Thursday, October 27, 2011

God's Commands vs. Victor Reppert

Victor Reppert wrote:
No, I do not hold that YHWH commanded the slaughter of the Amalekites. I hold that either God didn't do that, or there are unknown reasons why He did. 
1 Samuel 15:1-3 
Samuel also said unto Saul, "The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, 'I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.'"

There is absolutely no question that the Lord commanded the slaughter of the Amalekites.  Moreover, the explicitly stated reason for this slaughter is that they attacked Israel during the Exodus.  That does not mean that God did not have other reasons.

Victor continues:
I can see some reason why God might have commanded such a thing, so that in my view the case against it isn't a slam dunk. So I would not call someone a moral monster who thought that God had given such a command, I think it morally possible that God might have done so, but on the other hand treating someone anyone as outside the pale of moral consideration strikes me as problematic and not in accordance with what I know about God in the New Testament. In other words, I don't see how these actions could be justified without putting some limits on who is my neighbor, and the parable of the Good Samaritan says we can't really draw such limits.
But Victor does not need to speculate.  God gives a reason.  The reason is retaliation for prior treachery.  Of course, the sucklings were not a part of that treachery, but the crime was performed by the nation and they are in a federal relationship with respect to the nation.  Absent God's mercy, the judgment on the nation extends even to those who had no personal part in it.  Indeed, given the lapse of time between the Exodus and Saul, it seems unlikely that there were any alive in Amalek who had been in any personal way involved in the attack on Israel.  So, it is not only the sucklings who are receiving judgment from God for the sins of their fathers, but also the adults of Amalek as well.

One of Victor's problems is that he is attempting to impose an external moral framework on the situation, instead of trying to extract a moral framework from the situation.  What God does is right.  That should be the premise.  Examples like the commanded destruction of the children of Amalek teach us about the heritability of guilt for sin. 

Victor continues:
I'm not committed to a theory of inspiration that would require me to defend such a thing. In another part of Deuteronomy, the Blessings and the Cursings, it indicates that people will get earthly blessings if they are obedient to the Covenant, and earthly cursings if they are not obedient. But you only have to look as far as Job and Ecclesiastes to see that that's questionable even within the Bible.
There's a double problem with Victor's "theory of inspiration."  This particular justification is not just part of Scripture, but is a part of Scripture reporting the verbatim words of God.  So, it is not as though the command or justification can be attributed to the narrator of the book. 

Victor's skepticism does not extend simply to the unidentified narrator, but also to Samuel the seer himself and ultimately to the Lord.

I'm not so naive as to be oblivious to the fact that we know that this is the word of the Lord because Samuel tells us, and we know Samuel tells us because the author of 1 Samuel tells us.  Ultimately, we know that 1 Samuel is inspired because the Holy Spirit persuades us - we the sheep hear our master's voice.  Nevertheless, my point is to observe the depth of Victor's skepticism.  How can his "theory of inspiration" have any value if it permits him to doubt the most clearly articulated statements in the text?

Ultimately, Victor and I stand on two opposite camps.  I'm in the camp that - you know - believes what the Bible says and proceeds from there.  Victor is in another camp, one that should be scrupulously avoided.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jesuit Historian Fitzmyer on the Perpetual Virginity

... one’s understanding of the doctrine of the continuous or perpetual virginity of Mary. Such church teaching was formulated by early Christians in the post-Apostolic era, making use of an interpretation of some passages in the New Testament that passed over others that were problematic, such as Jn. 1:45; 6:42; Lk. 4:22 (quoted above). The result was that that teaching was not universally accepted at first. Even though that teaching is thought sometimes to be implied in the second-century writing, Protevangelium Jacobi, it eventually became crystallized in the longstanding belief about Mary as aeiparthenos or semper virgo, “ever virgin,” in creeds from the fourth century on.

- Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J., America Magazine, "Whose Name is This?" (November 18, 2002)

What is particularly interesting about the above is how candid Fitzmyer is that this doctrine is post-Apostolic.  Many apologists of Rome's communion like to try to claim that Rome's doctrines are apostolic in origin and part of an unwritten tradition.  Fitzmyer's acknowledgment is the result, one supposes, of his view that there is no need for the doctrine to be Apostolic.  Thus, the quotation highlights a tension that exists between Rome's historians and her apologists.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tom Brown's Response to David VanDrunen on Change and Rome

Rome's Teaching Has Obviously Changed

Dr. VanDrunen recently made the unremarkable assertion:
For many years, the Roman Catholic Church taught that people could enjoy eternal life and escape everlasting damnation only by being received into its membership.  In recent generations, that teaching has changed.  Rome now embraces a very inclusive view that extends the hope of salvation to people of many different religions or even no religion at all, provided they sincerely follow the truth and goodness that they know in their own experience.
This is one of those statements that is obviously true.  The point of the statement is that there has been a massive paradigm shift in Rome's external relations.  Mr. Tom Brown, of the Roman communion blog, "Called to Communion," was bothered by this statement.  What bothered Tom Brown, though, was not the obvious paradigm shift, but Dr. VanDrunen's statement characterizing Rome's teaching as having "changed."

"Change" in "Teaching" = Sky is Falling

You see, one of the things that some recent "converts" to Rome like to imagine is that Rome gives them certainty.  You can't very well have certainty if Rome changes its teachings from time to time.  So, comments like VanDrunen's are very much a fly in the ointment.

Salvation Outside the Church is compatible with No Salvation Outside the Church?

Tom Brown has a long row to hoe in order to persuade the reader that Rome's teaching hasn't changed.  Dr. VanDrunen naturally cited the Council of Florence (1438), and that council states the matter fairly explicitly (bold added by me):
It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.
(Cantate Domino (1441))

Vatican II on the other hand wrote:
For they who without their own fault do not know of the Gospel of Christ and His Church, but yet seek God with sincere heart, and try, under the influence of grace, to carry out His will in practice, known to them through the dictate of conscience, can attain eternal salvation.
 (Lumen Gentium, II, 16)

It seems that the only ways this contradiction could be clearer is if Vatican II had explicitly said "Cantate Domino was wrong," yet Mr. Brown tries to argue that the two positions are consistent.

But Mr. Brown's argument amounts to just asserting that Vatican II is consistent with a thread of historical dogma going back to Justin Martyr.  Whether or not this is the case, it hardly makes the positions of Florence and Vatican II any less contradictory.  Indeed, had Florence itself taught both positions, Florence would have been internally inconsistent.

Mr. Brown needs to demonstrate how someone being saved while not living and remaining within the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church is consistent with Florence.  His appeal to Pius IX (identified for him by VanDrunen) is not compelling.  Pius IX states (the bold, added by me, is the part that Mr. Brown quotes, whilst the normal print is the context he does not include):

7. Here, too, our beloved sons and venerable brothers, it is again necessary to mention and censure a very grave error entrapping some Catholics who believe that it is possible to arrive at eternal salvation although living in error and alienated from the true faith and Catholic unity. Such belief is certainly opposed to Catholic teaching. There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace. Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.
8. Also well known is the Catholic teaching that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church. Eternal salvation cannot be obtained by those who oppose the authority and statements of the same Church and are stubbornly separated from the unity of the Church and also from the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, to whom "the custody of the vineyard has been committed by the Savior."[4] The words of Christ are clear enough: "If he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you a Gentile and a tax collector;"[5] "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you, rejects me, and he who rejects me, rejects him who sent me;"[6] "He who does not believe will be condemned;"[7] "He who does not believe is already condemned;"[8] "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters."[9] The Apostle Paul says that such persons are "perverted and self-condemned;"[10] the Prince of the Apostles calls them "false teachers . . . who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master. . . bringing upon themselves swift destruction."[11]
(Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, 7-8 (1863))

Tom Brown describes the bold part of that statement as "Here Blessed Pope Pius IX simply and skillfully articulates these two Catholic beliefs ... ."  Perhaps the statement is simple and skillful, but it does not resolve the conflict between Florence and Vatican II.

It is interesting to note how Pius IX suddenly finds Scripture to be perspicuous when it comes to the authority of the church and the result of rejecting that authority.  Nevertheless, Pius IX has staked out a position different from that of Florence.  Florence enunciates a position that being within the fold of the church is necessary.  Pius IX suggests that rejecting church authority is lethal.  However, Pius IX finds room for people who don't embrace unity with the church.

While Tom Brown's line of argument that argues that there is a long history of teachings that there can be salvation outside the church is not a meaningful answer to the problem of the conflict between Florence and Vatican II, he does pose an interesting comment:
As explained by St. Augustine and maintained through to the present by the Catholic Church, unbaptized martyrs who shed their blood for the sake of Christ are saved nonetheless, receiving the fruits of Baptism.  Baptism of blood is an extraordinary method of fulfilling the soteriological prerequisite of being ‘inside the Church’ when Baptism is impossible.
 Mr. Brown, however, does not explain how this alleged teaching of Augustine is consistent with "no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church."  That reference to shedding blood for the name of Christ appears on its face to be a reference to undergoing martyrdom.

Does Mr. Brown resolve this further apparent conflict that he has introduced?  No, he does not.  Instead he jumps on to the issue of baptism of desire.  Of course, baptism of desire (whether or not it conflicts with Florence - and it certainly appears to) is not what Vatican II is talking about.  In Vatican II, the person does not know about the church.

Mr. Brown raises the point that Trent endorsed baptism by desire.  He quotes Trent as saying (bold added by me):
This translation [from the state of birth to the state of Grace] however cannot, since promulgation of the Gospel, be effected except through the washing of regeneration or its desire, as it is written: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
 (See, Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 4)

False Accusation of Ambiguity

Mr. Brown argues as follows:
For VanDrunen, Catholic doctrine “has indeed changed,” and he believes this change refutes modern Catholic appeals to the “unchanging character” of the Catholic Church.  The fallacy of his logic is in his amphibolous use of the term ‘change.’  By using the term ‘change’ ambiguously, VanDrunen leads the reader to the false conclusion that the Catholic Church has contradicted herself. 
Mr. Brown has not established that there is harmony between Florence and Vatican II.  The former says that there is no salvation outside the church, the latter says there is.  Moreover, Mr. Brown has not established that VanDrunen has used the term "change" in an ambiguous way.  So, Mr. Brown has not harmonized the councils, nor has he shown any error in VanDrunen's account.

Development Hypothesis

Mr. Brown sets forth a sort of development hypothesis on this point:
However, by distinguishing between change as organic development and change as contradicting what was previously held, the conclusion that the Catholic Church has contradicted herself no longer follows.  In other words, if Catholic doctrine has changed by developing, this change does not lead to the conclusion that the Vatican II teaching (regarding the possibility of salvation for those not in full communion with the Church) contradicts what was previously held.
The problem is that Vatican II does contradict Florence.  It is not merely a problem that Rome's doctrine has changed (which it certainly has) but that it is has changed from "no salvation outside the church" to "salvation outside the church."

Mr. Brown continues:
This notion that Christian doctrines have developed should be no surprise.  Major theological and religious doctrines have developed, such as the Trinity, the nature and canon of Sacred Scripture, or the two natures of Christ. 
The canon of Scripture is not a doctrine per se, though Rome has made acceptance of a particular erroneous canon a matter of faith.  The canon changed because God inspired more books.  There have been different periods of recognition of the canon, but that issue of canon recognition is not a doctrinal development.

The discussion of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ has greatly increased over the years, but the doctrines themselves have not changed.  The Scriptures themselves teach the doctrines of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. 

Mr. Brown continues:
While Reformed believers implicitly accept the notion of doctrinal development in those instances, they reject modern developments out of hand.  But this acceptance of primitive developments while rejecting modern developments is ad hoc.  There is no principled reason to accept development of Trinitarian doctrine while simultaneously denying the possibility of development on extra Ecclesiam after centuries of careful study and reflection.
Up front, Mr. Brown is wrong.  We don't explicitly or implicitly accept the idea that there has been "doctrinal development" in the sense that we now hold to things that our forefathers in the faith didn't.  We may use technical terms we didn't before (like the term "trinity") but the doctrines are the same.

Moreover, there's a severe non-analogy between the doctrine of the Trinity developing a technical vocabulary and Rome's position changing from "no salvation outside the church" to "some salvation outside the church."  There's simply no reasonable comparison between the two.

We don't agree with Nicaea, for example, because Nicaea said it, just as we don't disagree with Ariminum  because they said it.  Instead, we agree with the former and not the latter because the former teaches what Scripture teaches.  The Word of God is our ultimate standard, not the traditions of men.  

A Strange Conclusion

Mr. Brown concludes with: "The authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church are not contradictory on this matter, but carefully elucidate Sacred Scripture and our understanding of God’s mercy and justice." Carefully elucidate?  Scripture is briefly cited in a few of Mr. Brown's quotations, but hardly elucidated.  What Scripture does the error of invincible ignorance "elucidate"?  One couldn't know either from the documents themselves or from Mr. Brown's paper.

In short, Mr. Brown's conclusion, like most of the rest of his paper, should be rejected.  Dr. VanDrunen was right to point out the paradigm shift between Florence and Vatican II, and Dr. VanDrunen is right to describe that as a "change" in teaching, even though Vatican II lacks the same authority as Florence (since there were no dogmatic definitions in Vatican II).

It is surprising, indeed, that Mr. Brown did not attempt to evade the problem of change by simply appealing to the fact that Vatican II does not claim to be an infallible document.  Instead, Mr. Brown falsely charged Dr. VanDrunen with fallacy and ambiguity, when Dr. VanDrunen simply provided an accurate historical assessment.


UPDATE: It seems there is no intuitive way to find Dr. VanDrunen's original article.  Here is a link that Steve Hays provided recently on Triablogue (link).

Matthew 5 and Sexual Sin

Matthew 5:27-32 
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

One of Rome's laymen e-apologists recently tried to argue that "if thy right hand offend thee" refers to acts associated with sexuality.  I hope that my readers can discern what this layman has in mind without my spelling it out.  (link, caution - discussion is more explicit there)

There are reasons not to accept this theory.  For example, in a similar passage, Christ says:

Matthew 18:8  Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.

It seems that Christ is simply listing important body parts. 

Moreover, there is no particular reason that the use of the hand must be as this apologist suggests, but may instead refer to the act of grabbing or hailing the woman in order to act on or further the lust described.

Nevertheless, let's assume that our Roman acquaintance is on to something in Matthew 5, for the sake of the argument.

Suppose that the reference to the right hand relates to sexual desire with respect to a woman.  But is it any woman?  No, it is to a woman that is not one's wife.  The same goes for the eye that looks on the woman.

Is there anything wrong with a man looking on his wife to desire her sexually?  Surely not, notwithstanding the error of ascetics and those influenced by them.  Indeed, we are taught in Scripture:

Proverbs 5:18-19 
Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.

So then it is not the sexual desire itself that is condemned, nor the looking or touching that is condemned, but the lust directed at one who is not one's wife that is condemned.  But this does not fit contemporary Rome's argument on this topic.  It is not a blanket condemnation of non-procreative acts, but merely a call to abstain not only from adultery in the act but also adultery in the heart.

May God preserve us from temptations to adultery in the heart and in the act!