Friday, December 24, 2010

Apologia: We May Not Do Evil So Good May Come

Preliminary Notes

apologian. a formal written defence of one’s opinions or conduct.[*]

I make no apologies, in the modern understanding of the term, for standing with the Catholic Church of course. However, I do offer this apologia to defend what I believe as a member of the Catholic Church.

Let me say this upright to those who would comment on this article: Comments which strike me as being uncivil or anti-Catholic will be deleted and their author will be banned from the site. I recognize that some people will disagree with what Catholics believe, but there is no excuse for behaving in a rude manner or making wild accusations.

Also it is important to understand that while this article is based on explaining why Catholics must oppose abortion, abortion is not a “Catholic” issue. There are non-Catholic pro-lifers out there, and I have even encountered some atheist pro-lifers. (A good philosophical discussion of abortion can be found HERE).

While some non-Catholics (or heterodox Catholics) may deny the premise that the unborn child is a person, Catholics accept the premise as true, and it is important to remember this in understanding this.

Preliminary Doctrine

It will help to understand the Catholic understanding about abortion if one keeps in mind these beliefs of the Catholic Church

1786 Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.

1787 Man is sometimes confronted by situations that make moral judgments less assured and decision difficult. But he must always seriously seek what is right and good and discern the will of God expressed in divine law.

1788 To this purpose, man strives to interpret the data of experience and the signs of the times assisted by the virtue of prudence, by the advice of competent people, and by the help of the Holy Spirit and his gifts.

1789 Some rules apply in every case:

  • One may never do evil so that good may result from it;
  • the Golden Rule: "Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them."56
  • charity always proceeds by way of respect for one's neighbor and his conscience: "Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience . . . you sin against Christ."57 Therefore "it is right not to … do anything that makes your brother stumble."58

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Non-Catholics may not agree with these principles. However, people professing to believe the Catholic faith do (or at least are required to) hold to these principles. Recognizing that Catholics do hold to these beliefs will help understand why some things must be held as absolutes and why the Catholic Church must sometimes say “No,” when the world says “Yes.”


While the secular anger over Bishop Olmstead's action continues, it seems very little based on the issues he had to deal with (the hospital refusing to agree to certain conditions), and tends to focus more on the attack on the Catholic position on abortion in general.

The typical response is to blame the Catholic Church of being indifferent to the suffering of the mother, and being unreasonable in opposing abortion in such conditions.

This is unjust and maligns us.  However, not all opposition is based on bigotry, and I write this to the men and women of good will.

Now there are two types of attacks I have seen.  The first is based on not knowing why the Catholic Church teaches as she does.  The second is based on an intolerance which assumes any position contrary to one's own must be held out of ignorance and/or bureaucratic indifference.

Now of course it is generally futile to try to explain to the intolerant why we hold what we do.  The intolerant person generally refuses to understand any view other than their own[†].  However the person who is merely uninformed about what we believe and is willing to understand us even if he or she disagrees with us is a person with which dialogue is possible.

It is to the second type of person to whom I address this apologia.

What is Abortion?  Why Does the Catholic Church Condemn It?

Abortion is the direct termination of a human life by the destruction of the unborn child.  Secular and non-Catholics may disagree with this, but this is the Catholic belief.

The Catholic Church teaches:

2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

So we have a belief that because human life must be respected and protected from the moment of conception.  It follows from this belief that a human person (born or unborn) may not be deliberately killed for the benefit of the mother.

Two things follow:

  1. We condemn the deliberate killing of the child to save the mother
  2. We condemn the deliberate killing of the mother to save the child

Medical treatment to save the mother is of course required when possible.  However, the killing of one life to save another is not morally permissible, and this is exactly what the "Life of the Mother" cases of abortion are.

So we can put it in a syllogism, showing that Catholics believe:

  1. It is [forbidden] to [Kill an innocent person to save another] (All A is B)
  2. [Abortion] is [Killing an innocent person to save another] (All C is B)
  3. Therefore [Abortion] is [Forbidden] (Therefore all C is A)

When one looks at it this way, one can see that Catholics cannot justify abortion to save the life of the mother on the grounds that it is the direct killing of an innocent person.

Doing Evil vs. Suffering Evil

Since we believe "One may never do evil so that good may result from it," we are sometimes faced with the problem of tragedy.  The common objection is this: “Since both the mother and child will die, you are guilty of both deaths by refusing abortion.”

This is false.  Since abortion chooses to kill one life in favor of another life, abortion means an active choice to do something evil with the intention that good may come of it.

So when it comes to doing evil (committing abortion) vs. suffering evil (recognizing the mother may die), we believe we may not do evil.

This is hardly a new issue.  It came up in the times of persecution under the Roman Empire, where some would argue that to admit to being a Christian would lead to hardship and even death.  Some heretics argued it was all right to deny the Christian faith because of the evils which would be suffered.  St. Augustine pointed out that this was in fact a case of doing evil before evil could be done to you.

In other words, the principle we reject is, "Do unto others before they do unto you."

If we accept the idea of "doing wrong to prevent wrong being done to you," as a moral premise, then we open up a Pandora's Box of moral evil.  Can the state make this decision to sacrifice an innocent citizen for the sake of the nation?  Can we condemn a innocent man for a crime he did not commit to avoid a riot?  The Catholic Church would say no to both, and say so on the same grounds she condemns abortion: We may not do evil to achieve a good end.

This is something which exists today. When the New York Times and the ACLU hold that Catholic hospitals should be forced to administer abortions, Catholic hospitals may be forced to close their doors rather than cooperate with evil. This would not be “permitting people to die because of a dogma.” This would be saying: If you say we must perform evil actions to run a hospital then you effectively make it impossible for us to run a hospital.

In other words, if the ACLU gets its way, Catholic hospitals may have to suffer evil by being shut down instead of doing evil by deliberately taking human lives. However, the evil being done would be done by the ACLU and the government, not the Catholic hospitals forced to shut down by this denial of our First Amendment rights.

What about Double Effect?

Double Effect is a principle which is often misunderstood. I have seen it misapplied to the Catholic Church to indicate that because she permits certain things, she is being arbitrary in not applying things universally.

So let’s start with what Double Effect is, and how it applies to pregnancy and illness.

Double Effect recognizes that there is an action which is intended. An unintended effect may be to cause harm to innocent bystanders. However, this evil is not intended and would not be done if it were possible to avoid it. Moreover, the good done must outweigh the unwanted evil.

So, for example, let us imagine an enemy is discovered flying over New York with an atomic bomb and must be shot down before he detonates the device. However, since he is flying over the heart of the city, if he is shot down, the wreckage will no doubt fall down and injure or kill people.

With this, we have the following:

  1. The direct intent is to shoot down the enemy to protect the innocent
  2. The unintended and unavoidable consequence is that some innocent person may be killed by the wreckage of the plane being shot down.
  3. The killing of the innocent is not directly intended and would be avoided if possible (that is, if it were possible drive the plane away from the populated area and then shoot it down, they would choose that action).
  4. The direct intent is not morally wrong in itself (defending the innocent by shooting down the plane)
  5. The good outweighs the unintended evil

In such a case it could be licit to shoot down the enemy plane if there was no other choice. However, it would not be licit to radio the pilot and tell him “We have your wife and children and we will kill them unless you turn back. Why?

In the second case, the direct intent is to kill the innocent to deter the guilty.  This evil is directly intended as a means of stopping the attack.  Therefore it is not a moral means and may not be used.

Now in this day and age, after 9/11/2001, many people might think this is an acceptable tradeoff under the concept of utilitarianism (putting the emphasis on benefitting the greatest number of people while harming the fewest). However, since the Catholic Church believes one may never directly intend do evil so good may come of it, the utilitarian concept is unacceptable.

Double Effect and Abortion

Now when it comes to abortion, we have the following situation.

  1. The good intended is to save the life of the mother.
  2. The means chosen is to directly kill the unborn child.
  3. Since this is directly intended to sacrifice one life to save another, this is not double effect.
  4. Since the Catholic believes the unborn child is innocent and believes that the willful taking of innocent life is always evil, it follows she must oppose things which directly intend an evil so good may come of it.

Since the death of the unborn is directly intended, we cannot call it an unintended effect, and since Catholics believe the means in this case is evil, we are not free to do this as a means to the end.

This is where the objections come in about the Catholic Church permitting the removal of a uterus from a pregnant woman (a Hysterectomy) and asking why abortion can’t be done instead. Isn’t it the same thing?


The concept of the Hysterectomy is that a diseased organ must be removed to save the mother’s life. The unborn child may be attached to the diseased uterus, but in this case the death of the fetus is not directly intended and if it were possible to save the unborn child, it would be done.

The difference is: One directly intends to kill the unborn child. The other does not.

Self Defense and Abortion

Self defense is the principle that one is permitted to use force necessary to protect one’s life from an unjust attacker. The Catholic Church has this to say on the subject:

2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one's own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not."65

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's.66

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

Some have made the point that abortion to save the life of the mother, or in the case of rape falls under the principle of self defense. The argument is that being made pregnant by a rapist or becoming gravely ill during a pregnancy is an attack on the mother and abortion is justified on the grounds of self defense.

The Catholic Church cannot accept this.  The idea of the unjust attacker being defended against must be directed to the person who unjustly attacks.  Not another person related to the unjust attacker (this rejects the idea of abortion in the case of rape/incest).  Nor is the fact that a person existing is harmful to the mother justifiable in doing abortion.  Just because the unborn child exists does not mean the unborn child is unjustly attacking the mother who is suffering.

Because of this, the Catholic cannot accept the appeal to Self Defense as anything other than legalism, distorting the intent to justify something which is not self defense in any sense of the term.


The key points here are that Catholics believe that in order to be faithful to Christ, we must behave in a way which seeks to do good and realize we may never do what we believe to be evil. Therefore:

  1. We may not choose an evil means to achieve a good end.
  2. The unborn child is a human person with human rights
  3. Abortion directly intends to end the life of the unborn child.
  4. Deliberately choosing to end an innocent human life to achieve an end is evil
  5. Because abortion directly intends to end an innocent human life, Catholics must consider it an evil act and may never participate in the act.
  6. The Catholic Church recognizes the life of the mother is also sacred, and the Church does not prefer one life over the other. We believe that all reasonable means which are not evil must be employed to save lives.
  7. Therefore it is false and scurrilous to accuse us of not caring about the life of the mother.

As a result, though individuals, groups and governments may hate us, revile us, seek to litigate against us or seek to restrict our rights as human beings by denying us our rights under the First Amendment to practice our faith without interference, we are required to obey God rather than man.

Since we believe we are forbidden to do evil, since we believe that the deliberate killing of an innocent person is evil, and since we believe abortion is the deliberate killing of an innocent person, we are obligated to stand up and say, “We will not do this evil you demand of us.”

[*] Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[†] By “understand” I do not mean to automatically “accept.” Rather, I mean understand in the sense of knowing what we believe and why we believe it, even if one disagrees with us.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Something for the People who claim Christmas is Pagan

Source: How December 25 Became Christmas - Biblical Archaeology Review

Fascinating article, which points out the lack of basis for the "Christianity stolen from Pagan" crowd.

Neroulias' Intolerance Masquerades As Moral Outrage

"It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong."

—GK Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion

Can. 216 Since they participate in the mission of the Church, all the Christian faithful have the right to promote or sustain apostolic action even by their own undertakings, according to their own state and condition. Nevertheless, no undertaking is to claim the name Catholic without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.

—1983 Code of Canon Law

Sources: Ariz. Bishop to Pregnant Women: Drop Dead (Rather than Abort) - Belief Beat, Bishop Olmstead's Statement, American Life League article on Healthcare West and their disobedience, Canon Law #216

Preliminary Note: For those coming here from my original comment on the website of the article, yes I am aware I made some typos in that comment.  I attribute that to a lack of coffee at the time.


A friend linked me this article, which he quite accurately called a "rather disgusting piece of trash writing," and asked me for my thoughts about it  The article, written by Nicole Neroulias, essentially accuses Bishop Olmstead of being willing to sacrifice a mother to doctrine:

Apparently, the hospital should have allowed her to die, rather than return to her four children at home. Or, perhaps St. Joseph's could have transferred her someplace that wouldn't have to answer to religious authorities. God forbid -- literally -- we leave medical decisions to the doctors and patients.

Unfortunately Ms. Neroulias is either unaware of or is indifferent to the Catholic beliefs and why we might disagree with her views.  As a result she tries to smear us with the charge that we do not care what happens to the life of the mother.  Thus she speaks falsely about us.

Summary of Some Catholic Moral Principles

So here are some principles of Catholic moral theology on the issue.

  1. The Catholic Church believes that the unborn child is human.
  2. The Catholic Church also believes that abortion is the willful termination of this human life.
  3. The Catholic Church believes that the willful terminating of an innocent human life is a grave evil
  4. The Catholic Church believes it is wrong to do evil so that good may come of it
  5. The Catholic Church recognizes the life of the mother is also sacred, and the Church does not prefer one life over the other.
  6. However, if it comes to a choice between doing evil and suffering evil, we are called to endure evil and not do evil
  7. An institution which lives in opposition to what the Catholic Church believes cannot call itself Catholic

When one recognizes that the Catholic Church believes these things, then one must recognize that Bishop Olmstead had every right to do what what he did in declaring that St. Joseph's Hospital can no longer call itself Catholic.

St. Joseph's Hospital remains a hospital.  It just can no longer call itself Catholic when it openly acts in a way contrary to the beliefs of the Church it claims to be a part of. 

The Logical Errors of Ms. Neroulias

Her rather repugnant article demonstrates Ms. Neroulias is either grossly ignorant of the issues or grossly intolerant of views differing from her own.  Her article employs  several fallacies: the Red Herring, the appeal to emotion and the personal attack being most notable while demonstrating no comprehension of what we believe, nor of what the issue is.

Error #1: The Red Herring 

First of all, the Red Herring.  Ms. Neroulias casts this as a case of being the patient vs. the Church with the hospital stuck in the middle.  This is not the case, and it indicates that she is, at best, ignorant of the real issue.

The issue is that the hospital has been documented as constantly acting in contradiction to what the Catholic label describes.  Multiple cases of the distribution of contraceptives, taking part in voluntary sterilizations multiple abortions.  In other words, this is not one case where the bishop is being unreasonable.  Rather the hospital has shown consistent defiance, rather than comply with a deadline to agree to adhere to the following:

  1. agree that the termination of a pregnancy at the hospital in late 2009 violated the "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services" and "so will never occur again" there.
  2. to agree to "a review and certification process" concerning its compliance with the ethical directives
  3. for the medical staff of St. Joseph's to receive "ongoing formation" on the directives, overseen by the National Catholic Bioethics Center or the diocese's medical ethics board.

So we can see the issue is not "Bishop Olmstead blackballed a hospital because the hospital performed an abortion."  The issue is the hospital refused to admit they did wrong and refused to acknowledge they would make sure these wrongs will not happen in the future.

Error #2: The Appeal to Emotion

The appeal to emotion in this case is to create repugnance for a situation where the woman in question is cast in opposition to the Catholic Church

Ultimately her issue is with what we as Catholics believe about abortion.  She does disagree with us, as does a significant portion of the United States.  However, in her attack upon our beliefs, she assumes what needs to be proven: That abortion is not a moral issue or is an issue less than the issue of the life of the mother. 

Based on this assumption, she labels Bishop Olmstead as being indifferent to the life of the mother.  Now we've already pointed out this is not the issue.  That abortion happened a year before this.  But the emotional appeal to "woman vs. gigantic Church" is designed to have the reader feel pity for the woman (and the hospital) and anger towards the Church for not agreeing with the hospital.

The problem is, the emotional appeal does not change the issue: An institution cannot call itself Catholic if it behaves contrary to the Catholic faith.

While Ms. Neroulias has cast this as an issue of a woman being forced to die if she did not have an abortion, this is a dishonest appeal used to attack the Church and make it appear to be in the wrong, because frankly nobody wants the woman in question to suffer.

However, Catholics believe one should try to save both lives if possible, but one may not terminate one life in favor of another.  Because St. Joseph Hospital (ironically named after the saint who was the protector of the life of our Savior) insisted on doing what the Catholic Church has called an evil, it cannot be called Catholic — especially when it refuses to guarantee such behavior will never happen again.

Error #3: The Personal Attack

The personal attack ignores the reasoning for a thing and instead attacks the person making the claim

By attacking the Catholic Church instead of looking at why they did as they did, Ms. Neroulias is making a personal attack.  Whatever she may think of the Church (and a perusal of her past articles indicates a hostility to the Church), her feelings are irrelevant.  It is the issue of the right of a hospital to call itself Catholic while doing things in defiance of the Catholic faith.

We should look at the text of the Bishop's decree and not rely on the second hand analysis of the media.  The text of his decree reads:

After much time and effort in cooperation with the leadership of Catholic HealthCare West and having studied the matter carefully with the assistance of experts in medical ethics, moral theology, and canon law, it has been determined that the aforementioned organization no longer qualifies as a "Catholic" entity in the territory of the Diocese of Phoenix. For the benefit of the public good, particularly amongst the Christian Faithful, I decree that the organization listed above may not use the name Catholic or be identified as Catholic in the Diocese of Phoenix.

The reason for this decision is based upon the fact that, as Bishop of Phoenix, I cannot verify that this health care organization will provide health care consistent with authentic Catholic moral teaching as interpreted by me in exercising my legitimate Episcopal authority to interpret the moral law.

This Decree of Removal of my consent goes into effect as of this day, and will remain in effect indefinitely, until such time as I am convinced that this institution is authentically Catholic by its adherence to the Ethical and Religious Directives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in addition to the standards of Catholic identity set forth in official church documents, Catholic theology, and canon law.

In other words, the behavior of this hospital cannot be guaranteed to behave in accordance with Catholic moral teaching.  Therefore the bishop cannot permit the hospital to call itself Catholic until it demonstrates convincingly that it will comply with Catholic teaching.

This is quite reasonable, but Ms. Neroulias in saying, "God forbid -- literally -- we leave medical decisions to the doctors and patients," is not addressing the issue.  She is instead attacking the Church because the Church cannot do otherwise without being unfaithful to what we believe Christ requires of us.


This is unfortunately a common form of hostility to the Catholic Church.  It is one I have seen from secular and religious sources.  The Catholic Church is attacked by those who disagree with it, but instead of looking into why the Church must do as she does, the idea of the "heartless institution which focuses on rules" is attacked instead.

That one disagrees with the Catholic Church is unfortunate.  The Church must "proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching (2 Tim 4:2)" all the same.

However one's disagreement with the Catholic Church becomes intolerance when one refuses to consider the impossibility of having misunderstood the issue, and believes one's opponent must be wrong simply because he or she disagrees with the view being expressed.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lincoln Said It Best: Reflections on the EU-Ireland Abortion Case

Source: CNS STORY: European court says Ireland's abortion laws breach European rules

I always find the use of the "Pro-Choice" label rather ironic, since it makes the assumption that regardless of whether a fetus is a child (which is never asked by one who supports abortion), the mother should always have the right to kill it — In other words have laws imposed which are in accordance with their beliefs.

Meanwhile, the people who believe the unborn is a child do not have the right to pass laws in accordance with their beliefs.

I think Abraham Lincoln, though he was speaking about the United States, speaks wisely about this conflict between those who believe abortion is a right and those who know it is wrong.  His words go far beyond American borders and far beyond slavery:

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.

We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.

Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new -- North as well as South.

You can read the full address HERE.

The reason I find this address, from 1858, to be enlightening on the world situation and abortion today is we have two mindsets.  One which holds that the act of abortion is an act which kills a human life.  The other is a view which holds that regardless of whether or not the abortion takes a human life, it should be kept legal, so that any woman who thinks she has a "need" for it can do so.

This latter group believes there should be no restrictions whatsoever.  People within this group may feel a twinge of unease over reasons (such as sex-selection abortions) or methods (such as Intact Dilation and Extraction — AKA "Partial Birth Abortion"), but remain firm in insisting it should be kept legal.

The point is, the legal system cannot accommodate both views.  We cannot be half in favor of and half opposed to laws legalizing abortion.  Those nations with legalized abortions act on the assumption it is a "civil right" and look on those nations which oppose it as violating said rights.

Thus, those people who believe that abortion ends a life will be forced to endure a system which says it is legitimate to have access to abortion.  Then we will cover it up with banal slogans like "If you're against abortion, don't have one!"

Such a slogan is meaningless.  Just replace one cause in the slogan with another and you can justify anything (this is an example of a reductio ad absurdum).  In this case, we could say the slave owner could use this slogan to say If you're against slavery, don't own a slave!

See how the cheap slogan evades the issue?  The issue then was whether it is moral to own slaves to begin with.  The issue now is whether it is moral to kill the unborn child to begin with.  Yet this is the issue which is ignored, and instead "choice" is pushed into its place.

Court cases like this one requires us to ask hard questions: Who is really against "rights" and "freedom"?  The person who believes that the unborn person is human and therefore has human rights?  Or the people who force abortion laws into being law of the land in nations where the belief in the rights of the unborn exists?

Lincoln was right.  A divided system will not work, and supporters and opponents of abortion "rights" both recognize this.  This is why we must continue to support the right to life, even in nations where this right to life is recognized.  No nation can be half legal abortion and half illegal abortion.  It will become all one or all the other, and those nations where it is believed to be a "right" will continue to seek to impose it on nations where the right to life is recognized… unless we can halt its further spread and place it in the public mind that it ought to be extinct.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Augustine on Devotion to the Saints

Doing the Office of Readings for today, I found an excellent selection from St. Augustine on the distinguishing the difference between honoring the saints and giving worship to God.  For those without access to the Liturgy of the Hours, you can go here to see the reading in question [though the site uses a different version of the psalms].

(Faustus was a Manichean who accused the Church of things like idolatry and pointed to abuses within the Church as if they were the belief of the Church).

I share this because I think it is relevant today given the misunderstanding which exists over how Catholics honor saints.

The treatise of St Augustine against Faustus

We celebrate the martyrs with love and fellowship

We, the Christian community, assemble to celebrate the memory of the martyrs with ritual solemnity because we want to be inspired to follow their example, share in their merits, and be helped by their prayers. Yet we erect no altars to any of the martyrs, even in the martyrs’ burial chapels themselves.

No bishop, when celebrating at an altar where these holy bodies rest, has ever said, “Peter, we make this offering to you,” or “Paul, to you,” or “Cyprian, to you.” No, what is offered is offered always to God, who crowned the martyrs. We offer in the chapels where the bodies of those he crowned rest, so the memories that cling to those places will stir our emotions and encourage us to greater love both for the martyrs whom we can imitate and for God whose grace enables us to do so.

So we venerate the martyrs with the same veneration of love and fellowship that we give to the holy men of God still with us. We sense that the hearts of these latter are just as ready to suffer death for the sake of the Gospel, and yet we feel more devotion toward those who have already emerged victorious from the struggle. We honour those who are fighting on the battlefield of this life here below, but we honour more confidently those who have already achieved the victor’s crown and live in heaven.

But the veneration strictly called “worship,” or latria, that is, the special homage belonging only to the divinity, is something we give and teach others to give to God alone. The offering of a sacrifice belongs to worship in this sense (that is why those who sacrifice to idols are called idol-worshippers), and we neither make nor tell others to make any such offering to any martyr, any holy soul, or any angel. If anyone among us falls into this error, he is corrected with words of sound doctrine and must then either mend his ways or else be shunned.

The saints themselves forbid anyone to offer them the worship they know is reserved for God, as is clear from the case of Paul and Barnabas. When the Lycaonians were so amazed by their miracles that they wanted to sacrifice to them as gods, the apostles tore their garments, declared that they were not gods, urged the people to believe them, and forbade them to worship them.

Yet the truths we teach are one thing, the abuses thrust upon us are another. There are commandments that we are bound to give; there are breaches of them that we are commanded to correct, but until we correct them we must of necessity put up with them.

Thoughts on Infallibility (Article IVc): Who Speaks for the Church?

The Series So Far

  1. Article I
  2. Article IIa
  3. Article IIb
  4. Article IIc
  5. Interlude
  6. Article IId
  7. Article IIe
  8. Article IIIa
  9. Article IIIb
  10. Interlude II
  11. Article IVa
  12. Interlude III
  13. Article IVb


As I mentioned in Interlude III; I have come across in my research of those explaining Sola Scriptura, a tendency to contrast what they believe with what they say Catholics believe about Scripture. 

The arguments sometimes used are of the type that: because the Catholic Church believes [A], they cannot be considered infallible or even (on occasion) authentically Christian.  However, if the Catholic Church teaches [B] and not [A], then it is wrong to accuse them of believing [A].

Since I have found many misunderstandings about what Catholics believe written by recommended non-Catholic theologians, I thought I should make a statement about this discrepancy and making clear the issue of authoritative teaching.

Let’s begin with two issues of logic I think will be important to consider here, the Straw Man fallacy and the structural problem of drawing a conclusion from false premises.

On the Straw Man Fallacy

While I’ve referenced this fallacy before, I would like to remind the reader of the Straw Man. This is a fallacy where a person’s position, we’ll call it [A] here is misrepresented as [B]. The challenger to [A] then refutes [B] and then claims that he has refuted his opponent.

The problem is, the position was [A] and not [B], so the refutation of [B] has not refuted position [A].

On the Problem with False Premises

From here, we need to move forward to one of the principles of logic: If the Premises are False, and the Argument is Valid, then the Conclusion is Unknown. In other words, if the premises are false, even if the argument has a logical form which is correct, we cannot prove the conclusion is true from the argument because false premises do not prove truth (“You can’t get there from here.”) It is only if the premises are true and the argument is valid that we can say the conclusion is true.

So what?

So some of you might be wondering what this has to do with anything when it comes to Sola Scriptura vs. the authority claimed by the Church that I’m supposed to be getting into (and I admit, when I got into writing this series, I had no idea how long it would stretch out). Others, who have followed me for awhile are probably wondering where I am going with these preliminary definitions.

The importance is, just because someone says a thing about Church teaching does not make it so. If a person misrepresents what the Church teaches (willfully or accidentally — what needs to be recognized is the fact of misrepresentation, not the motive) then any “refutation” of that misrepresentation does not refute the Catholic teaching. Moreover, if these misrepresentations are used as premises in an argument against Catholic teaching it means that because the premises are false, the conclusion cannot be proven true.

Thus before attacking the Catholic position (or for that matter, any position), we need to be certain that the source used accurately understands and interprets what the Catholic Church believes.

Preliminary: Dissent from Church is Different than Denominational Disputes

One trend I notice is that sometimes a non-Catholic cites a dissident Catholic as an alternate view within Catholicism to support their view that the Church errs.  I don't think this is done with malice to present a distorted view (unlike the anti-Catholic vitriol which exists out there), but rather because there is a misunderstanding on the authority of the Church to teach for the faith vs. dissenting views where one claims the Church got it wrong.

If I understand it correctly, within Protestantism there are differing opinions on what is the right way to interpret the Bible for example.  Within Protestantism, there are different movements, including Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism, Non-Denominationalism, certain Mainline denominations, Liberal Protestantism (I'm talking about the school of thought, not Protestants who happen to be politically liberal) and so on.  However, a person writing about Protestantism in general could discuss different "movements," within Protestantism, and nobody would object to the idea that such a view is within the general umbrella of Protestantism even if they disagree with one or more of those views.

For example, Arminianism is in dispute with Calvinism on the role of Free Will. From what I have seen on internet articles, I get the feeling there is no love lost between them (and yes I freely admit my perspective is that of an outsider — which will lead to a point to consider below). However, people within Protestantism do not appear to view holding one or the other view as ceasing to be Protestant[1]. Instead, if someone cites a view one disagrees with the common reply is “They don’t speak for me,” and nobody accuses them of denying what is inconvenient.  Why?  Because we recognize the person who says this does not recognize said view as authoritative.

On Official Teaching vs. Dissent

Exactly, and the Catholic objection to the citation of a dissenter is, “They don’t speak for the Church.”

Since we believe that the Magisterium (the college of Bishops in communion with the Pope and never apart from him) has the authority to determine what is and what is not in keeping with the Catholic faith, anyone writing on the what the Catholic faith teaches (myself included) has credibility only through accurately explaining the magisterial teaching.

Therefore, if you have a theologian who claims to be a Catholic but teaches in opposition to the teaching of the Catholic Church itself, one cannot say the dissenter is teaching Catholic Theology, even if he is a Catholic teaching theology.  Fr. Küng has taught in direct contradiction to what the Catholic Church teaches to be true.  As a result he has been stripped of their license to teach as Catholic Theologians. (I mention Küng by name because his book Infallibility? seems to be popular with non-Catholics who disagree with the Catholic teaching on the subject).

A good document to read on the subject of the role of the theologian within the Catholic Church can be found here.  The point is if, for example, Fr. Küng says one thing about Catholic teaching and the Pope formally teaches another, you don't have two views on Catholicism.  You have one right view (the Pope's) and one wrong view (Fr. Küng's).

Because of this, the person who cites the dissenting Catholic against the Magisterium does not have a case against the Magisterium. (Certain Protestant theologians who like to cite Fr. Küng against the Magisterium fall into this error).

Furthermore, It is the Magisterial Teaching and not the Non-Catholic's Interpretation of Church Teaching which is Authoritative

Since it is the magisterial teaching, not the interpretation from the outside, which matters, the same principle applies to outside commentator on Catholic teaching: it is only correct if his interpretation matches what the Church believes

Therefore, the denunciation of the Catholic Position cannot be considered proven true if it is based on a non-authoritative source which disagrees with the magisterium, or if the non-Catholic misstates or misunderstands the teaching as taught by the Magisterium. This includes the ex-Catholic who has left the Church. He does not bear special witness for having once been a Catholic unless his claims match what the magisterium teaches and intends with its teaching.

The Reason for this Explanation

The reason I bring this up is not to attack Protestantism.  Rather I want to point out that dissent differs from denominational disputes or differences of opinions.  Just because a person claims to be a Catholic does not make his views a valid opinion in challenging the Magisterium.  So if Fr. Küng says a thing on Scripture or Infallibility, if it contradicts the official teaching of the Church, it is not an alternate view, but an erroneous view.

Likewise the non-Catholic or the ex-Catholic who says something about the faith which we do not believe, then his statements are wrong whether he believes them to be true or not.

As a result, when it comes to determining the Catholic teaching on a subject, one looks to what the Church officially says and not how it might have been stated or misstated by a member within the Church.


The point of this (possibly repetitious) article is to make the reader aware of the fact that whatever the motive may be (good will or bad). A person writing about Catholicism can be in error if they misunderstand. Therefore any claims against the Catholic teaching needs to be investigated first of all to see if it is what we believe before assuming what is true.

[1] There is always an exception to the rule. For example, while I have heard Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be Protestant, most Protestants would not accept that claim. I think they are right on this, and would not label these groups “Protestant.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas in Blogland (A Rant)

Charlie: When the Spaniards brought in Christianity, they tried to wipe out all the pagan rituals of the American Indian.

Joe: Yeah, but everybody around here is Catholic.

Charlie: That’s true, but, you see, they worship to the carved statues of saints. They don’t worship to God.

Joe: We believe in God.

Charlie: Yeah, but it’s still a form of idolatry, except now those idols represent Christian heroes, like saints instead of pagan gods. [The Milagro Beanfield War (1988 movie)]

I see certain articles come recommended from time to time on Christmas.  Some I agree with (Christmas is too commercialized and is the rejoicing over the coming of Christ is overlooked).  Others seem distracting (on Santa being an anagram for Satan) and some become rather insulting if you consider what is being said (that Christmas is pagan and those who celebrate Christmas are celebrating a pagan deity or are being deceived into worshipping a pagan deity).

As you might suspect, my interest is in number topic three.  I mean I don't have any use for Santa Claus, but I think that is a symptom of the trivialization of Christmas and not the cause.

The quote I gave from the dialogue in the Milagro Beanfield War is representative of what is assumed by such claims.  The character Charlie starts with the assumption that the Hispanic practices are pagan, worshipping idols instead of God and sticks to this view despite the fact that Joe makes clear that they believe in God and don't practice pagan idolatry.  Charlie is essentially unwilling to consider his assumptions are wrong.  Icons and statues must be idols because in Pre-Columbus America, the natives were pagan and worshipped idols.  Thus he ends up offending people by his insistence that they must have a pagan motivation.

Unfortunately some do make this error.  They assume that because a pagan celebration fell on December 25th and Christians celebrate Christmas then essentially Christmas is a pagan celebration.  You also see this for Halloween and Samhain; and Easter/St. Valentine's Day and Lupercalia and so on.  You could probably do this for any other holiday as well.

For that matter you could find some anti-Halloween people celebrating "Reformation Day" and accuse them of really celebrating Halloween (^_~).  You'd be wrong to do so, but the principle is the same.

The assumption is an error.  Basically speaking, it is as follows:

  • [Objectionable Practice in History] took place on [Day X]
  • Some Christians have [holy days] on [Day X]
  • Therefore these [holy days] actually celebrate [Objectionable Practice in History].

The problem is, just because we celebrate Christmas on the same day as the pagans celebrated Sol Invictus and Mithras or the celebration of Saturnalia (pertaining to Saturn), does not mean our intentions are to worship these deities.  It's a post hoc fallacy.  There are 365 days in a year, and it stands to reason that some holidays and holy days are going to overlap.  Hanukah falls in the same season as Christmas, but Christians don't observe Hanukah and Jews don't observe Christmas even if the dates come close together.  Nobody would ever assume they were.

That some false god happened to be worshipped by some pagans in the Third Century AD is not the "Reason for the Season" among Christians who celebrate Christmas.  To us, these false gods are forgotten and irrelevant and the celebration of the Birth of Christ, our Savior, is what we celebrate.  Even if others also forget Christ and turn the holiday into a secular gift giving, their interest is not a pagan celebration.

Even if Christians took over pagan days to replace pagan holidays with Christian ones, who cares?  It shows the triumph of God over the pagan beliefs.  Where is Mithras or Sol Invictus or Saturn now? 

Gloria in excelsis Deo — we believe in God and celebrate Him.

Ask the average person celebrating Christmas about Mithras or Sol Invictus or Saturn and you'll probably get a blank look.  I know of them simply because I studied the history of Pagan Rome.  However, on December 25th, when I go to Mass, it is to rejoice in what God has done for our salvation.

Personally I have to ask, Who is really giving attention to Saturn, Mithras and Sol Invictus?  The people who celebrate Christmas?  Or the people who go around telling people about how Christmas is really pagan?

Think about it — and then leave us in peace to celebrate Christ.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On the Red Herring Fallacy

Source: Fallacy: Red Herring


I've recently had an individual show up, accusing me of inventing claims of anti-Catholicism on a blog I will not name.  Now, if the intent of that article had been to write against this blog itself, or specifically about refuting the claims of this blog, then his argument would have been valid.

However, this was not the intent of that article.  The intent was to challenge people to verify the truth of anti-Catholic claims before repeating them, and to remind them that one who repeats falsehoods bears false witness, and the obligation is to seek the truth before repeating claims from another.

The Red Herring Fallacy

To therefore argue about whether I should have linked to the blog in question is a Red Herring fallacy, which runs like this:

  1. Topic [A] is being discussed [In this case, "Repeating anti-Catholic claims as if they were true, without checking if they were true is to bear false witness"]
  2. Individual introduces Topic [B] which is irrelevant to topic [A] [In this case, "Demanding a link to the unnamed blog (which was used as an illustration of a point and was never quoted or deemed as relevant as anything other than an anecdote)"]
  3. Topic [A] is forgotten in the discussion of Topic [B] [In this case, if I had gone on to discuss the unnamed blog in detail, the point of the original article would have been overlooked]

Since the unnamed blog was irrelevant to my post except as an anecdote as to why I was annoyed (I did not quote him or discuss any specific claims from his site), it will remain unnamed.  The point I made was relevant: anywhere someone repeats a tired old anti-Catholic claim without verifying the truth of the claim, it is to bear false witness against us.

The Analogy as to Why the Charge Against Me is Invalid

Demanding I cite such sites to prove the validity of my claim is similar to insisting a Jewish person link to the site of a Holocaust denier to prove Holocaust denial exists before accepting his denouncing Holocaust denial.  The site of the individual Holocaust denier would be irrelevant to the argument of the Jewish person denouncing Holocaust Denial.

(And before a new Red Herring comes up, I am not equating anti-Catholicism with Holocaust Denial)

Does False Witness apply to my Own Article?

Thus, any claim that I am bearing false witness against the nameless blog is a distraction against the issue.  I have not harmed the good name of the individual.  Nor have I said any specific thing about the nameless blogger which would defame him.  (I've used the generic "he" for example and have no idea as to the gender of the nameless blogger).  Such accusations against me would only have validity if I named him and refused to cite my evidence against him… and this is not the case.

However, this is what an anti-Catholic does: names us as a Church or names our saints and makes a claim accusing us of doing evil or inventing doctrines which targets us without evidence. This is what I am objecting to, not some minor blogger nobody has ever heard of who merely repeats those claims.  Nor am I objecting to specific claims made.

I am pointing out that any claim which accuses the Catholic Church of doing something evil without verifiable proof we have done what was accused is a claim which lacks charity.

My Intended Point Remains Valid

That point remains valid.  Anyone who repeats a scandalous claim against a named individual or group is obligated to provide proof of the claim, and to merely repeat such a claim without checking into whether it is true does take part in bearing false witness if it is false.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Anti-Catholicism and False Witness

Preliminary Notes

I am aware that only a minority of non-Catholics are anti-Catholics, so I would hope the non-Catholic who reads this article and does not hold anti-Catholic views would recognize this article is not directed to them.  I do not hold you responsible for those claims, and believe you seek to do what is right even if you disagree with the Church.

For those who would argue the false claims are true, spare me the unattributed quotes ("Well Pope so-and so said thus and so from some unnamed source") from some unhistorical source ("Well, Rev. Jim Bob said this…!").  If you want to claim the Catholic Church taught something evil, link me the document, not what some person claims the document says.  Likewise, if you want to argue there were real "secret Christians" who taught the truth, again, link me the document and not what some person claims was the truth.  Give me documents where the alleged Papal quote was made, not some quote whose source is simply some other book where we have no idea whether it was in context or not.

I would also hope that all readers who might repeat old tales against the Catholic Church would remember that false witness is a sin, and to repeat something falsely either knowing it is false or not verifying whether it is true is bearing false witness.

  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  (Ex 20:16).
  • The false witness will not go unpunished, and he who utters lies will perish.  (Pr 19:9).
  • You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’  (Mk 10:19).


I came across a post by someone who claimed he was not anti-Catholic — and then went on to repeat the tired old canards about the Catholic Church, accusing the Church of being corrupt.  Funny sort of "not-anti-Catholic."

Displaying an ignorance of history and of what Catholics believed, he demonstrated a good deal of prejudice which he apparently thought was true: Of the Church being corrupted by government and "inventing" doctrines, and eventually the truth being rediscovered by Protestants.

I don't see the need to actually link to the site.  The author has said nothing which was not said a thousand times before since the 16th century, so why give his site notoriety?

Now I have no doubt he actually believed this garbage, and so did the people who "recommended" the post to me.

Unfortunately this indicates there are people who rely on the tired old lies repeated over and over, who believe that the Church didn't believe in Transubstantiation until AD 1215, didn't define the canon of Scripture until 1546, and so on.

How Does Anti-Catholicism Differ From Disagreement with the Catholic Church?

I recognize that some people disagree with the Catholic Church on doctrinal grounds and believe the Church got it wrong.  They act in good faith and try to refute the Church from what they believe to be authoritative sources.

However, anti-Catholics are generally people who are not focussing so much on teaching what they believe.  Rather they focus on the alleged wrongs in the Catholic Church.  Hence the label anti Catholic.  They focus on opposing Catholicism, not defending what they believe to be true.

Anti-Catholics generally approach things from the standing that the Church is evil, and try to dredge up the allegations about how the Church "invented" things and burned 20 million people (as Jimmy Swaggart has claimed), was totally corrupted and so on.  When asked to cite sources, either "everyone knows that" or it comes from indirect sources that have unattributed quotes.

Remember, it is no proof to take quotes out of context.  Luther infamously remarked he could fornicate a hundred times a day and not lose his salvation.  He was wrong of course, but he said this as hyperbole of the assurance of salvation and not to give approval to fornication.

"Proof?  We don’t need no Proof!  I don’t have to show you any stinking Proof!”

Of course such claims do not provide any "proof" (I suspect Loraine Boettner would be the common source directly [person read the book] or indirectly [person heard someone repeating claim from book]).  One who believes Catholicism is wrong and is determined to oppose it is often willing to believe any argument claiming to explain how it went wrong.

The problem is, there is no evidence for any "so-called" true church which Catholicism is alleged to have replaced, while the testimony of the Patristics do bear witness to the Sacramental, Apostolic, Hierarchical Church which exists.  So much is the evidence, that many would argue that the Catholic Church overthrew the 'early church' and replaced it (which would make Christ a liar when He said the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church (Matt 16:18) and that He would remain until the end of the world (Matt 28:20).

Cardinal Newman's Clever Remark

Indeed, the absence of proof justifying such a claim that the 'true' church was supplanted by Catholicism is so total that John Henry Cardinal Newman (a convert from Anglicanism who became a Catholic when searching for the early church) made the following statement about the claims of the early church being corrupted by Catholicism:

And this utter incongruity between Protestantism and historical Christianity is a plain fact, whether the latter be regarded in its earlier or in its later centuries. Protestants can as little bear its Ante-nicene as its Post-tridentine period. I have elsewhere observed on this circumstance: 'So much must the Protestant grant that, if such a system of doctrine as he would now introduce ever existed in early times, it has been clean swept away as if by a deluge, suddenly, silently, and without memorial; by a deluge coming in a night, and utterly soaking, rotting, heaving up, and hurrying off every vestige of what it found in the Church, before cock-crowing: so that 'when they rose in the morning' her true seed 'were all dead corpses'-Nay dead and buried-and without grave-stone. 'The waters went over them; there was not one of them left; they sunk like lead in the mighty waters.' Strange antitype, indeed, to the early fortunes of Israel!-then the enemy was drowned, and 'Israel saw them dead upon the sea-shore.' But now, it would seem, water proceeded as a flood 'out of the serpent's mouth, and covered all the witnesses, so that not even their dead bodies lay in the streets of the great city.' Let him take which of his doctrines he will, his peculiar view of self-righteousness, of formality, of superstition; his notion of faith, or of spirituality in religious worship; his denial {9} of the virtue of the sacraments, or of the ministerial commission, or of the visible Church; or his doctrine of the divine efficacy of the Scriptures as the one appointed instrument of religious teaching; and let him consider how far Antiquity, as it has come down to us, will countenance him in it. No; he must allow that the alleged deluge has done its work; yes, and has in turn disappeared itself; it has been swallowed up by the earth, mercilessly as itself was merciless.' (The Development of Christian Doctrine Introduction, part 6, Emphasis added)

In other words, the alleged destruction of the so-called 'true church' was so total that we can find no evidence that this church ever existed, AND we can find no trace of whatever destroyed this early Church.

I Don't Buy Claims that "Everyone Knows" but Nobody can Prove

That's kind of hard to swallow, isn't it?  Quite frankly, if I see anyone claiming my Church invented doctrine, I want to see the proof of when it was invented, and I want to see the so-called 'true Christians' of the time who were obligated to defend the faith speaking out against it.  We know of the Christians testifying to the truth against the pagans.  We know of them rejecting Gnosticism, Modalism, Donatism, Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, Pelagianism and Iconoclasm (among others) — often at the risk (or loss) of their lives.

These saints died for the truth of the faith, and we know of the accounts of their deaths… yet we know nothing of those who were obligated to stand up for the faith, yet stayed silent for over a thousand years.

Why is it, that when three quarters of the Empire became Arianism, it was only Rome which stood as a defender of the Trinity?  In the face of all of these heresies, it was Rome leading the way, supporting those who defended the true faith and saying "No, these are lies about our Lord," to the heresies.

Why is it, we know of the heroism of St. John Chrysostom (AD 349-407) who died in exile because he dared defend the Church against Empress Eudoxia and we know about Pope Innocent I defending him… but we know nothing about the so-called "early Christians" who allegedly held the "true" faith against Catholicism?

Why do we have thousands of pages written by St. Augustine (AD 354-430) against the Manichees, the Donatists and the Pelagians, but not one fourth or fifth century defender of Sola Fide or Sola Scriptura?

Not Argument from Silence

The argument from silence fallacy essentially argues that since there is no argument against a position, it must be true, or because there is no argument for a position it must be false.

However, when there is evidence one way, but none against it becomes apparent that the evidence favors the one way.

Bearing False Witness

To speak truly, one has to say of what is, that it is; and of what is not, that it is not.

If one says something is, when it is not or is not when it is, this is not truth.

Now, if a person knows he is speaking something untrue, he is a liar and bears false witness.  if a person speaks something untrue, thinking it is true, his innocence or guilt will depend on whether it was possible to learn the truth or not. If he could find out and does not, he libels or slanders another and is considered negligent in not checking before speaking.

Now we come to bearing witness against the Catholic Church.  Can one find out what we believe by doing research from credible sources?  Indeed.  One can find out from Catholic sites what we believe about others, and one can seek out unbiased history accounts.

However, if one is known to hate the Church or believe it to be evil, it is possible such a source is not objective.  He might rashly believe the worst about the Church.  He might think his ignorance of what the Church believes in comparison to his personal reading of the Bible means the Church "invented" things.  Or possibly, he might believe that in opposing the "evil" of the Church that a "slight" exaggeration is all right.

However, there is no justification to repeating falsehoods against another, and no justification to repeating negative things about another without verifying them to be true first.

Reflections on Infallibility (Article IVb): Preliminaries on Sources

The Series so Far

  1. Article I
  2. Article IIa
  3. Article IIb
  4. Article IIc
  5. Interlude
  6. Article IId
  7. Article IIe
  8. Article IIIa
  9. Article IIIb
  10. Interlude II
  11. Article IVa
  12. Interlude III

On Using Protestant Sources for Consideration

Before discussing Scripture and Sola Scriptura, which involves looking at what Protestants have to say on the subject, it seems I should first discuss my own criteria for sources I choose.  Obviously to have a true dialogue, we need to be clear on what is believed, and not take a bad argument or a misrepresentation of an argument and treat this as the best Protestantism can come up with.

Trying to Understand What They Mean, Not What I Think They Mean

While it would be tempting to take a Protestant source and give it my own interpretation and claim in a smart-aleck way that "I was taking the plain sense of what he said," this would not be a just way to interpret it.  If I take the words of an author in a way which he did not intend, I am not responding to what he in fact intended to say.  Instead I would be distorting his words. 

While it might be partially the fault of the author for not expressing himself clearly, it would be wrong of me to try to hold the author to a view he never claimed to believe.  Since I believe it is unjust to misrepresent the Catholic Church this way and have protested anti-Catholics using this tactic, it morally follows that I must not misrepresent the belief of another in this way.

Recognition that these Individuals Do Believe and are Trying to Be Faithful

One thing I want to make clear is that even though I disagree with some of their positions, I do recognize they are trying to be faithful Christians.  It is true I believe men like TD Jakes and RC Sproul make errors where they differ from the Catholic faith.  However it is also true I believe they do not hold to these errors out of obstinacy but because they believe them to be true.

Who Speaks for Protestantism?

Before I begin, there is one problem to be aware of. Certain Protestant denominations do hold to different beliefs on different things. Some believe Baptism to be necessary and others believe it to be merely a symbol for example. Since there is not a universal arbitration as Catholics have, I will not be able to point to one definition and say “This is what all Protestants hold.” So the question is: What makes up a position which is representative?

90%? 75%? 50%+1? The largest plurality?  How representative of Protestantism is Fundamentalism?  Evangelicalism?  Pentecostalism?  Mainline Protestantism?  Non-Denominationalism?  Any attempt to deal with one will no doubt result in people saying "They don't speak for me!"

Trying to ascertain what is widely held can be difficult indeed, and it seems that I can really do no more than to speak in the most general terms about what Protestantism believes as a whole, and when necessary discuss different offshoots of the same general term when it seems the same term is understood in different ways by different groups.

Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide appear to be the two beliefs which all Protestants accept, though the firmness with which they hold it and what is understood by it seems to vary from group to group

Sources Widely Respected and Considered Informed

With this in mind, I do my best to find educated sources, not some of those odd fringe churches who make outlandish claims and wind up in the headlines or cited by atheists to "prove" how dumb Christians are.  Dialogue requires finding out how the educated member of the faithful understands the claim, and not how an uninformed individual would understand it.  I'm sure all of us have encountered fellow believers speaking in a way so embarrassing that you just want to say, "Will you shut up and stop 'helping' me?"  Also I think it would be wrong to take the understanding a teenager might have and treat it as if this is what people with a degree in theology might hold.  People do deepen in their faith over time.

I also wish to avoid things which are contentious between groups of Protestants.  It would be seen as inaccurate if I chose to apply TD Jakes' views of the Trinity and claim all Protestants believe this.  It would be inaccurate to claim that all Protestants hold to the Once Saved Always Saved view or the view of Oneness Pentecostalism.  Certainly, I have no interest in taking sides between Fundamentalist, Evangelical, Pentecostal or Mainline.

With these things in mind, I have done my best to consult works available to me which seem to be mainstream sources (which I define in opposition to obscure fringe groups), educated, and not those which are controversial between denominations.  However, this cuts both ways.  Even if there is a denominational dispute, my interest is seeing what seems to be most widely held even if a particular reader may disagree with it.

Intention to Understand what is Believed by Believers

Finally, my interests are in what believing Protestants hold and not the beliefs of those who so water down the faith that one wonders if they think Christ is anything more than a "nice guy" and a social worker.  As Christians we believe that Jesus Christ died to save us from our sins and rose again and that only through His salvific act can we reach Heaven (Yes, Catholics believe this too).

Looking for What Is Believed, Not What is "Easy to Refute"

In short, while I shall do my best to make an accurate assessment, any choices which may seem out of mainstream are not done with the intention of creating a Straw Man argument or to make Protestantism look foolish.  While some readers may disagree with the sources cited, please keep in mind this use is not done maliciously but done with good will intended.

For example, I have made reference to Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary.  Not because I think a Dictionary is something which will fully explain a belief, but because it is a source which seems to be widely respected and seems to define certain beliefs in a way which tend to be widely held.  I may choose to cite people like Luther and Calvin, when relevant to do so, because of the influence they have held among Protestants.  However, I don't intend to cite them to make them look ridiculous or evil (in the 16th and 17th century, Catholics and Protestants both expressed themselves forcefully and sometimes uncharitably).  Other cited theologians will be ones who seem to hold respect among most Protestants.

A Caveat and a Plea for Fairness

Of course, since I have clarified where I am coming from, I believe I should make this clear: The reader owes the Catholic Church the same consideration that I am trying to give to the Protestant claims.  This means considering what we actually believe and not assume that the tired old propaganda dating back to the 17th century is true.  We don't worship statues, we don't think we can earn Heaven and we don't think the Pope is God.  (Yes I have encountered all of these accusations).

Just as I am doing my best to represent accurately what Protestants believe about themselves, justice and charity requires that the reader do the same for Catholicism.

The Article Next Time

With this in mind, the next article will discuss the issues of how Catholics and Protestants view the Bible, on the meaning and implications of the Inspiration of Scripture, and try to explain why the Catholic cannot accept the idea of Sola Scriptura but does not deny the authority of Scripture in any way (See Interlude III).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thoughts on Infallibility (Interlude III): What the Catholic Church Believes About Scripture

The Series so Far

  1. Article I
  2. Article IIa
  3. Article IIb
  4. Article IIc
  5. Interlude
  6. Article IId
  7. Article IIe
  8. Article IIIa
  9. Article IIIb
  10. Interlude II
  11. Article IVa

As I work my way through various Protestant Sources to make sure I understand Sola Scriptura, I have noticed one troubling trend which appears constantly: The misstating of what educated Catholics believe about Scripture.

Now of course it is one thing to understand but reject the Catholic understanding of Scripture.  It is entirely another thing to misrepresent what Catholics believe, knowingly or not.  To pass on what one knows to be false, or to pass on false statements without verifying if they are true is to bear false witness.

Ultimately God is the one who will judge the level of culpability of those who bear false witness.  For the person who has no way of finding out otherwise, the degree of responsibility is far less than the person who can find out what Catholics teach on the subject but refuses to do so.

It is not my intent to declare what the level of culpability exists in an individual.  Nor do I have any idea whether a particular non-Catholic visitor to my site holds to these sorts of views.  Rather, my intention is to point out to the non-Catholic what we in fact do believe to avoid misunderstanding us and charging us wrongly.

I believe it is important to state what we believe here before moving forward because it is possible some, not knowing what we do believe, may take the rejection of the Protestant view as a denial of the Inspiration and authority of Scripture.

The Catholic Views on Scripture in the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say on the Inspiration of Scripture:

101 In order to reveal himself to men, in the condescension of his goodness God speaks to them in human words: "Indeed the words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men."63

102 Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely:64

You recall that one and the same Word of God extends throughout Scripture, that it is one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers, since he who was in the beginning God with God has no need of separate syllables; for he is not subject to time.65

103 For this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God's Word and Christ's Body.66

104 In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, "but as what it really is, the word of God".67 "In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them."68

105 God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit."69

"For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself."70

106 God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. "To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more."71

107 The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures."72

108 Still, the Christian faith is not a "religion of the book." Christianity is the religion of the "Word" of God, a word which is "not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living".73 If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, "open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures."74

109 In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.75

110 In order to discover the sacred authors' intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. "For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression."76

111 But since Sacred Scripture is inspired, there is another and no less important principle of correct interpretation, without which Scripture would remain a dead letter. "Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written."77

The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it.78

112 1. Be especially attentive "to the content and unity of the whole Scripture". Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God's plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover.79

The phrase "heart of Christ" can refer to Sacred Scripture, which makes known his heart, closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been opened since the Passion; since those who from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted.80

113 2. Read the Scripture within "the living Tradition of the whole Church". According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church's heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God's Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (". . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church"81).

114 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith.82 By "analogy of faith" we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.

She also exhorts the faithful to read the Scriptures:

131 "And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life."109 Hence "access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful."110

132 "Therefore, the study of the sacred page should be the very soul of sacred theology. The ministry of the Word, too - pastoral preaching, catechetics and all forms of Christian instruction, among which the liturgical homily should hold pride of place - is healthily nourished and thrives in holiness through the Word of Scripture."111

133 The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.112

I hope this citation makes clear what Catholics do in fact believe about Scripture against any claims to the contrary.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thoughts on Primacy and Infallibility (Article IVa): Preliminaries on What Divides Catholics and Protestants

(Those who read the earlier version of Article IIIb may have expected this to be article IIIc. I decided to make it IVa simply because it is a different topic from the topic of infallibility in article IIIa and IIIb).

Preliminary Notes

Of course a topic like this will invoke strong feelings.  Whether Catholic or Protestant, those who practice their faith out of devotion (as opposed to a "meh, whatever" attitude of indifference) belong because they believe their teachings to be true.  Of course, Catholicism and Protestantism cannot both be true.

If Protestantism is true, then it means that Catholicism added to the teachings of the Christian faith.  However, if Catholicism is true, then it means that Protestantism subtracted from the teachings of the Christian faith.

I would ask the reader to remember I am not writing this as an "in your face" attack on non-Catholic Christians.  Rather, I seek to demonstrate why Catholics do not recognize the concept of sola scriptura as part of the teaching of Christ.


Of course the entire subject of the disputes between Catholics and Protestants are too large to deal with in one article — or even a series of articles.  The focus of this article is to lay down some pitfalls to avoid.  We need to avoid the use of logical fallacies and we need to realize what is under dispute.  I have certainly seen internet debates where Catholic and Protestant spoke past each other because they did not realize they used the same terms in different ways leading to each side accusing the other of being obstinate.

Argument from Ignorance is a Fallacy

One thing essential to remember is that the argument that "[X] is not mentioned in the Bible,  Therefore it was added later," is an argument from ignorance.  The argument from ignorance basically makes an assumption that because a thing was not said it means it is not true.  Alternately, some have used it to say that since there is no argument against the view it must be true.

Neither view is correct.  No logical conclusion can be drawn from nothing (no knowledge).  Rather we need to see what sort of evidence exists for a belief.  Now in the court of law, the defendant is assumed innocent until proven guilty.  This means that the burden of proof is on one side, while the other side merely has to show why the prosecution cannot prove his case.

However, in discussions where the truth is being sought, both sides need to present their justifications, and we cannot accept the assumption that because one side has failed to present their case that the other side must automatically be true.

The fact that Scripture does not say a thing neither proves a thing nor disproves a thing.  One must recognize that there can be other reasons for not speaking on a topic.  For example, Paul speaking on circumcision in his epistles may find the topic of primacy irrelevant to the point he wishes to make.

This is important to remember because often debates over religious beliefs boil down to claiming "your side isn't mentioned in [X].  Therefore it is false."  Because of this, we must recognize that accepting or denying a belief cannot be based on this sort of reasoning.

Assumptions and Sola Scriptura

This leads us into the next issue of concern, and that is the issue of assumptions and interpretations.  What one holds to be true may in fact be true whether or not the individual can explain himself in a logical way or not.  However, if one wants to convince another, there needs to be some sort of acceptance of the premise between two parties.  If both parties do not accept something, then it is this issue which needs to be established before continuing.  This is why Christians of different denominations do not begin their disputes with the question of whether God exists.  Since both believe this to be true, they do not need to start here.  On the other hand, a Christian and an atheist debating would need to be starting somewhere closer to the question of "does God exist?"  (The precise spot would depend on what sort of beliefs the atheist had about the idea of what we can know, whether we can know truth and so on).

Failure to start at the point of difference will result in nothing more than a waste of time, as both sides talk past each other.

In terms of Church authority and Sola Scriptura, the difference is not over whether Catholics believe the Bible to be inspired.  We do believe this to be true.  The key area of difference is over the authority to interpret Scripture.  If a Protestant says "Catholicism cannot be true, for the Catholic Church teaches [X] and the Bible clearly forbids [X]," the Catholic will rightly want to know on what authority the Protestant can interpret Scripture in a binding fashion on this subject.  Likewise, the Protestant who hears that the Church has defined something infallibly will generally reject it because they do not believe the Pope has this authority.

Thus, the true issue between Catholic and Protestant is Who has the authority to interpret what is and is not authentically Christian.

Anyone who has been paying attention to this series so far will realize I have done my best to demonstrate the basis on which the Catholic believes in the teaching authority of the Church, though any failure is due to my own lack of ability and not that of the Church.  The non-Catholic may not believe in the Catholic authority to interpret Scripture in a binding manner, but they cannot deny we do accept the authority of Scripture in holding this view.


Now, we need to look at Sola Scriptura and the basis for holding it, and why a Catholic does not accept the premise.  In doing so, I hope to clear up some misconceptions on what Catholics do believe.  Thus I will look at the claims of sola scriptura and do my best to find a representative view of what it means in light of the differences between some denominations on the subject.