Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween and Reformation Day: Culling Two Rites with One Squash

That's Ray Van Neste of Union University holding a Luther-o-Latern. Ray's a terrific guy who teaches at a university that includes some of my favorite people including Micah Watson, Justin Bernard, C. Ben Mitchell, Greg Thornbury, and its president David Dockery.

Reformation Day 2009: Is the Reformation Over?

Today, October 31, is Reformation Day, a day on which many Protestants commemorate Martin Luther's nailing of his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral on October 31, 1517. Writes Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft, "The Protestant Reformation began when a Catholic monk rediscovered a Catholic doctrine in a Catholic book. The monk, of course, was Luther; the doctrine was justification by faith; and the book was the Bible."

In 2005, Baker Book House published Is The Reformation Over?: An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism, authored by the eminent historian Mark A. Noll and journalist Carolyn Nystrom. It was one of the many works that I read on my journey back to the Catholic Church. As I write in chapter 5 of Return to Rome:
Although this led me to read other sources including the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church, I also read several reviews of the Noll/Nystrom book, one of which was written by Carl R. Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. I single out this review because of its concluding paragraph, which rocked me to the core:
When I finished reading the book, I have to confess that I agreed with the authors, in that it does indeed seem that the Reformation is over for large tracts of evangelicalism; yet the authors themselves do not draw the obvious conclusion from their own arguments. Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination, let alone the strange hybrid that is evangelicalism; in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day. It would seem, however, that if Noll and Nystrom are correct, many who call themselves evangelical really lack any good reason for such an act of will; and the obvious conclusion, therefore, should be that they do the decent thing and rejoin the Roman Catholic Church. I cannot go down that path myself, primarily because of my view of justification by faith and because of my ecclesiology; but those who reject the former and lack the latter have no real basis upon which to perpetuate what is, in effect, an act of schism on their part. For such, the Reformation is over; for me, the fat lady has yet to sing; in fact, I am not sure at this time that she has even left her dressing room. (emphasis added)

Professor Trueman’s reasoning would serve as a catalyst for reorienting my sense of whether the Catholic Church or I had the burden in justifying the schism in which I had remained for over thirty years.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Not All Evangelicals and Catholics Together"

That's the title of a new Christianity Today online piece authored by Collin Hansen. Here's how it begins:
An InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter can look very different in the fall than it did the previous spring. But the chapter at George Washington University (GWU) in the nation's capital is dealing with change of a more uncomfortable kind than absent graduates and incoming freshmen.

Shortly before students left for summer vacation, the D.C. chapter split when all ten student leaders resigned to form a new campus ministry called University Christian Fellowship. More than half of the chapter's roughly 100 students joined them. At issue was student leaders' worry that the national ministry confuses the gospel by cooperating with Roman Catholics, and has a mission statement that Catholics could sign without violating church teaching on the doctrine of justification—how sinners are declared righteous before God.

Over the past decade, justification has become one of the most hotly debated doctrines at conservative Protestant theology conferences and in the catalogs of highbrow Christian publishers. But it has almost entirely stayed in the academy and a handful of churches and denominations. The GWU clash suggests the debate may divide parachurch ministries and reshape evangelicals' relationship with the Roman Catholic Church.

You can read the rest of it here.

Guy Davies' review of Return to Rome, part 2

Although I do not plan on responding to Mr. Davies' sequel, I do think that readers of the Return to Rome Blog should get a glimpse on how someone can offer a critical review without sounding mean, nasty, or snarky. To find part 2, go here. For part 1, go here. For my response to part 1, go here.

It is my hope and prayer that I can emulate in my own Christian practice the sort of virtues that I have found in Mr. Davies' public example.

Me and Sola Scriptura: My reply to Guy Davies

As I have already mentioned, Guy Davies, at Exiled Preacher, has reviewed Return to Rome. In his review, he suggests that my rejection of sola scriptura was really a rejection of a fundamentalist biblicism and not really a rejection of the Reformed doctrine. He writes:

Increasingly Beckwith struggled with the Protestant teaching of sola scriptura, finding the Catholic teaching where God reveals himself through Holy Scripture and the traditions of the Church more appealing. Of course, if Church teaching is a source of continuing revelation alongside Scripture, then it doesn't matter that certain Catholic dogmas can't be found in the Bible. On that basis the primacy of the Pope, purgatory, the Marian doctrines and so on may be accepted simply as the authoritative dogmas of the Church. The fact that they have no evident biblical foundation is besides the point. The Church has infallibly pronounced that these dogmas must be accepted by the faithful and that's that. However, it might be objected that Beckwith has not properly understood what the Reformers meant by sola scriptura. He seems to have had a rather biblicist understanding of the doctrine that excludes the role of the church as reader and teacher of Holy Scripture. By sola scriptura, the Reformers did not mean to separate the Bible from the Church. Rather they insisted that the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture is the supreme authority in the Church. The Church has ministerial authority to interpret and bear witness to the message of the Bible, but the Church and her traditions remain under the critical authority of God's written Word. The Church may restate the teaching of Scripture using other than biblical language in order to make its message plain, but she cannot add to God's self-revelation in Holy Scripture.
I can see why Mr. Davies interprets my work this way. However, I do address in Return to Rome the distinction he makes between biblicist and Reformed views of sola scriptura. (Admittedly, I may have not done it very well, and for that I take full responsibility). I confess in the book that I found the sola scriptura of the Magisterial Reformation far more compelling than the sort found among many American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists (which Mr. Davies refers to as "biblicism," if I understand him correctly).

Here is what I in fact write in chapter 5 of Return to Rome:
One may wonder where the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (or “Scripture alone”) factored in all this. To be blunt, it didn’t. Primarily because over the years I could not find an understanding or definition of sola scriptura I found convincing enough that did not have to be so qualified that it seemed to be more a slogan than a standard. Here is the way sola scriptura is defined in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646):

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men.[i]

This was published long after the deaths of Martin Luther (1483–1546) and John Calvin (1509–1564). The Reformation churches had been firmly established for many decades. It was a product of what has been called “Reformed scholasticism,” and did not exhibit the more historically oriented understanding of sola scriptura that one finds in Luther and Calvin. As my Baptist Baylor colleague, D. H. Williams, points out, the “Magisterial Reformers such as Luther and Calvin did not think of sola scriptura as something that could be properly understood apart from the church or the foundational tradition of the church, even while they were opposing some of the institutions of the church.”[ii] This is why I found their sola scriptura views to be much more sensible than what I found among many contemporary Evangelical Protestants, who had imbibed far too much of the spirit of Reformed scholasticism. My Evangelical Protestant contemporaries seemed to treat the Bible as if it could be read as an authoritative depositary of orthodox doctrine apart from the historic church and the formation of Christian theology during the early centuries of its existence. The whole idea that, according to the Westminster Confession, one may “deduce” necessary doctrines from “Scripture” treats theology as if it were a branch of mathematics. It’s as if the Reformed scholastics were anticipating the nineteenth-century legal formalists of whom Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. would write, “I once heard a very eminent judge say that he never let a decision go until he was absolutely sure that it was right. So judicial dissent often is blamed, as if it meant simply that one side or the other were not doing their sums right, and if they would take more trouble, agreement inevitably would come.”[iii]

But as I slowly and unconsciously moved toward Catholicism in the early 2000s, I began to even find the sola scriptura of the Magisterial Reformation not entirely satisfactory. It seemed to me to subtlety and unconsciously incorporate into its theological framework all the doctrines that sola scriptura, without a settled canon or authoritative creedal traditions, could have never produced out of whole cloth without the benefit of a Holy Spirit-directed ecclesiastical infrastructure. It brought to mind what the philosopher Bertrand Russell said of the advantages of “the method of ‘postulating’”: “they are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil.”[iv]

Many of the contemporary Evangelical Protestants I read offered understandings of sola scriptura that were based on less than convincing biblical exegesis, [v] or implicitly or explicitly relied on extra-scriptural support to justify either the scope of the biblical canon[vi] or essential doctrines that are not easily derived from Scripture without the necessary assistance of philosophical and theological categories arrived at through the development of doctrine that arose alongside, and in accordance with, the formation of the canon.[vii] John Henry Cardinal Newman, for instance, asks us to consider just the doctrine of the Trinity as articulated in the Athanasian Creed:

Is this to be considered as a mere peculiarity or no? Apparently a peculiarity; for on the one hand it is not held by all Protestants, and next, it is not brought out in form in Scripture. First, the word Trinity is not in Scripture. Next I ask, How many of the verses of the Athanasian Creed are distinctly set down in Scripture? and further, take particular portions of the doctrine, viz., that Christ is co-eternal with the Father, that the Holy Ghost is God, or that the Holy Ghost proceedeth from the Father and the Son, and consider the kind of texts and the modes of using them, by which the proof is built up. Yet is there a more sacred, a more vital doctrine in the circle of the articles of faith than that of the Holy Trinity?[viii]

In any event, I had for some time accepted a weak form of sola scriptura: any doctrine or practice inconsistent with Scripture must be rejected, though it does not follow that any doctrine or practice not explicitly stated in Scripture must suffer the same fate, for the doctrine or practice may be essential to Christian orthodoxy. This seemed to me to be the only defensible understanding of sola scriptura, though it certainly left much to be desired.

When all was said and done, and given these reasons--which I could have offered in greater detail if not for the book's modest purpose--I found the Protestant view of Scripture far less plausible than the Catholic view. Hence, I write in chapter 7 of Return to Rome:

According to the [Catholic] Church, the Bible itself, though infallible, arose from the life of the Church, in its liturgical practices and theological reflections. It is a source of theological truth, to be sure, and uniquely the Word of God written. But the Church maintains, quite sensibly, that the Bible cannot be read in isolation from the historic Church and the practices [and beliefs] that were developing [e.g., purgatory, praying for the dead, penance, Eucharistic realism, etc.] alongside the Church’s creeds—creeds that became permanent benchmarks of orthodoxy during the same eras in which the canon of Scripture itself was finally fixed. [ix] So, for the Catholic, the Magesterium and the Papacy are limited by both Scripture and a particular understanding of Christian doctrine, forged by centuries of debate and reflection, and, in many cases, fixed by ecumenical councils. Consequently, the Catholic Church and its leadership are far more constrained from doctrinal innovation than the typical Evangelical megachurch pastor.

Oddly enough, Mr. Davies seems to make my point for me:
Beckwith suggests that in speaking of deduction, the WCF views theology almost as "branch of mathematics". He alleges the Puritans who drew up the confession used Scripture as a repository of truths from which principles could be logically deduced, sidelining the confessional heritage of the Church (p. 80). But this is not the case. The Westminster Confession deliberately incorporates the insights of earlier creedal documents. For all its Puritan distinctives, at heart the confession a work of Catholic theology. Its statement on the Trinity (Chapter II) bears all the hallmarks of Nicean orthodoxy. Its chapter on Christ the Mediator (VIII) freely uses the language of the Definition of Chalcedon. Its doctrine of sin and salvation is positively Augustinian (chapters IX-XVIII).
What I am suggesting in Return to Rome is that the Nicean orthodoxy offered by the Puritan divines was only possible because they had the benefit of a Spirit-directed Magisterium that had secured this orthodoxy as normative over 12 centuries prior to the Westminster Confession of Faith. But, like flowers picked from the ground and admired for their beauty, these doctrines, removed from the Church in which they developed and were nurtured, began to whither and die. Eventually, the spirit of protestation culturally institutionalized by Luther and Calvin and their followers throughout Europe (and subsequently in the New World) produced scores of offshoots and strange sects whose theologians and leaders pruned the faith even more, leading to everything from Unitarianism to Liberal Protestantism, encompassing everyone from Campbellites to anti-creedal Baptists, each claiming in its (or his) own way to be a consequence of sola scriptura.

Thus, for me, it seemed that the Catholic account of doctrinal development and ecclesial authority had much more explanatory power (in comparison to the standard Reformed narrative) to account for much of what Evangelical Protestants firmly believe is the only reasonable reading of the Bible on matters concerning God, Christ, and the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Not only that, the Catholic account makes better sense of the complexities of the life of faith by offering a soteriology that affirms both God's sovereignty as well as the opportunity Christ's love affords us to participate in the divine life. It rejects as artificial bifurcations the "dilemmas" that are the woof and warp of most Protestant theologies: God's sovereignty v. Man's autonomy, faith v. works, Scripture v. tradition, body v. soul, nature v. grace. It sees the Church and its theology as an organism whose parts work in concert for the benefit of the whole rather than as a machine whose parts have no organic relation to the whole or each other. This is why the Catholic cannot pick and choose his theology as if he were buying a computer and deciding to purchase or reject certain components or software. Consequently, in the Catholic Church, though one encounters a range of opinions on a variety of issues, one will find no "five views," "four views" or "three views" books, like one finds in the world of sola scriptura, on the most important aspects of the Christian life and its relationship to God, e.g., divine foreknowledge, church government, law and gospel, baptism, divorce and remarriage, women's ordination, sanctification, Christian worship, and the Lord's Supper.

So, at the end of the day, it seemed to me that the greatness I found in Protestantism could only be accounted for by Catholicism.


[i]The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), chapter I, sec. VI, available at (19 April 2008)

[ii]D. H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 97.

[iii]Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The Path of the Law,” Harvard Law Review 10 (1897)

[iv]Bertrand Russell, Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1919; reprinted 1993), 71. Nevertheless, I am still convinced that the sola scriptura of the Magisterial Reformers is really the only coherent Protestant view that has the theological resources to ward off the ahistorical individualism of the isolated Christian whose “Bible” becomes a reservoir of proof-texts for one’s dogmatic proclivities (or what Keith Mathison calls solo scriptura). See Mathison’s thoughtful tome, The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Moscow, ID: Canon, 2001), 346–47.

[v]For example, consider the verses in II Timothy that are often employed as part of a biblical case for sola scriptura: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (3:16–17–TNIV). No doubt that if sola scriptura is true, this isolated passage would at best lend support for it or at worst not be inconsistent with it. But it certainly does not establish it. For this reason, it is difficult to see how one can get the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura out of this passage. (See Craig A. Allert, A High View of Scripture: The Authority of the Bible and the Formation of the New Testament [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007], 150–152).

The wider context of this passage is also problematic for a Reformed understanding of sola scriptura. In verse 13 St. Paul contrasts St. Timothy with “evildoers and imposters” and then in verses 14 and 15 pleads with him to “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through Christ Jesus.” St. Paul then makes a general claim about Scripture as “God-breathed,” as well as being “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (v. 16). What stands out is that St. Paul’s instructions include appeals to tradition: his own teachings as well as what St. Timothy “has learned…because” he “know[s] those from whom” he “learned it.” These instructions are so that St. Timothy may live a life of holiness (“training in righteousness”), fidelity to the Christian faith (“continue in what you have learned and become convinced of”), and good works. To be sure, Scripture is useful in equipping St. Timothy, but it is not isolated from the Church and the traditions that contributed to St. Timothy’s spiritual development. Thus, it is difficult to see how one can get the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura out of II Tim. 3:16–17 when its wider context is taken into account.

[vi]Because there can be no scriptural test for canonicity unless one first knows what constitutes Scripture, one must rely on extra-scriptural tests in order to know the scriptura to which sola scriptura refers. But then one is not actually relying on “Scripture alone” to determine the most fundamental standard for the Christian, the Bible. This means that sola scriptura is a first-order principle whose content must be determined by one or more second-order extra-scriptural principle(s).

[vii]This is a bit dicey, since it was only local, and not ecumenical, councils that provided an official list of canonical books in the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 5th centuries. Kelly notes that the canon was recognized by the local councils of Hippo (A.D. 393) and Carthage III (AD 397) as well as “in the famous letter which Pope Innocent I dispatched to Exuperius, bishop of Toulouse, in 405.” (J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. ed. [San Francisco: HarperOne, 1978], 56)

[viii]John Henry Cardinal Newman, Discussions and Arguments on Various Subjects (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1907), 144–145.

[ix]“Read the Scripture within `the living Tradition of the whole Church.” Catechism of the Catholic Church: Revised in Accordance With the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2000), 113

(combox closed)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Catholic Encyclopedia on "Catholic" and "Roman Catholic"

Consider this the secundae partis of a prior entry on this blog. Under the entry, "Roman Catholic," The Catholic Encyclopedia includes these comments:
A qualification of the name Catholic commonly used in English-speaking countries by those unwilling to recognize the claims of the One True Church. Out of condescension for these dissidents, the members of that Church are wont in official documents to be styled "Roman Catholics" as if the term Catholic represented a genus of which those who owned allegiance to the pope formed a particular species. It is in fact a prevalent conception among Anglicans to regard the whole Catholic Church as made up of three principal branches, the Roman Catholic, the Anglo-Catholic and the Greek Catholic. As the erroneousness of this point of view has been sufficiently explained in the articles CHURCH and CATHOLIC, it is only needful here to consider the history of the composite term with which we are now concerned.

In the "Oxford English Dictionary", the highest existing authority upon questions of English philology, the following explanation is given under the heading "Roman Catholic".

The use of this composite term in place of the simple Roman, Romanist, or Romish; which had acquired an invidious sense, appears to have arisen in the early years of the seventeenth century. For conciliatory reasons it was employed in the negotiations connected with the Spanish Match (1618-1624) and appears in formal documents relating to this printed by Rushworth (I, 85-89). After that date it was generally adopted as a non-controversial term and has long been the recognized legaland official designation, though in ordinary use Catholic alone is very frequently employed. (New Oxford Dict., VIII, 766)
Of the illustrative quotations which follow, the earliest in date is one of 1605 from the "Europae Speculum" of Edwin Sandys: "Some Roman Catholiques will not say grace when a Protestant is present"; while a passage from Day's "Festivals" of 1615, contrasts "Roman Catholiques" with "good, true Catholiques indeed".
Although the account thus given in the Oxford Dictionary is in substance correct, it cannot be considered satisfactory....
It is noteworthy that the representative Anglican divine, Bishop Andrewes, in his "Tortura Torti" (1609) ridicules the phrase Ecclesia Catholica Romana as a contradiction in terms. "What," he asks, "is the object of adding 'Roman'? The only purpose that such an adjunct can serve is to distinguish your Catholic Church from another Catholic Church which is not Roman" (p. 368). It is this very common line of argument which imposes upon Catholics the necessity of making no compromise in the matter of their own name. The loyal adherents of the Holy See did not begin in the sixteenth century to call themselves "Catholics" for controversial purposes. It is the traditional name handed down to us continuously from the time of St. Augustine. We use this name ourselves and ask those outside the Church to use it, without reference to its signification simply because it is our customary name, just as we talk of the Russian Church as "the Orthodox Church", not because we recognize its orthodoxy but because its members so style themselves, or again just as we speak of "the Reformation" because it is the term established by custom, though we are far from owning that it was a reformation in either faith or morals. The dog-in-the-manger policy of so many Anglicans who cannot take the name of Catholics for themselves, because popular usage has never sanctioned it as such, but who on the other hand will not concede it to the members of the Church of Rome, was conspicuously brought out in the course of a correspondence on this subject in the London "Saturday Review" (Dec., 1908 to March, 1909) arising out of a review of some of the earlier volumes of THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA.
You can read the article in its entirety here.

Five Myths about the Pope’s Anglican Ordinariates

That's the title of a special report published on Authored by Taylor Marshall, here are some excerpts:
As a former Anglican priest myself, I am profoundly grateful for our Holy Father’s generous proposal toward Anglicans, 'that they all might be one' (Jn 17:21)....

Myth #1 The Pope is sheep-stealing

The Pope’s alleged “sheep-stealing” been the most popular subject within the secular media. To them, the Holy Father has launched a media campaign to kick the Anglican Communion while it’s down. The poor Archbishop of Canterbury is struggling to keep things together and then “Bamm!” the Pope surprises everyone with a bid for Anglican souls. However, we must remember that it was Anglicans who pursued the matter with the Holy Father—and we’re not talking about just one or two Anglicans. We are talking about thousands and thousands of Anglicans: bishops, priests, deacons, and laity. Anglican bishops from several nations have sent private letters to the Holy See. Much of this is confidential. They want a way out. They want to become Catholic. The Pope is responding to souls looking to him for guidance. The pope is not stealing sheep—He is holding out his pastoral staff to those sheep looking for protection.

Myth #2 Rome is preparing the world for a general married priesthood

The media also sunk its teeth into the fact that the new Anglican ordinariates would preserve the already recognized discipline of allowing married former-Anglican priests to be ordained as married Catholic priests. This is nothing new. Pope John Paul II approved this measure in 1980 as the “Pastoral Provision.” The new personal ordinariate structure does not change anything. In this regard, nothing is new. I have seen with my own eyes the CDF document from the mid-1980s penned by none other than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger himself. The document clearly states that the Pastoral Provision is approved so long as it does not undermine the Roman discipline of clerical celibacy. Since the man who wrote that statement is now the Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Catholic Church, I doubt that he is prepping everyone for a change in clerical celibacy. Moreover, convert clergy from Anglicanism will be re-ordained, since Rome does not accept the validity of Anglican ordination.

Myth #3 Rome has reconciled itself to the Protestant Reformation

This myth is based on the liturgical norms accepted by Rome for use by Anglican converts. It goes like this: the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is a book of Protestant worship. Rome is now allowing use of its liturgies; therefore, Rome has capitulated to Protestantism. This argument fails to mention that then-Cardinal Ratzinger heavily oversaw the production of the Book of Divine Worship—the approved set of liturgies for Anglican convert parishes. Protestant elements were expunged (e.g. Thomas Cranmer’s consecration prayer), and good elements were retained. The Book of Divine Worship is a “sanitized” version of the Book of Common Prayer, and I suspect that future revisions will be even more traditional in their formulas....

You can read the whole thing here.

The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity

That's the name of the latest book by my friend, Taylor Marshall, one of the outstanding bloggers at Called to Communion. Here's what says about the book:
How does Jesus fulfill over three hundred Old Testament Prophecies? (each one listed inside this book) Is Catholicism inherently Anti-Semitic? Do the Hebrew Scriptures accurately predict Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah? How does Jewish thinking presuppose devotion to Mary? Is the Catholic Church a fulfillment of historic Israel? How did the Israelite identity of the twelve Apostles influence the early Church? How do Jewish water rituals relate to Catholic baptism? Is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass a Passover meal? Should the Catholic priesthood conform to the priesthood established by Moses? How has the Jewish Temple influenced traditional Christian architecture? Does the Pope wear a yarmulke? These and other questions are answered in this book.

Praise for The Crucified Rabbi:

"John Henry Newman famously said 'To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.' Taylor Marshall helps us to be more Catholic by taking our faith to its most profound depths -- its ancient roots in the religion of Israel, the Judaism beloved by the Apostles, the religion of the Temple and Synagogue, the Torah and the sacrifice. Jesus said he came not to abolish that faith but to fulfill it. In this book, we see that fullness down to the smallest details. I treasure this book." --Mike Aquilina, author of The Fathers of the Church

I am so thankful for having found a complimentary copy of the book in my mailbox yesterday. I look forward to reading it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Latest review of Return to Rome

It is by Guy Davies at Exiled Preacher. He is critical of my thinking on sola scriptura. It is, however, a fair-minded review. Read it here.

The Endorsement Test and the "God's Eye Point of View"

In November 2004 the board of the Dover Area School District of Pennsylvania formulated and promulgated a policy that required Dover High School ninth grade biology teachers to read in class a series of brief paragraphs:
The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.

The policy never took effect. Soon after the school board’s action, several parents of Dover school children, assisted by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, brought suit against the school district. These citizens argued that the policy violated the establishment clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment. Federal Districtt Court Judge E. Jones, III, agreed, and ruled in their favor.

Regardless of where one may stand on the court’s ruling, it is clear that the Dover disclaimer is poorly worded and pedagogically weak. (1) It implies that Darwinism is a theory about “the origin of life.” But that is at best misleading if it is referring to biological evolution, which concerns how living things that already exist change over time. (2) Its claim that evolution is “not a fact” is inconsistent with the school board’s call for it students to “keep an open mind.” The board cannot say that evolution is not a fact and at the same time suggest to students that they should have an open mind on the subject, since having an open mind requires that they critically consider the possibility that evolution is a fact.

As for Judge Jones’ opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005), there is an ironic aspect of it that to my knowledge no one has drawn attention. It has to do with the judge’s application of what has come to be kown as “the endorsement test.” First proposed by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in Lynch v. Donnely (1984), the test stipulates that if a government action creates a perception that it is either endorsing or disfavoring a religion, the action is unconstitutional. The concern of this test is whether the disputed activity suggests "a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community." However, who counts as a “nonadherent” has seemed to change. In Lynch Justice O’Connor suggests that nonadherents are “ordinary citizens,” actual flesh and blood human beings, who are the recipients of the government’s message. In a subsequent case, Wallace v. Jaffre (1985), she proposes a type of “reasonable person standard,” suggesting that the nonadherent is an objective observer fully informed of all the facts: “The relevant issue is whether an objective observer, acquainted with the text, legislative history, and implementation of the statute, would perceive it as a state endorsement of prayer in public schools.” Thus, a law may pass or fail the endorsement test depending on who (or what) counts as a nonadherent.

After offering a survey of the history of the endorsement test and how it developed over time, Judge Jones moves on to “ascertain whether the ID Policy `in fact conveys a message of endorsement or disapproval’ of religion, with the reasonable, objective observer being the hypothetical construct to consider this issue.” Accepting Justice O’Conner’s more abstract definition of a “reasonable, objective observer” (or ROO) from her Wallace opinion, Judge Jones defines the ROO for the purposes of the Dover policy as one “who knows the policy’s language, origins, and legislative history, as well as the history of the community and the broader social and historical context in which the policy arose.”

Judge Jones then offers an extensive presentation of what the ROO would know in order for the ROO to conclude that the Dover policy violates the endorsement test. Although the judge does conclude that an ROO would see the Dover policy as establishing religion, it is a deeper, more philosophical, question that I wish to draw your attention to here: What precisely is a rational, objective observer (or ROO), and why is it apparently so useful to jurists?

The ROO is a sort of person who, if he really existed, would exhibit ideal epistemological excellence. He would not be limited by biases, prejudices, or ignorance. His reasoning powers would not only be functioning properly, but the environment in which he would issue his judgment would contribute to, rather than, interfere with this judgment. And it would be a judgment that could never be wrong, for not only would he not have any internal or external impediments or limitations, he would have inerrant knowledge of all the relevant facts—e.g., legislative history, policy’s cultural context—required to make a just ruling. The ROO, of course, is a hypothetical construct and not a real person. But yet, its explanatory power depends on the judge taking the finite, ordinary, and limited abilities, powers, and knowledge that human beings possess and suggesting to his readers a hypothetical person who possesses perfect versions of these attributes. These perfections, apparently, are not the deliverances of direct empirical observation, since there is no person on earth who possesses or has possessed these attributes at their highest levels. Oddly enough, this exercise of predicating perfected attributes of the ROO is similar to how St. Thomas, in Summa Contra Gentiles, suggests Christians ought to predicate the attributes of God.: “Inasmuch as every perfection of the creature may be found in God, although in another and a more excellent way, it follows that whatever names absolutely denote perfection without defect, are predicated of God and of other beings, as for instance, 'goodness,' 'wisdom,' 'being,' and the like.” And even more strangely, the ROO would seemingly possess what the philosopher Hilary Putnam calls a “God’s Eye point of view”: “One of these perspectives is the perspective of metaphysical realism. On this perspective, the world consists of some fixed totality of mind-independent objects. There is exactly one true and complete description of `the way the world is.’… I shall call this perspective the externalist perspective, because its favorite point of view is a God’s Eye point of view.” Thus, in order to expunge the divine, or at least allusions to Him, from the public schools, Judge Jones requires the divine’s assistance, or at least the assistance of a hypothetical deity. So it is only with the help of “God” that a judge may banish God from a corner of public life. It does not get more ironic than that.

*This blog entry is excerpted and adapted from a 16,000-word article, “How to Be An Anti-Intelligent Design Advocate,” that will appear in the St. Thomas Journal of Law & Public Policy 4.1 (2010)

Monday, October 26, 2009

G. K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion

During my three days at Franciscan University (22-25 October 2009), I bought several items at its bookstore. One of them is G. K. Chesterton's The Catholic Church and Conversion (Ignatius Press, 2006) I read the book during my plane ride back to Texas. I highly recommend it. Here is an excerpt that reflects in many ways the "first stage" of my own return to the Church:

It is my experience that the convert commonly passes through three stages or states of mind. The first is when he imagines himself to be entirely detached, or even to be entirely indifferent, but in the old sense of the term, as when the Prayer Book talks of judges who will truly and indifferently administer justice. Some flippant modern person would probably agree that our judges administer justice very indifferently. But the older meaning was legitimate and even logical and it is that which is applicable here.

The first phase is that of the young philosopher who feels that he ought to be fair to the Church of Rome. He wishes to do it justice; but chiefly because he sees that it suffers injustice. I remember that when I was first on the Daily News, the great Liberal organ of the Nonconformists, I took the trouble to draw up a list of fifteen falsehoods which I found out, by my own personal knowledge, in a denunciation of Rome by Messrs. Horton and Hocking. I noted, for instance, that it was nonsense to say that the Covenanters fought for religious liberty when the Covenant denounced religious toleration; that it was false to say the Church only asked for orthodoxy and was indifferent to morality, since, if this was true of anybody, it was obviously true of the supporters of salvation by faith and not of salvation by works; that it was absurd to say that Catholics introduced a horrible sophistry of saying that a man might sometimes tell a lie, since every sane man knows he would tell a lie to save a child from Chinese torturers; that it missed the whole point, in this connection, to quote Ward's phrase, "Make up your mind that you are justified in lying and then lie like a trooper," for Ward's argument was against equivocation or what people call Jesuitry. He meant, "When the child really is hiding in the cupboard and the Chinese torturers really are chasing him with red-hot pincers, then (and then only) be sure that you are right to deceive and do not hesitate to lie; but do not stoop to equivocate.

Do not bother yourself to say, "The child is in a wooden house not far from here," meaning the cupboard; but say the child is in Chiswick or Chimbora zoo, or anywhere you choose." I find I made elaborate notes of all these arguments all that long time ago, merely for the logical pleasure of disentangling an intellectual injustice. I had no more idea of becoming a Catholic than of
becoming a cannibal. I imagined that I was merely pointing out that justice should be done even to cannibals. I imagined that I
was noting certain fallacies partly for the fun of the thing and partly for a certain feeling of loyalty to the truth of things. But as a matter of fact, looking back on these notes (which I never published), it seems to me that I took a tremendous amount of
trouble about it if I really regarded it as a trifle; and taking trouble has certainly never been a particular weakness of mine. It seems to me that something was already working subconsciously to keep me more interested in fallacies about this particular topic than in fallacies about Free Trade or Female Suffrage or the House of Lords. Anyhow, that is the first stage in my own case and I think in many other cases: the stage of simply wishing to protect Papists from slander and oppression, not (consciously at least) because they hold any particular truth, but because they suffer from a particular accumulation of falsehood. The second stage is that in which the convert begins to be conscious not only of the falsehood but the truth and is enormously excited to find that there is far more of it than he would ever have expected. This is not so much a stage as a progress; and it goes on pretty rapidly but often for a long time. It consists in discovering what a very large number of lively and interesting ideas there are in the Catholic philosophy, that a great many of them commend themselves at once to his sympathies, and that even those which he would not accept have something to be said for them justifying their acceptance.

This process, which may be called discovering the Catholic Church, is perhaps the most pleasant and straightforward part of the business easier than joining the Catholic Church and much easier than trying to live the Catholic life. It is like discovering a new continent full of strange flowers and fantastic animals, which is at once wild and hospitable. To give anything like a full account of that process would simply be to discuss about half a hundred Catholic ideas and institutions in turn. I might remark that much of it consists of the act of translation; of discovering the real meaning of words, which the Church uses rightly and the world uses wrongly. For instance, the convert discovers that "scandal" does not mean "gossip"; and the sin of causing it does not mean that it is always wicked to set silly old women wagging their tongues. Scandal means scandal, what it originally meant in Greek and Latin: the tripping up of somebody else when he is trying to be good. Or he will discover that phrases like "counsel of perfection" or "venial sin," which mean nothing at all in the newspapers, mean something quite intelligent and interesting in the manuals of moral theology. He begins to realise that it is the secular world that spoils the sense of words; and he catches an exciting glimpse of the real case for the iron immortality of the Latin Mass. It is not a question between a dead language and a living language, in the sense of an everlasting language. It is a question between a dead language and a dying language; an inevitably degenerating language. It is these numberless glimpses of great ideas, that have been hidden from the convert by the prejudices of his provincial culture, that constitute the adventurous and varied second stage of the conversion. It is, broadly speaking, the stage in which the man is unconsciously trying to be converted. And the third stage is perhaps the truest and the most terrible. It is that in which the man is trying not to be converted.