups in the Church as they analyze this letter and the issues it addresses. Not only conviction and commitment are needed in the Church, but also civility and charity.

Apologists can give an opinion that we believe the Church teaches a certain thing. There is nothing wrong with that at all. In fact, allowing diversity of opinion means exactly that: diversity of opinion! One could hold that the Church teaches one thing; another might think it teaches a contrary position; a third may believe that the Church has not any preference either way.

Some bomb proponents seem to think it isn't even permissible for a Catholic to think that the Mind of the Church has opposed these bombings, even though this may be "sub-magisterial".
In any event, I am certainly not bound to their opinions as to what I should and shouldn't write about.

I should like to end by reiterating my sincere, inquisitive request for those who hold the position that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified attacks according to Catholic principles: please produce for me some orthodox Catholic moral theologians (even one, if that is all you can find) who argue as you do. I'm not denying that they exist at all. I have simply never seen one, and would like to know if such a creature exists and how he argues his position.

* * * * *

I say the bombings are pretty clearly condemned in the ordinary magisterium in Vatican II (as a species of what was described there). The task of those who disagree is to show that Hiroshima and Nagasaki do not constitute an example of what was condemned in Gaudium et spes. They've tried, but I don't buy it. I find their arguments ludicrous and special pleading of the worst sort (and that includes the arguments from double effect). They don't fly.

How does Gaudium et spes not condemn Hiroshima and Nagasaki, since it utterly condemned bombs which kill all human beings within a certain radius, as part of its inherent capabilities? I don't see how this doesn't apply. Double effect is superceded by this sort of moral reasoning concerning something which is absolutely impermissible in any circumstance. Double effect is irrelevant because the very nature of the act is intrinsically immoral. Pius XII's statement from which the Council derived some of its thought here is even more clear.

I believe that the pro-bombing position (from a Catholic standpoint; made by a Catholic) is ludicrous not only because it seems to clearly contradict magisterial teaching in Vatican II but because it is radically untrue to the known facts (i.e., it is based on factually-suspect premises in addition to being questionable according to Catholic teaching). These facts being:
1) That the decision was clearly made with the intention of targeting both military installations AND civilians. I believe that I proved this by producing several formerly top secret documents and Truman's own words.

2) The entire population of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not all part of the military, as proponents seem to argue at times.
Therefore, there were innocents as classically-defined who were deliberately targeted. That cannot be squared with just way ethics. Period. Double effect is irrelevant because it wouldn't even apply if the intention from the outset was to also kill the civilians.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

My Odyssey From Evangelicalism to Catholicism

By Dave Armstrong

[originally written on December 9, 1990 / revised: July 1992 / expanded version: 1993. This was my draft of what was later somewhat edited and included in Surprised by Truth with ten other conversion stories. That book (1994; edited by Patrick Madrid) has now sold over 300,000 copies: the highest total (I understand) of any Catholic book besides the Catechism. Unfortunately, by agreement, I never received one red cent. Oh well: lots of advertising of my name, anyway, which counts for something when one is trying to live as a full-time apologist. Another heavily-edited (I would even say, "butchered") version of this story was published in This Rock in September 1993 (my first time published in that important periodical) ]

**********

I was received into the Catholic Church in February 1991 by Fr. John Hardon, an act which as recently as a year earlier, would have seemed to me absolutely inconceivable. Not much in my background would have indicated this surprising turn of events, but such is God's ever inscrutable mercy and providence.

My first exposure to Christianity came from the United Methodist Church, the denomination in which I was raised. The church we attended, in a working-class neighborhood of Detroit, appeared to me, even as a child in the early 1960s, to be in decline, sociologically speaking, as the average age of the members was about fifty or so years. In my studies as an Evangelical later, I learned that shrinking and aging congregations were one of the marks of the deterioration of mainline Protestantism.

As it turned out, our church actually folded in 1968, and after that, I barely attended church at all for the next nine years. My early religious upbringing was not totally without benefit, though, as I gained a respect for God which I never relinquished, a comprehension of His love for mankind, and an appreciation for the sense of the sacred and basic moral precepts.

At any rate, for whatever reason, I didn't sustain an ongoing interest in Christianity at this time. In 1969, at the age of eleven, I first came in contact with the quintessential altar call of Fundamentalist Christianity at a Baptist Church which we visited two or three times. I went up front to get "saved," perfectly sincere, but without the knowledge or force of will required (by more thoughtful Evangelical standards) to carry out this temporary resolve.

During this period, I became fascinated with the supernatural, but unfortunately, it got channeled into a vague, catch-all occultism. I dabbled, with great seriousness into ESP, telepathy, the Ouija board, astral projection, even voodoo (with a vicious gym teacher in mind!). I read about Houdini and Uri Geller, among others.

Meanwhile, my brother Gerry, who is ten years older than I am, converted, in 1971, to "Jesus Freak" Evangelicalism, a trend which was at its peak at that time. He underwent quite a remarkable transformation out of a drug-filled rock band culture and personal struggles, and started preaching zealously to our family. This was a novel spectacle for me to observe. I had already been influenced by the hippie counterculture, and had always been a bit of a nonconformist, so the Jesus Movement held a strange fascination for me, although I had no intention of joining it.

I prided myself on my "moderation" with regard to religious matters. Like most nominal Christians and outright unbelievers, I reacted to any display of earnest and devout Christianity with a mixture of fear, amusement, and condescension, thinking that such behavior was "improper", fanatical, and outside of mainstream American culture. During the early 1970s I occasionally visited Messiah Lutheran Church in Detroit where my brother attended, along with his "Jesus Freak," long-haired friends, and would squirm in my seat under the conviction of the powerful sermons of Pastor Dick Bieber, the likes of which I had never heard. I remember thinking that what he was preaching was undeniably true, and that if I were to "get saved" there would be no room for middle ground or fence-sitting. Therefore, I was reluctant, to say the least, because I thought it would be the end of fun and fitting-in with my friends. Because of my rebelliousness and pride, God had to use more drastic methods to wake me up.

In 1977 I experienced a severe depression for six months, which was totally uncharacteristic of my temperament before or since. The immediate causes were the pressures of late adolescence, but in retrospect it is clear that God was bringing home to me the ultimate meaninglessness of my life - - a vacuous and futile individualistic quest for happiness without purpose or relationship with God. I was brought, staggering, to the end of myself. It was a frightening existential crisis in which I had no choice but to cry out to God. He was quick to respond.

It so happened that at Easter 1977 the superb Franco Zeffirelli film Jesus of Nazareth (still my favorite Christian movie) was on television. I had always enjoyed Bible movies, such as The Ten Commandments. They brought the biblical personalities to life, and the element of drama (as an art form) communicated the vitality of Christianity in a unique and effective way. Jesus, as portrayed in this movie, made an extraordinary impression on me, and the timing couldn't have been better. He seemed like the ultimate nonconformist, which greatly appealed to me. I marveled at the way He dealt with people, and got the feeling that you could never expect what He would say or do - - always something with unparalleled insight or impact. I began to comprehend, with the help of my brother, the heart of the gospel for the first time: what the Cross and the Passion meant, and some of the basic points of theology and soteriology (the theology of salvation) that I had never thought about before. I also learned that Jesus was not only the Son of God, but God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, which, incredibly, I had either not heard previously, or simply didn't comprehend if I had heard it. I started to read the Bible seriously for the first time in my life (the Living Bible translation, which is the most informal paraphrase).

It was the combination of my depression and newfound knowledge of Christianity that caused me to decide to follow Jesus as my Lord and Savior in a much more serious fashion, in July 1977 what I would still regard as a "conversion to Christ," and what Evangelicals view as the "born-again" experience or getting "saved." I continue to look at this as a valid and indispensable spiritual step, even though, as a Catholic, I would, of course, interpret it in a somewhat different way than I did formerly. Despite my initial burst of zeal, I again settled into lukewarmness for three years until August 1980, when I finally yielded my whole being to God, and experienced a profound "renewal" in my spiritual life, as it were.



http://biblicalcatholicism.com/


Throughout the 1980s I attended Lutheran, Assembly of God, and non-denominational churches with strong connections to the "Jesus Movement," characterized by youth, spontaneity of worship, contemporary music, and warm fellowship. Many of my friends were former Catholics. I knew little of Catholicism until the early 1980s. I regarded it as an exotic, stern, and unnecessarily ritualistic "denomination," which held little appeal for me. I wasn't by nature attracted to liturgy, and didn't believe in sacraments at all, although I always had great reverence for the "Lord's Supper" and believed something real was imparted in it.

On the other hand, I was never overtly anti-Catholic. Having been active in apologetics and counter-cult work (specializing in Jehovah's Witnesses), I quickly realized that Catholicism was entirely different from the cults, in that it had correct "central doctrines," such as the Trinity and the bodily Resurrection of Christ, as well as an admirable historical legitimacy; fully Christian, albeit vastly inferior to Evangelicalism.

I was, you might say, a typical Evangelical of the sort who had an above-average amateur theological interest. I became familiar with the works of many of the "big names": C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Josh McDowell, A.W. Tozer, Billy Graham, Hal Lindsey, John Stott, Chuck Colson, Christianity Today magazine, Keith Green and Last Days Ministries, the Jesus People in Chicago and Cornerstone magazine, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (a campus organization), as well as the Christian music scene: all in all, quite beneficial influences and not to be regretted at all.

My strong interest in both evangelism and apologetics led me to become, with my church's permission, a missionary on college campuses for four years. I also got involved in the pro-life movement, and eventually Operation Rescue.

It quickly became apparent to me that the Catholic rescuers were just as committed to Christ and godliness as Evangelicals. In retrospect, there is no substitute for the extended close observation of devout Catholics. I had met countless Evangelicals who exhibited what I thought to be a serious walk with Christ, but rarely ever Catholics of like intensity. I began to fellowship with my Catholic brethren at Rescues, and sometimes in jail, including priests and nuns. Although still unconvinced theologically, my personal admiration for orthodox Catholics
skyrocketed.

In January 1990 I began an ecumenical discussion group which I moderated. Three knowledgeable Catholic friends from the Rescue movement, John McAlpine, Leno Poli, and Don McSween, started attending. Their claims for the Church, particularly papal and conciliar infallibility, challenged me to plunge into a massive research project on that subject. I believed I had found many errors and contradictions throughout history. Later I realized, though, that my many "examples" didn't even fall into the category of infallible pronouncements, as defined by the Vatican Council of 1870. I was also a bit dishonest because I would knowingly overlook strong historical facts which confirmed the Catholic position, such as the widespread early acceptance of the Real Presence, the authority of the Bishop, and the communion of the saints.

In the meantime, I was reading exclusively Catholic books (and all the short Catholic Answers tracts), with an open mind, and my respect and understanding of Catholicism grew by leaps and bounds. I began (providentially) with The Spirit of Catholicism by Karl Adam, a book too extraordinary to summarize adequately. It is, I believe, a nearly perfect book about Catholicism as a worldview and a way of life, especially for a person acquainted with basic Catholic theology. I read books by Christopher Dawson, the great cultural historian, Joan Andrews (a heroine of the Rescue movement), and Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk, which all extremely impressed me.

My three friends at our group discussion continued to calmly offer replies to nearly all of my hundreds of questions. I was amazed by the realization that Catholicism seemed to have "thought out" everything - it was a marvelously complex and consistent belief system unparalleled by any portion of Evangelicalism.

At this time I became seriously troubled by the Protestant (and my own) free and easy acceptance of contraception. I came to believe, in agreement with the Church, that once one regards sexual pleasure as an end in itself, then the so-called "right to abortion" is logically not far away. My Evangelical pro-life friends might easily draw the line, but the less spiritually-minded have not in fact done so, as has been borne out by the sexual revolution in full force since the widespread use of the Pill began around 1960.

Once a couple thinks that they can thwart even God's will in the matter of a possible conception, then the notion of terminating a pregnancy follows by a certain diabolical logic devoid of the spiritual guidance of the Church. In this, as in other areas such as divorce, the Church is ineffably wise and truly progressive. G.K. Chesterton and Ronald Knox, the great apologists, could see the writing on the wall already by the 1930s.

I was utterly shocked by the facts that no Christian body had accepted contraception until the Anglicans in 1930, and the inevitable progression in nations of contraception to abortion, as shown irrefutably by Fr. Paul Marx. Finally, a book entitled The Teaching of "Humanae Vitae" by John Ford, Germain Grisez, et al, convinced me of the moral distinction between contraception and Natural Family Planning and put me over the edge.

I now accepted a very "un-Protestant" belief, but still didn't even dream of becoming Catholic (which is, of course, unthinkable for an Evangelical). Yet I was falling prey to Chesterton's principle of conversion - - that one cannot be fair to Catholicism without starting to admire it and becoming convinced of it.

Meanwhile, my wife Judy, who was raised Catholic and became a Protestant before we dated, had also been independently convinced of the wrongness of contraception. She returned to the Church on the day I was received. What a joy unity is! By July 1990, then, I believed Catholicism had the best moral theology of any Christian body, and greatly respected its sense of community, devotion, and contemplation.

Moral theology and intangible mystical elements began the ball of conversion rolling for me, and increasingly rang true deep within my soul; beyond, but not opposed to, the rational calculations of my mind - what Cardinal Newman terms the "Illative Sense."

My Catholic friend, John, tiring of my constant rhetoric about Catholic errors and additions through the centuries, suggested that I read Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. This book demolished the whole schema of Church history which I had constructed. I thought, typically, that early Christianity was Protestant and that Catholicism was a later corruption (although I placed the collapse in the late Middle Ages rather than the usual time of Constantine in the fourth century).

Martin Luther, so I reckoned, had discovered in Sola Scriptura the means to scrape the accumulated Catholic barnacles off of the original lean and clean Christian "ship." Newman, in contrast, exploded the notion of a barnacle-free ship. Ships always got barnacles. The real question was whether the ship would arrive at its destination. Tradition, for Newman, was like a rudder and steering wheel, and was absolutely necessary for guidance and direction. Newman brilliantly demonstrated the characteristics of true developments, as opposed to corruptions, within the visible and historically continuous Church instituted by Christ. I found myself unable and unwilling to refute his reasoning, and a crucial piece of the puzzle had been put into place - Tradition was now plausible and self-evident to me.

Thus began what some call a "paradigm shift." While reading the Essay I experienced a peculiar, intense, and inexpressibly mystical feeling of reverence for the idea of a Church "one, holy, catholic and apostolic." Catholicism was now thinkable and I was suddenly cast into an intense crisis. I now believed in the visible Church and suspected that it was infallible as well. Once I accepted Catholic ecclesiology, the theology followed as a matter of course, and I accepted it without difficulty (even the Marian doctrines).

My Catholic friends had been tilling the rocky soils of my stubborn mind and will for almost a year, planting "Catholic seeds," which now rapidly took root and sprouted, to their great surprise. I had fought the hardest just prior to reading Newman, in a desperate attempt to salvage my Protestantism, much like a drowning man just before he succumbs! I continued reading, now actively trying to persuade myself fully of Catholicism, going through Newman's autobiography, Tom Howard's Evangelical Is Not Enough, which helped me appreciate the genius of liturgy for the first time, and two books by Chesterton on Catholicism.

At about this time I had a conversation with an old friend, Al Kresta, who had also been my pastor for a few years, and whose theological opinions I held in very high regard. I admitted to him that I was seriously troubled by certain elements of Protestantism, and might, perhaps (but it was a far-fetched notion) think of becoming a Catholic. To my amazement, he told me that he, too, was heading in the same general direction, citing, in particular, the problem that the formulation and pronouncement of the Canon of Scripture poses for Protestants and their "Bible-only" premise. These types of unusual "confirming" events helped to create a strong sense that something strange was going on during the bewildering period just preceding my actual conversion. Al was in such a theological crisis (as was I), that he resigned his pastorate within two months of our conversation.

Also at this time I had the great privilege of meeting Fr. John Hardon, the eminent Jesuit catechist, and attending his informal class on spirituality. This gave me the opportunity to learn personally from an authoritative Catholic priest, who is a delightful and humble man as well. After seven tense weeks of alternately questioning my sanity and arriving at immensely exciting new plateaus of discovery, the final death blow came in just the fashion I had suspected. I knew that if I was to reject Protestantism, then I had to examine its historical roots: the so-called Protestant Reformation. I had previously read some material on Martin Luther, and considered him one of my biggest heroes. I accepted the standard textbook myth of Luther as the bold, righteous rebel against the darkness of Catholic tyranny and superstition added on to "early Christianity."

But when I studied a large portion of the six-volume biography Luther, by the German Jesuit Hartmann Grisar, my opinion of Luther was turned upside down. Grisar convinced me that the foundational tenets of the Protestant Revolution were altogether tenuous. I had always rejected Luther's notions of absolute predestination and the total depravity of mankind. Now I realized that if man had a free will, he did not have to be merely declared righteous in a judicial, abstract sense, but could actively participate in his redemption and actually be made righteous by God. This, in a nutshell, is the classic debate over Justification.

I learned many highly disturbing facts about Luther; for example, his radically subjective existential methodology, his disdain for reason and historical precedent, and his dictatorial intolerance of opposing viewpoints, including those of his fellow Protestants. These and other discoveries were stunning, and convinced me beyond doubt that he was not really a "reformer" of the "pure," pre-Nicene Church, but rather, a revolutionary who created a novel theology in many, though not all, respects. The myth was annihilated.

Now I was "unconvinced" of the standard Protestant concept of the invisible, "rediscovered" church. In the end, my innate love of history played a crucial part in my forsaking Protestantism, which tends to give very little attention to history (as indeed is necessary in order to retain any degree of plausibility over against Catholicism).

At this point, it became, in my opinion, an intellectual and moral duty to abandon Protestantism in its Evangelical guise. It was still not easy. Old habits and perceptions die hard, but I refused to let mere feelings and biases interfere with the wondrous process of illumination which overpowered me by God's grace. I waited expectantly for just one last impetus to fully surrender myself. The unpredictable course of conversion came to an end on December 6, 1990, while I was reading Cardinal Newman's meditation on "Hope in God the Creator" and in a moment decisively realized that I had already ceased to offer any resistance to the Catholic Church. At the end, in most converts' experience, an icy fear sets in, similar to the cold feet of pre-marriage jitters. In an instant, this final obstacle vanished, and a tangible "emotional and theological peace" prevailed.

In the three years since I converted, some astonishing things have occurred among our circle of friends (I don't claim credit for these, other than maybe a tiny influence, but rather, marvel at the ways in which God moves people's hearts). Four people have returned to the Church of their childhood and three, like myself, have converted from lifelong Protestantism. These include my former pastor, Al and his wife, Sally, one of my best friends and frequent evangelistic partner, Dan Grajek and his wife Lori, Dan's longtime friend Joe Polgar, who had lapsed into virtual paganism for years, another friend Terri Navarra, and the daughter, Jennifer, of a friend, Tom McGlynn. Additionally, another couple we know converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, a second is seriously thinking about the same, and a third couple may convert to Catholicism. Needless to say, many of our mutual Protestant friends view these occurrences with dumbfounded trepidation. One of my former pastors, in the most heated encounter since my conversion, called me a "blasphemer" because I believed there was more to Christian Tradition than simply that which is contained in the Bible! Another good friend who is a Baptist minister said that although I had made a terrible mistake, I was still saved because of his belief in eternal security! All in all, it has, thankfully, been fairly smooth sailing among our Evangelical Protestant friends. Many ignore our Catholicism altogether.

I believe that all Catholics can share in such experiences as I've been describing, in the sense that each new discovery of some Catholic truth is similarly exhilarating. As we all grow in our faith, let us rejoice in the abundant well-springs of delight, as well as instructive times of suffering which God provides for us in his Body, fully manifested in the Catholic Church. I feel very much at home in it, as much as could be expected this side of heaven.

*****

Dialogue on the Logic of Catholic Infallible Authority (vs. Dr. Eric Svendsen)

By Dave Armstrong

[This discussion took place on Dr. James White's sola Scriptura list, on 1 and 4 June 1996. Eric's words will be in green; my older cited words in blue]

I believe in inerrancy (always have).

Is this your idea of an answer?

Yes, Eric. Sorry if the honesty of it disappoints you. But your charge was that no one had answered it at all, as I recall. That is a different proposition than critiquing the strength of an answer, is it not?

. . . backpeddling?

How is it that? Are you going to deny that there has been a ferocious debate among evangelicals on this very topic, with the strict Reformed on one side and the more Baptist-types and others on the opposite side? Where've you been all thru the 80s? I'm just calling a spade a spade, and admitting the limitations of my knowledge.

:) Seriously, Dave, you once labeled Raymond Brown as a liberal for holding to a limited inerrancy, and now you want to include him in the fold?

I haven't studied his case, or whatever one might call it. All I've said was that anyone who flat-out denies a dogma of the Catholic faith is not a Catholic in essence, though they may remain one formally, until excommunication, as James White has correctly and cogently pointed out.

I can see you are finally beginning to come to terms with the force of our arguments. Your attempt to minimize the ramifications, however (viz., "what that means exactly, of course, is the topic of much discussion"), will not work.

Ah, you wish it were so! I'm afraid not. I'm still pummeling away as I lay prostrate and bleeding on the mat. :-) My qualification is simply honesty, no more, no less. What is manifestly dishonest is the Protestant pretense that evangelicals are in monolithic agreement on biblical inerrancy. Man, why did Harold Lindsell write THE BATTLE FOR THE BIBLE and THE BIBLE IN THE BALANCE fifteen or so years ago if that were the case? Your case is only as strong as its hearers are ignorant. Not very compelling. Besides, who can deny that it is Protestantism which produced the destructive "higher criticism" which is behind practically all dilution of the high regard for Scripture? That this runaway biblical skepticism has now sadly infected our ranks as well is somehow an argument against our system? Try again! At best you can only say that the Catholic Church has failed in surveying its own ranks for liberal Protestant-influenced heretics (and I would readily agree, by the way). But they haven't changed the "books." Praise God!

So, are you now willing to concede that in order to have unity of belief in Rome you need an infallible interpreter of your infallible interpreter?


No, not at all, for one simple reason: Christianity is not a philosophy, but a religion, and faith must be exercised somewhere along the line, as I've already stated. Our faith in this instance is in God, that He will preserve His Church from error, in the sense in which infallibility has been defined, once for all (in 1870 at Vatican I). This is an extension of the "incarnational principle": God became Man; thus the Body of Christ now present on earth is preserved from heresy, compromise with immorality in its ethical precepts," etc. If you want to give me an example of an infallible pronouncement which you don't understand, I'll be glad to take that up with you. In any event, whatever you can "come up with" pales in comparison to Protestant chaos and relativism and moral compromise. Whoever can't see this obvious state of affairs is the one who is plagued by "fideistic loyalty," not me, or any orthodox, informed Catholic.

Catholics agree with all of these save for sola fide and sola Scriptura, so this list does not really accentuate our differences.

The difference is, we derive it from Scripture (as did the fathers who originally hammered it out, I might add) whereas you believe it simply because Rome tells you to.

Nonsense. Notwithstanding uneducated Catholics, we are just as biblically centered as you, historically-speaking. The difference is that for us, the Bible occupies a position of centrality (as in the Catholic Fathers, yes), but not exclusivity. Protestants must make dichotomies - one of their fundamental flaws (see Louis Bouyer's brilliant book, THE SPIRIT AND FORMS OF PROTESTANTISM). We aren't subject to such limitations of logic and common sense. Yes, we believe "Rome," but we also believe that God preserves our Church from corrupting the "deposit of faith" entrusted to us, and that therefore our Church is not contrary to the Bible (rightly understood) in any way, shape, matter, or form.

Protestantism, on the other hand, suffers from a host of self-defeating propositions or realities such as sola Scriptura, the canon of the NT, its late arrival, its a-historicism, and its sinful divisions and sectarianism. But you neglect to see that we have so much agreement. How could that be if our system is so corrupt, "unbiblical," and in the eyes of many of you here and elsewhere, not even "Christian" at all! Quite puzzling . . .





All we have done is shown your own inconsistencies, and that you are throwing stones from a glass house. We readily admit that we do not have doctrinal agreement in many areas, but you have not come to grips with that problem in your own system.

It is no problem. Liberalism assuredly is, as it is in your system, but we have clear ways of defining who is in accord with our teachings, whereas you don't. You institutionalize your errors and "sanctify" them. But we will not allow for evil to be called good (e.g., contraception, abortion, homosexuality, divorce, infanticide, euthanasia, "physician" - assisted suicide, relativism, et al), as you do. If nothing else, at least you guys ought to respect us for that, and start wondering (if you're anti-Catholic) how in the world we could do better than you at facing off against sin in today's age, if we're not even "Christian." Such a view is absolutely preposterous.

Therefore, it is not incumbent upon us to show doctrinal unity (we don't equate doctrinal unity with biblical unity);

Again, how could a chaotic "system" do otherwise? Who's engaging in "special pleading"?

that is your baby--you're the ones who have insisted that biblical legitimacy = no disagreement of belief.

And lest you forget - Jesus and Paul, too.

All we are asking you to do is drop it as a "proof" of Rome's legitimacy.


Over my dead body. You'd love for us to drop it so you can stop squirming, but since the point is a valid, biblical one, I must respectfully disagree, and persist.

Keep banging--it'll come to you after a while :).


What? A headache, insanity, or Protestantism?

Your "thorn in the flesh,"

Dave A.

As I have already noted, most (all?) of those who hold to sola scriptura are within the pale of orthodoxy, while almost all those who subscribe to Scripture plus some other authority are outside the pale of orthodoxy--and even those who remain within invariably hold to doctrines that lie in direct contradiction to the Scriptures.

"Orthodoxy" according to whom? I don't know what this means (well, it's "correct doctrine," but who determines that?). The Arians thought they were "orthodox," while the Catholics were "heretical." The Nestorians, Monophysites, Monothelites, Sabellians, etc. ad infinitum thought likewise, so this is not merely a clever, rhetorical question, but a deadly serious one. I'll believe it when I see it, thank you. Instead of MERE CHRISTIANITY, you oughtta write MERE ORTHODOXY. It will serve a useful purpose among your minions.

The Catholic side will surely cry foul. Dave has already done so. He sees Catholicism as an exception to all other non-sola scriptura groups because he can trace Catholicism back to NT times. But that is just the question, isn't it? Besides, Dave is starting with the assumption that the legitimate principle to follow is Scripture plus Catholic tradition (or history);

It's scarcely even an assumption; it is absolutely necessary because Scripture is part of apostolic Tradition itself, as it teaches, and because of the factor of the canon, which also necessarily involves Tradition and conciliar Catholic authority. So the unsupported assumptions here are all on your side, in my opinion. Not only unsubstantiated, but self-defeating, which is all the more troublesome for your position. The assumption we all share is that Scripture is God's Revealed Word. From that starting-point (in this group, that is) we try to determine the proper place of both Tradition and ecclesiastical authority.

whereas the J.W.s, 7th Days, and Mormons would argue that all Catholic history proves is the great apostasy. They would start with the assumption that the church fell away after the apostolic age, so that history cannot serve as the criterion to correct belief.

Are you gonna trust a guy who sold "miracle wheat" [Charles Taze Russell; founder of Jehovah's Witnesses] or a guy who spent his time plagiarizing the KJV and fornicating with multiple women [Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism]? Who cares what these men believe about the Catholic Church (or anything else, for that matter)? And when I examined Luther's life, that's why I was confirmed in my opinion that Protestantism might not be all that it was cracked up to be, either (though infinitely superior to these buffoons above, I hasten to add). You guys subscribe to the Nicene Creed; they don't.

Dave will appeal to Matt 28:20, "surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age"; and Matt 16:18, "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." But the J.W.s, 7th Days and Mormons will reply that Dave A. is simply misinterpreting those passages (sound familiar?) and that he cannot possibly understand them without their infallible interpreter. Then what will Dave do?

I'll continue to make rational, biblical arguments, just as I'm forced to do with you Protestants! You act like such replies will render me speechless and stupefied! :-)

Protestant sects and cults invariably result from one man or woman, who, of course, is infallible (and more often than not, an autocrat):

SDA: Ellen White
JW's: Charles Taze Russell
Mormons: Joseph Smith
Christian Science: Mary Baker Eddy
The Way Int.: Victor Paul Wierwille
Worldwide Church of God: Herbert W. Armstrong (no relation!)


You forgot one, Dave. Roman Catholicism: the pope.


Eric, are you serious? I already responded to this beforehand. The short, pithy answer at this point is: which one? That expresses the fallacy of this "answer" quite well. Besides, the popes are not infallible in everything they say, as these heresiarchs were (or close), nor are they autocrats. Patience, patience . . .

Heresies have traditionally relied on sola Scriptura, but seen though the lens of one man.


For instance . . . the pope (Infallibilis Deus [Immaculate Conception],

Wrong. If anything, you'd have to say that the fully-developed doctrine of the Immaculate Conception stemmed from Duns Scotus, not Pius IX 500 or so years later! But the kernel of it goes all the way back, to the notion of Mary as the New Eve and sinless. The sinlessness is the essence, not the philosophical and theological fine points.

the Assumption)?


The feast of the Assumption can be traced back even earlier than that of the Immaculate Conception, as early as the 7th century, so you're talking about at least 1200 years to the definition in 1950, yet you fancy that Pius XII "invented" this doctrine! Even Luther believed in it, although he opposed the notion that it should be binding (he did believe in the Immaculate Conception).

You cant have it both ways, Dave. How then do you view Protestants?


As a skeletal, a-historical version of Christianity.

Are we united under one man as a monolithic belief system (e.g., the Protestant heresy),


Only in the sense of common origin from Luther, and common antipathy to Catholicism.

or are we divided?


No! (shocked expression, mouth open). Your apologists say you are united (as you do here again). Who could be so dense as to affirm that Protestants are "divided"? Only Catholics are . . . :-)

How is it that all of us subscribe to orthodox belief? If it is true that sola scriptura does not work, then tell us how it is that we all (as denominations) separately came to believe in the same Trinity, deity of Christ, person of the Holy Spirit, one church, eternal bliss of the save, eternal punishment of the lost, second coming of Christ, sola scriptura, sola fide, priesthood of all believers, etc.--as opposed to ALL non-sola scriptura belief systems, all of which are markedly different? If sola scriptura produces chaos, and if the Scriptures are not perspicuous, then explain all this commonality of belief! How is it that all OUR popes came up with the same thing, and in many cases contrary to Rome's teachings?

Excepting the last three items, because all of these are clear from Scripture (SURPRISE!!!!!!!!!!). As stated in my perspicuity paper, I fully agree that many (if not most) doctrines ARE clear from Scripture. That is not my point in all my argumentation on this topic, to no avail (sigh). MY point is: by claiming that Scripture is the final authority, then, practically speaking, true doctrines ought to be able to be ascertained without recourse to ecclesiastical authority. But in fact this is not the case. Therefore, some churchly authority IS necessary because of the division that has indeed occurred (and yes, man's pride and sin definitely play into that). This is all the more necessary, biblically speaking, because disobedience to spiritual authorities, hostile division, and doctrinal relativism are all so severely condemned in Scripture.

As for the last three points, the first and third flow of necessity from the rejection of Tradition and the apostolic, visible Church. Since all you guys reject that, ergo, sola Scriptura and priesthood of all believers (except Anglicans, who try to be "Protestant" yet maintain almost all our beliefs except the papacy - only the English would have such audacity and chutzpah). Sola fide is held in common because it was the other pillar of the "Reformation," and is the only alternative to the sacramental system and infused justification.

In the Protestant dichotomous mindset, works had to be set against faith, so as to be distinct from Catholicism, where grace-produced works were so central (as in Jesus and Paul). Even so, John Wesley, e.g., and the Anglican Newman and his fellow Tractarians, rejected sola fide - at least in its initial meaning as dreamt-up by Luther. I maintain that dichotomous thought is of the essence of Protestantism, and the source of the great majority of its errors.

It goes without saying that Catholicism is entirely different than this. No one man predominates.


Is that a fact? Perhaps you are familiar with Vatican I's decree of papal infallibility?: Such definitions [of the Roman Pontiff] of themselves--and not by virtue of the consent of the church--are irreformable. How does the pope not predominate?

Yes, the pope's authority (in the final analysis) is distinct from the Councils - this was defined so as to avoid the error of conciliarism, which is a root problem of the Orthodox, who have no non-arbitrary way of determining the legitimacy of an Ecumenical Council. But there is no comparison anyway. These infallible decisions, few as they are, deal with only one doctrine. I'm talking about the interpretation of one man entirely dominating a denomination. You simply can't assert that about any one pope. It can't be done, period. No way, no how. But Calvin dominates the Reformed and the Presbyterians, Luther the Lutherans, Menno Simons the Mennonites, John the Baptist the Baptists, John Doe the 1st Storefront Church in Podunk, Idaho, etc. :-)

Our popes make infallible decrees (in the strictest sense) only every 100 years or so, whereas Luther claimed that ALL his teaching was "from God." He regarded his self-proclaimed authority as tantamount to a prophet: i.e., unquestionable. So where do you guys get off accusing US of "authoritarianism"?


Are you saying that Catholic infallibility is limited to the pope's decrees? Are not the councils infallible as well? Is not tradition infallible?


Now you're making my whole point for me. Think about it (...pause...). First you argue that the pope as "one man" predominates. Now, you're catching on as to the true nature of Catholic authority: pope and Councils, pope and Tradition, pope and the sensus fidelium, as analogous to Peter and the other disciples, Peter and other bishops or Apostles (such as James and Paul), and Peter and the Jerusalem Council, etc.

Besides, none of us views Luther as infallible, so your point is moot. I could care less what Luther thought of himself, he never was a pope.

Your opinion on Luther is irrelevant to my argument, since it is an analogy between Protestantism and the non-trinitarian heresies. Luther had more power in his sphere than any pope ever dreamt of, and this is the whole point. You keep switching the terms of the debate, whenever you're trapped by the incoherence of your own position. It's difficult for me to accept that you can't recognize that when shown.

You seem to view Luther as somehow the genesis of apostolic succession of Protestants;


All Protestants stem from his dissent. Nearly all Protestants accept the departures from Catholicism which he originated (sola Scriptura, sola fide, tossing the "Apocrypha," communion of saints, seven sacraments, etc., etc.). To deny the connection is (as I've always thought) intellectual suicide.

and you seem to think that if you can impugn his character that Protestantism somehow collapses.

Not at all. But it ought to give one pause to have such a Founder (it certainly did me). And I delight in bursting the bubble of the Protestant mythology of Luther, because we are constantly "tormented" by lies about the Inquisition, Crusades, "killing Protestants" (1 million, according to Dave Hunt), etc. I call it the "reverse Inquisition" argument: not all Protestants were saintly figures and Catholics sinister money-grabbers and pagans (as the anti-Catholic stereotype would have it).

But that kind of argument works only against alleged infallible systems.


No, it also works (to some degree) against systems which claim to be inherently superior to ours.


If Luther claimed to be infallible (a ridiculous claim, of course), so what?

It shows what a nut-case he was. :-)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Private Judgment and Finding the Right Church

Dave Armstrong (22 May 2003)

Sub-title: "Is the Catholic Rule of Faith and Epistemology Inherently Incoherent?"

[Dialogue with a Protestant (?) - his words will be in green]

*****

Thanks for the thoughtful response and the time you spent on this. I appreciate it.

See what you think of this. I find Newman's conclusion to contradict his own thesis. I agree with a great deal of what he said in regard to our eminent capacity to err. Here's where I come to what seems a clear inconsistency in Newman's proposed solution to his stated dilemma. To set the stage, I think we would agree that none of us are really entertaining such a radical fall of reasoning as to think that we may not read the words of Scripture correctly, for instance. Rather, the common pitfall we see is that of misunderstanding what we read.

Correct. That gets into the whole vexed discussion of perspicuity, but I basically agree.

In such a "limited" fallenness of reason, the possibilities for error are still pretty much endless, whether from blatant misinterpretation to the more subtle error of a wrong interpretive grid.
Yet Newman's thesis regarding the error of the personal judgements of Protestants et al relies on his own personal judgement as to what Scripture is teaching in regard to the primacy of the Church as teacher, and in regard to what actually constitutes the Church.


This is the usual objection, often called "infallibility regress" argument. I'm well-familiar with it. Where I think it breaks down is in its tacit assumption that no one can determine (not with finality or "authority") what the Church is. It is essentially a proposal of radical skepticism or rationalism at the expense (to a degree) of supernatural faith and revelation: it amounts (when closely scrutinized) to a belief that God doesn't have the power to grant one the faith and grace of finding the apostolic Christian Church, so that he can in turn discover true doctrine and theology and hence be better able to follow Jesus.

To the extent that Protestantism denies this possibility altogether, and leaves the task of discovering true Christian doctrine, Tradition, and Church squarely and ultimately on the shoulders of the individual, I think it must be opposed as both nonsensical and unbiblical as well.

This is not merely a philosophical proposition. The Bible clearly (I think) teaches about both an authoritative Church and a Tradition. The fathers assumed this, and that was their ultimate appeal against the heretics, who invariably relied on their private judgment in the "non-ecclesiastical" sense that Newman wrote about, and sola Scriptura. For the Fathers, what had "always been believed" was the determinant of orthodoxy. God had the power to preserve apostolic doctrine inviolate and to protect the true church from error.

It requires faith to believe this, and that is what a Catholic does: we have faith that this Church can exist and that it can be identified and located. We don't say this rests on our own individual choice. It is already there; like "stumbling upon" the Pacific Ocean or Mt. Everest. We don't determine whether the thing exists or not. And we must believe it is what it claims to be by faith, absolutely. Why should that surprise anyone except a person who thinks that Christianity is determined purely by arbitrary choice and rationalism without faith?

That is no longer simply philosophy or subjective preference, as if Christianity were reduced to Philosophy 0101 (where someone might prefer Kierkegaaard to Kant) or the selection of a flavor of ice cream. If we are to be biblical, the Bible refers often to a "passed-down tradition." It is Out There. It exists. Newman would say that one can find this and submit themselves to it, by God's grace (not human reason, though it is not inconsistent with the latter, nor with any biblical teaching).

This is the Catch-22 that I find in the reasoning of any Catholic who has concluded that the Church is the only safe refuge from the dangerous and unprotected wasteland of private interpretation. It's an attempt to solve a problem that we all face, but it doesn't solve it, because that decision itself has been privately made, through human reasonings.

I disagree. We make the choice, but we don't say that the choice was mere reasoning. It was led by God's grace and necessary aid, just as salvation must be so originated. No one denies that Christians choose whether or not to follow God and become a disciple of Jesus. But that very choice was made possible ONLY by God's grace; otherwise it couldn't have occurred at all, given the Fall (and the contrary view is the heresy of Pelagianism). Likewise, this is what we believe about the choice of the Catholic Church as the one founded by Christ, which we believe can be traced back to apostolic times in unbroken historical succession. This does not entirely exclude other Christians from the fold; not at all -- but that's another discussion and I can't get into that at the moment.

Apart from this faith aspect, the Catholic (especially apologists such as myself) claims that our view of ecclesiology and theology is backed up by both history and the Bible, as well as reason. I would argue (among many other things) the fact that the Bible teaches one true Church, as evidenced by the early Protestant internal divisions. In the early days, they still believed that each school was THE one, and the true Church in some sense. There was a visible structure (e.g., Calvin's Geneva, or the Lutheran princes, who took over from the bishops). They believed in one church and one truth, however they may have defined it.



http://biblicalcatholicism.com/


Today's Protestants, however, are much less concerned with that and oftentimes become literally ecclesiological relativists, where Church affiliation comes down to worship styles, a good choir, a pastor who gives "meaty" or heart --stirring sermons, enough pretty girls to meet, etc.). I exaggerate to make a point. This is how many people choose where to go to church: not by a long study and comparison of competing doctrines or reading apologetics. I know many Protestants detest this as I do, but it still exists and is a problem. And it comes from the extreme application of this "private judgment" business, that Newman wrote about.

In other words, it's an entirely valid observation to note that coming to such a conclusion involves private interpretation of Scripture, and it's an equally valid question to ask why one is sure that that private interpretation itself isn't faulty.

Sure, if Christianity were simply philosophy or a Baskin-Robbins situation: "what flavor of the 47 ice creams should I pick?" It is not. Christianity has a history, and whatever side one comes down on cannot exclude the historical criteria because they are intrinsic to Christianity and the biblical worldview, and always have been. This is simply what Christianity is. To be a-historical is as unbiblical as it is essentially foreign to a Christian outlook. Failing that, one can try to construct alternate ecclesiologies, as Luther and Calvin did. I think they fail as alternates of the Catholic Church, to the extent that they are alternates (i.e., where we disagree doctrinally). Why I think that would require huge discussions, where many points are dealt with in turn. It is a cumulative argument, involving a "wheel" of many spokes.

It goes against the democratic equal-opportunity times in which we live, but I see the only way out of this dilemma to be in laying hold of the revelation of God, not just TO me, but INTO me. If the Catholic Church is that to which I must belong, and if right reasoning would show that to anyone with an open mind, God must show ME individually as much, because I am anything but an open-minded man - indeed, I believe that such a thing is merely a popular myth - and I am a man emminently capable of reasoning wrongly without so much as missing a beat. But if God does indeed work in this way, that undermines one of the very arguments commonly made to defend the necessity of submitting to the Church in the first place, namely that of the fallibility of private interpretation.

No, as explained above. We arrive at truth by many different means. Belief in God is that way: it is experiential, moral, imaginative, philosophical (if someone is of that bent of mind), allegorical, etc. I became a committed evangelical Christian back in 1977 largely because of what is called the "moral argument," which is not rationality per se but an internal sense of what is right and wrong, and that Christianity embodied those values. I started thinking about Catholicism initially because of another moral issue: contraception.

But see, even that was not exclusively a "Catholic" discussion, once one discovers, as I did, that all Christians whatsoever opposed contraception till the 1930 Anglican Lambeth Conference. Since I was already committed to the importance of Church history and the unchangeableness of Christian moral teaching, and believed that God protected True Christian Doctrine and Morality, and I had arrived at this judgment through my own study, discussions, and reflections as a long-time pro-lifer and activist, I looked around and saw who today taught that contraception was wrong, which was the historic Christian position.

The choice is clear: even the Orthodox, who pride themselves on being so eminently "traditional" have partially caved on that issue. They haven't maintained their own traditional disapproval and prohibition. To me that is caving to the zeitgeist -- the spirit of the age, modernism, and the sexual revolution (which thrived on the use of contraception, for obvious reasons). And that had a profound effect on me because Christianity is a conservative force in culture: it preserves the old values passed down from the apostles, as taught in the Bible. It doesn't get carried away with all the latest fads and fancies. So that was just one aspect of my decision to convert to Catholicism.

God even used movies and music to bring me to Him back when I was a thoroughly secular pagan in the 70s (somewhat like C.S. Lewis, who came to Christianity through the route of mythology, Wagnerian music, and the like). Selection of a church should be a matter of faith and prayer AND all the usual reasoning involved, just as conversion to Jesus Himself is, since the Church, if it exists, is a supernatural entity, even though fallible and sinful men and women are in it.

If the Church has been given the keys to right interpretation by God Himself, God must still reveal that to whomever He would have know it, such is our helpless estate.

But since individual salvation or regeneration or conversion or being "born again" or committing oneself to Jesus Christ as His disciple (whatever one chooses to call it) itself is of the same nature, I don't see that this reduces to relativism and "helplessness." Somehow we come to believe in God. I think He can be seen in the works of creation, as Romans 1 teaches. But it requires faith and revelation to believe in the Holy Trinity or the Incarnation or Jesus' Resurrection. Those things are revealed; they aren't part of natural law, like God's existence or innate realizations that murder or lying are wrong and evil.

Likewise, in choosing a church or denomination. All you can do is pray, study the issues, read all the sides you care to read, talk to people, look at the history of the various groups, study early Church history, study the Bible through and through and choose what you think is the closest to the biblical Church, as revealed in the Bible (and -- if you value Church history and a visible Church as a continuation of the Incarnation, so to speak -- what has existed in fact for 2000 years). It still takes God's grace, just as conversion does. I have plenty of biblical arguments throughout my website, if you are seeking those.

Yet, and I think this is a crucial point, the defense of this doctrine is carried on by its adherents in the same rationalistic terms that just about every other doctrine in Christendom is defended, which I think is a serious error that afflicts most of Christendom today, by the way.


If the above analysis (or Newman's) is "rationalistic," you must demonstrate that to me. I deny this. In fact; quite the contrary, I am specifically reducing the entire matter to faith and the supernatural and revelation, with reason assuming an altogether secondary role. But I will not renounce or demote reason, either. I submit all my beliefs to reason and the law of non-contradiction, and I believe that my viewpoint is eminently reasonable, or else I wouldn't hold it for a second.

Consider ancient Israel and her numerous apostasies. I know the parallel is not exact, but there is merit in looking at this. It has always been true that "the Lord knows those who are His", and "all are not Israel who are descended from Israel". Yet how often was the truth assumed to reside in the temple, even as God was revealing Himself to a lonely prophet, and condemning the "Establishment religion" as apostate. Then as now, each individual was in need of personal revelation from God if he would hope to know where the truth resided.

Newman does not deny this, but he places it within the proper context, just as he does with his influential arguments about the conscience or the role of the laity. He refuses to become anti-institutional or a-historical. The Church can (and has) become very corrupt in human terms. It is in constant need of revival and reformation. This is the human condition. Yet it lasts and survives because God protects it from the folly and wickedness of men, just as He preserved ancient Israel as a people and the Bible as a written revelation.

The Bible teaches that the Church has sinners in it, and that this shouldn't make us lose faith. I have a lot of material along those lines. And ancient Israel did not believe in sola Scriptura at all. I have a chapter about that in my second book which I can send you or paste, if necessary.

Ecclesiastical continuity and tradition were clearly not enough to authenticate the true church then. Why must it necessarily be different from that now?

I deny this. The ancient Jews always had the Mosaic Law. They had the Davidic Covenant. There was a clear identifiable tradition. That didn't change when corruption occurred cyclically. They kept discovering the Law and their God again and again, and revived themselves (or, I should say, cooperated with God's revival of them). You act as if corruption wiped out the Law. It didn't, no more than David's sin wiped out the Davidic Covenant, or Paul's or Moses or Peter's sin made them incapable of writing inspired Scripture and being leaders of their people.

I place a lot of weight on the defense given for any given truth which is pressed up me as something I ought to believe. If a defense is rationalistic from start to last, I find it seriously lacking as a compelling defense, because I've seen with my own eyes the necessity of a personal revelation from God of anything concerning the things of God which I am to believe
rightly.


I couldn't agree more. I have experienced that in both my conversions, and I have had plenty of spiritual experiences (I am a charismatic), and instances of various gifts such as discernment of spirits (which are easily able to be confirmed by later discoveries and further information), which are useful to me in my line of work. I think you are exactly right, but I don't think your position leads to a despair of ever finding a church or True Doctrine, or a de facto Christian relativism or radical subjectivity.

For this same reason, any doctrine which compels me to reject my own understanding on the basis of fallibility seems to be fatally flawed, in that it necessitates that I temporarily accept the very thing it asks me to reject.

I agree again. The Catholic case, like the case for God and the case for generic Christianity, rests upon truths that can be known and verified outside of itself. It is not circular at all, as so often charged. The views that are truly circular are those such as presuppositional Calvinism or Mormonism, where natural reasoning is disparaged and frowned upon and one simply accepts the truth on fideistic grounds. Catholics don't do that at all. We believe very much in both faith and reason.

The truths that are most compelling to me are the ones which I have come to see as being the only possibilities in a given situation.


That was the case with myself, regarding the prohibition of contraception. I was convinced that it was wrong, and that it's wrongness had always been believed by Christians. I looked around to see who taught this today. The choice was very easy, as there is only one Christian group (apart from some possible dinky ones) which has maintained the traditional Christian position over against the spirit of the age and the Sexual Revolution.

The doctrines of grace present themselves compellingly to me in this way. Newman's thesis fails this test in two ways. First, his own agreement with the necessity of grace, along with his trust in the reliability of the reasoning by which he has understood Scripture to be teaching submission to the interpretation of the Church, should both lead him to affirm that God reveals Himself INTO individuals, but this would undermine his thesis about the necessity of the Church as interpreter of Scripture.

Not at all. In fact, the two are able to be synthesized and harmonized, as in his view and the Catholic view. One can have a personal confirmation or experience, yet interpret and understand it in such a way that it is not intrinsically opposed to the historical, institutional, corporate aspects of Christian ecclesiology. Newman deals with this very issue at length in his famous Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, the classic Catholic treatment of the individual conscience. But he arrives at a position very different from Luther's.

Luther (at the Diet of Worms in 1521) made the conscience and private judgment epistemologically and practically superior to everything else, be it Church or Council or pope or Tradition. In that view, the individual is radically brought back to himself as the ultimate criteria of truthfulness (yet he contradicted himself by adopting a State Church view and advocacy of capital punishment for a number of heresies, real or otherwise -- such as the Anabaptist belief in adult baptism).

I think the folly of that position is obvious, and the frightening consequences equally so. But this is what Protestants believe. This is what sola Scriptura and rejection of the binding authority of a Church and Councils reduce to. There are only so many choices which are not self-contradictory. Newman and Catholics don't have to make this opposition. We believe both that there is an identifiable Tradition and that individuals by God's grace are capable of finding it and accepting it in good faith and total sincerity, in a non-contradictory, spiritually fulfilling manner.

Secondly, what he denies explicitly, in decrying personal interpretation, he nevertheless must avail himself of in order to formulate his thesis.

No, because the Catholic Church and apostolic Tradition are already entities "out there" which are not mere private interpretations. This tradition has been passed down and preserved and people are capable of finding it. St. Paul assumes this throughout his letters and the Fathers did also. Catholics believe as they do: that God has given us a revealed truth (which includes ecclesiology and a Church) and that he can enable individuals to discover it through grace and faith, so that they can get on with their lives and serve Him and their fellow men, rather than spending their lives on a perpetual agnostic-type quest for something that either doesn't exist or very imperfectly only, or that one can never know enough to accept on the basis of reason. We make things so complicated that God always intended to be quite simple.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Popes Pius XII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Vatican II, the CCC, and US Bishops on the Morality of Nuking Japan

By Dave Armstrong (1-23-06)

Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man.
This citation appears in the CCC, #2314, which in turn is citing Vatican II, Gaudium et spes: 80:3. The remark in that document was preceded by the following statement:
. . . the Council, endorsing the condemnation of total warfare issued by recent popes (3), declares [then the sentence in question occurs] . . .
Footnote 3 gives the further papal sources:

3. Cf. Pius XII, Allocution, 30 Sept. 1954: AAS 46 (1954), p. 589; Christmas Message 1954; AAS 47 (1955), pp. 15 ff.; John XXIII, Litt. Encycl. Pacem in Terris: AAS 55 (1963), pp. 286-291; Paul VI, Address to the United Nations, 4 Oct. 1965: AAS 57 (1965), pp. 877-885.

Thomas E. Woods, Jr., a Catholic "traditionalist" (I hear he may be adopting a more moderate position regarding the Church, though), is one who takes a much more negative position than I do towards defenders of the Bombs:
I, on the other hand, have never excused the Japanese internment, weaved apologias for mass murder, or casually called for nuclear attacks on civilian targets - all of which the mainstream of what laughingly passes for conservatism today does almost as a matter of routine. To the contrary, I join real conservatives and libertarians like Richard Weaver, Felix Morley (one of the founders of Human Events), Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, and Pope Pius XII in condemning the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet my left-wing critics seem quite happy to get in bed with defenders of all these things in order to join in their condemnations of my book. Taking a casual view of mass murder is thus morally preferable to having a sympathy for the old republic. What more do I need to know about these people?

("Driving the Bad Guys Crazy")
Where is the major Catholic figure who argues as Bomb proponents do?

Here's what Pope John Paul II stated:
JAPAN

Lessons of Hiroshima, Nagasaki

Pope sees "crimes" in atomic bombing

As he greeted a new ambassador from Japan, Pope John Paul II said that Hiroshima and Nagasaki should stand as "symbols of peace" and should remind the world of "the crimes committed against civilian populations during World War II."

Receiving the new ambassador, Toru Iwanami, on September 11 [1999], the Pontiff lamented that "true genocides" are "still being committed in several parts of the world" today. He expressed his regret that the "culture of peace is still far from being spread throughout the world."

The Pope also invoked the 450th anniversary of the arrival of St. Francis Xavier in Japan, which is being celebrated this year. He said that the life of St. Francis should point to "the importance of spiritual freedom and religious liberty," and he saluted "the attitude of tolerance" toward religion which now prevails in Japan.

(Catholic World Report, November 1999, vol. 9, No. 10)
Pope John Paul the Great again:
I do so especially by reason of the haunting memory of the atomic explosions which struck first Hiroshima and then Nagasaki in August 1945. They bear witness to the overwhelming horror and suffering caused by war: The final toll of that tragedy - as I recalled during my visit to Hiroshima - has not yet been entirely determined nor has its total cost in human terms yet been calculated, particularly when we consider what effect nuclear war has had and could still have on our thinking, our attitudes and our civilization. "To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future. To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war. To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace. To remember what the people of this city suffered is to renew our faith in man, in his capacity to do what is good, in his freedom to choose what is right, in his determination to turn disaster into a new beginning."[15]

Fifty years after that tragic conflict, which ended some months later also in the Pacific with the terrible events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and with the subsequent surrender of Japan, it appears ever more clearly as a "self-destruction of mankind."[16] War is in fact, if we look at it clearly, as much a tragedy for the victors as for the vanquished.

Footnote 15: John Paul II, Address at Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima, Japan (Feb. 25, 1981), 4: AAS 73 (1981), 417.

Footnote 16: 16 John Paul II, Centesimus Annus (May 1, 1991), 18: AAS 83 (1991), 816.

(FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE END OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR, May 16, 1995; emphasis added)
http://biblicalcatholicism.com/


Here is an excerpt from the US Bishops document: "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response" (1983), which cites Pope Pius XII making what seems to be an unequivocal condemnation of the bombings:
1. Counter-Population Warfare

147. Under no circumstances may nuclear weapons or other instruments of mass slaughter be used for the purpose of destroying population centers or other predominantly civilian targets. Popes have repeatedly condemned "total war" which implies such use. For example, as early as 1954 Pope Pius XII condemned nuclear warfare "when it entirely escapes the control of man," and results in "the pure and simple annihilation of all human life within the radius of action." [64] The condemnation was repeated by the Second Vatican Council:

Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man itself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.[65]

148. Retaliatory action whether nuclear or conventional which would indiscriminately take many wholly innocent lives, lives of people who are in no way responsible for reckless actions of their government, must also be condemned. This condemnation, in our judgment, applies even to the retaliatory use of weapons striking enemy cities after our own have already been struck. No Christian can rightfully carry out orders or policies deliberately aimed at killing non-combatants.[66]

149. We make this judgment at the beginning of our treatment of nuclear strategy precisely because the defense of the principle of noncombatant immunity is so important for an ethic of war and because the nuclear age has posed such extreme problems for the principle. Later in this letter we shall discuss specific aspects of U.S. policy in light of this principle and in light of recent U.S. policy statements stressing the determination not to target directly or strike directly against civilian populations. Our concern about protecting the moral value of noncombatant immunity, however, requires that we make a clear reassertion of the principle our first word on this matter.

Footnotes:

64. Pius XII, "Address to the VIII Congress of the World Medical Association," [1954] in Documents, p. 131.

65. Pastoral Constitution, 80.

66. Ibid.
The US Bishops (in August 2004) clearly rejected the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as justified acts, and apply the prohibitive and condemnatory language of Vatican II and the CCC directly to it (they even condemn efforts to try to justify these acts):

Hiroshima, Nagasaki Bombings Call For Rejection Of 'Total War' [link]

WASHINGTON (August 6, 2004) -– The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 59 years ago this month remain as "permanent reminders" of the horrors of "total war" and the continuing need for nuclear disarmament, said the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in a statement released today to mark the anniversary of the bombings.

"The permanent graves of Hiroshima and Nagasaki compel us to declare once again our rejection of total war and our commitment to the advance of Christ's peace in the furthest reaches of the globe," said Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville (IL).

He said the work of peace and justice must include the defense of human life and dignity, rejection of discrimination, and the promotion of human rights.

"On this anniversary, we must demand thoughtful and limited approaches to military action as a last resort, including systematic nuclear disarmament," Bishop Gregory said.

He also cautioned against the temptations terrorism could present.

"At a time when much of the world is gripped by fear of terrorism and a few voices hint that the time may again come when the United States should call upon its nuclear arsenal to make ‘quick work' of frightening threats, it is fitting to reassert our commitment to disarmament and the conduct of limited war only as a last resort," Bishop Gregory said.

The full text of his statement follows:

"Nearly ten years ago, Pope John Paul II issued a reflection on the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II. He noted then that World War II is a ‘point of reference necessary for all who wish to reflect on the present and on the future of humanity.' But now at this time, we recall also the fateful days on which America became the first and last among the world's nations to use an atomic weapon. Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain permanent reminders of the grave consequences of total war and symbols of our continuing struggle to balance determined action for justice with a profound responsibility to live Christ's peace. Even now, when Cold War politics is for so many a distant and fading memory and nuclear war only the vaguest threat, the permanent graves of Hiroshima and Nagasaki compel us to once again declare our rejection of total war and our commitment to the advance of Christ's peace in the furthest reaches of the globe.

"World War II, which liberated many and defeated tyranny but which left as a shameful legacy instances of combat, was conducted without distinction between civilian and soldier. In the decades since the bombing, some have advanced the argument that despite the horrendous magnitude of civilian suffering, these actions can be justified by the efficient end of combat it affected. But secular ethicists and moral theologians alike echo the words of the Second Vatican Council: ‘Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.' The Church has a long tradition of condemning acts of war that bring ‘widespread, unspeakable suffering and destruction.' At a time when much of the world is gripped by fear of terrorism and a few voices hint that the time may again come when the U.S. should call upon its nuclear arsenal to make "quick work" of frightening threats, it is fitting to reassert our commitment to disarmament and the conduct of limited war only as a last resort.

"Christ gave us His gift of peace to share with one another and to proclaim to the world. As the reality of terrorist threats gives rise to widespread fear, our duty as Christ's faithful to pursue his peace in the world becomes ever more clear and pressing. Following the collapse of communism and apartheid, many formerly oppressive regimes have given way to peaceful, democratic institutions; but in many parts of the world, the poor and weak suffer under cruel totalitarian rulers. Never has the Church been a more important force for peace and justice. Catholic policy makers, military personnel, scientists, academics, advocates, and young people must preach Christ's gospel of love and make the work of peace a fundamental imperative of their individual vocations. Catholics engaged in every area of public life must marshal the varied gifts given them by the Holy Spirit toward the pursuit of new responses to unfamiliar threats. In an era of often paralyzing uncertainty, the Church's voice for peace and justice must remain undiminished and constant.
Page Three

"This commitment to the work of peace and justice must have content beyond slogans. We must commit ourselves at home and abroad to a defense of human life and dignity, a rejection of unjust discrimination and the promotion of basic human rights. We must reject indifference in the face of grave injustice and oppression wherever it occurs. On this anniversary, we must demand thoughtful and limited approaches to military action as a last resort, including systematic nuclear disarmament - which the U.S. bishops urged must be ‘more than a moral ideal' but also ‘a policy goal.'

"As we have in the past, we again call on faithful people everywhere to renew their commitment to the work of Christ's peace and justice, and repeat Pope Paul VI's plaintive refrain: ‘No more war, war never again!'"
Excerpt from Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine, edited by Russell Shaw: "War":
The principle of discrimination is of special importance, because it is simply a restatement of the fifth commandment: Directly taking innocent human life is always wrong. This principle has led Popes beginning with Pius XII to condemn the modern theory of total warfare, which holds that any means necessary to achieve victory may be used. When the Allies engaged in obliteration bombing of Dresden and other cities to terrorize Germany and hasten the end of World War II, Catholic theologians condemned the act. Similar objections have been raised to the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, because the valid goal of ending the war and saving Allied soldiers’ lives could not justify the evil means of directly killing many thousands of noncombatants. Such destruction cannot be defended as the kind of "indirect" killing involved in using the minimum force necessary to defeat an attacking army.
Just-War Theory, Catholic Morality, And The Response To International Terrorism

Here is some interesting information: the author, Mark S. Latkovic, cites Pope Pius XII making statements which would not rule out all use of atomic weapons whatsoever. However, based on the pope's stringent criteria, it would seem to me that Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not qualify as instances of his advocacy of very limited use for self-defense only:
The syndicated newspaper columnist and prominent evangelical Cal Thomas, suggests that the use of a nuclear weapon could be justified (see Cal Thomas, "U.S. Should Be Ready to Use Tactical Nuclear Weapons," Detroit Free Press, November 6, 2001, 9A). But his reasoning here is through and through consequentialist/proportionalist. While he recognizes "psychological and political" fallout, he ignores the moral problems of using nuclear weapons. That having been said, Church teaching would not absolutely overrule the use of nuclear weapons as intrinsically evil. For instance, Pope Pius XII taught that under certain conditions even atomic, bacteriological, and chemical war could be justified "where it must be judged as indispensable in order to defend oneself" and with "limits on its use that are so clear and rigorous that its effects remain restricted to the strict demands of defense" (see Pius XII, Address to the Eighth Congress of the World Medical Association, September 30, 1954, in Catholic Mind 53 [April 1955]: 244, as quoted in Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus, Vol. 2, p. 899, footnote 123).
Another informative excerpt:

Moral Theology on War: A Complete Course based on St. Thomas Aquinas and the Best Modern Authorities


by John A. McHugh, O.P. and Charles J. Callan, O.P.

New York City, Joseph F. Wagner, Inc.,
May 24, 1958

1410.

The Killing or Wounding of Non-Combatants

(a) The indirect killing of non-combatants (i.e., killing which is unintentional and unavoidable) is lawful, according to the rules given for double effect (see 103, 104). Hence, it is lawful to bombard the fortifications, arsenals, munition works, and barracks of a town, to sink passenger liners that are carrying arms or stores to the enemy, to cut off food supplies from a town or country in order to starve out its troops, although these measures will entail the deaths of some civilians as well as of combatants. Humanity requires, however, that an effort be made to spare the non-combatants, when possible, as by serving warning of attack, so that they may be removed to safety. When it is a question, however, of the use of modern weapons (the atom, hydrogen or cobalt bombs) on military targets in the vicinity of large cities, where it is foreseen that many thousands of civilians will be killed or severely wounded, then the principle of double effect seems to rule out the lawfulness of using such devastating weapons. The immediate evil effect, the slaughter of the innocents, could hardly be called incidental and only reluctantly permitted. Concretely, the inevitable results of the use of such weapons would have to be intended directly, if not as an end, at least as a means.

(b) The direct killing of non-combatants (i.e., killing which is intentional) is unlawful and constitutes the sin of murder. Obliteration bombing, the dropping of 11-bombs or atom bombs on a residential section of a city containing no military objectives, are of this character; for they are attacks on civilians. It can not be argued that such an attack would probably break down the morale of the citizens to such an extent that they would force their rulers to make peace and so save many thousands of lives. For this argument is based on the principle that a good end justifies evil means.

Occasionally it is argued that modern "total" warfare demands that all citizens contribute to the war effort and that consequently everyone is a combatant. The argument can hardly be sustained, for Catholic doctrine insists that those whose participation is only remote and accidental are not to be classified as combatants. In a well-documented article on "The Morality of Obliteration Bombing," by John C. Ford, S.J. (Theological Studies, V, 1944, pp. 261-309), the validity of the distinction between combatants and innocent non-combatants, even in the condition of modern war, is upheld. Fr. Ford shows that in an industrial city, as round in the United States, three-fourths of the population belong to the non-combatant category, and he lists more than a hundred trades or professions which, according to the natural law, exclude their members from the category of combatants. Direct attacks on such a population clearly would constitute unjustifiable killing or wounding of non-combatants.
Here is a direct quote from Pope John Paul II (I cited parts of it earlier):
We cannot forget that your country is one of the symbols of peace, as you have just emphasized, since the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a message to all our contemporaries, inviting all the earth's peoples to learn the lessons of history and to work for peace with ever greater determination. Indeed, they remind our contemporaries of all the crimes committed during the Second World War against civilian populations, crimes and acts of true genocide which we thought were for ever in the past but are still being perpetrated in various parts of the world. In order not to forget the atrocities of the past, it is important to teach the younger generation the incomparable value of peace between individuals and peoples, because the culture of peace is contagious but is far from having spread everywhere in the world, as is demonstrated by persistent situations of conflict. We must constantly repeat that peace is the essential principle of common life in all societies.

(HOLY FATHER'S ADDRESS TO THE JAPANESE AMBASSADOR TO THE HOLY SEE, Castel Gandolfo, 11 September 1999)
Pope Paul VI:
MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS
POPE PAUL VI
FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE
DAY OF PEACE

1 JANUARY 1976

"THE REAL WEAPONS OF PEACE"

. . . If the consciousness of universal brotherhood truly penetrates into the hearts of men, will they still need to arm themselves to the point of becoming blind and fanatic killers of their brethren who in themselves are innocent, and of perpetrating, as a contribution to Peace, butchery of untold magnitude, as at Hiroshima on 6 August 1945?" . . .
Pope Paul VI:
MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS
POPE PAUL VI
FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE
DAY OF PEACE

1 JANUARY 1977

"IF YOU WANT PEACE, DEFEND LIFE"

The close relationship between Peace and Life seems to spring from the nature of things, but not always, not yet from the logic of people's thought and conduct. This close relationship is the paradoxical novelty that we must proclaim for this year of grace 1977 and henceforth for ever, if we are to understand the dynamics of progress. To succeed in doing so is no easy and simple task: we shall meet the opposition of too many formidable objections, which are stored in the immense arsenal of pseudo-convictions, empirical and utilitarian prejudices, so-called reasons of State, and habits drawn from history and tradition. Even today, these objections seem to constitute insurmountable obstacles. The tragic conclusion is that if, in defiance of logic, Peace and Life can in practice be dissociated, there looms on the horizon of the future a catastrophe that in our days could be immeasurable and irreparable both for Peace and Life. Hiroshima is a terribly eloquent proof and a frighteningly prophetic example of this. In the reprehensible hypothesis that Peace were thought of in unnatural separation from its relationship with Life, Peace could be imposed as the sad triumph of death. The words of Tacitus come to mind: "They make a desert and call it Peace" (ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant: Agricola, 30). Again, in the same hypothesis, the privileged Life of some can be exalted, can be selfishly and almost idolatrously preferred, at the expense of the oppression or suppression of others. Is that Peace?
I have shown what Pope John Paul II thought of Hiroshima. Here is an example of what he stated about deterrence:
In current conditions, "deterrence" based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable. Nonetheless, in order to ensure peace, it is indispensable not to be satisfied with this minimum, which is always susceptible to the real danger of explosion.

(Address to the Second Special Session on Disarmament of the U.N. General Assembly, read by his secretary of state, 11 June 1982, in The Apocalyptic Premise: Nuclear Arms Debated, edited by Ernest W. Lefever and E. Stephen Hunt, Washington, D.C.: Ethics & Public Policy Center, 1982, p. 337)
So deterrence is allowed (which has been my own position for some 25 years), but thus far, I have seen no hint whatsoever in John Paul II that the weapons should be used, or that Hiroshima in particular was a justified use. Obviously, from his other statements, he would deny that it was (just as Pius XII did). Quite the contrary: it is only a temporary step towards disarmament. So any use of his statements of deterrence as a supposed argument in favor of what happened in August 1945 is a failed attempt at gathering papal support which isn't there.

Also, the jaded attempt by some to make out that I am trying to make non-binding papal utterances binding on consciences is not only false to what I have argued, and what I believe, but muddleheaded and misguided as well. It's a straw man.

The real issue, when popes are brought into the discussion, is whether they have the knowledge and wisdom to make a judgment on Hiroshima and Nagasaki or not (in the realm of moral theology), and whether their judgment carries more weight than that of mere laymen (not even academics or other sorts of "experts"). We're all mere laymen, so when it comes to such momentous ethical questions, the Catholic looks to the Church for guidance, not insignificant little microbes like me.

Therefore, I (who make no claim to being any sort of expert at all in this area) have produced many statements from the Church and her popes.

Now I shall prove that Pope Pius XII condemned the bombings in Japan, by very strong implication and simple logical deduction.

John J. Cardinal O'Connor wrote penetratingly about this topic in his book, In Defense of Life (Daughters of St. Paul: 1981). Part of it was reprinted in The Apocalyptic Premise: Nuclear Arms Debated, edited by Ernest W. Lefever and E. Stephen Hunt, Washington, D.C.: Ethics & Public Policy Center, 1982, pp. 295-308; entitled "The Church's Views on Nuclear Arms." Here is an excerpt (italics in original):

Yet Pius XII did not seem to feel the need to outlaw the use of the atomic bomb, as he knew it, under all possible circumstances. Conceivably atomic warfare could be used, he suggested, in response to "an obvious, extremely serious, and otherwise unavoidable injustice." But the restriction he then imposes is all important, both as a major factor that must henceforth be considered critical as a condition of the just war, and as a harbinger of the controversy that would arise as successive generations of nuclear weapons appeared, each with its own sophisticated refinements and claims for "safety" in use.

[he then cites Pius XII]

"Even then, however, one must strive to avoid it by all possible means through international understanding or to impose limits on its use that are so clear and rigorous that its effects remain restricted to the strict demands of defense. When, moreover, putting this method to use involves such an extension of the evil that it entirely escapes from the control of man, its use must be rejected as immoral. Here there would be no longer a question of "defense" against injustice or a necessary "safeguarding" of legitimate possessions, but the pure and simple annihilation of all human life within the radius of action. This is not permitted for any reason whatsoever."

[bolding emphasis added {i.e., by Cardinal O'Connor}; purple emphasis is my own ]

[source: Allocution {or} Address to the 8th Congress of the World Medical Association, 30 September 1954; cited in Gaudium et spes, at 80:3 as a background thought-source, and listed in AAS 46 (1954), p. 589]
Cardinal O'Connor offers his commentary:
This is a critically important statement that goes beyond the demand for what is usually called "proportionality" - that war is never justified if the means used, the cost, and the consequences seriously outweigh the anticipated gain, redress of wrong, or whatever. Here the pope goes directly to the heart of the crucial question about nuclear weapons, the question of predictability.
After some pages of marvelously informative, balanced, nuanced treatment, Cardinal O'Connor sums up:

So Vatican II did not outlaw the manufacture, possession, or deployment of nuclear weapons as a deterrent to war. As noted previously, the Council leaves open a judgment on the validity of the strategy of deterrence . . .

What We Can Conclude

The foregoing has been an effort to discern the basic position of the Church as of 1980, in the persons of four popes, the Vatican Council, and the body of bishops of the United States. That the position is completely unambiguous would be arguable. That it seems to be still evolving might be a fair appraisal. To return to the question raised above, admittedly at risk of oversimplification - what does the Church say and leave unsaid about nuclear weapons? - it seems fair to assert the following:

a. The Church condemns war of aggression, unlimited war, acts of war "directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants," the use of weapons of mass destruction.

b. The Church does not condemn defensive war, limited war, acts of war directed to the destruction of military targets, the manufacture or possession of nuclear weapons, the use of weapons of limited destruction.

c. The Church seriously questions the strategy of nuclear deterrence, abhors the arms race, considering it a treacherous trap for humanity, potentially destructive of all life, and draining resources critically needed to feed the hungry and generally advance civilization.

d. The Church calls for the eventual goal of banning nuclear weapons, urging that in the meanwhile, there be continuing, balanced, mutual, progressive restrictions in nuclear weapons "backed up by authentic and workable safeguards," and urging negotiations and treaties that will help reduce risks of nuclear war.

To deduce from official statements of popes, Vatican II, or the National Conference of Catholic Bishops that the "Church has condemned more than is noted would appear to be precisely that - an act of deduction. To discern less in what the Church says would appear to be an act of short-sightedness.
I agree with all of this. It is right-on, as always with the Church. And I think that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki clearly come under the prohibition of a. above - especially in light of Pope Pius XII's comments from 1954.

There is a sensible middle ground in the larger issue of nuclear ethics. I agree that one can argue that a limited use of nuclear power is permissible and moral in a given circumstance. Pius XII himself said so. It is not inconceivable to make such an argument as a Catholic. Thus, I am not a "nuclear pacifist." Nor do I oppose deterrence. I accept it in precisely the way that Pope John Paul II did.

However, concerning the particular instance of Japan (which is, after all, the only example of military use thus far), I contend that the Church has condemned it, in terms of it clearly being of the type that is condemned in the general teaching. It's condemned (by very strong deduction) at a lower level of teaching authority, but that is still sufficient to be binding and to prevent public contradiction of what has been stated.

Moreover, no one can find anything to the contrary, and it is condemned specifically in many lower-level statements, especially by Pope John Paul II. Such consensus proves to me that it is foolish and futile for any Catholic to attempt to argue otherwise (certainly publicly, at any rate).

There may still be room for "conscientious objection" at least privately (I don't know; I'm no canon lawyer or moral theologian), but that doesn't mean that it isn't foolish to keep up the objection publicly, when the consensus in the Church is so crystal-clear.