Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Secular Leftist bloggers cheer attack on Pope Benedict

Why does this not surprise me?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Pope Benedict's Christmas Homily

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr. Robert Barron on the Gap Ad Controversy

This is very insightful.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pope John Paul II on purgatory

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

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

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

To share in divine life we must be totally purified

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

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

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

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

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

Purgatory is not a place but a condition of existence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

“Not so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Positively Judgment Street

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

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

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

More Dylan: "Saving Grace" (1980)

Lyrics follow:
Saving Grace
by Bob Dylan

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright ©1980 Special Rider Music

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

Is Francis Beckwith Saved?

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

Lyrics follow:

Fr. George W. Rutler's Weekly Column

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

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

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

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Jimmy Carter: Anti-Catholic Bigot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hendrickson Publishers' edition of Calvin's Institutes

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

Happy Birthday, Mom!

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Signature in the Cell by Stephen C. Meyer

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

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

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

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

Read the entire review here.

(HT: Right Wing Bob)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Matt Yonke: "Hermeneutics and the Authority of Scripture"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole think here.

Safe Sects

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

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"God is Not Dead Yet" by William Lane Craig

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Myth of Theological Liberalism

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