Monday, August 31, 2009

Is reincarnation taught in the Scriptures? (part 2)

Having examined the weak arguments in favor of reincarnation from the Gospels, we now turn to a much more difficult passage from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom which, at face value, seems to teach some sort of reincarnation, or at least the preexistence of the soul.

In Wisdom chapter 8 we read the following, in which the author speaks about how he came to attain wisdom:

As a child I was by nature well endowed,
and a good soul fell to my lot;
or rather, being good, I entered an undefiled body (Wis. 8:19-20)

This verse at the outset seems extremely problematic, for it appears to be teaching the preexistence of a soul - a soul that can be good or bad and "enters" a body that is more or less "defiled" based on its degree of goodness. Though most New Agers are not well enough versed in the Sacred Scriptures to pick up on this verse from the Book of Wisdom, some philosophers and modernist exegetes have pointed to this verse as supporting the notion that many of the Jews of the Old Testament believed in reincarnation, and that this belief is actually Scriptural.

Of course, Eastern beliefs in reincarnation were quite foreign to Judaism - there was only one group in the sphere of the ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world which held to the belief, and that was the Platonists.

Plato had advocated the hypothesis that each soul, upon death, is reincarnated in another body. Some souls are reborn immediately after drinking from the "River of Forgetfulness" (Lethe) while others who were especially wicked had to undergo a period of purifcatory torment in a purgatory-like state before being reborn. Like in Hinduism, the degree of happiness enjoyed in the next life by the reborn soul was related to how good or wicked it had been in the previous life. Platos' full theory of reincarnation is developed philosophically in the dialogue Phaedo and is stated in mythic terms in book 10 of the Republic, in the section commonly called 'The Myth of Er' (click here for text).

Was there any Platonic influence on the writer of the Book of Wisdom? Back in the days when it was becoming fashionable to attribute all of the Sacred Scriptures to the influence of other religions, some did make the case that Wisdom, especially Wisdom 8, is directly influenced by Platonic thought.

Without going into the exegetical details, most scholars today, even liberal ones, reject any Platonic origins for these verses, pointing out that the Book of Wisdom teaches the futility of trying to know the truth from the created world apart from the special wisdom that comes from God (see Wis. 9:6); the author is writing Wisdom against a pagan philosophical world-view that believed in the capability of reason to know the absolute truth without divine illumination. Platonic philosophy was the epitome of the thought that Wisdom is written to refute and it is highly unlikely that the author would have made use of a Platonic argument in an effort to disprove pagan philosophy.

Furthermore, even if Wisdom 8:19-20 may seem to imply a preexistent soul, it does not give any indication that this soul once existed in another body - that is, if it did imply the soul's preexistence (which I don't concede), it would be more in the Origenist sense in which the souls of individuals are created and exist before they are incarnated in bodies but have no prior carnal life. At the most we could argue that Wisdom 8 supports the preexistence of the soul but it definitely does not assert reincarnation.

So what is the best way to understand these verses? Is the soul preexistent? Of course the answer to that is a resounding 'no.' Let's look at the verses one more time:

As a child I was by nature well endowed,
and a good soul fell to my lot;
or rather, being good, I entered an undefiled body
(Wis. 8:19-20)

First we need to see that the author is not taking us back to some time before birth, but is talking about his upbringing - "as a child." The first verse simply states that the author was born with a good disposition: a good intellect, healthy curiosity about the world and a desire to do good.

When we come to the second line, "a good soul fell to my lot," we have to understand that when the Old Testament speaks of a "soul" it is not in the same manner that we today are accustomed to using the phrase. As the catechism points out, the term soul usually refers to the heart of man, or the seat of his personhood, meaning the place where he makes decisions and ultimately chooses for or against God (CCC 363-366). So when the Scriptures say a "good soul fell to my lot" the author is not making a metaphysical statement about how he received his particular "soul"; rather, he is simply repeating what is said in the previous verse (a literary technique called Hebrew parallelism) in stating that as a child he had a naturally good disposition. It is common human experience that some children are naturally disposed to have a certain personality - some kids are quiet and introverted, some not so much so. The author merely states that he was born and raised with a good disposition and good character.

But the real tricky part comes in verse 20, where the author attempts to clarify his statement by saying "or rather, being good, I entered an undefiled body." Setting aside issues of translation and different versions of the Scriptures (some say the better translation would be "I entered a body undefiled", making the adjective "undefiled" to modify the soul that entered the body, not the body itself), we could still argue that this does not support the preexistence of the soul.

The main reason for this is that it would contradict what the author says only a few chapters later, in Wisdom 15, where it is said of the wicked man:

...he failed to know the one who formed him and inspired him with an active soul and breathed into him a living spirit (Wis 15:11).

Here the traditional understanding of all souls as coming from God as their source is affirmed, using the Genesis language of God "breathing" souls into men an animating them out of His own unique creative act that is new for each individual. It would be very difficult to reconcile Wisdom 8 with Wisdom 15 (and Genesis 1 for that matter) if we were meant to read Wisdom 8 in a New Age sense.

We should not be overly literal when reading passages about a soul or spirit "entering" man, as in Wisdom 8 and 15. We know that these are metaphors the Scriptures use to describe how God vivifies the body by the infusion of the soul, something nobody really understands. It can be truly said that at the moment of conception, a soul created immediately by God "enters" the embryo to bring about new life. Language about souls "entering" bodies needs to be read in light of the narrative of the creation of man in Genesis and not in any Hindu or New Age context foreign to the culture of the time.

The reason this language about a soul "entering" a body sounds odd is simply because the subject of the sentence is the soul where usually we speak about the soul as the object or direct object. For example, "God breathed into Adam a living soul," versus "the soul of Adam entered him." Both sentences say the same thing but have different emphases. Saying "the soul of Adam entered him" does not imply a preexistence inasmuch as we understand it to be saying the same thing as "God breathed into Adam a living soul," and both are metaphors for a creative process that is shrouded in the depth of the veil of divine mystery.

The only remaining question is this issue of the soul entering an "undefiled body" - this seems to indicate that the body, at the time of birth or creation, can already be in certain states of purity or defilement, and that this is somehow related to the goodness of the soul that goes into it.

Again, we must not read our own philosophical context onto what the passage is saying. Nothing in this passage henceforth has made any mention of preexisting souls, but simply of God-given natural dispositions; it is in this light that we must look at the verse. This cannot be any reference to Platonism at any rate, because according to Plato, the body itself is a defilement. The idea of a soul possibly entering an undefiled body would not be a Platonic thought at all - according to Plato, even the souls of the righteous are weighted down by a carnal form that is the source of all defilement. Wisdom 8:20 is certainly not Platonic in any sense, nor should it be read in anything other thanh an ancient Jewish context. If we temper this passage with what we know from our Lord's words, that it is what proceeds from the heart that defiles a man, not what goes in to the body (Matt, 15:11), we can easily interpret this passage in consonance with the rest of the Scriptures.

First, while the body itself, strictly speaking, cannot be a source of "defilement", we know that the degree to which a person's fleshly or bodily life is or is not sinful depends on the condition of the soul, as our Lord teaches and as even Plato acknowledges (an unjust soul leads to unjust actions). A man with an upright and virtuous soul will live his bodily life in an austere and temperate manner, while a person with an intemperate soul will be more prone to sins such as gluttony, lust and avarice. The quality of the soul determines the quality of the life. This is a fundamental spiritual truth and this is what Wisdom 8:19-20 is teaching. Wisdom 8:20 simply means that because the author had a good and temperate disposition, he was not prone to sins which defile the body. This is simply our Lord's teaching in Matthew 15, put in an Old Testament context in which ritual defilement and impurity was still very important.

At any rate, there is much more that can be said about this, but I think this suffices.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Is reincarnation taught in the Scriptures? (part 1)

This is a topic that gets brought up from time to time by New Agers and gnostics - the assertion that Jesus Christ and the early Christians believed and taught reincarnation. Anyone who really knows the Scriptures and understands their cultural context will balk at this assertion and rightly find it laughable; as far as I know, I have only written on reincarnation on this blog once before. This time I am going to go through some of the verses in the Scriptures brought forward by New Agers which they claim point to reincarnation and debunk these ridiculous claims.

The most popular (indeed, almost the only) Scripture brought forth in support of reincarnation is from Matthew 17, where Jesus is speaking to the disciples about how John the Baptist is the Elijah that was prophesied to prepare the way for the Messiah:

The disciples asked him, "Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?" Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist (Matt. 17:10-13).

The claim is that Jesus is here saying that John the Baptist was the reincarnation of the Prophet Elijah, since Jesus says that Elijah "comes" but has also "already come", we are led to conclude that John the Baptist must be the literal Elijah reincarnated.

A very cursory reading of Scripture is enough to debunk this, for it is clear that Jesus is not saying John in the literal Elijah returned to earth - rather, he is one who comes, as St. Luke tells us, "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17). The Book of Malachy has prophesied the coming of "Elijah" before the Day of the Lord, and St. Luke and St. Matthew tell us that it was John the Baptist who fulfilled this prophecy by coming in the "spirit" of Elijah - that is, by taking up Elijah's ministry.

But advocates of reincarnation will say that the words of St. Luke, that John came "in the spirit and power of Elijah", should be taken in the sense that the literal spirit/soul of Elijah and his very life force ("power") entered John, and thus John truly is a reincarnated Elijah.

This is what we fall into when we attempt to read the Scriptures in the light of other cultural or religious vocabulary that are foreign to the Judaic-Christian context. In the Old Testament, the "spirit" is always something from God that comes upon the prophet or anointed one in order to fulfill a certain mission - it is rarely taken to mean a literal soul of a person, and if it does, the context is clear.

Consider the famous passage of the Messiah from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God (Is. 61:1-2).

In the case of the Messiah, this Spirit is the Holy Spirit of God, which quite literally comes upon Him at His baptism and flows from Him by virtue of His divine nature and union with the Father. But in the case of other, human prophets such as David, Ezekiel, Isaiah, etc., the spirit that the Bible refers to is a spirit of prophecy given by God, and in this sense "spirit" can be equated with "power", just as it is in St. Luke's Gospel when he mentions "the spirit and power of Elijah." The "spirit" that comes upon these men is a divine power from God that gives them the ability to perform whatever task God calls them to. Some examples:

The book of Judges says of the Judge Othniel: And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the LORD delivered Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed against Chushanrishathaim (Jud. 3:10).

And of Gideon: But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered after him (Jud. 6:34).

And of Samson, whose mighty power came from God's Spirit: And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent [the lion] as he would have rent a kid, and [he had] nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done (Jud. 14:6).

In the case of King Saul, we see the spirit being poured out upon him to work the gift of prophesy:

And when they came thither to the hill, behold, a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them (1 Sam. 10:10).

But to get back to the case in point, Elijah, we see that not only is the spirit poured out upon him for the gift of prophesy and the working of miracles, but that this spirit is transferable. Here is the account of the taking of Elijah in 2 Kings 2 (notice the function of the Spirit of the Lord):

And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, "Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee." And Elisha said, "I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me." And he said, "Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so."

And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces. He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, "Where is the LORD God of Elijah?" and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over. And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, "The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha." And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.
(2 Kings. 2:9-15).

The spirit of Elijah was passed on to Elisha as his successor. In verse 15 the prophets say plainly that Elisha now possessed the "spirit of Elijah." This helps us to further understand the words of St. Luke about St. John the Baptist coming in the "spirit of Elijah." It is the power and authority of Elijah that is passed on, not his literal spirit in the sense of a soul. If John the Baptist is the reincarnation of Elijah because it says John came in his "spirit and power," then Elisha would have to be a reincarnation of him as well, since he, too, had the "spirit of Elijah." But ths is nonsense because (1) Elisha and Elijah were contemporaries and neither could be reincarnation of the other, and (2) Elijah never died, so even if reincarnation was possible, it would not be possible in his case since he was taken alive from the earth.

Another verse brought up occasionally is Matthew 26:52, in which Jesus says,

"Whoever lives by the sword will die by the sword."

The argument is that since not everybody who takes up the sword literally dies by the sword (some violent men survive and live to an old age or die naturally), the import of Jesus' words must be that these men will die by the sword in another life - i.e., they will be reincarnated, and then die by the sword in their new reincarnated existence. I found this argument on a website attempting to prove reincarnation is biblical.

Well, I'm not going to waste much time refuting this one, save to say that nobody has ever interpreted Jesus' words here in a strictly literal sense; i.e., that every single person who lives a violent life or lives by the sword will literally die violently. Jesus is not giving us a literal, theological truth but is uttering a proverb. Proverbs are pithy sayings that usually impart some common sense about an issue and are generally true.

Another example of a proverb is "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Prov. 15:1). As a rule of thumb, this is generally true: gentle words are more effective in defusing volatile situations than harsh ones - but there may be exceptions, and certain angry persons may be just as outraged by a gentle word than an angry one. But the Scriptures are not asserting this proverb to be universally absolutely applicable in all situations - they are merely giving us a common sense statement that, if we live by, will make us more godly.

In the same sense, Jesus is telling us that, as a rule, violent people meet violent ends. This is certainly true - those who make their living by violence tend to eventually run afoul of somebody more powerful or violent than them and come to a bloody end. But there are certainly exceptions, like King David, for example, who lived his whole life by the sword but died peacefully in his bed. If we simply understand that Jesus is giving us a proverb and not a absolute theological dogma in the narrow sense, His words to St. Peter can be easily understood without having recourse to reincarnation to explain them.

These two texts about John the Baptist and living by the sword provide very weak arguments for reincarnation. Ironically, there is a string of verses in the Bible that, taken out of context, could be used to support reincarnation much more soundly than either of the ones quoted above. These verses are found in the Book of Wisdom, and I have never seen them quoted in support of reincarnation - probably because those who argue in favor of a biblical case for reincarnation are themselves ignorant of much of the Bible. But, it's best to deal with it any way so this stupid but popular New Age assertion can be put to rest.

We'll follow up with the Book of Wisdom in part 2.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Obama: In the shadow of the Antichrist

Is Barack Hussein Obama the Antichrist? Many people are thinking along these lines. A Google search of the terms "Obama" and "Antichrist" brings back 10,100,000 pages. A more refined search of "Is Obama the Antichrist?" yields 514,000. Since the sudden rise of the hitherto unknown Barack Hussein Obama to the highest office in the world, many have speculated about the possibility that Barack Obama could indeed be the Antichrist that is to come before the ending of the world.

Now, I personally do not believe that Obama is the Antichrist. I think if he were the Antichrist, the quasi-religious veneration we see of him today by his devotees would be even more absurd and frightening than it is now; furthermore, I think we would see less dissent. As it stands, a very large number of Americans are upset with Obama. The real Antichrist will have a more universal appeal than Obama and will not suffer from the kinds of criticism that Obama gets regularly. There are other factors as well, but I don't think it is worth arguing about. Barack Hussein Obama is not the Antichrist.

However there is a connection between Obama and the Antichrist inasmuch as Obama, I think, represents a kind of "rehearsal" for the coming of the Antichrist by the powers of darkness. Of course, the first epistle of John tells us that the spirit of Antichrist is present wherever someone denies Jesus (1 John 4:3), but we know from Revelation, from the constant teaching of the saints and Church tradition that before the end there is to come a singular deceiver called the Antichrist (or "the Beast") who will lead the world into error and apostasy and persecute the Church.

Anytime a ruler does these things, he is a type of the Antichrist. Henry VIII was one of the devil's rehearsals for the Antichrist, as were Nero, Frederick II, Hitler, Robespierre and any ruler who uses his charisma and influence to attack and persecute the Church while promulgating a false spirituality. In this vein, we can see how Obama falls along these lines - a charismatic ruler who spurns the teachings of Jesus while allowing himself to be venerated as a kind of pseudo-Messiah. These historical rulers are all types of the Antichrist to come, and thus we can discern a little bit about what the coming of the Antichrist will be like by looking at the circumstances surrounding the lives of his historical predecessors, including our own president.

First, we could cite Obama's meteoric rise to power as typical of the Antichrist's own ascension. While the Scriptures never say that the Antichrist will rise from obscurity or come to power quickly, I think we can deduce this as a logical necessity given what the Antichrist will try to accomplish. In Obama's case, if he had been on the political scene for decades (like Kennedy or Bill Clinton), we would know him intimately and would have scrutinized him from every angle. People would have substantial knowledge about him and would be incapable of whipping up the novel religious enthusiasm that comes with a well-known and well-established personage. St. Hippolytus, in his treatise "On Christ and Antichrist," notes several of the phrases applicable to the Antichrist in the Old Testament, which he centers on the Israelite tribe of Dan, and mentions certain words like "leap", "spring", "swiftness" in connection with the coming of the Antichrist, suggesting a sudden appearance on the world scene (On Christ and Antichrist, 14-15). When the Antichrist does come, his appearance will be sudden, his rise swift, and his background elusive.

Second, we could mention Obama's claim to be a uniter of people. The first thing we have to mention here is that the Antichrist, in order to rule the world, must necessarily be a great uniter of men, and since time immemorial Christians have viewed the Antichrist as a man who speaks peaceably to unite but strikes out ruthlessly against opponents. St. Paul says that the end will come at a time when men are crying for peace (1 Thess. 5:3), while Revelation portrays the end as coming amidst a period of intense warfare. Is it peace or war? How can we resolve this?

The obvious answer, and one most Christians have adopted, is that the Antichrist initially comes as a great uniter and a man of peace, but once in power, quickly reveals himself to be a man of blood. We can compare this to the manner in which Obama claimed to bring hope, change and bipartisanship, but in reality seeks domination and suppression of those who oppose his agenda. The Antichrist to come will also come as a man promising peace and brotherhood, but will quickly establish that this "peace" is the same kind of peace Islam promises: one of total submission enforced by the sword.

Third, the Antichrist will be adored with religious devotion and even worshipped. While Obama is not (as far as I know) openly worshipped, we can see a trace of the Antichrist's spiritual agenda in the quasi-messianism with which people venerate him. If you are sickened and frightened by how the press and the Obamites in the world speak about the President, then you have a foretaste of the way in which future generations of secularists will fawn over and adore the Antichrist, only in the latter case the devotion will be outright, explicit, and (eventually) mandatory.

Finally, we could cite the way that Obama supporters cling stubbornly to their pseudo-Messiah and his bankrupt ideologies in bland ignorance of the facts and the truth. If you have ever thought of Obama supporters as brainwashed, then you are getting a glimpse of the mental hold that the Antichrist will one day exercise over his supporters. The Antichrist will cause people to believe wholeheartedly in the most blatant lies and despicable untruths while convincing them to utterly ignore or disbelieve in obvious facts which are inconvenient to him. Many have asked, "When the Antichrist comes, how will he deceive people? Won't we all see these signs being fulfilled and know it is him?" To the elect, perhaps, but to the majority of the world applies the words of our Lord and St. Paul:

If anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect (Matt. 24:23-24).

And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess. 2:11-12)

The people will be deceived not by any natural power of persuasion (though he will be immensely persuasive as well), but by a strong supernatural delusion which comes upon them, fortified by lying signs and wonders worked by the power of the devil.

In conclusion, Obama is part of an overall strategy by the powers of darkness. This is a dress-rehearsal, a dry run, of what will be coming at the time of the end. The devil is not ready to bring forth the Antichrist yet, but he is testing the waters by sending someone who resembles him in order to see how Christians react, to see whether they are alert or spiritually lazy. Right now, many Christians are united in opposition to Barack Obama, and the devil sees that the time is not yet - but it is short. This is how the devil operates, and the gloablists who do his will. They push a little until there is a reaction and then back off; push, backoff, push, backoff, but all the while making incremental progress, thus wearying people of the fight and slowly accustoming them to accept as tolerable what they once would not have tolerated, and to take as a good what was once considered evil. When the world has been nudged far enough and the time is ripe, the evil one will appear.

This is a win-win strategy for the devil, at least as far as Obama is concerned. On the one hand, if the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama is a success, then people will be more amenable to more ungodly socialist-utopian schemes and will more easily fall for an even more deviant demagogue in the future, thus paving the way for the eventual coming of the Antichrist. On the other hand, supposing Obama utterly fails and the economy and the nation are trashed even worse than they currently are, then people will ever the more clamor for a strong leader to come and fix their problems and will more readily yield up their liberties in exchange for someone who promises to "fix things." Either way the devil wins, because people have lost the unction to do things for themselves and look only to their leaders to "make everything right" and "fix" everything. Whether or not Obama succeeds, the air is ripe for the appearance of the Antichrist so long as people lazily wait for some government or strong executive to come take care of business for them rather than take hold of their own destiny.

So while Obama is not the Antichrist, he certainly is a shadow of him and gives us a terrifying glimpse into what type of mania we can expect before the end. All the pieces are in place for the end game to start - but while the devil will have his momentary triumph upon this earth, we know how the story ends and Who is really in control.

A few months ago I put together a little booklet on the End Times that you can purchase here through It is about 64 pages and contains a compilation of everything pertaining to the end of the world in the Scriptures and the Catechism and a commentary on how Christians have generally interpreted these passages. For some reason, the cover looks blurry on this link, but it is not blurry in real life. While I am not (generally) an alarmist, as time goes on we do need to always have these thoughts in the back of our minds.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Timing of the Council: Accident or Design?

Some Catholic commentators, when discussing the plague of liturgical abuses that spread throughout the Church following the Second Vatican Council, attempt to explain this phenomenon by pointing out the fact that Vatican II occurred during the 1960's, and thus though it was noble in intention, was swept up in the mood of the time and the general spirit of rebelliousness in the acsent during that vile decade, and that this is a sufficient explanation for the chaos that innundated the Church in the subsequent years.

I whole-heartedly agree with the above estimation - the Council was sabotaged precisely because it did have the misfortune to take place during one of the worst decades in history. But when examining the Council in light of its historical context, we must ask the following question:

Knowing that the 1960's was rife with a widespread revolutionary spirit, was the timing of the Second Vatican Council an ignorant "accident" by a Magisterium that was unaware of the times, or was it intentionally scheduled during the 60's in order to most effectively harness the revolutionary spirit?

Conservative apologists, by rule of thumb, are usually desirous of preserving the integrity of the Council itself while casting all of the blame for the subsequent disorders solely on the shoulders of the periti and diocesan institutions that arose in the post-Conciliar years to implement the decrees of the Council. These apologists have tended to take the former view, that it was just sort of a crummy accident of history that the Council was scheduled from 1962-1965. According to this view, the Council was needed (in order to "prevent worse disorders", which is another argument) and it just was the Church's poor luck that it happened to be in the sixties. Pope John and the bishops thought it was going to be another routine Council, but the spirit of the age overtook them.

I certainly can agree that the Council was overtaken by a spirit, but can we really be so naive as to think that the Pope and bishops gave no thought to the spirit of the age and what might happen if they convoked a council? Can it really be that such a momentous event as an Ecumenical Council was just "accidentally" scheduled during a particularly crappy time in history? Can it be the case that the Pope, bishops and periti had no clue that such a spirit of revolution was in the air and would be likely to infect the Council? Or could it be that the timing of the Council was chosen precisely to take advantage of this spirit?

If one reads the statements of Pope John XXIII, various periti involved in the Council, as well as the secular news reports and statements coming out during the conciliar period, it is obvious to all but the most ignorant that it was precisely because of the revolutionary spirit of the times that the Council had been convoked. This is what Pope John was referring to when he made those statements about opening the windows of the Church - it was precisely because a new openness was pervading the world that Pope John thought it a fitting time to "reconcile" the world to the Church and open the Church's "windows." At least at the outset, the zeitgeist of the 1960's was certainly taken into account when the Council was scheduled, and was seen as something positive.

I do not know to what degree the Pope or the bishops thought the spirit of the times would end up influencing the Council - some of the rank and file bishops did not seem to have much of an idea. The periti certainly did, however, and it was precisely because the times were so wicked and full of revolutionary fervor that they knew they could get away with what they did.

I would say that the historical timing of Vatican II, far from being a "whoops" moment on the part of the Pope, should be scene as the fundamental, overarching reason why all of the abuses crept in after the Council. If somebody says, Why did the Council for awry?" the best answer is "because it happened in the 1960's."

Sorry if this is kind of scattered, but I am writing off the top of my head in reaction to a popular priest I heard on the radio who was asserting that the Church just kind of slipped up when it timed the Council. There was no slip up. The Council was intentionally called when it was in order to harness the zeitgeist of the 1960's and ram through all sorts of progressive ideas, just like Obama took advantage of the Obama-mania after his election to ram through the stimulus bill. No different.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Colonial Economics

Two days ago I was flipping through a rather interesting book which contained a chronicle of all the recorded cases brought before the courts of colonial Massachussetts during the 17th century, from around 1620 to 1688. It was extraordinarly fascinating to see the type of things people were accused of back then, as well as the actions taken by the magistrates to correct them.

An interesting example is from December, 1640, when the court recorded the following case:

"A wicked fellow, given up to bestiality, fearing to be taken by the hand of justice, fled to Long Island, and there was drowned. He had confessed to some that he was so given up that abomination that he never saw any beast go before him that he lusted after it."

Looks like vice, even of the most detestable kind, was certainly not absent in Puritan America. But the record that really got my attention had to do with colonial economics. However we may dislike Puritan religious views, we cannot deny that they endeavored to be a moral people and to insist that standards of morality and decency be enforced in private as well as public relationships.

This is interesting when we come to the discussion of capitalism and the "American way" of doing economics. In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict warned western nations that economics was not a morally neutral field, and that standards of charity and morality must guide the economic activities of a nation just as they should guide private interactions among persons.

The Puritans, for all their faults, understood this and made it part of their economic law. Look at this case that came before the magistracy in Boston on November 9, 1639. I'm quoting it in full [my comments and emphases]:

"At a general court held at Boston, great complaint was made of the oppression used in the county of the sale of foreign commodities; and Mr. Robert Keayne, who kept a shop in Boston, was notoriously above others observed and complained of; and, being convented, he was charged with many particulars; in some, for taking above six-pence in the shilling profit; in some above eight-pence; and, in some small things, above two for one; and being hereof convicted, (as appears by the records) he was fined £200....After the court had censured him, the church of Boston called him also into question, where (as before he had done in the court) he did, with tears, acknowledge and bewail his covetous and corrupt heart, yet making some excuse for many of the particulars, which were charged upon him, as partly by pretence of ignorance of the true price of some wares [the Puritans believed that a just price was that which was nearest to the "true price"; i.e., the price of production - they did not believe that the just price was whatever one could get for the product], and chiefly by being misled by some false principles...These things gave occasion by Mr. Cotton, in his public exercise the lecture next lecture day, to lay open the error of such false principles, and to give some rules of direction in the case. [watch - here comes the Puritan "syllabus of errors" on economics - very interesting]

Some false principles were these [read "the following opinions are condemned"]:

1. That a man might sell as dear as he can, and buy as cheap as he can.

2. If a man lose by casualty of sea, etc., in some of his commodities, he may raise the price of the rest.

3. That he may sell as he bought, though he paid too dear, etc., and though the commodity be fallen, etc.

4. That, as a man may take advantage of his own skill or ability, so he may of another's ignorance or necessity.

5. Where one gives time for payment, he is to take like recompense of one as another.

The rules for trading were these [here's what the Puritans were obliged to abide by in their economic transactions]:

1. A man may not sell above the current price, i.e., such a price as is usual in the time and place, and as another (who knows the worth of the commodity) would give for it, if he had occasion to use it; as that is called current money, which every man will take, etc.

2. When a man loseth his commodity for want of skill, etc., he must look at it as his own fault or cross, and therefore must not lay it upon another. [i.e., the business cannot "pass on" the cost to the consumer]

3. Where a man loseth by casualty of sea, or, etc. it is a loss cast upon himself by Providence, he may not ease himself of it by casting it upon another; for so a man should seem to provide against all providences, etc., that he should never lose; but where there is a scarcity of the commodity, there men may raise their price; for now it is a hand of God upon the commodity and not the person.

4. A man may not ask any more for his commodity than the selling price; as Ephron to Abraham (Gen. 23), the land is worth thus much.

The cause being debated by the church, some were earnest to have him excommunicated; but the most thought an admonition would be sufficient...In the end, the church consented to an admonition." [interesting - they thought this an ecclesiastical matter that could have possibly merited excommunication]

Well, we are not Puritans but Catholics, and wha does this have to do with us? I am not asserting that these rules should be applied to us today and that is not my purpose in citing them. The point of citing these Puritan decrees from 1639 is to tell us something about the "traditional American way" of doing business.Those fiscal conservatives who insist that a complete laissez faire capitalism without any sort of restrictions is the traditional, American way are off base. Clearly, the earliest American traditions supported the idea of economics being responsible to morality and exercised immense political and social pressure to see to it that businesses did not take advantage of their consumers.

Especially interesting to me is the very first of the condemned principles, "That a man might sell as dear as he can, and buy as cheap as he can." This is the cornerstone of American business, and one who does this suceessfully is called a good businessman! It is here the very first principle condemned by the Puritan church of Boston.

Second, two of the condemned propositions and two of the rules speak about the immorality of a business passing the cost on to the consumer. The idea that "If a man lose by casualty of sea, etc., in some of his commodities, he may raise the price of the rest" is condemned, as is the notion that "a man may sell as he bought, though he paid too dear, etc., and though the commodity be fallen, etc." This is exactly how our gas prices work - the price at the pump is determined not by how much that particular gasoline costs when it was refined but by how much the price for crude may fluctuate, where the gas station adjusts its price accordingly in an attempt to make back immediately what it anticipates losing when they have to buy more oil at an inflated price. This is why the price at the pump changes immediately, even though the gasoline in the tanks has already been bought and is in the ground. In general, these Puritan standards seem to bar any possibility of businesses "passing on" their losses to the consumer, telling them they simply have to accept it "as his own fault or cross." But again, the essence of American business is passing on losses to others.

My point in all this is to make the simple historical observation that laissez faire economics was not the traditional American way. Traditional, localized American economics was held morally accountable to the community, who had no qualms in dictating what were and were not unjust business practices and censuring them by the power of the courts or even excommunication.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Is this just?

I am about to tell you a story concerning a police operation that went down in my home town this week and is getting a lot of attention in the local news. I am going to ask you to make a judgment on the principle involved here, in hopes that you will not get derailed by the specifics of the case or the crime the people are accused of. Too often, when this type of thing is discussed, people tend to focus excessively on the criminal or crime itself and don't think about the principle. Please try to ignore what it is these people are accused of and refrain from getting emotional about it. This issue is something I am up in the air about, so my title, "Is this just?" is a true question that I really want your input on. So remember, try to think about the principle here.

So this week our local police department set up a sting operation where they arrested nine men on charges of attempting to make contact with a minor for sex. You know the story: the cops pose as a 14 year old on the Internet, wait around for some gross old dude to solicit sex from them, then bust him when he comes to meet the kid.

I am wondering to what degree this sort of thing constitutes entrapment by the police department. Entrapment can be said to occur when a law enforcement agent induces a person to commit an offense which would be illegal and the person would otherwise have been unlikely to commit. I think the reasoning in these sorts of cases is that if they catch a guy online trying to hook-up for sex with a minor, then it is assumed that he does this all the time and that they are taking a dangerous predator out of society.

Three things that have always bothered me about these operations: (1) You cannot establish whether a predator has done such things before, at least prior to arresting him and interogating him. Part of determining if there is entrapment is figuring out whether the accused was already predisposed to commit the crime. But you would not know this until you had already arrested him, so it seems like a Catch-22.

(2) I have wondered whether it is just to charge someone with attempting to commit a crime when, due to the presence of the agent provocateur, no crime was actually committed. The druggie charged with trying to buy cocaine from an undercover police officer may have only been trying to buy what looked like cocaine but was actually sugar; yet he is charged with trying to purchase actual cocaine. The predator may have been talking to a 35 year old police sergeant on the Internet, but he is charged with attempting to have sex with a minor even though there was no actual minor involved. In both cases, the law seems to be focusing not on what is actually real, but what is in the defendant's mind. Regardless of how heinous some crimes are, I always get uncomfortable when I get the idea that the law is passing judgment on what people think.

(3) I wonder to what degree the agents "tempt" their prey to go along in these schemes. Humankind is weak, and it is true that any man may be tempted to do something, if the stimulation is there, that he may not have thought of doing otherwise. I am not a thief, but tempt me with a tipped over armored car on a lonely country road with the guards unconscious and three million dollars sitting in front of me, and I may do something I never would have done otherwise nor set out to do. Thus, I wonder to what degree some of these men caught and accused as predators are caught and enticed by the police in such a way that the temptation provided by the officers becomes the efficient cause of the accused's actions.

Okay, now that is not all. Listen to this, for this is where this case really gets weird. In addition to the nine men arrested, the local police are also going to arrest and charge 50 men who went online, made contact with the undercover agent, but decided against trying to set up a meeting because they were afraid of a police sting. In this case, the men talked to the agent (whom they thought was a kid), said they'd like to come meet them, but stated that they would not because it was too risky. Whatever you feel about what I described above, this one sounds fishy to me.

Aren't we happy that the men decided to not follow through on their desires? And isn't the fact that they didn't go to the sting because they were afraid of the police a good reason for not doing so? Is it now illegal to fantasize about doing things and then not do them? Yes I know it's not moral to fantasize about doing evil, but is it right for it to be illegal?

When I was 17 years old, my friend and I talked about how we could rob a local gas station. We knew somebody who worked there (an inside job) and knew how much we could get. We talked about when to do it, how to make it look like a real robbery and not an inside job, where to stash the money, etc. Every detail was worked out, and we laughed about it and said it would be "fun" to do. But it was only a mental exercise - I don't think any of were really willing to do it, and we all agreed that it would be too risky. Under the criteria invoked in the above scenario, I could have still been arrested for this, even though no crime had been committed and I intentionally stated my desire to not commit the crime for fear of getting caught.

The Supreme Court has gone different ways when handling entrapment cases, but the main criteria it looks at was decided in Sorrells v. United States (1932), where the court said that entrapment was determined by asking the following question:

Whether the defendant is a person otherwise innocent whom the government is seeking to punish for an alleged offense which is the product of the creative activity of its own officials.

This is what gets me thinking. "Person otherwise innocent" - you have no way of knowing they are otherwise innocent before you arrest them.

"Product of the creativity of its own officials" - Would any of these men have gone to meet what they thought was a 14 year old for sex had not a police agent been online soliciting for it?

In the case of these 50 other men who are being arrested for not going through with the sting, I think there could be a strong case that they have been entrapped, or even more so, that they have not done anything illegal. I can't see any way that talking about committing a crime and then not doing it is itself a crime.

With the nine who were actually arrested trying to meet the kid, I'm not so sure. I'm not sympathizer with pedophiles, but I do hold justice to be very important. So, what do you all think about this case?

Warning! If you are going to post, post about the question - don't respond with emotional comments like, "Boniface, how would you like it if your daughter got solicited by an online pervert!" I'm not defending these men in any way, but I said to focus on the principle, not the crime itself. To what degree, if any, does the police's behavior here constitute entrapment, and what of these 50 men who are being charged for not going through with the meeting?

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Irenicist Moonie

The other day I was in the movie store and I was approached by the most unlikely of all persons. An lanky Asian fellow sauntered up to me, wearing a backpack with some bells attached to it that jingled whenever he walked. He said, "Hello," in an awkward kind of way and then immediately handed me a laminated cared which read:

Hello. My name is Assem and I am from Kazakhstan. I am raising money for the Unification Church [i.e., Revered Moon] for the purpose of the Unification of World Christianity. Even a donation of $10 or $15 would go to great lengths to...

At this point I stopped reading. Seeing he knew very little English (hence the card), I said, "No. Catholic." He said, "You Catholic?" I said, "Yes. Catholic." He pointed to the card where it said "Unification of World Christianity" and said in extremely broken English, "but this for unification of world Christianity" and stressed this last word, as if I had missed the fact that he was trying to unify Christianity. I politely said no and turned away from him, and he walked away very sad and confused about why another Christian would in any way oppose uniting all Christianity under the auspices of Reverend Moon.

Of course, most enthusiasts of pan-Christianity are not Moonies and would not promote their agenda by wearing bells and asking for donations in the movie store. But Assem's attitude of shock and dismay that I was not in favor of "uniting" call Christian churches is not that uncommon even among Catholics.

Christian unity is something to be earnestly desired, following our Lord's words in the Gospel of John in which He prayed that "they all would be one" (John 17:8-26). The Church understands this oneness as one of the true marks of her own authenticity: she is one because she shares the same doctrine and partakes of the same sacraments (her apostolicity is also connected to her oneness, though this pertains to her historical oneness rather than her theological oneness). No Christian of any denomination who takes our Lord seriously can admit that the 22,000 non-Catholic denominations is God's will. This is a good way to begin making an apologetic for the Catholic Church to a Protestant, by the way. Ask them, "Do you really think it is God's will for there to be over 22,000 Christian denominations?" I have never had somebody reply 'yes.'

So we should desire Christian unity, and in fact it is a mark of the true Church. But unity (and this is what is so often missed) is not an ultimate end or characteristic in itself. Unity points beyond itself, for to be unified begs the question, unified around what? In Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII warned against an ecumenical understanding that called for a union of all Christians without regard to the ecclesiological dimension of the divisions in Christendom. The "irenism" was, in the words of Pius XII, the belief that:

[T]he dissident and the erring can happily be brought back to the bosom of the Church, if the whole truth found in the Church is not sincerely taught to all without corruption or diminution (HG 43).

Unity is unity around something, and that something is the Catholic faith. Unless the unity is centered on the true faith, then it is not a unity to be worked or even hoped for. I wonder often what the ecclesiology is behind the prayers for Christian unity and Word Christian Unity Day. What is meant by this phrase "unity"? If we are to believe Cardinal Dulles, it certainly does not mean conversion to the one, true faith, but means, in his words:

...a different method, one that invites a deeper conversion on the part of the churches themselves. I have therefore been urging an ecumenism of mutual enrichment by means of testimony. This proposal corresponds closely, I believe, with John Paul II’s idea of seeking the fullness of truth by means of an “exchange of gifts.” (First Things, Dec. 2007)

Well, I am sorry if it sounds boorish, but if this is what is meant by Christian unity and the unification of all churches, then no, I am certainly not in favor of it. In fact, I am dead opposed to it. Not that I am opposed to Christian unity - all Catholics must be in favor of Christian unity, but the key to the problem lies in the definition of unity.

Unity around the Chair of Peter. Unity around the apostolic faith. Unity that comes with conversion, and a humble submission to the Holy See. I am certainly in favor of this kind of unity. Next time somebody talks to you about Christian unity, perhaps ask them "unity around what?" They might tell you something like, "well, unity on the essentials of Christianity." Essentials is another word like unity that can mean many things (as I have pointed out here)...but at least this gets the conversation started about what unity actually is and what is has to be based around. Nobody is helped when we do a lot of talking about a non-commital, adogmatic, limp-wristed unity that is nothing more than compromise and ecclesiological political correctness.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Feast of the Assumption

"Arise, LORD, come to your resting place, you and the ark of Your strength" (Ps. 132:8)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Movie Review: "The Day the Earth Stood Still"

I hope nobody objects to me doing a movie review on here; after all, anyone who is a Traditional Catholic and has tried to find good films to watch knows how difficult it can be. Therefore, I thought it would not be outside the scope of the purpose of this blog to occasionally do some reviews about films I have seen, either to recommend to you or else to warn you not to waste your money on them.

Last night I viewed "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (2008), which is a remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic of the same name. The film tells the tale of the mysterious alien visitor Klaatu and his robotic companion, Gort, who come to earth in order to "save" the planet. from impending doom.

The first thing to note is that this film is directed by Scott Derrickson, the same director who made "The Exorcism of Emily Rose." I heard him speaking about this film on the Al Kresta show once, and he is certainly a committed Christian, albeit Protestant. He graduated from an conservative evangelical seminary in California and even got his degree in theological studies. If you notice certain Christian themes in the film, it is probably more than coincidence.

This film was relatively good, as sci-fi films go. It was about the end of the world, but it had a substantial depth of plot, more than just a lot of explosions and apocalyptic imagery (though there was some of that at the end). The special effects were just enough to draw you into the sci-fi element of the movie but no so overbearing that it detracted from the storyline. The robotic Gort creature is especially great.

The film has one of my favorite actors and one of my least favorite: the main character is played by Jennifer Connelley, whom I have loved ever since I was a kid and saw her in "Labyrinth" with David Bowie. The alien visitor, Klaatu, is played by Keanu Reeves, whom normally I would not like, but in this film he seems suited to the role. Keanu Reeves is known as being able to make only one facial expression, and as he plays a pretty emotionless alien in this film, he fits the role perfectly.

Jaden Smith is also in the film as the irritating, sassy step-son of the main character. His character gets irritating really quick, but towards the end you start to see thematically why he was included. There is a tension in the film between the step-son and his mom which is resolved at the end of the film in the context of proving that humans are capable of true, selfless love.

The plot moves fast but not a breakneck speed; it's definitely not one of those annoying movies where the protagonists are constantly running everywhere. Basically, Klaatu (Reeves) shows up mysteriously with the vague mission of "saving earth." The humans naturally assume he is referring to saving earth from some catastrophe or attack. The mission of Klaatu is gradually revealed through his interactions with different characters as the movie progresses, but I have to say that once the full plot is revealed it becomes sort of anti-climactic.


We notice early on that Klaatu says he has come to "save the earth", but makes no mention of humanity. The viewer is left for most of the film wondering what he is saving the earth from, and towards the end we are distraught to find that the film buys into the current, earth-idolatry mantra that humans are like parasites on the earth. Klaatu has in fact not come to save humanity, but has come to save "the earth" from humanity. He preaches to Connelley about how destructive humans are and how they are wrecking the earth - he says, "If the earth dies, you die. But if you die, the earth survives." He then initiates a process that is meant to cleanse the earth of all traces of human habitation in the form of some kind of nano-bot self-replicating mites that devour everything.

This was very disappointing. I had hoped the director would have came up with something better than this. It is just the same earth-centered philosophy that sees the planet as having some kind of ultimate purpose of teleology apart from mankind, which is portrayed as incidental or even parasitical to earth's existence. This is the worst part about the film.

It also doesn't make sense thematically either. Klaatu tells the humans that they need to "change", but he never says how or why. Presumably, the fact that they are ruining the planet means it is something environmental. But then later, when he witnesses the main character, Connelley, exhibiting true love for her step-son, Klaatu suddenly changes his mind and decides not to destroy humanity afterall. He is moved by human love, but apparently misses the fact that there is no logical relation between a mother loving her child and human impact on the environment. He then goes to stop the whole process he has initiated and staves off the end of the world just as the great cloud of nano-mites is about to devour everything. This also doesn't make sense, because throughout the film he keeps telliing everybody that "there is nothing you can do" and saying that the end is inevitable. Later we see that in fact it is completely within his power, and that all he has to do to stave off the destruction of the world is put his hand out and touch a glowing sphere and the whole process of planetary destruction suddenly ceases without explanation. Huh?

Well, as long as you don't think too hard about these things or expect a whole lot of internal consistency, I have to say that this movie is pretty good. It's really cool seeing Gort trash all the military equipment and equally amusing to see all the interesting powers Klaatu apparently has, most relating to the ability to manipulate machinery and electricity. There are religious symbols scattered throughout the movie: people praying the Our Father, shots of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York with the spaceship behind it, scientists praying the Rosary (which was cool) and even file footage of Benedict XVI. Despite the fact that the director, Derrickson, is a Protestant, judging from this film and "The Exorcism of Emily Rose", we must deduce that he seems to have a fetish for Catholic spirituality.

There is no cussing and nothing sensual whatsoever, and best of all, the director resisted the urge to throw a love story into the mix. I suppose we could say that the relationship between the protagonist and her step-son is kind of a love story, but it is commendable that the director did not feel the need to include a romantic subplot in a story about aliens and the end of the world, where it would have been completely out of place.

In the end, I thought this was a pretty good movie. Plot kept me interested, characters were believable (despite the annoying presence of Jaden Smith), nothing objectionable, cool special effects (but not too many of them) and alright theme if you can ignore the environmentalist agenda that is subtley woven throughout. I give it two out of three papal tiaras.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

St. Paul to the Laodiceans

We are all familiar with the Epistles of St. Paul which form such an integral part of the New Testament and the Church's liturgical life, but did you know that for centuries there has been speculation about a missing letter of St. Paul?

In the closing sentences of Colossians, we find the following phrase:

Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea (Col. 4:14-16).

Here St. Paul is admonishing the Church at Colossae to pass their letter on to Laodicea when they are finished with it, and likewise, to obtain a letter from Laodicea which Paul apparently wrote to them. Most biblical scholars believe this to actually be the circular letter to the Ephesians, but it could also be a reference to I Timothy, which in certain Greek manuscripts begins with the phrase "Written at Laodicea, metropolis of Phrygia Pacatiana."

Nevertheless, it has been maintained by many over the centuries that this "letter from Laodicea" is actually a lost letter of St. Paul. If so, no trace of it has ever been found. There was once a heretical Epistle to Laodicea attributed to Marcion that circulated in Asia Minor in the 3rd century, but more interesting is an orthodox but apocryphal "Letter of Paul to the Laodiceans" that was compiled in the early fourth century that consists of twenty short lines and is mainly made of matter taken from Philippians and other Epistles, and pieced together without sequence or logical aim. In the patristic age it had no authority whatsoever; it appeared in no codexes, either Greek, Syriac, Latin or other. St. Jerome said that "it is rejected by all."

However, this apocryphal Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans was more popular in the Middle Ages. A Greek manuscript from the ninth century actually includes it in the New Testament immediately after Philemon. It appears in over one hundred different Latin texts, beginning around the sixth century.

Opinions on it have been varied. Priscillian (c. 385) thought it was a genuine work of St. Paul, but was nevertheless not Scripture. Filastrius of Brescia, around 390, also thought it was genuine but thought it should not be read in Church, which implies that some were reading it as the Epistle in Mass. Interestingly, Pope St. Gregory the Great also shared this opinion.

In Britain, Alfric, Abbot of Cerne (c. 989) accepted it fully as a fifteenth letter of St. Paul, as did John of Salisbury (1165). In the High Middle Ages it was translated into German and was actually included in German Bibles after Galatians for a brief period from 1466 until Luther. This apocryphal epistle also was translated into Arabic and was debated at Tubingen as late as 1600. The French scholar Faber Stapulensis (c. 1526) included it among St. Paul's works.

Following the renewal of the study of ancient languages in the 15th and 16th centuries, coupled by the turmoil of the Protestant Revolt, this apocryphal Letter to the Laodiceans was finally and defintively rejected by everybody. The text of this forged epistle can be read here. It takes about twenty seconds to go through.

The above information is taken from The Formation of the New Testament, a book by Edgar Goodspeed (1926), which is somewhat progressive in its theology but is a pretty good read about the compilation and historical development of the Canon.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Confirmation Blues

In a few weeks kids will start registering for Confirmation at our parish. Confirmation time is always a bummer, because in any given class you are statistically likely to run across those one or two kids who are completely unenthused and make no effort to know their Faith but expect to be Confirmed anyhow.

After a particularly thorny case last year (in which a boy being interviewed denied the Holy Spirit was God and said that lust was one of the Gifts of the Spirit), my pastor and I decided to revise our Confirmation policy. Below you can read the entire text of an article I wrote for this week's parish bulletin. Insofar as it is a bulletin article, it is a lot more "pastoral" in tone than you might be used to hearing from me, but I think it gets to the heart of things, and I am attempting to make this point to people who may be less than knowledgeable of their Faith . Let me know what you think:

Revisions in Confirmation Policy

Every year in America, thousands of Catholic teens will present themselves for the Sacrament of Confirmation. They will sit through the Confirmation Mass, hear some inspiring words from their Bishop, receive the Holy Chrism upon their brow, get their certificate and then abandon the practice of the faith immediately after. It is a sad fact, but unfortunately true, as any parish priest will tell you. Why do so many Catholics abandon their the practice of their faith immediately after receiving a Sacrament which is meant to confirm them in grace? If the faith is something that can be so lightly abandoned, what good do these persons think Confirmation will do them anyway?

The fact is many people have a “checklist” mentality about God. He is viewed as an impersonal cosmic bureaucrat who just wants to make certain we have all of our sacramental paperwork in order. Baptism, religious education, Sunday Mass attendance and the other sacraments are just marks on a list, and at the end of our lives, if our checklist is in order, then God has to let us into heaven.

Fortunately, God is not a government bureaucrat; He is a giving Father who wants a relationship of love with His children. The Scriptures tell us that love is the animating factor in all of our undertakings, whether religious or secular: “Above all…put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:15). Our Lord Himself tells us that love is the fulfillment of the law of God (Matt. 22:36-40). If we are truly motivated by divine love, then we will want to worship God and learn about Him, not just do the bare minimum to get our obligations out of the way.

One aspect of love is sincerity, which means that our exterior acts truly reflect our interior dispositions. A sincere person is transparent; they say what they mean and they act according to their convictions. Sincerity is an important virtue in all our actions, but especially in our relations to God, as when we approach the sacraments or petition God in prayer.

It has happened in previous years at this parish that kids have come forward for Confirmation with less than sincere motives. Sometimes they go years without any religious education and then expect to simply show up and get Confirmed when they turn 13. Others come through the program making very little effort to do the readings or understand what they are being prepared for and are shocked at the end when they are told that they are not ready to be Confirmed. Sometimes kids have no desire to be Confirmed at all but go through the motions to satisfy their parents’ wishes.

Receiving a sacrament is always an encounter with God. To better ensure that we are receiving the sacraments sincerely and with the best possible dispositions, we are making a few adjustments to the requirements for Confirmation preparation.

First, if you want your child to be Confirmed here but have had them in a religious ed program at another parish, we are going to ask that you call the office to set up an placement interview in order to ensure that they have the requisite knowledge to begin Confirmation prep here.

Second, if your child has not been in any religious education program recently and has not been home-schooled, they will be expected to complete two years of religious education prior to being admitted to the Sacrament of Confirmation. One cannot simply show up at age 13 with no instruction whatsoever and expect seven months of prep to make up for years of missed catechesis.

Finally, if you are a home-schooling parent who will be presenting a child for Confirmation this year, please make certain that you call the office and register your child well in advance, preferably at the beginning of the school year. Do not show up suddenly a month prior to Confirmation asking to register your child.

The Code of Canon Law, the governing legal framework of the Church, states that “to receive Confirmation lawfully a person must be suitably instructed”; the duty of making sure candidates are instructed falls to our parish priests, who “are to see that the faithful are properly instructed to receive the sacrament” (see Code of Canon Law, 889§2 and 890). Therefore, all candidates will be expected to satisfactorily complete an interview with the pastor prior to being admitted to Confirmation in order to guarantee that they are suitably instructed and properly disposed to receive the sacrament.

We hope you understand the reasoning behind these guidelines, which is the proper care of souls and the preservation of the dignity of the sacrament. It does no good to allow kids to receive sacraments when they do not understand what they are doing or even the basic tenets of the faith, and we only want to ensure that our kids experience the Sacrament of Confirmation as the solemn and grace-filled blessing that God intends.

Please do not hesitate to contact myself or Fr. G if you have questions about this policy. Blessings.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Does demonic temptation always precede sin?

Here is a question, or rather a series of questions, that I recently received:

Can man commit sin without being tempted by the devil? Could Adam have ate the Apple without outside pressure or influence? Can man, with only his conscience and free will, commit an act against God, or do all human actions against God have a connection to Satan? Satan went against God with out outside influence, right?

As far as I can tell, there are really three questions here:

1) Could the first sin of man have come apart without the tempting of the devil?

2) Can any sin come about without the tempting of the devil?

3) Did the devil go against God without outside influence?

Let's look at these one at a time.

In response to whether the first man could have sinned without the temptation of the devil: In the original sin of Adam we know for certain that the devil was directly involved, but whether or not it had to be so is a matter of speculation. I am unaware of any definitive answer on this, but based on my own opinion, I am going to say that the devil's agency was not necessarily needed, and this for three reasons:

i) As we shall see below, man can still even now sin without the devil's temptation. Therefore, he could have done so in regards to the original sin as well. Concupiscence after the Fall makes man more disposes to sin, but I don't see any reason to say that he could not have sinned prior to the Fall without the devil - he could have still fallen to pride, envy, or some similar sin.

ii) Scripture always speaks of original sin as originating in Adam. Of course, the devil was there, but the fault is layed with Adam, emphasizing Adam's disobedience rather than the devil's temptation (see Romans 5:12, "For by one man sin entered the world..") The fact that the stress is layed on Adam means that it was within Adam's power to obey or not obey. Satan could tempt him to disobey, but the power over the choice was implicitly always with Adam - the devil just exacerbated a dilemma that already existed - whether or not to eat of the fruit.

iii) The fact that the devil himself sinned without external aid makes this point as well. If a pure intellect (angel) can sin of his own accord, presumably an incarnated spirit (man), who is lesser than an angel, can fall the same way.

What about question two, whether man can ever sin without a prior tempation of the devil? St. Thomas takes up this exact question in STh I-II, Q. 80 Art. 4. He says that the devil can be said to be the cause of all human sins only indirectly, insofar as he led the first man to sin and because it is by the consequences of original sin we are tempted to commit actual sins. However, it often happens that we sin of our own immoderate appetites, regardless of the devil. Here is St. Thomas' take on it:

"The devil is the occasional and indirect cause of all our sins, in so far as he induced the first man to sin, by reason of whose sin human nature is so infected, that we are all prone to sin: even as the burning of wood might be imputed to the man who dried the wood so as to make it easily inflammable. He is not, however, the direct cause of all the sins of men, as though each were the result of his suggestion. Origen proves this (Peri Archon iii, 2) from the fact that even if the devil were no more, men would still have the desire for food, sexual pleasures and the like; which desire might be inordinate, unless it were subordinate to reason, a matter that is subject to the free-will" (STh I-II, Q. 80 Art. 4).

We certainly know that Satan can tempt people directly, but this need not always be the case. We could also invoke the verse from the Epistle of St. James: "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed" (Jas. 1:14).

As to the third question, whether or not any external agent was active in Satan's own sin, we have to say no, insofar as before the fall of Lucifer there was no evil, external agent that could act upon him. I'd say it is certain that Lucifer fell of his own accord. Wisdom 2:24 speaks of the devil sinning through "envy", which is something completely internal, as is pride, the other sin commonly used to explain Satan's fall (as in Isaiah 14:13-15 and in the following verse from Ezekiel:

"You were the anointed cherub who covers, And I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire. "You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, until unrighteousness was found in you. "By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; Therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, that they may see you" (Ezekiel 28:14-17).

Interesting questions. By the way, any readers who want to submit questions are more than welcome - it helps in weeks when I am short on topics to blog about!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Caritas in Veritate (part II)

This time we are going to look at some of the reactions to Caritas in Veritate by some prominent Catholic commentators as well as some average people. In many cases, as we shall see, I think the commentators fail to get to the heart of the matter regarding this encyclical. I have to warn you, I get pretty mad towards the end of this one and make a few scatological references. Let the fun begin!

First up, George Weigel's piece in the National Review.

Weigel rightfully points out that this document is a hodge-podge from the Justice and Peace Commission. Consider this statement:

Those with advanced degrees in Vaticanology could easily go through the text of Caritas in Veritate, highlighting those passages that are obviously Benedictine with a gold marker and those that reflect current Justice and Peace default positions with a red marker. The net result is, with respect, an encyclical that resembles a duck-billed platypus.

Very clever. But it is not irrelevant - he is pointing out that in this one document we can see the hermeneutic of rupture clashing with the hermeneutic of continuity. I think he got it entirely right when he speaks of the processes that went into making this encyclical and calls out the irrationality of the Vatican placing any sort of hope in a world authority:

And another Justice and Peace favorite — the creation of a “world political authority” to ensure integral human development — is revisited, with no more insight into how such an authority would operate than is typically found in such curial fideism about the inherent superiority of transnational governance. (It is one of the enduring mysteries of the Catholic Church why the Roman Curia places such faith in this fantasy of a “world public authority,” given the Holy See’s experience in battling for life, religious freedom, and elementary decency at the United Nations. But that is how they think at Justice and Peace, where evidence, experience, and the canons of Christian realism sometimes seem of little account.)

Okay George, so I am convinced that this document is a hybrid, confusing disaster. Now what? Well, Weigel doesn't tell us that. He just pleasantly reminds us that this document is a muddle, that some parts of it are "naive or dumb," but doesn't give us any hint as to what we are to do with it. Some have criticized Weigel for parcing the document into sections that can be accepted and sections that can be discarded, taking a cafeteria-style approach to the encyclical based on his economic tastes. I don't think he does that in this article. He is right to point out the committee-style format and also right in not making any drastic calls on his own authority to accept or reject this encyclical. So I give Weigel's review a thumbs up.

Next up, Phil Lawler's comments at Catholic Culture.

Phil Lawler basically reiterates what Weigel said, but adds an important aspect that Wiegel left out: despite the fact that this is obviously some chop-shop production of a committee, at the end of the day, Benedict has signed off on it and it cannot be ignored or explained away based on the fact that he didn't literally write all of it:

Whether or not he drafted every sentence himself (and clearly he did not), Pope Benedict signed his name to the encyclical, and gave it the authority of his teaching office. We know that the Holy Father did not do this lightly. He rejected earlier drafts of the document. He allowed the project to slip behind schedule, even to the point of embarrassment. He was evidently determined to wait until he had a document that satisfied him. Caritas in Veritate satisfied him.

This is the only notable contribution to the discussion made by Lawler, except for this laughable quote from the British Lord Brian Griffiths:

Despite heavy competition from some of the world’s finest minds, it is without doubt the most articulate, comprehensive and thoughtful response to the financial crisis that has yet appeared.

Most articulate? Lawler seems to agree with Lord Griffith's assertion, which I find incomprehensible. Thumbs down for Lawler for just restating everything Weigel said and endorsing the statement of this British dufus.

Next on the chop block, Cathy Lynn Grossman's piece in USA Today entitled "Pope calls for 'God-centered' global economy."

At least Grossman understood what this encyclical is actually about instead of just ruminating on how it got produced and why. She mentions the encyclical is "theologically dense", which is much closer to the mark than Lord Griffith's claim that it is "articulate and thoughtful."

Her article has a pretty comprehensive run-down of the pertinent points of the encyclical, including the statements condemning demographic control and an "anti-birth" mentality. But when dealing with the issues surrounding the document's controversial "redistribution of wealth" statements, she turns to Fr. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit (uh-oh) professor at Georgetown to interpret them for us. Not surprisingly, Fr. Reese interprets these statements in the most socialist, left-leaning manner possible, arguing that redistribution of wealth means, well, simply, socialist redistribution of wealth, and tries to assert that this is now something that must be adhered to with Catholic obedience:

"Strong language here on the redistribution of wealth — not something people like to talk about in the USA. If the Catholic right is against the redistribution of wealth, they're against the pope. He doesn't believe an unregulated marketplace is going to solve all the problems of economy and poverty."

Amusing to see a Jesuit these days lecturing the "Catholic right" about obedience to the pope! However, Fr. Reese is not being logically inconsistent in assuming that redistribution of wealth means simply what it says - it is more truthful than the neocon pundits who are trying to assert that Benedict's "vision" for "redistribution of wealth" is actually different from liberal redistribution of wealth. The context of the encyclical makes it clear that they are the same thing.

Grossman's article does mention the world political authority, but also reminds us that Benedict envisions this authority "as simple and local as possible." It's good that she points this out, but it is naieve to imagine a true world authority that would be anything other than a stifling, top-heavy bureaucracy.

Reluctant thumbs up for Grossman's article, even though it is dull and just a rehash of what the encyclical states. At least she and her sources are honest about what the thing says.

Next, Lewis McCrary's article "Is the Pope for New World Order?" in American Conservative, available here.

McCrary's article attempts to reconcile everything in CV with previous papal statements, and the result is a dishonest and ignorant mess. First, he claims that despite the fact that CV calls for a one world authority, we are misconstruing what he means. He is not, according to this article, asking for some New World Order government, but is asking for an empowered and effective United Nations:

The need for global cooperation is argued for in the context of existing institutions such as the United is hard to argue with the assertion that - as long as it remains the primary institutional means for global cooperation - the UN should be more effective in helping resolve pressing cross-border issues.

So, the Pope does not want a New World Order, just a more empowered and effective UN. My question is: What's the difference? It's the same concept.

McCrary adheres to a mentality that I found disturbing in the encyclical - the tacit acceptance of globalism as a fait accompli. The statement "as long as it remains the primary institutional means for global cooperation " presupposes that it is even good to have a secular institution of global cooperation, which may not be the case. I do not agree with Mr. McCrary that the UN should be more effective - I think it should be abolished.

So the Church, according to McCrary, is seeking a global authority, perhaps from some existing structure, that "has wider legitimacy." He brings up the fact that the United States is the only de facto "world authority", and then says that we have been very ineffective in promoting democracy around the world and in the Middle East. For McCrary, this is justification for calling for a world authority with "greater legitimacy", but for me it is an example of why we shouldn't have any global authority.

McCrary then goes on to argue that this authority is indeed necessary, for (quoting CV), without it "despite great progress accomplished in various sectors, international law would risk being conditioned by the balance of power among the strongest nations." I say so what? No matter what, the balance of power will always be swayed by the strongest nations - that is the way of the world. Nor is it unjust - the stronger nations should have more of a say than some inconsequential, loser banana-republic. Furthermore, who has the authority to level out the national inequalities? Does an international authority gain legitimacy and authority just by virtue of being global? Balance of power has worked tolerably well in past and has preserved sovereignty. International balance of power is the equivalent of checks and balances and is necessary to prevent the kind of global tyranny that McCrary seems to be endorsing.

Like other commentators, McCrary seems to see no problem with the UN expanding its scope of operations and authority so long as it is "limited by the principle of subsidiarity."

Limited international authorities constrained by subsidiarity should not be feared.

I am all for subsidiarity, but does anybody else see any disconnect between the concept of international authority/world authority and subsidiarity? Subsidiarity must be real, not just apparent. Real subsidiarity requires real independence, which precludes the notion of any world authority. An international authority does need to be feared. Why? By virtue of the fact that it is an international authority.

There's some more of this bull-bleep in McCrary's article, some whining about the power of the G8 and the excessive power of the strongest nations...for the American Conservative it sounds like a bunch of progressive complaining. Look, there is nothing wrong with there being strong nations and weak nations. There is no inherent global equality, just like there is no inherent individual social equality when it comes to how we will all function and live in the world. I like the fact that I live in a powerful country. There is nothing wrong with wanting your country to be powerful - the things I advocate for our own country are things I think would make it stronger. The only problem is if your country abuses its power, which we certainly have in the past - but these people treat the very fact that we have power as an abuse of power in itself.

McCrary concludes his article by making two extraordinarily naive statements [my comments]:

How seriously one takes this claim of injustice is no doubt influenced by one’s perspective. Today a thoughtful friend remarked to me that the inclusion of the “world political authority” paragraph is evidence that the Pope has become a misguided utopian dreamer; he is living in a bubble, my interlocutor remarked, clueless as to the potential dangers of large-scale tyranny [and he is right to be alarmed]. But we must consider that perhaps it is we Americans who are living in a bubble. After all, it’s easy for Americans to dismiss the claim that other peoples of less firepower and economic might should have a seat at the table when America is already the de facto “world political authority" [in other words, we are prejudiced to be wary of a one world government and should not worry about preserving our own autonomy].

So I guess if you are worried about a large-scale tyranny you are living in a bubble. My question to Mr. McCrary is that in a world when large-scale tyranny is ever more possible and is even called for by persons in high places, how can you justify not be concerned about it?

The final paragraph of this article is the most laughable:

There is a danger that, taken out of context, this language could be used to support some kind of global tyranny. But a closer reading of Caritas demonstrates that more international solidarity is not necessarily a recipe for a global Leviathan, particularly if it is conditioned by the Church’s formulation of subsidiarity.

Hahaha! And of course, NOBODY has ever taken a post-Conciliar document out of context, have they? After all, the Vatican has spoken and nobody would DARE presume to misintepret anything the Vatican says, right? No, we don't need to be worried about that! Hahaha...don't know whether to laugh or cry.

By the way, did you notice how McCrary did not deny the Pope was calling for a one world authority? He just said that it was a one world authority "constrained by subsidiarity" and then went on to lecture about how we should want to step down and let other countries take our place. He never denied the call for one world authority - he just explained what kind of one world authority it was to be, as if that makes a difference. Our next commentator will make the same error.

McCrary's article gets a thumbs down.

This next one is by far the worst and most dishonest, from John-Henry Westen of Life Site News. His article is entitled "Pope's New Encyclical Speaks Against, not for, One-World Government." Really? That's funny, because in paragraph 67 CV says:

To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food, security and peace; guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration; for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago.

"There is urgent need for a true world political authority." Okay, so according to Westen we are supposed to believe that what the Pope is really saying is that he does not want a world political authority despite saying there is "urgent need" for one?

Westen says, "The Holy Father differentiates his concept of a world political authority from that of a one world government." Same stupid distinction as in McCrary's article. As if we who are opposed to a "one world government" will suddenly be in favor of a "true world authority," as if they are two diametrically opposed concepts.

One world government.
True world authority.

Am I missing the distinction?

According to Westen, the distinction lies in the fact that the Pope's ideal "true world authority" will be marked by subsidiarity, as the Pope says in paragraph 41 of CV, where he talks about the importance of the State, saying that the role of the State "is not redundant" and actually "seems destined to grow." Therefore, according to Westen, this is not a one world government. It is a true world authority, made up of a union of states practicing subsidiarity.

Well, this is definitely a straw man argument. Essentially, Westen says, "The Pope is not calling for an authoritarian, centralized one world government. He is calling for a federal union of states, a true world authority, marked by subsidiarity. And that is ok." It is a straw man argument because nobody is arguing against the encyclical based on fears of a centralized, authoritarian global government - we are arguing against it based on fears of any global authority, authoritarian or democratic, central or federal, based on subsidiarity or otherwise. No global political authority. Period.

And by the way, I don't think the idea of the power of the States being "destined to grow" is a great idea either.

Is Westen really asking us to believe that a federal world government would be any better than a centralized one? The problem with a world government lies not in what kind of world government it is, but the fact that it is a world system. That's my hang up. Westen does not address it - instead, he says the Pope is not calling for a world order, then redefines what a world authority really is and tells us we should be in favor of it. What garbage.

One big stinking thumbs down in the rest-stop crapper for this article.

Finally, let's get the view of Protestant Marianne Davis of the Boise Christian Living Examiner, whose article is entitled "Pope Benedict XVI calls for a new world structure."

Unfortunately, this Protestant is the only one who has some common sense to see the plain shadow looming behind all of the hubbub. She puts her finger on it very plainly and says what these wimpy Catholic correspondents will not say.

After giving a brief, non-biased and relatively good synopsis of what Caritas in Veritate actually says, she concludes with this paragraph:

The Pope’s vision for the future, although altruistic, casts a foreboding light on a "political authority" with global power. Bible prophecy predicts that the Antichrist will emerge in the last days with a coalition of rulers (Revelation 17:12), and that the Antichrist will be "given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation" (Revelation 13:7). According to biblical prophecy, the Antichrist will eventually grow corrupt with his unprecedented power, and will one day wage war on anyone who does not worship him (Revelation 13:5-18).

Amen. That's what this is all about. Why didn't any of the Catholic commentators get this? Thumbs up for Marianne Davis.

My main beef with the mainline Catholic defense of CV's "true world authority" segments can be summed up in these two points:

1) Despite the ineptitude of our own government, the immorality and flagrant corruption of the United Nations and the anti-God agenda of the globalist elitists, we are asked to believe that we can turn over authority to them and trust them to restrain themselves by the Catholic principle of subsidiarity.

2) We are arrogantly told to believe that while a centralized, authoritarian one world system is bad, a decentralized, federal democratic one world system is something that should be appaluded. In actuality, any world government is to be shunned (in my opinion).

3) Many of the commentators are being dishonest by trying to make it look like the Pope is saying (or not saying) something that is stated very plainly in the encyclical.

I want no part of erecting the stage that the Antichrist will stand upon, which any one world system will become. In closing, I could point out what many others have said: the very fact that this encyclical lends itself to so much interpretation and argumentation is ample evidence that it is not in any way clear or unambiguous. It bears the Pope's name, so it has his authority and it must be given assent to in some manner. But this is no part of Tradition and not part of the deposit of faith.

The Church should not waste so much time trying to prop up decadent, secular world authorities and instead proclaim the only true world authority: the universal Kingdom of Christ, which claims every soul upon the earth. That's a one world kingdom I would stand up for.