Sunday, January 30, 2005

The prophet Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Or maybe not?

Are Catholics Permitted to Believe That Elijah and Enoch Were Taken Up To Heaven?

[long citations will be in blue; my book excerpt will be in green]

Blog participant Dev Thakur asked:

Did Enoch and Elijah really go to Heaven before Christ opened it up to us? How could that be? Or did they just go to "the heavens" and wait for Christ?
I replied:

As for Enoch and Elijah, yes, they did go to heaven. I wrote about this in my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, [p. 134 in Sophia edition] as a roundabout argument in favor of purgatory:
We know from Scripture that a few Old Testament saints went to heaven before Christ went to Sheol and led (presumably) the majority of the pre-Christian righteous there (Ephesians 4:8-10 and 1 Peter 3:19-20). Elijah went straight to heaven by a whirlwind, as we are informed in 2 Kings 2:11. It is also generally thought by all sides that Enoch went directly to heaven as well (Genesis 5:24). Moses came with Elijah to the Mount of Transfiguration to talk with Jesus (Matthew 17:1-3, Mark 9:4, Luke 9:30-31). By implication, then, it could be held that he, too, had been in heaven, and by further logical inference, other Old Testament saintly figures.

It follows that, even before Christ, there was a "two-tiered" afterlife for the righteous: some, such as Elijah, Enoch and likely Moses and others, went to heaven, whereas a second, larger group went temporarily to Sheol. Likewise, now the elect of God can go straight to heaven if sufficiently holy, or to purgatory as a necessary stopping-point in order to attain to the proper sanctity becoming of inhabitants of heavenly glory. Therefore, it is neither true that all righteous dead before Christ went solely to Sheol, nor that all after His Resurrection went, and go, to heaven. On the other hand, the reprobate dead in Sheol (or Hades) eventually are sentenced to hell (Revelation 20:13-15).

Jason then wrote on my blog:

I must take exception to your opinion regarding Enoch and Elijah. The common teaching of the Church is that no human could enter the beatific vision before Christ. Enoch and Elijah may have entered a natural paradise (as they never died), and, as many believe, are the two "witnesses" spoken of in Revelation who will come to earth.

"Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, 'hell'—-'Sheol" in Hebrew or 'Hades' in Greek—-because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for ALL OF the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the redeemer." (CCC 633)

Note that the Catechism does not make any exceptions.
I replied again:

According to Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., I am permitted to hold this opinion, as the Church has not finally determined the question. He wrote:

Presumably Elijah went to heaven without dying . . . No doubt Ecclesiasticus suggests that Enoch was directly taken to heaven.
Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman made a similar argument in his book, Meditations and Devotions [linked to this exact passage]:

IV. On the Assumption

(1) May 24

Mary is the "Sancta Dei Genetrix," the Holy Mother of God

As soon as we apprehend by faith the great fundamental truth that Mary is the Mother of God, other wonderful truths follow in its train; and one of these is that she was exempt from the ordinary lot of mortals, which is not only to die, but to become earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Die she must, and die she did, as her Divine Son died, for He was man; but various reasons have approved themselves to holy writers, why, although her body was for a while separated from her soul and consigned to the tomb, yet it did not remain there, but was speedily united to her soul again, and raised by our Lord to a new and eternal life of heavenly glory.

And the most obvious reason for so concluding is this—that other servants of God have been raised from the grave by the power of God, and it is not to be supposed that our Lord would have granted any such privilege to anyone else without also granting it to His own Mother.

We are told by St. Matthew, that after our Lord's death upon the Cross "the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints that had slept"—that is, slept the sleep of death, "arose, and coming out of the tombs after His Resurrection, came into the Holy City, and appeared to many." St. Matthew says, "many bodies of the Saints"—that is, the holy Prophets, Priests, and Kings of former times—rose again in anticipation of the last day.

Can we suppose that Abraham, or David, or Isaias, or Ezechias, should have been thus favoured, and not God's own Mother? Had she not a claim on the love of her Son to have what any others had? Was she not nearer to Him than the greatest of the Saints before her? And is it conceivable that the law of the grave should admit of relaxation in their case, and not in hers? Therefore we confidently say that our Lord, having preserved her from sin and the consequences of sin by His Passion, lost no time in pouring out the full merits of that Passion upon her body as well as her soul.

St. Alphonsus de Liguori, a Doctor of the Church, also used the analogy of Elijah ("Elias" -- the Latin form) to the Assumption of Mary, in his book, The Glories of Mary (1750):

The prophet Elias was carried to heaven in a fiery chariot . . . "But to conduct thee to heaven, O Mother of God," says the Abbot Rupert, "a fiery chariot was not enough; the whole court of heaven, headed by its King thy Son, went forth to meet and accompany thee."

(Part the Second; Discourse VIII: Second Discourse on the Assumption of Mary; section I: "How glorious was the triumph of Mary when she ascended to heaven"; p. 425 in my edition [translated and edited by Eugene Grimm, Brooklyn: Redemptorist Fathers, 1931)

Early bishops did, too:

Theoteknos, a 6th century Bishop of Jericho . . . argued that since Elijah ascended and since a place in heaven had been prepared for the apostles, so the much the more must Mary have ascended to a place prepared for her.

Pope John Paul II stated in a General Audience on July 21, 1999 that Enoch and Elijah went to heaven:

The depiction of heaven as the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God is joined with that of the place to which believers, through grace, can also ascend, as we see in the Old Testament accounts of Enoch (cf. Gn 5:24) and Elijah (cf. 2 Kgs 2:11).
The "Quick Questions" from This Rock (July-August 2002), dealt with the question as follows:

Q: In the Old Testament we see Elijah being taken (presumably) body and soul into heaven. I understood that according to Catholic teaching, only Mary has been assumed body and soul into heaven. Obviously, just men like Moses and Elijah could not get into heaven itself until Jesus’ time. But I’m still left with the quandary of Elijah: Was his body there ahead of Mary’s?

A: According to Scripture, Enoch and Elijah may have been assumed into heaven before the time of Christ. This is less clear in Enoch's case, since Genesis 5:24 says only that God "took" him, but doesn't say where. Sirach 44:16 and 49:14 make it clear that he was taken up from the earth, and Hebrews 11:5 adds "so that he should not see death."

In Elijah's case, 2 Kings 2:11 states that "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." 1 Maccabees 2:58 adds, "Elijah because of great zeal for the Law was taken up into heaven. " Taken at face value, these would seem to indicate that both Enoch and Elijah were assumed into heaven. But the Church teaches that heaven was not yet opened to the saints because Christ had not yet come. How can this be explained?

One possible explanation is to say that they didn't really go to heaven but to the abode of the dead where the souls of the righteous were waiting for the Messiah to open heaven. A difficulty is that the abode of the dead, or she'ol, is pictured in the Old Testament as being down (e.g., Num. 16:33 speaks of Korah and his followers going "down alive into she'ol"), yet Enoch and Elijah are depicted as being taken up.

Another possibility would be to say they were taken up but to a different kind of heaven than the one Christ opened. Or it is possible to say simply that they received entrance to heaven as a grace which came from the redemption Christ wrought – only they received it early, as did Mary when she was immaculately conceived. Like Mary, Enoch and Elijah may have been foretastes of the good things to come. In such a case, they would be exceptions to the rule. But God can do what he wants.

Valentine Long, O.F.M., in his book, The Mother of God (Franciscan Herald Press, 1976), further clarifies the issue for us:

Whether any human bodies but those of Mary and her divine Son are already in heaven, does not fall within the confines of doctrine. There may be others. But the faithful are not obliged to believe there are. The Church allows the possibility without enforcing it.

There are those, among the biblical scholars, who consider the possibility a distinct probability. They first point out an Old Testament passage which tells of Enoch suddenly disappearing from view because "God took him." and then another which specifies that "he was taken up from the earth" (Gen. 5:24; Sir. 48:9). They next quote from the New Testament this confirmative text: "Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him" (Heb. 11:5). Nor does the inquiry end with Enoch. A second prophet, who at the Transfiguration would reappear with Moses on Mount Tabor, on the hills of Moab was whisked away into the skies while his companion stood by in amazement. "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven is as plain words can say it, and the witness "saw him no more" (2 (4) Kings 2:11-12).

That Elijah departed alive in such a flurry, and momentarily reappeared at the Transfiguration, and according to a prophecy would return again to minister to his people, all reinforces the mystery of his present whereabouts. Where has he gone? Where has Enoch gone? Neither of them died. But since the heaven of heavens was closed to humanity before its Savior's death, the question arises: were they detained until then in Limbo and afterwards graduated to the beatitude of the angels? Limbo (known in the Old Testament as "Abraham's bosom") had certainly been the place of detention for departed souls fit for heaven as soon as their Savior would open it to them, but in the case of Enoch and Elijah we are dealing with animated bodies. Where now are these? Is it out of the question to suppose that the two may have been taken, body and soul, into heaven? The Church does not say.

Nor has her magisterium chosen to speak with finality on what happened to those many risen bodies of Good Friday. Did they die again? Or were they taken to heaven? Is St. Joseph there now, body as well as soul? A select group of theologians, an even larger group of mystics, and sometimes theologians who were mystics, think so. They think the Holy Family are all together again. They think that the body that labored so faithfully and lovingly to provide a livelihood for Jesus and Mary is with them in glory. Suarez does. But why go into the long enumeration? St. Francis de Sales in lauding the foster father to and beyond the skies was singing no solo but contributing to a chorus.

That should be sufficient, I think, to demonstrate that any Catholic is fully permitted to hold such a view.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

"Pet Sounds" (1966): in the opinion of many (including yours truly), the best pop / rock album of all time. It certainly profoundly influenced the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper": its main rival as the all-time best on music critics' fave lists.

Does Orthodoxy Allow Contraception Or Not? (Expanded)

My latest paper (62K; lengthened from 45K, with some interesting additional documentation, as of 5:15 PM EST on 1-29-05)

Friday, January 28, 2005

A Level-Headed, Sensible, Realistic, Respectful Ecumenism (Tom Hunt)

I received this from a friend of mine, Tom Hunt ( I thought it was so well-written, that I wanted to share it with my blog readers:

Letter to a Friend About Ecumenism


Jon, you would be surprised with what conviction I defend evangelicals here in liberal Lutheran land. For many people I have met, a caricature is all they can see when they think of bible-believers, a picture of a person comes to mind who is mean, judgmental, and says "it's easy to get saved and be part of the party if you'll only be a narrow thoughtless anti-intellectual bigot." I find it amazing that this is the image they call up every time when you say evangelical. They can't see anything else. When you live inside the camp it's a hard fact to swallow, but it's true.

When I think of the evangelicals I immediately see some of the most thoughtful and noble people I have ever met.

You have to keep that in mind. I have a great deal of respect for the folks at TIU who had to ask me to leave. They have some convictions beyond "i'm ok - your'e ok". We have a LOT in common.

Ecumenism is at its best when people adhere strongly to their tradition. CS Lewis said he had much more in common with anyone who took his own religion seriously than with some one who lives on the periphery of all traditions, embracing none with any gusto.

C. S. Lewis of course had the courage and audacity to say that his position was correct, that other religions, outside of Christianity, though they contained much truth (especially in the moral sphere) were, at the end of day the woefully inadequate in addressing the real predicament in which man finds himself. Only Christianity attacks the problem of sin and redemption directly. Only Christianity shows God coming to man, where all other religions show man attempting to make his way to God.

So your complaint, "Although it is hard at times when those who think that their tradition is the only possible way begin to dialogue" is, in the grand scheme of things also a common complaint against the likes of Lewis, "how is any one supposed to dialog with a narrow minded person who thinks he is right and others are wrong?"

So our dialog, yours and mine, will always suffer the tension of the fact that 1) you really think the intercession of the saints is at best a sort of cultural-peripheral thing which can be regarded as non-essential and I really cannot live without their prayers. For you, devotion to the Theotokos is at best a quaint practice of misled, primitive people (and at worst outright idol worship) and for me is it absolutely central to the maintenance of a faith with historical and yes Christological teeth. For you the Pope is a good guy (well this one is, anyway) whom you are glad to call brother, but who attempts to play a role you think is at best unnecessary, and at worst a big hindrance. For me his unifying voice, and the authority vested in his office are two very good reasons why Christianity is still an indentifiable body of people to this day, in spite of all the troubles. And finally for you communion can be taken or left, done once a month, once a year, or whenever, by whomever, and for me it is in fact the Body Blood Soul and Divinity of Christ, who is the Bread of Heaven, who comes to me under the appearance of bread and wine in invisible but none-the-less very real glory and might.

We have real disagreements. When we dialog we can leave them aside. But we cannot pretend that either of us hold them to be non-essential.

With great love and the deepest respect,

your friend


Thursday, January 27, 2005

My Eclectic Musical Tastes and Instruments I Can Play

I don't think many people, who read my apologetic writings, realize how much into music I am. I always say that music and history were my first loves: long before I knew any theology from a hole in the ground. I can play (or have played at one time or another) seven instruments: piano (at least, earlier in my life, when I got good enough to play Chopin's Minute Waltz at age 11), trombone (I took lessons from the first chair trombone in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to get into a prestigious symphony band and symphony orchestra for the best public high school in Detroit: Cass Technical High School).

Cass has a long tradition of musical excellence. That was great: we played actual symphonies and other classical pieces. I played violin for a short time, then taught myself baritone, and (in 1980) guitar and blues harp (harmonica). I can also play the tin whistle. I'm sure I could also play drums if I had the chance, as I love percussion and rhythm. And trumpet and French horn would merely involve variants of the keys of baritone, so I'm sure I would be able to learn those if I wanted to (though they are more difficult, because of the smaller mouthpiece). The French horn is actually my favorite orchestra instrument to listen to.

By the end of high school, I was able to sight-read the score to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, and play the trombone solo in Mahler's Third Symphony. In high school, the brass section of our band had the thrill of once playing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. But alas, I never kept up trombone after graduating in 1976. It's not exactly the type of instrument that you sit around and play in the house! You have to be in a band, or forget it.

These days, I restrict myself mainly to listening and collecting music (I must have at least 2000 albums), and occasionally writing about it. Here are some of the things I have been buying and listening to lately:

I've recently been on a Cajun kick. The word Cajun comes the original Acadian. Acadia is present-day Nova Scotia, and the Acadians were the French settlers there. On our vacation last summer we camped for several days near a beatiful Acadian fishing village, Cheticamp, up in Cape Breton, which is the gorgeous Northern part of Nova Scotia. While there, I had the pleasure of attending a Cajun concert (even got to dance a bit). I was told that Cajun culture is quite distinct from French Quebec culture. The French in Nova Scotia, were, unfortunately kicked out of the land after the French and Indian War of the 1750s. Most of them were forced to relocate in Louisiana (much like the American Indians were forced to Oklahoma for a time, and then to various reservations, when their land was being stolen and their culture raped by the dominant European-American culture).

Despite this sad history, the music produced by the Cajuns is incredible. In Detroit (which was founded by a Frenchman, Cadillac, in 1701, and has a great French heritage of its own), we have a free world music concert every July, called The Concert of Colors. I have heard some amazing musicians at this great annual event, including early rock stars, such as Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and the one and only Ray Charles (Los Lobos, one of my very favorite rock groups, has also played there twice). One of the groups I got to hear was called the Bluerunners: a sort of "alt-Cajun" band. I liked them immediately, and finally got around to searching and finding five of their albums the other night on the Internet. The albums are as good as I remember them being in concert. They're extremely infectious. So far, I have listened to To the Country (1998) and Le Grand Bleu (2001). Their self-titled first album (1991), is available in a used copy on amazon for only 99 cents right now. Go get it if you like this kind of thing!

Wonderful stuff. For those unfamiliar with Cajun music, it is usually heavy on violins and accordions, which play a repetitious, catchy rhythmic background. Guitars are also prominent in the sound. Apart from that, it is sort of an amalgam of bluegrass and old-timey footstompin' acoustic folk music, and sounds somewhat like rockabilly (early white rock and roll). That's how I categorize it, anyway. Amazon usually allows you to hear short samples of songs. Try it, you'll like it, if you like roots country, bluegrass, or folk music. It's irresistible.

I also picked up last week a four-disc box set at a discount price, called Cajun Early Recordings: Important Swamp Hits Remastered (2004). These songs go back to the 1920s and 1930s, and collect the important early stuff (much like Jimmie Rodgers' and the Carter Family's roles in the formation of modern country music). For more about Cajun music, see and Listmania! Cajun Music 101.

Excited about finding these albums, I looked for those of other musicians I had heard at the Concert of Colors. Prominent among these is Amampondo, an African group that offers some of the most exciting, pulsating music I have ever heard. Imagine the group Santana (their early stuff), only with far more complex African rhythms and additional percussion instruments, and ten times more intense and driving. I was able to purchase their album Vuyani (2000) for only 98 cents (that offer is still available for used albums on amazon). I also ordered State of Emergency (1995).

To get great deals on music, compare amazon (especially used copies) with the prices on the website Music Stack. Between those two, you're not likely to get a cheaper price. If you do, please let me know about other services!

Another African singer I was privileged to be able to hear for free, is the magnificent world artist, from Bénin: Angélique Kidjo. I have her albums Ayé (1994), Keep on Moving (Best of) (2001), and Black Ivory Soul (2002). Listen to the amazon song samples. You'll love it! When I first saw her in concert, I was also introduced to Trilok Gurtu, whom my jazz / world musician brother-in-law Ken Kozora was raving about as "the best drummer in the world." Here I was listening to a blistering concert by a recent version of the band, War, and, intrigued by his description, I decided to leave that and make my way to a smallish tent out of the main outdoor arena.

What I discovered there was so extraordinary that I would never be the same again. Gurtu (at least lately) plays a sort of hybrid of African pop, Indian traditional music, with funk and rock and jazz elements mixed in. I was absolutely overwhelmed. I was in this little tent listening to an absolute master of his craft. I was in "music heaven." It was like how I imagine it would have been experiencing (no pun intended) Hendrix or Coltrane in person. The music is amazing. I have his albums, African Fantasy (2000), and The Beat of Love (2001): both (obviously) enthusiastically recommended, with my highest rating.

Another one of my great loves is Celtic music. We saw the Chieftains in concert once, and recently I purchased the album Runaway Sunday (1997), by the Irish group Altan, whom many consider the finest Irish group today, even better than the Chieftains (which is putting the bar very high). That's still available used at amazon for $1.88! Their shipping price is $2.49 per disc, so you can buy the album for only $4.37 postpaid.

To switch over to a very different genre, I've loved the German synthesizer / electronic group Kraftwerk since the mid-70s. It turns out I was 15 or so years before my time, as many are now saying that Kraftwerk was a major influence on current techno-pop and (various kinds of) electronic music. I got to see them in concert in 1981, when their album Computer World had just come out (with the hit song, Pocket Calculator). Other good albums by them are Radio-Activity (1975), Trans-Europe Express (1977), and The Man Machine (1978; featuring We Are the Robots). I ran across these albums on amazon and coudn't resist buying them, as I was dumb enough to get rid of all my old vinyl records from them (I had all of 'em).

I also picked up The Mix (1991), which slightly re-did some of their best songs, giving them more punch and rhythm (even a very infectious funkiness in some songs). It's fantastic. My kids love it! The most exciting thing of all was learning about a new album by them (the first since 1986): Tour de France Soundtracks (2003). It's excellent; more hypnotic and musically subtle than their old stuff. They've clearly been influenced, in turn, by all the electoric music that has come out soince their heyday.

I love rockabilly music. It's one of my very favorites. While in my local music store lately, I discovered new UK EMI releases (2004) of the best of Gene Vincent (of Be bop a lula fame) and Eddie Cochran (who was tragically killed in a car crash in 1960). These guys sizzle. It's great early rock and roll, with 30 and 32 songs on one CD.

I love 50s doo-wop vocal music, too. Recently I ordered the Very Best of the Spaniels (my favorite doo-wop group), and Very Best , Vol. 2. Anyone who likes this kind of music must (it's a legal requirement) obtain the The Doo-Wop Box and The Doo Wop Box Volume II (currently available for $40 and $30 used, on amazon).

Lastly (I could go on and on with this), I am crazy about a box set called Sam Cooke With the Soul Stirrers. I consider Sam Cooke to be the best singer of all time (in terms of actual voice quality and what he does with his voice). This music: sizzling 50s gospel which would make a dead man (even a mummy!) get up and dance and wave his hands (and perhaps get right with God, too), is extraordinary beyond description. I would say that in several respects it is even better than the bulk of Cooke's (very good) pop work. His singing in these earlier recordings is beyond belief: absolutely awesome. If you like either Sam Cooke or older gospel music, get this. You won't regret it.

I don't know a whole lot about 50s gospel, but I do know that another incredible group of roughly the same style is the Dixie Hummingbirds (Paul Simon had them sing back-up on his song, Loves me Like a Rock, in 1973). This is the stuff (speaking of gospel music generally) that led to R & B, which in turn was perhaps the biggest influence on the origin of rock and roll. It's an essential musical education.

It's really fun to listen to the sample on amazon of all these great old (and new) albums. Buying music is a lot less risky than it used to be, with all these advantages we have today, and you can get great deals on the Internet in such an easy way by just surfing around a bit (and knowing where to go to find them).

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Response to Anglican Edwin Tait, on Conversion and Historical Ecclesiological Arguments

See Edwin's paper, "Two reasons for converting," on his blog, Ithilien, which I recently highly recommended here. His words (reproduced in their entirety) will be in blue:

In following the stimulating discussions over at Pontifications, I've become increasingly convinced that there are two rather different reasons why people convert to Catholicism--unity and authority. By this I don't mean that the same person can't be concerned with both--probably most converts are. Indeed, it would be hard to follow the one impulse into Catholicism without also finding oneself in the wake of the other. But I think on the whole one or the other is likely to be more important, and if you listen to people talk about their reasons for converting (or for considering the possibility) you can usually figure out which.

I'm also not denying that there are many other reasons for considering Catholicism, of course. But in the absence of one of these two concerns (or of personal reasons for choosing Catholicism), any other reason is as likely as not to lead the seeker elsewhere. For instance, someone primarily concerned to recover sacramental piety and the beauty of the liturgy is likely to end up Anglican or Orthodox. Someone concerned for a coherent, logical theology with well-defined boundaries between truth and error may well become Reformed. Someone whose deepest desire is for an ancient, unchanging faith that is clearly reflected in the writings of the Fathers is likely to become Orthodox. And so on, and so forth.

The desire for unity and authority, on the other hand, can be fully and legitimately satisfied (for the Christian) nowhere else but in the Roman communion.

I accept that, of course, but I would quibble about the other factors. I am a Catholic in part precisely because I see Catholicism as the "unchanging" faith. I see it uniquely holding to ancient Christian morality in areas such as divorce and abortion. I see it acknowledging a papacy, which certainly seems to be a strong motif in the Fathers (with even current-day Orthodox and many Anglicans agreeing that papal primacy in some form was the norm throughout Church history). In areas where Catholicism appears, at first glance, to be significantly different from earlier Christianity, I think this is able to be sufficiently explained by development of doctrine (the factor that was most important in my conversion).

As a Protestant (unless one adopts a purely invisible view of the Church), one is continually yearning for a unity that is not fully expressed in one's own denomination. That just comes with the territory. And even the Orthodox, while they try to avoid the fact, have stubborn bits of evidence in their own beloved Tradition that the See of Rome has a unique role in the preservation of unity. That doesn't mean that the Orthodox position is incoherent--a unique role does not have to mean a necessary role.

No (strictly logically speaking), but I maintain that Church history in the first millennium shows that both the papacy and ecumenical councils were permanent aspects of ecclesiology. The fact that both Orthodox and Protestants either have neither, or in theory only, is quite telling and a good argument for the Catholic position.

It may be that Rome has in fact fallen into heresy,

Who would authoritatively decide that?

and can only fulfill its historic role through repentance and reconciliation with Orthodoxy. But meanwhile there is a vacant place in the choir--and it's the place of the conductor. The choir, being Orthodox and knowing all the chants anyway, can probably get on OK without a conductor. But it's still not quite the same.

Similarly, I think it's impossible to deny that the Church cannot speak with full and final authority if the voice of Rome is lacking. I am not a Catholic in part because I don't believe that the consent of Rome is sufficient to make a group of bishops an Ecumenical Council. But I am firmly convinced that it's necessary.

Then it seems to me that Catholic ecclesiology is closing in on you . . . you can hold such a view, but you will always be an odd duck in Anglicanism or Orthodoxy. The logic here leads inexorably to Rome, where there is a consistent, coherent position on such matters (agree or disagree).

One can't speak of "the Church" when speaking of dogmatic definitions without speaking of Rome. Any non-Roman ecclesiology is going to find its style a bit cramped when it comes to fighting heresy and laying down the boundaries of orthodoxy. It's going to have strong temptations to slide into either a sectarian orthodoxy that makes certain local peculiarities (such as the Protestant view of sola fide) Dogmas of the Church, or a barren swamp of tolerance that cannot name any heresy except whatever the broader culture of the given time and place considers offensive.

Why is this? I would like to see this developed a bit, and reasons given why. If the reason is lack of central authority, then I would ask why it is that many people have a hard time grasping what you see as rather obvious? And, conversely, how and why do you see it as obvious, while they don't?

People for whom either or both of these issues are desperately important are going to find it very difficult to resist the pull Romewards.

For me, a large part of my decision wasn't authority per se, but simply looking to see who held most closely to the Ancient Christian Faith as I understood it (through study) to be. It was more a matter of (historical) factuality than of epistemology and authority (though the latter played a
role, too). In other words, for me, the question, "What [or, Which] is the Church?" was one of plausible historical continuity, not a matter of which claimant had the best or most coherent functioning authority. Truth was paramount in my mind, not authority (which doesn't always coincide with truth).

It was the intersection of historical truths and ecclesiological claims which fascinated me and ultimately drew me in, via Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. In fact, my strong tendency was away from centralized or infallible authority, since my biggest beef was with infallibility. I fought that with all my might in the year preceding my conversion, utilizing Dollinger, Kung, Salmon: many of the most-used anti-infallibilist tracts. Cardinal Newman overcame my objection through the force of reason as applied to history, and the argument from analogy.

But depending on which issue is more important to them, they will experience that pull in quite different ways.

Everyone is different, certainly. The complexity and variation of the process of conversion (in any direction) makes it a very interesting topic to discuss.

For the authority-minded, everything tends to boil down to epistemology. How do you know that you are in possession of the truth?

Yes. I think this is very important, and it is a major reason that I am an apologist. Part of our job is to try to provide answers to such questions for (in my case) Catholics, and Christians generally, in areas where we all agree. I would argue that this question, in relationship to Christianity, inevitably becomes an historical one. That's how the system was designed. The resurrection was historical. So was the Crucifixion and Ascension and Post-Resurrection appearances. How and why we believe in those things is determined by legal-historical types of evidence; eyewitness testimony and so forth. Miracles which lead us to accept Christianity are matters of historical testimony.

This being the case, I would argue that the question of "which Church / denomination?" is also largely determined by history. And that, in turn, leads one to apostolic succession, which was the Fathers' criterion for genuineness and ecclesial status. Obviously, I'm a very "historical" guy, and devotee of Newman, but I truly believe that this question is extremely important for all who are considering conversion and wondering in what direction to go. I think it has to (and should) be faced by everyone.

How can you believe X and reject Y without having a theory in place that explains why one is true and the other is false? This is one of the issues that most clearly separates those drawn to Rome from those drawn to Constantinople. The Orthodox can never answer these questions in a very satisfactory way. They believe what they believe because it's been handed down. And they believe that the Church that handed it down is the true Church because--well, because it's the Church that has handed down the truth. Catholic online apologists jump all over this kind of thing, with great glee.

As they should, because if that is the argument, it is circular reasoning, and the heart cannot accept what the mind rejects as false. The Orthodox have to prove their "case" from history just like everyone else does. They can try to make such a case, and sustain it over against Catholicism. I think it fails, and won't withstand scrutiny, but in my opinion, this is the argument that they must make if they are to establish their own ecclesiological preeminence over against Rome. My main concern is with anti-Catholic Orthodox. Almost everything I have written about Orthodoxy was in response to the anti-Catholic brand of Orthodox. I think their historical argument is thoroughly self-defeating and intellectually-suicidal. The ecumenical Orthodox position, on the other hand, is, I think, ultimately incoherent, but not self-defeating by any means. I think it is quite a respectable position; just not as good as the Catholic one (as one would expect!).

For the unity-minded, on the other hand, the primary issue is one of allegiance. How can I live out the Christian life without having unswerving allegiance to the actual Christian community in which I participate? Nothing less than the Universal Church can demand that kind of allegiance.
Therefore, one can only live out the Christian life in a community with a credible claim to universality.

I think that's exactly right, and how, in fact, the apostles and fathers viewed the question.

A unity-minded person with no concern for the authority issue may well become Catholic without worrying about infallibility--but with a deep allegiance to the concrete reality of the Catholic community. Indeed, some such people become Catholic while disagreeing flatly with certain Catholic dogmas. This is much decried by conservative Catholics, but it happens.

It happens, but it is not in accordance with the Catholic system as it actually is. Part of what it inherently means to be Catholic (and, I think, Orthodox, as well) is to fully accept what the Church teaches, not to pick and choose. Why even be a Catholic if one thinks that way? Protestants have the right to private judgment (within denominational parameters). They can choose this from this tradition and that from that (this is what I did myself: very much so). To try to be a Catholic with the same approach is to simply be a Protestant-in-disguise. In a word, it's dishonest and deceptive at worst, and wrongheaded and misinformed at best.

To some extent, clearly, these two categories correspond to the labels "conservative" and "liberal." Certainly it's hard to imagine a liberal Catholic being "authority-minded," but the reverse is not necessarily true. "Liberal" is of course a relative term--a primarily unity-minded convert is probably always going to look "liberal" to the authority-minded.

Yes: the old thing about "no unity at the expense of truth." Orthodox Catholics believe that unity is grounded in the one truth (or, "fullness of the truth"). That is how it is achieved in the first place.

But such a person will most likely see the need for authority and dogma, and submit to all the teachings of the Magisterium. At bottom, however, the unity-minded person is not motivated primarily by the need for settled, authoritative dogma. (In the same way, authority-minded converts are usually acutely concerned for unity--my point is simply that the issue of authority tends to come first, with the need for unity being a consequence.) A unity-minded Catholic could submit quite happily to a church that got things doctrinally wrong, occasionally.

If they didn't believe in infallibility, sure. But then that gets back to my earlier point: such a perspective is not Catholic, by definition. You could only have such a view when you accept some form of non-binding, non-infallible Tradition, and still hold on to sola Scriptura as the rule of faith. In other words, Anglicanism (or "high" Presbyterianism or Lutheranism) fits the bill perfectly.

The fine points of ex cathedra vs. ordinary magisterium, vs. non-infallible statements that demand submission of will and intellect, are not going to bother such a person all that much.

Then (again) they should not deign to be Catholic, because to do so is to thoroughly misunderstand how the Catholic Church views itself.

Now the way I've put this probably tips my hand. In fact, my first interest in Catholicism was highly authority-driven. I wanted a haven of certainty, to preserve me from liberalism while rescuing me from fundamentalism. I didn't (and don't) trust myself to make up my own religion.


Yet the more I explored Catholicism the more problems and contradictions I found with this approach. Between the difficulty of interpreting all the Magisterial documents, the questions about what is and is not infallible, and the propensity for the Vatican to demand and conservative Catholics to give a high degree of assent even to non-infallible teaching, it all got very confusing.

But that is for the Church to do! This is one big reason why God wanted there to be the Church in the first place. When an individual tries to do this himself, he is still operating within the paradigm of sola Scriptura and private judgment -- precisely the things that the Catholic system disallows. One could reject Catholicism by using Protestant epistemological methods, but it would not be an examination of the system as it views itself internally. In other words, Catholic epistemology and self-justification is not made or broken by Protestant epistemology and self-justification (this is a somewhat subtle point, but an extremely crucial one, especially when talking about conversion).

The Protestant methodology of critique described above involves circular reasoning in the following way: The Protestant presupposes private judgment and the rule of faith of sola Scriptura, and also assumes that all Christian belief-systems must be subject to it. But of course, this is one of the very things in dispute between Protestantism on the one hand, and Orthodoxy and Catholicism on the other (with Anglicanism betwixt and between, as so often).

But this has to itself be established in order for the criticism to have any force. The Protestant can't simply presuppose all this stuff, analyze Catholicism by using it and then declare victory. And that is because Catholicism operates on a different rule of faith and a different epistemology than does Protestantism.

So immediately the question becomes, rather: "why does Catholicism disallow these beliefs and this epistemology? And why does Protestantism accept them?"How is that resolved? Well, it's resolved in the usual way that all such disputes are: by recourse to Scripture, Church history, reason, and (I would add) practical workability. Sola scriptura and private judgment (as an epistemological approach inexorably tied to sola Scriptura) fail on all four counts. These notions cannot be found in Scripture (despite many near-ingenious attempts to do so from our esteemed Protestant brethren). They can't be found in history, either (ditto to my last parenthetical comment). Both history and Scripture also offer tons of directly contrary evidence. Nor are they reasonable or workable.

So the bottom line is that the Protestant cannot establish on external, objective, independent grounds the principle that he so often presupposes and judges the Catholic Church by. But the Catholic Church can easily demonstrate its authority principle of the "three-legged stool" (Scripture, Church, Tradition), based on reason, practicality, Scripture, and history (including apostolic succession). Things developed, so that has to be taken into account, but no incoherence occurs in the Catholic system, whereas the Protestant principle of authority and its rule of faith are plagued by incoherence and inconsistency.

Getting back to the larger question at hand: one can believe that it is difficult to interpret all these magisterial documents, and wonder about some things, yet accept the Church's authority on faith, based on a number of various criteria, which taken together, and cumulatively, convince one that the Catholic Church is what it claims to be.

As C.S. Lewis said, "the rules of chess create chess problems." Catholics can easily look at all these alleged "historical difficulties" the way a Protestant approaches alleged "biblical difficulties." In both cases, there are things difficult to understand, yet in both a certain proposition is believed in faith; then scholars can certainly grapple with all the "problems" (real or alleged). That's their job. Individuals (in either system, though less so in Protestantism) do not have that burden, because no one can figure out everything, and must accept many things on authority and/or faith. We do that in areas such as science and nutrition; we also have to at some point in theological matters. Theology shouldn't be any different than anything else (from a broad philosophcial perspective). Faith has to be exercised, obviously, and that is a super-rational (not irrational) process, but insofar as reason is involved, one shouldn't set up an unattainable standard for theology as opposed to other areas of knowledge and belief.

There came a point where it seemed to me that so many of my issues were at a high level of abstraction and had little to do with the problems I faced in actually living the Christian life. As the years passed, while my interest in Catholicism never went away, I gradually moved over from the "authority" to the "unity" side of the scale. Side of the scale, be it said, not end of the spectrum. I always have been and am concerned with both issues. But it now seems to me that the Church can live relatively well (though not perfectly) without the kind of authority offered by Rome.

On what basis? How does this overcome the necessary factors that you yourself outlined above?
It's no longer clear to me (if it ever was) that doctrinal certainty is so much more important than some of the practical issues with regard to which the Roman Communion is manifestly imperfect.

I contend that this viewpoint cannot be squared with the biblical one, where it seems to me that all doctrine is considered to be highly important and non-negotiable (we especially see this in St. Paul's writings). A serious, troubling line is crossed when one argues in this fashion. It's one thing to be an agnostic and say that one isn't personally sure what is true about doctrine x or competing doctrines of x. It's quite another to reach the somewhat-despairing conclusion that doctrinal certainty can be softened in such difficult areas, and that this is how things should be. The former arises simply from human limitation and uncertainty and legitimate working-through of doctrinal beliefs. The latter, however, is, I believe, a serious compromise of ancient Christian and biblical principle with certain tenets of modernism or postmodernism. Catholics and Orthodox do not think in this way, and neither did the early Protestants. It is only modern Protestants and liberals in all three camps who think that way.

I have illustrated the change in this regard in Protestantism by observing that the early Protestants cared so much about their being only one truth concerning baptism or the Eucharist, that they killed (or "excommunicated") each other over such differences. Today, on the other hand, many Protestants think "who cares what you believe about baptism. Come on in, the water's warm" (no pun intended). It's gone from one pole to the other. Apart from the killing and persecution, the early Protestant view is far closer, I think, to that of the apostles, the Bible, and the fathers.

That is my argument on this, and it is not the equivalent of calling you personally a "liberal." Oftentimes, in the past, when I have tried to show that a certain particular belief is much more consistent with a liberal outlook than a traditional one, I have been falsely accused of categorizing the person's entire theology as "liberal" or "heterodox." That doesn't follow at all from what I have stated. Nor do I believe it. It's simply an argument about one thing (in this instance, how one views "doctrinal certainty").

If I do become Catholic some day, it will not be because I'm convinced that we must have an infallible authority. It will be because I'm convinced that I cannot in good conscience give my heart to any Christian body not claiming to be the Universal Church. Infallibility would, in that case, simply be one of the things that came with the package.

Again, you are approaching the question as a Protestant would. Of course you don't believe infallible authority is necessary. This is (one big reason) why you are a Protestant, because by definition that is what Protestants believe (Scripture is the only infallible authority). But this is the rub. To be a Catholic, one must accept the different rule of faith involved in same, which is contrary to private judgment and sola Scriptura. One accepts the full, binding authority of the Church, and part of that understanding is infallibility.

You may arrive at the Catholic position by any number of doctrinal and intellectual and faith avenues which have little to do with infallibility (in my case, I started with the moral issues and questions about internal inconsistencies in Protestantism), but once you get there and have decided to swim the Tiber, you must accept this in faith, and grant even internal assent to it. If not, you have not fully converted, as far as I am concerned. And that is not just my opinion. It is that of Aquinas, Newman, and magisterial statements by the Church Herself.

Pontificator, on the other hand, seems to me to be primarily authority-driven. Not of course that he isn't concerned for unity as well. But in recent posts he seems increasingly concerned with issues of epistemology. He's been reading a lot of Newman and seems convinced by Newman's view that the only real alternative to skepticism and individualism is the infallible authority of the Catholic Church.

Yes, but that is another huge discussion. I would state it myself as "the only fully consistent and coherent and fully satisfying alternative to skepticism and individualism . . . " Insofar as one is searching for those things, it does, I suppose, reduce to a state of affairs where (ultimately)
the Catholic Church is the "only" alternative. I don't wish at all to exclude Orthodoxy from the equation (nor does my Church), but obviously, I am Catholic rather than Orthodox, and I believe there are solid reasons for preferring one over the other (just as most Orthodox would think from their converse perspective).

For me, the coup de grace that fully convinced me to abandon this approach was William Abraham's book Canon and Criterion. I disagree with significant parts of Abraham's argument, largely because I think he ignores the distinction I've been making in this post and assumes that the only basis for being (let alone becoming) a Catholic is the concern for an authoritative epistemology.

It seems to me that what you are doing is simply hanging on to peculiarly Protestant epistemology and private judgment. You're (in effect) asserting that it is superior to the Catholic and Orthodox self-rationales and justifications. I would, of course (being the Socratic that I am) go on to challenge you why you think that (which gets into a sort of fascinating "meta-epistemology"). That gets down to brass tacks and clarifies the fundamental epistemological differences real fast!

But I find his basic premise thoroughly convincing. Abraham argues that the importation of epistemology into Christian dogma (in the West) has been thoroughly disastrous. For the early Church, according to Abraham, the norms of belief and practice (making up what he calls the "canonical heritage") were simply given. On the dogmatic level, they didn't need to be justified. They just needed to be accepted.

That's right. They were accepted in the same way that most Christians accept the existence of God. It was on a pre-rational basis, based more on intuition and faith. It is an innate thing. Choice of a church is not quite like that, but there are certain things (the whole body of dogma and moral teaching) that are accepted on faith, and that was what it meant to be a Catholic, through the centuries. Therefore, it would have been meaningless and not an option to sit there and pick and choose what one thinks the Church got right and what it got wrong. The fathers would have said: "the Church decrees thus-and-so. Who are you to disagree, and on what basis? You don't decide these things. The Mind of the Church does."

The reasons why any given individual chose to believe the Christian faith might vary, and were not themselves part of the Faith.

Yes. I agree. But then, does this not nullify much of your own analysis above? If you say you agree with this, then it wipes out much of your contention that you can decide as an individual what you will accept and not accept. You're doing epistemology while claiming that you deny that it is ultimately decisive in matters of faith and ecclesiological adherence. Thus, the question becomes, again, "What is the Church?" And that goes back to history and competing claims having to do with apostolicity and indefectibilty and unity and maintenance of orthodoxy over against heresy over time.

If Abraham is right, then the Catholic internet apologists who chase the Orthodox round the Golden Horn asking them "how do you know a Council is ecumenical" are pursuing a red herring.
I strongly disagree. It was crucial to know which council was orthodox and which wasn't. Otherwise, you have a situation where, e.g., the "Robber Council" of 449 in Ephesus is orthodox, and heresy is promulgated at the highest conciliar levels. But it was not orthodox, and that was determined authoritatively by Pope Leo the Great. I contend that the papacy is a divinely-instituted office (biblically-based) for the purpose of maintaining unity and doctrine both. 449 offers a sterling example of why it is necessary. 1968 and Humanae Vitae offers another. If Athanasius contra mundum was necessary way back when (over against Arians), then Paulus VI contra mundum was necessary in our own age of sexual revolution. With virtually every Christian group caving on the issue (even, increasingly, the Orthodox, sadly enough), Paul and the Catholic Church stood alone, and maintained the ancient teaching which was dead set against contraception as a mortal, grave sin.

It either is a grave sin or not. If one claims that it isn't, then they have to explain why all Christians until 1930 got this wrong. If it is, on the other hand, then one must explain why almost all Christians except Catholics have gotten it wrong in the present age. Or one simply gives up moral and doctrinal certainty, and that opens up a whole 'nother can of worms (and is unbiblical, and even illogical, for my money). I don't find the alternatives to the Catholic position on this at all plausible, historically, or with regard to traditional Christian morality, and that is another major reason why I am Catholic, because I was looking for the ancient Christian Church and looked around and saw everyone compromising on a moral issue that I increasingly came to regard as highly important (being a pro-life activist).

Such decisions are made on an ad hoc basis. This Council is ecumenical for one reason, and that Father is a Doctor of the Church (to use a Western term) for another. The reasons are not themselves part of the Faith.

That doesn't follow. If a council denies crucial doctrines, such as christology (which the Robber Council did, being Monophysite), it is heretical; therefore, the reason it was rejected had directly to do with the Faith itself, and its maintenance. The line is drawn precisely based on the
parameters of received orthodoxy. Where the pope and Rome came in (then and now) was to make this decision authoritative and binding, so the infighting about it would cease.

To resist heresy one doesn't need to have an authority one knows beforehand to be infallible. One simply needs (as Abraham has argued in his more recent book The Logic of Renewal) to have the will to exercise discipline.

You can argue that, but you still need the authority, and no one but Catholics have a sufficiently powerful and authoritative figure to do that. You can say he isn't infallible, but unless he is authoritative enough for his decree to be binding (which, practically speaking, is scarcely different than being infallible), then Christians can always simply dissent, and the problem remains. So authority, the binding nature of same, and infallibility ultimately go hand-in-hand, I think, once they are worked-through, both in theory and (most importantly) in practice.

This does not dispose of all concerns with authority, of course. The See of Rome is clearly part of the canonical heritage (this is one of the things I don't think Abraham recognizes adequately), even if its current claims are not. Rather, what Abraham's argument demolishes (if we accept it) is the epistemological argument for authority. If certain structures of authority are necessary, they are necessary simply because they are part of the tradition. They are not necessary on a priori philosophical grounds.

I say that they are necessary on biblical and practical grounds. That would be my argument. We can pursue that in due course if you like.

The need for unity, however, remains intact. How can we speak of the canonical heritage if we cannot claim full membership in the historic bearer of the canonical heritage? This is, for me, the great issue. I'm going to try to lay out a possible Protestant answer to this question in subsequent posts. I welcome comments (or even anathemas).

I'm glad you welcome comments, and I hope we can discuss this in great depth. I don't think any Protestant attempt to establish unity will be any more ultimately successful (on any level) than attempts at a working, plausible authority. The nature of the system dooms it to failure in these
repects. I don't even have to argue that. History itself makes this abundantly clear. And if you didn't fully realize that yourself, I don't believe you would be so conflicted about it. You yourself wrote, in your paper, The ecclesiology of Limbo (12-5-04):

I am still a member of the Episcopal Church, only because I have not yet decided in what direction to jump. We both agree that Anglicanism cannot command our ultimate allegiance. Can any earthly church do so?

There is no easy answer to that question . . . I know and confess that I have lived for some years now in limbo. I have known since before I became an Episcopalian (in the spring of 1998) that my desire for truth and communion would never be satisfied in Anglicanism. I have persuaded myself that it would not be satisfied anywhere on earth.

. . . in the absence of solid and specific reasons not to trust Rome, a general commitment to the ecclesiology of limbo is not only insufficient but pernicious.
I must confess that I don't fully understand this perspective, inasmuch as it causes you to remain Anglican, with this more-or-less despairing attitude towards Anglican claims (whatever they are, historically and today). It seems to me that you would almost of necessity (I use the word lightly here) have to convert to Catholicism, because (so it seems to me; perhaps I have misread you) you think it has more truth than Anglicanism. You could also convert to Orthodoxy, but I have seen you write that you are a "westerner," so presumably that would tip the scale (rightly or wrongly) Romeward.

Note to others: I'm not trying to overtly "convert" Edwin; I am merely asking him to clarify his own statements of disenchantment with his own present communion as an ultimately satisfying resting-place. I find this dilemma that he describes difficult to comprehend because I was always fairly happy as an evangelical and didn't have this ongoing conflict within me. We tend to understand less those things which are further from our own experience.

Much as we might disagree on some things, Edwin, I always greatly appreciate your transparent honesty, your grappling with the issues, and the thoughtful challenges that you issue in your writings. Thanks for the opportunity to make a critique of your post. It's been my pleasure to engage you.

God bless.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Post-Postscript to Armstrong-Babinski Debate on the Psalms

[Ed Babinski's words will be in blue]

For those who haven't followed this, here are the previous installments:

Reply to "The Problem of Pain and the Egomania of the Psalms"

Second Reply to Agnostic Ed Babinski on the Supposed Irrationality and Immorality of the Psalms and the Christian Worldview

How and Why Discussions With Agnostics and Atheists Often (Sadly) Collapse / The Many Logical Fallacies of Ed Babinski and Friends (Was [and occasionally still touches upon]: Discussion on the Psalms) 92K

Round III With Ed Babinski On Profound Christian Ignorance, and Every Subject Under the Sun Except the Topic (The Psalms)

Ed's Attempt to Enlist an Ancient Near East Scholar in Support Backfires (Dr.
James Roger Black vs. Ed Babinski; compiled, and additional commentary by Dave Armstrong) 46K


Hi Ed,

Hope you are well.

Below is the email message I told you about, which I sent to about 50 e-friends of mine on Dec. 17th, 2004, to try and drum up interest at your blog site. I did it all for us and your blog site. As we both know, few were even interested in the topic enough to read and respond to what you
had written.

[Catholic convert and web-pologist Dave Armstrong has produced a massive
pro-Catholic website over the years. The story of his conversion to
Catholicism appears in a bestselling book of similar converts (mostly
former Protestantism I think), and he has published numerous books of
Catholic apologetics, all available at, that strive to make
Catholicism and its various unique doctrines and practices appear in as
rational a light as possible, as well as having published in-depth
counters to both Protestantism and Modernism. Dave recently composed a
long web piece at his blog-site criticizing one of my shorter pieces on
the psalms. He continues to write in a pretty friendly fashion and invite
my response, as well as the responses of any readers of the debate, and he
publishes them all at his blog-site. Most folks who read Dave's blog are
Christians and respond in kind. His blog could probably use just a few
non-Christian responses or even moderate Christian responses from moderate
Christian university profs, to balance matters out a tad: ]

I was aware of that and have no problem with it. Your webmaster was the one who apparently started down the path of poisoning the well, with her potshots at my supposed motives and shortcomings. This was unnecessary and unhelpful. I'm not the "bad guy" for simply objecting to that "hijacking" of what had the potential to be a fruitful discussion.

What exactly were you seeking or hoping to accomplish in responding to my psalms piece?

To show that your reasoning and conclusions did not follow. Frankly, I should think that was obvious, but hey, I'm always glad to clarify, and so I appreciate the opportunity.

And why begin with that piece?

It was short and to the point. I didn't have the time (or the desire) to take on one of your epics (I had to constantly point out that your ever-present lengthy diversions were non sequiturs, as it was). One has to start somewhere. I remembered that you had written some friendly letters, and so I decided to take on one of your papers and see what happened. You struck me as a guy who would be willing to dialogue and I am always on the lookout for that.

Technically speaking, I don't see how you were ever going to help me reason my way to agreeing with you that every last verse in the Psalms is inspired by God

But that wasn't my goal at all. You confuse defeating a fallacious argument with making a positive argument. My project was the former. You simply projected the latter project onto my argument and supposed goals, when it was never there. It was second-guessing, and you guessed wrong.

anymore than I can imagine other types of cursing-imprecatory literature found outside the Bible to be "inspired."

Furthermore there are plenty of non cursing-non imprecatory verses and literature, both in the Bible and in non-Christian literature, that strike me as being more "inspired" if that's the right word.

I'm well aware that skeptics have a problem with these verses, but that gets back to the nature of the literature which is vastly misunderstood (a major theme of my replies). I bypassed a complex subject in and of itself (imprecatory psalms), only commenting on it briefly, and went to the large backdrop issue of interpretation of Hebrew poetry. You say that was irrelevant and off-topic (and perhaps evasive). I say it was exactly on-topic and crucial in order for the discussion to progress. One must examine premises. You had your hidden premises, and I was questioning them. This is my Socratic method.

You may not always follow my reasoning, but I am what I am and don't attempt to change like some sort of chameleon, in my discussions. I try to "be all things to all people," as St. Paul urged, but I don't fundamentally change my philosophical methodology. I challenge premises and try to get people to (1) be aware of theirs, and (2) defend them from critique. I think you have a ways to go on both counts, with regard to this particular argument of yours (insofar as it can be called an "argument" at all and not simply an emotional, essentially non-rational objection precipitated by a sad and troubling event -- the funeral of a friend).

If you can't grasp what I have said above, then I suppose we truly are of entirely different minds concerning the Bible, but then, C. S. Lewis also appears to be of his own mind concerning such the Bible and the psalms, and he was a Christian.

You are the one who clearly hasn't grasped my argument. I have shown this over and over. You assume I am being simplistic and ignorant. That's a big mistake.

In the end, I also think it more important what type of person someone is, rather than placing a person's beliefs before getting to know them.

I completely agree that there are nice, wonderful people in all belief-systems. That's not my beef. Never was . . . I am dealing with comparative belief-systems and trying to show the weaknesses of the non-Christian and non-Catholic ones and the strengths of my own. I assume the good will and decency of folks unless and until I am provided incontrovertible evidence otherwise. :-)

I have friends of different beliefs,

As do I. I have a good atheist friend who regularly attended my group discussion meetings. I have a Baptist friend who is a Marxist or socialist (or however he would class himself). He has been a friend of mine for almost 20 years. I saw both at a new years' party.

and even within Catholicism there are far right wing and far left wing believers, members of various lay groups, who hardly see eye to eye on many different matters, even breakaway Catholic groups (like pre-Vatican 2 Catholics churches that kept the Latin Mass), and rent-a-priests (married former priests whom you can phone and they will come and do mass for you).

Of course.

Here is the email I had sent out to 50 people I knew, including about ten Christians, but who apparently did not have either the time or interest in our debate: [posted above]

Well, that's not unusual, as I'm sure you know. Very few people are interested in true debate. How well I know that. And this trait crosses all lines of party affiliation, believe me. The people who drive me the most nuts are other Christians. I have two prominent anti-Catholic apologists calling me a liar and deceiver as I write (see the recent blog entry where I protested this abominable [public] treatment). You just said I was boring and off-subject (and, perhaps implied: intolerant). LOLOLOL That's small change!

If you weren't aware of it, I posted your exchange with James Roger Black that you (and he) forwarded to me. I think your attempt there to make me look like a simplistic would-be fundamentalist hyper-literal Bible interpreter, backfired, to put it mildly. You should learn from this, Ed. I don't fit into the box that you have tried to put me in. Nor do, I think, many Christians you cite, not the least of whom, C.S. Lewis, as Dr. Black illustrated. We all need to get over stereotypical thinking, and that includes most assuredly, many Christians and their wild misconceptions of atheists and agnostics such as yourself. Both sides (I'm speaking now very broadly) have lied about and misrepresented the other to scandalous proportions, and it is time for true thinkers to get beyond that. We can unite on many commonly-held grounds and have good discussion without the personal elements and suspicions that destroy discussion every time.

I shall add this exchange to that paper also, unless you have some objection. I like free speech. Let both sides express themselves and let onlookers decide who makes more sense . . .

Take care,


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Possible References to the Deuterocanon (aka "Apocrypha") in Romans (RSV)

Derived from pp. 800-804 of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 27th edition (Novum Testamentum: Graece et Latine, published by Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft; see the web page from Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin, which reproduced the list. I have also added my own suggested comparisons and possible parallels; these will be reproduced in green (NT); otherwise NT passages listed in Nestle-Aland will be in blue, and Deuterocanonical passages in red. Alleged references listed by verse only at the end were deemed (by myself) dissimilar and questionable or non-convincing enough to not reproduce.

[Bible passages were retrieved from the RSV Bible, with Apocrypha, from the University of Virginia Electronic Text Center]

1a) Romans 1:19-32

19: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
20: Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; 21: for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.
22: Claiming to be wise, they became fools,
23: and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.
24: Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
25: because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
26: For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural,
27: and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
28: And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct.
29: They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips,
30: slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
31: foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
32: Though they know God's decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.

1b) Wisdom 13:1-10, 14:8-31


1: For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works;
2: but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world.
3: If through delight in the beauty of these things men assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them.
4: And if men were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is he who formed them.
5: For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.
6: Yet these men are little to be blamed, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and desiring to find him.
7: For as they live among his works they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful.
8: Yet again, not even they are to be excused;
9: for if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?
10: But miserable, with their hopes set on dead things, are the men who give the name "gods" to the works of men's hands, gold and silver fashioned with skill, and likenesses of animals, or a useless stone, the work of an ancient hand.


8: But the idol made with hands is accursed, and so is he who made it; because he did the work, and the perishable thing was named a god.
9: For equally hateful to God are the ungodly man and his ungodliness,
10: for what was done will be punished together with him who did it.
11: Therefore there will be a visitation also upon the heathen idols, because, though part of what God created, they became an abomination, and became traps for the souls of men and a snare to the feet of the foolish.
12: For the idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them was the corruption of life,
13: for neither have they existed from the beginning nor will they exist for ever.
14: For through the vanity of men they entered the world, and therefore their speedy end has been planned.
15: For a father, consumed with grief at an untimely bereavement, made an image of his child, who had been suddenly taken from him; and he now honored as a god what was once a dead human being, and handed on to his dependents secret rites and initiations.
16: Then the ungodly custom, grown strong with time, was kept as a law, and at the command of monarchs graven images were worshiped.
17: When men could not honor monarchs in their presence, since they lived at a distance, they imagined their appearance far away, and made a visible image of the king whom they honored, so that by their zeal they might flatter the absent one as though present.
18: Then the ambition of the craftsman impelled even those who did not know the king to intensify their worship.
19: For he, perhaps wishing to please his ruler, skilfully forced the likeness to take more beautiful form,
20: and the multitude, attracted by the charm of his work, now regarded as an object of worship the one whom shortly before they had honored as a man.
21: And this became a hidden trap for mankind, because men, in bondage to misfortune or to royal authority, bestowed on objects of stone or wood the name that ought not to be shared.
22: Afterward it was not enough for them to err about the knowledge of God, but they live in great strife due to ignorance, and they call such great evils peace.
23: For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs,
24: they no longer keep either their lives or their marriages pure, but they either treacherously kill one another, or grieve one another by adultery,
25: and all is a raging riot of blood and murder, theft and deceit, corruption, faithlessness, tumult, perjury,
26: confusion over what is good, forgetfulness of favors, pollution of souls, sex perversion, disorder in marriage, adultery, and debauchery.
27: For the worship of idols not to be named is the beginning and cause and end of every evil.
28: For their worshipers either rave in exultation, or prophesy lies, or live unrighteously, or readily commit perjury;
29: for because they trust in lifeless idols they swear wicked oaths and expect to suffer no harm. 30: But just penalties will overtake them on two counts: because they thought wickedly of God in devoting themselves to idols, and because in deceit they swore unrighteously through contempt for holiness.
31: For it is not the power of the things by which men swear, but the just penalty for those who sin, that always pursues the transgression of the unrighteous.

[see also the rest of chapters 13 and 14, and chapter 15]

2a) Romans 1:20, 1:21

Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.

2b) Wisdom 13:1

For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works;

3a) Romans 1:23

and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.

3b) Wisdom 11:15

In return for their foolish and wicked thoughts, which led them astray to worship irrational serpents and worthless animals, thou didst send upon them a multitude of irrational creatures to punish them,

3c) Wisdom 12:24

For they went far astray on the paths of error, accepting as gods those animals which even their enemies despised; they were deceived like foolish babes.

4a) Romans 2:4

Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

4b) 2 Peter 3:9

The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

4c) Acts 17:30

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent,

4d) Wisdom 11:23

But thou art merciful to all, for thou canst do all things, and thou dost overlook men's sins, that they may repent.

5a) Romans 2:11

For God shows no partiality.

5b) Sirach 35:12

Do not offer him a bribe, for he will not accept it; and do not trust to an unrighteous sacrifice; for the Lord is the judge, and with him is no partiality.

6a) Romans 2:15

They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them

6b) Wisdom 17:11

For wickedness is a cowardly thing, condemned by its own testimony; distressed by conscience, it has always exaggerated the difficulties.

7a) Romans 4:13

The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

7b) Sirach 44:21

Therefore the Lord assured him by an oath that the nations would be blessed through his posterity; that he would multiply him like the dust of the earth, and exalt his posterity like the stars, and cause them to inherit from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.

8a) Romans 4:17

as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations" -- in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

8b) Sirach 44:19

Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations, and no one has been found like him in glory;

9a) Romans 5:5

and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

9b) Sirach 18:11

Therefore the Lord is patient with them and pours out his mercy upon them.

10a) Romans 5:12

Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned --

10b) Wisdom 2:24

but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.

11a) Romans 9:4

They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises;

11b) Sirach 44:12

Their descendants stand by the covenants; their children also, for their sake.

12a) Romans 9:19

You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?"

12b) Wisdom 12:12

For who will say, "What hast thou done?" Or will resist thy judgment? Who will accuse thee for the destruction of nations which thou didst make? Or who will come before thee to plead as an advocate for unrighteous men?

13a) Romans 9:21

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?

13b) Wisdom 15:7

For when a potter kneads the soft earth and laboriously molds each vessel for our service, he fashions out of the same clay both the vessels that serve clean uses and those for contrary uses, making all in like manner; but which shall be the use of each of these the worker in clay decides.

14a) Romans 10:6

But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, "Who will ascend into heaven?" (that is, to bring Christ down)

14b) Baruch 3:29

Who has gone up into heaven, and taken her, and brought her down from the clouds?

15a) Romans 10.7

or "Who will descend into the abyss?" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

15b) Wisdom 16.13

For thou hast power over life and death; thou dost lead men down to the gates of Hades and back again.

16a) Romans 11:33

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

16b) Wisdom 17:1

Great are thy judgments and hard to describe; therefore unintructed souls have gone astray.

17a) Romans 12:15

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

17b) Sirach 7:34

Do not fail those who weep, but mourn with those who mourn.

18a) Romans 13:1

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

18b) Wisdom 6:3

For your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High, who will search out your works and inquire into your plans.

19a) Romans 13.10

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

19b) Wisdom 6.18

and love of her is the keeping of her laws, and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality,

23a) Romans 15:4

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

23b) 1 Maccabees 12:9

Therefore, though we have no need of these things, since we have as encouragement the holy books which are in our hands,

See also (from Nestle-Aland list):

Romans 1:28 and 2 Maccabees 6:4

Romans 9:31 and Sirach 27:8 and Wisdom 2:11

Monday, January 10, 2005

It's Greek to Me: An Illuminating Encounter With Eric Svendsen (From the Archives)

From my paper: Response to Protestant Apologists Eric Svendsen's and David T. King's Public Charge of My Alleged "Deceit" and Inability to Debate:

Another lamentable incident on a discussion board reveals certain shortcomings in Dr. Svendsen's dialogical tactics, also. One anti-Catholic slanderer wrote on a large Catholic Discussion Board, in early October 2003:

It is true that I have taken Dave to task in the past for attempting, in his self-admitted near-total ignorance of the Greek language, to correct men who have studied Greek professionally for years as to their analysis of grammatical conventions and figures of speech and so forth, . . .
This is another falsehood that this person has been stating about me for about two years now. I have explained myself more than once, but to no avail. He keeps repeating this incident and putting his cynical slant on it. To hear him describe it, I do sound truly ridiculous and like some sort of arrogant know-it-all. This is based on an actual dispute and ugly Internet exchange, but when one learns all of the facts, they gain an entirely different impression than the one left above. The last time he brought this up I was determined to retrieve the exchange to show people what had happened, but it was too old, and no longer online. The facts are these:

1. I was in a discussion (in January 2002) on this board with Dr. Eric Svendsen about Luke 1:28 and the meaning of kecharitomene ("full of grace" or "highly favored"). It was an argument about Mary's Immaculate Conception (specifically, whether she was sinless). At the same time, I was critiquing some related arguments from Svendsen along the same lines (to which he never responded). That is found in the following paper:

Luke 1:28 (Full of Grace) and the Immaculate Conception: Linguistic and Exegetical Considerations

I cited Greek scholars in favor of the meaning of this phrase here as "completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace." The scholars were Blass and DeBrunner (Greek Grammar of the New Testament, and H.W. Smyth, Greek Grammar -- Harvard Univ. Press, 1968). They are cited in footnote number 188 in my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (Sophia edition), page 178. Svendsen said that he had heard of Blass and DeBrunner, but not Smyth. He proceeded to minimize Smyth's importance and severely criticized me for trying to argue a point of Greek grammar with him (since he knows Greek).

2. I quickly proved (from extensive Internet searches) that Smyth was a very well-known Greek scholar, whose work is used in many important colleges for Greek courses. Now, the point was that Svendsen had hardly even heard of the guy (if at all) and wanted to pretend he was a nobody. That was shown to be clearly false. But what does that show about Svendsen's attitude and competence in the field of Greek linguistics? When one acts like they know something that they don't know (in this case, concerning the importance of Smyth), isn't that at least pretentious?

3. Svendsen later found out (from James White, I think) that Smyth's Grammar was for classical, not koine, NT Greek. This he thought to be a knockout punch and proof of my ignorance and arrogance, in trying to delve into matters of Greek, where I knew nothing.

4. I publicly apologized to him on the board at that time, for some of my words and attitudes, and for questioning his abilities in Greek.

5. On the other hand, I also pointed out that the whole incident reflected much more badly on him, since (despite claiming to be an expert on Greek) he had mocked this important, well-known, prominent scholar and hadn't even heard of him, and didn't know that his widely-used work (which is even available online now) was for classical Greek in the first place. He was supposed to know this stuff, whereas I (as a non-scholar) had simply made an innocent mistake. And I apologized, whereas he did not.

6. The most amusing thing in all this was that Eric's own research associate, Mike Taylor, was utilizing Smyth in some in-depth exegetical research he was doing concerning the Eucharist. So at the very same time I was being blasted as an ignoramus and pretender for merely citing Smyth, Eric's own comrade was citing him! When I pointed out the incongruity and irony of this to both of them, needless to say I didn't receive the warmest reception in world history.

Proof of Mike Taylor's heavy use of H.W. Smyth, whom he used to support his contentions, can be found in a densely-argued paper about the Eucharist and aspects of Greek grammar, entitled, "Sungenis and Taylor: An Exchange." I have compiled below Mike Taylor's citations of Smyth. Nowhere does he argue that Smyth is 1) unimportant as a Greek grammarian, or, 2) that he is absolutely irrelevant because his grammar is for classical rather than koine Greek.

It's true that he does mention the classical vs. koine Greek distinction, and the implications of that with regard to using Smyth as an authority on the New Testament, but nowhere does he imply that Smyth has no bearing on New Testament grammar at all (let alone that he is a "nobody"). If he believed that, then he would have simply refused to engage the argument (classical Greek being irrelevant to it). He even cites Smyth in support of the interpretation of NT passages (see #3 below). His comrade, Dr. Eric Svendsen, on the other hand, argued both points as proof of my gross incompetence as an apologist, since I had dared to cite Smyth in support of my exegesis of Luke 1:28 [Mike Taylor's words will be in blue]:

1) I tracked down one of those grammarians (Smyth) who says no such thing, . . .

2) I looked in Smyth to see if I could find any evidence for your "special case" and simply found no such thing. So if it turns out that you were wrong about Smyth (and you are) then would I be wrong to wonder if you might be wrong about the other grammarians?

3) . . . this really isn't the section of Smyth that is most relevant to the point in question. In the quote above, Smyth himself refers us to section 1872 (p. 419) wherein we read the following: 1872. "Participle (not in indirect discourse).--The participle, as a verbal adjective, is timeless. The tenses of the participle express only continuance, simple occurrence, and completion with permanent result. Whether the action expressed by the participle is antecedent, coincident, or subsequent to that of the leading verb (in any tense) depends on the context." The key words here are the following: "not in indirect discourse," (which would cover both Matthew 26:28 and Luke 22:19f); "in any tense" (which would cover the present indicative main verbs in both Matthew and Luke) and "depends on the context" . . .

4) Here is what Smyth says of the present participle in 1872a . . .

5) We’ve already seen Sungenis’ mishandling of Smyth. Why, then, should we simply take his word for it that Shanz is on his side?

6) But the rule you stated didn't register for me, so I got out Smyth (which was my textbook at Harvard) and Wallace (the current "Bible" of NT grammars) and did some reading.

7) With that in mind, I went back to Smyth a second time to see if I could find any evidence for such a distinction. So far, no luck. Then I went to Zerwick to see what he says.

8) Essentially, Wallace is saying that the time reference for participles is usually determined by the main verb. This accords with what I learned in Greek class and with what I have read in Smyth and Zerwick.

9) Rather than admit that his Smyth quote really does not support his claims, he instead attempts to play off Smyth against Zerwick.

10) I would respectfully suggest that Mr. Sungenis is in no position to judge between the Zerwick and Smyth.

11) Mr. Sungenis’ attempt to pit Smyth against Zerwick is misguided. Mr. Sungenis rightly notes that Smyth claims that participles not in indirect discourse are “timeless.” Unfortunately, Mr. Sungenis neglects to mention the following: “Whether the action expressed by the participle is
antecedent, coincident, or subsequent to that of the leading verb (in any tense) depends on the context” (Smyth: 1872, my emphasis). This is a crucial qualification. Would Zerwick disagree with Smyth on this point?

12) Right away, then, we see that a direct comparison of Smyth to Zerwick is invalid. Smyth’s grammar only deals with classical Greek, whereas Zerwick’s Biblical Greek concerns—you guessed it—Biblical Greek.

13) Second, in full agreement with Smyth, Zerwick states that the context shows the sense to be future.

14) Mr. Sungenis’ case is weakened somewhat by two factors: First, to the extent that he is basing his case on a Smyth, he weakens his case in that Smyth’s scope is classical Greek, not Koine. Second, the rules he had originally quoted from Smyth govern participles in indirect discourse, whereas the participles in question are in direct discourse.

15) There is therefore no fundamental disagreement here with Smyth, who in any case is dealing with classical Greek, not the Biblical Koine and its underlying Semitisms.

16) Does this not suggest that Sungenis was unaware of the fact that the present participle can be future no matter what the tense of the main verb (cf. Smyth 1872, p. 419)?

17) I went back to Smyth a second time to see if I could find any evidence for such a distinction.

Svendsen and I have never interacted in any substantive way since then. My calumnious detractor keeps bringing up this incident in order to "prove" something about me that is untrue. He never mentions, of course, my apology (because that would ruin the effectiveness of the slander; apart from showing that it is highly unethical), and he never gets into the gist of what occurred (because that would make Eric Svendsen look really bad, just as he did at the time). I've repeatedly urged him to drop it and decided not to post the argument at the time (as an act of charity), but since he won't let it drop, and keeps talking about this publicly, I must record the incident now, so it will be a matter of record.

It may seem a minor point, but when the incident is fully-explained, people can see what I was getting at, and that I was justified in my observation; it wasn't a case at all of trying to talk about something (on my own, without the aid of scholars) that I knew nothing about (Greek). If anything, Dr. Svendsen was the one who made statements he knew little or nothing about (about Smyth's credentials and importance).