Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Secular Leftist bloggers cheer attack on Pope Benedict

Why does this not surprise me?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Pope Benedict's Christmas Homily

Dear Brothers and Sisters! "A child is born for us, a son is given to us" (Is 9:5). What Isaiah prophesied as he gazed into the future from afar, consoling Israel amid its trials and its darkness, is now proclaimed to the shepherds as a present reality by the Angel, from whom a cloud of light streams forth: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11). The Lord is here. From this moment, God is truly "God with us". No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us. The words of the risen Christ to his followers are addressed also to us: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20). For you the Saviour is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds. It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come on, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that has occurred there. The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason. They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received. What is it that these first witnesses of God's incarnation have to tell us?

The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people. What does this mean? The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His "self" is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one's own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another. Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God. To awake, then, means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which he chooses to guide us; for the many indications of his presence. There are people who describe themselves as "religiously tone deaf". The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And indeed our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today's world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us "tone deaf" towards him. And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly. In order to arrive at this vigilance, this awakening to what is essential, we should pray for ourselves and for others, for those who appear "tone deaf" and yet in whom there is a keen desire for God to manifest himself. The great theologian Origen said this: if I had the grace to see as Paul saw, I could even now (during the Liturgy) contemplate a great host of angels (cf. in Lk 23:9). And indeed, in the sacred liturgy, we are surrounded by the angels of God and the saints. The Lord himself is present in our midst. Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we may become vigilant and clear-sighted, in this way bringing you close to others as well!

Let us return to the Christmas Gospel. It tells us that after listening to the Angel's message, the shepherds said one to another: "'Let us go over to Bethlehem' they went at once" (Lk 2:15f.). "They made haste" is literally what the Greek text says. What had been announced to them was so important that they had to go immediately. In fact, what had been said to them was utterly out of the ordinary. It changed the world. The Saviour is born. The long-awaited Son of David has come into the world in his own city. What could be more important? No doubt they were partly driven by curiosity, but first and foremost it was their excitement at the wonderful news that had been conveyed to them, of all people, to the little ones, to the seemingly unimportant. They made haste they went at once. In our daily life, it is not like that. For most people, the things of God are not given priority, they do not impose themselves on us directly And so the great majority of us tend to postpone them. First we do what seems urgent here and now. In the list of priorities God is often more or less at the end. We can always deal with that later, we tend to think. The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God's work alone. The Rule of Saint Benedict contains this teaching: "Place nothing at all before the work of God (i.e. the divine office)". For monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone. God is important, by far the most important thing in our lives. The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place however important they may be so as to make our way towards God, to allow him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in his name, to our neighbour is never time lost. It is the time when we are most truly alive, when we live our humanity to the full.

Some commentators point out that the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. The commentators go on to say: this is quite natural. The shepherds lived nearby. They only needed to "come over" (cf. Lk 2:15), as we do when we go to visit our neighbours. The wise men, however, lived far away. They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. And they needed guidance and direction. Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. They are, so to speak, his neighbours and they can easily go to see him. But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us. We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to him. But a path exists for all of us. The Lord provides everyone with tailor-made signals. He calls each one of us, so that we too can say: "Come on, 'let us go over' to Bethlehem to the God who has come to meet us. Yes indeed, God has set out towards us. Left to ourselves we could not reach him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has travelled the longer part of the journey. Now he invites us: come and see how much I love you. Come and see that I am here. Transeamus usque Bethlehem, the Latin Bible says. Let us go there! Let us surpass ourselves! Let us journey towards God in all sorts of ways: along our interior path towards him, but also along very concrete paths the Liturgy of the Church, the service of our neighbour, in whom Christ awaits us.

Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off: "Let us see this thing that has happened." Literally the Greek text says: "Let us see this Word that has occurred there." Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. The God of whom no image may be made because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image, as Saint Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). In the figure of Jesus Christ, in the whole of his life and ministry, in his dying and rising, we can see the Word of God and hence the mystery of the living God himself. This is what God is like. The Angel had said to the shepherds: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God's sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God's sign is his humility. God's sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God's power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist's sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God's love. Origen says of the pagans: "Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood" (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened. In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: "Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)" (in Lk 22:3).

Yes indeed, that is what we should pray for on this Holy Night. Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.

Fr. Robert Barron on the Gap Ad Controversy

This is very insightful.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pope John Paul II on purgatory

Just came across this 1999 talk by John Paul II on Purgatory:

1. As we have seen in the previous two catecheses, on the basis of the definitive option for or against God, the human being finds he faces one of these alternatives: either to live with the Lord in eternal beatitude, or to remain far from his presence.

For those who find themselves in a condition of being open to God, but still imperfectly, the journey towards full beatitude requires a purification, which the faith of the Church illustrates in the doctrine of "Purgatory" (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1030-1032).

To share in divine life we must be totally purified

2. In Sacred Scripture, we can grasp certain elements that help us to understand the meaning of this doctrine, even if it is not formally described. They express the belief that we cannot approach God without undergoing some kind of purification.

According to Old Testament religious law, what is destined for God must be perfect. As a result, physical integrity is also specifically required for the realities which come into contact with God at the sacrificial level such as, for example, sacrificial animals (cf. Lv 22: 22) or at the institutional level, as in the case of priests or ministers of worship (cf. Lv 21: 17-23). Total dedication to the God of the Covenant, along the lines of the great teachings found in Deuteronomy (cf. 6: 5), and which must correspond to this physical integrity, is required of individuals and society as a whole (cf. 1 Kgs 8: 61). It is a matter of loving God with all one's being, with purity of heart and the witness of deeds (cf. ibid., 10: 12f.)

The need for integrity obviously becomes necessary after death, for entering into perfect and complete communion with God. Those who do not possess this integrity must undergo purification. This is suggested by a text of St Paul. The Apostle speaks of the value of each person's work which will be revealed on the day of judgement and says: "If the work which any man has built on the foundation [which is Christ] survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Cor 3: 14-15).

3. At times, to reach a state of perfect integrity a person's intercession or mediation is needed. For example, Moses obtains pardon for the people with a prayer in which he recalls the saving work done by God in the past, and prays for God's fidelity to the oath made to his ancestors (cf. Ex 32: 30, 11-13). The figure of the Servant of the Lord, outlined in the Book of Isaiah, is also portrayed by his role of intercession and expiation for many; at the end of his suffering he "will see the light" and "will justify many", bearing their iniquities (cf. Is 52: 13-53, 12, especially vv. 53: 11).

Psalm 51 can be considered, according to the perspective of the Old Testament, as a synthesis of the process of reintegration: the sinner confesses and recognizes his guilt (v. 3), asking insistently to be purified or "cleansed" (vv. 2, 9, 10, 17) so as to proclaim the divine praise (v. 15).

Purgatory is not a place but a condition of existence

4. In the New Testament Christ is presented as the intercessor who assumes the functions of high priest on the day of expiation (cf. Heb 5: 7; 7: 25). But in him the priesthood is presented in a new and definitive form. He enters the heavenly shrine once and for all, to intercede with God on our behalf (cf. Heb 9: 23-26, especially, v. 24). He is both priest and "victim of expiation" for the sins of the whole world (cf. 1 Jn 2: 2).

Jesus, as the great intercessor who atones for us, will fully reveal himself at the end of our life when he will express himself with the offer of mercy, but also with the inevitable judgement for those who refuse the Father's love and forgiveness.

This offer of mercy does not exclude the duty to present ourselves to God, pure and whole, rich in that love which Paul calls a "[bond] of perfect harmony" (Col 3: 14).

5. In following the Gospel exhortation to be perfect like the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5: 48) during our earthly life, we are called to grow in love, to be sound and flawless before God the Father "at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints" (1 Thes 3: 12f.). Moreover, we are invited to "cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit" (2 Cor 7: 1; cf. 1 Jn 3: 3), because the encounter with God requires absolute purity.

Every trace of attachment to evil must be eliminated, every imperfection of the soul corrected. Purification must be complete, and indeed this is precisely what is meant by the Church's teaching on purgatory. The term does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence. Those who, after death, exist in a state of purification, are already in the love of Christ who removes from them the remnants of imperfection (cf. Ecumenical Council of Florence, Decretum pro Graecis: DS 1304; Ecumenical Council of Trent, Decretum de iustificatione: DS 1580; Decretum de purgatorio: DS 1820).

It is necessary to explain that the state of purification is not a prolungation of the earthly condition, almost as if after death one were given another possibility to change one's destiny. The Church's teaching in this regard is unequivocal and was reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council which teaches: "Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed (cf. Heb 9: 27), we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth' (Mt 22: 13 and 25: 30)" (Lumen gentium, n. 48).

6. One last important aspect which the Church's tradition has always pointed out should be reproposed today: the dimension of "communio". Those, in fact, who find themselves in the state of purification are united both with the blessed who already enjoy the fullness of eternal life, and with us on this earth on our way towards the Father's house (cf. CCC, n. 1032).

Just as in their earthly life believers are united in the one Mystical Body, so after death those who live in a state of purification experience the same ecclesial solidarity which works through prayer, prayers for suffrage and love for their other brothers and sisters in the faith. Purification is lived in the essential bond created between those who live in this world and those who enjoy eternal beatitude.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, Rodney Stark's newest book

My Baylor colleague, Rodney Stark, has just published a new book that offers an historical account of The Crusades and the Christian Church's historical relationship with Islam that should serve as a corrective to the frequent misuse of The Crusades in inter-religious dialogue as well as in the writings of authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Entitled God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades [(Harper One, 2009], it was just reviewed over at The Catholic Thing Blog by Brad Miner. He writes:
Pray for me, folks, because I’m nostalgic for the Crusades.

Of course a twenty-first-century fellow can’t really be nostalgic for the eleventh or twelfth centuries, since nostalgia properly means severe homesickness, a yearning for familiar conditions from a prior period in our own lives. But there’s a secondary meaning: a wistful longing for a lost dominion. I’m idealistically attracted – as perhaps I should be – to the qualities of the knight, such as honor and bravery, and incautiously suppose – as no doubt I shouldn’t – that these qualities arose in a time and in places congenial to virtue. Chivalry! The Crusades! Something to fight for! Where the heck are my sword and my steed?

If the Crusades ever evoked appreciation – and they did – that particular lost dominion took a pretty serious blow on September 16, 2001 when in an Oval Office speech George W. Bush said: “This crusade, this war on terrorism is gonna take awhile.” The press swooned and Muslim sensibilities were outraged, encouraged perhaps by the media swarf. That’s a mere eight years ago, but the Crusades – their reputation already foundering in the multicultural chop – have all but sunk into the black hole of politically correct disdain. Even “Kingdom of Heaven,” Ridley Scott’s 2005 film about the Third Crusade, failed to make the great expedition very interesting. Many saw the film as a scolding commentary on Crusader Bush.

Enter historian Rodney Stark, riding my missing horse. His new book, God’s Battalions, is actually subtitled: The Case for the Crusades. And he makes the case! With admirable frankness and flair. He writes that the prevailing wisdom about the Crusades may indeed be that “an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam,” but Stark’s next words are telling:

“Not so.”

Professor Stark (Baylor University) emphasizes that the onset of hostilities between Christians and Muslims long pre-dated the Crusades. We too often forget that for six centuries after the Resurrection there was no Islam and much of northern Africa and what we now call the Middle East were Christian or pagan. But from the beginning of Muhammad’s public life – and especially after his death in 632 – his followers began making war on just about everybody, and within a century Islam had swallowed up most of that eastern territory and by 1095 – when the First Crusade left Europe for the Holy Land – the Byzantine Empire, Christendom’s eastern bastion, was in grave peril of conquest, which is why the emperor, Alexius Comnenus, wrote to Pope Urban II telling horror stories about Muslim atrocities against Christians and begging for military aid from Europe.

Islam, according to the historical record as Stark presents it, is a “religion of peace” mostly in the sense that it seeks to subdue and unify the people it conquers. True, the Qur’an forbids forced conversions, but in practice this has meant that “subject peoples were ‘free to choose’ conversion as an alternative to death or enslavement.” And to be fair, in some places – Spain (Al-Andalus) is a good example – Christians and Jews might live in relative peace, since the Muslim ruling class sequestered itself, paying little attention to subject people (dhimmis) except at tax time. To many in southern and eastern Europe, Muslim expansion began to seem all but unstoppable . . . until it stopped. Christians fought back. Constantinople was able to hold off its invaders in several successful sea battles. Charles Martel defeated a Muslim force in what would become France. The Reconquista began in Spain, and in 1094 the legendary El Cid defeated an Islamic army at Valencia. Islam was in retreat.

With the letter from Alexius in hand, Urban II exhorted Christians to come to the aid of their besieged and battered co-religionists in the east, and 35,000 answered the call.

Stark not only busts the myth of Western imperialism, he also challenges the received wisdom that Islamic culture was superior to and actually transformed European culture. This impression, he writes, is at best an illusion: “To the extent that Arab elites acquired a sophisticated culture, they learned it from their subject peoples.”

Most important of all Stark’s contrarian conclusions is that many – perhaps most, certainly not all – crusaders marched to Jerusalem in a spirit of penitential piety and not in search of loot or earthly glory. That said, Stark’s tale spares none of the seedier subplots of the story: the anti-Semitism, the slaughter, the staggering expense. And in conformity to his counter-intuitive perspective, Stark’s portrait of Richard the Lionheart is actually quite positive. Richard has lately been portrayed as a war-mongering blunderer, but God’s Battalions shows him to be a courageous and cagey leader who bested Saladin and failed to re-take Jerusalem only because he knew the cost of holding it would be too great.

That history has tended to judge the crusaders unkindly derives less from their actual motives and achievements than from Western modernity’s faithlessness and incessant hand-wringing over our own cultural triumphs. No good deed goes unpunished.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Positively Judgment Street

Russ Rentler just posted this as a comment on my facebook wall. I don't know who did it, but it's hilarious.

I'm humbled by, and in awe of, the sort of Christian affection that would inspire this video and song. Thank you.

(For those who are coming to this late, start here and go the first link).

More Dylan: "Saving Grace" (1980)

Lyrics follow:
Saving Grace
by Bob Dylan

If You find it in Your heart, can I be forgiven?
Guess I owe You some kind of apology.
I've escaped death so many times, I know I'm only living
By the saving grace that's over me.

By this time I'd-a thought I would be sleeping
In a pine box for all eternity.
My faith keeps me alive, but I still be weeping
For the saving grace that's over me.

Well, the death of life, then come the resurrection,
Wherever I am welcome is where I'll be.
I put all my confidence in Him, my sole protection
Is the saving grace that's over me.

Well, the devil's shining light, it can be most blinding,
But to search for love, that ain't no more than vanity.
As I look around this world all that I'm finding
Is the saving grace that's over me.

The wicked know no peace and you just can't fake it,
There's only one road and it leads to Calvary.
It gets discouraging at times, but I know I'll make it
By the saving grace that's over me.

Copyright ©1980 Special Rider Music

This is what I've always believed since the hour I first believed.

Is Francis Beckwith Saved?

Read the tentative answer, here. In the meantime, I'm singin' this with Bob Dylan:

Lyrics follow:

Fr. George W. Rutler's Weekly Column

Fr. George W. Rutler, Pastor of the Church of Our Savior in mid-town Manhattan, publishes a weekly column. I receive one each week via email. Today's is particularly good. Fr. Rutler writes:
In addition to the Pope's astronomical observatory at Castel Gondolfo in Italy, the Vatican Observatory Research Group operates the 1.8m Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope at the Mount Graham International Observatory in southeastern Arizona. Among information shared with other research centers are images of pulsars, fast-spinning neutron stars that are created when massive stars collapse. One image recently published by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is of a "new" pulsar, known as PSR B1509-58. It is so far away (17,000 light years, with each light year being nearly 6 trillion miles), that light from it has taken 1,700 years to reach our little planet. That means the event that has just appeared to human eyes happened around the time of the Council of Nicaea (325 AD), whose creed we chant at the Christmas Mass, genuflecting at the "Et Incarnatus est": Christ the Lord of the Universe became incarnate of the Virgin Mary. Tradition describes St. Nicholas of Myra, the real Santa Claus, at that council slapping the heretic Arius for teaching that Christ was only a creature.

"Is not God in the height of heaven? Look also at the distant stars, how high they are." (Job 22:12) The breathtaking size of the universe can actually be a problem for belief. How and why did a divine intelligence that made everything out of nothing, come into this creation as a baby in a stable? "When I consider the heavens, the moon and stars which thou hast ordained, what is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that thou visitest him?" (Psalm 8:4-5) A distinguished astronomer once told Einstein that man is "an insignificant dot in an infinite universe." To which the great man replied: "I have often felt that. But then I realize that the insignificant dot who is man is also the astronomer." Because humans are made in the image of God, gifted with an intellect and will that can reciprocate the love of the Blessed Trinity who made all things, we can "think outside the box" and contemplate the universe.

The virtue of faith enables us not to lose balance when perceiving the immensity of things. God does not measure by size or strength. The whimper of a baby is to Him as mighty as that pulsar's energy with a magnetic field 15 trillion times stronger than the Earth's magnetic field. A lost sheep is as important as an X-ray nebula spanning 150 light years. St. Peter fell to the ground when he saw light emanate from the transfigured Christ: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (Luke 5:8) Heaven is eternal, while the created universe in all its beauty is not. Only by worshiping God can we gradually adjust to Saint John's strange images of the jeweled city and the sea of glass, which are more mind-bending than what astronomers see.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Jimmy Carter: Anti-Catholic Bigot

LifeSite News documents these gems from our former president (1977-1981), Jimmy Carter:
MELBOURNE, December 11, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - In an address to a gathering sponsored by the World Parliament of Religions (PWR) last Friday, former US President Jimmy Carter has once again blamed traditional religion, particularly Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics, for "creating an environment where violations against women are justified."

It is a theme that Carter has successfully used to garner media attention for several years.

Although in a July column in The Observer Carter admits to "not having training in religion or theology," in his address to the PWR Carter appeals to his authority as someone who has "taught Bible lessons for more than 65 years."

In opposition to the vast majority of authentic scholars and historians, Carter asserted: "It's clear that during the early Christian era women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets." He added: "It wasn't until the 4th century or the 3rd at the earliest that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant position within the religious hierarchy."

Contrary to the theorizing of Carter, Pope John Paul II taught, "The Lord Jesus chose men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry." He added: "the Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible." (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1577)

Carter singled out the Southern Baptist Convention and Roman Catholic Church, claiming that they "view that the Almighty considers women to be inferior to men." However, both Christian faiths hold to the Scriptural truth that God created men and women equal.

Carter suggests that only in permitting women to become priests and pastors could male religious leaders choose to interpret teachings to exalt rather than subjugate women. "They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter, subjugation," he said.

"Their continuing choice provides a foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world," said Carter. Carter goes on to list horrific violations against women such as rape, genital mutilation, abortion of female embryos and spousal battery.

Responding to Carter's nearly identical points in July, John Paul Meenan, Professor of Theology at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy in Barry's Bay, Ontario characterized Carter's points as "ridiculous," noting that there was no evidence of the ordination of women in the early Church.

Moreover, Meenan stressed that historically Christianity ought to be credited for promoting the dignity of women. "It is the Church that invariably improved the lot of women in the lands that were converted and Christianized," he said.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hendrickson Publishers' edition of Calvin's Institutes

A couple of weeks ago I picked up a copy of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, published by Hendrickson Publishers in commemoration of Calvin's 500th birthday. If you are like me, and have an interest in historical theology, but have relied on the library and online versions for when reading the Institutes, this edition is worth buying. A hardcover of Henry Beveridge's translation, you can purchase the nearly 1100-page book for under $20.00 at amazon.com.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today's my mother's 71st birthday! Here's a picture of her with my Dad on their wedding day in January of 1960. The other picture is of my Mom and Dad and their four children on the event of my Mom's 65th birthday in 2003. (Click either picture to enlarge it)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Signature in the Cell by Stephen C. Meyer

My friend, Stephen C. Meyer, has recently published a book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (Harper One, 2009), that has drawn praise from the philosopher, Thomas Nagel (in the Times Literary Supplement), a compliment that, unsurprisingly, has drawn the ire of others.

I just reviewed the book on Amazon.com. I gave it four stars, though not without voicing my deep reservations about the joint project with which Steve has aligned himself, the intelligent design movement. What follows is my review.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

From U.S. Catholic: Bob Dylan puts the mystery back in Christmas

Here's an excerpt from a review of Bob Dylan's album, Christmas in the Heart, from USCatholic.org:
But with this album, Dylan has given us a little of the mystery that lies at the heart of Christmas. Childhood memories of Christmas, for many, do recall a sense of wonder. Dylan's unexpected handling of Christmas music can remind us of the unexpected that resides at the heart of Christmas: the Incarnation. That mystery continues to perplex and delight.

This is not to say that I think Dylan intended this mystery as the central focus of his Christmas album. But, the gift of mystery or a true surprise at Christmas can be wonderful for those whose lives are burdened by hardships and the relentless mundane routine of Christmas festivities. Something new that strikes of mystery is welcome. I, for my part, had to wipe the tears from my eyes as I laughed whole heartedly at Dylan's curious renditions. And so far, as I continue to re-listen, they still bring a smile to my face. Thank you for the Christmas gift Bob Dylan.

Read the entire review here.

(HT: Right Wing Bob)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Matt Yonke: "Hermeneutics and the Authority of Scripture"

Over at one of my favorite websites, Called to Communion, Matt Yonke has published a thoughtful piece on the Catholic and Reformed views of Scripture. Here are some excerpt (notes omitted):
It is my pleasure to be able to write on a subject where we as Catholics share so much common ground with our Reformed brothers, and even with most Evangelicals. In fact, it is no small thing that we agree upon foundational truths contra mundum in a time when even many Christians deny them.

This article intends to show that, though Protestants agree with the Catholic Church on the basic truths about Scripture and its authority, the Reformed view of Scripture errs in three respects: in its assumption about the canon of Scripture, in its view of the authority of Scripture, and in its view of the role of Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church. These errors are harmful to the faith, and the truth proclaimed by the Catholic Church about its Sacred books is the perfect corrective....

The first problem is one of epistemology. For all the many attempts to prove otherwise, two of which I examine below, Protestants simply have no way to verify a canon apart from a subjective internal witness. R.C. Sproul claims that we have a “fallible collection of infallible books,” but on what basis can he know that each of these books is infallible? It has never been the view of the Church that the books of Sacred Scripture are anything less than an infallible and trustworthy standard.

Sproul argues that Scripture claims infallibility for itself, but that there are other fallible authorities in the world, such as the Church, that are nonetheless authoritative in spite of their fallibility. According to Sproul, on the basis of the Church as an institution founded by God acting with His authority, we can trust that the Scriptures were rightly identified by the Church.

But the claim that we have a fallible collection of infallible books does not solve the problem of how we know which books are inspired and which are not; in fact it creates more problems. His argument points to the Scriptures as evidence supporting the claim that the Scriptures are infallible. But the evidence supporting the claim that the Scriptures are infallible is unavailable unless we already know which books belong to the canon. Even beyond that problem, there is an additional question: if we can trust God to guide the Church to establish a canon of infallible books, why can we not trust her when she explains to us what these books mean? The Protestant answer is, of course, to compare the later teachings of the Church to the teachings of Scripture. But this brings us right back to square zero. If the Church can err, for example, in proclaiming that icons ought to be venerated, she can err just as easily in compiling a canon, and it would be ad hoc to allow ecclesial infallibility in establishing the canon but deny infallibility in every other ecclesial activity.

The fallibility of the canon, of course, presents its own problems. The fallible list could be excluding divinely inspired books that commend us to offer prayers for the dead, that could lead (and have led) many into the grievous error of not praying for the souls of the faithful departed or a host of other doctrines. Furthermore, there would be no way for the Protestant Christian to know if that was the case....

A second problem with the Reformed view is that it attributes to Sacred Scripture a functional capacity that Sacred Scripture does not claim for itself. The Protestant view attempts to ascribe to Sacred Scripture the role of final court of appeal in matters of faith and morals, citing the theory that clear passages will elucidate those that are unclear. But such notions are simply not found in Sacred Scripture....

Finally, the Reformed view also ascribes to Sacred Scripture a capacity that, on a purely practical level, a book simply cannot bear.

A book provides words that must be interpreted to be understood. A person speaking to us in person, like the Apostles speaking to the early Churches, can explain the meaning of his speech. A book cannot elucidate problem passages for us. Given the fallibility of human understanding and the diversity of perspectives regarding interpretation, especially over the span of 2,000 years of Church history, it is simply not possible that a book by its very nature could be the supreme rule of faith and doctrine. At least it cannot do this if we expect there to be a consistent understanding of this book that would work itself out into consistent faith and practice. A human, or set of humans, must make the final decision about the meaning of written texts.

The Protestant response, of course, is an appeal to perspicuity. The doctrine of the perspicuity of the Scriptures refers to the claim that the Scriptures are able, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to make the truths essential to salvation known to any reader....

But even if there were a case to be made from the Scriptures for the perspicuity of the Scriptures, reality tells a different story. Learned Scripture scholars and even the revered figures of various modern Reformed communities cannot agree on what “the gospel” is, much less on the meaning of the Sacraments or any number of other topics of great doctrinal importance. The Federal Vision controversy is a striking testament to this discord. This, of course, is why we see such disparate faiths and practices among our Protestant brothers, even among our Reformed brothers who hold to a common set of confessions. The Reformed have 21 denominations in Switzerland, 14 in the UK and 44 in the US, all divided because of some irreconcilable doctrinal difference.

This is also the source of continual splitting that the history of the Reformed denominations has borne out. When each individual, or even each presbytery or each denomination decides where the boundaries of orthodoxy are on the basis of its own understanding of Sacred Scripture, even with the guide of the Reformed confessions, division at least every fifty years or so is practically a design feature.

Unless there is an arbiter of these interpretive disagreements, there will necessarily be division and disagreement about basic tenets of the Christian faith. This division is contrary to Christ’s prayer in John 17 and unacceptable for the witness of the Church to the outside world.

From these historical facts, we see that a book simply does not have the capacity in and of itself to function in the way the Westminster Confession claims it must function. A book cannot resolve an interpretive dispute about itself, decide who is right in a doctrinal controversy, or address any areas that it does not address. If Scripture were intended to do this, as Protestants claim, we would not see the history of division and infighting that we see. Indeed, the entirety of the Protestant experiment hinges on the truth of the idea that the Scriptures were intended to function as described by the Westminster Confession. The Scripture’s inability to perform the ecclesial function expected of it by the Confession is one of the more common factors provoking Protestants to consider the claims of the Catholic Church, and eventually leave their communities to seek full communion with the body that Christ founded to give us the true interpretation of Sacred Scripture....

Read the whole think here.

Safe Sects

There's a very well-written piece published on Catholicculture.org critiquing an essay by Methodist AIDS activist, Donald Messer. Here's an excerpt:
Most dithering Christians who, like Messer, advocate a Safe Sin approach to moral hardship employ what Allan Bloom called "conspicuous compassion" toward the wretched in order to gain permission for choices that morality excludes. In brief, they would shift God's forgiveness of a sin committed in the past (a theological necessity) into God's indulgence toward a sin to be committed in the future (a theological absurdity), having us believe that God would prefer that we sin rather than have us suffer in doing His will. Thus whereas orthodox Christians are edified by Jesus' forgiveness of the woman caught in adultery -- "Go, and sin no more" -- the Safe Sin theologians ask us to picture Jesus handing St. Peter a 1st century condom -- a tied-off piece of sheep-gut, perhaps -- with a wink and a word of caution: "You've had an overly adventurous fortnight, old boy. If you roger the frau when you get back, just do the responsible thing …"

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"God is Not Dead Yet" by William Lane Craig

My friend and co-author, William Lane Craig, has published a nice essay summarizing the leading arguments for God's existence. You can find it here. This was published in 2008 in Christianity Today. (The cover it to the right is of the book I co-edited with Bill Craig and J. P. Moreland, To Everyone An Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview [InterVarsity Press, 2004])

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Myth of Theological Liberalism

Over at one of my favorite blogs--Parchment and Pen--Dallas Seminary prof Dan Wallace discusses a peculiar prejudice that graduates of his fine institution are unjustly subjected. Here's an excerpt:
One of my interns, a very bright student who is preparing for doctoral studies, met with one scholar [at the most recent meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in New Orleans] to discuss the possibility of studying under him for his doctorate. The scholar was cordial, friendly, and a fine Christian man. He encouraged James to pursue the doctorate at his non-confessional school in the UK. (We have found the UK schools to be far more open to evangelical students, since they are more concerned that a student make a plausible defense of his views than that he or she holds the party line.) Later, James met a world-class scholar of early Christian literature and engaged him in conversation. James demonstrated deep awareness of the professor’s field, asking intelligent questions and showing great interest in the subject. Then, the professor asked him where he was earning his master’s degree. “Dallas Seminary” was the response. The conversation immediately went south. The scholar no longer was interested in this young man. James was, to this professor, an evangelical and therefore a poorly educated Neanderthal, a narrow-minded bigot, an uncouth doctrinaire neophyte—or worse.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Recommendation: Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI by Scott W. Hahn

Two weeks ago while I was at Notre Dame for a conference, I picked up at the Baker Book table a copy of Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI by Scott W. Hahn. I am just finishing it this evening.

Published by the Baker imprint, Brazos Press, this book is incredible. Hahn does what I had thought would be impossible: he succinctly and clearly presents a rich yet readable overview of the biblical theology of Joseph Ratzinger (a.k.a Pope Benedict XVI). So, if you don't the time or the resources to collect and read the many works of the Pope, I highly recommend you purchase and devour Professor Hahn's impressive tome. You can get it via Amazon.com here.

Apparently, I am not the only one impressed by this book. The book's web page on the Brazos website includes the following endorsements, from both Protestants and Catholics:

"Scott Hahn offers us a lucidly written and trenchant study of the biblical theology of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict. He shows how one of the most important theologians of the twentieth century gently but firmly corrected the historical critics who dominate much of contemporary academic Scripture study. Hahn further demonstrates how, in making this correction, Ratzinger/Benedict allowed for the recovery of much of the richness of patristic biblical interpretation, including typology, an integrated understanding of the Old and New Testaments, a sense of Jesus as the interpretive key for the whole of revelation, and the deep rapport between kingdom and Church. This is a beautiful and thought-provoking text, one that will prove helpful to any serious student of the sacred page."--Robert Barron, Francis Cardinal George Professor of Faith and Culture, Mundelein Seminary, University of St. Mary of the Lake

"The increasingly painful bankruptcy of the historical-critical method in our time has created a vacuum precisely at the point where the living Church requires substantial nurture. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken into this crisis like no one else, and his best expositor, Scott Hahn, has done us a tremendous service by synthesizing Benedict's erudite and prayerful biblical theology into a lively, readable, and intellectually reliable conspectus. This excellent volume will be indispensable for all Christians who seek to be more maturely grounded in Scripture."--David Lyle Jeffrey, distinguished professor of literature and the humanities, Baylor University

"The two revolutions that have undermined the Faith most effectively for the young today are surely the sexual revolution and the modernist revolution in biblical theology. As John Paul II's theology of the body is the Church's triumphant alternative to the sexual revolution, Benedict's biblical theology is her triumphant alternative to modernist biblical theology. This book explains the second response to us as Christopher West explains the first. When Benedict writes about the Bible, it is like an archangel interpreting the seraphim; and when Scott Hahn writes about Benedict, it is like our guardian angel interpreting the archangel to us. Thus this is a triply beautiful book!"--Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy, Boston College

"This book arrives at an important time when many exegetes are reflecting on the relationship between historical studies and the theological understanding of the biblical text. Scott Hahn gives us a clear resume of the lifetime of teaching that Joseph Ratzinger has given to this question. Hahn's amply documented study shows Ratzinger challenging the philosophical principles of many practitioners of the historical-critical method, pointing out that faith is not an exterior norm but rather a respectful light that illumines study from within while welcoming whatever is true in the results of historical investigation. I recommend Covenant and Communion to anyone who wishes to read a competent synthesis of one of the great theologians of our time on the questions of revelation, Church, history, and language."--Francis Martin, professor of New Testament, Dominican House of Studies, Washington, DC

"Covenant and Communion is a compelling manuduction right into the very core of Pope Benedict XVI's theological vision. In this clearly written and cogently argued essay, Hahn makes a convincing and highly pertinent case for what Pope Benedict holds to be the crucial challenge for the Church and theology today--the reunification, and thereby the renewal, of exegesis theologically conceived and theology exegetically grounded. By way of excellently chosen samplings from the pope's sprawling oeuvre, Hahn persuasively demonstrates the way Benedict's theology incessantly arises from and circles around the living Word of God as received and witnessed by God's pilgrim people. Theologically insightful and surefooted, this book is one of the best and certainly the most timely and urgent among the recent introductions to the theology of Pope Benedict XVI."--Reinhard Huetter, professor of Christian theology, Duke Divinity School

"Exploring the foundations of Benedict's theology, Hahn's latest book presents an in-depth exposition of the pope's theology of Scripture. This lucid exposition introduces the reader to Benedict's understanding of historical criticism, faith and reason, typology, covenant, sacrifice, liturgy, and a variety of other topics. The book beautifully models what for Pope Benedict is the central task of theology: it leads believers into a real participation in the mystery of faith."--Hans Boersma, J. I. Packer Professor of Theology, Regent College

"Scott Hahn here renders an important service in so clearly setting forth the hermeneutical principles, biblical framework, and doctrinal positions of Pope Benedict XVI, arguably the world's most important contemporary theologian. The parallels between the biblical theology of the pope and of evangelicals, together with their respective attempts to interpret Scripture theologically in an age marked by modern biblical criticism, are particularly fascinating."--Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Blanchard Professor of Theology, Wheaton College and Graduate School

"As a Protestant biblical scholar, I found Scott Hahn's exposition of Pope Benedict's biblical theology both informative and inspiring. In spite of differences, Protestants need to read this book to understand how deeply we can agree on the primacy of Christ and the Word. Through Hahn, I have a new appreciation for the mind and heart of Pope Benedict."--Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College

"Scott Hahn offers the reader a superb introduction to the way in which the theology of Pope Benedict XVI has been shaped by the Bible. Hahn's crisp and clear analysis puts the reader at the very center of this remarkable pope's thought."--Gary Anderson, professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, University of Notre Dame

"In the growing body of literature on the theology of Benedict XVI, there is a conspicuously missing theme: the consciously biblical character of the pontiff's theology. If John Paul II was at heart always the Philosopher Pope, Benedict is the Exegete and Theologian of Scripture. In his new book, Scott Hahn places this concern for theology as a scriptural--and hence a liturgical--activity center stage with the verve and clarity we have come to expect from him. Hahn uses his encyclopedic knowledge of Ratzinger/Benedict's corpus to tease out many threads, weaving them into a compelling account of the new hermeneutic at the heart of Benedict's vision. Not only students of the pope but also all of us who desire the revitalization of theology and exegesis should welcome the passion and insight that Hahn has brought to bear on his subject."--Lewis Ayres, Bede Professor of Catholic Theology, Durham University

"Scott Hahn's new book on the pope's interpretation of the Gospels and the New Testament is essential reading for any informed Catholic. I have been waiting for someone to expand and bring together the conclusions that Pope Benedict XVI brings to us in his powerful book Jesus of Nazareth. This is a very important book for all Catholics, clergy, religious, and laity alike."--Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR

"This is an extraordinary book. Exploring Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI's theology, Hahn masterfully sets forth the links between Scripture and Church, history and typology, Word and liturgy. In clear and succinct prose, Hahn shows how these links derive from Christ's Pasch. More than an introduction to Ratzinger/Benedict's theology--although it is this as well--Hahn's marvelous book provides an introduction to biblical exegesis, Catholic theology, and ultimately to the life of discipleship itself. This is a book for all readers, a rich feast of spiritual and intellectual transformation."--Matthew Levering, professor of theology, University of Dayton

"Biblical theology--that is, the work of tracing major scriptural themes from promise to fulfillment--is essential for the life and health of the Church. Long before his election as pope, Benedict XVI brought his wide-ranging gifts to bear in this field in a Christ-centered exposition. Even when one disagrees with some of his conclusions, Benedict's insights, as well as his engagement with critical scholarship, offer a wealth of reflection. In this remarkable book, Scott Hahn has drawn out the central themes of Benedict's teaching in a highly readable summary that includes not only the pope's published works but also his less-accessible homilies and addresses. This is an eminently useful guide for introducing the thought of an important theologian of our time."--Michael S. Horton, J. G. Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California

Again, you can get the book via Amazon.com here. Professor Hahn's personal website may be accessed here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"The Lost Art of Catholic Drinking"

That's the title of an article by Sean P. Dailey published at InsideCatholic. Here's an excerpt:
There is Protestant drinking and there is Catholic drinking, and the difference is more than mere quantity. I have no scientific data to back up my claims, nor have I completed any formal studies. But I have done a good bit of, shall we say, informal study, which for a hypothesis like this is probably the best kind.

To begin with, what is Catholic drinking? It's hard to pin down, but here's a historical example. St. Arnold (580-640), also known as St. Arnulf of Metz, was a seventh-century bishop of Metz, in what later became France. Much beloved by the people, St. Arnold is said to have preached against drinking water, which in those days could be extremely dangerous owing to unsanitary sewage systems -- or no sewage system at all. At the same time, he frequently touted the benefits of beer and is credited with having once said, "From man's sweat and God's love, beer came into the world."

Read the whole thing here.

Michael Bauman on the New Atheists and the Moral Law

My good friend (and Evangelical Protestant), Michael Bauman (Professor of Theology & Culture at Hillsdale College) has published a terrific essay on his website, "No God, No Good: The New Atheism's Futile Quest for Morality, or Hitchens', Harris' and Dawkins' Practice of Stolen Concepts." Here's an excerpt:
One often hears atheists assert that the moral virtues are those virtues without which we humans beings cannot, and do not, flourish because they are rooted in human nature. One also sometimes hears atheists assert that moral virtues are those virtues that enjoy a consensus that spans culture, country, and century, something like the Tao described at the end of C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. That moral values described or derived in either of these two ways are not truly moral values, much less moral absolutes, is the burden of this brief essay.

First, atheist values determined either by human flourishing or by human nature are not truly right or wrong, not properly moral absolutes; they are pragmatism or utilitarianism masquerading as good and coöpting the language of virtue and of “oughtness,” to which they have no philosophical or (especially) theological claim...

If, as atheists insist, human nature arose as the chance result of a mindless evolutionary process, a process behind which exists no divine mind and no divine plan, then moral absolutes disappear. That is, if human nature is the result of evolutionary accident (time, plus matter, plus chance), and if right and wrong arise solely from human nature, then right and wrong are accidents, not moral absolutes. Biological chance, evolutionary accident, cannot serve as the philosophically proper foundation for right and wrong; it is their undoing. If human nature and human mind are the unintentional outcome of the chance collocation of atoms and of the mindless and unpredictable meanderings of natural selection (in other words, if the human mind is a mere epiphenomenon contorting and disporting itself for a short while upon the face of physical matter), then we have no convincing reason -- and no metaphysical justification -- for trusting them as indicators of moral goodness; nor have we any real or enduring right and wrong....

That those actions which conduce to the flourishing of the most biologically innovative survivors of natural selection should be called "moral" merely confuses with right and wrong those actions that seem to the atheists of that species to permit that species to flourish at one particular point in its evolution. If in the atheistic worldview species evolve, then the species whose flourishing they appoint as the arbiter of morality was sufficiently different in its earlier stages of development from what it is now, and will be likely be sufficiently different in its later stages of development, that those means by which it now flourishes might be significantly different both from what they once were and might eventually become. We simply do not know. But whatever those unknown facts were in the past and will be in the future, the atheist must endorse them as moral, however grotesque and wicked they might actually be. If so, what are now called right and wrong in the atheist view are not moral absolutes, but simply that set of actions perceived to be most efficient at the moment. What set of actions will be so perceived in the distant future is still an open question, a question that might receive a starkly different answer then than either it now does or previously did, but which the atheist system of thought must nevertheless consider morally correct and universally binding if it is to employ the language of moral absolutes. In short, to our previous charges of species bigotry and biological relativism we now must add time relativism and moral contradiction -- but not moral absolutes. The new atheists cannot find metaphysical grounding for their claims to morality. They cannot talk about how religion ruins everything because the word "ruins" implies a morality not metaphysically available in the atheist worldview. They can say they do not like what religion does, and that they prefer something else. But they can raise no truly moral objection....

The un-Godded worldview does not, and cannot, yield moral oughtness. It yields only competing sets of preferences to which some atheists unjustifiably try to attach the language of oughtness. Other more astute atheists refuse to make that mistake. On that point those more astute and consistent atheists deserve full credit because they understand that no atheistic explanation of morality has the metaphysical rootedness necessary for moral absolutes. Their worldview precludes it. They know that when other more inconsistent atheists want to hold onto atheism and to avail themselves of the language of oughtness, they fall afoul of what atheist Ayn Rand called the error of stolen concepts: They employ ideas and categories to which their system has no metaphysical access. Atheists who invoke morality are idea thieves.

Put differently, it makes all the difference in the world whether we say mind came from matter or matter came from mind. Because ideas have consequences, if you choose the former, you cut yourself off from the consequences that attach solely to the latter. One of those lost consequences is the metaphysical rootedness necessary for moral absolutes, that is, for a morality that rises above the level of mere preference.

You can read the whole thing here:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Richard A. White: "Sola Gratia, Solo Christo: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification"

This is one of my favorite papers. Written in 1987 for a class taught by Harold O.J. Brown at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Richard A. White, then a Calvinist, offers a careful articulation of the Catholic view of justification. (I believe that Dr. White eventually earned his Ph.D. at Marquette University and is now a professor of theology at Benedictine College). Here's how it begins:
The doctrine of justification was, as John Calvin stated, the "hinge of the reformation." James Buchanan provides us with the classic "reformed" definition: "Justification is a legal, or forensic, term, and is used in Scripture to denote the acceptance of any one as righteous in the sight of God." (The Doctrine of Justification, p. 226). Understood in this way, justification is purely extrinsic to the sinner, inasmuch as he is justified solely on the basis of Christ's righteousness graciously imputed to him. The sinner does not become righteous himself, but because he trusts in Christ's work for him, he is considered innocent by God the judge. In this way, works contribute nothing to justification; it is "by faith alone" (sola fide).

In contrast is the Roman Catholic position, which sadly, few evangelicals even bother to consider, let alone understand. In many cases, the issue is naively boiled down to justification by faith, on the one hand (evangelicalism), versus justification by works, on the other hand (Roman Catholicism). This crass caricature has little basis in reality, and hampers the cause for theological truth and Christian unity. In this essay then, I will summarize the Roman Catholic teaching on justification. To accomplish this task, I will consider the Council of Trent's "Decree Concerning Justification," (Session VI) the most authoritative, even-handed, representative Church pronouncement on the issue to date (the Council was held 1545-1563). I will also consider a wide array of Catholic authors, both past and present.

My goal is to set forth the Catholic position, not to critique it. Thus, I will not preface my remarks with such phrases as "the Catholic position says" or "in Rome's view." The reader should assume that all of the text represents the Catholic teaching.

Now the Catholic view of grace and justification is very complex. Due to the scope of this essay, therefore, many subject areas (e.g., metaphysical questions, purgatory, indulgences, the mode of God's indwelling in the soul, etc) relating to the Catholic teaching on justification have been excluded. The reader should consult the bibliography for elaboration on certain points.

You can read the whole thing here. It is one of the many works I read when I was thinking more seriously about Catholicism.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Doug Groothuis's Thomistic letter to National Public Radio

My friend, Doug Groothuis, sent the following letter to NPR. Doug offers NPR a brief instruction on the nature of the human person, not unlike the one taught by St. Thomas Aquinas. (See, for example, my article "The Explanatory Power of the Substance View of Persons.")
Dear NPR:

Your November 24 edition (of "All Things Considered") featured the story of a man who came out of a seemingly unconscious state after twenty-three years--only to report that he was aware of his surroundings during this time. His condition was referred to as a "persistent vegetative state." While this is a medical term, it is erroneous philosophically. No human being can be in a vegetative state, since no human being is ever a vegetable. Humans should always be treated as humans, and never as vegetation.

Douglas Groothuis

Doug is the co-editor (with another friend of mine, Jim Sennett) of an outstanding volume, In Defense of Natural Theology: A Post-humean Assessment (InterVarsity Press, 2005)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pope Benedict from his homily at the Mass of Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome

From the 7 May 2005 mass in the Basilica of St John Lateran:
The Bishop of Rome sits upon the Chair to bear witness to Christ. Thus, the Chair is the symbol of the potestas docendi, the power to teach that is an essential part of the mandate of binding and loosing which the Lord conferred on Peter, and after him, on the Twelve. In the Church, Sacred Scripture, the understanding of which increases under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of its authentic interpretation that was conferred upon the Apostles, are indissolubly bound. Whenever Sacred Scripture is separated from the living voice of the Church, it falls prey to disputes among experts.

Of course, all they have to tell us is important and invaluable; the work of scholars is a considerable help in understanding the living process in which the Scriptures developed, hence, also in grasping their historical richness.

Yet science alone cannot provide us with a definitive and binding interpretation; it is unable to offer us, in its interpretation, that certainty with which we can live and for which we can even die. A greater mandate is necessary for this, which cannot derive from human abilities alone. The voice of the living Church is essential for this, of the Church entrusted until the end of time to Peter and to the College of the Apostles.

This power of teaching frightens many people in and outside the Church. They wonder whether freedom of conscience is threatened or whether it is a presumption opposed to freedom of thought. It is not like this. The power that Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors is, in an absolute sense, a mandate to serve. The power of teaching in the Church involves a commitment to the service of obedience to the faith. The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary: the Pope's ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God's Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism.

Pope John Paul II did this when, in front of all attempts, apparently benevolent to the human person, and in the face of erroneous interpretations of freedom, he unequivocally stressed the inviolability of the human being and of human life from the moment of conception until natural death. The freedom to kill is not true freedom, but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery.

The Pope knows that in his important decisions, he is bound to the great community of faith of all times, to the binding interpretations that have developed throughout the Church's pilgrimage. Thus, his power is not being above, but at the service of, the Word of God. It is incumbent upon him to ensure that this Word continues to be present in its greatness and to resound in its purity, so that it is not torn to pieces by continuous changes in usage.

The Chair is - let us say it again - a symbol of the power of teaching, which is a power of obedience and service, so that the Word of God- the truth! - may shine out among us and show us the way of life.

Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), abortion, and Holy Communion: Bishop Tobin responds

Published Sunday (Nov. 22) online here, the following is a statement by Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin on Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and his receiving of communion:
I am disappointed and really surprised that Congressman Patrick Kennedy has chosen to reopen the public discussion about his practice of the faith and his reception of Holy Communion. This comes almost two weeks after the Congressman indicated to local media that he would no longer comment publicly on his faith or his relationship with the Catholic Church. The Congressman's public comments require me to reply.

On February 21, 2007, I wrote to Congressman Kennedy stating: "In light of the Church's clear teaching, and your consistent actions, therefore, I believe it is inappropriate for you to be receiving Holy Communion and I now ask respectfully that you refrain from doing so." My request came in light of the new statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that said, "If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definite teachings on moral issues, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain." (Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper, December, 2006)

In the same letter I wrote to Congressman Kennedy, "I am writing to you personally and confidentially as a pastor addressing a member of his flock … At the present time I have no need or intention to make this a public issue." I also indicated, "I am available to discuss this matter with you in person at any mutually convenient time and place. I would welcome the opportunity to do so."

On February 28, 2007, the Congressman responded to me, "I have the utmost respect for the work you do on behalf of the Catholic community in Rhode Island. . . I understand your pastoral advice was confidential in nature and given with the best intentions for my personal spiritual welfare."

I am disappointed that the Congressman would make public my pastoral and confidential request of nearly three years ago that sought to provide solely for his spiritual well-being.

I have no desire to continue the discussion of Congressman Kennedy's spiritual life in public. At the same time, I will absolutely respond publicly and strongly whenever he attacks the Catholic Church, misrepresents the teachings of the Church, or issues inaccurate statements about my pastoral ministry.

As I wrote to the Congressman in February of 2007, and repeated in my public letter earlier this month, I am willing and even anxious to meet with him, to discuss these matters. My door remains open. However, it should be absolutely clear the Congressman himself has once again chosen to make this discussion a matter of public record.
In the meantime, I will continue to pray -- sincerely and fervently -- for his conversion and repentance, and for his personal and spiritual well-being. I wish him well.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Alvin Plantinga and Alfred Freddoso on Fides Et Ratio

Two of my favorite philosophers, Al Plantinga (a Protestant) and Fred Freddoso (a Catholic), both professors at the University of Notre Dame, have each published online reflections on John Paul II's 1998 encyclical Fides Et Ratio: On the Relationship Between Faith and Reason.

You can read Platinga's essay here. Freddoso's may be found here. And JP II's encyclical is accessible on the Vatican's website.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cardinal Dulles on "Newman’s Idea of a University And its Relevance to Catholic Higher Education"

Delivered by the late Avery Cardinal Dulles, S. J. on November 10, 2001, here is the opening paragraph:
John Henry Newman, writing in England in the mid-nineteenth century, proposed a vision of Catholic higher education that takes account of major difficulties that were prevalent in his day and are no less prevalent in ours. Although his proposals are for the most part framed in positive terms, I shall summarize them in contrast to four tendencies that Newman found unacceptable. I shall call these tendencies utilitarianism, fragmentation, secularism, and rationalism.
You can find the entire paper here

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Gonna Change My Way of Thinking," Bob Dylan in Los Angeles, October 2009

Here's the audio. Lyrics follow.


Gonna Change My Way of Thinking
by Bob Dylan

Change my way of thinking, Make myself a different set of rules.
Gonna change my way of thinking, Make myself a different set of rules.
Gonna put my best foot forward, stop being influenced by fools.

Gonna sit at the welcome table, I'm as hungry as a horse
Sittin' at the welcome table, I'm so hungry I could eat a horse
I'm gonna revitalize my thinkin', I'm gonna let the law take its course

Jesus is coming, he's coming back to gather his jewels
Jesus is coming, he's coming back to gather his jewels
Well, we live by the golden rule: Whoever got the gold rules.

The sun is shining, ain't but one train on this track
The sun is shining, ain't but one train on this track
I'm steppin' out of the dark woods, I'm jumpin' on the monkey's back.

Yes, I'm all dressed up, going to the country dance
Said, I'm all dressed up, going to the country dance
Every day you gotta pray for guidance, Every day you gotta give yourself another chance.

Well, there are storms out on the ocean, storms out on the mountains too
Storms on the ocean, storms out on the mountains too
O, Lord, I have no friend but you

Change my way of thinking, Make myself a different set of rules.
Gonna change my way of thinking, Make myself a different set of rules.
Gonna put my best foot forward, stop being influenced by fools.

Friday, November 20, 2009

United We Stand: The Manhattan Declaration

(Update II: You may download the Manhattan Declaration)
(Update: The Manhattan Declaration's website)

This, just over the AP wire:
Christian leaders issue 'call of conscience'

WASHINGTON — More than 150 Christian leaders, most of them conservative evangelicals and traditionalist Roman Catholics, issued a joint declaration Friday reaffirming their opposition to abortion and gay marriage and pledging to protect religious freedoms.

The 4,700-word document, called "The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience," sounds familiar themes from political and social debates over the health care overhaul and gay marriage battles.

While acknowledging that "Christians and our institutions have too often scandalously failed to uphold the institution of marriage," the group rejects same-sex marriage. The declaration states that opening a legal door for gay marriage would do the same for "polyamorous partnerships, polygamous households, even adult brothers, sisters, or brothers and sisters living in incestuous relationships."

President Barack Obama's desire to reduce the need for abortion is "a commendable goal," but his proposals are likely to increase the number of elective abortions, the document contends.

"The present administration is led and staffed by those who want to make abortions legal at any stage of fetal development, and who want to provide abortions at taxpayer expense," it says.

Obama has said he wants to strike a balance on abortion coverage in the health care overhaul. The declaration also cites threats to health care workers' conscience clauses and anti-discrimination statutes it argues impinge on religious freedoms.

Signatories include 15 Roman Catholic bishops, including New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan and Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl; Focus on the Family founder James Dobson; National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson; seminary leaders, professors and pastors.

Once the Manhattan Declaration is online, I will post a link to it.

Of Human Ecology

Great wisdom from the papal encyclical, Caritas in Veritate:

If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Every Grain of Sand" - Bob Dylan, on October 30 in Chicago

Here's the audio of Dylan's performance of "Every Grain of Sand" from an October 30, 2009 concert in Chicago. The song is thoroughly Augustinian, IMHO. Lyrics follow.

Every Grain Of Sand
by Bob Dylan

In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed
There's a dyin' voice within me reaching out somewhere,
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair.

Don't have the inclination to look back on any mistake,
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.
In the fury of the moment I can see the Master's hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.

Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear,
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer.
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay.

I gaze into the doorway of temptation's angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name.
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer's dream, in the chill of a wintry light,
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space,
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face.

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other times it's only me.
I am hanging in the balance of a perfect finished plan
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.

Copyright ©1981 Special Rider Music