Monday, May 31, 2010

May 31: Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The event
Assuming that the Annunciation and the Incarnation took place about the vernal equinox, Mary left Nazareth at the end of March and went over the mountains to Hebron, south of Jerusalem, to wait upon her cousin Elizabeth, because her presence and much more the presence of the Divine Child in her womb, according to the will of God, was to be the source of very great graces to the Blessed John, Christ's Forerunner.
The event is related in Luke 1:39-57. Feeling the presence of his Divine Saviour, John, upon the arrival of Mary, leaped in the womb of his mother; he was then cleansed from original sin and filled with the grace of God. Our Lady now for the first time exercised the office which belonged to the Mother of God made man, that He might by her mediation sanctify and glorify us. St. Joseph probably accompanied Mary, returned to Nazareth, and when, after three months, he came again to Hebron to take his wife home, the apparition of the angel, mentioned in Matthew 1:19-25, may have taken place to end the tormenting doubts of Joseph regarding Mary's maternity. (Cf. also MAGNIFICAT.)
The feast
The earliest evidence of the existence of the feast is its adoption by the Franciscan Chapter in 1263, upon the advice of St. Bonaventure. The list of feasts in the "Statuta Synodalia eccl. Cenomanensis" (1237, revised 1247; Mansi, supplem., II, 1041), according to which this feast was kept 2 July at Le Mans in 1247, may not be genuine.
With the Franciscan Breviary this feast spread to many churches, but was celebrated at various dates — at Prague and Ratisbon, 28 April; in Paris, 27 June, at Reims and Geneva, 8 July (cf. Grotefend, "Zeitrechnung", II, 2, 137). It was extended to the entire Church by Urban VI, 6 April, 1389 (Decree published by Boniface IX, 9 Nov., 1389), with the hope that Christ and His Mother would visit the Church and put an end to the Great Schism which rent the seamless garment of Christ.
The feast, with a vigil and an octave, was assigned to 2 July, the day after the octave of St. John, about the time when Mary returned to Nazareth. The Office was drawn up by an Englishman, Adam Cardinal Easton, Benedictine monk and Bishop of Lincoln (Bridgett, "Our Lady's Dowry", 235). Dreves (Analecta Hymnica, xxiv, 89) has published this rhythmical office with nine other offices for the same feast, found in the Breviaries of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Since, during the Schism, many bishops of the opposing obedience would not adopt the new feast, it was confirmed by the Council of Basle, in 1441.
Pius V abolished the rhythmical office, the vigil, and the octave. The present office was compiled by order of Clement VIII by the Minorite Ruiz. Pius IX, on 13 May, 1850, raised the feast to the rank of a double of the second class. Many religious orders — the Carmelites, Dominicans, Cistercians, Mercedarians, Servites, and others — as well as Siena, Pisa, Loreto, Vercelli, Cologne, and other dioceses have retained the octave. In Bohemia the feast is kept on the first Sunday of July as a double of the first class with an octave.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

May 30: Feast Day of St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431)

According to Catholic.org:
St. Joan of Arc is the patroness of soldiers and of France. On January 6, 1412, Joan of Arc was born to pious parents of the French peasant class, at the obscure village of Domremy, near the province of Lorraine. At a very early age, she heard voices: those of St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret.
At first the messages were personal and general. Then at last came the crowning order. In May, 1428, her voices "of St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret" told Joan to go to the King of France and help him reconquer his kingdom. For at that time the English king was after the throne of France, and the Duke of Burgundy, the chief rival of the French king, was siding with him and gobbling up evermore French territory.
After overcoming opposition from churchmen and courtiers, the seventeen year old girl was given a small army with which she raised the seige of Orleans on May 8, 1429. She then enjoyed a series of spectacular military successes, during which the King was able to enter Rheims and be crowned with her at his side.
In May 1430, as she was attempting to relieve Compiegne, she was captured by the Burgundians and sold to the English when Charles and the French did nothing to save her. After months of imprisonment, she was tried at Rouen by a tribunal presided over by the infamous Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, who hoped that the English would help him to become archbishop.
Through her unfamiliarity with the technicalities of theology, Joan was trapped into making a few damaging statements. When she refused to retract the assertion that it was the saints of God who had commanded her to do what she had done, she was condemned to death as a heretic, sorceress, and adulteress, and burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. She was nineteen years old. Some thirty years later, she was exonerated of all guilt and she was ultimately canonized in 1920, making official what the people had known for centuries. Her feast day is May 30.

Joan was canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

St. Thomas Aquinas and the Bible

Here's a nice article I found on Fred Freddoso's Notre Dame webiste. Authored by John F. Boyle and entitled, "St Thomas Aquinas and Sacred Scripture," it begins this way:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pruss on Boccaccio's argument for the Catholic faith

My Baylor colleague, Alexander Pruss, has published on his blog: "Boccaccio's argument for the Catholic faith." Here it is in its entirety:
In the second story of the first day of the Decameron, we have the story of how Giannotto tried to convince a Jewish friend named Abraham to become a Christian. Giannotto is a fairly ignorant merchant, but his arguments have sincerity. Abraham, on the other hand, is a theologically well-educated Jew. But instead of making mincemeat of his friend's arguments, out of friendship and perhaps a movement by the Holy Spirit (so the narrator suggests), he resolves he'll go to Rome to see what the alleged vicar of Christ is like, in order to decide which faith is correct. Giannotto thinks all is lost:
if he goes to the court of Rome and sees the wicked and filthy lives of the clergy, not only will he not change from a Jew to a Christian, but if if he had already become a Christian before, he would, no doubt, return to being a Jew.
Nonetheless, he sends his friend with his blessing. Abraham goes to Rome and sees all the sin among "the Pope, the cardinals, and the other prelates and courtiers". Abraham returns, and Giannotto is sure that there is no longer a chance of conversion. He asks Abraham what he thought of the Papal court. Abraham responds:
I don't like them a bit, and may God condemn them all; and I tell you think because as far as I was able to determine, I saw there no holiness, no devotion, no good work or exemplary life, or anything else among the clergy; instead, lust, avarice, gluttony, fraud, envy, pride, and the like and even worse (if worse than this is possible) were so completely in charge there that I believe that city is more of a forge for the Devil's work than for God's: in my opinion, that Shepherd of yours and, as a result, all of the others as well are trying as quickly as possible and with all the talent and skill they have to reduce the Christian religion to nothing and to drive it from the face of the earth when they really should act as its support and foundation. And since I have observed that in spite of all this, they do not succeed but, on the contrary, that your religion continuously grows and becomes brighter and more illustrious, I am justly of the opinion that it has the Holy Spirit as its foundation and support, and that it is truer and holier than any other religion.... So, let us go to church, and there, according to the custom of your holy faith, I shall be baptised.[note 1]
Now, while over the past century we've been blessed by popes of exemplary holiness (though of course there has been much wickedness elsewhere among the clergy and laity), the argument does not require present papal wickedness. What it requires is the surprising way that despite all the wickedness, the Church survives and grows. One might object: but if the Catholic faith were the true faith, wouldn't we expect that the hierarchy would be holy in the first place? While the analogy is not perfect, this is similar to asking, in the case of someone who was apparently miraculously healed, why God would have permitted the illness in the first place. The question is a good and tough one, but it does not make the healing (in the case of the cancer) or the survival and growth (in the case of the Church) less wonderful.

We might enhance the above by recalling another argument. The Catholic Church's formal teaching is coherent, despite having been developed over twenty centuries. The teachings are not only coherent at one time, but are coherent over time (and cohere with Scripture as well, but I don't want to rely on this if the argument is to be convincing to Protestants). The best explanation of this coherence is that it is the work of the Holy Spirit. Arguments along these lines have been developed by Menssen and Sullivan. Observe, too, how this consistency is not observed in most other Christian bodies—sexual ethics is a nice example, with contraception once condemned by all theologians (including Luther and Calvin) and now widely accepted by non-Catholic bodies (with the notable exception of some individual Protestants and some Orthodox bodies—though even in the latter, there is a reluctant acceptance of remarriage after divorce). But now combine this argument with Boccaccio's. The consistency over time is amazing enough—but when one notes that the consistency includes popes who were, apparently, quite wicked, but who, nonetheless, did not formally teach the Church anything contrary to the earlier faith, the argument becomes even stronger.
Be sure to visit Alex's blog early and often. You can find it here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Duties of the Church towards Knowledge

From John Henry Cardinal Newman's The Idea of a University
And if the interposition of the Church is necessary in the Schools of Science, still more imperatively is it demanded in the other main constituent portion of the subject-matter of Liberal Education,—Literature. Literature stands related to Man as Science stands to Nature; it is his history. Man is composed of body and soul; he thinks and he acts; he has appetites, passions, affections, motives, designs; he has within him the lifelong struggle of duty with inclination; he has an intellect fertile and capacious; he is formed for society, and society multiplies and diversifies in endless combinations his personal characteristics, moral and intellectual. All this constitutes his life; of all this Literature is the expression; so that Literature is to man in some sort what autobiography is to the individual; it is his Life and Remains. Moreover, he is this sentient, intelligent, creative, and operative being, quite independent of any extraordinary aid from Heaven, or any definite religious belief; and as such, as he is in himself, does Literature represent him; it is the Life and Remains of the natural man, innocent or guilty. I do not mean to say that it is impossible in its very notion that Literature should be tinctured by a religious spirit; Hebrew Literature, as far as it can be called Literature, certainly is simply theological, and has a character imprinted on it which is above nature; but I am speaking of what is to be expected without any extraordinary dispensation; and I say that, in matter of fact, as Science is the reflection of Nature, so is Literature also—the one, of Nature physical, the other, of Nature moral and social. Circumstances, such as locality, period, language, seem to make little or no difference in the character of Literature, as such; on the whole, all Literatures are one; they are the voices of the natural man.
I wish this were all that had to be said to the disadvantage of Literature; but while Nature physical remains fixed in its laws, Nature moral and social has a will of its own, is self-governed, and never remains any long while in that state from which it started into action. Man will never continue in a mere state of innocence; he is sure to sin, and his literature will be the expression of his sin, and this whether he be heathen or Christian. Christianity has thrown gleams of light on him and his literature; but as it has not converted him, but only certain choice specimens of him, so it has not changed the characters of his mind or of his history; his literature is either what it was, or worse than what it was, in proportion as there has been an abuse of knowledge granted and a rejection of truth. On the whole, then, I think it will be found, and ever found, as a matter of course, that Literature, as such, no matter of what nation, is the science or history, partly and at best of the natural man, partly of man in rebellion.
You can read the entire discourse here

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A new review of Return to Rome

Just came across this long, and negative, review of Return to Rome by a fellow named William Webster.

I do not have the time to respond to it in great detail, especially given my brutal publishing schedule. But I do think it is an instructive review in this regard, and thus I encourage readers of this blog to take a look at it: it is an example of what I call zero-sum apologetics.  This occurs when an author pools disparate resources while taking on one issue at a time in order to destroy one enemy.  What's wrong with that? Lots. Because of its singular target and use of disparate sources, it unwittingly concedes points not congenial to its larger project.

Take, for example, Mr. Webster's use of Eastern Orthodox scholars to challenge Petrine primacy and infallibility. If these arguments succeed, then Catholicism is not a live option for him. Fair enough. But this leaves him with a more difficult problem: Orthodoxy requires a belief in apostolic succession and the normativity of Church Councils, both of which are rejected by Webster. That is, the Orthodox critique of the Roman papacy presupposes the truth of apostolic succession and conciliar ecclesiology. They are not free church Baptists looking for a trail of blood!

Moreover, until the 16th century--with the exception of a few tiny heretical sects--there was no Christianity outside of the West and the East, both of which held generally the same views on the sacraments, ecclesiology, and the scope of the canon.  This is why it does no good to mine the words of the Fathers on the nature and authority of Scripture without bringing to bear on those words the liturgical and ecclesiastical beliefs and practices that were integral to the life of the Church.  It would be like taking the First Amendment's establishment clause and saying it means "separation of church and state" while ignoring the fact that the authors of that clause opened their session of Congress with prayer! Once you see the practices in play, what first seemed like a clean and simple account becomes difficult to sustain.


I did not call it "zero sum apologetics" when I was writing Return to Rome, but that is what I should have called it when I penned the following (pp. 92-93; emphases and endnotes omitted):
Of course, some Church Fathers disagreed with each other on a variety of matters, and some of them in fact defended positions that were later declared heretical by Church Councils. But it is interesting to note that on the question of the correctness of the doctrines and practices over which contemporary Evangelical Protestants and Catholics generally divide—the Real Presence of the Eucharist, apostolic succession, prayers for and to the dead, penance, infusion of grace, etc.—one does not find in the Fathers warring camps with one risking an ecumenical council’s judgment of heresy, as in the Arian and Pelagian controversies. In fact, for the Fathers the correctness of the “Catholic” doctrines and practices seem conspicuously uncontroversial. To be sure, one finds among the Fathers different degrees of emphasis on some of these matters and how best to understand them and conceptualize them. The 4th century Donatists, for example, denied the efficaciousness of sacraments administered by bad ministers (e.g., apostate bishops, those that denied the faith during persecution and then returned, etc.), but they did not object to the notion of a sacrament being an efficacious means of grace per se. This error led St. Augustine to develop the ex opere operato teaching on the sacraments, which is the present doctrine of the Catholic Church. To cite another example: some Fathers explicitly assert the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, while others either ignore the question of episcopal primacy altogether or seem to articulate an understanding of the episcopate that offers some hints but little clarity on the question of primacy. But what is not in dispute is that none of the Fathers either denies apostolic succession or unequivocally affirms a Free Church understanding of church government. I mention this because I had thought for some time that if I could, for example, show that Church Father X asserted the primacy of Rome and Church Father Y did not do so, then the case for apostolic succession is weakened and I have yet another reason not to move Romeward. But, when I ceased reading the Fathers anachronistically, what I began to notice was the far more important fact that Church Fathers X and Y agreed that without apostolic succession there is no Church, and that no Father implies or affirms that apostolic succession is a non-Christian view. Thus, one of the great ironies of my journey is that I would sometimes inadvertently draw conclusions that made the general case for Catholicism far more plausible in my mind than the particular Protestant doctrine for which I was arguing.
Because Return to Rome was not meant to be more than a thumb-nail sketch of my personal journey and not an apologetics treatise, there is much more I could have written. I do think, however, that some critics like Mr. Webster make the mistake of focusing on the book's last three chapters and ignoring the first four.  I say this because they tend to see my reversion as merely the consequence of the several months between my election to the ETS presidency in November 2006 and my resignation in May 2007.  But it is in the first four chapters that you see the real formation of my philosophical theology, from my entree into Thomism via Norm Geisler to my experiences at Fordham University under the guidance of W. Norris Clarke, S. J. and Gerald McCool, S. J. and to my conclusions about the Catholic creeds in the late 1980s. So, by the time I reach January 2007 I am closer to Rome than I had ever suspected. Understandably, those on the outside looking in, such as Mr. Webster, see a sort of superficial quickness in my reversion, which inspire questions and concerns such as, "Why didn't he read more?," "He wasn't deliberate enough!," etc.  Perfectly understandable, if my journey had begun in January 2007. But it had not. At age 46, with decades of reading and study, there was not much I had not seen. The difference, however, is that I saw it in a new light.  Take, for example, my reading of the Fathers. I had become acquainted with the writings of the Church Fathers when I was 19 when I began witnessing to Mormons who claimed that the classical concept of God was a late invention in Church History.  When I became an academic, I returned to the Fathers in my work on Mormonism, in which I dealt with a more sophisticated version of the same charge: the classical concept of God has been illegitimately shaped by Greek philosophical categories and thus is unbiblical. In a 2001 piece in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, I respond to this argument in great detail. (What surprises me now is how very, very Catholic I sound even then!)


I do think that Mr. Webster is not entirely accurate in his assessment of my presentation of the Reformed and Catholic views of justification. Concerning the former, I say this in Return to Rome (pp. 84-85; emphases and endnotes omitted):
What is the Reformed doctrine of forensic justification? It is the view that one is made right, or justified by God, as a consequence of God gratuitously imputing to one Jesus’s righteousness. By dying on the cross in our stead and thus for our sins, Jesus paid the price to God for the punishment we deserve, eternal separation from Him. One is justified at the moment one accepts Christ at conversion. But this acceptance, an act of faith on the part of the believer, is itself the work of God. Thus, justification is entirely a consequence of God’s grace. Accordingly, at conversion one is assured of salvation, for there is nothing that one can do or not do to lose or gain one’s redemption. But the grace one receives is legal or forensic. This means that grace is not real stuff that changes nature, but merely the name given to God’s graciousness by legally accounting to us Christ’s righteousness. This is why it is called the imputation, rather than an infusion, of God’s grace. Sanctification, or as McGrath calls it, regeneration, is a consequence of one’s conversion, the internal work of the Holy Spirit in one’s Christian journey. Good works, the exercise of the Christian virtues, and the change in one’s character over time are the natural outgrowth of one’s justification. But justification and sanctification are different events, though the latter, which extends over the lifetime of the converted sinner, follows from the former in the life of the authentic Christian. Although McGrath maintains that the Reformed distinction between justification and regeneration is only notional, it is the understanding of justification as exclusively forensic that requires this notional distinction. Thus, even if the distinction is merely notional, the idea that required it, “the Reformed understanding of the nature of justification” (i.e., forensic justification) is, according to McGrath, “a genuine theological novum.”
I could have probably improved on that definition. But I do not think it deserves this assessment by Mr. Webster: "Beckwith then completely misrepresents the teaching of the Reformed faith. He states that the Reformers and those Protestants who have followed in their steps teach that justification is merely forensic. What he means by this is that they teach that salvation is merely forensic and that there is no emphasis on regeneration or sanctification. He states that the grace of God in the Reformed teaching is merely legal affecting one’s legal status but makes no ontological change in a person’s nature resulting in a life of works and obedience." Did I really do that? Was it "an appalling caricature of the teaching of the Reformers and the Reformed theologians"? I'll let the reader be the judge.

As for the Catholic view, I generously quote from the
Catechism of the Catholic Church, whose references include Augustine and the Council of Trent. Mr. Webster, alas, does not believe that the Catholic Catechism teaches the Catholicism that he does not believe. He marshals, in response, several quotes from Catholic sources, including the Council of Trent. But these sources, not unexpectedly, offer nothing inconsistent with the Catechism. What they offer is the Catholic understanding in language that is often misunderstood by Protestants not conversant with the way in which the Church speaks on these matters. For example, one source, Ludwig Ott, writes: "As God’s grace is the presupposition and foundation of (supernatural) good works, by which man merits eternal life, so salutary works are, at the same time gifts of God and meritorious acts of man...By his good works the justified man really acquires a claim to supernatural reward from God...Merit is dependent on the free ordinance of God to reward with everlasting bliss the good works performed by His grace....A just man merits for himself through each good work an increase in sanctifying grace, eternal life (if he dies in a state of grace) and an increase of heavenly glory (emphasis added)."  I explain this sort of description in Return to Rome (p. 105, 112-113; notes omitted):
It seems to me that James [2:14-26] is indeed a problem if one maintains a forensic view of justification. But if one brackets that view and opens oneself to the Catholic view—that justification is the result of infused rather than imputed grace—then one need not think of “works” as activities by which one earns heaven as if one were appeasing a creditor in a debtors prison. Rather, a Christian’s good works are performed in order that the grace that God has given us may be lived out so that we may become more like Christ. As I have said, the purpose of “good works” for the Catholic is not to get you into heaven, but to get heaven into you. The Catholic already believes that he is an adopted child of God wholly by God’s grace. For the practicing Catholic, good works, including participating in the sacraments, works of charity, and prayer, are not for the purpose of earning heaven. For good works are not meant to pay off a debt in the Catholic scheme of things. Rather, good works prepare us for heaven by shaping our character and keeping us in communion with God so that we may be “holy and blameless and irreproachable before him” (Col. 1:22).... 
Because the Early Church was committed to the deep mystery of Chalcedonian Christology—Jesus of Nazareth was both fully God and fully man—it saw no need to divide faith and works, as if they were hostile foes. Thus, it saw a Christian’s obedience, one’s “works,” as the exercise of faith by which the believer undergoes intrinsic transformation while in communion with God. For the Early Church, God became a human being so that human beings may become godly. After all, if works diminish faith’s significance because our co-operation apparently limits God’s sovereignty, then why believe that Jesus really took on a human nature, for does not that imply that God was not sufficiently almighty enough to save us without acquiring a human nature? 
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “justification establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom,” and yet, “man’s merit . . . itself is due to God.” So, the Christian, though by God’s grace is given the power to cooperate with God’s grace, cannot by her works earn the grace that she receives, just as the addition of a human nature contributed nothing to the glory of the second person of the Trinity. Yet, in both cases, something wonderful happened. To think that God’s sovereignty is diminished by our cooperation is no different than thinking that Jesus was less divine because he took on a human nature. 
The key to understanding Catholic theology is to set aside the assumption that it is always a zero-sum game. Justification is about our being part of a communion of saints, the body of Christ, with whom we can receive and share the unearned, and totally gratuitous wonders of God’s grace, through baptism, the Eucharist, confession, and all the sacraments. I do nothing without the initiation of the Holy Spirit. It is not my merit; it is his. And yet, there is a mystery here. I cooperate with this grace, but I contribute nothing to it. In my obedience, I am allowing the grace of God to transform me. And yet, it is wholly God’s doing. I am confident of my eternal fate, but confidence in that eternal fate is not the exclusive purpose of justification. For God not only wants you to get to heaven, he wants to get heaven into you. And he does so by grace that has the power to change nature.
And now the Catechism, from which I quote on page 91 in Return to Rome:
The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit. 
Trent, Ott, and the Catechism, are saying the same thing, and to it I give a hearty "Amen" in Return to Rome. And yet, Mr. Webster claims "what Beckwith has written here is in perfect harmony with Protestant teaching." Perhaps he is closer to Rome than he thinks.

Joseph Kenny, O.P. on the philosophy of nature

This is a nice course outline including sources. You can find it here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Catholic Sex Abuse: Blunt Q & A

My Baylor colleague and fellow Catholic, Trent Dougherty, has posted a clear and candid question and answer entry on his blog, "X-Catholics" (That is, Generation "X" Catholics). You can read it here. Here's how it begins:
Catholic Sex Abuse: Blunt Q & A

Blunt Question 1: Why do we keep hearing about so much sex abuse in the Catholic Church?

Blunt Answer 1: Because the Catholic Church is the most hated entity that has ever existed.

Blunt Answer 2: Because, as the visible body of Christ on Earth, founded by Jesus himself, the Church is and ought to be held to a higher standard.

Blunt Question 2: Doesn’t all this show that the Catholic priesthood is a refuge for pedophiles?

Blunt Answer 3: No. The rates of abuse are at or below the average for relevant contrast classes, based on current information.

Continue reading>>>

Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan

Today, Bob Dylan turns 69.  Below is a video from a concert at Fort Collins, Colorado, performed the day before Dylan's 35th birthday (May 23) in 1976.  The song, "Idiot Wind," is a harsh song, but one that I listened to often during some difficult days at Baylor between March and September 2006.



(I apologize for the pop-up ads. Just click the "x" in the top left corner of the ad to stop the pop-ups).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Intelligent Design and Me, Part IV: A Response to Some Critics

This morning I published a fourth installment of the series I began in March on the BioLogos blog. Entitled, "Intelligent Design and Me, Part IV: A Response to Some Critics," here's how it begins:
In yesterday’s entry, I corrected some misleading comments made about my background. I also explained why certain Thomist philosophers see in Intelligent Design (ID) a philosophy of nature that is nearly indistinguishable from William Paley’s failed mechanistic understanding of the universe. Today I want to say more about Thomism and ID by addressing the charge that some of us do not take into consideration the central question of whether or not ID arguments are reasonable.
Continue reading>>>

Friday, May 21, 2010

Intelligent Design and Me, Part III: A Response to Some Critics

Following up on a two-part series I published in March on the BioLogos blog, this morning I published a third installment, "Intelligent Design and Me, Part III: A Response to Some Critics." Here's how it begins:

On March 19 and 20 of this year I posted two brief essays on the BioLogos blog (Part I and Part II). In them I summarized my own intellectual journey on the issue of Intelligent Design (ID). Since their publication, many responses have been published online in the comment threads of this and other blogs. Dear friends and respectful acquaintances offered some of these critiques.
Given my ontological finitude, my publishing and teaching schedule, as well as my increasingly diminishing interest in the topic, I could not and can not respond to each and every criticism, though I know that virtually all of them were offered with genuine respect. It is my hope that in this brief, and no doubt inadequate, reply that I can replicate my critics’ sincere deference.

Continue reading>>>

A fourth installment will appear tomorrow on the BioLogos blog.

Interracial Marriage and Same-Sex Marriage: Why the Analogy Fails

That is the title of an essay I published this morning on the website Public Discourse: Ethics, Law and the Common Good (the online publication of the Witherspoon Institute).  Here is how it begins:
While doing research for an academic paper on the topic of same-sex marriage and political liberalism, I was struck by how many authors, including judges, draw an analogy between bans on interracial marriage and the present law in almost every state in the United States that recognizes marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
The court cases most frequently cited by these writers are Loving v. Virginia (1967), the U. S. Supreme Court case that declared interracial marriage bans unconstitutional, and Perez v. Sharp (1948), a California Supreme Court case that did the same in relation to its state constitution. Here’s how Massachusetts’ highest court in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (2003) employs Loving and Perez in order to make the analogy between interracial marriage and same-sex marriage:
In this case [Goodridge], as in Perez and Loving, a statute deprives individuals of access to an institution of fundamental legal, personal, and social significance—the institution of marriage—because of a single trait: skin color in Perez and Loving, sexual orientation here. As it did in Perez and Loving, history must yield to a more fully developed understanding of the invidious quality of the discrimination.
Although the focus of my paper is not this analogy, the ubiquitous use of it in the literature, including some very important court cases, piqued my curiosity. What I discovered astounded me.
Continue Reading>>>

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Recommendation: The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice

Published in 2003 by Oxford University Press, this book is authored by Philip Jenkins, the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Humanities at Pennsylvania State University as well as the Distinguished Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Program in Historical Studies of Religion in Baylor University's Institute for the Studies of Religion (I am proud to say).  I have owned the book for several years, but only got around to reading it just the other day.

What is most shocking about Jenkins' account of "the new Anti-Catholicism" is how ubiquitous it is in our academic and media cultures. Here is an excerpt from a 2003 article, "Some Prejudices are More Equal Than Others," authored by Professor Jenkins, in which he discusses some of the cases addressed in his book:
Beyond the legal realm, time and again we see that media outlets exercise a powerful self-censorship that suppresses controversial or offensive images, whether or not that “offense” is intended: and again, this restraint applies to every group, except Catholics. Over the years, the film industry has learned to suppress images or themes that affect an ever-growing number of protected categories. The caution about African-Americans is understandable, given the racist horrors in films of bygone years, but the present degree of sensitivity is astounding. Recall last year’s film “Barbershop,” in which Black characters exchange disrespectful remarks about such heroic figures as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, and more questionable characters like O. J. Simpson and Jesse Jackson. Though this was clearly not a racist attack, the outcry was ferocious: some things simply cannot be said in public. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton led an intense campaign to delete these touchy references.

And other social groups have learned these lessons about self-censorship. Asian-Americans and Latinos have both made it clear that the once-familiar stereotypes will no longer be tolerated, and Hollywood takes their complaints to heart. By the early 1990s, too, gay groups had achieved a similar immunity. When, in 1998, the film “The Siege” offered a (prescient) view of New York City under assault by Arab terrorists, the producers thought it politic to work closely with Arab-American and Muslim groups in order to minimize charges of stereotyping and negative portrayals. Activists thought that any film depicting how “Arab terrorists methodically lay waste to Manhattan” was not only clearly fantastic in its own right, but also “reinforces historically damaging stereotypes.” As everyone knew, Hollywood had a public responsibility not to encourage such labeling.

Yet no such qualms affect the making of films or television series that might offend America’s sixty million Catholics. Any suggestion that the makers of such films should consult with Catholic authorities or interest groups would be dismissed as promoting censorship, and a grossly inappropriate religious interference with artistic self-expression. The fuss over whether a film like “Dogma” or “Stigmata” is intentionally anti-Catholic misses the point. The question is not why American studios release films that will annoy and offend Catholics, but why they do not more regularly deal with subject matter that would be equally uncomfortable or objectionable to other traditions or interest groups. If they did so, American films might be much more interesting, in addition to demonstrating a new consistency.

If works of art are to offend, they should do so on an equal opportunity basis. If we have to tolerate such atrocities as “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You” — recently revived as a Showtime special — then why should we not have merry satires poking fun at secular icons like Matthew Shepard or Martin Luther King? If, on the other hand, it is ugly and unacceptable even to contemplate an imaginary production of “Matthew Explains It All,” poking fun at victims of gay-bashing, then why should we put up with Sister Mary? Some consistency, please.
You can read the entire article here.  Just click the icon of the book to purchase it through Amazon.com

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"A Rabbi Lead Me to Rome" by Taylor Marshall

Former Episcopal priest and now Catholic, Taylor Marshall, has published an insightful essay in March-April 2010 issue The Rock, the monthly magazine of Catholic Answers.  Here's how it begins:
A priest and a rabbi walk into a hospital . . .
It sounds like the opening of a joke, but that moment marks the beginning of my journey toward the Catholic faith. I recently had been ordained as an Episcopal priest, and the parish pastor had given me my first priestly assignment: to visit a woman who was about to undergo surgery at the local hospital. Little did I know that by the end of that day, I would meet a rabbi, and my entire life would begin to change. 
Read the whole thing here

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Princeton's Robert P. George on the Kagan Nomination

Writing at the Mirror of Justice blog, Robby George opines:
How should conservatives react to President Obama's nomination of Elena Kagan?
First, let me say how conservatives should not react.  They should not claim that Kagan is the Democrats Harriet Miers.  She is not.  I myself opposed the President Bush's nomination of Miers, as did most conservatives, on the ground that her record, though perfectly respectable, was not distinguished.  Kagan's record, by contrast, is distinguished.  If she were a committed constitutionalist, as conservatives understand that idea, we would, rightly, be celebrating the nomination of a person of her ability and distinction.
Furthermore, conservatives should not speculate or entertain speculation regarding Kagan's romantic interests, feelings, or "sexual orientation."  Some of this has gone on in the media (and not just among conservatives), and it is despicable.  (Indeed, I find it so loathesome that I am reluctant to bring the subject up, even for the purpose of condemning it.)  Kagan has done nothing to bring her personal life or private feelings into public view and no one can point to anything in her record as a professor, dean, or White House official that raises questions to which facts about her romantic interests or inward feelings are relevant.  It is true that Kagan fiercely opposed the Solomon Amendment and argued that it is unconstitutional (an argument that not even John Paul Stevens or Ruth Ginsburg was willing to swallow); but her position was scarcely idiosyncratic among liberals and there is no reason to suppose that it was the product of personal interests or bias.
What is relevant is Kagan's understanding of the proper role of courts in our system of government under the Constitution.  And that should be the focus of conservatives' concerns.  If, indeed, Kagan believes it is legitimate for judges to read into the Constitution liberal (or, for that matter, conservative) views about abortion, sexuality and marriage, religion, speech, or anything else, then she should be opposed for that reason.  In my judgment, a constitutionalist is someone who believes that the legitimate sources of constitutional meaning are the text of the Constitution, the logical presuppositions and implications of its provisions, its structure, and its publicly understood historical (or "original") meaning.  A jurist who is willing to look beyond these sources of meaning in order to reach outcomes in line with his or her moral and political preferences undermines the Constitution by usurping authority it allocates to other actors in the system.
Conservatives pride themselves on their commitment to constitutionalism, even if conservative jurists themselves do not always live up to its ideals.  The President's nomination of Elena Kagan provides conservatives with an opportunity to defend these ideals, educate the public regarding their importance, and, most importantly, test the nominee by reference to them.  If Kagan is to be opposed, it should be because, under questioning about abortion, marriage, and other issues, she fails the test.  Kagan herself is on the public record as validating the legitimacy of such questioning.  So the stage is set for a long overdue national discussion of the scope and limits of judicial power under the Constitution.
For the sake of the country, I pray that Republicans will not squander this opportunity by making dubious or unworthy claims about Elena Kagan, and that Kagan will remain as good as her word by responding candidly to questions that will reveal to the public her understanding of the role of the judiciary in our constitutional system. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

2010 University Faculty for Life Conference - 4-5 June - Washington, DC


If you're in the area, please consider attending
____________________________________________________
UNIVERSITY FACULTY FOR LIFE

“Life and Learning Conference XX”

 June 4 and 5, 2010

 The Catholic University of America

Washington, D. C.

 

Hosted by the CUA Columbus School of Law and School of Philosophy

Generously Supported by Our Sunday Visitor Institute

 



 Confirmed Special Speakers include

Hadley Arkes

Erika Bachiochi

Richard Doerflinger

John Keown

David Solomon and Elizabeth Kirk

James Schall and Robert Sokolowski

Concurrent Sessions on an array of Topics
 
“Life and Learning Conference XX” will be held in the beautiful Home of the Columbus School of Law on the campus of The Catholic University, 
close to the Brookland/CUA METRO Station. Campus Housing for Participants.


Registration Fee of $60 includes continental Breakfast, box lunch, and Conference Banquet 
For more information and a Registration Form, 
please visit the UFFL website at www.uffl.org 


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Conference at Princeton: Natural Law, Natural Rights, and the American Republic

On May 17 and 18 Princeton University's James Madison Program will be sponsoring the conference: Natural Law, Natural Rights, and the American Republic. As some of you know, I was a James Madison Fellow at Princeton for the 2002-2003 school year. This conference is held in conjunction with the annual reunion of former fellows. So, my lovely wife, Frankie, and I will be there for the conference. For those who live in the Northeast Corridor, this is an event worth attending. You can read more about it here

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Canon Question

That is the title of  a terrific and well-reasoned piece, authored by Tom Brown, at the ever-interesting Called to Communion website.  You can find "The Canon Question" here. Here's a bit to whet your appetite:
In this article, I argue that Reformed theology is intrinsically incapable of answering the Canon Question. The confessional and classical Reformed answer to the Canon Question, which will be considered in depth in section II.A., relies upon the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit in the heart of each believer to give assurance of a text’s canonicity. I will argue that since any two Spirit-filled Christians who are new to Scripture might not agree that any given text is canonical, this test is of dubious reliability, and thus cannot be our ultimate measure of Scripture. The inherent subjectivity of this classical Reformed basis for the canon has led to a variety of different answers to the Canon Question, each seeking a more objective basis for identifying God-breathed texts. These various efforts to articulate an objective test for the canon are not mutually exclusive. They can be summarized as follows: the Old Testament canon is that set of Hebrew texts that were canonized by Jewish leaders of Jerusalem around the time of Christ; the New Testament canon is defined as those books which are immediately or mediately of Apostolic authorship; and finally, the canon is defined as those books which received widespread acceptance in the early Church (until a certain point in time). I will explore these topics, as well as Martin Luther’s view that the canon properly consists of those Old and New Testament books which “preach Christ,” in the remainder of section II. There, I shall argue that, given the Reformed assumption that whatever authoritatively testifies to the canonicity of Scripture must be more authoritative than Scripture, each of them necessarily places extra-biblical evidence above Scripture in its effort to objectively identify the canon. This places something from outside of Scripture above Scripture, and thereby violates the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura.
You can read the whole thing here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Feast of the Ascension

Today, May 13, is the Feast of the Ascension of Lord.  The Catholic Encyclopedia explains:
The fortieth day after Easter Sunday, commemorating the Ascension of Christ into heaven, according to Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, and Acts 1:2.

In the Eastern Church this feast was known as analepsis, the taking up, and also as the episozomene, the salvation, denoting that by ascending into His glory Christ completed the work of our redemption. The terms used in the West, ascensio and, occasionally, ascensa, signify that Christ was raised up by His own powers. Tradition designates Mount Olivet near Bethany as the place where Christ left the earth. The feast falls on Thursday. It is one of the Ecumenical feasts ranking with the feasts of the Passion, of Easter and of Pentecost among the most solemn in the calendar, has a vigil and, since the fifteenth century, an octave which is set apart for a novena of preparation for Pentecost, in accordance with the directions of Leo XIII.

History

The observance of this feast is of great antiquity. Although no documentary evidence of it exists prior to the beginning of the fifth century, St. Augustine says that it is of Apostolic origin, and he speaks of it in a way that shows it was the universal observance of the Church long before his time. Frequent mention of it is made in the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and in the Constitution of the Apostles. The Pilgrimage of Sylvia (Peregrinatio Etheriae) speaks of the vigil of this feast and of the feast itself, as they were kept in the church built over the grotto in Bethlehem in which Christ was born (Duchesne, Christian Worship, 491-515). It may be that prior to the fifth century the fact narrated in the Gospels was commemorated in conjunction with the feast of Easter or Pentecost. Some believe that the much-disputed forty-third decree of the Council of Elvira (c. 300) condemning the practice of observing a feast on the fortieth day after Easter and neglecting to keep Pentecost on the fiftieth day, implies that the proper usage of the time was to commemorate the Ascension along with Pentecost. Representations of the mystery are found in diptychs and frescoes dating as early as the fifth century.

Customs

Certain customs were connected with the liturgy of this feast, such as the blessing of beans and grapes after the Commemoration of the Dead in the Canon of the Mass, the blessing of first fruits, afterwards done on Rogation Days, the blessing of a candle, the wearing of mitres by deacon and subdeacon, the extinction of the paschal candle, and triumphal processions with torches and banners outside the churches to commemorate the entry of Christ into heaven. Rock records the English custom of carrying at the head of the procession the banner bearing the device of the lion and at the foot the banner of the dragon, to symbolize the triumph of Christ in His ascension over the evil one. In some churches the scene of the Ascension was vividly reproduced by elevating the figure of Christ above the altar through an opening in the roof of the church. In others, whilst the figure of Christ was made to ascend, that of the devil was made to descend.

In the liturgies generally the day is meant to celebrate the completion of the work of our salvation, the pledge of our glorification with Christ, and His entry into heaven with our human nature glorified.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Eberstadt on Catholic Conversions

Mary Eberstadt has published a nice piece on Catholic conversions in The Weekly Standard. She begins:
We interrupt the latest bilious rants about religion with a respectful bulletin. Mid-April marked the passing of British philosopher Antony Flew, perhaps the most famous atheist-turned‑theist of recent times. It’s a moment that seems especially worth reflecting on these days, as the West’s media-intoxicated celebrity atheists lunge once again for the wheel of public debate.
A scourge of believers for much of his life, Flew penned numerous works attacking theism over the years, including one of the most famous atheist tracts of the 20th century (“Theology and Falsification”). Yet over 50 years later, via the straightforwardly entitled book There Is a God, he announced to the world that he’d changed his mind and become a deist, albeit one who still rejected the specifically Christian conception of God. Research on DNA, Flew submitted, “has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved.”
Read the whole thing here.

President Obama and His Notre Dame Commencement Address

Last November I participated in a panel at a conference at the University of Notre Dame on the issue of President Obama's May 2009 commencement address. Other participants on the panel included Radford University's Matthew Franck and Gwen Brown, moderated by my Baylor colleague, Donald Schmeltekopf.

A version of the paper I delivered on that panel has just been published in Touchstone: A Magazine of Mere Christianity (May/June 2010).   Entitled, "Justice for Some: Moral Theology & the President’s Honorary Doctorate," here is an excerpt:
Now I would like to discuss a portion of President Obama’s commencement address that, although it has been applauded by many of his Catholic and Evangelical supporters, I believe expressed a misunderstanding of the pro-life position—a misunderstanding that may serve to diminish the moral seriousness of the effort to protect unborn persons, which the pro-life movement has fought hard to communicate for several decades now.
In his address, Obama said that, on the issue of abortion, we should strive for common ground, since, “no matter how much we may want to fudge it . . . at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.” This is certainly true, and thus, one who does not share the president’s view on abortion should not fault him for reaching out to those with whom he disagrees.
Nevertheless, I believe the president’s call for common ground should not be confused with a pro-life understanding of humanity’s wideness. Here are the president’s words from his speech:
So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.
The president chose his words carefully. Let’s begin with the second sentence. He tells us that people “disagree with abortion,” though that’s not quite right. Pro-lifers don’t condemn abortion because they disagree with it; they think abortion is unjustified homicide. It’s hard to imagine President Obama saying that he “disagrees with” spousal abuse, genocide, or racial discrimination. He would say that these things are categorically wrong; thus, it would diminish the seriousness of his convictions for us to cast his judgments in language that makes it sound as if he is merely being contrary. Likewise, by framing pro-lifers’ objection to abortion as a subjective opinion rather than as a serious moral judgment they believe to be true and universal, the president diminished the pro-life conscience he calls for us to honor.
You can read the whole thing here.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Another summer at Summit Ministries

Not only will I be speaking at Franciscan University this summer, I will also be lecturing at 6 of the 8 two-week sessions at Summit Ministries in Manitou Springs, Colorado. I have been a lecturer at Summit since 1996 and have spoken every summer since then.

Other speakers at Summit include Michael Bauman, J. P. Moreland, Kevin Bywaters, Jeff Myers, and Summit's founder David Noebel.  There's still room for students who want to apply for some of the sessions. You can find out more information here.
(Photo: That's me in the rocking chair talking with Summit kids in Summer 2009)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Defending the Faith Conference: Franciscan University, Steubenville (July 30 - August 1, 2010)

This summer I am honored to be a speaker at Franciscan University's annual "Defending the Faith" conference, which will be held on July 30 through August 1, 2010. This year's theme is "Be Transformed by the Renewal of Your Mind." I will be giving two talks:

“Can We Be Good Without God? Why Moral Law Requires a Lawgiver" and
"Making the Case for Unborn Life in the Public Square”

Hosted by Franciscan University professors Allan Schreck and Scott Hahn, this should prove to be a terrific conference. In addition to Schreck, Hahn, and yours truly, other speakers include Patrick Lee, Patrick Madrid, Marcus Grodi, Regis Martin, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, and Justin Francis Cardinal Rigali. You can register online here.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Nothing to Kill or Die For, No Religion Too

That's the title of the essay I just published in the Spring 2010 issue of The City, a publication of Houston Baptist University. Here's how it begins:
One of the many bad habits of the modern mind is its proclivity to answer moral questions with social science answers. So, for example, it is not unusual to hear a political activist assess a policy’s success or failure at confronting the moral problem of out of wedlock teenage fornication by examining whether there are fewer bastards sired and borne by teenyboppers this year compared to last year (or the year before). If the numbers go up, the activist will likely argue that the schools should start distributing prophylactics as well as abortion gift certificates redeemable at your local Planned Parenthood. But just as you don’t erradicate illiteracy by burning all the books, you don’t solve a moral problem by redefining it as exclusively one of unpleasant consequences. After all, a promiscuous teenage girl, who while copulating with the entire high school football team remains prophlyicatically conscientious, does not cease to have a soul that is being formed by her judgments and experiences simply because her body has not exhibited the ordinary physical consequences of recreational sex.   
As far as I know, Trojan, with its well-funded and creative research and development team, has yet to develop a metaphysically reliable condom that can protect the soul.  
You can read the whole thing here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Baptist ethicist claims Bernard Nathanson was once a Catholic priest who became an atheist

I've read some doozies in my day, but this one may have to go to the top of the list.  In his latest book, Faith and Health: Religion, Science, and Public Policy (Mercer University Press, 2008), University of Louisville ethicist and Baptist minister, Paul D. Simmons, writes: "Bernard Nathanson, narrator of The Silent Scream, was once a Catholic priest and believed an embryo to be a person based on religious teaching. Now that he claims to be an atheist, however, he says his belief has nothing to do with religion."

Actually, Dr. Nathanson, who was born to Jewish parents, was once an abortionist (and atheist) and served for a time as director of the largest abortion clinic in New York City, the Center for Reproductive and Sexual HealthHe also helped found the National Abortion Rights Action League. He became prolife and remained an atheist for over 15 years before he was received into the Catholic Church on December 8, 1996.  In the book in which he provides an account of his break with the abortion rights movement, Aborting America (1979), Dr. Nathanson does in fact offer a secular defense of the unborn's personhood.  His 1996 book, The Hand of God, tells the story of his conversion to the prolife perspective in the late 1970s up until the time right before his conversion to Catholicism in 1996. The book includes an Afterward authored by the Rev. C. J. McCloskey, III, the Catholic priest instrumental in leading Dr. Nathanson to Christ and His Church. 

Coincidentally, nine years ago I published in the Journal of Church & State a critique of Professor Simmons' work on abortion. You may download a pdf of the article here.  Much of that article was incorporated into portions of chapter 3 of my book Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press, 2007)

(Update: It should be noted that Dr. Simmons' views on abortion do not reflect the position of America's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC is unequivocally prolife).