Monday, August 31, 2009

Jesus' "Brothers" Always "Hanging Around" Mary: Is This Proof that They Are His Siblings?

By Dave Armstrong (8-31-09)

This exchange occurred on the CHNI forum. The person who asked the questions is, by his own description, "Raised RC, denominational orphan, post-Protestant." I suspect that he may have come up with this question through the influence of a Protestant source or direct challenge (but maybe not). He is seeking answers, and I gave a shot at providing what I thought was a decent Catholic reply to his query. As usual, when I try to answer a question, I learn a lot myself. That is one of the joys and benefits of apologetics. His words are in blue, others' in green and purple, and mine in black.

* * * * *

Okay, so here’s an old question with (I think) a new twist. I’m now trying to come to terms with the Church’s teaching on the perpetual virginity of Mary and exactly who the ‘brothers’ of Jesus were. I’ve read all kinds of apologetics on the subject, but there’s one thing that no one seems to address that keeps nagging at me and I can’t piece together: why were the supposed brothers & sisters of Jesus, who were not Mary’s actual children commonly pictured in Scripture with her? Like I’ve said, I’ve read most of the common apologetic books and online material I could get my hands on so I don’t need all the common arguments repeated. I know the Greek word adelphos meant brother, and it was actually a transference of a middle-eastern phrase ‘brother’ since there was no word for [cousin] in Aramaic or Hebrew. My understanding is that after St. Jerome wrote his tract Against Helvidius, the Church has generally accepted that the brothers were probably Jesus’ cousins. However, for a theory to work, it has to coinhere – that is, all the parts have to fit together in a coherent way. But no apologists ever seem to explain why these ‘cousins’ of Jesus are commonly pictured with Mary.

In Matthew 12.46, it says Jesus’ mother and brothers are outside the house trying to speak with him, and in Matthew 13.55 these ‘cousins’ are listed together with Mary. This seems somewhat odd in a middle-eastern culture in which sons were more commonly listed as being the son of their father as Scripture often does. So I guess what I’m wondering is whether someone can point me to some good references to account for what is happening with these cousins who always seem to be hanging out with their aunt Mary? If one or two of them were listed or were going along for moral support it would make sense, but 6+ cousins listed with their auntie and all tagging along in a gaggle for moral support doesn't really make a lot of sense. But perhaps there's cultural info that I'm not aware of that someone can point me to that will make better sense of this picture. In contrast, I understand that in the earliest Church it was generally believed that these ‘brothers’ of Jesus were older children of Joseph (who was widowed) from a prior marriage (i.e. step-brothers to Jesus). This to me would make more sense – that step-brothers of Jesus would naturally be pictured and listed with their step-mother. It kind of puzzles me that most Catholic apologists (and the western Church) turned away from several hundred years of tradition at the time of St. Jerome to follow a new and novel idea that the ‘brothers’ were actually Jesus' cousins. I find it odd that the Church made this sudden right turn away from a long held tradition, whereas in many instances something like this is used as an argument that something should be believed: because the Church had held to it for hundreds of years from apostolic days. Any thoughts & suggestions as to how to think about all this? Am I free to hold to either viewpoint regarding who the brothers were if I came into the Church? I'm puzzled because even the catechism indicates the brothers were sons of another Mary (500) - which makes me think this has now been definitively defined. Even if not, I would still feel like the odd man out since everyone seems to be on the ‘cousins’ bandwagon, but from what I can see there’s a few serious holes in that that viewpoint that no seems to address from an apologetics perspective which leaves me perplexed. Any help and insight would be appreciated.

If Mary had male children other than Jesus, it would have been a HUGE insult to them for Jesus to entrust her care to the apostle John who was not a "blood" relation.

Unfortunately, this is the standard Catholic response which I've seen many times, but doesn't really answer MY question above. Why were the supposed cousins of Jesus always pictured as hanging out with Mary? I find the standard Catholic response to this question is not an answer at all. Instead, all there seems to be to this question so far is more perplexing questions thrown my way - but I'm hoping someone will be actually be able to answer the questions rather than evading them with more questions. All I want is the truth & to get to the bottom of things wherever that may take me. Thanks!

Have you had a chance to go to His questions like yours go even farther into the logic of letting our minds go. Here lets take one of his arguments very similar to the unanswered loose ends curiosity you have discovered. Also, we see from Mt. 27:55-56, that the James and Joses mentioned in Mark 6 as the "brothers" of Jesus, are actually the sons of another Mary. And, one other passage to consider is Acts 1:14-15, "[The Apostles] with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and with His brothers...the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty." A company of 120 persons composed of the Apostles, Mary, the women, and the "brothers" of Jesus. Let's see there were 11 Apostles at the time. Jesus' mother makes 12. The women, probably the same three women mentioned in Matthew 27, but let's say it was maybe a dozen or two, just for argument's sake. So that puts us up to 30 or 40 or so. So that leaves the number of Jesus' brothers at about 80 or 90! Do you think Mary had 80 or 90 children? She would have been in perpetual labor! No, Scripture does not contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church about the "brothers" of Jesus, when Scripture is properly interpreted in context.

The step-brothers scenario would be one plausible answer. I believe that is preferred by the Orthodox Church, and as far as I know (I'm not absolutely certain), it is a permissible option for a Catholic to believe. We are required to believe in Mary's perpetual virginity, meaning that she was always a virgin and had no other children, and that Jesus' birth was a miraculous one, not (far as I know without checking) in any particular hypothesis accounting for the exact nature of the relationship of these persons called Jesus' "brothers" in Scripture, according to standard Hebrew / Aramaic cultural custom.

If indeed they are cousins (as I am inclined to believe, from extensive exegetical examination: see the "Perpetual Virginity" section of my Blessed Virgin Mary web page for all those in-depth arguments), I think the way to answer this would be to better understand the nature of the ancient Hebrew extended family.

Here is a description from a website called Ancient Hebrew Research Center. It is referring more so to the nomadic, OT period, but I suspect that in Jesus' day it wasn't all that different:

    The family, children, parents and grandparents, all resided in one tent. The clan consisted of the extended family, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc, all residing in one camp and may contain as many as 50 to 100 tents laid out in a circular pattern. When the clan becomes too large for one area to support, the tribe splits into two clans (see Genesis 13). All the clans (all being descended from one ancestor) may cover hundreds of square miles making up the tribe. As an example, the house of Moses, of the clan of Levi, of the tribe of Israel.

The Hebrew "household" (if not virtually always) often would contain extended family members. It was not like our nuclear families of today. For example, in the book, Families in Ancient Israel (Leo G. Perdue, editor; Westminster John Knox Press, 1997) we find this description:

    The familial roles of males in the household's kinship structure included those of lineal descent and marriage -- grandfather, father, son, and husband -- and those lateral relationships -- brother, uncle, nephew, and cousin.

    (pp. 179-180)

The household often even extended to sojourners or hired laborers (ibid., p. 199). In this book, the "household" is casually described as including cousins. For example:

    The line of responsibility to serve as the household's or clan's "goel"* began with the brother, then the uncle, then the cousin, and, finally, any close relative.

    (p. 192)

* = "redeemer", or the one "responsible for the justice and well-being of the family."

The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (edited by Allen C. Myers, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, rev. ed., 1975) makes the nature of the Israelite family very clear, by noting that it could include more than one nuclear family (thus, cousins would be residing together):

    The basic social unit, comprised of persons related by kinship and sharing a common residence. The Israelite family was an extended family known as the "father's house" or "household" (Heb. "bet-ab"), consisting of two or more nuclear families (i.e., a married couple and their children) or composite families (an individual with multiple spouses and their offspring) . . . other kin (including grandparents), servants, concubines, and sojourners might also be reckoned part of the household (cf. Gen. 46:5-7, 26).

    ("Family," p. 376)

Moreover, on the next page, this reference work noted that clans also usually "occupied the same or adjacent towns." Extended families stuck together. It was like a perpetual family reunion. This would easily account for first or second or third cousins (all referred to as "brothers" in Semitic or Near Eastern culture (then and now) all "hanging around" in one place.

In a fascinating article, "The 'Brothers and Sisters' of Jesus: Anything New?," François Rossier notes how the NT use of "brothers" when meaning "cousins" might be explained, by analogy:

    This plurality of interpretations has been made possible because of the ambiguity of the word "brother" (and "sister") in ancient Hebrew. This language, like Aramaic, does not distinguish between blood brother and cousin. In fact--and this point might not have been taken into sufficient consideration--the Hebrew word "ah," in its literal meaning, applies to any close male relative of the same generation. Once someone belongs to this circle--whether as sibling, half-brother, step-brother or cousin--he is an "ah." Within this circle defined by true family brotherhood no further word distinction is made. For ancient Hebrew, one belongs either to the family in-group or not. . . .

    The psychological and anthropological reality of speaking and writing in a language of another culture is, however, more complex. I was able to witness it when I was living in Abidjan, the major city of the Ivory Coast, in West Africa. It is today a big city of about four million inhabitants that grew up in a zone originally scarcely populated. The sparse original population was not able to absorb the waves of immigrants coming from all over the former French colonies in West Africa. The only language all these people had in common was French, and French became thus the native language of Abidjan. In most native languages of West Africa, no distinction is made between a "brother" and a "cousin," whereas such a distinction exists in French. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Abidjan, whose mother tongue is French, who have been raised and educated in French, continue to use the French word for "brother" when they speak of a "cousin." Using the French word for "cousin" would betray the way they envision social and family relationships. When the people of Abidjan want to specify that "brother" means a true blood sibling, they need to add "same father, same mother" ("même père, même mère"). Full siblings are a particular kind of brothers; they do not constitute the benchmark of brotherhood. The socio-cultural milieu of the authors of the New Testament is Judaism. So, we can accept the idea that, even if their text does not suppose a Hebrew or Aramaic substrate, in their use of Greek words they would naturally convey the way their own Judaic society and culture envision social and family relationships. . . .

    Nowhere in the New Testament are the "brothers" of Jesus also identified as “sons of Mary” within the same context. Whereas, again in Mark 6:3, Jesus is identified as "the son of Mary" by the people of Nazareth.

* * * * *

Further exchanges since the first posting:

Thanks Dave A. You da' man! Your reply and articles really helped - especially that last article since the book it references Mary in the New Testament is one of the texts I've been looking through. From thinking this over the past week, it seems that based on Scripture alone a conclusive argument can't be made that the 'brothers' of Jesus were necessarily half-brothers. And like the rest of Scripture, who the 'brothers' were needs to be understood within its context or tradition - which has been that Mary has always been a virgin - including subsequent to the birth of Jesus. I think I can accept this with intellectual integrity. From what you posted I can see that the cousin argument has merit and it's something I'll have to mull over some more.

However, one thing I am still puzzled about is how the Catechism can seemingly define the 'brothers' to be cousins in paragraph 500, and yet I've read in various places that Catholics are still free to hold to the step-brothers theory. But doesn't the fact that the 'brothers' are spelled out in the Catechism as cousins close the door to any other possibilities and define what must now be believed? I'm thinking there must be something here I'm not understanding.

CCC #500:
    Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. 157

    [Footnote 157: Cf. Mk 3:31-35; 6:3; 1 Cor 9:5; Gal 1:19.]

    The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, "brothers of Jesus", are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls "the other Mary". 158

    [Footnote 158: Mt 13:55; 28:1; cf. Mt 27:56.]

    They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression. 159

    [Footnote 159: Cf. Gen 13:8; 14:16; 29:15; etc.]

The Catechism here only refers to James and Joseph, not all the "brothers" of Jesus. And it does because there is explicit biblical indication (I've written about it myself) that these two are sons of another Mary. This would (logically) leave an option open for other possible explanations for additional "brothers" (cousins, more distant relatives, or step-brothers). The dogmatic part (long since settled by the Church) remains the negative appraisal on siblings of Jesus: "The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary."

"They are close relations" may refer (it's not clear to me) to all such "brothers" or to James and Joseph only. But either way, "close relations" could easily refer either to cousins in close proximity or to step-brothers. In Semitic culture there is less of a distinction of the fine categories because the family was mostly regarded as extended rather than primary, as we know it in modern urban, western culture.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Erasmus Was an Orthodox Catholic, Not a Theological Liberal or Quasi-Protestant

By Dave Armstrong (8-24-09)

This claim seems to come up not infrequently. Perhaps Erasmus said a few unorthodox things here and there. I don't know. I haven't read every word of his. But what I have found on this score confirms his orthodoxy. Here is an exchange on the Coming Home Network Board with Brian T., a member:

On another board, I and some others (including a Catholic) were discussing Erasmus. The others (including the Catholic) were basically saying that Erasmus wasn't Catholic because 1. he opposed those in authority, 2. he did not affirm the infallibility of the Pope, and 3. he had some doubts about the canonicity of certain books of the Bible. I maintained that he was Catholic, because he opposed the abuse/behavior of those in authority, not the authority itself, and that infallibility of the Pope and canonicity of the books of the Bible was not ecumenically affirmed until councils that occurred after his death (and that given his statements on adherence to the church, he would have submitted to the Church -- as Jerome did -- if he had lived to see those councils). Now, I'm no expert on Erasmus, but am I basically correct? Or do I have to go back and apologize?

I recall Erasmus saying that he always intended to uphold the teaching and orthodoxy of the Catholic Church. This is one reason he was horrified by Luther's rhetoric and the whole Protestant revolt: because he was at heart a traditionalist. He could criticize hypocrisy and corruption in the Church without throwing out its doctrines, as Luther and other Protestants did. I think you're essentially right and they are wrong.

Thanks Dave, I will be going through these links, not just for Erasmus information in general, but also as part of my ongoing study of what really went on during the Reformation. As for Erasmus himself, another source is The Life and Letters of Erasmus, compiled by Froude in the 1800s. Here are some of the things Erasmus said as recorded in some of his letters in that book (I did not find these myself, I collected these as a result of a Google search):
"As to the Eucharist, let the old opinion stand till a council has provided a new revelation. The Eucharist is only adored so far as Christ is supposed to be present there as God. The human nature is not adored, but the Divine nature, which is Omnipresent. The thing to be corrected is the abuse of the administration." (Life and Letters of Erasmus, p. 345)

"Such problems may be discussed among the learned. For the vulgar it is enough to believe that the real body and blood of our Lord are actually present." (ibid., p. 386)

"From the time when I was a child I have been a devoted worshipper of St. Anne. I composed a hymn to her when I was young, and the hymn I now send to you, another Anne. I send to you, besides, a collection of prayers to the Holy Virgin. They are not spells to charm the moon out of the sky, but they will bring down out of Heaven her who brought forth the Sun of Righteousness. She is easy to approach. (ibid., p. 86)"

"I have sought to save the dignity of the Roman Pontiff, the honour of Catholic theology, and the welfare of Christendom." (ibid., p. 262)

"I have not deviated in what I have written one hair's breadth from the Church's teaching." (ibid., p. 162)

"I am not so mad as to fly in the face of the Vicar of Christ." (ibid., pp. 271-272)

"The Holy See needs no support from such a worm as I am, but I shall declare that I mean to stand by it." (ibid., p. 270)

"The Pope's authority as Christ's Vicar must be upheld." (ibid., p. 275)

"You may assure yourself that Erasmus has been, and always will be, a faithful subject of the Holy See." (ibid., p. 279)

"The Lutherans alternately courted me and menaced me. For all this, I did not move a finger's breadth from the teaching of the Roman Church." (ibid., p. 340)

"I will bear anything before I forsake the Church." (ibid., p. 355)

"But never will I be tempted or exasperated into deserting the true communion.... I will not forsake the Church myself, I would forfeit life and reputation sooner.... Doubtless I have wished that popes and bishops and cardinals were more like the apostles, but never in thought have I desired those offices be abolished. There may be arguments about the Real Presence, but I will never believe the Christ would have allowed the Church to remain so long in such an error (if error it be) as to worship a wafer for God." (ibid., p. 365)

"they sing the old song. Erasmus laughs at the saints, despises the sacraments, denies the faith, is against clerical celibacy, monks' vows, and human institutions. Erasmus paved the way for Luther. So they gabble; and it is all lies." (ibid., p. 421)

Also, from Protestant historian Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church, vol. 6:

Here it is enough to say that Erasmus desired a reformation by gradual education and gentle persuasion within the limits of the old Church system. . . . He and Luther never met, and he emphatically disavowed all responsibility for Luther’s course and declared he had had no time to read Luther’s books. . . .Erasmus never intended to separate from Rome any more than his English friends, John Colet and Thomas More. He declared he had never departed from the judgment of the Church, nor could he. "Her consent is so important to me that I would agree with the Arians and Pelagians if the Church should approve what they taught." This he wrote in 1526 after the open feud with Luther in the controversy over the freedom of the will.

§ 69. Reuchlin and Erasmus.)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bishop "Dr." [???] James White: Reformed Baptist Grand Poobah of Anti-Catholic Polemicists (Index Page for Dave Armstrong)

[White informed me in an old dialogue on bishops in the early Church (10 January 2001), that he was a bishop: "I am an elder in the church: hence, I am a bishop, overseer, pastor, of a local body of believers"]

Related Web Pages:


John Calvin: a Catholic Appraisal 
Calvinism and General Protestantism: a Catholic Critique

Martin Luther: a Catholic Appraisal  

Lutheranism: a Catholic Critique 

Persecution and Intolerance (Historic Protestant)


Is Catholicism Christian?: My Debate With James White (+ Part Two) [March-May 1995]
[see also a very nice second posting with the entire debate on one web page, from Phil Porvaznik]



The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:6-30) vs. Sola Scriptura and James White

James White Takes Up a Critical Review of My Book, The Catholic Verses [12-29-04] 

James White's Critique of My Book The Catholic Verses: Part I: The Binding Authority of Tradition [12-30-04]

Part II: Rabbit Trail Diversion [12-30-04]

Part III: Massive Ad Hominem Tactics  [12-31-04]

Part IV: Shots at My Former Protestant Knowledge and Reading  [12-31-04]

Part V: White's Befuddlement and My "Knowing Deception"  [1-1-05]

Part VI: Penance [1-2-05]

Anti-Catholic Critique of The Catholic Verses Looming ("Saint and Sinner") / James White's Inability to Grasp the Very Purpose and Nature of the Book

Refutation of James White: Moses' Seat, the Bible, and Tradition (Introduction) (+ Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Parts VII and VIII) [5-12-05]
St. Athanasius Was a CATHOLIC, Not a Proto-Protestant (+ Counter-Reply to James White on Tradition, etc.) [12-26-07]


Second Public Challenge to James White to Engage in a Live Debate in His Chat Room / White Declines Within 12 Hours / Dumb Photo Controversies [3-6-07]

James White's "Dare" to Post His Links / My Reciprocal Challenge: Why Not Return the Favor and Also Reply to Eight of My Critiques? [3-29-07]

Bishop James White Struggling Mightily to Comprehend Catholic Doctrine (As Much as 13%!) / James White's Alleged Numerous "Stalkers" [6-9-07]

James White on the Glories of Cross-Examination (And His Continued Refusal to Do a Live Chat Debate) [3-8-07]

Final Exchange with TAO on the Silliness of His Debate Refusal and Also James White's Refusal [1-31-08]

Radio Interview: 15 February 2008 / The Extreme Honor of Having Bishop White "Reply" For 45 Minutes!!! / Is James White an "Intellectual Coward"? [2-18-08]

My Basis For Refusing to Debate Anti-Catholics Any Longer Exactly the Same as James White's, For Refusing to Debate Certain Catholics [7-7-09]

James White is Correct About One Preferable Aspect of Oral Debate (Relevant to Jason Engwer's Recent Systematic Fleeing from My Opposing Arguments) [1-14-10]

Bishop James White on the Book of James: His Juvenile "Challenge" Will be Met [10-7-13]

[Lulu cover design by Dave Armstrong]

[click on book cover for book and purchase info.]



Comparative Exegesis of Hebrews 8 / Sacrifice of the Mass [3-31-04]


"Live Chat" Dialogue on Patristic Consensus (Particularly, Mariology) [12-29-00]

Dialogue on Whether the Assumption and Immaculate Conception of Mary are Legitimately Part of Apostolic Tradition [June 1996]

"Whitewashing History": Critique of James White's Book, Mary -- Another Redeemer? (William Possidento and Dave Armstrong vs. James White) [3-12-04]

Dialogue on My Critique of James White's Book, Mary -- Another Redeemer? (particularly with regard to the differing views on early Mariology of Protestant Church historians J. N. D. Kelly and Philip Schaff) (vs. "BJ Bear") [9-7-05]

James White Gets His Wish!!! So-Called "Marian Stains" [4-23-05]


Pope Silvester and the Council of Nicaea [1998]

Is James White Really This Clueless? (The Mythological "Liberal" Pope Francis) [Facebook, 12-4-14]

James White's Unbiblical Objections to "Holy Father" and "Vicar of Christ" [Facebook, 12-6-14]  


The Calvinist Doctrine of Total Depravity and Romans 3:10-11 ("None is Righteous . . . No One Seeks For God"): Reply to James White [4-15-07] 




James White's, Eric Svendsen's, and Jason Engwer's Glowing Tributes to Pope John Paul II [4-5-05]

"Excus-a-Getics": James White Opts Out of Answering My Nine-Part Refutation, With Ridicule [5-27-05] 

Listen to James White Become Unhinged and Yell at and Patronizingly Preach to Jonathan Prejean on Dividing Line [3-29-07]  

James White's Reply to my Recent Critique / The "Vow Breaker" Bum Rap [4-4-07]

Reply to James White's Unwarranted Trashing of Protestant Philosopher and Apologist William Lane Craig / Does Dr. Craig Believe in Original Sin? [4-11-07]
Reply (at His Request) to James White's Aspersions Upon Dr. Francis Beckwith With Regard to the Latter's Return to the Catholic Church [5-6-07]

James White: Anti-Intellectual? (Double Standards in "Anti" Language Yet Again!) + His Latest Hit Piece and Continued Refusal to Do a Chat Room Debate [7-12-07] 

James White's Hypocritical Sense of Humor [8-20-07]

James White Readily Grants Possible Legitimacy to the Flimsiest "Evidence" That Padre Pio Faked His Stigmata [10-25-07] 

Anti-Catholic Reformed Baptist James White's Bizarre Obsession With Insulting and Smearing Catholic Apologist Steve Ray [4-5-09]

Bishop James White's Unbounded Admiration and "Respect" for My Apologetic Work (Particularly in Reply to John Calvin) [1-8-10]

Another Anti-Catholic Gem at My Expense from Bishop "Dr." [?] James White [Facebook, 11-20-14]

Bishop White Honors Devin Rose with a Caricature [Facebook,  1-11-15]

Anti-Catholic "Logic" According to Bishop "Dr." [?] James White [Facebook, 1-13-15]




"Man-Centered" Sacramentalism: The Remarkable Incoherence of James White: How Can Martin Luther and St. Augustine Be Christians According to His Definition? [11-26-03]

Last updated on 9 April 2015.


Quiz on Early Protestant Disharmony Regarding Eucharistic Beliefs

By Dave Armstrong (8-23-09)

Who said this?:

1) It is enough for me that Christ’s blood is present; let it be with the wine as God wills. Before I would drink mere wine with the Enthusiasts, I would rather have pure blood with the Pope.

And this?:

2) . . . Zwingli, Karlstadt, Oecolampadius [Protestants] . . . called him a baked God, a God made of bread, a God made of wine, a roasted God, etc. They called us cannibals, blood-drinkers, man-eaters . . . even the papists have never taught such things, as they clearly know . . . For this is . . . how it was accepted in the true, ancient Christian church of fifteen hundred years ago . . . When you receive the bread from the altar, . . . you are receiving the entire body of the Lord; . . .

And this?:

3) [I]f Luther has so great a lust of victory, he will never be able to join along with us in a sincere agreement respecting the pure truth of God. For he has sinned against it not only from vainglory and abusive language, but also from ignorance and the grossest extravagance. For what absurdities he pawned upon us in the beginning, when he said the bread is the very body! And if now he imagines that the body of Christ is enveloped by the bread, I judge that he is chargeable with a very foul error. What can I say of the partisans of that cause? Do they not romance more wildly than Marcion respecting the body of Christ? . . .

And this?:

4) In their madness they even drew idolatry after them. For what else is the adorable sacrament of Luther but an idol set up in the temple of God?

And these statements?:

5) May I be lost if he [Martin Luther] does not surpass Faber in foolishness, Eck in impurity, Cochlaeus in impudence, and to sum it up shortly, all the vicious in vice.

6) Let Luther acknowledge that he is being led by a spirit far different from that of Christ.

7) Besides, we godless and unforbearing "un-Christians" must put up with having these holy and moderate teachers revile us as idolaters and having our God called the baked God, the edible and potable God, the bread-God, the wine-God, and ourselves called God-forsaken Christians and such names. This altogether venomous, devilish abuse exceeds all bounds. Now a person would rather be upbraided for being full of devils than have a "baked God."

8) . . . “loathsome fanatics” . . . “murderers of souls” . . . [who] “possess a bedeviled, thoroughly bedeviled, hyper-bedeviled heart and lying tongue” . . . [who] “have incurred their penalty and are committing ‘sin which is mortal’,” . . . “blasphemers and enemies of Christ” . . . “God’s and our condemned enemies”.

9) . . . “full-blown heathen” . . . “I am certain that Zwingli, as his last book testifies, died in a great many sins and in blasphemy of God.”

10) He went so far as to call Zwingli a non-Christian (Unchrist), and ten times worse than a papist (March, 1528, in his Great Confession on the Lords Supper). . . . He saw in the heroic death of Zwingli and the defeat of the Zurichers at Cappel (1531) a righteous judgment of God, and found fault with the victorious Papists for not exterminating his heresy (Wider etliche Rottengeister, Letter to Albrecht of Prussia, April, 1532, in De Wette's edition of L. Briefe, Vol. IV. pp. 352, 353).

[see answers below]

1) Martin Luther, in Althaus, 376; from the early 1520s; cf. LW (Luther's Works), vol. 37, 317.

2) Martin Luther,
Brief Confession Concerning the Holy Sacrament, September 1544; LW, 38, 291-292.

3) John Calvin, Letter to Martin Bucer, January 12, 1538; in Dillenberger, 47.

4) John Calvin, Letter to Martin Bucer, June 1549; in Bonnet, V, 234.

5) Ulrich Zwingli, Letter to Conrad Sam of Ulm, August 30, 1528; in Grisar, III, 277.

6) Martin Bucer, 1527; in footnote 19 in Luther's Works (LW), vol. 37, 21, for Luther's treatise, That These Words of Christ, "This is My Body," Etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics.

7) Martin Luther, That These Words of Christ, "This is My Body," Etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics, LW, vol. 37, 22; directed towards the Protestant "sacramentarians": those who denied that Christ was truly, substantially present after the consecration of the elements (folks like Oecolampadius, Bucer, and Zwingli).

8) Martin Luther, Brief Confession Concerning the Holy Sacrament, September 1544, in LW, vol. 39, 292, 296, 302, 316; describing Protestants Zwingli, Karlstadt, and Oecolampadius.

9) Martin Luther, ibid., LW, vol. 29, 290, 302-303; describing Zwingli.

10) Protestant historian Philip Schaff, describing Martin Luther's view of Zwingli; The Creeds of Christendom, Vol. I, 1877, revised 5th edition of 1884; this is from the 6th edition from 1931; Chapter Six, section 45; p. 260 [online link] )


Althaus, Paul, The Theology of Martin Luther, translated by Robert C. Schultz, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966.

Bonnet, Jules, editor, John Calvin: Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters: Letters, Part 2, 1545-1553, volume 5 of 7; translated by David Constable; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983; reproduction of Letters of John Calvin, volume II (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1858).

Dillenberger, John, editor, John Calvin: Selections From His Writings, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co. (Anchor Books), 1971 (Calvin’s letter to Martin Bucer in 1538 was translated by Marcus Robert Gilchrist).

Grisar, Hartmann, Luther, translated by E.M. Lamond, edited by Luigi Cappadelta, six volumes, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1915.

Luther, Martin, Luther's Works (LW), American edition, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan (volumes 1-30) and Helmut T. Lehmann (volumes 31-55), St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House (volumes 1-30); Philadelphia: Fortress Press (volumes 31-55), 1955.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Catholic Perspective on Creation and Evolution / Charles Darwin's Religious Beliefs: Some Thoughts

By Dave Armstrong (8-19-09)

From exchanges on the CHNI board:

David W. Emery, fellow moderator:

Catholic dogma on creation states only two things: Whatever exists came into being because of God’s creative and providential action; and Adam and Eve were real people, the sole progenitors of the human race. How God created and formed the universe in its present form, or whether some sort of evolution of species took place under the guidance of his providence is for science to discover. So far, all we have is theories, so the divine revelation that has come down to us is all we know for sure. You can therefore believe what you will concerning the scientific part.

Whether we were created from dust and dirt and clay in one second or created from dust and dirt and clay via other living creatures over millions of years seems to be no different in terms of what is more "objectionable" -- going into any sort of scientific inquiry. I think we need to make sure our opposition isn't merely emotional. Who's to say God couldn't have done it over millions of years?

I think our real battle with regard to science is with scientific materialists, who think there is no God and that science can explain everything whatsoever. That is the bottom line. The materialist view cannot be squared with a Christian view, but an evolutionary view easily can. It's a matter of determining what science has demonstrated or not.

And I write, by the way, as one who has been (most of my life) a "progressive creationist." That has been my position but now I am more of an agnostic on the whole question. I'm far more concerned, as an apologist, with atheism.

I am wanting to become Catholic, unfortunately I have come upon a huge road block for me. As a creationist I was happily going to join the church, assuming like some other evangelical churches, that the Catholic Church taught Genesis as historically accurate. I recently found out that the Church allows evolution. Evolution was Darwin's way to support his atheist views, and to discredit God's wonderful work of creation. Evolution mocks God and his existence. It’s like an artist who painted a picture and told us how he painted it. To then come along and say "I don't agree with how you say it happened. You were just writing a poem, and I think the painting formed and changed over the billions of years." It also mocks us as being made in His image. Did He evolve too? I was so excited to be Catholic, and though it was really hard to understand some teachings, I was able to embrace them. I told people I was becoming Catholic, even in the face being of ridiculed, mocked, etc. My heart is deeply saddened. I know the Church is seeking the truth. They have made Mary's Assumption dogma, and I am fine with that. Why can't they make creation dogma for Elohim who made the heavens and the earth, the animals, and lastly man in His Image? It is mockery of God to deny His majestic work of creation. Now to make things worse, my husband and my children are all excited about becoming Catholic, and I can no longer do so (until I can reconcile these opposing viewpoints). I wish the pope would just state that the Bible is true, that God created the heavens and the earth, and man did not evolve because God made Him in his image. How can one even call themselves a Christian, and deny the creation account? I am deeply saddened. I love the Catholic church, but I can't join and lie by saying I agree with everything they teach.

I understand that some Protestants and Catholics embrace theistic evolution. I don't know if I could join a church that denied the creation account laid forth in Genesis. Please enlighten me on what exactly does the Church teach on creation. Since the Church only teaches ex cathedra on faith and morals, is it possible they could err in their teaching on science? Saying both sides believe in theistic evolution, doesn't help explain what the Church teaches. I am wanting to join the Catholic Church but have this stumbling block in my way.

The Church has not denied the notion of God as Creator at all. It is Catholic dogma.

How He created is a different matter. Our true enemies are those who deny that God created and that He is involved in the natural world at all (or those who deny that He exists at all), not those who believe that He used evolution as the means to create.

The Church teaches that God created, that there was a primal human pair, Adam and Eve, and that they fell, and the human race fell in and with them. If that is denied, original sin would go with it. Theological liberals believe that, but not the Catholic Church. We teach that the fall was real and literal. We are also required to believe that God creates a human soul at conception: an act of special creation that cannot be measured by science, since it is not dealing with matter.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church treats the question of creation extensively (#279-314).

Anyone is perfectly free to believe in creationism and be a Catholic. No one is required to believe in evolution. All of that involves scientific questions beyond the purview of the Church (dogmas have to do with faith and morals).

I reiterate in the strongest terms that our true enemy is the materialistic atheist view. Evolution is not synonymous with that. We need to get beyond the merely emotional reaction against evolution. Argue against it from science (I do myself, by citing Intelligent Design), but not strictly an emotional plane. This need not be any stumbling block to being a Catholic. It's not a question of denying the Genesis accounts, but of how to properly interpret them. The language has a latitude that doesn't require, e.g., believing that "day" (Hebrew, yom) has to mean 24 hours. It does not. We need to watch that we are not importing Protestant fundamentalist dogmas into Catholicism.

One Catholic apologist, Robert Sungenis, has arguably done that, by insisting that geocentrism is true (the entire universe rotates around the earth). Not only that; he also thinks that the earth doesn't rotate. 99.999% of scientists would reject such notions, but because he is interpreting the Bible hyper-literally in places that do not require that at all, he arrives at such questionable conclusions. It's a faulty method of Bible interpretation that has led him to this.

* * * * *

By the way, Charles Darwin was definitely not an atheist at the time he wrote On the Origin of Species in 1859. It is thought that he increasingly lost faith later on, but the work that had such influence was already written, and it was not from an atheist perspective (at least if we take his words at face value). This is easily seen in his mentions of a "Creator" in the book. For example, from Chapter Six: "Difficulties of the Theory":

    He who believes in separate and innumerable acts of creation may say, that in these cases it has pleased the Creator to cause a being of one type to take the place of one belonging to another type; . . .

    Have we any right to assume that the Creator works by intellectual powers like those of man?

    . . . may we not believe that a living optical instrument might thus be formed as superior to one of glass, as the works of the Creator are to those of man?

In Chapter 15: "Recapitulation and Conclusion," he writes:

    Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual.

The very last sentence of the book, in the same chapter, mentions God as Creator:

    There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

The Wikipedia article, "Charles Darwin's Views on Religion" is instructive:

    On the Origin of Species reflects theological views. Though he thought of religion as a tribal survival strategy, Darwin still believed that God was the ultimate lawgiver, and later recollected that at the time he was convinced of the existence of God as a First Cause and deserved to be called a theist. This view subsequently fluctuated, and he continued to explore conscientious doubts, without forming fixed opinions on certain religious matters. . . . Though reticent about his religious views, in 1879 he responded that he had never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God, and that generally "an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind." . . .

    There was close correspondence between Darwin and his American collaborator Asa Gray, a devout Presbyterian who discussed with him the relationship of natural selection to natural theology and published several reviews arguing in detail that they were fully compatible. Darwin financed a pamphlet publishing a collection of these reviews for distribution in Britain. In one 1860 letter to Gray, Darwin expressed his doubts about the teleological argument which claimed nature as evidence of god, though he was still inclined to vaguely believe in an impersonal God as first cause:

    With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.– I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I (should) wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.— Let each man hope & believe what he can.

    In his autobiography written in 1876 he recalled that at the time of writing the On the Origin of Species the conclusion was strong in his mind of the existence of God due to "the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist." . . .

    In a letter to a correspondent at the University of Utrecht in 1873, Darwin expressed agnosticism:

    I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide. I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came from and how it arose. Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering through the world. I am, also, induced to defer to a certain extent to the judgment of many able men who have fully believed in God; but here again I see how poor an argument this is. The safest conclusion seems to me to be that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man's intellect; but man can do his duty. . . .

    In November 1878 when George Romanes presented his new book refuting theism, "A Candid Examination of Theism" by "Physicus", Darwin read it with "very great interest", but was unconvinced, pointing out that its arguments did not rule out God creating matter and energy at the beginning of the universe, with a propensity to evolve. If theism were true, "reason might not be the only instrument for ascertaining its truth".

    In 1879 a letter came asking if he believed in God, and if theism and evolution were compatible. He replied that a man "can be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist", citing Charles Kingsley and Asa Gray as examples, and for himself, he had "never been an Atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God". He added that "I think that generally (and more and more as I grow older), but not always, that an Agnostic would be a more correct description of my state of mind."

    Those opposing religion often took Darwin as their inspiration and expected his support for their cause, a role he firmly refused.

The article contains several footnotes to corroborating sources.

So sure, the record is quite mixed and ambiguous, but it seems clear at least that Darwin was not a flaming atheist. He was inclined to a vague theism (certainly not trinitarian Christianity) but was ultimately agnostic as to the absolute proof of the existence of God. That's still quite different from a hostile atheist position, though it is quite arguable that he was inclined in that direction, especially in later years. As usual, the truth is far more interesting and stranger than the myths that surround influential figures like Darwin.