Sunday, January 29, 2012

Matt. 6:5-6

In the Gospel, our Lord warns us:

"And when ye pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men: Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou when you shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father who sees in secret will repay you." (Matt. 6:5-6).

How often this verse is trotted out by smug atheists whenever Christians try to make any sort of public demonstration of their faith: a prayer chain outside an abortion clinic, a controversy over a manger scene in a public place, prayers of protest outside an adult nightclub or bookstore. Always, this verse is brought out by the opponents of the Church, as if it absolutely prohibits Christians from doing any sort of prayer or evangelizing in public. Just recently someone posted this verse on my Facebook wall when I tried to organize a prayer chain for my community.

What does the Bible say about prayer? This would be too great a topic to take up here, but it suffices to say that there is plenty of "public prayer" throughout the Scriptures, such as those at which Solomon dedicated the Temple, for example. Prayer in the New Testament is often public as well, as all the Temple liturgies that the Apostles participated in were in public (Acts 3), not to mention the greatest manifestation of the Spirit in the New Testament on the day of Pentecost saw the Apostles praying publicly in front of thousands. Not to mention that many of the most memorable prayers of the early Church were those uttered by the martyrs while they stood exposed to thousands in the arena waiting for death, and that in the coming centuries, public processions and public acts of prayer and penance were not only common, but lauded by the Church as an especially efficacious way of securing God's blessing upon a people. Clearly, Christianity, both apostolic and patristic, never understood public prayer to be forbidden by Matthew 6:5.

As with the following verse about not praying with "vain repetitions" (Matt. 6:7), where the emphasis is not so much on repetition as with the repetitions that are vain, Matthew 6:5-6 does not prohibit prayer in front of others in an absolute sense, but rather warns against people praying "
that they may be seen by men." That this is so is evident by the contrast Jesus makes between praying "as the hypocrites" and praying sincerely. The prayer of the sincere disciple is "in secret" and seen only by the Father; this contrasts with the prayer that is done to be "seen by men" and is done by the hypocrites. The structure and syntax of the verse makes it clear that was is being condemned here is not praying in front of others, but praying for the purpose of being praised by men and thought pious.

Furthermore, if we were to take this verse in the absolute sense that many atheists would like to attribute to it, it would prohibit us from every praying in front of anybody. Husbands would not be allowed to pray with or in front of their wives or children, teachers at religious schools would not pray before class in front of their students, a minister or bishop could not give an invocation at a college graduation ceremony, nor could a priest even offer the prayers of the Mass, since these occasions all involve praying in the presence of others and the words of the Gospel, if interpreted in an absolute sense, leave no exception; all prayer must be done "in thy chamber" and offered "to the Father in secret." Obviously, no Christian of any denomination has ever suggested such a scenario.

The verse does, however, stress the importance of maintaining a private prayer life and returning to a kind of vital, one-on-one encounter with the Lord that is the inner source of joy and spiritual vitality. Even Jesus was used to retreating to a "remote place" when He wished to pray (Mk. 1:35). So, I do not mean to suggest that Jesus admonition to pray in secret is to be completely interpreted away. We should all have a private, intimate prayer life. But we do need to interpret in context, and the context, coupled with a unanimous tradition, demonstrates that Matt. 6:5-6 in no way prohibits prayer in front of others, but like Christ's other injunctions in the Gospels, asks us to consider of motivations for whatever we do. Anything that we do just to be seen by men is always done out of pride and is to be avoided. But there is nothing wrong with prayer in public or prayer with others for honorable or pious motives.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Join Us in Italy this Summer

Dear readers,

Please allow me to introduce you to a superb opportunity this coming Summer. Yours truly, together with a couple of colleagues, has launched an annual scholastic theology program in the middle of beautiful Italy. This year's program is entitled "Encountering Christ in the Gospels." You can browse the official website for all the details, but let me give you the essentials here:

  • Studying the four Gospels, the heart of all theology, by reading them in their entirety together with the commentaries of the great masters of the Catholic tradition: St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas. We will also look at a few chapters from Papa Ratzinger's Jesus of Nazareth books.
  • The program culminates with an authentic scholastic disputation, complete with objections, sed contras, replies, and the definitive respondeo of the 'Master'.
  • Daily Mass and divine office (all in the traditional form!) with the Benedictine Monks of Norcia.
  • Location in Norcia, the birthplace of Ss. Benedict and Scholastica.
  • Day trips to Assisi and Cascia, and a weekend in Rome for the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul.
  • June 23 - July 7, 2012.
  • Only 675 euro for tuition, room, and board. At the moment that is about $879.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Obscure Saints: Henrik of Uppsala

To call St. Henrik obscure is only possible to an English speaking Catholic. For us, he is so obscure that he does not even have an entry in the voluminous 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia. But, to Finnish Catholics, he is the nation's patron and one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages, and of today.

Henrik was born Henry, an Englishman, sometime in the early 12th century. It is unknown where he began his ecclesiastical career, but in 1152 he appears as a companion of papal legate and fellow Englishman Nicholas Breakspear (later Pope Adrian IV), who spent two years in Scandinavia trying to organize the Church in that region. Henrik appears to have remained behind, where he was later appointed Bishop of Uppsala, primatial See of Sweden, in 1156. This was around one year after Eric IX Jedvardsson, also known as King Eric the Saint, took the throne of Sweden. Henrik, who had a heart for missionary work, found a friend and supporter in the zealous King Eric, who was anxious to spread the Faith into neighboring Finland as a means of not only winning souls, but stabilizing his own borders.

Allegedly, Eric organized a sort of crusade to bring Finland under Swedish rule and spread the Faith, although there is no contemporary evidence of such a military adventure. What is certain is that, at the behest of King Eric, the Bishop of Uppsala was persuaded to go to Finland to spread the Faith in that region. He was not in Finland long when he was murdered by a pagan Finn, to whom tradition assigns the name Lalli. According to some accounts, his martyrdom occurred as a result of Henrik attempting to enforce a canonical penalty on a murderer; in the more popular tale, Henrik stops to purchase some food from a local woman before crossing a frozen lake by slegde. When the woman's husband Lalli returns home, she tells him only that Henrik came and took the food but neglects to mention that he also paid for it. In anger, Lalli follows Henrik out upon the ice of the lake where he murders him and takes his mitre home in gloating triumph. According to tradition, Henrik was martyred on January 20th, 1156.

Finnish cultural tradition has taken a macabre interest in speculating about the fate of Lalli, the murderer. All traditions agree that Lalli died soon after Henrik, unrepentant and tormented. The favorite story of Lalli tells how he came home from the murder wearing the bishop's mitre. When he went to remove it from his head, his scalp came off with it; thus St. Henrik is often depicted in medieval iconography standing on top of Lalli, who is always depicted as bald. Other stories tell of Lalli being pursued relentlessly by a band of mice who constantly tried to eat him alive. There are tales of Lalli climbing a tree or moving from house to house to escape the gnawing mice; finally he seeks refuge at sea, but the mice some how find him and he and the mice end up drowning together. The gnawing mice which relentlessly seek to devour Lalli are an apt symbol of the gnawing of conscience.

Henrik soon became the national saint of Finland, although he was largely ignored outside of Scandinavia. In Scandinavian countries, his feast day (January 20th) is the occasion of a tremendous festival called Heikinpäivä. The Heikinpäivä festival, though originally a Finnish solemnity, is actually more important in other areas of the world that were settled by Finns than in Finland itself, which has lost touch with much of its Catholic past. The region of the world that is best known for its festive celebration of Heikinpäivä is Michigan's Upper Peninsula, which was settled by Finns in the 19th century. The Michigan celebrations are largely civic and cultural in nature, having lost a lot of the relevance to the martyr-saint, but it is still a real treat to visit the north during the time of the this festival.

St. Henrik, ora pro nobis!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Reliability of the Fathers (4 of 7)

In my previous posts on the Church Fathers and their general reliability as authentic interpreters of the truths of the Gospel, we have looked at the objection that the legalization of Christianity fundamentally altered the Church's understanding of itself and its beliefs, that the difference in "cultural horizons" between the Greek and Latin fathers and the Jewish apostles made a faithful transmission of apostolic truth to later generations impossible, and that the transformation of the Church from a Jewish to a Gentile reality made the teachings of the Gentile Fathers unreliable.

Today, we look at the fourth objection of my Protestant interlocutor (the original objections of this interlocutor can be found in post one of this series). In objection four, our interlocutor states that the teaching of the Fathers is unreliable due to:

The rise and dominance of the legalistic and ascetic strains within Christianity.

This is actually two objections: by "legalistic" I assume he is referring to the gradual development of the Church's hierarchical and canonical structure of governance, especially with relation to the "charistmatic" tendencies in the early Church, which though never entirely died out, were less and less prevalent from the 4th century on. By "ascetic", I can only assume he is referring to the rise of monasticism from the late 3rd century onward.

Let's start with the first objection: Do the evolution of a hierarchy governed by canonical norms and the simultaneous rise of monasticism mean that the Church Father's understanding of the Scriptures is flawed or untrustworthy?

First, note that the interlocutor is coming at the early Church with what we could call a hermeneutic of historical rupture. He is operating on the assumption that Early Apostolic Church = No Legalism, but Patristic Church = Legalism.  The interlocutor shares the common Protestant idea that the primitive Church was governed in a decentralized manner with charismatic impulses fulfilling the role that the hierarchy would fulfill later. This is too big an argument to take up here, as it would involve a massive survey of the role of hierarchy in the early Church and the development of what we would call "canon law." I think it suffices to say that asserting that apostolic Christianity was not "legalistic" is based on a false understanding of apostolic church, and that opposing a primitive "charismatic" Church to a latter "hierarchical" or "legalistic" Church is a false dichotomy. I have written about the charismatic vs. institutional concept elsewhere. Regarding whether or not the Church of the apostolic era (late 1st t- mid 2nd century) was "legalistic", we should keep a few things in mind:

The Didache, the earliest Christian document we have outside of the New Testament, is full of what many Protestants would consider "legalisms", for example:

"But concerning baptism, thus shall ye baptize. Having first recited all these things, baptize {in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit} in living (running) water. But if thou hast not living water, then baptize in other water and if thou art not able in cold, then in warm. But if thou hast neither, then pour water on the head thrice in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let him that baptizeth and him that is baptized fast, and any others also who are able; and thou shalt order him that is baptized to fast a day or two before" (7:1-7).

These are distinctions that modern Protestants would presume to be legalistic - why the preference for running water over still? And why cold rather than hot? And commanding fasting for two days prior? Most Protestants would consider these commands to be legalistic, if for no other reason than that they are not commanded by the New Testament, but in a larger sense, because the convey the message that not only Faith matters, but exactly how the commandments of our Lord are carried out liturgically.

Or consider this passage, also from the Didache:

"And let not your fastings be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and the fifth day of the week; but do ye keep your fast on the fourth and on the preparation (the sixth day) day" (8:1-2).

If I were a Protestant and insisted that fasting should only be done on certain days of the week, my teaching would be called "legalist" for the reason that one day would be valued above another. Yet here we have this alleged "legalism" right in the midst of the apostolic era, in fact, in the earliest document outside of the New Testament. The Didache is full of this sort of stuff - the exact words to use in the Eucharist, how many days a prophet is allowed to stay in a home, and, interestingly enough, commands to appoint bishops and deacons (15:1). Yet all of this occurs in the midst of commandments about how to handle visionaries and prophets, and in one verse, it says that bishops and deacons also "perform the service of prophets" (15:2). 

What we gather from this is that those who say that the first generations of Christians were only concerned with living the Sermon on the Mount and living by charismatic impulses are mistaken. The charismatic certainly existed, but it existed side by side with a developing canonical ("legalistic") framework. Furthermore, these two aspects of the Church were not opposed to one another; in fact,  the ideal seems to be that the charismatic is exercised through the hierarchical, as we see in the comment about bishops being prophets.

Not to deny any change between the apostolic era and later generations. The institutional aspect of the Church did become more solidified over time, but that is natural and to be expected with any concept, as Newman said. And it is true that as Christianity became more mainstream, and the average lay Christian became less of an ascetic, that charismatic gifts decreased among the laity. But the point we need to stress here is that there was never a time when a hierarchical, legalistic Christianity "rose" and then "dominated" because Christianity never was an amorphous, non-legalistic movement. The charismatic and hierarchical, the Spirit-filled and "legalist" were all the same movement, and there was no "dominating" of an earlier form of Christianity by a latter. Thus, though the Church developed naturally as it grew, we can discern no radical rupture between an apostolic and a patristic Church, and since there is no rupture in the form of the Church, we should assume no rupture in its teaching or interpretation of the content of Revelation, either.

Not that there was no resistance to hierarchical developments, but interestingly enough, those who most resisted the hierarchical developments and insisted on granting primacy to the charismatic were the heretical groups such as the Marcionites, Montanists and the various Gnostic sects.

Let us move on to the second objection: that the "rise and dominance" of the ascetic strain of Christianity means a disruption in the Church's understanding of Sacred Scripture.  

As with the first objection, this one puts up a false dichotomy between a non-ascetical primitive Christianity and a later Christianity dominated by asceticism. The fundamental error in this thinking is the confusion of ascetical with monastic. The interlocutor is correct if he means that Christianity was not always monastic, but he is sadly mistaken if he thinks it was not always ascetical. Asceticism means the disciplining of the body to bring it into subjection to the higher faculties, especially through fasting and abstinence from external things that, while good, are given up in order that the soul might attain to higher things. This practice of ascecis was always present in the Church, from the virgin martyrs of the first centuries who voluntarily abstained from marriage for the sake of the kingdom, going right back to St. Paul who said:

"Know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize. So run that you may obtain. And every one that striveth for the mastery refraineth himself from all things. And they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown: but we an incorruptible one. I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty: I so fight, not as one beating the air. But I chastise my body and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway"
(1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Monasticism did not spring up until the mid-third century, but asceticism was always with us. Indeed, monasticism was simply a new expression of asceticism, which was necessary as Christianity became an increasingly mainstream movement and ascetics sought new ways to live out their ascecis within the developing Church. But, as with the arguments about the hierarchy, the problem here is in viewing the monastic movement as a radical departure from what had come before. But, once we recognize the presence of the ascetical spirit even in the early, urbanized Christianity of the apostolic era, we see the emergence of monasticism as something that organically flowed from what had come before it and in no way constituted a real rupture, either in practice or belief.

Furthermore, as we established in our first post on this subject, with regards to accuracy of biblical interpretation, the gradual intensification of the ascetical spirit in the monastic movement does not make the Church's interpretive tradition less sure, but rather more certain, as the teachings of the Fathers carry weight "because they are men of eminent sanctity and of ardent zeal for the truth, on whom God has bestowed a more ample measure of His light" (Providentissimus Deus, 14), according to Pope Leo XIII. In other words, the fact that in the third century we start to see incredibly holy men like St. Anthony and St. Paul the Hermit pop up means that, by their ascecis and rigorous life of prayer and penance, they have a greater focus on the truth and a clearer insight into the meaning of the Scriptures.

Based on this, exegesis that comes out of this period is not only consonant with what came before (inasmuch as the monastic movement was an organic development of the earlier ascetical tradition, rather than a new idea that "rose" to "dominance"), but we can expect a more precise development and a greater insight into the spiritual life inasmuch as the desert fathers were eminently holy.

This is a very long post and I do not pretend that it has answered the objections as fully as they could be. But, I do believe that we are mistaken to think the Fathers in general are unreliable just because the hierarchy and the Church's expression of ascecis naturally developed over the centuries. Development does not mean change. Development means development, and as development is natural and organic, and in the case of the Church, Spirit led, what comes prior must be interpreted in light of what comes later. The first century is interpreted in light of the second, the second in light of the third, and so on. There is no real rupture, no real sense in which we can assert that what a Christian of the fourth century understood when he read the Scriptures was radically different than what a Christian of the first century saw.

Next time, we will look at a similar objection based on the development of using the process of "deselection" to establish orthodoxy.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Penance and Satisfactory Punishment

I suppose this post is more of a question than a commentary. I have often noted that penances imposed by most confessors these days are a bit on the light side: praying three Hail Mary's, reading one Psalm, "doing a good deed", or something similar. I have likewise reflected that, were one to make these confessor-imposed penances the sole source of penance in one's life, that individual would still be far from the detached, mortified Christian that the saints envision in their moral exhortations. I wonder, for serious sins like adultery or apostasy, if the penance given by the confessor is too light, is the debt of punishment even wholly made up for?

Suppose someone commits the sin of adultery, which we all agree is a serious sin that incurs a large stain that must be expiated by penance. Now suppose the confessor assigns a penance of three Hail Mary's. Assuming the penitent is properly contrite and has the fitting dispositions, is this penance sufficient to atone for the stain of sin incurred by the sin?

I can only think of three possible solutions:

1) The penance is not sufficient because of a defect in the degree of the penance itself. There remains a debt to be expiated, the amount of which is relative to the insufficiency of the penance. Supporting this approach would be the praxis of the Church throughout the ages, wherein confessors have typically given heavier penances for more serious sins, suggesting that atoning for a more serious sin requires a corresponding penance that is equally weighty. St. Thomas' teaching that the debt of punishment is removed by the imposition of a "satisfactory punishment" that is able to restore "equality of justice" would also support this (I-II, Q. 87, art. 6).

2) The penance is entirely sufficient, not because of the content of the penance itself, but because of good disposition of the penitent in performing it, especially by virtue of obedience to the confessor's command, even though the content of the penance might be materially insufficient. Supporting this position would be the teaching of many of the saints, who state that it is not their penances considered materially that are effacacious (because suffering is not intrinsically good), but rather the degree to which they proceed from charity or obedience. Thus, an act that is in itself neutral can be rendered good by virtue of obedience. This is why St. Thomas calls it a "special virtue" (II-II, Q. 104, art. 2). Therefore, a materially insufficient penance carried out in obedience to a confessor with the proper disposition is able to completely expiate the punishment due to sin insofar as the grace that comes through acting in obedience fills whatever is lacking in this respect. Obedience makes it work.

3) The penance may be neither totally sufficient not totally insufficient, but will be as sufficient as the charity of the penitent makes it. In this scenario, neither the content of the penance nor the factor of obedience determine the sufficiency of the penance, but the intensity of the charity on the part of the penitent (although I would presume the charity must be that much more intense if the penance is materially insufficient). I like this explanation because it can encompass the other two - it does not deny that a penance may be materially insufficient, and also can factor in obedience since, as St. Thomas say, obedience flows from charity (II-II, Q. 104, art. 3). But if this were the case, it would leave the majority of penitents in a bad place, since, if we are operating on the assumption that the vast majority of penances imposed today are materially insufficient, it is up to the penitent to "make up for this" either by extra, self-imposed penances or by performing the materially insufficient penances with an extraordinarily intense degree of charity, which I doubt the vast majority of penitents in this country are doing.

I am not a theologian, and this is something I am a bit foggy on. Does anyone have any light to shed? What happens to the fellow who commits adultery, gets assigned three Hail Mary's, and does them with the proper (but not extraordinary) dispositions? To what degree is the debt of punishment remitted?

Sunday, January 08, 2012

FAITH Magazine's definitions of "Inspiration"

In the Diocese of Lansing, we have this magazine called FAITH that gets mailed out for free to the household of every regular Catholic. Though there are some decent elements in FAITH magazine, it often happens that what I read gets my eye twitching; sometimes I have had to take FAITH magazine out to the woodshed (here and here). This month was no surprise. In a section called "Theology 101", the magazine interviews two theologians and asks them to answer "What does the Church mean when it says that the Scriptures are inspired?" Oh boy. (If you want to see the actual source, check out this article from FAITH's website)

The first theologian, a priest from Mundelein Seminary, offers this definition of inspiration:

"The notion of the sacred Scriptures as inspired means that what is in the Scriptures is what God wants to be there, i.e. the Holy Spirit is behind the human words through which God communicates to us. Because of this inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the human words that comprise the Scriptures are trustworthy in regard to both faith and the moral life and contain the revelation of who God is to us, and of who we are in relation to God and to each other."

This definition is not totally deficient, but it gives me pause. In what sense is the Holy Spirit "behind" the words of the Bible? The Holy Spirit could, in the more common sense of the term, 'inspire" me to create a beautiful poem or song. In this common sense of the word inspiration, it could also be said that the Holy Spirit is "behind" the words of my song or poem. But the mere idea that the Holy Spirit is "behind" something does not include the ideas the inerrancy.

Also, this priest's statement that the Scriptures are "trustworthy in regard to both faith and moral life" is also too vague. Trustworthy? The words of Fulton Sheen are trustworthy; heck, the words of Jimmy Akin are generally trustworthy. To use the adjective "trustworthy" in explaining the authority of the Scriptures is vastly deficient, since this can be predicated of any other trustworthy teacher. What needs to be said is that the authorship of the Holy Spirit makes the Bible inerrant and infallible, not simply "trustworthy."

I also hesitate when he says this trustworthiness applies to "both faith and moral life." He seems here to be restricting inerrancy ("trustworthiness") to only those portions of Scripture that have to do with faith and morals, whichever those are! In other words, he appears to be interpreting Dei Verbum 11 in a strict sense, which is not the way the Council intends the document to be interpreted, and not the way Tradition has understood it (see here).

In short, all the answers of this priest are structured in such a way as that it avoids the apparently unpleasant topic of inerrancy. Let's see how the second theologian interviewed explains the concept of inspiration.This second theologian, a lay theologian, also from Mundelein, says:

"The Church has made clear that any ultimate definition of inspiration must consider the very real contributions of both its divine and human authors. Further, the Church has eliminated three inadequate definitions of inspiration because they fail to recognize this balance of divine – human cooperation, namely mechanical dictation, mere assistance and subsequent approbation. Mechanical dictation, often depicted in stained-glass windows as an evangelist writing on a scroll as an angel whispers in his ear, places too much emphasis on God while reducing human cooperation to mere passivity."

Before we go on, we ought to ask ourselves, in what way, and when, has the Church "eliminated" dictation as a way of understanding inspiration? Of course, the theologian offers no evidence to back this up. It is a common theme in modern biblical theology to try to distance oneself from the idea of dictation. Has the Church "eliminated" dictation? I don't think so. Look at the following Magisterial statements:

"For the Sacred Scripture is not like other books. Dictated by the Holy Ghost, it contains things of the deepest importance, which in many instances are most difficult and obscure" (Providentissimus Deus, 5).

"But it is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred... For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true" (Providentissimus Deus, 20).

"You will not find a page in [St. Jerome's] writings which does not show clearly that he, in common with the whole Catholic Church, firmly and consistently held that the Sacred Books - written as they were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit - have God for their Author, and as such were delivered to the Church. Thus he asserts that the Books of the Bible were composed at the inspiration, or suggestion, or even at the dictation of the Holy Spirit; even that they were written and edited by Him. Yet he never questions but that the individual authors of these Books worked in full freedom under the Divine afflatus, each of them in accordance with his individual nature and character…" (Spiritus Paraclitus, 8).

We could also look to the Council of Trent, which did not shrink from utilizing the word dictation:

"The sacred and holy, ecumenical, and general Synod of Trent, - lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the same three legates of the Apostolic See presiding therein, - keeping this always in view, that, errors being removed, the purity itself of the Gospel be preserved in the Church; which (Gospel), before promised through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating [Spiritu Sancto dictante], have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand..." (Council of Trent, Session IV, Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures, 1546).

Clearly, the Church has not "eliminated" dictation. On the other hand, it seems that Tradition actually favors this interpretation of inspiration. I understand that it was not FAITH magazine but the theologians from Mundelein who gave these answers, but FAITH ought to have known better than to publish these inadequate and misleading statements.

It may be objected that the popes and Council of Trent support dictation, but not "mechanical dictation," and this is the phrase the theologian initially uses. Of course, if by "mechanical dictation" the theologian means a sort of inspiration that completely denies the human element (in other words, denies that the Scriptures can truly be said to have human authors), then I would also reject this definition as inadequate. But is this what this theologian means?

The theologian explains dictation by equating it with a very traditional image. Dictation is "often depicted in stained-glass windows as an evangelist writing on a scroll as an angel whispers in his ear." In other words, this theologian sees mechanical dictation as that form of dictation that is traditionally depicted; in other words, the Church's traditional understanding of dictation. Thus, while I do acknowledge that there is the potential for "mechanical dictation" to be something different from simple dictation, the fact that the theologian cites the traditional image of the inspired evangelist receiving the Gospel from the whispering of an angel as an example of mechanical dictation, I can only assume that "mechanical dictation" is the same thing as "dictation", as it is used in the passages above cited.

By the way, if you are wondering what answer the second theologian finally did give to what constitutes inspiration, here is what she offered:

"[A] believing community passes down traditions that capture faithfully their experience of God, and that subsequent generations also experience these as compelling and pass them on until eventually the traditions reach the written form that we now call sacred Scripture."

The emphasis is laid on the experience of the community rather than on the actual, historical revelation of God to an individual person. This is cited as the idea behind the "process" of inspiration, but again, this definition totally leaves out the concept of inerrancy.

I don't know what more to say, except to restate my earlier opinion that this magazine has the nutritional value of styrofoam.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Best Posts of 2011

The year 2011 was my first year since I began this blog that I was not employed by the parish as a DRE and Youth Director, so I had a little bit more time to devote to blogging and felt more freedom to blog about whatever I wanted. The result was some of the most scholarly posts I have ever done (in my opinion). Here are my picks for the top posts of 2011. By the way, if you enjoy this blog, please consider forwarding some of these articles to your friends or "liking" this blog's Facebook page (linked up at the top):

Program for Parish Renewal: First in a four part series of how my pastor took a crazy. liberal parish and transformed it into a bastion of orthodoxy.
Last Supper and Liturgy: Examining the seating arrangement at the Last Supper.

Priestless parishes as a fait accompli?  The tendency of many dioceses to put forward the ideal of a priestless parish as a normative and even desirable state of affairs.

French clergy in the age of Louis XIV: An examination of the moral and intellectual state of the French clergy during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Rob Bell: Stressing the fault lines of Protestantism:  The controversy over Rob Bell's book "Love Wins" reveals an inherent weakness in Protestant thought.

"I am of Paul; I am of Apollos": A refutation to a common Protestant interpretation of 1 Cor. 10:13-17.

St. Augustine did not "invent" original sin: A refutation to the common assertion that the concept of original sin was invented by St. Augustine of Hippo.

Books that won't imperil the soul:  Thirteen recommended books in the fields of theology, philosophy, history and literature.

The JustFaith program is not Catholic: One of my most highly viewed posts of all time on the heretical tendencies of the JustFaith program.

The Assumption: Not a question of history:  Why we believe in the Assumption despite the fact that the dogma is not explicitly taught prior to Council of Nicaea.

Reliability of the Fathers: The first post in a long series about the general reliability of the Church Fathers in establishing what is the true faith.

The Homosexual Compromise: A refutation of the common assertion that homosexual orientation is acceptable in a priest so long as they don't "act on it."
Rectificare Errata: The fake encyclical I posted on April Fool's Day.
A federalist solution to abortion: Why returning abortion laws to the states is a licit strategy for ending abortion in this country.
Liturgical minimalism hurts the poor: The liturgical minimalism done in the name of making the liturgy more accessible to the poor actually hurts the poor.

Authority over demons in the Early Church: In the early Church, average lay people had authority over demons, which they exercised simply by virtue of their baptism.
Is Gandhi in hell? Using Gandhi as an example of how the principle of invincible ignorance is abused.
Speeding up to slow down: How my diocese's attempt to implement the new translation of the Missal actually put our parish behind, at least with regards to music.

What day was Jesus really born? An examination of the evidence in support of December 25th based on the time of Zechariah's service in the Temple.
Law and Tradition: Why, despite the admirable trend towards Tradition in the current Church, tradition itself can never be restored simply by legislation.

Top Ten Careers for Catholics: Ten fields you could go into instead of majoring in "liberal arts."

Christ's descent into hell: An examination of St. Thomas' reasons for why Christ descended to the dead - none of them agreeing with the reasons put forth by Balthasar. Article by Anselm.