Saturday, April 25, 2009

Purgatory is the Waiting Room for Heaven, Not a Temporary Stint in Hell (1st C. Jewish and Jesus' and NT Understanding of Gehenna)


Illustration for Dante's Purgatorio, by Gustave Doré

The following friendly exchange took place on the CHNI board with a self-described "Hebrew Catholic." His words will be in blue.

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The reason that Purgatory is not mentioned in the New Testament is the same reason that neither hell, nor heaven are mentioned in the NT--The NT is written in Greek. All three of these words: Purgatory, Heaven and Hell are English words. So, none of them is in the NT!

The question is whether the Greek word Gehenna, which is usually translated into English as the word "hell" really means "hell." Or does Gehenna mean something different?

is a Greek form of the Hebrew word Gehinnom. Ge means "valley", so Gehinnom is the Valley of Hinnom--a garbage dump to the south of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. It was always burning garbage, so we get the image of a place where "the fire not stops burning and the worm never dies."

The question whenever we translate a word is what the particular word meant to the writer's contemporary audience--in this case 1st C Jews. What did 1st C Jews think Gehenna meant?

For this we have a clear answer. The Talmud records the debates between the schools of Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai--the two great rival rabbinic schools of 1st C Israel. Hillel and Shammai. In Talmud tractate Rosh Hashanah 16b-17a, the two schools are arguing about how many souls will escape Gehinnom to go to Gan Eden (Garden of Eden--the rabbinic name for Paradise.) Hillel was more lenient than Shammai, so the school of Hillel thought that more souls would leave Gehinnom than did the school of Shammai. Both schools believed that some souls were so evil that they would spend eternity in Gehinnom.

So, to 1st C Jews, Gehinnom was place much like a maximum security US prison in which some inmates are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, while others will get out after say 10 years served for armed robbery.

However, in English, we don't have a single word that refers to the punishment of those who will be purged and eventually go to heaven vs. those who will spend eternity in hell. So, in practice, translators have chosen to translate Gehenna as "hell." However, this has the unfortunate result of convincing those who do not understand the culture of 1st C Israel that "Purgatory is not in the Bible."

The concept of Purgatory is definitely inherent in Gehenna and therefore is mentioned throughout the NT!

Doesn't this show that the rabbis had a notion of Gehenna that was really more akin to Sheol / Hades than to our notion of hell (since some souls can escape it)?

As I understand Gehenna, as used by Jesus, and pretty much the equivalent of "hell", there is no way out of it, so I don't see how you could think the NT Gehenna contains the concept of purgatory within itself.

Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the NT supports my argument above:
The NT distinguishes between hades and geenna: a. the former is temporary, the latter definitive (cf. Mk. 9:43, 48); b. the former is for the soul alone, the latter for the reunited body and soul (Mk 9:43ff.; Mt. 10:28).

(p. 113 in one-volume edition)

Kittel also states about pre-NT belief that "Later it was also used for the place where the wicked are punished in the intermediate state" but doesn't apply this meaning to the NT understanding.

Gerhard Kittel (1888-1948) was a German Protestant (not a Catholic) scholar and an ardent anti-Semite, whose anti-Semitic works of scholarship formed an ideological foundation and justification for the Third Reich. As such, one must be concerned with the issue of bias in his scholarly output.

Studying the Jew: scholarly antisemitism in Nazi Germany By Alan E. Steinweis Edition: illustrated Published by Harvard University Press, 2006

Also, he lived prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Scholars of his era made the same skeptical assumptions about the veracity of rabbinic compilations of oral traditions that they made in Higher Criticism of the Bible. Since older rabbinic traditions were passed down orally, later compiled by editors, they were assumed to be inaccurate, filled with mistakes, and biased.

The discovery of the DSS showed that the Masoretic text of the Bible, the New Testament and Pharisaic traditions compiled in rabbinic literature were unexpectedly and remarkably accurate.

So, even though the 1st C rabbinic schools are cited in the Mishnah of Rosh Hashannah, compiled in 200AD by Rabbi Judah the Prince, they accurately reflect 1st C thought.

The Encyclopedia Judaica
version 2 article on Paradise, traces the development of the idea of Gehinnom from Jewish Pseudepigraphical sources such as I Enoch that predate the birth of Jesus, through Deuterocanonical books, through Rabbinic sources. Since Judaism never produced an orthodoxy of belief, but rather an orthopraxy of obedience to law, there are, of course, varying speculations about the afterlife. All of which shows that Gehenna cannot have had the static and fixed meaning attributed to the Christian doctrine of "hell."

Neither Mark 9:43ff, nor Mat 10:28 states that imprisonment in Gehenna must be permanent for all therein:
Mk 9:43 "And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire,


45 "And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than having your two feet, to be cast into hell,


47 "And if your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell,

What is permanent here is not the imprisonment of any particular person, but the constancy and duration of the worm and the fire. It is the worm that does not die and the fire that is not quenched, not the individual. No statement is made about how long these forces act upon an individual there, only that their punishment is constant and unrelenting for whatever duration they are imprisoned. Undoubtedly any period of imprisonment in a state of constant torture is worse than self-denial here on earth. This point is valid, regardless of how long the imprisonment may be.

Mt 10:28 "And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
The rabbinic understanding of Gehenna includes some who will be there forever due to their sins. God is able to imprison such forever, so we should fear him who is able to do this. This does not mean that all who are in Gehenna will suffer this extreme punishment. Again, the passage does not state that imprisonment is eternal in Gehenna for all who are there.

You can dismiss Kittel if you wish. I'm sure I could produce other linguists with the same understanding. It doesn't all rest on him. I'm confident that I can defend the NT understanding of Gehenna as pertaining to eternal hellfire. I'm not sure exactly what your position is on this. Do you have some objection to the Christian and catholic doctrine of hell? I deal mostly with the NT understanding of eternal judgment in this paper:

Biblical Evidence for an Eternal Hell
See also related papers:

The Development of Old Testament and Jewish Views of Sheol, the Afterlife, and Eternal Punishment

Dialogue on Sheol / Hades (Limbo of the Fathers) and Luke 16 (the Rich Man and Lazarus) With a Baptist (+ Discussion)
I read your article on the Development of Jewish idea of punishment in the afterlife. I agree with it. The question is whether this development of Jewish concept of Gehenna is present in the use of the term in the NT. If so, then both Purgatory and Hell, as understood by Catholics, are present in the concept of Gehenna as defined in the NT.

Certainly, linguists have historically only seen hell in the use of the term Gehenna. I would argue that this is a matter of historical prejudice in the reading of the text, caused by a Gentile tradition of reading that was not informed by the Jewish context of the NT.

The discovery of the DSS [Dead Sea Scrolls] is causing many New Testament texts to be read in an entirely new light, by scholars of Jewish, Protestant and Catholic background.

Whenever we use the work of scholars who interpret the NT prior to the publishing of the DSS, we are seeing their best interpretation of these texts prior to a mountain of new historical evidence. Such scholars only see the development of Jewish interpretation in the Pharisaic tradition. They are perforce entirely ignorant of the development of interpretation among the Essenes. Their interpretations are simply outdated by the facts!

Read the texts yourself in Greek. Without the lens of centuries of Gentile (mis)interpretation, pre-DSS, these texts simply do not say that Gehenna is a place of eternal punishment for
all of its initial inhabitants!

Even Edersheim admits this from the Rabbinic tradition, writing in 1883! He argues that the Pharisaic tradition understands Gehenna as a permanent place of punishment for
at least some of its inhabitants. This is exactly what I am saying in my previous post.

Similarly, many Protestant scholars have re-read Galatians, only to discover that ek pistos means equally: out of faith and faithfulness. Thus overturning 500 years of Protestant interpretation!

The Pope in a recent homily (Holy Thursday 2007, if memory serves) identified the Passover celebration of the Last Supper as an Essene seder. This would mean that the Last Supper was celebrated according to the Essene calendar, not celebrated on Holy Thursday, overturning many centuries of RC tradition. But, very plausibly explaining the differences between the Synoptics and John on the dating of the Last Supper. So, there is a lot of this reinterpretive activity going on!

So, my comments are entirely in accordance with the RC Catechism and the teaching of the RCC. Too bad for linguists born just a century too early!

Your comments are fascinating as always, and I am enjoying this exchange a lot. I continue to disagree with you regarding Gehenna. I have never seen, to my recollection, anywhere in the NT where it is definitively taught that souls can escape hell or Gehenna. Whatever the pre-Christian and immediately post-Christian Jews taught, it doesn't overcome the dogmatic force of the texts in the NT that we have. I'm all for the idea of a consistent development of Judaism into Christianity. I defend that very often in my writings. I have no hostility to that at all. I love it. So my motivation here is not to downplay Hebrew precursors to Christianity (which I never try to do, because I think it's silly and most unhelpful). I just don't see that Gehenna is treated in the NT and by Jesus Himself (who talked most about it) as you are positing.

I think the more accurate analogy to purgatory is Sheol / Hades, as seen most clearly in Luke 16 and the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Secondly, the analogy is to purging and suffering processes in general: God's chastisement of His sons and daughters: a common theme in the OT and continued in the NT. Thirdly, the Protestant conception of the judgment seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3) is highly analogous to purgatory.

But purgatory is the anteroom (or, if you will, holding-tank or halfway house) to heaven, not of hell. That's the biggest problem I have with your reasoning. Purgatory in Catholic theology is not a "five-year sentence" in hell, then the prisoner is pardoned and released to heaven. No; heaven and hell are so essentially different that there could never be any such connection between the two. Whoever is sentenced to hell is damned, and damned forever. Whoever is in purgatory is saved, and only there temporarily. Hell is the utter absence of God, which is why no saved person who is a follower of God can ever go there, even temporarily.

From a NT perspective, I would say that the late-period Jews had confused Sheol and Gehenna in their eschatology. We expect some confusions as categories are developed and worked-through, just as we saw in Christian development concerning the Trinity a few centuries later. Some will get it wrong. So the Jews who thought Gehenna could be a temporary state for some, who were released to heaven, were simply wrong.

I don't know Greek, so I don't have that benefit, but I have some linguistic aids to help me get to the Greek text. I can locate all the instances of Gehenna in the NT. I'd like to examine those to see what we find there, and if there is any hint of a temporary stay in hell for some, as you suggest.
Matthew 5:22,29-30 (RSV) But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, `You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire. . . . If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. [30] And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

The distinction between "council" and "hell of fire" in 5:22 is an argument for purgatory, but note that they are separate, not that purgatory (if this argument holds) is part of hell.

Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 18:9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. (18:8 refers to "eternal fire")

Matthew 23:15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Matthew 23:33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

Mark 9:43,45,47-48 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. [45] And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. [47] And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, [48] where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.

[RSV states that verses 44 and 46 are omitted by the "best ancient authorities" but it is repeated in verse 48 anyway]

cf. Isaiah 66:24 "And they shall go forth and look on the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."

Luke 12:4-5 "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. [5] But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him!

James 3:6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell.
I don't see any hint of temporary stay here (I would say that is a weak argument from silence). I think eternal duration is strongly implied by "unquenchable fire" and the "worm does not die" clause. You have argued (rather weakly, I think) that it only refers to the worm and not to men. The Navarre Bible comments on Mark 9:44:
They are taken from Isaiah 66:24 . . . Our Lord uses them to refer to the torments of hell. Often, "the worm that does not die" is explained as the eternal remorse felt by those in hell, and "the fire which is not quenched" , as their physical pain. The Fathers also say that both things may possibly refer to physical torments. In any case, the punishment in question is terrible and unending.

(p. 274)
Similar data (obviously also referring to hell) occurs in the metaphor of "outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth" (Mt 25:30; cf. 8:12; 22:13).

A stronger indication, for determining whether hell is eternal for all who are in it, is Jesus' metaphor of the tree that doesn't bear good fruit being thrown into the fire:
Matthew 3:12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." (cf. 3:10)

Matthew 13:40,42 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. . . . [42] and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. (cf. 13:50; 7:19; Lk 3:9; Jn 15:6)
No hint of nuance and temporary stays here, either. The chaff is burned and that's it. It's interesting that Jesus in Matthew 3:12 says that the chaff is burned with unquenchable fire; not that it is burned and then the fire continues on, unquenchable. There is a logical difference.

We get more information in Jesus' account of the Last Judgment:
Matthew 25:41,46 Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; . . . [46] And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

cf. the metaphorical parallel:

Jude 7 just as Sodom and Gomor'rah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Again, we see no hint whatsoever of temporary stays in hell. It is either cursed = eternal hellfire = eternal punishment or righteous / saved = eternal blessedness in heaven (25:31-40,46).

The clincher verses come, I think, in Revelation:
Revelation 20:10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

Revelation 20:13-15 And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done. [14] Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; [15] and if any one's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death."
Again, we see stark contrasts all around. The damned go to this lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels (as we learn from Matt 25:41,46). This is hell, which is eternal fire, and we so no mention of anyone getting out of it. The damned go there, and it is eternal punishment (Matt 25:46, Rev 20:10). The mention of "eternal punishment" lays to rest any notion that the fire may go on forever but not the punishment of the people (as punishment always refers to a person being punished). Temporary punishment is entirely absent. I would contend that it is eisegesis to read it into any of these texts. We can't eisegete from late pre-Christian Jewish eschatological tradition (no matter how rich and interesting it may have been). We have to go with what the text itself teaches us. Jesus and the NT writers are the definitive interpreters and developers of authentic Jewish theology. They have defined the eschatology that was still somewhat confused in 1st c. Pharisaic Judaism.

Lastly, I think it is notable that Hades is contrasted with the Lake of Fire. The dead in Hades who were to be damned eternally were thrown into hell (Rev 20:14). In other words, Hades was a holding-tank. Some went to heaven and the others went to hell (cf. Luke 16). But it is not to be confused with Gehenna. The damned in Hades are eventually consigned for eternity to hell, or the Lake of Fire.

The Catechism draws the same distinctions I made above (my bolding):

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire . . .

1034 Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.614 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,"615 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!"616

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire."617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

1054 Those who die in God's grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo a purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God.

1057 Hell's principal punishment consists of eternal separation from God in whom alone man can have the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
Board Helper David W. Emery also chimed in:

I see Jesus’ return to the proper distinction as a way to reconcile the two viewpoints, just as he did in a number of other areas, especially in moral theology. Sheol had a number of “levels,” depending on the relative merit of the deceased, and those (at least in the higher levels) were destined for their respective places in Heaven (“…for star differs from star in glory. So it is with the resurrection of the dead.” – 1 Corinthians 15:41). Gehenna was envisioned by the scholars sometimes as the lowest levels of Sheol and sometimes separately. Jesus separated out Gehenna as he did Heaven, and Christians followed that doctrine. So I don’t think it is so much a gentile thing as a Christian thing that we distinguish three “places” after death: eternal hell, temporary purgatory and eternal heaven.

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For more resources on purgatory:

My most extended, in-depth treatment of purgatory comes from my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, that was completed in 1996 (this portion is available online). It's comprehensive in scope (I also deal with relevant passages like 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 in great depth, in a debate with anti-Catholic Reformed Baptist apologist James White).

I have 15 papers listed about purgatory on my Saints, Purgatory, and Penance web page. One that isn't yet listed (because it is so new) is from my upcoming book, Biblical Evidence for Catholicism: Biblical Evidence for Purgatory and Analogous Processes (50 Passages).
But that is completely Scripture with no commentary. The other paper of mine first cited above has explanatory commentary, which is probably better for most efforts of trying to defend the doctrine and showing how it is biblical.

The best short / nutshell argument to use, in my opinion, is the following:
It's an extremely serious business when we meet God face to face. There won't be any more of this "imputation" -- merely "covering over" of sins) then. No, we MUST be sinless to be in His presence, because that is how we were created to be in the first place, in His image. Therefore, we have to be cleansed of actual sin (sanctification in Protestantism). There is no question about that, from either side.

The only difference is a quantitative one: Protestants seem to think this all occurs in an instant; Catholics think it will involve a process, more like how our life on earth is. To me, that is where the heart of this discussion lies.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Theology of the Atonement: Catholic Distinctiveness Over Against the Calvinist "Penal Substitution" Model

St. Anselm

A Protestant contributor to the CHNI forum wrote:
Penal Substitution...Wikipedia says.

Penal substitution is a theory of the atonement within Christian theology, especially associated with the Reformed tradition. It argues that Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished (penalised) in the place of sinners (substitution), thus satisfying the demands of justice so God can justly forgive the sins. It is thus a specific understanding of substitutionary atonement, where the substitutionary nature of Jesus' death is understood in the sense of a substitutionary punishment.
This is rejected by the Orthodox who speak more of substitutionary atonement based on the love of God more than the anger of God.

So is God the father so angry at us that he has to beat the snot out of his son in order to be appeased? Crude, I know, but this has become the measuring stick of the new Calvinists such as John Piper and Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill church in Seattle.

My understand[ing] is the western church...including the RCC is more in line with the Calvinists on this issue than the Orthodox. Is this true? Sounds platonic to me.

* * * * *

It's not true. Orthodox apologetics, insofar as it outwardly disagrees with Catholicism, often tries to contend that we are closer to Protestantism than to Orthodoxy. One must read both sides. One can't just read Orthodox treatments of Catholicism in order to understand Catholicism. One should read a Catholic treatment of a topic and an Orthodox treatment and decide which is more cogent and plausible. Read what proponents say about themselves; not what critics say about their opponents.

Hence, a Catholic apologist (Nick) has engaged in a lengthy debate with an anti-Catholic Calvinist apologist on this very issue. See many installments on his blog. Here is a second article denying that it is the Catholic view. See also The Catholic Encyclopedia: "Doctrine of the Atonement". Note particularly from the latter article:
In their general conception on the atonement the Reformers and their followers happily preserved the Catholic doctrine, at least in its main lines. And in their explanation of the merit of Christ's sufferings and death we may see the influence of St. Thomas and the other great Schoolmen. But, as might be expected from the isolation of the doctrine and the loss of other portions of Catholic teaching, the truth thus preserved was sometimes insensibly obscured or distorted. It will be enough to note here the presence of two mistaken tendencies.

The first is indicated in the above words of Pattison in which the Atonement is specially connected with the thought of the wrath of God. It is true of course that sin incurs the anger of the Just Judge, and that this is averted when the debt due to Divine Justice is paid by satisfaction. But it must not be thought that God is only moved to mercy and reconciled to us as a result of this satisfaction. This false conception of the Reconciliation is expressly rejected by St. Augustine (In Joannem, Tract. cx, section 6). God's merciful love is the cause, not the result of that satisfaction.

The second mistake is the tendency to treat the Passion of Christ as being literally a case of vicarious punishment. This is at best a distorted view of the truth that His Atoning Sacrifice took the place of our punishment, and that He took upon Himself the sufferings and death that were due to our sins.
See also:

The "Ransom Theory" of Atonement in the Fathers: Development in the Doctrine of the Work of Christ

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Papal Participation (Through Legates) in the First Seven Ecumenical Councils

Ruins of Hagia Sophia in present-day Iznik, Turkey, where the first Ecumenical Council met. (photo credit: David Trobisch; Trip to Turkey)

Here is my understanding of papal presence (personally or through legates) at the first seven councils:

Nicaea, 325 [papal legates; possibly including Hosius or Ossius, who presided]

The recommendation for a general or ecumenical council . . . had probably already been made to Constantine by Ossius [aka Hosius], and most probably to Pope Silvester as well (9). . . Ossius presided over its deliberations; he probably, and two priests of Rome certainly, came as representatives of the Pope.

(Dr. Warren Carroll, The Building of Christendom, Christendom College Press, 1987, 11)
For much more on this, see the Brian Harrison article cited below in #2 and my paper, Pope Silvester and the Council of Nicaea.

2) Constantinople, 381
[no pope and no legates]
No bishops from the west were present, nor was the Pope represented. Therefore, this was not really an ecumenical council, though due to later historical confusion and the enthusiastic acceptance by the whole Church of its strongly orthodox creed, including an explicit confession of the full divinity of the Holy Spirit, it came to be regarded and numbered as such.

(Dr. Warren Carroll, The Building of Christendom, Christendom College Press, 1987, 62)

With the First Council of Constantinople (381) we are dealing with another case in which there are not extant acts. This council also was convoked by an emperor, Theodosius I. [Ibid.] The language of his decree suggests he regarded the Roman see as a yardstick of Christian orthodoxy. He commands all his subjects to practice the religion which Peter the apostle transmitted to the Romans. In calling the Council, Theodosius did not envisage the assembled bishops debating Roman doctrine as thought it were an open question.

The fact that Meletius of Antioch presided at Constantinople I, and the absence of any Roman legates, might appear to be evidence against the Roman primacy. It must be remembered that the Council was not originally intended to be ecumenical in the same sense as Nicaea.

It included, after all, only 150 bishops from Thrace, Asia Minor, and Egypt and was convoked to deal with certain Eastern problems.[New Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Constantinople, First Council of."] In fact, it was not recognized as ecumenical by the Council of Ephesus half a century later, and it was left to Pope Gregory the Great to elevate it to that status.

("Papal Authority at the Earliest Councils," Brian W. Harrison, This Rock, Jan. 1991)

3) Ephesus, 431 [papal legates Arcadius, Projectus, and Philip]
The pope . . . sent two bishops, Arcadius and Projectus, to represent himself and his Roman council, and the Roman priest, Philip, as his personal representative. Philip, therefore, takes the first place, though, not being a bishop, he could not preside. It was probably a matter of course that the Patriarch of Alexandria should be president. The legates were directed not to take part in the discussions, but to give judgment on them. It seems that Chalcedon, twenty years later, set the precedent that the papal legates should always be technically presidents at an ecumenical council, and this was henceforth looked upon as a matter of course, and Greek historians assumed that it must have been the case at Nicaea.

(Catholic Encyclopedia: "Council of Ephesus"; written by John Chapman)

4) Chalcedon, 451 [papal legate Paschasinus, who presided]
The honour of presiding over this venerable assembly was reserved to Paschasinus, Bishop of Lilybaeum, the first of the papal legates, according to the intention of Pope Leo I, expressed in his letter to Emperor Marcian (24 June, 451). Shortly after the council, writing to the bishops of Gaul, he mentions that his legates presided in his stead over the Eastern synod. Moreover, Paschasinus proclaimed openly in presence of the council that he was presiding over it in the name and in the place of pope Leo. The members of the council recognized this prerogative of the papal legates. When writing to the pope they professed that, through his representatives, he presided over them in the council. In the interest of order and a regular procedure the Emperor Marcian appointed a number of commissioners, men of high rank, who received the place of honour in the council. Their jurisdiction, however, did not cover the ecclesiastical or religious questions under discussion. The commissioners simply directed the order of business during the sessions; they opened the meetings, laid before the council the matters to be discussed, demanded the votes of the bishops on the various subjects, and closed the sessions. Besides these there were present several members of the Senate, who shared the place of honour with the imperial commissioners. At the very beginning of the first session, the papal legates, Paschasinus at their head, protested against the presence of Dioscurus of Alexandria. Formal accusations of heresy and of unjust actions committed in the Robber Council of Ephesus were preferred against him by Eusebius of Dorylaeum; and at the suggestion of the imperial commissioners he was removed from his seat among the bishops and deprived of his vote. . . .

When the pope's famous epistle was read the members of the council exclaimed that the faith contained therein was the faith of the Fathers and of the Apostles; that through Leo, Peter had spoken. . . .

At the closing of the sessions the council wrote a letter to Pope Leo I, in which the Fathers informed him of what had been done; thanked him for the exposition of Christian Faith contained in his dogmatic epistle; spoke of his legates as having presided over them in his name; and asked for the ratification of the disciplinary matters enacted, particularly canon 28. This letter was handed to the papal legates, who departed for Rome soon after the last session of the council. Similar letters were written to Pope Leo in December by Emperor Marcian and Anatolius of Constantinople. In reply Pope Leo protested most energetically against canon xxviii and declared it null and void as being against the prerogatives of Bishops of Alexandria and Antioch, and against the decrees of the Council of Nicaea. Like protests were contained in the letters written 22 May, 452, to Emperor Marcian, Empress Pulcheria, and Anatolius of Constantinople. Otherwise the pope ratified the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, but only inasmuch as they referred to matters of faith. This approval was contained in letters written 21 March, 453, to the bishops who took part in the council; hence the Council of Chalcedon, at least as to the first six sessions, became an ecumenical synod, and was considered as such by all Christians, both in the time of Poe Leo and after him.

(Catholic Encyclopedia: "Council of Chalcedon," written by Francis Schaefer)

5) Constantinople, 553 [no pope and no legates, due to imperial strong-arm tactics and imprisonment of Pope Vigilius]
From 25 January, 547, Pope Vigilius was forcibly detained in the royal city; . . . Vigilius had persuaded Justinian . . . to proclaim a truce on all sides until a general council could be called to decide these controversies. Both the emperor and the Greek bishops violated this promise of neutrality;. . .

For his dignified protest Vigilius thereupon suffered various personal indignities at the hands of the civil authority and nearly lost his life; he retired finally to Chalcedon, in the very church of St. Euphemia where the great council had been held, whence he informed the Christian world of the state of affairs. Soon the Oriental bishops sought reconciliation with him, induced him to return to the city, and withdrew all that had hitherto been done against the Three Chapters; the new patriarch, Eutychius, successor to Mennas, whose weakness and subserviency were the immediate cause of all this violence and confusion, presented (6 Jan., 553 his professor of faith to Vigilius and, in union with other Oriental bishops, urged the calling of a general council under the presidency of the pope. Vigilius was willing, but proposed that it should be held either in Italy or in Sicily, in order to secure the attendance of Western bishops. To this Justinian would not agree, but proposed, instead, a kind of commission made up of delegates from each of the great patriarchates; Vigilius suggested that an equal number be chosen from the East and the West; but this was not acceptable to the emperor, who thereupon opened the council by his own authority on the date and in the manner mentioned above. Vigilius refused to participate, not only on account of the overwhelming proportion of Oriental bishops, but also from fear of violence; moreover, none of his predecessors had ever taken part personally in an Oriental council. To this decision he was faithful, though he expressed his willingness to give an independent judgment on the matters at issue. . . .

The decisions of the council were executed with a violence in keeping with its conduct, though the ardently hoped-for reconciliation of the Monophysites did not follow. Vigilius, together with other opponents of the imperial will, as registered by the subservient court-prelates, seems to have been banished (Hefele, II, 905), together with the faithful bishops and ecclesiastics of his suite, either to Upper Egypt or to an island in the Propontis. Already in the seventh session of the council
Justinian caused the name of Vigilius to be stricken from the diptychs, without prejudice, however, it was said, to communion with the Apostolic See. Soon the Roman clergy and people, now freed by Narses from the Gothic yoke, requested the emperor to permit the return of the pope, which Justinian agreed to on condition that Vigilius would recognize the late council. This Vigilius finally agreed to do, and in two documents (a letter to Eutychius of Constantinople, 8 Dec., 553, and a second "Constitutum" of 23 Feb., 554, probably addressed to the Western episcopate) condemned, at last, the Three Chapters (Mansi, IX, 424-20, 457-88; cf. Hefele, II, 905-11), independently, however, and without mention of the council.

(Catholic Encyclopedia: "Second Council of Constantinople," written by Thomas Shahan)
For more, see the article "Pope Vigilius".

6) Constantinople, 681 [papal legates]

Owing to the desire of Pope Agatho to obtain the adhesion of his Western brethren, the papal legates did not arrive at Constantinople until late in 680. The council, attended in the beginning by 100 bishops, later by 174, was opened 7 Nov., 680, in a domed hall (trullus) of the imperial palace and was presided over by the (three) papal legates who brought to the council a long dogmatic letter of Pope Agatho and another of similar import from a Roman synod held in the spring of 680. They were read in the second session. Both letters, the pope's in particular, insist on the faith of the Apostolic See as the living and stainless tradition of the Apostles of Christ, assured by the promises of Christ, witnessed by all the popes in their capacity of successors to the Petrine privilege of confirming the brethren, and therefore finally authoritative for the Universal Church. . . .

The greater part of the eighteen sessions was devoted to an examination of the Scriptural and patristic passages bearing on the question of one or two wills, one or two operations, in Christ. George, Patriarch of Constantinople, soon yielded to the evidence of the orthodox teaching concerning the two wills and two operations in Christ, but Macarius of Antioch, "almost the only certain representative of Monothelism since the nine propositions of Cyrus of Alexandria" (Chapman), resisted to the end, and was finally anathematized and deposed for "not consenting to the tenor of the orthodox letters sent by Agatho the most holy pope of Rome", . . .

The letter of the council to Pope Leo, asking, after the traditional manner, for confirmation of its Acts, while including again the name of Honorius among the condemned Monothelites, lay a remarkable stress on the magisterial office of the Roman Church, as, in general, the documents of the Sixth General Council favour strongly the inerrancy of the See of Peter. "The Council", says Dom Chapman, "accepts the letter in which the Pope defined the faith. It deposes those who refused to accept it. It asks [the pope] to confirm its decisions. The Bishops and Emperor declare that they have seen the letter to contain the doctrine of the Fathers. Agatho speaks with the voice of Peter himself; from Rome the law had gone forth as out of Sion; Peter had kept the faith unaltered." Pope Agatho died during the Council and was succeeded by Leo II, who confirmed (683) the decrees against Monothelism, and expressed himself even more harshly than the council towards the memory of Honorius (Hefele, Chapman), though he laid stress chiefly on the neglect of that pope to set forth the traditional teaching of the Apostolic See, whose spotless faith he treasonably tried to overthrow (or, as the Greek may be translated, permitted to be overthrown).

(Catholic Encyclopedia: "Third Council of Constantinople," written by Thomas Shahan)

7) Nicaea, 787 [papal legates archpriest Peter and abbot Peter]

The pope's letters to the empress and to the patriarch (see ICONOCLASM, II) prove superabundantly that the Holy See approved the convocation of the Council. The pope afterwards wrote to Charlemagne: "Et sic synodum istam, secundum nostram ordinationem, fecerunt" (Thus they have held the synod in accordance with our directions).

The empress-regent and her son did not assist in person at the sessions, but they were represented there by two high officials: the patrician and former consul, Petronius, and the imperial chamberlain and logothete John, with whom was associated as secretary the former patriarch, Nicephorus. The acts represent as constantly at the head of the ecclesiastical members the two Roman legates, the archpriest Peter and the abbot Peter; after them come Tarasius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and then two Oriental monks and priests, John and Thomas, representatives of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The operations of the council show that Tarasius, properly speaking, conducted the sessions.

(Catholic Encyclopedia: "The Second Council of Nicaea," written by Henri Leclercq)
* * * * *

Conclusion: popes were not personally present at the first seven councils. The custom in those days was to send papal legates. These were present at five of the seven councils. They weren't at Constantinople in 381 because no western bishops at all were present; hence it was not regarded as an ecumenical council at first, because it was of an exclusively eastern nature and not representative of the universal church. But it was orthodox, and so later declared to be ecumenical. And they weren't present at Constantinople in 553 because the pope was being held prisoner and the Emperor didn't want western Catholicism to be proportionately represented. Pope Vigilius refused to participate because of the disproportion, and due to fears of further violence. It was later deemed an ecumenical council by Rome since it was also orthodox in outcome (by God's grace, as always).


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Do 70% of Catholics Deny the Real Presence and Transubstantiation? Hardly! (Complexities of Polling Examined)


[ source ]

It is often heard that 7 out of 10 Catholics disbelieve in the Church's teaching on the Holy Eucharist. A quick Google search along these lines shows that many Catholics have accepted these figures, based on polling data. It's nothing new or unknown among Catholics at all. I have accepted this bit of "common knowledge" myself in the past. For example:
. . . about 70% of self-described Catholics deny the Real Presence . . .

(Catholic Debate on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, 1998)

. . . some 70% of Catholics in America deny transubstantiation
. . .

(How to Receive Communion: Tradition, Abuses, Symbolism, and Piety, 1-28-00)

If, then, an under-catechized man in the pews denies the Real Presence (as 70% do), . . . .

(my book, Twin Scourges: Thoughts on Anti-Catholicism and Theological Liberalism, completed in June 2003; #124 on p. 71)

Surveys show that 70-80% of Catholics deny the Real Presence, let alone transubstantiation.

(Agreements and Disagreements With Reformed Protestant Alastair Roberts' Series: "Some Thoughts on Transubstantiation", 1-31-05)

Thus, by simply changing the meaning of words, traditional doctrines can be eroded. We see the same thing in the Catholic Church. "Real Presence" has been so eroded historically that 70% of Catholics have picked up this thinking, and deny transubstantiation, as defined by the Church.

(Second Dialogue With Alastair Roberts (Reformed) on Transubstantiation, 2-4-05)
But is it correct? On occasion I have heard otherwise, and have seen some materials indicating that the situation is far more complex than that. Curious, I tried to find more data today that might challenge this understanding. For example, James D. Davidson, professor of sociology at Purdue University Purdue University, and co-author, with William V. D'Antonio, of American Catholics: Gender, Generation, and Commitment (Alta Mira Press, 2001) and contributor to The Search for Common Ground: What Unites and Divides Catholic Americans (Our Sunday Visitor, 1997), has done extensive study on the polls that arrived at this conclusion, and factors relating to why they arrived at the 70% figure, as summarized in a fascinating 2001 article:

Yes, Jesus is Really There: Most Catholics Still Agree (alternate URL)

After examining some factors involved in the well-known polls, he also cites other ones that produced a far different result: a Roper poll from 1997 indicated that 82% among American Catholics believed that "the bread and wine used in Mass are actually transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ." A CARA poll in 2001 found that 70% accepted that "Jesus Christ is really present" as opposed to 30% who thought "the bread and wine are symbols of Jesus." Davidson cites several additional studies and concludes that, while belief in the Real presence is declining somewhat, it is nowhere near as bleak as the 1992 Gallup and 1994 Times/CBS studies made out. It's a case study of how to ask poll questions, and how the question affects the answer. Davidson opined that the 1992 poll (of 519 Catholics) offered four elaborate choices over the phone: the nuances of which would have gone over many people' heads.

A commenter at Catholic Answers Forums, on 9 January 2008, fully understood the factors that go into polls and the results they can achieve (as a sociology major in college, I'm well-acquainted with these sorts of things, and so I should have known better than to uncritically accept the 70% figure, myself):
I keep hearing that figure but I have no idea whether or not it is true. I suspect it is false. No one has ever conducted such a poll of the parishioners in my parish; if they did, I'm confident that number of believers in the real presence would be quite high. Polling is hardly an infallible endeavor. If the source was in fact from a Gallup poll conducted 10 years ago, it would be instructive to see how the questions were worded and how the respondents were selected. What percentage of people believe in the validity of poll data extrapolated to general populations?
Even a non-Catholic who commented two days later understood this:
I'm not Catholic, in fact I am an anti-Catholic. Anyway, in the poll that I saw which is likely the one being discussed here the folks answering the poll had to choose the correct theological definition of the "real presence" from four different answers. I forgot how the answers were worded but not being able to choose the correct techinical definition of a doctrine doesn't mean that the folks rejected the idea. Maybe it means that 70% of the people polled needed to attend better catechism classes but it doesn't prove anything else. So, I am quite sure the number of catholics who believe in the real presence is quite a bit higher than 30%, though they may grasp the theology behind their belief as well as they should.
The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, in the 11 January 2008 issue of the widely-read journal First Things (see alternate URL too), noted similar findings from an even more recent study:

. . . American Catholics Today: New Realities of Their Faith and Their Church, edited by William V. D’Antonio and his sociological colleagues (Rowman & Littlefield). . . .

The research behind the book was sponsored by the National Catholic Reporter, the premier voice of liberal Catholicism in this country, but, to their credit, the authors generally keep their liberal leanings in check. . . .

There are also items of real interest. For instance, 81 percent say that "belief that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist” is essential in their understanding of the Catholic faith. Keep in mind that the survey is of a cross section of the 65 million Catholics in the U.S. (although Latinos are greatly underrepresented). Among the more highly committed Catholics, it is reasonable to assume that belief in the Real Presence is considerably higher than 81 percent. This is worth keeping in mind because some years ago a clumsily worded question in a survey came up with the conclusion that only one third of Catholics believed in the Real Presence, and that “finding” still crops up in discussions on the state of Catholicism. Among active Catholics, belief in the Real Presence, as also in the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection of Jesus, edges up toward unanimity.
In any event, counting heads has no bearing whatever on the status of Catholic dogma and the fact that we Catholics can resolve doctrinal disputes, whereas Protestantism has lost that ability, due to its first principles. This is what Catholic apologists contend -- not that unity automatically occurs in practice, which is obviously not the case, since liberalism and nominalism still are huge problems in Catholicism in terms of the views of poorly catechized individuals, who poorly understand or reject various Catholic teachings. I have dealt with this profound epistemological divide in my paper, Dissident Catholics and Catholic Doctrinal Unity: A Contradiction?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Self-Publishing and "Podunk Publishing" Efforts of Some of the Leading Anti-Catholic Authors (King, Webster, White, Svendsen)


[ source ]

Recently, some prominent anti-Catholics online have tried to make out that I am merely a "self-published" author, when in fact I now have four of my books published by two major Catholic publishers: Our Sunday Visitor (the largest Catholic publisher in the world), and Sophia Institute Press: a highly respected publisher that specializes in Catholic classics. Two of my books had been published by the year 2003; three by 2004, and four by 2007. Shortly, I'll have two more out: one with Sophia (Bible Proofs for Catholic Truths) and one with Saint Benedict Press (a Chesterton quotations book), making a total of six; with many more to come, by all reasonable indications and communications to me by my editors.

As always with these anti-Catholic naysayers, there has to be a glaring double standard. As I was eating my dinner tonight I was pondering a few of the big names among anti-Catholics online and who their publishers were. One of these luminaries of the anti-Catholic online provincial world is Pastor David T. King: the most ill-mannered man, bar none (including atheists and other non-Christians), -- though Gene "Troll" Bridges comes close -- that I've ever encountered online in 12 years. He referred to me recently (3 April 2009) as a "filthy, foulmouthed Romanist".

David T. King is co-author with William Webster of a three-volume set on sola Scriptura: Holy Scripture: the Ground and Pillar of Our Faith (see vol. 1 / vol. 2 / vol. 3 on amazon: currently at a 1 million sales rank or lower, while my books are generally in the range of 10,00-50,000 sales rank). I couldn't recall, sitting at dinner, try as I might, the name of the publisher. Well, after cruising over to trusty amazon, I discovered that it is the publishing industry titan Christian Resources, based in Battle Ground, Washington. Ever heard of them? I didn't think so. You're not alone. I did a bunch of Google searches in an effort to track down this publisher, to see what other books it has published. It took some work, as nothing was coming up.

After some difficulty, and after finding the location of the publisher in a Google Book Search, I finally ran across a website for this operation. And what did I find? Well, sure enough, it is a self-publishing operation. Very impressive, isn't it? Right on the home page, we read:
Christian Resources is a non-profit teaching, apologetics and publishing ministry . . . The director and Founder of Christian Resources is William Webster.
Ah; how difficult it is to publish your own book, without the burden of outside editors, or any quality control. Perhaps there is a board of directors? Maybe; though at this website one obtains no information whatsoever about that, if indeed it is the case. All we find are ten additional books by Webster. I fail to see how this makes him somehow a superior apologist. He publishes 13 of his own books with his own publishing company. I've done 13 of mine with Lulu. The difference, of course, is that I also have four books (soon to be six) with actual publishers, with boards and editors, and theological monitoring by scholars and bishops and priests, and operations independent of little ole Dave Armstrong, whereas Webster and King have none of that. They just have their own books published by themselves.

I thought that at least Webster must have "advanced degrees in theology and philosophy" in order to attain to the sublime title of apologist. So I set out on another difficult searching journey on the Internet, to look for his credentials. Well, I found this:
William A. Webster is a business man, living with his wife and children in Battle Ground, Washington. He has already authored The Christian Following Christ as Lord and Salvation, The Bible, and Roman Catholicism, and is a founder of Christian Resources, Inc., a tape and book ministry dedicated to teaching and evangelism.
Now, that doesn't tell us a whole heck of a lot, does it? We don't even know what business he is in, for heaven's sake. He founded a ministry. Big wow. Many have done that. Who is he accountable to? What denominational affiliation does he have? We learn none of that. All we know is that he has basically proclaimed himself an apologist and publishes his own books. Well, I should qualify that a little bit. His book, The Church of Rome at the Bar of History (1996) was formerly published by Banner of Truth Trust. It is no longer. But at least that is a "real" publisher. Give credit where it is due . . . It specializes in the classics of Protestant history. That being the case, it is quite analogous from a Protestant perspective, to my publisher Sophia Institute Press, which specializes in Catholic classics. Thus, Webster has no more credentials than I do in that regard, and arguably even less.

I continued to search in vain for the man's education or credentials of any sort, other than being a "businessman" and self-publisher. I remembered that he had a chapter in a book in my own library, of several different authors, Roman Catholicism (1994; Chicago: Moody Press, edited by John Armstrong). I thought that might say something about his education and background. And alas, my search ended. On p. 11, in the "Contributors" section I learned that Webster obtained a B.A. from Southern Methodist University in who knows what?, and is a "businessman."

He was the least credentialed contributor of all those in the book (13 in all). That made him (at least at that time) no more formally educated than I am myself, with my B.A. in sociology and minor in psychology (Wayne State Univ., Detroit, 1982, cum laude). Elsewhere, I learned that the degree was in history (not theology), that Webster is a pastor, and that he was a graduate of the Evangelical Institute in Greenville, SC.

That's better, but what degree? The website for this school gives little information on degrees available, or whether it is an accredited institution. On a web page for the U.S. Department of Education about accreditation, I couldn't find the school listed under South Carolina. Perhaps I missed something. But it looks like Webster is little more educated than I am.

Webster's and King's three-volume obscurantist sophistry-fest on sola Scriptura was self-published and co-written by a man with no advanced degrees in theology (King has an M. Div. degree from Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS).

Moving on to Eric Svendsen, here is (finally) a man with advanced degrees of some sort, granted. Who are his publishers, though? Upon This Slippery Rock is put out by Calvary Press, of Merrick, New York: not exactly an industry giant. Same thing for Who Is My Mother? Evangelical Answers: published by Reformation Press, which is such an influential force in evangelical publishing that it currently has four books in print (but alas, not including this one). The North American Distributor is Gospel Mission: Box 318, Choteau, MT 59422. This is clearly a thriving operation.

This is the best that a guy with a doctorate can do? He can't even keep a book in print from way back in 1999? What else can Eric come up with, book-wise? Well, there is always Learning to Master Your Bible: A Guide to Plumbing the Depths of God's Word (2001), self-published and spiral-bound, available for the bargain rate of $26.99 (+ $3.99 S&H). We must snap that up right away! There is also the self-published Table of the Lord (1996). Mighty impressive, all that . . .

The Grand Poobah and (Allegedly) Unvanquishable, Unanswerable Conqueror of Romanists, Rt. Rev. Bishop James R. White does a little better. He has a legitimate degree from Fuller Seminary and a highly questionable "doctorate" from an illegitimate storefront diploma mill (his "doctoral dissertation" was on the Trinity: really original, ain't it? I guess White is the world's biggest expert on that now). Who publishes his vaunted, much ballyhooed books?

Admittedly, his beginnings as a published author were quite humble. He was kind enough to send me three of his early books, when we first debated through the mail in 1995: The Fatal Flaw,  Justification by Faith, and Answers to Catholic Claims (all 1990). These were published by Crowne Publications, out of Southbridge, MA (that's how it is spelled on my copies, but in Google search, the title seems to be "Crown"). I couldn't find a thing about this company online. Somethin' tells me (just a hunch) that they ain't doin' too well these days. We all gotta start somewhere. I don't blame White for this. It is only the lies and double standards I object to.

White does have seven listed books with Bethany House Publishers, which is indeed a reputable, respectable (mostly) evangelical publisher, so he can get the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval in this respect of being published by a "real" and influential publisher, whereas King, Svendsen, and Webster surely cannot.

On a humorous note, however, Bethany also publishes all sorts of books by authors whose theology White would detest: folks whom he would say deny the gospel (yet we don't see White protesting and pulling his books in outrage, just as he abruptly ceased participating in Operation Rescue -- an effort I was also part of -- rather than pray with Catholics). For example, the roster of authors includes Catholics (all friends or acquaintances of mine) Scott Hahn (gasp!!!!), Francis J. Beckwith (including the conversion story, Return to Rome), my own editor at Sophia, Stratford Caldecott, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Christopher and Rachel McCluskey, and Joseph Pearce, as well as a host of Protestants he would consider misguided: Arminians, charismatics (e.g., Derek Prince), liberals (e.g., Clark Pinnock), compromisers on various scores, etc.

New Low in Anti-Catholic Protestant Polemics: Steve Hays Says I Want Child Molesters and Sexual Abusers to be Given Free Access to Children


Well, I suppose I can't say it is completely new. Kevin Johnson went after Catholic apologists en masse in the same way, a while back. So he was the pioneer of this new tactic. Steve "Whopper" Hays (never much of an innovator) merely made it more personal and comes after me with his latest sordid charge (his blog post of 4-25-09), in an attempt to get the spotlight off of real sexual offenders. Anti-Catholic "argumentation" in its finest hour . . .

My words were cited:
Steve Hays is saying today that the very accusation ruins someone's life. Not in Christianity. We are forgivers because that is God's nature. I could just as well argue that King David's reputation was forever ruined because he committed adultery and murder.
From this, Hays -- obviously a man of great intelligence, if not wisdom or ethical profundity, somehow or other deduces the following:
This is a very revealing statement. It helps to explain the mentality which permits Armstrong to remain a Catholic. . . . As long as a predatory priest confesses his sin, then he receives absolution, and he can continue to work with young people. . . .

If a man has a strong sexual attraction to teenage boys, then he shouldn’t be ministering to teenage boys. What could be more obvious? If a man’s a compulsive gambler, would you first forgive him and then put him right back in the casino?

But you can tell from Armstrong’s attitude that if he were the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, he’d do exactly what Bernard Law was doing. And that’s because he shares the same twisted mindset. As long as a predatory priest fesses up in the privacy of the confessional, then it’s time to forgive and forget. At most we reassign him to another parish. He may be a repeat offender, but he’s been forgiven.
It doesn't need to be refuted, of course, so outrageous and patently ridiculous is this charge (and I debated in my mind whether I should respond at all to this filth), but needless to say, Hays can't prove that I have ever advocated such a scenario; can't prove it, because it doesn't exist, so (failing that) he draws the illogical and unfounded conclusion from the data he presents and hopes no one will notice his shameless twisting and lying. And this was the man who was lecturing all of us about -- of all things -- the nature of legal evidence (!!!) some two weeks ago, when a certain sad case was being discussed.

For those who haven't yet perceived the huge logical lapse that occurred here, it involves either not comprehending (or deliberately mispresenting, which is an ethical rather than a logical matter) the distinction between the following two scenarios:
1. X commits habitual, addictive sex crime Y that entailed victim Z.

2. X can and should be forgiven if he repents.

3. Having repented, X ought to be allowed free private access to the class of people from which Z was drawn [in this instance, young girls: the victim being his own daughter], since he won't commit crime Y again, having repented of it.
* * *
1b. X commits habitual, addictive sex crime Y that entailed victim Z.

2b. X can and should be forgiven if he repents.

3b. Even if X truly repents, however, X should never be allowed free private access at all to the class of people from which Z was drawn [in this instance, young girls: the victim being his own daughter], since he will likely commit crime Y again, despite having repented of it; because it is well-known that sexually addictive crimes are extremely difficult to extirpate from the consciousness and behavior of the sex offender.
My position is, of course (and always has been, and never has not been), set of propositions / ethical position [1b-2b-3b]. Hays is caricaturing and torturing my position to make out that it is set of propositions / ethical position [1-2-3].

More specifically, the inexcusable logical error is to assume that 1 and 2 (granting biblical teaching) entail 3, rather than 1 and 2 entailing 3b. He merely assumed that in my head 3 followed from 1 and 2, but it does not at all. It doesn't follow logically and it doesn't morally, incorporating the information that we have learned about such cases of addictive sexual sin. Then he makes an equation between my supposed beliefs and the actions of Cardinal Law in the sexual scandals. Thirdly, he makes out (as did Kevin Johnson) that it is intrinsic to authentic Catholic morality (not just abuses of same) that such an outrage would be sanctioned according to the principles of same. This is slander (with the accompanying slimy anti-Catholicism) of the highest order.

All I said was that a pedophile and perpetrator of incest could be forgiven. If even victims of this outrage are willing and able to do so by God's grace, everyone else should be willing also. I was trying to find some semblance of a positive kernel in this whole sordid affair. That was the context of my remark (4-14-09 on my blog):
"Deb": [Name] has some wonderful articles on her blog about dealing with the scars of sexual abuse. You don't have to be Catholic or even a Christian to find her blog helpful for victims of sexual abuse.

I agree. I think her series is extraordinary, which is why I linked to it months ago (without incident at the time). [Name]'s approach is the biblical, Christian one: all can be healed and there can be reconciliation. But the rest of her family wants none of that. They want to keep the rift going and to blame her.

Steve Hays is saying today that the very accusation ruins someone's life. Not in Christianity. We are forgivers because that is God's nature. I could just as well argue that King David's reputation was forever ruined because he committed adultery and murder.

That's not how God saw it. He decided to include that episode in the Bible precisely to demonstrate His extraordinary mercy. David was forgiven, because he profoundly repented. The covenant with him was not revoked.

If [Name]'s father would simply repent and acknowledge his sin I for one would admire him. If we truly understand the depths of man's sin (as [Name] always emphasizes, being a Calvinist), then this shouldn't be so unspeakable. We're all potentially capable of these sins. It's all around us. Sexual sin is endemic. The thing is to repent of it and move on.

If [Name] can forgive her father, all of us ought to as well. I would be happy to have the whole family over for dinner were this to be resolved.
I didn't say a word about some horrific scenario of allowing a pedophile to be with young girls again merely because he had repented. Hays assumed that what I said entailed that, but it doesn't at all. I was talking strictly about forgiveness, not about the temporal penalties of sin or the clear, understood restrictions that ought to be put on pedophiles. I assumed that was so obvious that no one would imagine in their wildest dreams that I thought otherwise. But I didn't count on the extreme anti-Catholic irrationality and hostility to Catholics that Hays infamously exemplifies. I should have known "Whopper" Hays was capable of doing just that and shameless enough to actually do it, so as to concentrate the focus on exactly all the wrong things and not where the spotlight should be. And so here we are.

Hays (who, note also, wants to keep this ugly controversy going, publicly, not I, by writing this latest ridiculous post of his; whereas I haven't even named any names or made links in this post, save one to the unrelated Kevin Johnson potshot) had cited my same words (yanked from their context, of course) in a combox comment of 4-14-09) and replied as follows:
Of course that's hardly the point. Indeed, that's the polar opposite of the point I was making. If a man is guilty as charged (of incest or child molestation), then the charge ought to ruin his reputation. It would be disappointing if a crime like that didn't ruin his reputation.
My point was quite relevant because if some sin can utterly ruin a man's reputation, then why is it that God didn't revoke the covenant with David: the adulterer and murderer, and why did He use St. Paul (mass murderer of Christians) so wonderfully? Hays isn't even distantly biblical on this score. He vastly underestimates God's grace and mercy and ability to reconcile sinners with each other, as well as with Him. My point was not to put the pedophile back with more of his potential victims (heaven forbid) , but to forgive even the despised, detested pedophile if he would just repent. That's how deep mercy runs.

We're talking about the soul of the perpetrator as well as that of the victim. That is Christianity (love it or hate it). Hays may want every pedophile and child molester to go to hell and rot and be tormented forever. I do not and I don't think God does, either. He wants them to repent of their sin and stop doing it, and to accept His amazing grace and be saved. [Victim Name]'s message is ultimately positive: healing and reconciliation and the necessary acknowledgment of sin that leads to same.

Hays continued in the same comment:
But that's the point–the real point. It's because the charge is so damaging that you should never accuse someone of incest of child molestation unless you know what you're talking about. Especially in the very public medium of the blogosphere.
Exactly. I think if someone was there and thus (not to be crude) was an eyewitness, for ten years, then they indeed "know what [they're] talking about." But Hays will have none of the victim's report. He wants to play games instead and cavalierly dismiss the victim and use the tragedy as a pretext for lying about me, as if I want to see children be sexually abused because my Catholic theology supposedly encourages such evil.

Having discharged his anti-Catholic duty to lie shamelessly, utilizing no logic at all and not a shred of factual documentation for this ludicrous accusation, Hays at least provides an ironically precious example of absurd humor, by lecturing me about the Catholic doctrine of the temporal consequences of sin:
Finally, the comparison with King David is a very ill-considered example to illustrate Armstrong’s point. It’s not as though God simply forgave David and wiped the slate clean, like nothing ever happened. To the contrary, God made David suffer punitive consequences for his sin:

“Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.'…Because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die” (2 Sam 12:10-12,14).
I guess that's why I utilized the same passage in my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, completed in 1996 (on p. 157: anyone can look this up on Amazon Reader), with the comment:
Again, the sinner David was forgiven, but the temporal punishment was not obliterated (his child was to die; particular sins often harm the innocent who have nothing to do with them), as in Catholic teaching.
Thanks for the belly laughs, Steve . . .

In all seriousness, though (I thought we all needed a little comic relief by now), is this not a sickening and revolting scenario? Having argued at the greatest length, with thorough vigor (if not sense) that one victim of relentless incest for years can't be believed because that is all "hearsay," Hays then thinks he is taking the moral high ground by lecturing me (with no reason whatever to think that I think in this hideous fashion) for allegedly not caring about victims of sexual abuse. I'm the one who doesn't care, yet he will wink at and take no stand at all about this one particular case, . . .

I didn't make the charge; I simply believe what the alleged victim is saying (publicly). And what is more like the tragic Catholic pedophile scandal (and many similar Protestant clergy sexual scandals) than turning your head, disbelieving victims' firsthand reports, attacking victims as delusional and unstable, pretending as if nothing has happened, and becoming enablers? That could cause further grave harm to more potential victims and lead to the ruination of the soul of the perpetrator as well. No one helps the alcoholic by putting their head in the sand or under a pillow or doing the "see no evil, hear no evil" monkey routine and pretending there is no problem. Real love will confront the sinner who is himself a victim, because love and Christian compassion wants to see the sin gone and the person liberated from bondage to that sin, through the power that is available in our Lord and Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, to transform lives and turn sinners into new creatures.

And again (I have to make this disclaimer for obvious reasons), in saying that, I am not advocating allowing known sex offenders to be alone with the sorts of persons they have been known to exploit and use and abuse in the past. Absolutely not. Keep them away, for the good of all.

* * * * *

This guy is flat-out amazing and extraordinarily dense: even by the rock-bottom standards of anti-Catholic mentality. Here is how he "responded" on 4-27-09:
Not only was King David forgiven, but he kept his job. He continued to exercise his royal duties. So, by analogy with sexually abusive Catholic clergy–and, remember, this is Armstrong’s own analogy–a Catholic priest who seduces minors should be allowed to keep him job as long as he’s penitent about his crimes.

It’s not my fault if Armstrong’s circuitry is too crisscrossed to think straight. But that’s the clear implication of his argument from analogy. . . .

If, according to Armstrong, confession and absolution is sufficient to rehabilitate the reputation of a child molester, then why not return him to active duty? It’s not as if he has a reputation for pedophilia. For, according to Armstrong, confession and absolution rehabilitate his tarnished image in the eyes of God. So, then, why wouldn’t you allow a pedophile to minister to kids if his reputation is intact?
!!!! Is it possible for a thinking, conscious human being to be this obtuse and noncomprehending? Has his personal derision towards me truly made his brain stop functioning to this astonishing degree? With Hays I often wonder if he is playing and pretending to be an idiot rather than actually being one, in how he "reasons." This sad specimen of "reasoning" won't solve that because it is so utterly ludicrous that one almost has to conclude in charity for Hays' sake that he is playing games: that he couldn't possibly be so dense and clueless.

King David kept being a king, therefore child molesters should be in close proximity to children . . . wow. I don't think Hays' anti-Catholic cronies will be able to top (er, "bottom") this new low. The bar has been set (um, well, buried), and this record will stand the test of time and defeat all efforts to be dumber!