Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September 30 - Feast of St. Jerome (ca. 341-420 AD)

Here's an excerpt from the Catholic Encyclopedis article on St. Jerome:
St. Jerome owes his place in the history of exegetical studies chiefly to his revisions and translations of the Bible. Until about 391-2, he considered the Septuagint translation as inspired. But the progress of his Hebraistic studies and his intercourse with the rabbis made him give up that idea, and he recognized as inspired the original text only. It was about this period that he undertook the translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. But he went too far in his reaction against the ideas of his time, and is open to reproach for not having sufficiently appreciated the Septuagint. This latter version was made from a much older, and at times much purer, Hebrew text than the one in use at the end of the fourth century. Hence the necessity of taking the Septuagint into consideration in any attempt to restore the text of the Old Testament. With this exception we must admit the excellence of the translation made by St. Jerome.

His commentaries represent a vast amount of work but of very unequal value. Very often he worked exceedingly rapidly; besides, he considered a commentary a work of compilation, and his chief care was to accumulate the interpretations of his predecessors, rather than to pass judgment on them. The "Quaestiones hebraicae in Genesim" is one of his best works. It is a philological inquiry concerning the original text. It is to be regretted that he was unable to continue, as had been his intention, a style of work entirely new at the time. Although he often asserted his desire to avoid excessive allegory, his efforts in that respect were far from successful, and in later years he was ashamed of some of his earlier allegorical explanations. He himself says that he had recourse to the allegorical meaning only when unable to discover the literal meaning. His treatise, "De Interpretatione nominum hebraicorum", is but a collection of mystical and symbolical meanings.

You can read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Roman Polanski: What Would Jesus Do?

Director Roman Polanski, a convicted child rapist, fled the U.S. in 1978 prior to his sentencing. He is now being held in Switzerland, awaiting extradition. Many Hollywood luminaries have come to his defense! But what would Jesus do? Let's see:"It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin." (Lk 17:2 - RSV).

Who and what Chesterton may have had in mind

G. K. Chesterton once said: "The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason." Perhaps he had this fellow in mind:
I recently watched an ecumenical dialog at Wheaton College between Timothy George, Dean of the Southern Baptist Beeson Divinity School, and Francis Beckwith, a “Protestant” who recently returned to Rome. Words fail me at how disgusted I was as the cotton candy eating, Kumbaya singing and kid-glove handling of the damnable errors of the religion of Rome. This coming not from a pulpit sitting believer who has never studied doctrine related to Catholicism, but from a Dean of one of the leading Southern Baptist Seminaries who is obviously very well read in these areas. I’m still waiting for the outcry from the Southern Baptist Convention.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

St. Thomas Aquinas on the Immaculate Conception

During my September 3 dialogue with Timothy George at Wheaton College, we briefly discussed St. Thomas Aquinas' denial of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which later became a dogma of the Catholic Church. One of the points I made was that St. Thomas' understanding of Mary's holiness was far from the Protestant view. In fact, for St. Thomas, Mary was not conceived without original sin. It was, however, removed by God after she was conceived (technically, after she was "animated"). She was also the recipient of an abundance of grace so that she may be protected from all actual sin. So, St. Thomas' view, though not the view currently held by the Church as dogma, contained within it some of the same logic on which the Church's dogma is based. Here is St. Thomas from Summa Theologica, III, q. 27:

....The Church celebrates the feast of our Lady's Nativity. Now the Church does not celebrate feasts except of those who are holy. Therefore even in her birth the Blessed Virgin was holy. Therefore she was sanctified in the womb.

.... Nothing is handed down in the canonical Scriptures concerning the sanctification of the Blessed Mary as to her being sanctified in the womb; indeed, they do not even mention her birth. But as Augustine, in his tractate on the Assumption of the Virgin, argues with reason, since her body was assumed into heaven, and yet Scripture does not relate this; so it may be reasonably argued that she was sanctified in the womb. For it is reasonable to believe that she, who brought forth "the Only-Begotten of the Father full of grace and truth," received greater privileges of grace than all others: hence we read (Luke 1:28) that the angel addressed her in the words: "Hail full of grace!"

Moreover, it is to be observed that it was granted, by way of privilege, to others, to be sanctified in the womb; for instance, to Jeremias, to whom it was said (Jeremiah 1:5): "Before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee"; and again, to John the Baptist, of whom it is written (Luke 1:15): "He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb." It is therefore with reason that we believe theBlessed Virgin to have been sanctified before her birth from the womb.

.... Even in the Blessed Virgin, first was that which is natural, and afterwards that which is spiritual: for she was first conceived in the flesh, and afterwards sanctified in the spirit.

.... Augustine speaks according to the common law, by reason of which no one is regenerated by the sacraments, save those who are previously born. But God did not so limit His power to the law of the sacraments, but that He can bestow His grace, by special privilege, on some before they are born from the womb.

.... The Blessed Virgin was sanctified in the womb from original sin, as to the personal stain; but she was not freed from the guilt to which the whole nature is subject, so as to enter into Paradise otherwise than through the Sacrifice of Christ; the same also is to be said of the Holy Fathers who lived before Christ.

.... Original sin is transmitted through the origin, inasmuch as through the origin the human nature is transmitted, and original sin, properly speaking, affects the nature. And this takes place when the off-spring conceived is animated. Wherefore nothing hinders the offspring conceived from being sanctified after animation: for after this it remains in the mother's womb not for the purpose of receiving human nature, but for a certain perfecting of that which it has already received....

.... Augustine says (De Nat. et Grat. xxxvi): "In the matter of sin, it is my wish to exclude absolutely all questions concerning the holy Virgin Mary, on account of the honor due to Christ. For since she conceived and brought forth Him who most certainly was guilty of no sin, we know that an abundance of grace was given her that she might be in every way the conqueror of sin."

.... God so prepares and endows those, whom He chooses for some particular office, that they are rendered capable of fulfilling it, according to 2 Corinthians 3:6: "(Who) hath made us fit ministers of the New Testament." Now the Blessed Virgin was chosen by God to be His Mother. Therefore there can be no doubt that God, by His grace, made her worthy of that office, according to the words spoken to her by the angel (Luke 1:30-31): "Thou hast found grace with God: behold thou shalt conceive," etc. But she would not have been worthy to be the Mother of God, if she had ever sinned. First, because the honor of the parents reflects on the child, according to Proverbs 17:6: "The glory of children are their fathers": and consequently, on the other hand, the Mother's shame would have reflected on her Son. Secondly, because of the singular affinity between her and Christ, who took flesh from her: and it is written (2 Corinthians 6:15): "What concord hath Christ with Belial?" Thirdly, because of the singular manner in which the Son of God, who is the "Divine Wisdom" (1 Corinthians 1:24) dwelt in her, not only in her soul but in her womb. And it is written (Wisdom 1:4): "Wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sins."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

blog semper reformanda

Over at the blog, Beggars All: Reformation & Apologetics, there is an entry concerning an answer I gave to a question at the September 3 Wheaton Dialogue in which I participated with Timothy George. Below in bold is the question that was given to me several weeks prior to the event. It is followed by my prepared answer. I forget how closely I stuck to the prepared text when I answered the question that evening. In any event, what follows is the answer that I carried with me to the stage. (Here's the Christianity Today story of the event, if you are interested in reading it)

My friend, Bryan Cross, does a very nice job in responding to some of the mistakes in the entry. You can find Bryan's comments here. This is the reason why I am posting my prepared answer. For it seems that what I said on the video has been misunderstood by the author of the blog entry, though Bryan seemed to get me just right.
Dr. Beckwith: For all of your years as an Evangelical Protestant you failed to observe the Sacrament of Penance and thus found yourself in a state of mortal sin. If you had died during that time, do you suppose you would have been accepted by God?

First, I don’t think it’s healthy to always frame questions of salvation in terms that are anthropocentric. For it tends to reinforce the modern idea that the self is the center of the universe and that the universe has an obligation to make itself real to me. This, I believe, is precisely the problem of the modern mind, one that sees God as a cosmic errand boy that is obligated to save me if I do X, Y, and Z, or obligated to damn me if I don’t do X, Y, and Z. It depends on a consumer-paradigm of the spiritual life, and thus it sees confession and penance as a kind of self-serve carwash for the soul that you better run yourself through before the wife gets home from visiting her mother.

It seems to me that Christians should be more concerned about getting heaven into them rather than just getting into heaven.

Nevertheless, I do think the question has a point, one that I had actually not thought about until it was brought to my attention in an email several weeks ago. So, here’s the way I think about it. I know that God is a just God and that he will judge me based on standards that are inherently fair. He is also fully aware of my ignorance, my obstinance, my stupidity, and my pride. He, I would hope, takes that all into consideration, when assessing the state of my soul. However, you are asking me to answer a counterfactual about my eternal fate. It’s tough enough to answer such a question based in the actual world. So, on this, I will appeal to Woody Allen, who once said, “I'm astounded by people who want to 'know' the universe when it's hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.” So, in this venue, I will stick to Chinatown.

However, I do take great comfort in what the Catholic Church does teach about these matters. First, according to the catechism, “for a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: `Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.’”[1] I do not believe that I had full knowledge or deliberate consent when I chose not to partake in penance during my years as a Protestant. Second, the Church also teaches that someone can be invincibly ignorant, which I believe I was for many years. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines it in this way: “Ignorance is said to be invincible when a person is unable to rid himself of it [ignorance] notwithstanding the employment of moral diligence, that is, such as under the circumstances is, morally speaking, possible and obligatory.”[2]

The Catechism, as I have already noted, teaches that "’many elements of sanctification and of truth’ are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: `the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements.’”[3] “Christ's Spirit,” the Catechism instructs us, “uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to ‘Catholic unity.’”[4] For this reason I am convinced that if not for the Holy Spirit working through the many gifted and devoted Christian scholars and teachers in Evangelical Protestantism, some of whom I have had the privilege to know, love and study under, my present faith would be significantly diminished. Their tenacious defense and practice of their Christian faith is what has sustained and nourished so many of us who have found our way back to the Church of our youth.

So, to answer your question, yes, I think I would have been accepted by God if I had died prior to returing to the Catholic Church. The good thing, though, is that I have lived to tell about it.

[1] The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1857, quoting, RP 17 # 12.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 819, quoting Lumen Gentium 8 § 2 and Unitatis Redintegratio 3 § 2.
Ibid. (citations omitted).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Franciscan University Bioethics Conference: Oct 23-25

It is an honor to be one of the four invited speakers to address the Value of Human Life Conference, sponsored by the Institute of Bioethics at Franciscan University of Steubenville. The other three are John Keown (Georgetown University), Gerard V. Bradley (University of Notre Dame), and Patrick Lee (Franciscan University).

If you are in the area and are interested in attending, you can find more information here. There is a nice story about the conference recently published at Catholic Online.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Video of The Journey Home, 14 Sept 2009

My September 14, 2009 interview on EWTN's The Journey Home may be viewed here.

Harvest and Consecration

This poem, authored by Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001), was brought to my attention by my colleague, David Lyle Jeffrey:

Harvest and Consecration

Elizabeth Jennings

After the heaped piles and the cornsheaves waiting

To be collected, gathered into barns,

After all fruits have burst their skins, the sating

Season cools and turns,

And then I think of something that you said

Of when you held the chalice and the bread.

I spoke of Mass and thought of it as close

To how a season feels which stirs and brings

Fire to the hearth, food to the hungry house

And strange, uncovered things --

God in a garden then in sheaves of corn

And the white bread a way to be reborn.

I thought of priest as midwife and as mother

Feeling the pain, feeling the pleasure too,

All opposites together,

Until you said no one could feel such passion

And still preserve the power of consecration.

And it is true. How cool the gold sheaves lie,

Rich without need to ask for more

Richness. The seed, the simple thing must die

If only to restore

Our faith in fruitful, hidden things. I see

The wine and bread protect our ecstasy.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

White Horse Inn blog entry on Wheaton Dialogue

Just came across this post at the White Horse Inn blog, authored by Pastor Eric Landry, the Executive Editor of Modern Reformation:
What is the relationship between evangelicals and the Reformation? It’s a topic that we’ve spent quite a lot of time on, but some folks are still confused.

It was recently brought to our attention that at the September 3rd debate between Roman Catholic Francis Beckwith and evangelical Baptist Timothy George, Beckwith said the following:
If you ask the editorial board of Modern Reformation magazine, evangelicals are the theological heirs of Lutheran and Reformed scholasticisms in all its forms in a variety of denominations. This, however, according to some would exclude most Pentecostals, Wesleyan, and Church of Christ bodies as well as some Anglican communities.

Well, interestingly enough Dr. Beckwith didn’t ask our editorial board (granted, it is difficult to find us most days, our residing in beautiful southern California, and all). If he had, we could have told him it was an interesting point, but not one that we shared. Not knowing Dr. Beckwith’s own views, we can only state that we think that evangelicals aren’t the theological heirs of the Reformation....

If you or Dr. Beckwith needs me, I’ll be at the beach.

First, since I live in Central Texas and not within driving distance of the beach, as Eric Landry does, I want him to know that I have nothing but envy for his access to the Pacific Ocean in the world's most perfect climate.

Second, I really like the White Horse Inn guys. They are intelligent, witty, and I have great respect for their deep knowledge of Scripture. And the seminary with which they are associated, Westminster of California, probably has one of the best theological bookstores on the West Coast, if you like Reformed theology. (Not that there is anything wrong with that).

Third, when I made those comments at Wheaton I had in mind the normative definition of Evangelical that has been suggested by Modern Reformation's editor-in-chief, Michael Scott Horton. In an article published in Modern Reformation in 1992, Horton writes:
Nevertheless, if we are going to still use "evangelical" as a noun to define a body of Christians holding to a certain set of convictions, it is high time we got clear on these matters. An evangelical cannot be an Arminian any more than an evangelical can be a Roman Catholic. The distinctives of evangelicalism were denied by Rome at the Council of Trent, by the Remonstrants in 1610, were confused and challenged by John Wesley in the eighteenth century, and have become either ignored or denied in contemporary "evangelicalism."

In a 1994 article in Modern Reformation--and accessible on its website--Professor Horton writes the following:
Only in the last decade of this century have many of the movement's mainstream leaders considered the loss of an evangelical substance. No longer is the evangel the focus of the movement's identity, but it is now known more by a sub-culture, a collection of political, moral and social causes, and an acute interest in rather exotic notions about the end-times. At a loss for words, one friend answered a man's question, "Who are the evangelicals?" with the reply, "They're people who like Billy Graham."

It is at this point that those of us who are heirs to the Reformation--which bequeathed to evangelicalism a distinct theological identity that has been since lost--call attention once more to the solas (only or alone) that framed the entire sixteenth-century debate: "Only Scripture," "Only Christ," "Only Grace," "Only Faith," and "To God Alone Be Glory."...

Russell Spittler, a Pentecostal theologian at Fuller Seminary, reflects on Luther's phrase concerning justification: simul iustus et peccator, (simultaneously just and sinner):
But can it really be true--saint and sinner simultaneously? I wish it were so. Is this correct: "I don't need to work at becoming. I'm already declared to be holy." No sweat needed? It looks wrong to me. I hear moral demands in Scripture. Simul iustus et peccator? I hope it's true! I simply fear it's not.

The Wesleyan emphasis has always been a challenge to the evangelical faith on this point, although in his best moments Wesley insisted on this heart of the Gospel. To the extent that the consensus-builders and institutional abbots of the evangelical monasteries have attempted to incorporate Arminianism under the label "evangelical," to that extent, it seems to me, it ceases to be evangelical indeed.

In a small book published in 1999, Evangelicals, Catholics, and Unity (Crossway Books), Professor Horton offers a similar analysis. You can read excerpts of that book through Google here.

Now, if Pastor Landry wants to get a hold of me, I'll be at Lake Waco wishing I were on a beach in Southern California sharing a micro-brew with the crew at the White Horse Inn.

"Ecclesial Deism"

That is the title of an insightful piece authored by Bryan Cross at Called to Communion. Here's an excerpt:

[Albert] Mohler[, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary] claims that we have an “objective standard” by which to define what is and what is not Christianity. That objective standard is “traditional Christian orthodoxy.” But this subtly pushes back the question: What is the objective standard for what counts as “traditional Christian orthodoxy”? Mohler appeals to the early creeds, and the first four ecumenical councils. He seems to think that the end of the fifth century is roughly the cutoff for “traditional Christian orthodoxy.” But picking the fifth century as the cutoff for “traditional Christian orthodoxy” is no less ad hoc than picking the first century. If one thinks that the Church fell into heresy or apostasy, there is no more principled reason to think the ‘apostasy of the Church’ did not begin for five hundred years than there is to think it began in the first century.

Moreover, the first five centuries of Christian tradition are replete with beliefs and practices that Mohler rejects. I described some of them above, in laying out those points concerning which I, as a Protestant, believed that the Church had been corrupted. The bishops who wrote the Nicene Creed, which Mohler treats as part of the orthodox tradition, were the bishops at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea in AD 325 and at the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in AD 381. But Baptists such as Mohler reject both the doctrine of apostolic succession and the episcopal form of Church polity which all those bishops believed and practiced.4

Baptists reject what all those bishops believed and taught as being essential to the Christian faith regarding baptismal regeneration: “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”5 Many of the canons of the Council of Nicea (AD 325) do not even make sense from a Baptist point of view. Mohler is critical of the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (AD 431) in its declaration of Mary as the ‘Theotokos,’ claiming that doing so “brought ill effects upon the Catholic Church.”6 He accepts the Christology taught by the Fourth Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon, AD 451), but rejects the teaching of the Fifth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople, 553 AD) which affirmed the perpetual virginity of Mary,7 claiming that it “moved Roman Catholic theology and devotion increasingly away from the Holy Scriptures and toward human innovation.”8 And he rejects the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea, AD 787) in its condemnation of iconoclasm.

The problem here is that Mohler’s position faces a very serious dilemma regarding the tradition to which he is appealing as the basis for “Christian orthodoxy.” On the one hand, Mohler cannot reject the tradition of the early Church, because that would make his own position fail to count as “traditional Christian orthodoxy,” and thus fail to count as “Christian,” by the very same argument he uses to claim that Mormonism is not Christian. On the other hand, Mohler cannot embrace the tradition of the early Church, because, as shown above, in many important ways that tradition is incompatible with his own Baptist theology.

How does Mohler deal with this dilemma? He adopts a pick-and-choose approach. This approach attempts to avoid the dilemma raised above by methodologically, though not explicitly, counting as ‘traditional’ [as in "traditional Christian orthodoxy"] only whatever the Church said and did that agrees with or is at least compatible with one’s own interpretation of Scripture. ‘Tradition’ becomes whatever one agrees with in the history of the Church, such as the Nicene Creed or Chalcedonian Christology.

This pick-and-choose approach to the tradition shows that it is not the fact that an Ecumenical Council declared something definitively that makes it ‘authoritative’ for Mohler. What makes it ‘authoritative’ for Mohler is that it agrees with his interpretation of Scripture. If he encounters something in the tradition that seems extra-biblical or opposed to Scripture he rejects it. For that reason, tradition does not authoritatively guide his interpretation. His interpretation picks out what counts as tradition, and then this tradition informs his interpretation.

The problem with the pick-and-choose approach is that it is entirely ad hoc insofar as one picks and chooses from among Church Fathers and councils only those statements one agrees with, to be ‘authoritative.’ In this way Mohler is engaging in special pleading: he criticizes Mormonism for selectively rejecting the Christian tradition, while he himself selectively rejects the Christian tradition. So in order to serve as the standard for “Christian orthodoxy,” the distinction between what counts as tradition, and what does not, must be principled. Yet Mohler’s theology has no conceptual space for a principled basis for this distinction. The result is that Mohler identifies tradition in the same way that an archer might paint a target around an arrow he has already shot into a wall.

So the dilemma is this: either he makes an ad hoc appeal to tradition, and thus commits the fallacy of special pleading, or he gives up his appeal to tradition, and thereby loses that by which he tries to draw a principled distinction between the methodologies whereby Baptists and Mormons determine whether particular traditions are in line with Scripture or are ungodly accretions.

A further and particularly significant implication of this ad hoc approach to the tradition is that it undermines the basis for believing the canon of the Bible to be correct. If the Church erred in so many doctrines and practices, then we have no basis for believing that the Church got the canon right. It would be ad hoc to trust that the Church got the canon right while believing that the Church got so many other things wrong during that same period of time.9

In that case we cannot justifiably use our interpretation of Scripture to determine which traditions agree with our interpretation and which traditions do not, because we do not know which books are Scripture. Nor, for the same reason, can we use our interpretation of Scripture to determine which books of the Bible belong there, because that would be to assume at the outset precisely what we do not know, i.e., the canon. As a result, those who claim that the Church deviated from orthodoxy at an early point in history, and use Scripture to show this, undermine the very basis for their assurance that the book they hold in their hand is canonically inerrant. They must either turn to critical scholarship, or resort to some internal voice that they perceive to be from the Holy Spirit, in order to verify the canon, before they can use the canon to evaluate the tradition of the early Church.

Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Frankie's video for her Mom's 85th birthday

In late August, my mother-in-law celebrated her 85th birthday. My wife, Frankie, produced this incredible video in honor of her mother's milestone. (The stained-glass panels pictured in the last segment were made by Frankie!)

You can watch a larger version here.

"Called to Communion" Entry and Discussion on Wheaton Dialogue

You can find it here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Apostate Francis Beckwith

That's according to a twitter message of a fellow named Javier. But being called an "apostate" by a Protestant is like being accused of treason by a man without a country.

Kathleen Sebelius, Meet St. Thomas More

The following is from an interview of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. It appeared in U. S. News & World Report. (HT: Ignatius Scoop)
You are also a pro-choice Catholic, and I was reading some stories out of your home state recently where one of the bishops took an action. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Well, the Archbishop in the Kansas City area did not approve of my conduct as a public official and asked that I not present myself for communion.

What did you think about that?

Well, it was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced in my life, and I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state, and I feel that my actions as a parishioner are different than my actions as a public official and that the people who elected me in Kansas had a right to expect me to uphold their rights and their beliefs even if they did not have the same religious beliefs that I had. And that's what I did: I took an oath of office and I have taken an oath of office in this job and will uphold the law.

Secretary Sebelius, let me introduce you to St. Thomas More, a Catholic public official:

St. Thomas More was born at London in 1478. After a thorough grounding in religion and the classics, he entered Oxford to study law. Upon leaving the university he embarked on a legal career which took him to Parliament. In 1505, he married his beloved Jane Colt who bore him four children, andwhen she died at a young age, he married a widow, Alice Middleton, to be a mother for his young children. A wit and a reformer, this learned man numbered Bishops and scholars among his friends, and by 1516 wrote his world-famous book "Utopia". He attracted the attention of Henry VIII who appointed him to a succession of high posts and missions, and finally made him Lord Chancellor in 1529. However, he resigned in 1532, at the height of his career and reputation, when Henry persisted in holding his own opinions regarding marriage and the supremacy of the Pope. The rest of his life was spent in writing mostly in defense of the Church. In 1534, with his close friend, St. John Fisher, he refused to render allegiance to the King as the Head of the Church of England and was confined to the Tower. Fifteen months later, and nine days after St. John Fisher's execution, he was tried and convicted of treason. He told the court that he could not go against his conscience and wished his judges that "we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together to everlasting salvation." And on the scaffold, he told the crowd of spectators that he was dying as "the King's good servant-but God's first." He was beheaded on July 6, 1535. His feast day is June 22nd.
(Emphasis added)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why Catholics Can't Be Masons

There's a nice article on this subject in Our Sunday Visitor here. Here's an excerpt from the article:

The Craft

Freemasons pretend to preserve ancient secrets handed down from the builders of Solomon's Temple and pagan mystery cults via the medieval Knights Templar. Some have even tried to claim Adam, Noah and St. John the Evangelist as Brother Masons. They offer "light" unobtainable elsewhere that will perfect the initiate and improve society. Their foremost modern commentator, Henry Wilson Coil, describes Freemasonry as "a system of morality and social ethics, a primitive religion and a philosophy of life."

But the real origins of the Craft - as Masonic historians now admit - lie in Renaissance esotericism, injected into the guild traditions that had been developed by medieval stoneworkers. Inspired by interest in the symbolic possibilities of architecture, "nonoperatives"(men who weren't actually stonemasons by profession) began to enter workmen's lodges in Scotland around 1600. The lodges themselves had just been turned into permanent organizations by the king's chief builder, a Catholic named William Schaw.

Lodges of "nonoperative" or "speculative" Freemasons appeared in England by the 1640s, attracting gentry and intellectuals of varying religions to the Craft. In 1717, four London lodges united as the Grand Lodge of England, which issued constitutions in 1723 and became the "Mother Lodge" of all "regular" Masons. Spreading throughout the world, the Craft reached the European continent by 1721 and America by 1730.....

Church and the Lodge

No pope has ever been a Mason. The Catholic Church has warily monitored Freemasonry from the time it penetrated Europe. In 1738, Pope Clement XII condemned the Craft for its dependence on mere natural virtue while ignoring Christ's unique role as Savior. He also denounced the rash oaths it demanded of members to protect trivial Lodge secrets.

Catholics who joined the Masons were excommunicated, with reconciliation reserved to the pope. This decree had little effect, however, because it wasn't published in every land, nor was it always taken seriously where it was published. Eight subsequent popes would have to repeat the message, most forcefully Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Humanum Genus (On Freemasonry).

Denouncing the Lodge as "a deceitful and crafty enemy," Pope Leo declared, "Let no man think that he may for any reason whatsoever join the Masonic sect, if he values his Catholic name and his eternal salvation as he ought to value them." The 1917 Code of Canon Law included these stern prohibitions.

After the Second Vatican Council, however, the long hostility between Lodge and Church seemed to be easing. A reinterpretation of the anti-Masonic canons in 1974 led some Catholics to think that only Masonic groups actively plotting against the Church were forbidden to them.

Even so, some Freemasons had actually been plotting against the Vatican through its bank. In 1981, two of the pope's top financial advisers - known all along as Masons - were unmasked as members of a secret Lodge called Propaganda Due that was plotting a fascist takeover of Italy. Both men later died mysteriously. The Vaticanlost $240,000 with the collapse of its bank.

Changing views

Rome's softer view of Masonry was abruptly reversed in 1981 just before the financial scandal broke. Although the current Code of Canon Law issued in 1983 fails to mention the Craft by name, in the same year the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith firmly reiterated the original ban:

"The Church's negative position on Masonic associations therefore remains unaltered since their principles have always been regarded as irreconcilable with the Church's doctrine."

U.S. bishops reported the same conclusion in 1985: One cannot be both a Catholic and a Freemason.

A number of Christians from other traditions agree in their condemnation of Freemasonry, including many Lutherans, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Baptists and Orthodox believers of the Holy Synod of Greece. Even the Mormons, whose rituals show Masonic influence, condemn the Craft.

In truth, the Church and Lodge can never be reconciled. Freemasonry teaches a rival religion of naturalism, regardless of whether it plots, persecutes, blasphemes, engages in philanthropy or behaves politely.

Though professing to tolerate all religions as equal, Masonry claims to offer wisdom superior to any of them. It promises a gnostic brand of salvation through secret knowledge guarded by blood-curdling oaths. Its Great Architect of the universe is not our Triune Christian God.

You can read the whole thing here. If you are a Catholic male and looking for a fraternal organization, then consider joining the Knights of Columbus.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Is Catholic-Orthodox Unity in Sight?

That's the query made in a recent post on National Catholic Register's website :
Is Catholic-Orthodox Unity in Sight?
Monday, September 14, 2009 11:10 AM

The Catholic Archbishop of Moscow has given a remarkably upbeat assessment of relations with the Orthodox Church, saying unity between Catholics and Orthodox could be achieved “within a few months.”

In an interview today in Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi said the miracle of reunification “is possible, indeed it has never been so close.” The archbishop added that Catholic-Orthodox reunification, the end of the historic schism that has divided them for a millennium, and spiritual communion between the two churches “could happen soon, also within a few months.”

“Basically we were united for a thousand years,” Archbishop Pezzi said. “Then for another thousand we were divided. Now the path to rapprochement is at its peak, and the third millennium of the Church could begin as a sign of unity.” He said there were “no formal obstacles” but that “everything depends on a real desire for communion.”

On the part of the Catholic Church, he added, “the desire is very much alive.”

Archbishop Pezzi, 49, whose proper title is Metropolitan Archbishop of the Mother of God Archdiocese in Moscow, said that now there are “no real obstacles” on the path towards full communion and reunification. On issues of modernity, Catholics and Orthodox Christians feel the same way, he said: “Nothing separates us on bioethics, the family, and the protection of life.”

Also on matters of doctrine, the two churches are essentially in agreement. “There remains the question of papal primacy,” Archbishop Pezzi acknowledged, “and this will be a concern at the next meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox Commission. But to me, it doesn’t seem impossible to reach an agreement.”

Prospects for union with the Orthodox have increased markedly in recent years with the election of Pope Benedict XVI, whose work as a theologian in greatly admired in Orthodox circles. Benedict is also without the burden of the difficult political history between Poland and Russia, which hindered Polish Pope John Paul II from making as much progress as he would have liked regarding Catholic-Orthodox unity.

Relations have also been greatly helped by the election of Patriarch Kirill I earlier this year as leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is by far the largest of the national churches in the Orthodox Church. As the former head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external relations, Kirill met Benedict on several occasions before and after he became Pope, and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch is well acquainted with the Roman Curia and with Catholicism.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Great Time at EWTN

What a terrific 36 hours at EWTN. On Monday morning I spent some time in the EWTN gift shop, purchasing a St. Thomas Aquinas lapel pin and a St. Francis Mass Card, both of which were on my person during the broadcast of The Journey Home. I went to confession at 11 am and then went to Mass at 12 noon at EWTN's Chapel.

I spent some time with Marcus Grodi before and after the broadcast of The Journey Home. We also shared a meal with my friend, Mary C. Moorman (the September 28 guest who was there for the taping of her episode), her friend, Carrie (a delightful woman with a terrific sense of humor), and Fr. Mitch Pacwa, host of EWTN Live. Among the many things discussed with Fr. Pacwa over dinner was the story of St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunting. What he didn't tell us, and what I know now, is that St. Hubert's feast day is my birthday, November 3.

(The photo is of my sister's son, Michael, touching the television screen as his Uncle Frank pontificates on The Journey Home last night).

(UPDATE: You may now watch the interview here)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Live Stream of Journey Home interview

This evening--at 8 pm EDT--I will be a guest on EWTN's The Journey Home. If you do not have access to EWTN, you may watch the show online while it is broadcast this evening. You can access the live stream here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What's the Debate About?: An Essay on Abortion

Focus on the Family recently published a small booklet (accessible as a PDF online) called the 2009 Sanctity of Life Guide. An essay of mine, “What’s the Debate About ?," appears in it. (It is on pages 2 and 3, or you can access it directly here). My essay was originally published online on under the title, “Who and What Are We? (What the Abortion Debate Is Really About)" (29 September 2005). (Disclaimer: Linking to the 2009 Sanctity of Life Guide does not imply or suggest my endorsement of the entirety of the work’s contents).

Here's how my essay begins:

Abortion is an issue over which Americans are deeply divided, and there is little chance that this discord will be remedied anytime soon. Each side of this cultural divide consists of citizens sincere in their convictions. But the passions that fuel these convictions about abortion often distract us from understanding the issues that really divide us.

Now it may seem odd to say "the issues that really divide us," since it seems obvious to most people that what divides us is in fact only one issue, abortion. But that is misleading. After all, if abortion did not result in the death of an unborn human being, the controversy would either cease entirely or diminish significantly. So, what we disagree over is not really abortion. But rather, our disagreement is over the nature of the being whose life abortion terminates, the unborn.

But there is another issue that percolates beneath the abortion debate: What does it mean to say that something is wrong? Suppose, for example, you are arguing with a friend over the question of whether abortion should remain legal, and your friend says to you, "If you don't like abortion, then don't have one." Although this is a common response, it really is a strange one. After all, you probably oppose abortion because you think it is wrong, not because you dislike it.

You can read the whole thing here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Journey Home: September 14, 2009

I will be a guest on EWTN's The Journey Home on September 14. It is broadcast at 8 pm EDT.

This is the second time I will have appeared on the program. The first time was on September 24, 2007. You can find a video of that episode here.

Coincidentally, my friend, Mary C. Moorman, a lawyer and theologian, will be a guest on The Journey Home two weeks later on September 28. Mary is a former Presbyterian and Anglican. She is also a former student of my long-time and dear friend Michael Bauman (Professor of Theology & Culture, Hillsdale College).

(Originally posted on Southern Appeal)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Christianity Today on George-Beckwith dialogue at Wheaton College

On September 8 Christianity Today published a story about the dialogue in which Timothy George and I participated last Thursday at Wheaton College (in Illinois). You can read the story here.

Here's an excerpt:
Beckwith frequently appealed to experience when navigating the more treacherous terrain still separating Catholics from Protestants. He described a renewed spiritual life since he resumed practicing Catholic disciplines. Despite evident gifting and training in apologetics, Beckwith said he no longer worries so much about winning every argument. Now he is more willing to live with mystery. Speaking in a warm, personal tone, Beckwith worked to avoid antagonizing the mostly Protestant crowd that filled Wheaton's Edman Chapel.

"God's grace is meant not only to save me but transform me from the inside out," Beckwith said. "Protestants describe something similar as sanctification."

Read the whole thing here. A video of the dialogue has been posted online here.

"Agnosticism" in the New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement 2009

About two years ago I was invited to revise an extended entry that appeared in previous editions of The New Catholic Encyclopedia. The entry, "Agnosticism," has just been published. My contributions and additions to it are far from extensive, though I am listed as the co-author with the original author, the late Maurice Redmond Holloway SJ. Here is the entry's citation: Maurice Redmond Holloway SJ and Francis J. Beckwith, “Agnosticism," The New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement 2009, 2 volumes, ed, Robert L. Fastiggi (Detroit: Gale, 2009), I: 5-10.

You can find it on my website here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Can You Be Catholic and Evangelical?: The Penner Foundation Dialogue, September 3, 2009, at Wheaton College (The Video)

Last Thursday, September 3, I participated in a public dialogue with my friend Timothy George, Dean of the Beeson Divinity School at Samford University (Birmingham, Alabama). Entitled, "Can You Be Catholic and Evangelical?," it took place at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. A video of the event is now online. You can find it here.

There are many people that made this event possible, including my friend, Timothy George, who is an exemplar of deep learning and Christian charity. Another friend, Chris Castaldo, a pastor at College Church in Wheaton, did an outstanding job in moderating this dialogue. And if not for the generosity of the Penner family, this event would not have been possible. They deserve special thanks for their unyielding support of Wheaton's Christian mission. And, as has always been my experience at that institution, its leadership's professionalism and hospitality could not have been bettered. It was a delight to meet both President Duane Litfin as well as Dr. Vincent Bacote, Director of the Wheaton Center for Applied Christian Ethics, the academic unit that sponsored the event. Thank you.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The tracklisting of Bob Dylan's forthcoming Christmas Album, Christmas In the Heart

Found it here, just moments ago.

Here Comes Santa Claus
Do You Hear What I Hear?
Winter Wonderland
Hark The Herald Angels Sing
I'll Be Home For Christmas
Little Drummer Boy
The Christmas Blues
O' Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Must Be Santa
Silver Bells
The First Noel
Christmas Island
The Christmas Song
O' Little Town Of Bethlehem

Friday, September 4, 2009

Pick Up Your Cross: A Poem

As I share in chapter 2 of Return To Rome, I wrote a lot poetry when I was younger. (In fact, I put some of them to music I composed). Lately, I've been inspired to write again. Here's something I wrote on the plane from Chicago to Houston this afternoon:

Pick Up Your Cross
by Francis J. Beckwith

St. Hermit tenders heaven’s gate
With a promised journey absent of frieght

As if eternity were mine by right
As if darkness were just a darkened light
As if the whole point were a race from sorrow
As if today’s end depended on tomorrow

Ye shall know the truth; it will set you free
Pick up your cross and follow me.

Your father’s Nicea; it’s true, I swear
He sired a creed, and you’re the creed’s heir

No good is alone in the Kingdom of Christ
Neither man nor God, the latter is thrice
He is the vine and we are the branches
If heaven were Texas, it would have many ranches.

Ye shall know the truth; it will set you free
Pick up your cross and follow me.

St. Narcissus with a pail of detergent
With cultural bleach that makes him emergent

As if incense were ecclesial perfume
As if cremation unwhitewashes a tomb.
As if the mortal does not die and corrode
As if to a nurf tree Christ had been velcroed

Ye shall know the truth; it will set you free
Pick up your cross and follow me.

© 2009 Francis J. Beckwith

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Is Calvinism Semi-Pelagian?

Yesterday, I linked to an outstanding blog post authored by Tim Troutman at Called to Communion, "Is the Catholic Church Semi-Pelagian?" As Troutman points out, the charge of Semi-Pelagianism would be laughable if it were not repeated so often by some Calvinist thinkers who should know better.

Ironically, there is a sense in which Calvinism is Semi-Pelagian. As I write in Return to Rome:
My study of the Fathers led me to re-examine the Canons of the Council of Orange (AD 529), which, with papal sanction, rejected as heretical Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. Having its origin in the Catholic monk Pelagius (ca. 354–ca. 420/440), the first heresy affirms that human beings do not inherit Adam’s sin (and thus denies the doctrine of original sin) and by their free will may achieve salvation without God’s grace. On the other hand, semi-Pelagianism maintains that a human being, though weakened by original sin, may make the initial act of will toward achieving salvation prior to receiving the necessary assistance of God’s grace. The Council of Orange, in contrast, argued that Adam’s original sin is inherited by his progeny and can only be removed by the sacrament of Baptism. By the means of Baptism God’s unmerited grace is infused for the remission of sins. Then the Christian’s sanctification continues throughout his lifetime, entirely the work of the infusion of grace with which the Christian cooperates, for the Christian “does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it.” Even though Protestant thinkers sometimes portray the Council of Orange’s canons as a sort of paleo-Reformed document, it is the Reformation notion of imputed righteousness that, ironically, puts the Reformers partially in the Pelagian camp. This is because the Reformers and Pelagians agree that God’s infused grace is not necessary for justification.