Friday, July 31, 2009

July 31: Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)

From the American Catholic website:
The founder of the Jesuits was on his way to military fame and fortune when a cannon ball shattered his leg. Because there were no books of romance on hand during his convalescence, he whiled away the time reading a life of Christ and lives of the saints. His conscience was deeply touched, and a long, painful turning to Christ began. Having seen the Mother of God in a vision, he made a pilgrimage to her shrine at Montserrat (near Barcelona). He remained for almost a year at nearby Manresa, sometimes with the Dominicans, sometimes in a pauper’s hospice, often in a cave in the hills praying. After a period of great peace of mind, he went through a harrowing trial of scruples. There was no comfort in anything—prayer, fasting, sacraments, penance. At length, his peace of mind returned.

You can read the rest here. The Catholic Encyclopedia also has an entry on St. Ignatius of Loyola, which may be found here. I am proud to say that I earned two of my graduate degrees at a Jesuit Institution, Fordham University: PhD in philosophy (February 1989), and an MA in philosophy (May 1986)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

July 30: Feast Day of St. Peter Chrysologus (406-450)

Here's the skinny on St. Peter Chrysologus:

St. Peter Chrysologus (ca. 406-450) was a fifth-century bishop and teacher; he was given the nickname "Chrysologus" ("golden speech") because of his eloquence, but aside from a collection of homilies, none of his writings have survived. At a young age Peter was appointed bishop of the city of Ravenna in Italy, where he worked tirelessly to overcome Church abuses and religious controversies. Eutyches, a heretical bishop who had been deposed for denying the humanity of Christ, sought assistance from a number of other bishops, including Peter.

The saint instead upheld the Church’s official teaching and the authority of the pope, and urged Eutyches to reconcile himself with the Church. Peter devoted himself to his writings and to instructing his people through his sermons, which were short, simple, and designed to relate the teachings of the gospel to daily life. St. Peter Chrysologus died around 450, and in 1729 he was declared a Doctor (an eminent and reliable teacher) of the Church.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

St. Augustine and the Council of Trent on the journey of justification

St. Augustine of Hippo (ca. AD 354–AD 430):
We run, therefore, whenever we make advance; and our wholeness runs with us in our advance (just as a sore is said to run when the wound is in process of a sound and careful treatment), in order that we may be in every respect perfect, without any infirmity of sin whatever result which God not only wishes, but even causes and helps us to accomplish. And this God’s grace does, in co-operation with ourselves, through Jesus Christ our Lord, as well by commandments, sacraments, and examples, as by His Holy Spirit also; through whom there is hiddenly shed abroad in our hearts . . . that love, “which makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,” . . . until wholeness and salvation be perfected in us, and God be manifested to us as He will be seen in His eternal truth.

(This above is quoted on page 90 of Return to Rome)

The Council of Trent (16th century):
Now they (adults) are disposed unto the said justice, when, excited and assisted by divine grace, conceiving faith by hearing, they are freely moved towards God, believing those things to be true which God has revealed and promised,-and this especially, that God justifies the impious by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; and when, understanding themselves to be sinners, they, by turning themselves, from the fear of divine justice whereby they are profitably agitated, to consider the mercy of God, are raised unto hope, confiding that God will be propitious to them for Christ's sake; and they begin to love Him as the fountain of all justice; and are therefore moved against sins by a certain hatred and detestation, to wit, by that penitence which must be performed before baptism: lastly, when they purpose to receive baptism, to begin a new life, and to keep the commandments of God. Concerning this disposition it is written; He that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and is a rewarder to them that seek him; and, Be of good faith, son, thy sins are forgiven thee; and, The fear of the Lord driveth out sin; and, Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; and, Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; finally, Prepare your hearts unto the Lord.

This disposition, or preparation, is followed by Justification itself, which is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend, that so he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Radio interview tonight on KDKA Pittsburgh

This evening I will be a guest on Fr. Ron Lengwin's Sunday night radio program, Amplify. It is broadcast from KDKA in Pittsburgh (1020 on the AM dial). You can listen to the show from 9-11 pm EDT online here. I will be on the program to talk about, Return to Rome

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Beauty of Grace: 2010 Calendar of Indulgences

Just received this calendar in the mail from a place called Bridegroom Press. It came with a cover letter by Steve Kellmeyer that included these comments: "As someone who has promoted indulgences in the past, we thought you might appreciate finding out more about this way of helping Catholics learn about and practice the work of indulgences." He is probably referring to this little scuttlebutt at Baylor, about which I offered these comments.

Just for fun, I will name my office door "Wittenburg" and nail the calendar to it!

(Originally posted on First Thoughts)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Peter Kreeft on the Sacraments

Professor Kreeft writes:
Protestants don't see why Catholics who come to disagree with essential teachings of the Church don't just leave. The answer is symbolized by the sanctuary lamp. They do not leave the Church because they know that the sacramental fire burns there on the ecclesiastical hearth. Even if they do not see by its light, they want to be warmed by its fire. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a magnet drawing lost sheep home and keeping would-be strays from the deathly snows outside. The Church's biggest drawing card is not what she teaches, crucial as that is, but who is there. "He is here! Therefore I must be here."...

To Protestants, sacraments must be one of two things: either mere symbols, reminders, like words; or else real magic. And the Catholic definition of a sacrament — a visible sign instituted by Christ to give grace, a sign that really effects what it symbolizes — sounds like magic. Catholic doctrine teaches that the sacraments work ex opere operato, i.e., objectively, though not impersonally and automatically like machines. They are gifts that come from without but must be freely received.

Protestants are usually much more comfortable with a merely symbolic view of sacraments, for their faith is primarily verbal, not sacramental. After all, it is the Bible that looms so large in the center of their horizon. They believe in creation and Incarnation and Resurrection only because they are in the Bible. The material events are surrounded by the holy words. The Catholic sensibility is the inside-out version of this: the words are surrounded by the holy facts. To the Catholic sensibility it is not primarily words but matter that is holy because God created it, incarnated himself in it, raised it from death, and took it to heaven with him in his ascension....

You can read the whole thing here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

Timothy George and Francis Beckwith in annual Penner Debate at Wheaton College, September 3

I recently accepted an invitation to participate in the annual Penner Debate at Wheaton College in Illinois. Sponsored by Wheaton's Center for Applied Christian Ethics, it will be held on September 3, 2009 on Wheaton's campus. You can find more information about the event here. The topic of my public dialogue with Timothy George will be "A Question of Christian Identity: Evangelical and Catholic?"

Timothy George is the Dean of the Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He is a wonderful Christian man and an outstanding scholar. In January 2008 we engaged in a similar dialogue at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. And we are set to do it yet again on April 22, 2010 on the Beeson campus.

Moderating the Wheaton event is Chris Castaldo, pastor of community outreach at the College of Church of Wheaton. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Holy Ground: Walking With Jesus as a Former Catholic (Zondervan, 2009), for which I wrote an endorsement.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Jordan J. Ballor on Calvin, Conversions, and Catholicity

Published on the 500th birthday of John Calvin, Jordan J. Ballor has authored a thoughtful piece on some of the problems that arise in discussions between Protestants and Catholics about catholicity, the Early Church, and the reasons provided by converts from Protestantism to Catholicism. Appearing on First Thing's On the Square, here are some excerpts:
High-profile conversions of public intellectuals, theologians, and academics have been the cause of some consternation, however, at least in ecclesiastical circles. The steady stream of recognizable Protestants heading to Rome (or perhaps somewhat less often to the East) since the 1960s has mirrored the decline of the mainline Protestant churches, as documented by First Things editor Joseph Bottum. But it is not just the mainline churches that are losing noteworthy adherents.

In 2005 the noted historian of American religion Mark A. Noll and journalist Carolyn Nystrom could seriously ask of evangelicals whether or not the Reformation was over. And in 2007 then-president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) Francis Beckwith announced he had returned to the Roman Catholic Church. (Subsequently Beckwith resigned his position amidst questions over the compatibility of Roman Catholicism and the ETS. Beckwith’s memoir had the rather provocative subtitle, Why the President of the Evangelical Theological Society Left His Post and Returned to the Catholic Church.)

Similar conversion accounts could be multiplied. But as a Protestant and evangelical theologian myself, I am more concerned to address some of the responses to such conversions by those left behind. Among these is the book, Is Rome the True Church? A Consideration of the Roman Catholic Claim, by Norman L. Geisler, formerly president and dean of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, and Joshua M. Betancourt, an Anglican minister. This book is undoubtedly one that as Betancourt says in an interview, “no thinking Protestant—or Catholic—should be without,” and whose whole argument ought to be considered with close attention. But here I want to focus on just one of the reasons Geisler and Betancourt cite for the conversion of evangelicals to Roman Catholicism: antiquity.

As Betancourt says, “converts appeal to the Catholic Church’s antiquity,” reasoning that “since the Protestant tradition is only as old as the sixteenth-century Reformation, then it cannot be the true expression of the early apostolic faith and tradition.” The strategy of Betancourt and Geisler to answer this reason is to contend that “truth is not determined by age. To say so is to commit the fallacy of 'chronological snobbery.’”

The problem with this kind of answer is that the Reformers themselves could be accused of just such chronological snobbery. The Zurich reformer Heinrich Bullinger published a treatise in 1539 titled Der alt gloub (translated into English by Miles Coverdale as The Old Faith in 1541). In his treatment of the topic De nova doctrina (“On new doctrine”), the Bernese reformer Wolfgang Musculus writes, “For it is so ordered by God in all cases of all things, that the truth is more ancient than the falsehood, even like as God is more ancient than the Devil.” Perhaps not surprisingly, theologians in the British Isles in particular seemed quite concerned to defend the antiquity and catholicity of the Reformed faith, as evidenced by such treatises as William Perkins’ A Reformed Catholic (1597) and the Huguenot Isaac Casaubon’s reply in 1612 to Cardinal Perron, published later as Anglican Catholicity Vindicated against Roman Innovations. In 1565 John Jewel, bishop of Salisbury, would assail “the weak, and unstable grounds of the Roman religion, which of late hath been accompted Catholic.”

For the record, I left this response in the combox:

My dear friend Norm Geisler and his co-author, Mr. Betancourt, seem to misunderstand the Catholic argument. It is not that the Catholic faith is true because it is old. Rather, it is old because it is true. That is, the argument is an argument from the organic continuity of institution, faith, creed, and Scripture over time. It is not, and has never been, an argument from mere antiquity.

Geisler himself, ironically, argues in much the same way in his defense of the authenticity and accuracy of the NT documents. He offers several arguments to show that the late dating of them by liberal scholars is mistaken. But if "old" does not equal "true," why should that matter? Unless, of course, his claim is made more plausible if the document in question is chronologically closer to the events it claims to describe, as well as consistent with, and supports, late creedal affirmations and developments by the Church, e.g., the Trinity, Christ's deity, etc. That is no more "chronological snobbery" than is the employment of math to solve a problem in arithmetic "numerical prejudice."

You can read the whole thing, including comments, here.
(Originally posted on What's Wrong with the World)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

July 11, the Feast of St. Benedict, and my wedding anniversary

Today, July 11, is the feast of St. Benedict. It also happens to be my 22nd wedding anniversary. In my book, Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic, I briefly discuss the significance of this day in the life of my wife, Frankie, and me: "While in Vegas [during Spring Break, 1985] I became reacquainted with Frankie Dickerson (my future wife), the sister of my friend Lexi Weigand. Lexi’s husband Mark was instrumental in helping to lead Frankie to Christ at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa on July 11, 1982. (Coincidentally or providentially, July 11 is our wedding anniversary as well as the feast day of St. Benedict, the namesake of the Pope under whose papacy Frankie joined, and I returned to, the Catholic Church)." (p. 56)

Friday, July 10, 2009

My take on Caritas in Veritate published in Christianity Today

Christianity Today just published my take on Pope Benedict XVI's latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. Here is an excerpt.
Although mainstream media outlets have already spun this encyclical as one that focuses on the global economic crisis—and it most certainly does address that—that is clearly not the pope’s point of departure. For those who have eyes to see, the animating principle of this encyclical is virtually on every page of it: theological anthropology is the only proper starting pointing from which we can come to know the common good....

The categories that dominate our public discourse in the United States—left, right, liberal, conservative, etc.—play no role in illuminating the Church's social doctrines or the message of Caritas in Veritate. This is why it is a fool's errand to attempt to artificially divide Catholic social teachings into its left and right wings....

Benedict does argue in this encyclical that free markets and the ownership of property are the best way people can produce the wealth that is necessary for a just regime. But free markets will not result in integral human development if they are bereft of sound ethical constraints and not directed toward the common good. This is why in Catholic social teaching the state has an obligation to protect, nurture, and help sustain the natural development and proper ends of certain governmental and private institutions. These include the family, civic and political associations (such as labor unions), organizations of social welfare (administered privately and/or by the state), and schools. According to Benedict, such institutions make morally sound markets possible because they provide the social infrastructure for the achieving of integral human development. So the Sermon on the Mount cannot be separated from “Honor thy Father and Mother,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and “Thou shalt not steal.” Thus, the “justice” in social justice refers to a rightly ordered community, not to the ideologies of a Ludwig Von Mises or a Karl Marx. In Christian theology, you can gain the whole world and lose your own soul (Luke 9:25). To paraphrase St. Paul, that’s a stumbling block to the Austrians and foolishness to the Marxists.

You can read the whole thing here.
(Originally posted on First Thoughts)

Faith, Reason, and the Christian University: What John Paul II Can Teach Christian Academics

That's the title of an article I just published in Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 12.3 (Summer 2009): 53-67. You can find it online on my website here. Here are some excerpts (endnotes omitted):

John Paul is suggesting that a university as a whole cannot claim to offer a distinctive theological alternative to its peer institutions while at the same time claiming that it is illegitimate for the university to require that its individual members be committed to the particular beliefs and general worldview on which the university’s unique character depends. Moreover, anti-creedalism, a belief in the wrongness of normative theological judgments, cannot by its nature function as a normative theological judgment even though it must do so in order to make any sense. Anti-creedalism, in a word, is incoherent....

The reason for this philosophical confusion is that anti-creedalists do not think of their theology as a knowledge tradition, as they do their law, medicine, political theory, or monetary policy. Faith, according to this view, may be true, but it cannot be known to be true. Faith and reason are different ways of acquiring beliefs, with the former being the weaker epistemic stepbrother who always must answer to the latter, with the latter being equivalent to the empirical deliverances of the hard and social sciences. This is why anti-creedalists seem to consider matters of religious belief as less epistemically important than other matters. Such a posture is what happens when a religious community uncritically assimilates a “positivistic mentality,” which, according to John Paul, “not only abandon[s] the Christian vision of the world, but more especially reject[s] every appeal to a metaphysical or moral vision.” It is, in the words of the late pontiff, one of the many fruits of scientism, “the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive sciences; and it relegates religious, theological, ethical and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy.”

In a Christian academic community in which this positivist mentality is dominant, a chemistry professor, for example, can be dismissed for denying the veracity of the periodical table, but a theology professor may treat the Apostles’ Creed as no more normative, or less so, than the editorial page of the New York Times or the latest issue of Dissent. Under this paradigm, bioethical issues are assessed in a similar fashion. To employ but one example, the resolution of the morality of abortion, according to this understanding, is a matter of faith, and thus the procedure ought to be permitted under our laws. for to forbid abortion, because we Christians happen to believe that the unborn is a person, would be to violate the religious liberty of fellow citizens who want to procure abortions because they believe that the unborn is not a person. But as John Paul has noted in Evangelium vitae, to treat as an open question, or as unknowable, the nature of human beings is in fact to call into question the very liberty affirmed by secular liberals and religious anti-creedalists, since that liberty is entailed by unassailable first principles of human conduct that the secular liberal and the anti-creedalist implicitly claim to know. Thus, the secular and anti-creedalist resolution of the abortion debate is achieved by sequestering a priori any philosophical anthropology that depends on knowledge claims that are not reducible to the hard or social sciences, even though the right to abortion does not itself seem amenable to that reduction either. That is, if one thinks of the “right to abortion” as a universal right of human beings by nature, it seems that that right has all the earmarks of an irreducible immaterial property, and thus cannot be accounted for as knowable under the secularist and anti-creedalist epistemological framework.

You can read the whole thing here.
(Originally posted on First Thoughts)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Catholic World Report Roundtable on Caritas in Veritate

You can read it here. Participating in this roundtable are yours truly, J. Brian Benestad, Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., Richard Garnett, Thomas S. Hibbs, Paul Kengor, George Neumayr, Tracey Rowland, Father James V. Schall, and Rev. Robert A. Sirico.

(Originally posted on First Thoughts)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Monday, July 6, 2009

Newman's Miracle

This, from the Cardinal Newman Society:

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints on Friday, July 3, announced that Pope Benedict has approved as miraculous the healing of Deacon Jack Sullivan, who attributed his cure from a crippling spinal disorder to the intercession of Cardinal Newman. In April, 2008 doctors assigned to scrutinize the healing said that science offers no explanation for Deacon Sullivan’s cure on the Feast of the Assumption in 2001.

The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS) gives thanks to God for the approved miracle of our patron, John Henry Cardinal Newman. We urge Catholics worldwide to pray for his intercession, especially in the ongoing renewal of Catholic higher education.

Deacon Sullivan’s miraculous healing took place after watching a program on EWTN by Cardinal Newman Society Advisory Board Member and noted Newman scholar Father C. John McCloskey, III who encouraged viewers to pray for Cardinal Newman’s intercession for their intentions.

Newman, who is the patron of CNS, was a great defender of the principle that the academic nature of a university is strengthened by a strong Catholic foundation and adherence to the teachings of the Church.

InIdea of a University, Cardinal Newman argued that the university is dedicated to the search and transmission of all truth, including the fundamental truths revealed by Christ through His Church. Newman's thought and Pope John Paul II's 1990 Apostolic Constitution on Catholic higher education, Ex corde Ecclesiae, guide the efforts of The Cardinal Newman Society to promote the renewal of Catholic campuses in fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church.

Over the last several years The Cardinal Newman Society has encouraged its members to pray for Cardinal Newman’s beatification.

Earlier this year, in anticipation of the 208th anniversary of Cardinal Newman’s birth, The Cardinal Newman Society’s Center for the Study of Catholic Higher Education launched the “Newman Commemorative Paper Series” with an essay by Father McCloskey. The Center also has essays about Cardinal Newman’s thoughts by the late Cardinal Avery Dulles and renowned Newman expert Father Ian Ker. These essays are available at

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Great Philosopher Who Became Catholic

On June 29, 2009, writes Deal W. Hudson at Inside Catholic:
Eight years ago today, a famous American philosopher died who had lived as a Catholic the last year of his life. Not so long ago, his name -- Mortimer J. Adler -- was synonymous with the "great books" approach to education he had pioneered with Robert Hutchins at the University of Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s. His edition of The Great Books of the Western World is still often seen if you survey the bookshelves of the homes and offices you visit.

You can read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

St. Augustine was Catholic

I know that seems obvious. But there are some Reformed folk, like the prolific R. C. Sproul, who think of St. Augustine as a sort of pre-Calvinist. But, as Tim A. Troutman points out in his Called to Communion piece, "Augustinian Soteriology," nothing could be further from the truth. Here's an excerpt:
The point I want to draw out is that the Reformation’s favorite early saint sharply disagrees with the Reformers on what they called the central issue. The other points where Reformed thought diverges from Augustine are important too; but let’s start here.

If it is true, and Augustine, the supposed proto-Reformer, holds the Catholic view of cooperation, then what does that mean for the case of the Protestant community? After all, notice above that the Catholic Church doesn’t quote Augustine in support of the Catholic view, she simply quotes Augustine as the Catholic view itself.

You can read the whole thing here. For even more detail on this matter, see Troutman's other piece, "Soli Deo Gloria."