Sunday, August 28, 2011

Petros vs. Petra: A Non-Argument

Most of you are probably familiar with the argument raised by non-Catholics about Peter being called the "Rock" in Matthew 16 that is based upon drawing a distinction between the two Greek words petra and petros. If you are not familiar with this argument, Google it and you'll come up with a lot of material on it from Protestant and Catholic apologists. I think it is a rather weak argument; Patrick Madrid has dealt with it admirably here. Catholic Answers has a helpful tract about the topic as well, and Steve Ray's book Upon This Rock uses a plethora of sources, including Protestant scholarship, to dismantle this common Protestant objection.

These approaches that are based on etymology and grammar are helpful, but I do not necessarily think they are the strongest arguments. For one thing, unless you personally know Greek, or at the very least understand how inflected languages work, you won't really "get" the argument; you basically have to take somebody's word for it. When you start getting into arguments about inflected versus reflexive languages, Attic versus Koine Greek and word studies of other appearances of petros and petra in ancient Greek literature, you are perhaps moving out of the realm of where lay people can intelligently discuss the problem and into a place reserved to only a very small field of specialists.

I want to here propose two very strong arguments against the petros/petra objection that are based not on grammatical exegesis or etymology, but on history, and which, to my knowledge, has not been brought up by any Catholic apologists to date. My response to the Protestant petros/petra objection is as follows:


This is tremendously important. If anybody had a reason to deny papal authority or the Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16, it would have been the Greek Orthodox. From the 5th century all the way through the Middle Ages the Greeks contested the papacy's claims over authority over the Church of God. Since this was the case, and since the Greeks, especially of the earlier centuries, were reading the Scriptures in their original languages, does it not stand to reason that if there was any import to Christ's use of the words petra and petros in Matthew 16, the Greeks would have noticed it? If such a distinction really did have the import that Protestants say it does, this argument would have been invaluable in the hands of the Greek apologists in the contest with Rome for primacy.

But, since the Greeks who read the New Testament in its original language and had a vested interest in debunking the claims of Rome to primacy never utilized this argument, their silence is telling. They attack Roman primacy, to be sure, but they never use the petros/petra argument. Instead they talk about the union between Church and Empire and Constantinople being the imperial seat; they talk about a fictional apostolic succession based on a legendary founding of the Byzantine Church by St. Andrew the Apostle; they bring forward different ecclesiological interpretations of what kind of primacy St. Peter was given; they drudge up the old canards of Vigilius and Honorious; but they never resorted to the petros/petra argument (at least until modern times, when they borrowed it from Protestants). If classical Greek Orthodox polemic at its height never utilized this argument, we are safe in presuming there never was an argument there to be utilized.


We can go ahead and use this same sort of reasoning when we come to Martin Luther. Here, once again, we have a man with a solid knowledge of New Testament Greek (who even made his own German translation of the NT) and a vested interest in disproving Rome's claims to primacy. If there really was any sort of argument to be made by the petros/petra distinction, Martin Luther was the person to notice it. Yet Luther does not use this argument either.

He certainly attacks the papacy; he uses selective citations from the Fathers, heaps abuse upon the Roman pontiffs for alleged excessive use of power and even fabricates a variant reading of Matthew 16 where Jesus says to Peter "You are a rock" but then turns and points to Himself before saying, "Upon this rock I will build my Church," thus inferring some sort of extra-biblical gesture or motion of our Lord to explain away the passage. Yet, though he has gone so far as imagine an invented extra-biblical gesture to explain our Lord's words, he does not center in on petros/petra as a point of argument. This is because he knew there was no argument there.

I am not sure when the petros/petra argument first came into vogue; my guess is sometime around the early 20th century with the rise of the historical critical school. But the fact that neither the Greek Orthodox or Martin Luther ever used the argument, though they had the knowledge of Greek and the motivation against the papacy to do so, ought to be a clear reminder that this argument is just a fabrication - a non-argument.

I'll have more to say about petros and petra in the future, but that's enough for now.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Homosexual Compromise

We all know there is a problem with rampant homosexuality in many of our seminaries. This much is beyond dispute and does not need to be reiterated here; it is documented thoroughly in Donald Cozzens' book The Changing Face of the Priesthood and more famously in Michael Rose's Goodbye, Good Men, which I recently read through for the first time, though I had heard about it for many years.

Besides the problem with open, flamboyant homosexuality in the seminaries, which I am obviously alarmed at, I am equally put off by what I consider to be a compromise with homosexuality. I am referring to the position that, while a dissenting, openly practicing homosexual is an unsuitable candidate for the priesthood, an orthodox man who has homosexual tendencies but keeps them to himself and does not try to act on them is suitable; i.e., a homosexual "living chastely."

I seriously disagree with the idea that the only difference between a suitable homosexual candidate and an unsuitable one is whether they are living chastely or not. Homosexuals should not be ordained at all. Period. Chaste or not. If you are a man who is sexually aroused by other men, you should simply not be ordained. I find it astounding that some orthodox Catholics believe that ordination of homosexuals would be fine so long as they weren't engaging in homosexual activities. Why is this?

In my opinion, it is due to the distinction the Catechism makes between homosexual acts and homosexual tendencies. If we are looking at the problem from a standpoint of sin, the CCC rightly points out that while it is always sinful to engage in homosexual acts, it is not necessarily sinful to be afflicted with homosexual tendencies, and that persons with homosexual inclinations can approach "Christian perfection" if they stive after chastity and practice self-mastery (CCC 2359).

Some, I think, see this as a tacit acceptance of homosexual orientation as a neutral trait, or even a positive one, so long as it is not acted upon. Perhaps this is seen by some as a via media between the liberal total acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle and what is often perceived as a "homophobic" rejection of homosexuals as persons. It constitutes a compromise whereby one is able to justify supporting a certain presence of "good" homosexuals in the priesthood while condemning the more flamboyant ones.

This compromise is problematic. It must be remembered, that not only homosexual acts, but the inclination itself is "objectively disordered" (CCC 2358), and this applies whether or not it is acted upon. Homosexuality is a moral disorder; it may be that one is afflicted with it unwillingly, but that does not make it any less disordered. Even if they are not acting out upon it, do we want persons with "objectively disordered" characters as priests?

If this sounds harsh, it is actually pretty much what the Church has always taught on this issue. Religiosorum Institutio, issued by the Sacred Congregation for Religious in 1961, stated that, "Advantage to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers" (RI, 4). Not only active homosexuals, but even persons "afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality" are barred.

More recently, the Vatican's 2005 directive on this matter, cumbersomely titled Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders, says that Bishops "cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called "gay culture" (2).

The same directive goes on to say that anyone who has been afflicted with homosexual tendencies in the past needs to "clearly overcome" them at least three years prior to even entering seminary. This is not referring to homosexual acts, but homosexual tendencies, even those that, as the document says, are "only the expression of a transitory problem" (2). Interestingly enough, the document's first section on spiritual fatherhood and maturity suggests that those who struggle with homosexual tendencies cannot be said to have attained "affective maturity" and cannot thus become proper father figures (1). Therefore, the problem with homosexual candidates, even chaste ones, is one of immaturity, not necessarily of sin.

Pope Pius XI made an interesting observation in his encyclical on the priesthood, Ad Catholici Sacerdotii (1935) on the connection between chaste celibacy and God's nature as a Spirit. He wrote:

"A certain connection between this virtue and the sacerdotal ministry can be seen even by the light of reason alone: since "God is a Spirit," it is only fitting that he who dedicates and consecrates himself to God's service should in some way "divest himself of the body." The ancient Romans perceived this fitness; one of their laws which ran Ad divos adeunto caste, "approach the gods chastely," is quoted by one of their greatest orators with the following comment: "The law orders us to present ourselves to the gods in chastity -- of spirit, that is, in which are all things, or does this exclude chastity of the body, which is to be understood, since the spirit is so far superior to the body; for it should be remembered that bodily chastity cannot be preserved, unless spiritual chastity be maintained."

In the Old Law, Moses in the name of God commanded Aaron and his sons to remain within the Tabernacle, and so to keep continent, during the seven days in which they were exercising their sacred functions. But the Christian priesthood, being much superior to that of the Old Law, demanded a still greater purity..."
(Ad Catholic Sacerdotii, 42-43).

Bodily chastity, inside and out, is required because we are approaching a Being Who is pure spirit. But more so, the bodily chastity is dependent upon and presupposes a spiritual chastity. Can one be said to maintain spiritual chastity while afflicted with homosexual tendencies that are themselves "objectively disordered?" Obviously not. This would apply to heterosexual persons as well if they were unable to "divest themselves of the body" and overcome their sexual inclinations. It is true regardless of sexual orientation, but it needs to be emphasized with regards to homosexuals, because too often homosexuals are given a pass and praised as suitable priestly candidates so long as they maintain bodily chastity.

In 2008, Cardinal Bertone, at the behest of Benedict XVI, issued a clarification of the 2005 directive, stating that it was to be applied universally to all seminaries and houses of religious formation in the Catholic world. No homosexuals are to be admitted to the priesthood or religious life. Period. Whether they act out or not. Homosexual tendencies constitute a real obstacle to priestly ministry because they skewer proper relations between persons. The 2005 directive states, "Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies" (1).

We also should not fail to take into account that the admission of homosexuals to the priesthood, even orthodox, chaste homosexuals, will tend to reinforce the idea of the priesthood as a "gay vocation." Chaste homosexuals often have a difficult time integrating their faith life with their personal struggles; to the degree that the priesthood is seen as an appropriate avenue for them, it will encourage more homosexuals to pursue ordination and, consequently, drive away heterosexual candidates who will increasingly view the priesthood as something for homosexuals.

In light of the statements and insights provided to us by the current and previous Magisteriums, I can't see any justification for any sort of compromise with homosexuality that allows homosexuals into the priesthood so long as they are orthodox and "don't act on it." Whether it is acted upon or not, it is a sign of affective immaturity, is objectively disordered, and can result in serious "negative consequences." No homosexuals should be admitted to the priesthood or religious life at all. "Gay Catholics," orthodox or not, are not suitable candidates for the Roman Catholic priesthood.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Priestless parishes as a fait accompli?

In our diocese, every Catholic household receives a monthly, complimentary copy of the diocesan publication FAITH magazine. Unfortunately, this fruit salad of a magazine has let me down month after month, year after year for a decade. This magazine is pure syrup.

Although I am always frustrated whenever I read the kind of fluffy shortcake that this magazine is chock full of, I was especially irritated by the cover of the most recent issue, which you can see above. Three old women with short hair (two of them wearing pants, and who happen to be nuns) with the headline, "Who runs the parish when there is no priest?" They might as well have said, "Take a good look at your future, diocese, because here it is!" That is the message that is being conveyed here.

Two thoughts. One. Yes, I know there are priestless parishes. But why highlight them and draw attention to them? By drawing attention to them, it's like they are trying to familiarize us with the idea, perhaps so we are more used to it? Perhaps for the purpose of saying, "Get a good look at the future." If there is a problem with a shortage of priests, then why not use the diocesan publication to promote the priesthood? How about an article about the life of a priest, or an autobiographical piece from a priest about how he discerned his vocation?

Second problem: The way in which many dioceses are accepting the concept of priestless parishes as a fait accompli. The battle is being lost before it is even being waged. We do not have a lack of priests because there are no vocations; we have a lack of priests because nobody is really bothering trying to call them out. Our institutional leaders at the diocesan level have by and large bought into the lie that priestless parishes are simply the future of the Church; rather than try to rectify the fabricated "vocations crisis" they are accepting it as a fact. If we are in a battle, they are already dictating the terms of their own surrender rather than planning strategies for victory.

This is what the cover of this magazine seems to convey. Priestless parishes are the way of the future - here's what they look like, so get used to it. The resources behind this magazine could have been allocated to something much more conducive to positive formation. The biggest tragedy about this magazine is what it could be; as it stands, however, the nutritional value of this magazine is on par with styrofoam.

Related article: Communion Straw Men

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Assumption: Not a Question of History

The Church's doctrine on the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is usually treated with scorn by Protestants, who of course do not acknowledge the unique role of Mary in salvation history. There are many objections: the doctrine is "not biblical"; it was "invented" in 1950; in makes Mary into a rival of Christ for our affection, etc. We are all familiar with these standard canards. Before I came back to the Church, I used to be skeptical of this doctrine; "Assumption? It sure is one giant assumption, since the Bible says nothing about it," I used to say to myself.

When you really dig into it, it is not the concept of an Assumption that is so problematic - Protestants of course acknowledge that both Enoch and Elijah were assumed alive into heaven, as the Scriptures state. The problem is not with the concept of an assumption, as much as whether or not one specific individual - Our Lady - was in fact assumed body and soul into heaven.

This question of fact is where I think the only strong objection to Our Lady's Assumption is found (by strong I only mean that it is the only objection that is really intelligent). This is the fact that, when we look back on evidence for belief in the Assumption in the patristic period, the writings are silent for the first several centuries. St. Epiphanius around 377 suggests the Assumption as a possibility; the first clear references we have to it come from the mid-5th century. There are many apocryphal works purporting to be from the pre-Nicene era, but my understanding is that none of these can be established with certainty before the 5th century, or maybe even the 6th. But if we look to the pre-Nicene era, we find zero references to the doctrine of the Assumption.

This at least is a real objection; it is based upon actual history and the lack of reference to a doctrine that Catholics believe is part of the deposit of faith. How can we believe a doctrine is apostolic if it is not mentioned in the apostolic or pre-Nicene periods? Indeed, even from 400 to 500 references to it are scarce; it is only in the period from around 550 to 700 that the doctrine comes into full light. This begs the question: If Mary truly was assumed bodily into heaven, would not the apostles have known about it and told others? Wouldn't news of such a miraculous occurrence be spread abroad fairly early on throughout all the churches? Wouldn't we have a clear testimony to its historicity, like we do with regards to Peter's martyrdom in Rome? Wouldn't someone before the 5th century have mentioned something about it?

These objections may seem formidable until we call to mind one simple fact that dispels them all: Belief in the Assumption is not based on historical observation; it is not a question of history. Let's look at what I mean by this.

Of course, the act of the Assumption was historical; I wouldn't deny that for a moment. It has been declared as divinely revealed dogma, and this guarantees the historicity of the event. But what we need to understand is that the Church does not believe in the Assumption because of some historical observation that was passed on from generation to generation. In other words, our faith concerning this dogma does not depend upon that somewhere in mid-1st century Palestine or Ephesus, somebody actually saw Mary's body assume into heaven and then went and told others about it. It is not based on any historical witness or observation.

In this sense, it is quite different from the Church's belief in our Lord's Resurrection, which was believed by the early Church because it had in fact been witnessed by many. Our Lord took great pains to make sure that many witnessed His Resurrection because He wanted the faith of the primitive Church to draw its source from this one, clearly historic event that was seen by numerable eyewitnesses. Mary's Assumption, on the other hand, might very well have been witnessed by no one. Suppose she died and was buried, and then her body was taken into heaven - who would have witnessed that? We do have that old story about the twelve apostles coming together to look at Mary's body one last time and upon opening the tomb finding her body gone, but I don't know of any scholar who accepts these Transitus Mariae narratives as historical, though they do reflect the pious beliefs of Christians in the late patristic period, who though they acknowledged that Mary was Assumed into heaven, were unclear on the details. Were Mary assumed into heaven, as the Church believes, it most likely would have been in obscurity and secrecy, unwitnessed by anyone.

Rather than an historical event that was observed and related, the Assumption is related to our belief in  Mary's sinlessness. The doctrine of the Assumption is implied in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception;  Corruption, of course, is part of the effects of sin, as we are told in Romans 6:23 and in the Psalms, where King David writes, "Therefore my heart hath been glad, and my tongue hath rejoiced: moreover, my flesh also shall rest in hope. Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; nor wilt thou give thy holy one to see corruption" (Ps. 16:9-10). This is quoted by St. Paul in Acts 13:34-35 with reference to the Lord's Resurrection, where the Lord's "holy one" who is blameless is justified in His words by being freed from the corruption common to the sons of Adam.

Mary, because of her sinlessness, also shares this prerogative; the fact of the Assumption is implied from the reality of her Immaculate Conception. The two doctrines are linked; the latter leads us to confess the former, just as the justice of the Messiah means His Resurrection, since death and corruption are punishment for sin. Therefore, we do not believe in the Assumption because some dude two thousand years ago witnessed it and ran around the ancient churches saying, "Man, you'll never believe what I just saw over in Ephesus!" No; rather, it is a teaching which logically flows from our belief in the Immaculate Conception - and Mary's freedom from sin is clearly and explicitly taught in the pre-Nicene period. There is no Father who at any time suggests that Mary was a sinner; they all clearly teach her freedom from sin.

Therefore the Assumption is implied in the Immaculate Conception. Just like we say that belief in the Trinity is part of the deposit of faith even though it was not taught explicitly as such by the apostolic fathers, likewise can we assert about the Assumption. The Trinity is inferred by Christ's declaration of equality with the Father in the Gospels (along with many other of His words and actions), and the Assumption is inferred by the primitive belief in Mary's sinlessness.

Pius XII, when defining the dogma in Munificentissimus Deus, after relating different evidences of late patristic liturgies, iconography, and statements of the later Fathers (St. John Damascene, et al), goes on to say that belief in the Assumption is ultimately based on Sacred Scripture: "All these proofs and considerations of the holy Fathers and the theologians are based upon the Sacred Writings as their ultimate foundation" (MD, 38). Of course, Pius XII is here referring to a specifically typological reading of the Bible, though it he admits that sometimes theologians of the past were "rather free in their use of events and expressions taken from Sacred Scripture to explain their belief in the Assumption" (26). This is not a critique, however, but an endorsement of an interpretive method that wedded the mystical to the literal to gain insight into the truth.

The primary reason for belief in the Assumption, according to Pius, is "the filial love" of Christ for His mother (25). Note that it is a theological argument, not a historical one. He goes on to explain this filial love in terms of Mary's close unity with her Son:

"Hence the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a most perfect virgin in her divine motherhood, the noble associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a complete triumph over sin and its consequences, finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven where, as Queen, she sits in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages" (MD, 40).

All of this comes from the data of revelation as found in the Scriptures, and therefore does Pius say the pious beliefs about Mary's Assumption are "based upon the Sacred Writings as their ultimate foundation." Pius XII goes on to explain the importance of the later Fathers and early medieval liturgies as evidence for belief in the doctrine, but the doctrine itself is implied from the sinlessness of our Lady, which is found in the Scriptures and the pre-Nicene Fathers. It is part of divine revelation, albeit implicitly.

Of course, Protestants would not acknowledge this, as they read the Bible differently than we. But is important for us that we understand, and can explain that this doctrine does not depend upon a witness of history, although that does lend credence to a very ancient belief in the Assumption; rather, it exists in seed form along with the doctrine of Mary's sinlessness and is inferred from it. This is true whether or not there were Christians alive in the patristic age who could elaborate on it, and thus the lack of written evidence for the Assumption prior to the late 4th and early 5th centuries is not only not problematic but is actually irrelevant.

Friday, August 05, 2011

"I am of Paul; I am of Apollos"

In the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, we see Paul in two distinct places giving warnings to the Corinthian Church about boasting about their ministers. The Church in Corinth had been built up by St. Paul with the help of Apollos, an Alexandrian Jewish convert who was known for his erudition and powerful preaching. Shortly after the founding of the Church of Corinth, around 55 AD, dissention and schism broke out among the Christians there over sectarian disputes. It is regarding these disputes that Paul addresses the following passage:

"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no schisms among you: but that you be perfect in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been signified unto me, my brethren, of you, by them that are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith: I indeed am of Paul; and I am of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul then crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?...For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not in wisdom of speech, lest the cross of Christ should be made void" (1 Cor. 1:10-13, 17).

 St. Paul returns to this same theme two chapters later in 1 Corinthians 3:

"And I, brethren, could not speak to you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal. As unto little ones in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not meat: for you were not able as yet. But neither indeed are you now able: for you are yet carnal. For, whereas there is among you envying and contention, are you not carnal and walk you not according to man? For while one saith: I indeed am of Paul: and another: I am of Apollos: are you not men? What then is Apollo and what is Paul? I have planted, Apollos watered: but God gave the increase...For all things are yours, whether it be Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come. For all are yours. And you are Christ's. And Christ is God's" (1 Cor. 3:1-7,22-23).

In speaking with a non-Catholic friend recently about these passages, I  was surprised to hear them used by my companion as an argument against the Catholic Church's understanding of Apostolic Succession.  Here we see, says the non-Catholic, that St. Paul specifically condemns the practice of Christians boasting about who might have founded their local church or from whom they derived their baptisms. And yet, in the Catholic Church, the doctrine of Apostolic Succession depends upon this very principle; i.e., noting that our episcopal succession possesses authority and power precisely because we can trace its origin back to the Apostles. Thus, the non-Catholic says, Paul commands us not to say "I am of Paul; I am of Apollos" while the Roman Catholic Church says the opposite, proclaiming her Apostolic Succession by saying, "I am of Peter." Does not this passage of St. Paul clearly condemn the Catholic notion of the importance of a valid apostolic succession?

Before looking at the meaning of these passages, let us look at how the early Fathers valued the concept of Apostolic Succession. From the earliest times, we can see clearly that the Fathers laid great importance on who happened to found a particular local church. The apostolic foundation of a particular church was seen to be a kind of divine guarantor of the doctrine handed down in that church; doctrinal orthodoxy was connected with apostolic foundation - this apostolic foundation and doctrinal unity coalesced in the person of the bishop, the living face of the Succession and the source of each local church's unity.

This vesting of the church's unity in the person of a validly ordained bishop is laid out very clearly in St. Irenaeus' Against Heresies

"It is necessary to obey those who are the presbyters in the Church, those who, as we have shown, have succession from the Apostles; those who have received, with the succession of the episcopate, the sure charism of truth according to the good pleasure of the Father. But the rest, who have no part in the primitive succession and assemble wheresoever they will, must be held in suspicion" (Book IV. 26:2).

Notice here the connection between "succession from the Apostles" and the "sure charism of truth"; conversely, those who have "no part in the primitive succession" are "held in suspicion." Orthodoxy is intimately linked with Apostolic Succession. This is why the primitive church placed great importance on from whom their bishops received episcopal ordination.

If we look at the fragments of the Roman presbyter Caius (c. 150), he makes the same argument. In debating the Gnostic heretics, he appeals to the apostolic foundation of the See of Rome as a strong point in favor of the doctrinal orthodoxy of the Roman Church. Thus, to the Gnostics, he says:

"And I can show the trophies of the apostles. For if you choose to go to the Vatican or to the Ostian Road, you will find the trophies of those who founded this church" (Fragments of Caius, preserved in  Eusebius' Eccles. Hist., ii. 25).

The implication is clear. "You heretics think you hold the true Faith? Our Church in Rome preserves the true faith, because we were founded by the Apostles. If you don't believe it, go look at their tombs. What Apostles founded your church?" Again, a great importance is placed on the apostolic foundation of this particular church in connection with doctrinal orthodoxy.

Those who maintain that the identities of the founders of various churches were not important to the Fathers have to contend with statements like this one from St. Irenaeus. In arguing with the Gnostic heretics, he again appeals to Apostolic Succession as the sure means of gauging the orthodoxy of a particular church:

"Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.

The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes...To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telesphorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Soter having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.
" (Against Heresies, Book III.2-3).

Reread the bolded passages and see the connection between the "preaching of truth" and the "faith" with "this succession"; the truth comes to us "by means of the succession of bishops." That phrase "by means of" is important; it tells us that the Apostolic Succession was not just a matter of historical interest, the way it would be to us, for example, if we were to visit the Episcopal Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia and note with passing interest that Robert E. Lee had once worshiped there. The importance laid on apostolic foundations by the early Christians was not one of passing historical fancy, but a key component in their understanding of how the Church lived and taught in the present. Apostolic Succession is the framework or the box within which the sure charism of truth was deposited in by the Holy Spirit.

Tertullian, writing around 200, makes the same case in his Prescriptions Against the Heretics. Note again the connection between Apostolic Succession and doctrinal orthodoxy:

"But if there be any heresies which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs ] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,— a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed. Let the heretics contrive something of the same kind" (Prescription Against Heretics, 32).

The bishops are the "transmitters of the apostolic seed", and the confidence we have that this seed is uncorrupted is that, unlike the heretics who cannot "unfold the roll of their bishops", we have a clear succession of bishops going back to the apostles.

Clearly the identity of the men who founded the particular churches was of great importance to the early Church, for it was this Succession that ensured doctrinal orthodoxy. But what of the original argument, that laying this stress upon Apostolic Succession violates the teaching Paul, who commands us not to say "I am of Paul; I am of Apollos; I am of Cephas"?

I think the problem here is a misappropriation of the passage. Though it does clearly refer to contentions and schisms in the church relating to certain sects identifying themselves too zealously with their ministers, it does not bear on the question of Apostolic Succession. The early Church always considered Succession important, as we have seen, and even in the New Testament we see that preachers of the Gospel had to be specifically commissioned or ordained by the Apostles to do so. If being ordained or authorized by an Apostles was not important, St. James would not have written to the Palestinian Christians after the Council of Jersualem: "We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said" (Acts 15:24).

The 1859 Haydock Bible Commentary points out that these contentions were related to baptism - the Corinthian Christians seemed to be asserting that one baptism was of more value than another based on who had administered it. This is the root of the old Donatist heresy that the efficacy of the sacraments depends on the worthiness of the minister. The Haydock Commentary says:

"That there is no schisms....contentions, &c. To hinder these, was the chief design of this letter; one saying, I am of Paul, &c. each party bragging of their master by whom they had been baptized, and made Christians. I am of Apollo, the eloquent preacher, and I of Cephas, the head of the apostles, and of the whole Church; whilst others, the only party not to be blamed, contented themselves with saying, and I am of Christ. --- Is Christ divided? Is not your salvation, is not your justification in baptism, and all gifts from him? Was Paul crucified for you? Though, says St. Augustine, brothers may die for brothers, yet the blood of no martyr is shed for the remission of a brother's sin." 

The last quote from Augustine is very pertinent. No matter how eminent Paul or Apollos or Cephas may have been, the efficacy of baptism comes from Christ, who alone was put to death for the remission of sins. Hence, Augustine is quoted to the effect that nobody else, not even a martyr, can shed blood to remit the sins of another. This prerogative belongs to Christ alone. Yet the Corinthians seem to have been arguing that, because Paul was a more eminent apostle, or Apollos, or whoever, that baptism administered by them was of greater worth, thus making baptism a function of Paul or Cephas' holiness and not of the redemptive work of Christ.

Though it is lengthy, I think it is also helpful to quote from St. Thomas Aquinas here, who goes into this question in some detail in his Commentary on 1 Corinthians, available online here. St. Thomas notes that the dissension referred to be Paul is not over who founded any given church but rather over schismatic sects developing within one local church; and furthermore, that the source of this contention has to due with the question of baptism and its effects. He first talks about the nature of schism and then goes on to elaborate the essence of this particular contention. Aquinas says:

"Properly speaking, there are schisms, when the members of one group separate into various factions according to their various beliefs or according to their various opinions about conduct...[Paul] urges them to seek perfection, which is the good of the whole. Therefore, he says: "but that you be united in the same mind", which judges about conduct, and "in the same judgment", which judges about belief. As if to say: These things will enable you to be perfect, if you continue in unity: “Over all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection” (Col 3:14); “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).
...[A]nd the contention consists in this, that every one of you gives himself a name derived from the person by whom he was baptized and instructed, and says: "I belong to Paul, because he had been baptized and instructed by Paul"; another says: "I belong to Apollos, who had preached to the Corinthians" (Acts 19); still another says: and I belong to Cephas, i.e., Peter, to whom it had been said: “You shall be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter” (Jn. 1:42). Now they made these statements, because they thought that they received a better baptism from a better baptizer, as though the virtue of the minister had an influence on the one baptized. Finally, others say: "I belong to Christ, Who alone give grace, because the grace of Christ alone works in Christ’s baptism: “He upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending and remaining upon him, he it is that baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 1:33). Accordingly, the baptized are called Christians from Christ alone and not Paulians from Paul: “Only let us be called by your name” (Is 4:1) (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, 1-2: 23-24).

Faction happens when there is a division about belief or conduct.  Aquinas, and Paul, condemn these "I am of Apollos" sorts of arguments from those who would use them in defense of their schismatic dissensions. But neither Paul nor Aquinas condemn the Church herself from citing her own apostolic foundations for the purpose of striving to maintain the bond of unity, for it was with an aim towards unity that the episcopal succession was established to begin with.

Besides, as we have said, this particular argument had to do with baptism. That is why Paul asks rhetorically, "Was Paul then crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" Aquinas continues on this question of contention over this issue of baptism and offers three possible interpretations of what Paul is arguing here:

"[Paul]says, therefore: "I have said that everyone of you says, 'I belong to Paul'; from which it follows that Christ is divided. This can be understood in one way, as though he were saying: 'Inasmuch as there is contention among you, Christ is divided from you, because He dwells only in peace: “His place is in peace” (Ps 76:3); “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God” (Is 59:2). 
But it is better understood of him as saying: 'Inasmuch as you believe that a baptism performed by a better minister is better, it follows that Christ, Who principally and interiorly baptizes, is divided, i.e., differs in His power and effect, depending on the differing ministers.' But this is false, because it says in Eph (4:5): “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” An even better interpretation is to understand the Apostles as saying that inasmuch as you attribute to others the things that are exclusively Christ’s, you divide Christ by forming many Christs, which is contrary to what is stated in Matt (23:10): “One is your master, Christ”; “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other” (Is 45:22) (Commentary on 1 Corinthians, 27-28).
So we see that the true meaning of 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 and 3:1-7 really does not concern the issue of Apostolic Succession at all, nor did the Fathers think so, since they were very quick to appeal to Apostolic Succession in defense of orthodoxy. St. Paul does warn against belief that baptism is more or less efficacious depending upon the minister; it is this belief which he refers to as "carnal" in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 when he says,
"And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as unto carnal. As to little ones in Christ, I gave you milk to drink, not meat: for you were not able as yet: but neither indeed are you now able: for you are yet carnal. For, whereas, there is among you envying and contention; are you not carnal, and walk according to man?"

It is also worth noting that this passage in 1 Corinthians has great relevance with regards to how heretical movements tend to take on the name of the heresiarch who founded their sect. St. Irenaeus says:

"For, prior to Valentinus, those who follow Valentinus had no existence; nor did those from Marcion exist before Marcion; nor, in short, had any of those malignant-minded people, whom I have above enumerated, any being previous to the initiators and inventors of their perversity" (Against Heresies, Book III.4:3).

We could also add the Lutherans from Luther, Calvinists from Calvin, Mennonites from Menno Simmons, Arians from Arius, and on and on. Whenever  a sect breaks away from the Church and takes the name of its founder, "they must be held in suspicion", as Irenaeus says. This is why our Church and our Church alone is called "Catholic." It alone derives its power and origin from Christ and the Apostles, holding firm to the "sure charism of truth" which resides in the succession of bishops, the successors of the Apostles, whom themselves maintain Catholic unity by their individual union with the Bishop of Rome, successor of Peter, Prince of the Apostles.

Thus, the non-Catholic's argument that 1 Corinthians 1 and 3 preclude any concept of Apostolic Succession are unfounded and based on a misapplication of the relevant biblical texts.

Monday, August 01, 2011

A federalist solution to abortion

When considering the gains and setbacks of the Pro-Life movement over the past thirty-eight years since Roe v. Wade, it seems to me that much of the movement has written off what could be a very viable option in eliminating abortion in this country. I am speaking of the federalist solution.

Having only really become cognizant of the abortion debate as an adult when I returned to the Church, I do not know what the "strategy" of the Pro-Life movement was in the first two decades after 1973, but it seems that the current strategy seems to be nothing other than a push for a nation wide ban on all abortion at the federal level. We could term this the federal solution, as opposed to the federalist solution, which I will explain later.

I do not think this is a bad idea, per se; I think it is the solution that comes most readily to mind, and the solution that would be most ideal. However, there are two major downsides to the federal solution: the first is the inconvenient fact that there is no possible way it will ever happen; the second is that those who have been proposing a federal solution for decades have often times come to see any other solution as unworthy of consideration and have even attacked those who question the federal solution as being not sufficiently Pro-Life.

For me, this discussion comes down to the following question: How should Catholics respond to proposals to return regulation of abortion laws to the states?

Among many in the Pro-Life movement, this suggestion is tantamount to actually supporting abortion, since returning control of abortion to the states would inevitably mean that some states would choose to keep abortion legal. Therefore, supporting return of abortion regulation to the states (which I call the federalist solution), is seen as de facto support for abortion. It is my contention that we ought not to make this inference, and that a federalist solution remains a viable option.

The fact of the matter is this: with a federalist solution, we are guaranteed that some states, at the outset, will keep abortion legal and some states will outlaw it; but, the possibility of a total elimination on a state by state basis will always remain an option that is at least possible in theory. As things stand now, no state is permitted to outlaw abortion absolutely, though they can place restrictions upon it. Thus, we would go from a situation in which abortion is legal in all 50 states to a situation in which at least half of the states could outlaw it entirely with a theoretical possibility that the remaining states could outlaw it eventually. Placing the issue in the realm of state law rather than federal makes change much more probable.

Of course, some will say that the third option is for an outright federal ban binding in all 50 states. Perhaps I am being pessimistic, but this will simply never happen. Case law and precedent have been going against this option for decades. Roe v. Wade has been reaffirmed at the federal level, especially in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). Judges, presidents and most lawmakers have made it plain that, while they may support a reduction in abortion rights, very, very few are in favor of an absolute prohibition because it is too politically divisive. The only way a possible federal ban on all abortion could happen would be with a constitutional amendment - and there is no way anybody who knows American politics can place much hope in that happening.

The only places where there have been significant victories on the abortion front is on the state level. Many states, such as Nebraska, would outlaw abortion entirely if not for the federal law based on Roe v. Wade that forbids it. State law is where the victories are being won against abortion, and any empowerment to state law in this regard should be welcome.

We should also note that many Pro-Lifers adopt the maxim of aiming to reduce the amount of abortions by as much as possible, even if outright elimination is not possible. This thinking was brought forward to justify voting for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, although Bush favored abortion in cases of rape and incest. The argument was that Bush was "basically" Pro-Life, and that the election of Gore or Kerry in his stead would have represented such a victory for abortion advocates that a vote for Bush was acceptable because under his administration abortions were likely to be greatly reduced.

Now, a federalist solution to abortion is opposed on one hand because it would immediately make abortion entirely accessible in those states where no state restrictions currently exist, and it would open up the possibility of more abortion services in other states since there would be no federal law prohibiting it.

First, returning power of abortion to the states would not expand abortion in any state because states that want to encourage abortion are not prohibited from doing so now. Abortion is easily available in California now, and will continue to be so if power was returned to the states. Nothing is being enabled in these states where abortion is already accessible. So there is no net increase in the number of abortions, since such a transfer of power would not affect the availability of abortions in states where it is already widely available.

On the other hand, there would be a net decrease in abortions, however. If we look at states such as Nebraska, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas, where state law already sharply curtails abortion services, a return of power to these states would result in outright bans. Michigan, which has 36,000 abortions per year, would go to having zero abortions per year. We could expect similar trends in other states. Thus, there would be no rise in abortions in states where it is already widely available, but a tremendous decrease in states that are already disposed to the Pro-Life position. Returning power of abortion to the states would leave us with a net decrease.

If we just take the six most Pro-Life states, according to Americans United for Life, which compares numbers of abortions relative to total population, we can see that a return of abortion regulation to the states (presumably resulting in outright bans in these six states) would decrease abortions by 166,500 abortions in these six states alone.

Texas - 86,000 abortions per year
Michigan - 36,000 " "
Louisiana - 15,000 " "
Nebraska-2,500 " "
Oklahoma - 7,000 " "
Pennsylvania- 20,000 " "

If we presume that more than these six "top Pro-Life states" would probably ban abortion, then factor in other states that will probably restrict abortion without outlawing it entirely, we can see that abortion would be easily reduced by the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, per year.

But what about the other states where abortion would remain perfectly legal with no restrictions? Can we tolerate a system in which this is permissible? I would say (a) we are already tolerating it now and (b) at least in the scenario I am proposing, we have the potentiality of one day overturning abortion laws in these states, as opposed to now, where the Supreme Court guarantees the right to abortion and it is enforced by the highest law of the land.

Can we not see that abortion laws in these states would be on much weaker footing if such laws were in the hands of the states rather than in control of the federal government?

In our current situation, the government would basically need to establish a Constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion federally in all fifty states. In my scenario, grassroots efforts on a state by state basis could establish the same. What has more a likelihood of happening? No matter how you look at it, there is much more probability of success getting laws enacted at the state level than in waiting around for a Constitutional amendment - and it would take an amendment. Overturning Roe v. Wade would simply return power of abortion to the states; to actually ban it federally, a Constitutional amendment would probably be needed; either that, or an about-face on the part of the Supreme Court that has not been seen since the aftermath of the Civil War.

It may be said that the prohibition of abortion at the state level will never be as certain as a federal ban, since state laws are more easily changed.

To this I say, "Amen! State laws are more easily changed, which is why we have a greater chance of outlawing abortion on a state by state approach than on a federal one." But once abortion is banned at the state level, will not pro-abortion advocates redouble their efforts to overturn these laws?

This is possible of course. But I would say let us at least settle for a state ban before we start arguing about the certitude of the ban. Ultimately, our efforts at ending abortion cannot rely on enforcement by the Rule of Law alone. If we have a population that is 55% in favor of abortion, we cannot simply pass laws against abortion and expect the 55% to be content. The key, in conjunction with passing laws, is to change our culture to the point where the majority of the populace no longer views abortion in a positive light.

This is possible working in the framework of a federalist solution. A great example is corporal discipline of students in the public school. As we all know, it used to be widely condoned for teachers and administrators at public and private schools to beat pupils who were unruly or disobedient. My father tells me stories of how his high school teachers used to send troublesome students down to the wood shop where they would be told to cut out a huge paddle, which they would hand over to the principal and be told to "grab their ankles" while the administrator whacked their rear end so hard it would bring tears to your eyes, or so my father tells me.

In most school districts around the country these laws have since been superseded. I don't know of any state or school district that still allows beatings of students. The culture has changed to such a degree that society would no longer tolerate it; whether this change is for better or worse I leave to you, but the fact is that a systematic change in the culture led to an abolition of this practice on a state by state level. Even in those states where these laws are still on the books (and Michigan is one), they are not enforced. Corporal punishment in school is gone and is never coming back anytime soon, as it needed no federal action. A simple change of disposition on the part of the public, coupled with grassroots efforts, sufficed.

A similar extinction of abortion would be possible in a federalist solution. The Pro-Life movement could refocus its efforts to state laws, and through a gradual effort that would take much prayer in addition to activism, hopefully the culture would gradually come to see abortion as unacceptable almost as surely as slavery and corporal punishment in school are seen as unacceptable. Some may scoff at the idea of changing the culture in such a way; but I say, if it be impossible to change the culture through our prayers and deeds, to what end do we labor? Do not all our prayers and labors presuppose that such a national change of heart is possible?

A final objection could be that a federalist solution to abortion would render the Union into two hostile camps - Pro-Life states and Pro-Choice states - not too dissimilar to that tragic and divisive separation which characterized our nation in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Such a hostile division would weaken our national unity rather than strengthen it.

While I grant that our nation may indeed have another civil war, I doubt it will be solely over abortion, although abortion may be part of it. Yet, even if so, the issue of slavery in this country was not settled save by Civil War; it was only after 1865 that a federal solution to the question of slavery could be found. If there is a way in which abortion can be banned at the federal level, it will only come through either a near miraculous conversion of the entire country or else in the aftermath of a dreadful civil war. I doubt whether the Pro-Life movement has the backbone for a civil war, especially after painting themselves into a corner by definitions of just war and self-defense that are so narrow as to practically necessitate an aggressor be on top of you stabbing you to death before you are allowed to retaliate; even so, if a federalist solution to abortion leads to a further polarization of the country, I say so be it.

To sum up: while it is admirable to push for a federal ban on all abortions, such a ban is not likely to ever materialize. We will have a much better chance of getting rid of abortion by first returning abortion legislation to the power of the states and then attacking it state at a time. This not only will not increase the amount of abortions, but will actually result in a net decrease. Meanwhile, the Pro-Life movement can work on attacking the remaining state strongholds of abortion and changing the cultural dialogue about abortion until the time comes when abortion is as little tolerated as slavery or corporal punishment in school. Since this is the case, those who are in favor of the federal ban/Constitutional amendment approach ought not to denigrate those who propose other solutions, nor should the Pro-Life credentials of candidates be questioned who propose returning the power of abortion legislation to the states. It is a viable option and should be regarded as such, in my humble opinion.