Showing posts with label context. Show all posts
Showing posts with label context. Show all posts

Monday, April 17, 2023

It’s Iimi! The Universe, Galileo, & All That…

Mr. Gehr uses his science class to talk about the beginning of the universe… or is he misusing it to attack the beliefs of Iimi and her friends by means of The Universe, Galileo, & all that…


Preliminary Notes:

286 Human intelligence is surely already capable of finding a response to the question of origins. The existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, by the light of human reason, even if this knowledge is often obscured and disfigured by error. This is why faith comes to confirm and enlighten reason in the correct understanding of this truth: “By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church #286)

Unfortunately, certain people insist that EVERYTHING in the Bible is supposed to be taken literally. So they rely on an English translation without allowance for language, context, culture, or genre. But not everything in the Bible is intended to be read as history. 


Hebrew words like yom (יוֹם) and ʾāreṣ (אֶרֶץ) are commonly translated as “day” and “world,” respectively. But Hebrew has a broader meaning than those English terms. So, we’re not stymied by people who insist that the world is over six thousand years old or there is no evidence of the Flood covering the entire planet.


Like Iimi, I accept the Bible as true and view the Catholic Church as the authentic interpreter. I accept that God is the creator of all that has existed. These views come from what the Church has had to say on the subject. Anyone who reads the comic and thinks, “She’s saying the Bible is in error,” has missed the point.


All of my information on the Hebrew meaning of words comes from HALOT (The Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament). It’s considered the standard modern dictionary for Biblical Hebrew.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

It’s Iimi! Did The Pope Actually Say It?

It’s quite possible that the Vatican will make a statement, assuming that the “private conversation” did not involve the seal of confession. In such a case, it’s possible that we’ll be told something I did not consider. If that happens, I’ll try to add a commentary about my understanding to this text above the comic.

After visiting Pope Francis, Joe Biden told the media (some sources seem to think he was just trying to dismiss the subject) that the Pope said he was a great Catholic and that he should keep on receiving the Eucharist.

In this comic, Iimi and Paula discuss the story. Iimi points out that right now there are no facts or context to the claimed statement and looks into why we must not rashly assume that things are as claimed. We cannot accuse the Pope of ignoring the evil of abortion.

What we can and must do is pray for the Pope and the President. And, if the reader is troubled, praying for peace of mind is also good.

(I will be resuming the current story arc. I just thought this should be written to address the concerns American Catholics are feeling.)

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

A Reflection on Justice and Collective Guilt

So, we had a third attack on a statue of St. Junipero Serra. This time in my own diocese. As these attacks continue, I see an emerging tendency which might seem entirely just from a human perspective, though not from a Catholic perspective. That tendency is to go from an entirely just anger and disgust, to a rejection of the original just causes through a guilt by association fallacy.

I say this seems entirely just if taken solely from a human perspective because it is natural to think that if Group A suffers evil at the hands of Group B, we ought to cut ties with and oppose Group B. I say it is not just from a Catholic perspective because we believe that justice means giving to each their due, and punishing the whole for the sins of the fringe is not just.

Our Catholic bishops (contra the claims of some of my fellow Catholics) have given a balanced approach to this modern iconoclasm. They condemn the evil from the fringes, while acknowledging the justified grievances that the main groups have. Unfortunately, some Catholics—based on their personal views of Church and politics—either assume the guilt of all those protesting for racial justice or all in the Church for the acts or views that the Church actually condemned.

Context is always key. People from the past can be blind to bad practices of their times on one hand, doing evil but not intending it. But things can also be misrepresented by people from the present as well. We need to investigate, not assume. As an example, I’ve seen a quote going around the internet purported to be from St. Junipero Serra as “proof” that the saint was in favor of the mistreatment of native Americans. I have two problems with that quote. First, we have no source material for the statement as translated. That doesn’t mean the quote is a fabrication of course. He might have said it. It might be verifiable under a different translation. But without knowing where we might independently verify this quote outside of the say-so of those hostile to him, how can we investigate? Second, because we have no source: if he did say it, we have no way to determine the context. Was he saying it to support it, or saying it to condemn a vicious practice that people had grown blind to§?

So, whether one thinks he was following a practice in a time when discipline was more physical than verbal, whether he was in favor of mistreatment of natives alone (something I doubt), or whether he was opposing the practice, such a person needs evidence for their claims.

Of course, one outside of a group with grievances must not be too quick to dismiss the grievance. Otherwise we risk looking like we don’t care about the grievance. But we can’t just capitulate to an unjust demand either, whether out of fear or out of misplaced#empathy. 

Yes, the Church is filled with sinners. You the reader and I the writer are two of them. We might not be guilty of the worst sins committed by Catholics or in the name of the Church. But we can’t think of those evils within the Church as “somebody else’s problem.” At the same time, we can’t assume that the individual sinners in the Church are proof that those in charge are guilty of willfully supporting those evils. The sacrament of penance exists to bring us back into right relationship with God and each other, and people do repent. Imagine if we ignored the good St. Paul did on the grounds of the evils he did before his conversion.

But once we recognize that, we must do unto others (Matthew 7:12) despite how others outside the Church treat us. Do we think the Church is being unjustly accused and attacked as a whole for the sins of some? I believe so. But if we do recognize that this unjust, that is a warning sign that we must not do it to others.



(†) Remember, we praise Bartolomé de la Casas as a saint, not Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda.

(‡) The quote in question is: “That spiritual fathers should punish their sons, the Indians, with blows appears to be as old as the conquest of the Americas; so general in fact that the saints do not seem to be any exception to the rule.”

(§) Taken as translated, and having no knowledge of context, my instinct is to give it the second interpretation. But without context, neither I nor the Saint’s critics can know that to be a fact.

(#) “Misplaced” is the key word. For example, legitimate empathy calls us to consider the plight of a woman considering abortion. But it doesn’t allow us to support her abortion.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Context and Intent Matter

There’s an old joke that runs as follows: A Catholic Priest and a Protestant Minister were debating. The Minister said, “You are an idolater, for you worship statues! You kneel before them and pray!” “No,” the Priest said, “because it is not our intention to worship an object.” “Who cares about your intention?” the Minister sneered. “You kneel down before statues, therefore you worship them.” The priest replied “You too are an idolator. You kneel down before a wooden bedpost every night and pray to it.” “No,” the Minister said. “That is not my intention.” The priest responded, “Who cares about your intention? You kneel down before it, therefore you worship it.”

One behavior I see when looking at the critics of the Pope, the Papacy in general, or the whole Church, is the assumption that the action they see is to be condemned. The problem is that the context and intention is left out of it or forgotten. But with many acts, the context and intention is the difference between a good act and an evil act.

For example, if we choose to condemn anyone who wields a sharpened blade to cut a person without considering the context, we would have to treat the surgeon in the same way we do an ax murderer. Likewise, if we were to consider the sexual act without context, we would be unable to make a distinction between marital intercourse, fornication, adultery, and rape. They all involve the sexual act. But with context, the first can be morally good, while the others are morally evil. Yet another example: Abortion is always an evil act. But not all acts leading to the removal of the unborn child from the mother is abortion. Hysterectomies and the removal of an ectopic pregnancy are not abortions because the direct destruction of the child is not intended—in fact, if it were possible to save the child, they would. People sometimes call annulments “Catholic divorce,” but annulments and divorce are two entirely different things that superficially seem the same. People call Natural Family Planning “contraception,” even though NFP is abstinence and not frustrating the completion of the sexual act. In all of these, context and intent matter in distinguishing between a morally good or neutral act and a morally evil act.

These examples might seem obvious, but people sometimes forget the concept when it comes to attacks on the Pope. Consider the recent case of the so-called “idol” at the Amazon Synod. There was an object, and people did bow down by it. The critics combined the fact that it was an image and people did bow down. But, the act of bowing, kneeling, etc., is not always an act of latria to something in front of the one bowing.

When we consider an act, we need to consider context and intent. If a person bows or kneels before an something, we need to understand whether it is an idol, a symbol of a different sort of reverence, or not the focus of the action at all. To judge whether an action is good or evil, we need to understand the context and intent.

So, with the so-called “Pachamama,” we need to ask several questions. Yes, we saw people bow. But to what purpose? Was it created as an idol? Apparently not. It was purchased from a vendor at a craft fair several years before the Synod. But if it was, did the missionaries who bought it know that? Did they use it as an object of worship when they used it as a tool in the missions? Did they intend to worship it as “Pachamama” when they performed the tree planting ceremony? Does bowing mean the same thing to those coming from the Amazon as it did to the Western European/American accusers? 

These are all questions that the accusers need to address before they can say, “An act of idol worship was committed in the Vatican Gardens and an idol was placed in the Church!” But the critics have not answered any of them with direct evidence. Instead, they rely on hearsay that claims it must be an idol and the ceremony was an act of pagan worship. From the action—without discovering the context and intent—the image was given a name and the act was called “worship. They cling to their unproven “fact” so tightly that anybody who says, “I do not believe your accusations,” is treated with derision… even though the burden of proof is on the accuser and the Pope’s defenders have pointed out the flaws in their claims.

In a similar way, critics take chapter 8§ of Amoris Laetitia and, taking the words out of all context and without considering the intention of the Pope in writing it, they accuse him of “changing Church teaching” because they believe it “contradicts” Familiaris Consortio #84.

The context they miss, however, is that St. John Paul II was speaking about those who wanted to allow reception of the Sacraments without repenting, and Pope Francis was speaking about getting people who were at odds with God and His Church back into right relationship. The Sacraments would be for those lacking all three required conditions for mortal sin and were striving to get back into right relationship with God. With the context, Amoris Laetitia can be understood as saying access to the sacraments in these cases were for those not in mortal sin due to insufficient knowledge or consent. This access is not a permission for the divorced/remarried to receive indiscriminately.

These examples demonstrate how critics of the Church go wrong when they rely on their own interpretation of text or events stripped of the context and intent needed to understand them. One section of the Church has become convinced that the successor of Peter is either openly “teaching error” or at least enabling it. But understanding context and intent is necessary if we are to be faithful to the actual teaching of the Church and not some unholy parody of our own creation. When one reads Calvin, reads Luther, reads the Patristic heresiarchs, etc., we can see that their understanding of the Scriptures and Church documents shows a failure to properly understand what they mean.

The modern critics need to look at these past errors and be wary. They might not cause a spectacular schism as those men did. But they will nevertheless cause harm to the Body of Christ by insisting that the Pope must err, never considering that they might have failed to understand. 

Context and intent do matter. If we ignore it, we will wind up believing that whatever the Church does that goes contrary to our context-free interpretation is “error.” History shows that is the path of heresy and schism. God only knows if the modern critics will go that far. But, as for me, defending the Church against these errors is essential for heading off—or at least reducing the numbers of the faithful involved in—heresy and schism before they happen.


(§) To be honest, I rather doubt that many of the combox critics read any more than Chapter 8 from the document (some seem to have read only parts of that chapter). They thus missed the context of what the Church needs to do to build healthy marriages. It’s only by understanding this context that we can understand what Chapter 8 sets out to do.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Context is Key: Thoughts on Misinterpreting the Pope


Another unconfirmed story is going around that the Pope said that God “made” a certain person with a same sex attraction, and that he (the Pope) did not care either. The usual suspects are floating the same stories. Those who believe that the Pope intends to “change Church teaching,” interpret these words according to their narrative. Those who think the Church should change Church teaching are treating this as justifying their stance. Those who think that the Pope supports error also treat this as supporting their stance. Assuming that the reported dialogue took place as claimed, the reported words sound to me like the Pope was saying God loves and calls everyone to turn to Him regardless of their situation.

The Church on Same Sex Attraction

Let’s look at the Catechism:

The “psychological genesis” from the CCC was the first thing I thought of when I heard this story. IF the quotes were accurate and in context, then the most we could say is that the Pope has a private opinion on the origin of these inclinations. We must remember there is a difference between an inclination and an act. The Pope did not say the act was okay. In fact, he’s on record as saying the act is intrinsically wrong. Nor can we accuse the Pope of claiming that God deliberately makes a person with evil inclination. God made us. We are born with original sin. But that doesn’t mean God intends us to live according to original sin. He gives us grace—especially through the sacraments—and calls us to respond. If homosexual inclinations are a part of nature and not nurture (remember, the Church has not defined this), then it’s part of original sin. Each of us struggle with our own sinful inclinations in trying to be faithful to God.

An Example of Context and Meaning

But in the midst of this brawl, nobody is asking whether the Pope said what is claimed. Nobody is asking whether the words were properly understood or relayed by person making the claim. We don’t even know the context of the words—if said and accurately repeated. Without knowing that, we can’t know anything about the real meaning.

Here’s an example. Would you believe that the Pope said that people are less important than material at the service of the rich? Here’s the quote from A Year With Pope Francis:

From A Year With Pope Francis...sort of...

So, an Ayn Rand conservative could argue that the words of the Pope mean “things that provide profit to the wealthy are more important than people.” But context is given by the next line, not listed in this entry: “What point have we come to?” The fact that the book left out that line is baffling. But it is not the fault of the Pope.

The Pope was not praising economic injustice. He was opposing it. A person who took the given quote and interpreted it literally, without checking context, would likely give a false interpretation. However, any person who should take that quote and argue that “the Pope was not speaking clearly” would be wrong. The Pope did speak clearly. The problem is when people see only the soundbite quote, they tend to interpret it according to those words alone without seeing if there are any other words that modify the meaning of those limited words.

We MUST Avoid Rash Judgment!

By relying only on soundbite quotes and not looking for context when something seems unusual, is to risk falling into error. To assume that a soundbite quote “proves” error on the part of the Pope is to commit rash judgment—which the Catechism teaches is a sin:

If we would avoid rash judgment, we must recognize the importance of context and not insert meaning into what we hear. We must verify what is said. If it cannot be verified, we cannot assume a meaning that fits our ideology.

That is what we must remember.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Reflection on Interpretation and Misinterpretation

One common gripe against the Pope and against Church documents is that they are not as clear as they should be. They use language which can have more than one interpretation. Some Catholics are worried over the people who will choose (deliberately or not) the wrong interpretation. Others outright accuse the Pope of holding the negative interpretation.

The problem is, these actions put the entire burden on the speaker to speak so clearly that there can be no possible misinterpretation. They ignore the responsibility of the reader to seek out the proper understanding before responding to it. If the person who reads gets it wrong, the critique will also be wrong. Such a critique can be of no value if they misunderstand the intention of the speaker/writer...

That’s a silly example of course (and humor works because the meaning can be hidden by wordplay), but real examples happen all the time.

Just think of the Biblical Literalism which comes from the fundamentalist groups. We’ve seen some pretty ludicrous ideas that comes from interpreting the Bible according to a meaning the reader gives to it as opposed to what the author of the book intended by it. We also see it with anti-Catholicism, where the critic interprets the teaching of the Church according to what he or she thinks the Church document is saying as opposed to what the Church is saying actually saying.

Those real life examples show that there can be a difference between what the speaker intends and what the listener thinks is meant.

I find it ironic that there are some Catholics who would automatically reject these misinterpretations from fundamentalists or anti-Catholics who make the same error when it comes to their own interpretation of the Pope or Church documents. Whether by accident or by choice, they assume they have interpreted correctly and thus feel justified in rejecting the Pope’s words or the Church documents because they assume they cannot have chosen the right interpretation.

Currently, we see this happening with Pope Francis, and the assumption is that either he speaks unclearly or else is teaching error. But, what is forgotten is the fact that these same accusers made the same accessions about St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Yes, that’s right. Both of Pope Francis’ predecessors were accused of promoting error on issues like social justice. People were scandalized by the “Marxist” ideas in Caritas in Veritate just as much as they were scandalized by the “Marxist” ideas in Evangelii Gaudium. But those who were scandalized assumed a meaning in these works which were never intended.

That brings us back to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its teaching on Rash Judgment:

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

So, when it comes to the words of the Pope, the steps are:

  1. Give a favorable interpretation to his words.
  2. If the person can’t, seek out how the Pope intends it (in other words, do the research).
  3. Only then does correction come into play.

Unfortunately, most people tend to start with #3, assuming the Pope is wrong and needs to be opposed. But every time I’ve looked in on an alleged scandal, the trail never went further than #2, because either there was a favorable interpretation to be given or else new data came forward which changed the perspective.

I find that most misinterpretations come about because of what words mean to the listener, not to the speaker. For example, some traditionalists were outraged with St. John Paul II spoke about women and “feminism.” The problem was, they interpreted it as the Western radical feminism and assumed he was speaking in favor of some pretty reprehensible ideas. Also, many people interpret Pope Francis’ ideas about the problems with capitalism as if it were a condemnation of capitalism as an intrinsic evil. This was an assumption that ignored the fact that he was speaking of specific evils that every nation must work to either reform or prevent as the case might be.

One common retort seems to be, “Well if he didn’t mean it that way, why didn’t he say it differently?” But that’s unjust. There are over a billion Catholics in the world, representing each nation and language, with communication levels from "word of mouth in the bush” to instantaneous internet. They have knowledge of the faith from “religiously illiterate” to highly educated. Now add in the non-Catholics with the same limitations.

Is it reasonable to think a Pope can express himself in such a way that everybody, regardless of the limits of their nation, language, communications and knowledge about the faith an understand? That’s impossible. I might miss the nuances of language that someone more educated than I recognize, while I might recognize nuances that someone less educated than I might miss.

So, obviously the only way to effectively communicate is to understand the meaning of the speaker, and not make an unrealistic demand that the speaker anticipate every possible meaning that a listener might draw from it. Remember, it might be a problem with the listener . . . so one always has to make an effort to learn what was meant before critiquing.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Reading What the Magisterium Says Critically


I mentioned the other day that I had problems with certain bloggers who were Catholic—ones who presumed they had superior knowledge to the ones they criticized on whatever topic. One of my offhand comments could be summed up as "...and your qualifications to judge are...?" A person must know about the subject he or she is speaking about and also must know what the subject intended to say. Otherwise, the reliability of the critic is very much in doubt--even if he or she is knowledgeable in other areas.

I can say this because I have been there. In the early Xanga days of this blog, I was quite contemptuous of the American bishops. I thought they were largely idiots with a liberal bent. I bought into and spread that attitude. (Those articles have been no longer available ever since the original Xanga went defunct, and though I recovered my files, those particular articles will never see the light of day again).

My conversion of attitude came from a combination of reading Christus Dominus and witnessing the response of the bishops to the 2008 visit of Pope Benedict XVI. In these events, I was reminded that the bishops are the successors to the Apostles and I saw that the bishops were strengthened by the visit of the Pope—that they had been previously demoralized by their facing continuous dissent.

From that perspective, I found that many of their documents which I previously dismissed as worthless did have good things to say.  I recognized that my problem was I accepted what others said about the bishops without evaluating if what they said was correct.

I think it's a real issue to consider: the concept of critically assessing what members of the Magisterium say vs. what bloggers and news sources think they say.


The first issue is context. When facing news reports or a blog speaking on what the Pope or bishops said on an issue, my first question is to ask "What is the context of what was reported?" The thing is, even news agencies and bloggers of good will can only quote so much. So they try to pick what they think is the most important part.

The problem is, the quote might require some more of the article to get the full sense of what was said. The news reporter or blogger might actually be editing in good faith. He or she might think that the quote represents the whole statement accurately.  But, if you ever come across a WTF? moment where a quote sounds bizarre, the odds are very good that something got left out.

Interpretation and Intention

Another part of critical assessment is making sure that the interpretation of what was said matches the intent of what the speaker or writer was trying to say.

It is a problem today that people try to interpret a statement based on what they believe.  But that's exactly the opposite of what we must do. When a person uses a term, we have to understand what it means to the writer/speaker.

Here's an example. When St. John XXIII wrote his encyclical Pacem in Terris, many interpreted what he had to say on the topic of peace as if he was supporting the Soviet meaning of the term because the Soviets spoke constantly about peace in a way that benefited them. But that wasn't what St. John XXIII meant.

Or consider how people interpret Matthew 7:1ff. People who don't want to have their behavior declared wrong interpret judging to mean saying something is right or wrong. But that's a meaning imposed by the reader. It would be wrong to blame the Scripture verses for a meaning not intended.

The thing is, we interpret a text or speech based on what  the speaker/author intends and critique it based on our own views. This means that before we critique, we have to make sure that we interpret correctly. Bad Interpretation, bad critique.


The thing we always have to remember is when we read an article written about a bishop or about the Pope, we have to consider whether the person who wrote the article has fully addressed what the bishop or Pope actually had to say about the subject or whether or not the author omitted something important—it doesn't have to be malicious omission.

We must also remember that even when we do see the quotes do exist in context, we have to ask whether the blogger commenting or the reader of the Papal statement has in fact interpreted the article as saying what the Pope intended it to say. If the critic or reader has not correctly interpreted the article or statement, then the criticism is starting from a false assumption. If the premises are false, the conclusion is not proven true.

Recognizing these things, we have to realize our responsibility as a reader to accurately understand what was actually said and what was intended before judging the Magisterium for doing wrong—it might turn out the fault is not with the Pope or Bishop after all.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Speech, Interpretation and the Pope

Preliminary Note

The trick in writing an article like this is to avoid coming across like "Just think like me and you'll be fine" as if I were wise man with all the answers and the reader is an idiot if he or she disagrees. If I come across like that, then I failed in achieving what I hoped in this article.

What I hope to do is to discuss what I have learned over the years in dealing with troublesome news reported about the Church—even before Francis became Pope—as explanation for why I am not troubled by our Pope and why I do not think we are headed towards the dangers many of my fellow Catholics fear we are headed for.

So below is my attempts at explaining why I believe what I do and why I do not think that Pope Francis is causing harm to the Church by what he says. I hope it helps those facing those questions and concerns I once struggled with.


A friend of mine (who always asks challenging questions and forces me to explore my faith more deeply) writes:

I think that your article addresses one group - those who think that Francis is making statements which are at odds with Church teaching. But there is another group who rather think that Francis speaks in a way which is too easily misunderstood or mischaracterized. I think that this second group believes in his orthodoxy but wishes for greater clarity.

I think that this second group is of the belief that we Catholics should not need to spend a great deal of time explaining "what the Pope really meant". And they feel frustrated when the Pope's words are misused.

It is true that my previous article did explicitly intend to discuss that first group. However, it's a fair point to consider when the Pope speaks and people who are not dissenting Catholics find themselves troubled by what they hear.. 

The Pope speaks. Misinterpretations happen. Is this a case of cause and effect where the Pope speaks imprecisely and this causes to misinterpretation? Or would that be a post hoc fallacy where there are two events and one mistakenly draws a link between the two where it does not exist? I would ask the reader to consider these two possibilities.

When it comes to seeking a reply to this concern, the person should ask, "Why am I concerned/offended?" How you answer the question can help approach the issue. From what I can see, the concerns tend to fall into three areas:

  1. Fear that people will misunderstand the Pope with disastrous consequences.
  2. Fear that the Pope is giving his support to an -ism that they disagree with.
  3. Fear that the Pope will change Church teaching to something that contradicts current teaching.

There's a lot of subsets in the three groups. I won't discuss every issue that the people have fears over, but I do believe that the people who fear what he has to say are covered by these categories.

Let's try to look at these categories.

Fear that people will misunderstand the Pope with disastrous consequences

I think we need to be aware that wanting the Pope to speak "more clearly" is a very vague concept that will mean different things to different people.

The reason I say this is that it is not possible to speak so clearly that no mistake is possible. The differences between the speaker and the listener in terms of things like education, areas of knowledge, background, intellect, political outlook, philosophical outlook, preconceptions, etc., are going to be barriers if the speaker and the listener differ on these areas. Words can be ambiguous based on the meaning a perspective gives them.

Think of it this way. As Christians, we recognize the inerrancy of Scripture. God willed that the human authors only include the material He wanted in it... no more, no less. Yet those Christians who rely on their personal interpretation of the Bible routinely come up with contrary interpretations as to what certain parts mean. Do we say that the Scriptures communicate poorly? Or do we recognize that we are not all infallible interpreters of the Scripture?

Now that's with Scripture. Now imagine when we are dealing with human beings, all speaking different languages, so we have to rely on translations of what is said--where nuance may be missed depending on the skill of the translator and the complexity of the language. Now that doesn't mean every speaker is flawless and the fault is always be with the listener. But I think it does show that the idea that Pope Francis is expressing himself badly is not necessarily established as fact.

One may believe that the Pope should perhaps be more cautious when he does his so-called "Off the cuff" or "off script" moments. Certainly we had some odd moments in the first year of his pontificate where things were reported and some Catholics had WTF moments. But even here, we do need to ask whether the problem was with what he said or whether it was a problem of how it got back to us and how we interpreted it.

For example, during the pontificate of St. John Paul II, there was the embarrassing moment where he kissed a Qur'an.  Knowing of his fidelity to the Church, the idea of him being an apostate is ludicrous. The more probable meaning was that of him thinking that he was showing the local means of respect for a gift. So objectively, things would have been better if he did not kiss the book. But because he did, we are obligated to look into the meaning of this before presuming something like deliberate rejection of part of the Catholic faith.

That is why seeing or hearing something that seems odd does not justify Rash Judgment (I've cited this so often, some of you ought to know it by heart):

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor


2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

  Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

This means that when we encounter a fellow Christian who does or says something that strikes us as odd, we are not to presume bad will on the part of the person acting. Only when it becomes apparent that no other interpretation is possible that we can move on with a gentle fraternal correction.

And let's not forget Pope Benedict XVI with his book length interview Light of the World where he used the example of a male prostitute with AIDS deciding to use condoms as an example to illustrate his point of a person beginning to consider the moral consequences of his actions. Many people believed he was advocating a changed teaching. Then that he had spoken badly. If you can remember back to those days, there was conservative Catholic media saying people in the Vatican should be fired for what happened. But ultimately, it was apparent that the problem was with the media wanting to report a change, not the Vatican making an error. (Are you beginning to remember that misunderstanding wasn't a problem exclusive to Pope Francis?)

What happens in cases like these is we have a problem that the news media (and some Catholics who think the magisterium is in the wrong) immediately jumps on things it thinks is new without considering how it fits in with other Catholic teaching. The Pope mentioned condoms and AIDS sufferers! He's saying it's OK to use condoms! He's changing the teaching!

Um... no. What we actually had was a media ignorant of what we believe reporting what they thought they heard, and a reaction by some Catholics blaming the confusion on the Church. That is vastly different. But, because we have been conditioned to expect that the media reports accurately about the facts, nobody actually thought to question whether the media did report the facts accurately.

The thing is, many people interpret the news from the Church by their preconceptions. That cannot be considered the fault of the Church. If a person's only tool is a hammer, every problem is approached as if it were a nail—which is a bad idea if the problem is installing a new pane of glass or swapping out a hard drive.

That's basically the problem with the media. For the most part, news services don't have a qualified religion reporter. Reporters assigned to stories treat Church news on moral issues as if they were political or economic issues. The result is they report the Church news as if it was political or moral news.

Imagine it this way. If I have no medical knowledge and I read a medical journal, how reliably do you think I will be able to assess the information within and explain it to others? Moreover, if I am considered a source of reliable news and I report on what I understood the medical journal to say, how accurate do you think the news report will be?

It's the same principle with the Church teachings. If one does not understand the nature of the Church and how she understands things, how can such a person avoid making mistakes in reporting?

Now I don't want to be misunderstood as saying "You need a Masters in Theology to understand the Pope." What I want the reader to be aware of is summed up by Dirty Harry in Magnum Force: "A man has got to know his limitations."

If a person knows his or her knowledge on a subject is limited, he or she can know that it is possible that when something doesn't seem to make sense that perhaps they have misunderstood the words and what gets repeated to others on that subject may be a distortion of what was really said. If a person doesn't know his or knowledge is limited, it means that he or she will probably go pass something along that is false thinking it was true. That's unfair to the person who did not say what the person who misunderstood him thinks that the original speaker did say.

Here's an example. I use computers but don't know much about the technical information about them. Since I'm researching a new computer (the current machine on my desk has been a faithful companion since the time of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm but needs replacing). So I occasionally ask a friend of mine questions on articles I read. Often he has to ask me a lot of questions or to provide a link to the article so he can wade through the mess of what I thought was said and find out what was actually said so he can answer my questions. The problem was not with the person who wrote the article, but was with me (PEBKAC, I believe they call it).

This is what one has to consider when the news reports something on the Pope. If the news reporter does not understand the Church he or she reports on, the result is something less than accurate.

The trick is to make sure that the problem is not at the level of the person doing the interpreting before worrying the Pope is expressing himself wrongly and causing confusion.

Fear that the Pope is giving his support to an -ism that they disagree with

The above was the framework that leads to the problems of fear and mistrust. When one assumes the media accurately reports the words of the Pope in context and they don't, the result is people thinking the Pope is saying something he had no intention of saying.

But even when people miss that first step, there are still ways to investigate things that seem strange.

I think we need to be aware of two types of meaning: univocal and equivocal. In the first, we have words where only one meaning is possible. In the second, more than one meaning is possible.

One problem is that people tend to assume that the meaning of a phrase is univocal. If the Pope uses a certain term, people tend to assume it has one meaning. Thus, when St. John Paul II spoke about feminism, certain Traditionalists presumed he was speaking in favor of radical feminism--something NOW and Planned Parenthood would find laughable, and was quite far from his intent.

But once one realizes that words and phrases can be equivocal, the possibility that the intention of the Pope is different than the meaning the reader/listener associates with the term must be considered.

We also have to consider the possibility of the either-or fallacy. The idea that there are only two options, when there are more than two. We have a tendency to think either conservative or liberal, either capitalism or socialism etc.

Thus when the Pope speaks about the problems in Capitalism (as he did in Evangelii Gaudium), people fear he is supporting socialism. But condemning flaws in one is not necessarily approving the other. Nor is it condemning the whole of capitalism.

There is another thing to consider. If the Pope speaking on the Catholic approach to an issue sounds like the supporting of an -ism, perhaps one should ask whether they have an -ism of their own which stands in the way of understanding the Pope properly. For example, the radical feminist who sees nothing but "patriarchal oppression" in Church teaching because she sees everything in terms of feminism.

Fear that the Pope will change Church teaching to something that contradicts current teaching

Finally, there is the fear that the Pope will make a heretical change to Church teaching. I think this is caused by certain traditionalist Catholics who claim that the Church has been in the wrong since the reign of St. John XXIII and every seeming difference between their interpretation of Church teaching and what the magisterium says today is "evidence" of this divide. The Catholic who tries to be faithful can't help but see the badly behaving Catholics and is deceived into thinking that the fault lies with the Magisterium.

But, if we have faith in Jesus Christ and believe He established this Church, gave it His authority and protects it, that's a wrong conclusion to make. That's not elevating Pope Francis to the level of demigod. That's putting your faith in the fact that even if parts of the Church fall into error, remaining faithful to the Church under the headship of the successor of St. Peter is the only safe path to be on.

So when it comes to being concerned that we'll see the Pope permitting abortion or "gay marriage," we can be sure that the Holy Spirit is not on a coffee break while the the Pope makes up whatever the hell he wants. The Holy Spirit is just as much with Pope Francis as with his predecessors.

But this is the "lowest common denominator" kind of protection to protect us from bad and corrupt popes—something that Pope Francis is not. When one reads his writings as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, one can see that he has a deep love of Jesus and for the Church. He has a record for opposing governments legitimizing evil as if it were good. For example, he opposed the recognition of "gay marriage" in Argentina, putting himself at odds with the government. I mention this because so many people seem to think that his words "Who am I to judge?" means he intends to change Church teaching, not realizing that he was taken out of context.

So to sum up on this issue, As a Pope we know he will be protected from teaching error by changing Church doctrine. As a person who is a faithful son of the Church we know he has no desire to make any such changes to Church doctrine.


I think that when it comes to these concerns, we need to be aware of certain things.

When it comes to the fear that the Pope will be misunderstood and lead people astray, the things to remember are that it is impossible to speak in such a way that no person can be misunderstood, that people have the obligation to seek out the proper understanding of the Pope's words and that some people misreport the words of the Pope out of their own misunderstanding of Catholic teaching or out of opposition to the teaching of the Church. We must recognize the possibility of our own misunderstanding and consider it before automatically assuming that the Pope spoke badly.

When it comes to the fear that the Pope is promoting some -ism, we need to remember that Pope Francis only supports one -ism, and that is Catholicism. What he is doing is speaking on issues of Catholic teaching that tend to be overlooked, and for the person who has their own -ism as a lens, they tend to see everything through the lens of that -ism and evaluate the Pope's words politically when it is actually a matter of moral behavior.

When it comes to the fear that the Church will change doctrine under Pope Francis, we need to remember both the fact that he has a deep love for Christ and His Church and that the Holy Spirit protects him from teaching error in matters of faith and morals which are binding on the faithful.

What I think we can draw from this is the fact that the problem is not with what Pope Francis says, but with the fact that people who are ignorant of the Church teaching are reporting on the Pope based on their ignorance and people are uncritically accepting what they say as if it were accurate. A one sentence or one paragraph quote of the Pope is insufficient. We need to find out what was said in context.

This isn't the easiest thing to do. If we rely on the mainstream media and political commentary we agree with, we will only see reported with the emphasis they see as important.

But other sources exist. The Vatican has its own news service (VIS), its own website ( and sponsors several apps for Android and iPad that allows you to see what was said in full. There are reliable Catholic news sources in America as well which report the news without the editorials that make it sound like the Pope is a heretic. We can find the news in context and see how the Church understands it, if we are willing to look.

And that is the ultimate thing we must do when faced with these concerns. We must actually consider the possibility of our source of news being wrong, and there being a different meaning than the modern ideology sees it. The Church has been around since Pentecost in AD 33. She continues to use words in their full sense that many people have forgotten. She does not think in terms of "Democrat vs. Republican." She thinks in terms of carrying out the mission of salvation—salvation which may require warning both liberals and conservatives of the errors of their ways.

So we must explain the Catholic faith to those who hear the Pope and misunderstand him. Yes, it would be nice if everyone understood what he meant without our need to explain. But since people can misinterpret based on how they understand (or don't understand) we do have to explain what is really meant.

It's part of the Spiritual Works of Mercy:

To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To admonish sinners;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Reflections on Religious Freedom vs. The Judiciary


The Washington Post has a rather asinine article about the issue of religious freedom and posting offensive objects under religious freedom under the First Amendment.

The idea of a Satanic monument to be next to a display of the Ten Commandments may, at first glance, seem to be a reductio ad absurdum to the defense of the Ten Commandments being displayed. After all, isn't it favoritism to allow one religious display, but not another?

Preliminary Notes

Now, for purposes of this article, I'll leave out the repugnance of  Satanism as a man made religion which is an express repudiation of Christianity.  I'll also leave out the consideration of Christianity having any special rights because it is the true religion.

While I both believe Catholic Christianity is the true religion and Satanism is offensive and a lie, the focus here is about freedom of religion in general and the all or nothing view of the judiciary.

The Principal Problem

I think the problem is the courts commit the fallacy of equivocation. They take the concept of religious freedom with different meanings, when it needs to keep a consistent meaning.

The freedom of religion involves the right of the individual to seek out and follow God according to their conscience without interference from the state, either by mandating the attendance in one religion (an official state Church like Anglicanism in Elizabethian England) or by restricting a religion from functioning (like the Soviet Union).

However, the freedom of religion does not mean an approach of either all get the same amount of attention in the public sphere or none do.

Distinguishing Protection of a Minority from Suppression of a Majority

Law has had an emphasis on protecting the rights of a minority from the tyranny of the majority. This is a good concept when properly understood. We recognize it is unjust to mistreat a minority and restrict them from practicing the rights all people possess.

Unfortunately, the judiciary seems to take a view that if we can't give all religions the same weight, we can't allow any of them to have a public presence. It ignores the fact that the majority of Americans do have a shared religious culture and heritage and tries to pretend it doesn't exist.

America tends to get bizarre here by forgetting a sense of proportion. The percentage of Christians in America is about 78.4%. The next largest  religion is Judaism (1.7%). Islam is 0.6%.  While 16.1% is unaffiliated with religion,  only 1.6% are atheists.

Now while not all people who profess Christianity actually practice it, it does mean that the influence of Christianity plays a large role in how many Americans view life.  The Cross, the Ten Commandments... these are things which are meaningful to the vast majority of Americans. For example, even to nominal Christians, the Ten Commandments  have meaning in terms of law and justice.

The Abundance of Christian Symbols is not Infringement of Religious Rights of a Minority

Now, the 78.4% of Americans who recognize Christianity as true would do wrong to suppress the human rights of 21.6% of the population who don't.

But suppression of religious rights involves either the forcing actions which the believer finds condemned by their conscience or forbidding actions the believer feels morally obligated to do.  For example,  the Obamacare Contraception Mandate involves the forcing of funding contraceptives and abortifacients by people whose conscience forbids them from doing so.

It doesn't mean that symbols of a religion consisting of 0.6% (Islam) of the US population has to be as visible as the symbols of a religion consisting of 78.4% or else it is discrimination. Nor does it mean that the 1.6% of the population that is atheist has the right to suppress the existence of religion in the public sphere because they deny the Divine exists.

Trolling and Harassment

Another consideration is that when a group puts up a counter monument for the purpose of showing their disagreement with the Christian symbol, this is not an issue of religious freedom for the countering group. It is an issue of harassment. The original Christian monument is not put up for the purpose of propaganda. But the counter monument is.  Belief in the Divine is a delusion!  these monuments proclaim.   Don't believe in Christianity, believe in us! they say.

But the War Memorial built in the shape of the Cross is not made to promote Christianity. It exists as a prayer for the war dead, remembering the salvation Christ died and rose to bring us.

Now, some don't believe that Christ was anything more than a man. But to take offense in the hope and prayers that the war dead may rest in God and demand the removal is not an action of religious freedom. It's an act of religious oppression, saying "I disagree with Christianity. So take it down!"


The problem with the legislature and the courts is they begin with a faulty assumption... that any religious symbol on public land counts as the establishment of a religion. But in accepting the demands that no religious symbol exist on public land actually favors the establishment of atheism. The accepting of demands to establish a monument that exists for the purpose of rejecting a religion when the original monument has no propaganda intent actually establishes a religious harassment as a right.

A government which wants to respect the rights of the freedom of religion needs to consider these things. It ought to distinguish intent instead of blindly taking a one size fits all approach without considering whether the appeal is done for a legitimate redress or for harassment.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Damien Thompson Thinks Catholics are Mad at Pope, Not False News

Source: Conservative Catholics blame media for condoms story – but are they secretly cross with the Pope? – Telegraph Blogs

Damien Thompson was one of the Telegraph columnists who falsely reported that the Pope was changing the Church teaching on condoms and AIDS.  In this column, he admits "So perhaps I was wrong to report yesterday that the Pope had 'modified the Church’s absolute ban on the use of condoms.'"  However he still seems to be under the misunderstanding that the Pope is looking at condoms used by people suffering from AIDS as something which is morally acceptable.

Anyone who has read the full text in context would recognize that the statements made by the Pope do not permit the view that the Pope sees the use of condoms as moral.  Merely that the person infected with AIDS who uses a condom may be beginning to think of things in terms of moral obligations, but that a truly humane sexuality goes beyond this.  He points out:

As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. 

This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

It is only in the context of the above that the taken out of context text can be evaluated when it says:

Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

A telling point.  The Pope looks at the view of "using a condom" as a last resort is not a humane sexuality, but a self-centered need for sex.  The Pope's view recognizes the selfishness of the AIDS carrier who risks his spouse to satisfy sexual desires.  Use of a condom may be "less selfish" but not a good means in itself as has been misrepresented.

However, contrary to the words of the text, Thompson tells us:

Like it or not, the Holy Father made it clear that the use of condoms is sometimes permissible to stop the spread of the virus, even if – speaking in German – he didn’t use the words “permissable” or “justified”. What he didn’t say was “let’s go ahead and use condoms to fight against Aids,” which is what the third headline implies. 

There’s clearly a debate to be had about (a) the circumstances in which the Pope feels it’s permissable to use a condom and (b) the moral status of the act of using that condom. I don’t think the Holy Father’s comments settle these questions. But the plain, common sense reading of them is that he regards the use of a condom as a lesser evil than the transmission of the virus. Also, it doesn’t seem reasonable to extrapolate from the (apparent) reference to a male prostitute that this lesser-of-two-evils judgment doesn’t apply to sex between infected men and women.

The problem is, the Pope said absolutely nothing of the sort.

Indeed, Papal aide, Father Federico Lombardi. pointed out some clarifications which deny Thompson's interpretation, as reported in Zenit news:

At the same time the Pope considers an exceptional circumstance in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real threat for the life of another. In that case, the Pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality but maintains that the use of a condom to reduce the danger of infection may be "a first act of responsibility," "a first step on the road toward a more human sexuality," rather than not using it and exposing the other to risking his life.

A first step, not a moral act.  Because the Pope pointed out that "This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves," shows that the "condoms are ok to stop AIDS" claim is in no way a Church teaching, nor what Benedict XVI intended to get across.

Unfortunately, Thompson goes on to not only claim that the Pope is advocating the use of condoms when one person has AIDS, but to claim that those who have objected to the misrepresentation of the Pope are really mad at the Pope for making a change in teaching:

[A quoted blogger's] post certainly makes a good deal more sense than those of his fellow conservatives who claim that the Pope didn’t say what he obviously did say… and then emphasise that he was only speaking in an interview AND how dare L’Osservatore Romano release these quotes out of context. Hmm. There is a strong whiff of cognitive dissonance in the air. I hate to pick a fight with bloggers I admire, and I won’t mention any names, but I get the strong impression that certain conservatives are tying themselves in knots trying not to say what they really think.

Which is that they disagree with the Pope.

Thompson's comment is an ad hominem fallacy, attacking those who take him to task, implying they are holding contradictory views, without considering that the "interview isn't formal teaching" comments and the "L'Osservatore Romano took quotes out of context" comments are in fact addressing two separate issues which were falsely alleged (in the first case, that the Pope was making a new teaching in a third party book, in the second case, that because it came from L'Osservatore Romano, it must be a teaching.

When all is said and done, Thompson is making a false accusation.  Catholics who have come to clarify Church teaching are not angry at the Pope, for we do not believe he is saying what Thompson claims in the first place.  Rather we object to the distortion of words taken out of context to imply sexual acts with condoms for the prevention of AIDS is a morally acceptable act, when it is clear the Pope had no such intention to claim such a thing.

To be honest, the assumption that such a book could be cited to claim a justification for a position is ludicrous and demonstrates ignorance of how the Church releases teachings.  Ignorance… or willful misrepresentation.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Traditions of Men

One of the more annoying misinterpretation of Scripture is that of Matthew 15:1-8, which reads:

1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,

2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They do not wash (their) hands when they eat a meal.”

3 He said to them in reply, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?

4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’

5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is dedicated to God,”

6 need not honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

7 Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said:

8 ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;

9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’”

The argument put forth is:

  1. [Jesus] condemned [traditions]
  2. The [Catholic Church] promotes [Tradition]
  3. Therefore [Jesus] condemns the [Catholic Church].

This is to entirely miss the point of the Scripture reading.

History and Context

The Pharisees, in Jesus time, had their own code of laws which were put on the same level as the Torah, indeed claimed that one could only follow the Torah through their interpretation, and the one who violated the rules of the Pharisees were considered as one who broke the Torah.

Jesus, in opposing the Pharisees, pointed out that these laws were focused on the legalism, and ignored the intent of the Law.  They would pay tithes on the very small plants mint, cumin and dill (See Matt 23:23) in observance of Lev 27:30 and Deut 14:22–23, but they were missing the point, by neglecting "judgment and mercy and fidelity."  They would strain the gnat (the gnat was the smallest of the unclean animals) pouring what they were to drink through a cloth to avoid accidentally swallowing one, but Jesus describes them as swallowing the camel, again missing the big picture (see Matt 23:24).

In other words, what Jesus was condemning was a rigid observation of religious requirements in the Law, while ignoring the greater parts.  Jesus didn't say Pharisees were not to keep the law (See Matt 23:23, "these you should have done, without neglecting the others.")

The idea of Qorban/Corban which Jesus condemned involved the donation of the individual's wealth to the Temple (sort of like a living trust today) after his death, and claiming that because the man did this, he was not obligated to use his wealth to support his parents in their need.  Thus for the claim that Qorban negated the obligation of the son to the parents was to make a human tradition go against the command of God.

When one considers this, one sees that the objection to Catholic disciplines and practices as being condemned by Christ by the very fact they are small-t traditions is to miss the point.  He did not condemn the authority of the religious authorities to make regulations on the governing of worship (See Matt 23:2-3), but on the wrong they did in thinking their laws were equal to the law of God, and could even circumvent the laws of God.

A Look at Tradition (παραδόσεις): Meaning and the Fallacy of Equivocation

There is a logical issue here over equivocation: Assuming a different meaning than the speaker intends.  Tradition has a range of meanings going from mere customs to Sacred Doctrine.  One needs to look at what Jesus meant by παραδόσεις and compare what He denounced to the Catholic use of the word.

Keep in mind that not all uses of a word in Scripture hold the same context.  Jesus is described as the Lion of Judah (Rev. 5:5).  Satan is described as a 'roaring lion" looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  In one sense, the use of lion is used in a dangerous sense.  In another in a majestic sense (and yes, it is the same word in Greek: λεων [leōn]).  Likewise, Scripture speaks of tradition in numerous ways.

Let us not forget that St. Paul has also invoked Tradition.  In 2 Thessalonians 2, he says:

15 Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.

Oops.  Either Paul is contradicting Jesus, or else what Paul is praising is not what Jesus is condemning.  Paul is speaking as an Apostle sent to take the teachings of Christ to the world.  We believe he had authority.

So let's look at the word for tradition.

The word Paul uses is παραδόσεις (paradoseis) which means:

"that which is handed down or bequeathed, tradition, doctrine, teaching"

Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon. "With a revised supplement, 1996." (Rev. and augm. throughout) (1309). Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press.

Meanwhile, the word Jesus uses is… the same word.  The phrase he uses is τὴν παράδοσιν ὑμῶν (Tēn paradosin umōn), literally "the tradition of you (Second Person plural)."

Paul also speaks favorably of traditions in 1 Cor 11:2, saying "I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions [παραδόσεις], just as I handed them on to you."

He speaks of these traditions in 2 Thessalonians 3:6 when he says "We instruct you, brothers, in the name of (our) Lord Jesus Christ,to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition [παράδοσιν] they received from us. "

Thus the difference between Paul's παραδόσεις and the Pharisees' παραδόσεις is the authority they have to make it binding and whether or not it contradicts God's law.  The Pharisees traditions are self created laws which go against God's laws and indeed allow one to get around God's commands.

Now, while there are disputes about which Church is the Church Christ established, we do know that the Church created by Christ did have the power to bind and loose (see Matt 16:19 and Matthew 18:18), that it spoke with His authority and to reject the Church was to reject Him (See Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16).

Tradition and the Catholic Church

This seems to be the underlying dispute over the Catholic traditions that certain Protestants label as condemned, the denial that the Catholic Church is the Church which Jesus established.  One can see a certain logic in their objection.  If the Catholic Church does not have the authority which it claims, then yes, any traditions they make binding would be condemnable as the traditions of the Pharisees which Christ denounced

However, if the Catholic Church does have this authority, if it is the Church established by Christ, then she does have the authority to bind and to loose with the authority Paul invokes when writing to the Thessalonians and the Corinthians.

Now this article is not the place to delve into the arguments on what the true Church is.  Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows I remain in the Catholic Church because I believe she is the Church established by Christ.  Anyone who is interested can look at our Catechism to see what we believe and why, and investigate many defenses of the Church.

However, it is not enough to say "I don't believe the Catholic Church is the Church created by Christ."  What do you believe Christ's Church is?  Do you consider its teachings and interpretations of Scripture binding?  If so, you are invoking Tradition, even if you claim you interpret the Bible through the Bible.


Before one can condemn the Church teaching on account of a word in Scripture, one has to assess the meaning of the word within context, and be certain that the meaning and intent is the same.  Otherwise, one could create all sorts of alleged "contradictions" in Scripture and turn the Inspired Word of God into a partisan tool to advocate a position or bash another based on one's own personal reading.