Tuesday, May 06, 2014

How to Use and Navigate My Blog

By Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong (5-6-14)

[Note: links are currently outdated, with my move to the Patheos portal; I'll revise them as soon as I am able to find the time]

When you get to the home page, you'll see seven basic categories listed at the top, underneath the photos and title: http://socrates58.blogspot.com/

* Home
* My Books
* Catholic Apologetics
* Christian Worldview
* Non-Catholic -Isms
* About Me
* Resume

The home page can also be accessed by http://www.biblicalcatholic.com/

"Home" brings you to the home / main page (that's an easy one). "My Books" takes you to my main book page, that lists every book (currently 44 total), with convenient links to purchase instantly in many different ways (including instant download for e-books). This is how I create most of my own income. I do this work full-time, and have since December 2001.

The next three categories are the "heart" or "meat and potatoes" of the blog: with almost all of my nearly 2,500 posts. "Catholic Apologetics" lists all the distinctively Catholic doctrines and people (e.g., Cardinal Newman and Chesterton pages). When you click on it, you get to the "card catalogue" type chart that is a method I have used all the way from the beginning of my original website (begun in 1997).


You'll find 24 categories (three boxes of eight each): arranged alphabetically. Once you go to a particular "topical" web page (I have more than 50 separate ones total), there are almost always further subcategories, to help you select what you need. For example, on my "Bible, Tradition, Canon, and Sola Scriptura" page (the most extensive under this broad classification), there are nine sub-topics, listed at the top:

I. Relationship of the Bible to the Church
II. Tradition (Apostolic)
III. Sola Scriptura (Scripture as the Only Infallible Authority)
IV. Private Judgment
V. Perspicuity (Clearness) of Scripture
VI. Material and Formal Sufficiency of Scripture
VII. The Canon of Scripture
VIII. Deuterocanonical Books (So-Called "Apocrypha")
IX. Alleged Biblical Contradictions and Difficulties

The next broad category is "Christian Worldview": short for "General Christian Worldview and Ethics." This is less "distinctively Catholic" and is devoted mostly to topics and issues where -- broadly speaking -- "traditional" trinitarian Christians pretty much agree. It has eight web pages: C. S. Lewis, Life Issues, "Philosophy, Science, and Christianity," Sexual and Gender Issues, Christmas, "Political, Ethical, and Moral Issues," "Romantic and Imaginative Theology" (think, Tolkien and George MacDonald), and "War and Peace".

"Non-Catholic -Isms" contains web pages that critique or describe many different worldviews besides Catholicism, including Anti-Catholicism, Atheism, John CalvinCalvinism, Martin Luther, Lutheranism, Heresies, Judaism, Liberal Theology, and Orthodoxy (12 web pages total).

"About Me" has lots of personal stuff from different angles: some of it not "theological" at all. If you want to get to know me as a person, and see what I am about, beyond my apologetics and theological arguments, this is the place to go. It lists 24 different web pages that you can select.

"Resume" goes to a single web page: "My Literary Resume," which is literally a listing of all the "official" apologetics work I have done (including much beyond the blog itself) including published magazine articles, books, radio appearances, and cartoon tracts. It gives further information about credentials and affiliations, and includes many personal recommendations and a summary "About Me" section at the end.

This is how one navigates my site. Anyone could learn it in a half-hour max. I get lots of letters asking me, "do you have a paper on so-and-so?" Frankly, I don't have time to reply to all the letters like that, that come in. I provide the "stuff"; folks need to learn how to find it on my site (this is the "training session" to do that), rather than always asking me to find it for them.

It's not difficult for anyone to learn to search and navigate and find what they need. I try to make the blog as user-friendly as I can. There are main categories and sub-categories; also a search bar at the very top of the sidebar. If you learn to type in important keywords for what you're looking for, you'll find something almost every time.

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Thursday, May 01, 2014

Catholic Philosopher Francis Beckwith vs. Mark Shea Regarding Waterboarding

The following exchange is from the combox of a piece entitled "The Boy Who Cried Waterboard," by Zippy Catholic, posted on the What's Wrong With the World website on 29 April 2009. Catholic philosopher Francis Beckwith's words will be in regular black; Mark Shea's in blue. This is (note!) an edited version, to highlight their particular back-and-forth dialogue. To read the whole thing and all the context, follow the link above.

* * * * *

Apparently, KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] went through 5 waterboarding sessions, which consisted of 183 "spills" of water. I could be wrong about this, by the way. But that's the way I understand it.

Having said that, couldn't someone respond this way, "The fact that he went through 183 spills means that it wasn't torture to him. That is, a successful waterboarding is the result of the prisoner believing he could drown based on the sensations he is experiencing. But someone who is mentally tough could overcome those sensations by what he knows to be true, that in fact he is not drowning."


I did not merely say "The fact that he went through 183 spills means that it wasn't torture to him." I said that "someone could say that," which means that "someone," and not necessarily me, "could say that." . . . that's what philosophers do, they think about stuff by suggesting different conceptual schemes. They don't just uncritically repeat the talking points of Moveon.org or Human Events as if they were gospel.

. . . you see what's going on here. If anyone wants to think about this stuff, they are shouted down by extracting their words out of context and offering loaded questions in order to imply bad faith.


Yes. Someone could. In fact, someone has: it's been a standard talking point of the Rubber Hose Right since Limbaugh first proposed it for mass consumption by dittoheads a week or so ago.

Of course, it's an argument of almost preternatural stupidity. But still, you are right: someone could respond with it and lots of people are either born stupid or working hard to achieve stupidity by force of will.

You see, in torture sessions, it's not the victim who decides how many times he will be tortured. It's the torturer. You might as well say that since a woman was gang raped multiple times, that means it wasn't rape to her.

Blackadder's right, Dr. Beckwith. Listen to him. Instead of merely proposing preternaturally stupid responses as hypotheticals, go all the way and analyze why they are preternaturally stupid. Philosophy is, after all, about the love of wisdom.



Fellow philosopher Edward Feser: 

Yes, Frank, only preternatual stupidity or a Cafeteria Catholic Bush-worshipping Ay-rab -hating Dittohead desire to shill for the Rubber Hose Right could possibly (or, to be excessively charitable, at least plausibly) motivate anyone even to raise conceptual questions about what constitutes torture. So, come on now, listen to your moral betters, then go see your confessor ASAP, OK?

I mean, as I noted in an earlier post, it's all just so obvious, right? Nothing more need be said!


I'm sorry, but I cannot teach music to the tone deaf or art appreciation to the blind. If the gang rape analogy could not alert you to the problem of Dr. Beckwith's hypothetical response, no mortal power can put in what God has left out of your critical faculties.


For myself, I have tended to confine my examples of torture to what is unambiguously torture (waterboarding, freezing prisoners, strappado). Of course, there are grey areas where seemingly innocuous things can be used for torture (and have been). But since the Makers of Fine Distinctions are so eager to always pretend that such grey areas are proof we do not torture, I have tended not to bother with them.


I'm attempting to say that a man who is actually tortured and a woman who is actually gang-raped are both at the mercy of the people who are torturing and gang-raping them. The fact that these evil acts are perpetrated against them multiple times is no proof at all that it is not torture or rape to them. To say that it is evidence of this is preternaturally stupid. To mention that "somebody" might say it, without noting the preternatural stupidity of the argument is not what I would call an optimal exercise of the vocation of "philosopher".


As I have already noted, the 183 number is highly misleading.

No. What's misleading is the claim the 183 acts of torture become five acts of torture if you cluster the 183 acts into groups of five.

But that, of course, does not have any effect on the judgment as to whether the act itself is torture.

I actually had not heard Limbaugh's comments on this matter. (I really don't remember the last time I listened to his radio show). I thought of the fictional comments all by my lonesome. That's what we philosophers tend to do. It is not our first thought to reach for the rubber hose remark.

But, of course, it should not matter who says this or that. What should matter is whether one has a good or bad argument, whether one has carefully thought through the issue in question.

Yes. And that's what I addressed: the fact that your (or "somebody's") argument was extraordinarily bad.

As I have said on numerous posts, I carry no brief for torture. I think, as the Church teaches, that torture is intrinsically evil.


There are, of course, clear cut cases of torture. And there are, of course, clear cut cases of non-torture. But there are, whether we like it or not, borderline cases whose intrinsic evil a reasonable and well-informed person may call into question.

The old "What O What is Torture?" gambit. I can answer that in this case. Forcing somebody to undergo simulated drowning once, much less 183 times, is a clearcut case of torture, not a "borderline case". Attempting to argue to the contrary is sophistry.

Consider this example. The Church teaches that active euthanasia is intrinsically immoral, including some acts of withholding treatment that lead to death. On the other hand, there are acts of withholding treatment that lead to death that are not intrinsically immoral. So, if someone were to simply employ colorful pejoratives to distract us from the serious work of thinking carefully and cautiously about these borderline cases--e.g., "killer," "rubber hose right,"--that someone would be planting the seeds of intellectual vice into his listeners. He would be providing the occasion for a person to harm his own soul.

Although I understand Mr. Shea's passion, and indeed respect the tenacity he employs in making his case, I cannot help but think that his pious pose and profane prose do little in reminding his listeners that he is an advocate for the good, the true, and the beautiful.


Mark is boxing with phantoms in his own mind. I'm not defending torture. Never have; never will. What I am defending is thinking rather than emoting and demagoging.

A few things to remember:
1. just because Rush Limbaugh says something doesn't make it wrong.

True. Which is why I never said so. I merely noted that "somebody" has in fact made the point you are making and that lots of other somebody have been repeating it.

2. a sneer is not a rebuttal.

Correct. This is a rebuttal:
You see, in torture sessions, it's not the victim who decides how many times he will be tortured. It's the torturer. You might as well say that since a woman was gang raped multiple times, that means it wasn't rape to her.
And it's a rebuttal you still have not addressed.

3. if in your comments you employ insult as a substitute for argument, don't feign offense when those you insulted push back.

I employed no insult. I described "somebody's" argument as preternaturally stupid, because that's what it is. It lacks intelligence. It does not betray even the rudiments of critical analysis of its huge weaknesses. I took it for granted that you were sincere when you told Blackadder that is it not what you think, but what "somebody" might think. I said that if "somebody" were to actually think that, they would be thinking something stupid and that other (not you) have in fact, expressed this stupid idea. But even that is directed at the idea, not the person. But since I took it for granted that you were not claiming you think it, I said nothing about you at all--except to express my disappointment that you would give voice to "somebody's" hypothetical opinion without noting the gigantic flaws in the argument.

4. if you're going to trot out appeals to human dignity to ground your position, don't be surprised when people are taken aback when you don't treat them with dignity when making your case.

I said nothing about your person at all. I noted that the argument has been popular among the torture defenders I meet in cyberspace (whom I refer to as the "Rubber Hose Right" just not a few here speak casually of the "Moloch-worshipping Left"). I did not say you numbered among them, merely that the argument was popular with them, which it is. Again, my words were directed at the idea, not the man.

5. don't follow leaders; watch the parking meters.

You know, that's just what I tell those who are bending over backward to adore Obama or excuse Bush/Cheney torture policies.

The following comment was in a thread in the same venue under a post dated 25 April 2009:

I think there is a great danger is employing the argumentum ad hitlerum fallacy to either the Vox crowd or those who want to have a serious conversation about what constitutes torture, just punishment, etc. When someone offers a counter-example to your moral position, you owe it to that person, if he or she is serious, to carefully, charitably, and intelligently offer that person a response. Calling such a person names because he or she happens to think that rational discourse is important undermines one of the first principles of liberal democracy: political liberty. A polity that denigrates rational discourse opens itself up to demagoguery and totalitarianism. And if you haven't noticed, we're creeping in that direction.

Every since the 1960s, the "social movement" ethos of self-righteous know-it-alls has inhibited rather than advanced civility.


Waterboarding: Catholic Philosopher Edward Feser's Blistering Rebuke of Mark Shea's Sophistical Polemics

The following excerpts are from the combox of the article, "It's Just So Obvious!": The Case of Torture (Edward Feser, What's Wrong With the World, 2 May 2009). Mark Shea's words will be in blue; Francis Beckwith's in green.

* * * * *
You seem to me simply to be ignoring everything I said about why we need to get clear on what "torture" means before we can pull out these citations as if they were trump cards that should shut off all discussion. Would you say that the Church and the Holy Father are contradicting Scripture, since (as the citations I gave above show) it explicitly says that "torture" can be permissible in principle as a way of punishing the guilty? Presumably not; and neither would I. But how can they fail to be contradicting it? The answer is that they are evidently not using the word "torture" in exactly the same sense as that in which Scripture uses it. But in that case we need to work out exactly what is meant if we are properly to understand the force of the statements in question. . . .


Re: my alleged "contradictions," if you would make some attempt to read what I wrote fair-mindedly and carefully, and in particular to note the distinctions I make between (a) what is intrinsically moral or immoral, (b) what is moral or immoral not intrinsically but only given certain conditions, (c) what is not immoral at all, either intrinsically or given current conditions, and (d) what may arguably be defensible in the light of the total body of evidence from Scripture, tradition, the teaching of the popes, etc., then I think you'll see that there are no contradictions in what I've said. In short, I think you would see this if you would try to engage in a serious debate rather than looking for ways to score cheap rhetorical

Re: whether I have contradicted myself vis-a-vis the specific question of whether waterboarding is torture, here too you are simply playing rhetorical games and not even trying seriously to grapple with my argument. . . .

For example, you have yet to address the question of how to reconcile what you say about torture with Scriptural passages like the ones from Sirach. In the non-normative sense of "torture," what these passages allow for is obviously torture. But it cannot be said that they allow for torture in the newer, normative sense, since Scripture cannot teach moral error. (I'm assuming you agree with this. Or do you think that Sirach is teaching error?) If you acknowledge that passages like Sirach are not teaching error, then you must also acknowledge that inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment is not intrinsically wrong (but at most wrong under certain conditions). And in that case, since one of the purposes of punishment is to deter future disobedience, the U.N. definition of torture you cite is surely inadequate. For isn't Sirach telling us it is OK to "use someone as a means" to secure an end (i.e. future obedience)? Even if you think not, it is hardly obvious that he isn't: These questions aren't as cut and dried as you think, so that it is not appropriate to go around accusing people who disagree with you of being in conflict with Church teaching.

Furthermore, no one is claiming that we have to provide a definition that will cover every single case before we can say anything about the subject of waterboarding. The claim is rather that we have to provide a definition that at least is consistent with everything that Scripture and tradition tell us about the subject. Jimmy Akin proposes one possible definition when he describes torture as "the disproportionate infliction of pain" (thereby incorporating the modern tendency to use "torture" in an inherently normative sense). He argues that this definition best fits all the evidence, and also thinks that there are some cases in which waterboarding a known terrorist to extract life-saving information would not count as torture in this sense. Is he right? I don't know, but his proposal is worth taking seriously, and is an honest attempt to do justice to everything that the Magisterium has taught.


One more point in response to this silly "I guess some people think that not all torture is really torture" nonsense. One finds the same rhetorical game being played by people who think that colleges and universities who require their faculty to refrain from homosexual acts are comparable to racists. "Oh, I see, so some discrimination is not really discrimination, huh?" Checkmate, right?

Of course not. The fallacy here is failing to see that "discrimination" has come to have a normative sense in addition to its older, non-normative sense. The original meaning was just something like "treating people differently." Because some differential treatment is unjust, the word has now come to have a second, normative sense of "unjustly treating people differently." When this is kept in mind, it is obvious that people who oppose racial discrimination but not the faculty hiring policy in question are not contradicting themselves. They might agree that both cases involve discrimination in the older, non-normative sense, but not that they both involve discrimination in the newer, normative sense. To insist that they must be contradicting themselves is just to commit the fallacy of equivocation.

The "Ah, so you think some torture isn't torture, huh?" shtick is no more respectable than this. Everyone agrees that waterboarding is torture in the older, non-normative, descriptive sense. What they disagree about is whether it is torture in the newer, normative, "immoral by definition" sense. Here too, to insist that those who deny that waterboarding is immoral must be contradicting themselves is simply to commit the fallacy of equivocation.

I know this basic point of logic and language robs some folks of a favorite rhetorical move, but them's the breaks.


Dr. Feser says he is begging for light from the Church's teachers. They offer it. If, like you, he now objects that the light offered is unacceptable since it has not been prefaced with "Simon Peter
says" then I have to conclude that the burning need for the Church to give guidance in this matter is not all that burning after all.

Man are you a nasty piece of work. I think I'm done trying to have a discussion with you, civil or otherwise, thank you very much.



Several parables evidently presuppose that severe corporal punishment can be just -- certainly that seems to be the way they were traditionally understood (and for my money, I trust older interpreters over recent ones any day). And then there are all the even more explicit OT texts. I am NOT saying "Therefore waterboarding is OK." I AM saying "Therefore any Christian had better think twice before saying that inflicting severe corporal punishment is 'inherently contrary to human dignity.'" That premise is simply not available to him in the debate over waterboarding. This should be even more obvious when we consider that if capital punishment is in principle just -- as I assume you'd agree the Bible makes crystal clear -- then a fortiori severe corporal punishment can in principle be just. I don't see why you think there is any Protestant/Catholic issue here. Sirach aside, the specific point I am making (about what premises are available in thedebate) applies to Protestants as well as Catholics.

I agree with you that both sides of this debate lump all sorts of things together that shouldn't be lumped together. That's part of my point in this discussion. There's way too much moralistic preening and way too little careful conceptual or theological analysis. And the minute someone attempts such an analysis, some jackass accuses him of hair-splitting, or dissenting from the Magisterium, of denying the  "obvious," or whatever. It's disgusting and depressing, which is why I mainly try to stay out of the debate.


[Relevant verses in Sirach]:

E.g. here's RSV:

33:26: Yoke and thong will bow the neck, and for a wicked servant there are racks and tortures.
33:28: Set him to work, as is fitting for him, and if he does not obey, make his fetters heavy.
42: 1, 5: Of the following things do not be ashamed... of whipping a wicked servant severely.

And here's NAB (a post-Vatican II Catholic version -- note that some
of the verses are numbered slightly differently, given the translators'

33: 27: Food, correction, and work for a slave; and for a wicked slave, punishment in the stocks.
33:29: Put him to work, for that is what befits him; if he becomes unruly, load him with chains.
42:1, 5: But of these things be not ashamed... of beating the sides of a disloyal servant.

And finally, just for fun, Today's English Version:

33: 26: You can use a harness and yoke to tame an animal, and a slave can be tortured in the stocks.
33:28: Work is what he needs. If he won't obey you, put him in chains.
42:1, 5: Here are some things you should not be ashamed of... beating a disloyal slave until the blood flows.


Since you remain absolutely baffled about what the definition of torture even is,

Yeah, that's what I've been saying. I'm absolutely baffled. Totally at sea. Don't know which end is up. Just what I said, spot on. When you can bring yourself to the point of attacking even just a plausible caricature of what I've said, Mr. Shea, and restrain yourself from indulging your taste for the ad hominem, maybe then I'll buy your earlier "Aw shucks, I didn't mean nothin'" routine and return to conversing with you.

I'm sorry you refuse to grant forgiveness

I don't refuse. I forgive you. The reason is that I really do think that you "know not what you do."

Judging from this and other exchanges I've seen, you really, honestly, do not seem to be aware how unfair and needlessly offensive you are. So, I forgive you. But for the same reason, I just don't see much  point in trying to have a discussion with you. The fact that you seriously continue to think that I and others haven't answered, or even tried to answer, your points is one good piece of evidence that there's no point. Why continue when the evidence shows you're just going to continue ignoring, ridiculing, caricaturing, making unfounded accusations, etc. and then expressing shock when someone objects to this?


[Then Francis Beckwith intervenes (referring to the above) with an even more wonderful reply to Mark's nefarious antics (this is what happens when Mark tangles with two great Catholic philosophers)]:

Ed is spot on here. The main reason for my own self-imposed detachment from this conversation--found on this entry and elsewhere--is Shea's apparent inability to entertain two possibilities:

(1) that one can honestly disagree with him while attempting to be true to Church doctrine, and

(2) that queries about definitions and distinctions are not Jesuitical inventions of the inauthentic sadist employed to excuse evil, but rather, serious attempts to advance the common good.


[Mark continued to badger on, so Dr. Feser had to resort to sarcasm, for lack of anything better to do in the face of "dialogical intransigence"]:

OK, I'll take the bait one more time. I know I'll regret it.

The answer to Pope Mark's latest question is No, of course not. The girl is innocent. Not just because she hasn't committed any evil act in the past, but because even if she was somehow "involved" in planning the future act in question, she does not have the level of maturity to be held responsible the way an adult would. So, no, of course she cannot be waterboarded. If that means NYC is toast, then yes, we'll have to accept that, horrific as it is. Because as I've made clear already, like Mark, I believe that we must never do evil that good may come.

Sorry it took me so long to answer. Such a tough question for us pro-torture dissenters, you know. Had to sweat out whatever desperate, half-assed response I could come up with. (Though I see you did generously give us all of 14 minutes before deciding we were stumped.)

Well, either that or it just took me all this time to leave work, pick up my kid from school, and fire up the computer to see what Mark's latest zinger would be.

OK, Mark, your turn. Caricature and condemn away...


This would comport with your earlier remarks that torture to extract confessions is illegitimate but torture to punish may be admissible. I'm still confused by the direct conflict between you and Fr. Harrison who says that torture to obtain information might be fine, but torture to punish is intrinsically immoral.

Dr. Feser: Apparently you've read Harrison as carefully as you've read me. That is, not carefully at all. Fr. Harrison explicitly says:

I do not think that the direct infliction of severe physical pain, as a punishment for duly convicted delinquents carried out by public authority in accord with a norm of law, can be categorized as intrinsically evil.

He then goes on to say that he thinks that in practice it should nevertheless not be used. I agree with both of these judgments. So, there is no conflict between me and Fr. Harrison on this particular point at all. I've made this clear several times, but you keep refusing to read what's in black and white in front of you. Go to the end of part II of Harrison's article and read it for yourself if you don't believe me. I look forward to your acknowledgement of your misreading. It would be a good first step to acknowledging all your other ones.

You'll notice that neither I, nor Harrison in that particular quote, refer to "torture." That's because, as I keep saying, the word is ambiguous. In one sense it just means "the infliction of severe bodily pain." In that sense of the word, and only in that sense, it can't be intrinsically immoral, because Scripture and tradition, never contradicted by the Magisterium or any pope, says that in that sense it isn't immoral. But there is another sense of the word "torture" -- the sense that is evidently being used in Veritatis Splendor, and which Jimmy Akin has plausibly argued is something along the lines of "the disproportionate infliction of pain" -- on which torture is intrinsically immoral, and which I, like you, therefore condemn.

It seems to me that the dispute between us is essentially over whether or not waterboarding, specifically, counts as torture in this second sense. You say that it does, though I have yet to see an argument, or certainly any good argument, for this particular claim. My position is that whether it is torture in this second sense is not clear. It might be, but I haven't seen a compelling argument for that claim. It might also be at least wrong all things considered, even if not intrinsically -- I can certainly see strong arguments for that claim. But until I have a chance to pursue this issue in more depth, I don't have a settled view. I have also said, though, that until the Church clarifies this issue, waterboarding shouldn't be used.

Furthermore, I have never said that what counts as "torture" is a mystery. Like you, I think that there are many clear cases and some not so clear ones. As far as I can tell, we may disagree only about the
specific question of whether waterboarding counts as torture in the second sense. But neither of us defends it.

Now how all this makes me "pro-torture" or in conflict with the Magisterium, I have no idea. Anyway, I thought it worthwhile yet one more time to summarize what I've already said here many times already, in the hope that you might finally see that you have been unfair in characterizing my views.

Re: the "Pope Mark" stuff, I think if you'll go back and read through our exchange, you'll find that the sarcasm did not begin with me. So I flung a little back your way. Sue me, I'm only human...

[Feser opposed the mantra of someone else (one that we have seen over and over in this debate)]:

"If the thesis is that water torture is not obviously torture"

William, if even men of good will like yourself still cannot muster even enough fairness and objectivity to acknowledge that no one is defending such a silly, self-contradictory claim, then it's no surprise that little "headway" is being made -- nor any mystery about whose fault that is.

* * * * * 

Dialogue on Whether Gerry Matatics' Current Ecclesiological Position is Closer to Donatism or Protestantism (vs. Pete Vere, JCL)

By Dave Armstrong (5-1-14)

This exchange occurred on Karl Keating's Facebook page, in a public post (12-25-14). Pete's words will be in blue; Karl's in green.

* * * * *

Karl wrote in his initial post:

For a long time Matatics has made it known that he doesn't think there are any valid bishops or priests left anywhere in the world, unless a few might be in hiding somewhere. 

That was the springboard for my first comment, which was disputed by Pete, and so we went on to what I thought was an interesting dialogue:

* * * * *

If he says there are no priests, bishops, or valid Masses, looks like he has simply reverted to Protestantism. I've been saying for almost 25 years that the further "right" one goes on the spectrum, the more one becomes like both Protestants and heterodox / modernist Catholics. Here's Exhibit #1 of that.

I get the thrust of what you are saying, but not every departure from Catholicism is comparable to Protestantism. Especially since Protestantism is a relative newcomer to historical departures from Catholicism. In this case, I think Gerry's lastest position is more analogous to Donatism.

But the Donatists would have said that they have valid priests and bishops, whereas Gerry says there are none (or hardly any) left anywhere. That is held by several "low church" Protestants: especially non-denominational ones. It's the utter rejection of valid priests (and by logical extension and presupposition, apostolic succession as well), which is Protestant-like. Virtually all Protestants, after all, reject the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Most sedes [sedevcantists: those who say there is no sitting pope] are more like atheists and skeptics than like evangelicals. This is probably why a sedevacantism tends to attract a disproportionately high number of engineers, scientists, and medical professionals. One has to be cautious about stereotypes. 

They ["atheists and skeptics"] are insofar as they are hyper-rationalists and lack faith in some respects (in God's protection of the Church, etc.).

In Gerry's case and in, e.g., Robert Sungenis' case, I think a lot of their errors (not all) can be explained by the fact that they were "insufficiently converted Protestants." They either didn't fully understand Catholicism, or the "Roman mindset," or joined what they set up in their mind as a "fantasy-Church" so that when they found sin in the Church they resorted to radical opinions in order to deal with that.

The hyper-rationalism I referenced above is also seen in some strains of fundamentalist, anti-Catholic Calvinism, as well as in Jehovah's Witnesses, who rationalize the Trinity away.

But error is rarely easy to pigeonhole. It comes from many sources and becomes amalgamated in a new way in the latest fashionable heresies and schisms. The devil is extremely clever in this way. Thus I see sedevacantism and radical Catholic reactionaries in general as a mixture of many kinds of errors.

I don't think I'd call Gerry's position with respect to priests Protestantism. Unlike Protestants, he believes there is a ministerial priesthood. He just thinks the priesthood has had its equivalent of the Great Apostasy. 

Thanks Karl. That's why I see Gerry as more comparable to the Donatists than to Protestantism (outside of Anglicanism and traditional Lutheranism). Gerry believes that a ministerial priesthood was instituted by Christ and passed down, unlike most Protestants.


Hi Karl,

Well, I was going by your description: "For a long time Matatics has made it known that he doesn't think there are any valid bishops or priests left anywhere in the world." [my italics added]

If he still believes in a "ministerial priesthood" yet can't identify a single person in this class, I say that is a distinction without a difference.

Dave, I think the key word here is "left". That's what distinguishes the neo-Donatist from the neo-Reformer.

Additionally, on our side of the border, there is an additional difference in that evangelicals have for the most part shed their histo
rical anti-Catholicism. So many are quite friendly toward Catholicism and Orthodoxy in Canada. In fact, at the evangelical seminary where I am doing a graduate degree in pastoral studies, I actually found myself on All Saints' Day gently correcting my Evangelical brothers and sisters for putting western haloes on Eastern saints.

As usual, Pete, we're approaching this from somewhat different perspectives: both valid, I think. I'm saying that if a person thinks there are no priests to be found at all, obviously he has adopted underlying premises whereby there is no apostolic succession or indefectibility. Those are two aspects that are distinctive of Protestantism and not Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

That's where (I submit) it comes from, both historically and logically (false premises).

Under an assumption of apostolic succession and the indefectibility of the Church, a scenario such as Gerry proposes is (in the eyes of faith) impossible. It cannot happen.

Dave, as usual I think you have brought out the best in me in terms of constructive self-criticism, given that I ran with both traditionalists and Catholic apologists during my time in the Catholic media. I guess my big question is whether it is fair or merely a shortcut to compare every divergence from Catholicism to Protestantism. Personally, I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with such comparisons for two reasons:

1 - At one time Protestantism could be defined by its anti-Catholicism. This is no longer the case today especially since the papacies of St John Paul II, Benedict and Francis who in a world that has grown increasingly secular and violent, were particularly appreciated by many Protestants for providing a strong Christian voice. Additionally, many Protestant denominations and movements are reconsidering ideas that made them Protestant historically. We are really seeing this up here among Canadian evangelicals and the Emerging Church movement, in which Canadian evangelicals are attempting to re-embrace Christian Tradition, as well as distinguish and distance themselves from their American counterparts.

2 - Protestantism is a relative newcomer historically. Its key underlying ideas had first been rejected by Catholics not at the Council of Trent, but previously at the Second Council of Nicaea -- aka the Seventh Ecumenical Council. In fact the council opens with a former iconoclast bishop (Basil of Ancyra) renouncing a series of iconoclast doctrines -- including that of Sola Scriptura. This floored me. Keep in mind that Second Nicaea is one of the seven councils we hold in common with the Eastern Orthodox, and it takes places in 787 -- over seven centuries before Martin Luther and John Calvin appear in human history.

I think we need to resist the temptation to Tridentinize every controversy. Not that Trent was unimportant as a Church council. However, like Vatican II, Trent was not some sort of super-council that trumps all other Church councils. Moreover, I think taking a much more robust approach to the first Seven Ecumenical Councils would benefit both the traditionalist movement and the apologetics movement. Actually, this is why my favourite features in This Rock/ Catholic Answers Magazine were generally the Patristic features.

"my big question is whether it is fair or merely a shortcut to compare every divergence from Catholicism to Protestantism."

I don't do that in the first place so it is a red herring. E.g., I agreed above that the hyper-rationalism of sedevacantism als
o has similarities to atheists and Jehovah's Witnesses (a non-trinitarian sect that is not Protestant). In this case I have made the comparison, for the reasons given (which have not been overthrown, as far as I can see).

You guys say Gerry believes that the priesthood class exists, but I noted that if he can't identify even one real priest, that it is a distinction without a difference. It's like believing in unicorns but never being able to produce one. That has little meaning beyond being a fairy tale or myth.

Anti-Catholicism is also irrelevant to my analysis, which has to do with anti-clericalism or anti-sacerdotalism, and ahistoricism. I myself would have rejected a strict apostolic succession and (at least partly) the priesthood when I was an evangelical and I was never anti-Catholic at any time. I was anti-institutional.

Nor do I see how Protestantism being "a relative newcomer historically" has any bearing on my point. Gerry believes no priests can be found. That's consistent with Protestantism, but not Donatism (the latter would say that true priests could be found in their ranks, but Gerry says they are absent, period). Thus the main observation we have made about his position is in harmony with my comparison to low church Protestantism.

Trent is irrelevant to my analysis as well. I never mentioned it (nor the early councils). When I do mention Trent in relation to Protestants, I often note that it said that their baptism was valid.

Lots of interesting comments, Pete (as always); they just have little or nothing to do with my argument. :-)

As for my own interest in patristics, I've now edited three books of patristic quotes and wrote a book on development; and the one on Orthodoxy discusses the fathers a lot, too. Thus, I have no disagreement at all that the period is supremely important. Church history was the biggest reason why I became a Catholic.

I also made a comment above that is directly contrary to the assertion that I "always" compare errors among Catholics to Protestantism:
"But error is rarely easy to pigeonhole. It comes from many sources and becomes amalgamated in a new way in the latest fashionable heresies and schisms. The devil is extremely clever in this way. Thus I see sedevacantism and radical Catholic reactionaries in general as a mixture of many kinds of errors."

So in Gerry's case, I would note that the hyper-rationalism is similar to atheism and secular thought in general; I already said that it is also similar to theologically liberal Catholics, as well as Protestantism. With respect to his view of clergy or lack thereof, in particular, I think it is clearly most analogous to Protestantism.

If he had said, "there are a small number of true priests found over here or over there," then I would have agreed that it was more similar to Donatism and other rigorist schisms (I've compared radical Catholic reactionaries to those times without number, as any search on my site would reveal), but the fact that he can't find any suggests to me an anti-sacerdotal form of Protestantism at bottom.

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