Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Downward Spiral: Thoughts on the Rejection of the Conscience Clause

"As I went over the water, The water went over me."

— Old Nursery Rhyme

Conscience Tug-of-War in Washington | Daily News |

The recent decision in Washington State to require all pharmacists to fill all prescriptions regardless of conscience is a troubling one.  Yes, in part it has to do with the state making it compulsory to act against one's conscience or suffer loss.  There is another part, which seems to be unmentioned, which troubles me, and that is the changing legalizations of certain drugs mean that nobody is safe from the changing whims of the law.  In the past, the distribution of abortifacients were illegal, and in fact against they ran afoul of the original Hippocratic Oath:

I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.

Now it is legal to distribute them, and the pharmacist or doctor who holds to the old standard is forced to either choose between his conscience and his livelihood — a decision a just society has no right to demand of him.  Now we see that the physician who holds to the requirements of conscience are forced to do things which in the past nobody would dream of asking him to do.

The problem is: Who decides when the moral requirements may change and who may decide what is good and what is evil?

If morality is objective, is outside of us, then we must realize that we have no right to decree changes to morality and that a society is good or evil depending on whether it follows objective morality or not.  With this view in mind, we recognize that morality judges society, not the other way around.

However, if morality is merely opinion, then there is nothing to bind people, and the whims of each generation dictate how we may treat others.  Once, African Americans counted for 3/5 of a person and could be owned as property.  There was a time when this was seen as morally acceptable by a portion of the American population who were not African Americans.  If popular opinion dictates morality, how can we say that a later generation would be wrong to go back to that mentality?

If society and culture determine what is moral, then the person who rejects the popular morality is always in the wrong.  Some might agree with this, but do you realize that under such a view, Bull Connor was right and Martin Luther King Jr. was wrong?  Such a view is the exact opposite of what we know and believe today — recognizing that treating people as inferior because of their race is contrary to their rights to be treated as a human being.

If it is government leaders who can decide what is lawful and what is not, rejecting previous views of morality then we must recognize that we have nothing to say to the dictators of the world except that we personally find the behavior repugnant… to which the dictator can say, "Who are you to force your views on me?"

If morals are elastic and changeable then there is nothing right in being tolerant and nothing wrong in being intolerant.


Consider it well.  If the moral beliefs of the past can be superseded by the morals of the present, then how can we protest if the morals of the future supersede the morals of the present?  The person who believes in racial justice today may find himself in a position where he or she is told to discriminate against certain races in the future, and an appeal to what was once held can be rejected on the grounds that "things have changed."

It is only when one considers the source of what makes a thing right or wrong that we can be protected from the tyranny of the majority or the tyranny of the state.  Those government leaders and advocates for change need to address the question "On what basis" a value is to be seen as good or evil.  Laws should only be made which recognize this.

Otherwise none of us are safe from the whims of society, or the demands of a tyrant.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What is it to Thee? Follow thou Me

Jesus saith to him: So I will have him to remain till I come, what is it to thee? follow thou me. (John 21:22 Douay Rheims)

The recent outrage by Pelosi reminds me of an incident a few weeks ago, where a person in one of the faith groups I lead with expressed a concern over how certain Catholic politicians tend to go along taking positions grossly incompatible to the faith and how certain bishops who have the authority and obligation to carry out the discipline of their diocese seem to do nothing over the whole affair.  Now I can understand such a view, having encountered it often in the past.  I can certainly understand how demoralizing it can be to see the individual politician who scandalizes with his or her position and seems to suffer no consequences for it.

It can be uncomfortable to be asked (and not have an answer to) the question: "Why doesn't the Church do anything about it if it is so important?"  I have seen those who disagree with Church teaching seek to use this as evidence of justifying dissent and I have seen those who support Church teaching express fears that a lack of action indicates sympathy or support for the dissenting view.

Such a concept is one which needs to be carefully assessed.  It assumes several things which need to be demonstrated as true and not merely accepted as true.  Some of these are:

  1. We have to avoid an either-or assumption of "Either the Church would act OR she doesn't care."  We have to acknowledge the possibility that the Church does care and does attempt to act but is acting in a manner which is not visible.
  2. We have to consider the possibility of the wayward politician being instructed and refusing to heed correction.
  3. We have to consider the possibility that what tactics we prefer may not be what the Bishop in question sees as the best way.  We need to remember that the Bishop is tasked to save the lost sheep.
  4. We must remember that the bishop may not sympathize with the dissenter but may behave in a way which is ineffective, because all of us are in need of God's grace.

We must remember "God is not mocked" (Galatians 6:7) and all will be judged on what they should have done.  There will be no excuse for living in open defiance to Church teachings.  As it says in Luke 12:

47 That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely;

48 and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.

We who have knowledge of the Catholic teachings cannot say we are ignorant of our Master's will after all.

Now what I say next may be misunderstood so I want to make this clear.  I am not saying we should just ignore the actions of our fellow believers who go astray.  To admonish the sinner is one of the spiritual works of mercy.  When Jesus says Stop judging, that you may not be judged," (Matt 7:1) it does not mean tolerating evil silently or letting everyone do as they please.  "Stop judging" means not assuming to know whether one will be saved or not.

So what I am saying is that we cannot point at a lack of perceived action as a sanction of dissent.  We know what the Church teaches.  Thus we know what we are called to do.  Because of this, Christ's words, so beautifully expressed in the Douay Rheims becomes an admonishment to us:  What is it to thee? Follow thou me.  (The NAB puts it: "What concern is it of yours? You follow me.")  Since we know what we are called to do, the bad behavior of others is not an excuse for us to do as we will.  Nor is the lack of visible reprimand from the Church an indication of permission or approval.

If we are troubled by the scandal of the fellow believer, we should remember what Christ has so sternly warned in Matthew 18:

6 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

7 Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!

This is a grave indictment here.  Since we know that all of us are called to bring God's message of salvation to others, we are called to bring this message to the sinners of the world who are within the Church as well.

Since we should not desire the death of the sinner (God does not — see Ezekiel 18:23), we should feel obligated to pray for the repentance of the public sinner within the Church and pray for the bishop for who has the task of handling the case to do what is just.

Then we continue to follow Him, praying for the grace that we might not stumble on our own road.  We do not know what graces God provides to others and we do not know whether the scandalous ones will continue to reject these graces or whether they will repent.  We know our own task and we must be faithful in carrying it out, knowing the actions of others do not justify our own slack.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pelosi's Hypocrisy on Choice

Source: Catholic Culture : Latest Headlines : Pelosi rips ‘No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act’

Pelosi is at it again, showing her true colors when opposing a proposed law which says taxpayers don't have to fund abortions.

The law says in part:

‘None of the funds authorized or appropriated by Federal law, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are authorized or appropriated by Federal law, shall be expended for health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion.

It also states:

‘Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as prohibiting any individual, entity, or State or locality from purchasing separate abortion coverage or health benefits coverage that includes abortion so long as such coverage is paid for entirely using only funds not authorized or appropriated by Federal law and such coverage shall not be purchased using matching funds required for a federally subsidized program, including a State’s or locality’s contribution of Medicaid matching funds.

Pelosi has called this proposed law: “the most comprehensive and radical assault on women’s health in our life time.

While I am sure most practicing Catholics already know that there no similarity between her views and those of the Catholic Church, I would like to use this article to discuss a fundamental error she makes.  That is her unquestioned and unquestionable assumption that abortion is a matter of choice and that choice is a good no matter what the person chooses — so long as that choice supports abortion.  Any seeking to assert the view of the person who believes the unborn is a human person is savaged as being a terrible person with an evil, intolerant and ignorant intent.

Such a view can be boiled down as "What's mine is mine.  What's yours is up for grabs."

Here's the problem with her views.  If the concept on "Choice" is an inviolable good, then it logically follows that those who choose in a manner differently from her and her allies are equally valid.  So under the concept of "choice," if I believe I should not have my taxes go to abortion, this should be my choice.

This is a choice Pelosi would deny.

So she doesn't mean "choice" is good.  She means the right of a woman to have an abortion is good, and those who believe such a right kills an unborn child have no "choice" in the matter.

There is nothing tolerant about such a view.  There is no consideration for what is true in what she says.  Either we accept Pelosi's view or we are misogynists who want to control women.

However, those who oppose abortion are not misogynists with evil intentions.  Rather they believe:

  1. All Acts Are [Evil] which [Deliberately Kill an Innocent Person] are [Evil]  (All [B] is Part of [A])
  2. All [Abortion]  Are Acts which [Deliberately Kill an Innocent Person] (All [C] is part of [B])
  3. Therefore All acts of [Abortion] are [Evil] (Therefore all [C] is part of [A])

Or, to use a Euler Circle:











If we let A be All acts which are evil, B be all acts which deliberately take an innocent human life and C be acts of abortion, the logical conclusion is that all acts of abortion are acts of evil.

Now if Pelosi were truly for "Choice," she would recognize that to force a taxpayer  — who believes all abortion is evil — to pay for abortions is to deny such a taxpayer  any choice in the matter.

Therefore, we can see she is either logically inconsistent, and hypocritical, on the matter, or she is using "Choice" as a euphemism to conceal her real views.

Indeed, what we have is a failure of Pelosi (whether through carelessness or through deliberate evasion) to consider the necessary element of truth.

Aristotle famously stated: “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.”   So, if Pelosi speaks of abortion as "a choice," and considers herself a "champion" of choice, it means we must look at what "choice" means.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines "Choice" as:

1 an act of choosing.

† the right or ability to choose.

2 a range from which to choose.

† something chosen.

However we can employ a reductio ad absurdum on this to show not all choices are seen as equally valid.  A dictator who chooses ethnic cleansing, for example, is exercising his right to choose what he wants to do.  However, most of the world will recognize such a choice is morally objectionable.  So from this data of universal revulsion, we must recognize the principle that when most people speak of the freedom to choose, they really assume The freedom to make choices which are not morally wrong.

So, those who want to support the right to "choose abortion," have the obligation to show that abortion is a choice is morally correct or neutral.  However, instead, "Choice" is automatically presumed to be "Good" without establishing why the choice of abortion is good or neutral.

This shows Equivocation on the part of Pelosi.  She uses "choice," as a term, but does not mean Choice in the sense that we are free to choose to do as we ought.  Nor does she mean that all of us are free to do what we personally think right because she explicitly rejects the possibility of opposing taxpayer funded abortion.

So it is time to call Pelosi on her equivocation and call her to make a formal stand on what she really means.

Thus, if Pelosi wants to champion "Choice" properly speaking,  she must recognize she must treat the choice of those who say "abortion is evil" the same as those who support abortion.  If she wants to champion "abortion," she must be up front about it, not hiding behind weasel words which soften what she is really in favor of.

I think it is clear she isn't in favor of "choice" in the proper, non propaganda definition of the word.  Rather she uses "choice" as a weasel word to soften the impact of what she really champions: "abortion on demand."

Since she does not favor the right of the one who believes abortion is evil to refuse to pay taxes to support it, we can see under Aristotle's definition, that she says of what is not that it is, which means she does not speak the truth.

Friday, February 11, 2011

On What Catholics Believe about the Inspiration of Scripture


The last time I talked about authority to speak on the Catholic position compared to those who misunderstand what we believe and make claims based on that misunderstanding. Now we need to write about what Catholics do believe about the authority of Scripture and about the Church herself.

In light of what I said earlier about irrelevant authority, let me state that as a member of the laity, my only authority of what I say is linked to my ability to accurately express what the Church teaches about herself. To the best of my knowledge I have done so, but if there is any divergence between what the Pope says and what I say, I would offer my submission to the authority of the Pope. Hopefully the answer to why I do so will become clear below.

I also wish to stress that while I am doing my best to explain the Catholic view of why Scripture is inspired, I do not claim infallibility and I recognize this article may be inadequate, or have blind spots I overlook. Please do not assume that any undetected errors in this attempt reflect errors in the teachings of the Church.

The reader should note that I am primarily dealing with the New Testament here, though what I say does apply to the Old Testament as well, with Moses and the Prophets filling a similar role in the Old Testament as the Apostles do in the New Testament.

Preliminary Note: Read before Posting Comments

Because I am speaking to Christians who believe in the Divinity of Christ, I am beginning with this assumption as true. (When physicists meet, they don’t start by proving matter exists. It’s a given). (See HERE, in the section labeled “True or False?” to see the different starting points of discussion based on who believes what). So comments that I haven’t “proven” the existence of God will be considered a Red Herring fallacy in terms of this article and will probably be deleted on grounds of trolling (in the sense of attempting to derail the discussion).

Caveat: I DO Believe Scripture is Inspired

Anyone who reads this article and assumes I am denying the Inspiration of Scripture or putting it on par with other documents misses the point of this article.

I want to make clear that in discussing the authority of Scripture, I understand it would be a circular argument to assume Scripture is inspired. I need to give a demonstration of why Catholics actually believe the Scriptures are inspired. We do not believe that “The Bible is inspired because God says so, and God is all powerful because the Bible says so.”

The reason I am not starting with the assumption that Scripture is inspired is because the reason Scripture is seen as inspired seems to be different between Catholics and Protestants, and thus is the issue being debated. Since some people make false assumptions of what we believe, this article is aimed at explaining why Catholics believe Scripture is inspired. Since we are often accused of arguing in a circle (See below, “The Common Misunderstanding”) this is important to discuss.

We, as Christians, do start with the belief that God exists, and is all powerful[*]. From there, we have to assess the claims of Christ and His teachings. The Bible is consulted as a historic work, but at this stage it is not assumed to be inspired. Instead we say, “Jesus said this… so what follows from our belief He said these things if we look at it as a historical book?”

The Common Misunderstanding: Scripture and Infallibility as a Circular Argument

This is important to remember when we get into the idea of what the Catholic Church believes about Scripture and Infallibility.

For example, there is an old misrepresentation on the Catholic teaching on the Inspiration of Scripture which still gets repeated by respected non-Catholic theologians, such as Sproul and Gerstner[†], and this is the misrepresentation which claims the Catholic teaches the following:

  1. The Catholic Church infallibly defines Scripture as Inspired.
  2. The Catholic Church points to Scripture to prove infallibility.

The Catholic Church does not teach this, and in fact formally rejects this misrepresentation in the Vatican I document, Dei Filius (chapter II, #7). The fact that the Catholic Church formally repudiated this view demonstrates that those who repeat such a claim are uninformed about what we believe.

A Caveat: I am Not Judging the Intentions of Those Who Misrepresent Us

Far be it from me to claim that those who speak falsely about the Catholic Church automatically do so from malice. Some may simply assume that what they were taught (wrongly) is true and don’t question the truth of what they assume to be true.

It is not for me to judge the motives of those who repeat such stories. I merely assert they do speak wrongly about us, and the commandment against false witness demands that the person who would speak against the Catholic Church verifies that he or she verify that what they claim is true.

The reason I have used the example of Sproul and Gerstner is that they seem to be non-Catholic theologians of renown and respect among those who have heard of them. I have no doubt they are examples of highly educated theologians who have sincere faith — yet they do misunderstand the Catholic faith and oppose us on grounds of this misunderstanding.

Whether they have any moral responsibility for their misunderstandings is something God will judge, not I.

Christ is the Source of the Catholic Claim to Authority

Anti-Catholic views generally come from the claim that the Catholic Church wrongly claimed for herself the authority to create “new doctrines.” The assertion is generally that The Church invented claims of authority and Catholics follow blindly what the Church says.

However, we do not believe that “The Church says it, therefore it must be true.” Rather, we believe the Church is to be followed because of Who gave her the authority.

What the Church believes is that Jesus came and taught His disciples and commissioned them with the authority to teach in His name. The Vatican II document Dei Verbum describes this as follows:

Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion (see Cor. 1:20; 3:13; 4:6), commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, and to impart to them heavenly gifts. (Dei Verbum #7).

This is important because, even if Scriptures were not considered as being inspired (remember: inspiration not yet being assumed at this point, though we believe it is), we have a record in Scripture — as a historical document — which claims that Jesus established a Church and entrusted to this Church the authority to preach His word to the whole world.

This brings us to the first principle to consider, if one rejects the authority of Christ to begin with, they won’t accept the authority of the Church. However, if one does accept the authority of Christ, then what He teaches and who He grants authority to is indeed important.

Even if one rejects the idea of Scripture being inspired and inerrant (which would be heterodox among Catholics and Protestants alike), the acceptance of the New Testament as a historical document which tells us what Jesus required of His apostles points to Christ, not to the Bible which tells us of what He said and did.

So the second principle, which all Christians should accept, is: Jesus gave His disciples a command to His disciples to bring His teaching to all the nations and gave them the authority to teach in His name.

Of course the question remains what authority Christ had to begin with. Human beings merely have authority based on what they appeal to after all. If we are free to pick and choose from what Christ taught, we are free to accept or reject those who He selected to teach in His name. However, if He is more than just another man, His teachings are not merely optional.

Aut Deus Aut Homo Malus

From the point of accepting that Jesus gave His disciples authority to bring His teaching to the nations, we need to then look at on why we should consider His claims as something that is not merely optional.

This is where CS Lewis’ aut Deus aut homo malus comes into play. The argument essentially requires people to recognize from the following points:

  1. Good men do not claim to be God [or to be more than they are]
  2. Jesus claimed to be God [Which is certainly to claim to be more than He is, if this is not true].
  3. Jesus is not a good man if He claimed to be more than He was.
  4. However He is generally not believed to be a bad man intellectually or morally[‡].

So, if Jesus was a good man (generally accepted — except by diehard anti-Christians), and He made claims to divinity, it follows He cannot merely be a good man. Rather, we have to either accept His claims as true, or else reject Him as either insane or evil for claiming such authority[§].

Christians accept that Jesus was good, demonstrated wisdom and did not speak falsely. So when it comes to deciding on God or Bad Man, we believe He speaks truly when He says He is God.

Now, again, we are not yet assuming Scripture is inspired. Instead, we are recognizing this fact, which can be our third principle: Faithful Catholics and Protestants believe Jesus is the Son of God, and not a bad man or merely a good man.

Of course, we do need to consider that the Apostles believe what they pass on to us — that Jesus Christ is Divine and not merely a human teacher passing on wisdom. As witnesses to Christ, who knew Him on Earth and believe Him to be risen, what we know of Christ and His teachings come to us through the Apostles.

The Empty Tomb and the Appearance to the Apostles

The easiest way to debunk the claim of the Resurrection would be for the Sanhedrin or the Romans to produce Jesus’ body. This would be the easiest way to debunk the new religious movement that was arising in Jerusalem. The Apostles claim to have been witnesses to the Resurrection. That is to say, they claim to have seen Jesus, alive and risen from the dead.

Now I won’t get into all the arguments about the Apostles being deluded or lying, or that their claims were interpreted later in a way they did not intend. (I’ve dealt with those in the past). The point is, we have an empty tomb, and we have the Apostles claiming to have seen Him alive.

If there was a body to be found, the Apostles could have immediately been demonstrated to be fools or liars. However, the point is, there was no body to be found, and we must ask what the significance of this is.

The empty tomb makes an important point about Jesus being who He said He was. If Jesus was a bad man, or even merely a good man, why is the tomb empty? Moreover, if the Apostles were deluded or intended merely in some sense of “alive in the memories of the apostles,” then why is the tomb empty? Claims that the Apostles somehow stole the body or that Jesus wasn’t really dead to begin with require proof if they are to be considered anything more than “Resurrection is impossible, therefore there must be another explanation.”

Not an Argument from Silence

DON’T call this an Argument from Silence (that is: We don’t know where the body is, therefore He is risen). We believe the witness of the Apostles who claim to have seen Him alive. We believe them to be credible witnesses and that their character reflects that credibility — they do not act like fools or liars.

That is where the negative evidence of the Empty Tomb moves to the positive evidence of the accounts of history that the Apostles went out to preach the good news that Christ had died and risen from the dead for the for our Salvation.

Remember, the Apostles were the ones not expecting Jesus to rise again. They thought the account of the women who saw Him alive was nonsense. What they found was an empty tomb. They were in hiding, fearing arrest. They had run away when He was arrested.

Yet 50 days after the Resurrection, we see a dramatic change. They were publicly speaking, enduring persecution and hardship to preach the risen Christ, and were even martyred for their belief. Certainly they gained no physical benefit for proclaiming what they said they were to pass on to the world (see Matt 28:19-20, John 20:21-23 for example).

Cui bono? A Potential Objection and Why It is not likely

The point is the Christian believes the Apostles to be credible witnesses[**]. One arguing that the Apostles claiming Jesus gave them power sounds suspiciously convenient needs to answer the police maxim, Cui bono? ([to] whose benefit?). The phrase cui bono:

Refers to a question which inquires as to the beneficiary of a certain action or object. Knowing for what or whom something is of benefit (i.e., “good”) is often helpful for determining the inherent worth of the issue or object under discussion. Cui bono also can be used as a principle to help indicate probable responsibility for an act or event by looking to determine the one who would stand to gain most from this act or event.[††]

So, if one wants to say, “This is convenient how the Apostles claim they were left in charge by a dead man who claimed to be God,” we can ask them for the evidence they can offer for the question cui bono — especially what they gained for their claim.

  1. The Apostles gained nothing from their actions from a human perspective. Indeed, they suffered hardship and eventual martyrdom for their actions.
  2. Yet they continued to preach the Gospel, considering themselves bound to do so.

So the person who says the Apostles were doing this for their own gain needs to answer the question, what gain? The person who claims them to be deluded or their accounts to be false must answer the question, what proof?

What Follows from Jesus Being God and Giving His Apostles Authority

However, this objection (based on denial of the Christian message and not based on any evidence) does require the Christian to recognize what their faith in Jesus leads to.

Since Christians believe the Apostles were witnesses to the Resurrection, we have to look at what this signifies. While others may not believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, the Christians do believe this and recognize that what He teaches has authority.

This is the beginning of the faith which was preached. What we know of Christ is what the Apostles have preached to us. Deny the authority of the Apostles to teach and the Bible is merely a book which is claimed ipse dixit to be inspired without even a legend to say how it was given to us.

This brings us to our fourth principle: The teaching of the Apostles is the teachings given them by the risen Christ and it is only through the teaching of the Apostles that we can know Christ.

What We Know of Christ’s Teachings Comes from the Apostles

Also remember: What was written down in Scripture is what the Apostles taught. The Bible is not a book like the Koran or the Book of Mormon — both of which are claimed by their followers to be given directly by God, and we have to take solely on the claim of Mohammed and Joseph Smith respectively.

What Jesus taught to the Apostles and commanded them to teach predated the Gospels and the Epistles. Jesus was crucified and rose again in AD 33. The first Epistle was written in AD 51. The earliest dates proposed for the Gospels were about AD 58, while the Gospel of John was believed to been written sometime between AD 81 and AD 95.

That means for a minimum of 18 years, we have nothing written down to be a New Testament, and the last item was not written for 50-60 years after Jesus died and rose again. So in theory, one could accuse the Apostle John of “adding to the teachings of Christ,” since His gospel was believed to be written sometime between AD 81 and 95. Yet, this was not a problem for the early Christians. They accepted the Gospel of John.

This brings us to our fifth principle which lays out the line which begins to demonstrate the difference between Catholic and non-Catholic views: Before the Apostles wrote any Epistle or Gospel, we have the Apostles proclaiming the Good News to all the nations.

A Summation of the Five Principles

So we have these five principles, which Christians need to accept about their faith:

  1. If one does accept the authority of Christ, then what He teaches and who He grants authority to is indeed important. (If we claim to be followers of Christ, we must follow those to whom He gives His authority)
  2. Jesus gave His disciples a command to His disciples to bring His teaching to all the nations and gave them the authority to teach in His name. (Jesus did give His authority to the Apostles)
  3. Faithful Catholics and Protestants believe Jesus is the Son of God, and not a bad man or merely a good man. (We believe Jesus is God)
  4. The teaching of the Apostles is the teachings given them by the risen Christ and it is only through the teaching of the Apostles that we can know Christ. (We believe this teaching about Jesus Christ is passed on from the Apostles)
  5. Before the Apostles wrote any Epistle or Gospel, we have the Apostles proclaiming the Good News to all the nations. (The teaching authority of the Apostles exists before the writing of the New Testament).

Denial of any of these principles leaves us with no way of knowing the teaching of Jesus Christ.

In other words, we believe that Jesus had an authority which we follow. We believe that Jesus gave the Apostles the authority to teach in His name. We believe this authority is divine and not merely human. We believe His teaching was made known to us through the Apostles and their successors, and we believe that teaching predated the written New Testament.


So the reader might at this time wonder what all this has to do with the Inspiration of Scripture. The answer is, Catholics believe that Christ gave His Church the authority and the responsibility to pass on the faith and promised to protect His Church from the gates of Hell. The Church could not do these things apart from Christ. Nor could Christ’s promise be true unless He protected His Church from error.

Thus, when it comes to what the Apostles taught about Christ, we believe God protected them from error. This protection applies both to what they said and to what was written down in Scripture. Furthermore, we believe that God inspired the Apostles to teach what He wanted to make known to the world.

Does this mean that whatever Pope Benedict XVI says is placed on the same level as the Gospel of John? Does this mean that Sts. Augustine and John Chrysostom are just as authoritative as Christ?

No. The Apostles knew Christ and were witnesses to His resurrection. They passed on what Christ gave to them directly. The Bishops are successors to the Apostles yes, and they have the authority and responsibility to determine whether a view is in keeping with what the Apostles taught. However, Pope Benedict XVI (or any other Pope) does not claim to have a revelation from Christ which was not given by the Apostles.

The Patristics, the Medieval Church, the Popes today all bear witness to the authentic interpretation of how the teachings of Christ given to us by the Apostles are properly understood.

What the Catholic belief of Inspiration can be summed up as is this:

We believe that God protected those to whom He gave His revelation from teaching error about His revelation. Thus, we believe that God protected Moses, the Psalmist, the Prophets and the Apostles from misrepresenting what He revealed to them. This protection pertained to both their spoken teachings and their written word.

Thus we are assured that we have from the words and writings of Moses, the Psalmist, the Prophets and the Apostles the revelation of God as He intended it to be revealed, and we have no fear of corruption of that teaching through the ages.

[*] I would recommend St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles as a good (if difficult) work to understand the philosophical understandings of what an all-powerful God means.

[†] Sproul and Gerstner, in repeating this long refuted claim, tend to demonstrate the problems with assuming they know what the Church believes and never verifying for themselves. Because the Church specifically repudiates what they accuse us of, they cannot be considered knowledgeable of Catholic teaching, and the appeal to men like Sproul and Gerstner falls under the fallacy of irrelevant authority.

[‡] The person who does claim Jesus was a bad man (intellectually or morally) is required to demonstrate this to be true.

[§] We need to recognize here the view that some put forward: That Jesus was speaking in a way similar to the Eastern Mystics. Peter Kreeft refutes this view in Between Heaven and Hell, by pointing out that Jesus could not be a good teacher if He could not recognize His disciples (who were Jews) were failing to understand him. He also points out the absurdity of how people misunderstood him for two thousand years and only now certain people figured out what He really meant.

[**] To say they were deluded because the dead do not rise is to beg the question. It merely assumes something which needs to be proven.

[††] Bretzke, J. T. (2000, c1998). Consecrated phrases : A Latin theological dictionary : Latin expressions commonly found in theological writings. "A Michael Glazier book." (electronic ed.). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Understanding Who Can Be Considered An Authority

Preliminary Notes

While this is related to the previous series on infallibility, I figured that discussing some of the difference between Catholics and those who disagree with them should be dealt with in a new series.  This is not meant to be triumphalism or seeking to “bash” other religions.  Rather this is being written to show why Catholics do disagree with certain non-Catholic beliefs.

It is my hope that people will recognize this series is being written to explain and not to “bash.”  I apologize in advance for any blind spots where I do not recognize certain things as perhaps lacking charity.


Before discussing the Catholic understanding on why Scripture is held to be sacred and without error, we need to make some distinctions. What the Catholic Church believes is often misunderstood, and thus misrepresented. The reader needs to be aware of these misunderstandings and misrepresentations, and not assume that what they think we believe is correct.

Before going on to the objections Catholics have with claims like Sola Scriptura, I decided to begin with the Catholic teaching on Sacred Scripture because it is often misunderstood or misrepresented. If one assumes that a non-Catholic view must be correct, it is easy to miscast the Catholic view of the rejection of Sola Scriptura as a denial of Biblical authority.

There is an old story, used as an illustration, about how the Treasury trained people to detect counterfeits. The story goes that they have these people handle real money, becoming accustomed to how it looks and feels. Because one becomes experienced in what the real money is, counterfeit money when introduced, is detected because it differs from the real currency.

Whether this story is true or a myth, I don’t know (I can find no confirmation of this). However, it does serve as an illustration of the point I want to get across here: If you know what Catholics do believe, a misrepresentation shows up as a jarring contrast.

The Fallacy of Irrelevant Authority

With this in mind, the non-Catholic reader needs to be aware of using non-Catholic sources as an authority to denounce the Catholic Church. To speak for someone requires being a recognized authority[i]. For someone who is not a recognized authority, their only relevance is dependent on whether they speak accurately on the subject. If such a person does not speak accurately, the things he or she says is irrelevant.

For example, I can say Protestants have an idolatrous relation to the Bible. However, it is only relevant if Protestants do have such a relationship to the Bible. If I am wrong, then it does no good to cite me as an authority and to point out my degrees and knowledge. Wrong is wrong.

When a person makes reference to the authority of a person to speak on a subject, certain things are assumed:

  1. The person is assumed to be knowledgeable on the subject
  2. If the person is cited as a spokesman, he or she is assumed to be qualified to make statements which speak for the group, or is accurately representing authoritative statements a group makes about itself.
  3. The person is representing the position of the group accurately and not making false statements (knowingly or not) or confusing opinions about the position with the position itself.

If any of these conditions are false the person cannot be considered an authoritative witness. And we will be justified in rejecting the authority of such a person as an expert.

This is common sense. You don’t ask a heart surgeon about car repair, and you don’t ask a mechanic about heart surgery. Likewise, you don’t ask a member of NOW to explain the motivations of Operation Rescue (and vice versa) if you want to understand what members of the group stand for. You ask someone who has knowledge and authority to speak, not one opposed to the values of the group.

If it can be demonstrated that a person does not speak accurately or authoritatively on a subject, to cite him becomes an appeal to irrelevant authority.

The fallacy of irrelevant witness is a common problem when it comes to misunderstanding the Catholic faith. Often people take as their sources men or women who are either in opposition to the official teaching or else lack knowledge to make an accurate explanation.

It is reasonable that one consults authoritative Catholic sources to understand what the Catholic Church believes, and not on what one thinks they believe by personal interpretation of a Catholic work (many cite the documents of the Council of Trent out of context, for example) or by what a dissenting or uneducated Catholic claims on a subject.

So if one wants to cite an RJ Sproul or a Hans K√ľng as a source of what the Catholic Church believes, one must recognize that neither is a relevant authority on the subject, and it is meaningless to cite them where their views go against what the Church teaches about herself.


With this being said, I hope to move next into the discussion of what Catholics believe about Scripture so that the reader may see that the rejection of certain non-Catholic views is not the rejection of Scripture itself.

[i] This is the problem with discussing “Protestant” beliefs. Since many denominations disagree with each other, it is difficult to make statements of “All Protestants believe [X].”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

When A Priest Stumbles

A friend of mine brought to my attention the case of Fr. Euteneuer from Human Life International and the reasons for his resignation in August of 2010.  Evidentially, since the time of this resignation people have made claims resulting in the statement from Fr. Euteneuer clarifying why he stepped down.

What are we to make of this?

First of all, we must not make excuses.  If a thing is bad for a priest to do, then we cannot justify or explain away that bad thing by the other good the priest has done.

Second, we must also remember that the attitude of the sinner is to be considered.  The priest who falls is deeply repentant, we must remember we are commanded by Christ to forgive Seventy times Seven. 

Third, we must remember that it is false witness to accuse anyone of something without proof. 

Finally, the sins of Fr. Euteneuer do not negate the positions he stands for.  That would be an ad hominem attack, irrelevant to the truth of what he professes.

I am reminded of the 1955 Alec Guinness movie, The Prisoner.  In it, Alec Guinness plays an unnamed Cardinal arrested by the state.  I am not trying to draw parallels between the character and Fr. Euteneuer here of course (the problem with analogy is that people can draw a conclusion different than you intend).  What comes to mind is that eventually he does behave in a way which is terribly demoralizing to the people… and then he is released.

As he is leaving he says to one individual, “Try not to judge the priesthood by the priest.”

I think this is a key thing to remember here.  Whether the man who is ordained is totally immoral or a well meaning man who has a moral lapse, it is not right to judge the whole by the part.  That is stereotyping.

We don’t judge the priesthood by the fall of Fr. Euteneuer.  We feel sorrow he had fallen.  We see his repentance and we forgive.  We pray for him and for all priests that they might be strong.