Friday, October 18, 2013

Did Noah's ark carry rodents too? (In praise of Catholics who don't deride fundamentalist inerrantism)

Catholics (or anyone else) who mock fundamentalists for their "inerrant" view of Scripture, as it is all-too-fashionable to do in self-congratulatory academic venues, are not only inveterate snobs, who want nothing more than to glom the chortling adulation of their peers, but ignorant fools. Too often they forget that the wisdom of religious insight comes, not from the contemporary trends of in scientific epistemology, but as Matthew the Evangelist says, "out of the mouths of babes" (Mt. 21:16) and their simple trust in the word of their parents and their Savior, Jesus. Even on technical epistemological grounds, their views of such mockers are often simply stupid. As the Angelic Doctor never tires of telling his readers, there are multiple senses of Scripture, and the fact that one sense is spiritual does not mean that the literal sense cannot be true.

Peter J. Leithart, at least, gets this, as he makes amply evident in the balance of his article on "Inerrancy" (First Things, October 15, 2013). Thank you, Mr. Leithart, for targeting the silliness of David Bentley Hart's "fun" at the expense of fundamentalists, whom, Hart thinks, provide "soft and inviting targets."

[Hat tip to JM]


James Joseph said...

I like this. The attacks on the babes in the woods is too unprofessional. The more I see it, the more I dislike it.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Another point worth recalling is that the positions taken in Catholic tradition prior to the mid-20th century would also be regarded as "fundamentalist" by today's "enlightened" standards. Pope Leo XIII, for instance, in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus, attacked historical critics (who were then called -- ahem -- "higher critics"), defended biblical inerrancy (beyond copy errors introduced by scribes and manuscript copiers), and defended a view of biblical inspiration that is closer to a classic "dictation" theory than even the views of Protestant fundamentalists like B.B. Warfield.

Pertinacious Papist said...

In other words, the position of Catholic Sacred Tradition on Scripture is "fundamentalist." So get over it.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Doc. Regarding higher critics, it was a young Father Bea who, in 1930, began to submit the Bible to the wrecking-ball that is higher criticism when he was Rector at the Pontifical Biblical Institute.

And, of course, is was Augistino Cardinal Bea who was in the vanguard of the revolution of the modernist conspirators who, even before the opening of V2 were secretly meeting and strategising to overthrow Tradition and substitute the new theology ,and it was he who is soon to be canonised who knew that all of this had happened and yet approved or encouraged or consented to the actions of such clerics.

Talk about rats on the Barque...

Pertinacious Papist said...

Thanks for the Bea comment, IANS. Too true. Then there were also Alfred F. Loisy and Maurice d'Huslt, as well. The rot was already advancing well before the 60's.

JM said...

An important caveat on Bea is that even after Vatican II he initially hid behind words, and officially maintained the position on Inerrancy spelled out by Tradition. See his book "The Word of God and Mankind" for explicit examples.

Disconcertingly, the Communio crowd from the council follows his cue and has bequeathed to us a schizophrenic hermeneutic. Bea was precursor. They do indeed draw a line that maintains the overall integrity of Scripture [hence von Balthasar's defense of George Kelly's takedown of Raymond Brown in "The New Biblical Theorists" (scandalously out of print), and Frank Sheed's postconciliar New Testament musings ["What DIfference Does Jesus Make?"].

Yet the other side of the coin has proven you simply can't have it two ways, especially with a Church under siege. Scott Hahn, for example, insists on Inerrancy without ever even pretending to acknowledge the last couple of reigning Popes' rejection of it. Ignatius Press, publisher of his study Bible, also marketed an Old Testament guide that gushed over higher criticism and came up with more authors for the text than I have ever seen postulated elsewhere. In another place Hahn rightly mused that the Nouvelle Theologians simply did not get the significance of the authority of Scripture battles, and I think the Church still does not get it as it quietly tries to suppress its own past. Sheed himself tried to warm to "common knowledge" by matter-of-factly stating some things in Scripture were just not so, and then was distressed at scholars' writing of the Magnificat off as midrash. Catholic high school teachers laugh at Genesis' myths and Leviticus' prohibitions, but are then scandalized when kids out of hand reject Christian sexual morality. C.S. Lewis himself preferred to not sweat the details, but that was in a time when every blessed detail was not being contested to the point that homosexuality was on the verge of wholesale acceptance.

And then we go, "Hey, how did we get *here*?" Well...

Catholics are still so busy decrying Sola Scripture that they do not get it. The Church's authority does not merely rest on a book called the Bible, but if it cannot confidently rest at least one foot on that same Bible, it suddenly has no firm place left to stand whatsoever. The crisis in ecclesiastical authority was proceeded by an erosion in Biblical authority which guaranteed that logical outcome. The fact so few get this shows they are stuck in a sectarian bubble and think as long as we let someone rubber stamp us as "Catholic," we're OK. The Pontifical Biblical Commission, the notes to the New American Bible, Notre Dam U, Nuns on the Bus, and now the hyperventilating Francis Fan Club... all prove that is not the case.

Maybe a reason God has allowed the Evangelical/Catholic division to remain is because he saw that his own Churchmen were not about to acknowledge the termite damage. The Evangelicals to date have proven the more wary and vigilant exterminators. Maybe we will up the task before the fade from it. Hahn is making a valiant effort, say what you will about his novelties and puns.

Pertinacious Papist said...

"The Church's authority does not merely rest on a book called the Bible, but if it cannot confidently rest at least one foot on that same Bible, it suddenly has no firm place left to stand whatsoever. The crisis in ecclesiastical authority was proceeded by an erosion in Biblical authority which guaranteed that logical outcome."

A very important point here, JM. Thank you for the observation.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear JMJ. Dr. Hahn's exegesis is often eisegesis based upon protestant and jewish (redundant) sources.

Pick-up any of his books and look at the sources; he uses protestant "experts" about as often as did Pope Benedict XVI when he wrote his trilogy.

However, were any protestant or Jew to become an expert on the Bible, he would rush to convert to Catholicism.

As regards the Old Testament, even the introduction to Dom Orchard's 1953, A Catholic Commentary on Catholic Scripture, admits :It is the teaching of the Church that the Old Testament Scriptures were transferred to her ownership by Christ himself in view of her position as the new "Israel of God" and the heir of the OT promises;and that the New Testament Scriptures being written within the Church by some of its members for the benefit of all (or more precisely, within the society of the Catholic Church by Catholic for Catholics), are likewise her exclusive property, of which she is the absolute Owner, Guardian, Trustee and Interpreter.

We Catholics own the Bible, Lock, Stock, and Barrel but owing to the current captivity of the Church by the New Theologians with their modernism and Effete Ecumenism, it is up to the Traditional Catholic to become an autodidact and secure his own trustworthy sources of orthodox exegesis (definitely not the highly unreliable Dr. Hahn); I'd suggest the Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide, Catena Aurea, and The Liturgical Year.

As to Dr. Hahn. He recently gave a speech at a Church close to my house and I went to hear him deliver his popular, "Fourth Cup" lecture. I was there anticipating a Q & A but there wasn't one and so I directed my questions to him personally via an emial that I was assured would be sent to him by the woman who organised the event.

I have yet to hear back form him.

C'es la vie

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Not to bring too many "facts" in here, but David B. Hart is not a Roman Catholic, he's Orthodox.

So predictably enough, his readings of Scripture date back to the earliest forms of exegesis rather than later the much later inventions in the Roman Catholic tradition.

And, anyway, we should all be able to agree that the passages where God orders infanticide should not be taken literally.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Let me try to respond to several of points in brief compass:

IANS, I agree that the Church is the New Israel and proper custodian of Scripture, and that a lot of Protestant exegesis can be goofy (and that some of Professor Hahn's exegesis, like that on the "Fourth Cup" or the femininity of the Holy Spirit, are at best highly speculative). However I would also say that a great deal of Hahn's work strikes me as quite solid, like his Catholic Bible Dictionary, and his Politicizing the Bible (co-authored with Benjamin Wiker). Furthermore, I would insist that not all Protestant biblical scholarship is corrupt simply by virtue of happening to have a Protestant affiliation in its authorship. Some work by Anglican divines (like N.T. Wright), Dutch Reformed scholars (Like H. Bavinck), and Presbyterian theologians (like B.B. Warfield), is close to impeccable except for marginal statements that misunderstand, say, Catholic ecclesiology.

Mr. Cothran,

Thanks for the correction re Hart's Orthodoxy (now made in the post).

Three questions, however: (1) what Orthodox forms of exegesis are earlier than Catholic ones; (2) are you Eastern Orthodox? and (3) do you mean by not taking "literally" the passages about God ordering infanticide, that (a) we shouldn't take those passages as commanding US to similarly kill children, or (b) that we should believe that God did NOT mean for the Israelites to kill the heathen children when He is described as ordering them to be exterminated along with their families in OT books like the Book of Numbers?

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Doc. I have not read the men you cited but I have great respect for what you write and so I will happily concede the accuracy of what you wrote but don't you think it oddity soaring on wax wings for a Pope to cite mostly protestant exegetes when he is sourcing his commentary on Jesus?

To me, it is rather like the Red Sox continually citing Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek as examples of how to play infield defense.

Are my references obscure enough?

Thomas M. Cothran said...

I'm not Easter Orthodox. But generally Orthodox exegesis tends to follow the methods of the earlier exegetes (e.g., Origin, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, etc.).

And as far as not taking those passages literally, all I mean is that we should read not read those to say that God is genocidal. We can read those as, for example, meaning that our evil tendencies should be completely eradicated.

Pertinacious Papist said...


Heh, I appreciate your humor. I would say that just as one can distinguish between good and appalling Catholic biblical exegetes, one can do the same with Protestant exegetes, and even with various appeals to WWJD (What would Jesus do?)! =)

Pertinacious Papist said...

Mr. Cothran,

The fathers you cite may be referred to as "Eastern" fathers by Catholics, but not generally as eastern "Orthodox" fathers. They may be Eastern, but are still Catholic, whatever Eastern Orthodox thinkers may claim. That's what misled me.

While I agree that Scriptures like the genocidal passages in Numbers, like the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) are susceptible of a "spiritual" interpretation, I am constrained to agree with the Angelic Doctor that the literal meaning is not thereby annulled, and is in fact most fundamental.

This doesn't mean we are to interpret those passages in Numbers as inciting us to genocidal actions, but neither should we follow the path of C.S. Lewis in dismissing these Scriptures as errant. The are part of Scripture and were inspired by God for a purpose, even if the immediate purpose may happen to escape us.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Doc. But to decide what exegesis done by a prot is reliable, one must rely upon the authority of the Catholic Church; so, I do not think the effort wotrtthwhile.

But, the ultimate reason for my writing a response is to quote the great Cornelius a Lapide who describes the soi disant Evangelicals as Kakangelicals.

Is it too much to desire a return to such rhetoirc?

I guess so which is why I live inthe past.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Just so I have this straight: are you saying that God is infanticidal (i.e., causes or orders the death of infants)?

Pertinacious Papist said...

Well, while I can't speak for Kakangelicals, one thing is for sure: the quantities of KAKA unloaded on Noah's ark by all those animals surely must have raised a stink. Can you imagine mucking out elephant stalls!

In principle it's true that one must rely on RC authority to decide which Prot exegesis is reliable. But I would argue that this does not mean that the AVAILABLE RC exegesis is always better or sometimes even comes close to what you can find among some good Prot material IN CERTAIN AREAS.

To generalize, modern and postmodern Catholic Biblical scholarship has generally been a spectacular diaster. If you want to see what scholarship is now being done that is the most reliable (by the RC Church's own standards) and makes use of the latest available data and resources, you have to look beyond current RC scholarship. The traditional Catholic view of Scripture has been developed, in many cases, most faithfully by scholars lacking formal RC membership.

There's something similar going on in Thomistic studies. The philosophy of St. Thomas is hardly taught any more in Catholic universities or even in seminaries, with a few bright exceptions. If you want to see where the excitement over Thomism is, you have to look at Evangelicals who are discovering Thomism and realizing that it's PURE GOLD in an intellectual desert. It's young Evangelical scholars that are often all abuzz over taking Thomism and developing its implications for epistemology and metaphysics and ethics today. I could give a half-dozen titles right now if I put my mind to it.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Doc. Your habit of being reasonable hasn't yet rubbed off on me but I do get what you are writing and I do agree with what you are stating for I well remember living in Maine where the local Piskies were conducting workshops on Gregorian Chant while I was being assaulted with the St Louis Jebbie junk.

Because what you write about modern exegesis is accurate that is prime motivation to stick with tthe old commentaries which were faithful to the Saints and Doctors of the Church and before the Church lost its self-confidence and began trying to intellectually shag the schismatics.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Mr. Cothran,

Let's be clear about what I am saying indeed. I'm NOT saying that God is infanticidal. I AM saying that God, according to Scripture, did command the slaughter of enemies of Israel in the Book of Numbers, including men, women, and children. Those are two different propositions. Don't confuse them.

Nevertheless, doing justice to Scripture and faithfully accepting it as God's Word does require thinking with the mind of the Church. This doesn't mean thinking with the mind of Fr. Modernist, who wants to simply toss out everything that doesn't agree with Care Bear fuzzy. It means doing Biblical theology, which is hard work.

Here again, one of the best contemporary treatments is by a non-Catholic, and I'm saying that his treatment would agree with the Mind of the Church: Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God.


Thomas M. Cothran said...

Here's the problem:

M: One who orders the murder of infants has committed infanticide.

m: God ordered the murder of infants.

C: Therefore God committed infanticide.

You accept the minor premise, but contest the major premise. The way you do so is by saying that not only did God have infants killed, he also had their mothers and siblings killed.

Infanticide and genocide are not mutually exclusive however. One can be genocidal and infanticidal.

And really, for the sake of argument, I could grant your point that such a literalist reading maintains that God is genocidal. Is that really any better?

Pertinacious Papist said...

Mr. Cothran,

Don't you just love logic? It's a lot of fun. But isn't it also a letdown when you realize some problems can't be solved by logic, at least not easily, because our efforts to distill states of affairs into tidy logical 'terms' and 'propositions' sometimes fails to achieve their intended purpose. Life is messier than grammar, and grammar messier than logic.

The point here being your terms: is infanticidal" and "God is genocidal." What do these terms mean? If they mean that God is on record in the OT account of His activities ordering infanticide and genocide, then yes, I suppose one could say "God is infanticidal and genocidal."

But I'm not sure that's the way in which your terms are intended or would be understood by just anyone. Both terms suggest an inclination to perform the suggested actions. In fact, many people might believe that applying these terms to God would suggests one believes God has a pathological tendency in that direction.

Obviously, I believe no such thing, since I don't believe there are literal passions or inclinations or tendencies in God's "psyche." Biblical language about God, strictly speaking, is very often analogical (but let's not go into that here).

Granting this, I think we're on solid ground saying things like "God is love," and like "God's wrath is kindled against the wicked." Those expressions are right out of the Bible.

If God ordered the extermination of whole families and tribes in Canaan, which I believe we're meant by the rules of exegesis to take at face-value on the historical-literal level, then what are we to believe about Him?

One thing for sure, we're not to believe that God is a cuddly Care Bear, which is how most Catholics today seem to think about Him. Ever since the Victorians, English-speaking Christians have widely promoted the conceit about "gentle Jesus, meek and mild"; but I reply, with C.S. Lewis, that Aslan is not a tame Lion. I may not like the fact, but it has that rough male taste of reality about it, doesn't it, for better or worse.

So my answer is that God did many things we have a difficult time understanding today, or perhaps any day. But I trust that He has His reasons for whatever He has done (as well as for the Tsunamis and earthquakes and epidemics and holocausts He has allowed to happen), and that whatever we may think, His reasons are ultimately benign and benevolent.

Who knows, maybe God even hardened Pharaoh's heart not only so that the Children of Israel could flee Egypt, but so that he (Pharaoh) could be prevented from inflicting even more evil on his Hebrew slaves, in turn, sparing him (Pharaoh) from the even worse punishments in hell that he would have then deserved.

Logic is served by imagination and humility before the sovereign mystery of God's omnipotence and omniscience. Think Job: "Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him." (Job 13:15)

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Pertinacious Papist,

I checked the Oxford English Dictionary, Merrium Webster, and Chambers, none of which show any concern for a "disposition."

In any case, it's enough for me that you believe Jesus Christ to have a history of killing women and children. If that's so, it's perfectly accurate to say that he is a killer of children. It seems to me hazardous consider as a God one who so resembles Moloch.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

It is also wildly misleading to continue to imply that to take certain verses of the Old Testament to true only in an allegorical sense as somehow a modern phenomenon.

Just off the top of my head, here's a list of Church Fathers that argued not everything had to be taken literally: Augustine, Origin, Ambrose, Gregory of Nyssa, Jerome, John Chrysostum, and just for good measure we can throw in the Epistle of Barnabus. Most of the Church Fathers regarded the Bible as containing contradictions and as not always being true in the sense intended by the human author.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Mr. Cothran,

I suggest we carry on any further discussion of this matter by private email. My perception is that this is getting a bit out of hand for this combox.

For the record, however, let me clear my name of any opprobrium based on misunderstanding.

(1) I have nowhere said that I "believe Jesus Christ to have a history of killing women and children." In fact, I find that attribution utterly incomprehensible.

(2) While the grammar is a bit confusing, I think what you are saying in the first paragraph of you second most recent post is that I suggest that an allegorical interpretation of OT verses is a modern phenomenon. Again, it's utterly inconceivable that anyone could suggest such a thing based on what I've said. I've already acknowledged that the Angelic Doctor acknowledges a "spiritual" as well as "literal" interpretation (the former including different varieties thereof). Further, I can't imagine even any ancient Joe Sixpack taking literally a passage referring to the "trees of the field clapping their hands for joy," or the like.

Further, I'm not sure what your point about "disposition" means.

If you wish to pursue this, please email me: phblosser[at]gmail[dot]com.