Saturday, January 29, 2005

Protestant defends doctrine of Purgatory

Jerry L. Walls is not a Catholic. He is professor of philosophy and religion at Asbury Theological Seminary, a conservative evangelical Methodist seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He teaches an annual C.S. Lewis seminar, which is one of the school's most popular offerings. Thirteen years ago he published a widely-discussed book entitled Hell: The Logic of Damnation (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992). Ten years later, he has published Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), which has also been receiving wide attention, among other things for his treatment of Purgatory.

To his credit, Walls is willing to take Catholic teaching seriously. In particular, in his new book he defends the doctrine of Purgatory as an essential concomitant of the doctrine of Heaven. The basic idea of Heaven is embodied in the classic notion of the beatific vision, which involves the saved believer's everlasting life in God's presence. The problem, of course, is that it's hardly possible to conceive of anyone who could possibly be worthy of dwelling in God's presence, or even desirous of doing so, who has not attained complete sanctification, complete holiness--the final moral purification for which the typical believer, despite his best efforts, achieves only an imperfect approximation in this life. Since even the most devout Christian typically has not attained that goal at death, the only remedy can be an intermediate period between death and the beatific vision during which the believer's preparation is completed. This, of course, would be what Catholic tradition means by Purgatory.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

A reasonable rationale, perhaps?

When Adam Cardinal Maida of the Archdiocese of Detroit authorized the celebration of the indult Tridintine liturgy at St. Josaphat Church (right) beginning October 3, 2004, he observed:
"Those dioceses which have allowed the Tridentine liturgy hve experienced a rebirth of evangelization and outreach to a variety of people, especially those who felt alienated from the Church because of the liturgical renewal of Vatican II." (The Michigan Catholic [Sept. 24, 2004], p. 9)
Hey, why not? This way, everybody's happy: those who want a hootenanny performance can do their thing, and those who want the traditional liturgy of the Roman rite can do theirs. So what's to loose? A "free market" approach to liturgical alternatives might even help clean up the Novus Ordo.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Anti-Western Orthodoxy

Sean Fagan recently called my attention to an article by Jason Byassee entitled "Looking East: The Impact of Eastern Orthodoxy" (The Christian Century , December 28, 2004). The article struck me as being an excellent specimen of ebullient hooey.

First, the article, obviously by a Protestant, is so obviously enamoured of all the self-congratulatory nonsense fed to him by the Eastern Orthodox person(s) he interviewed, that it looses any semblance of objectivity.

Second, the Eastern Orthodox views and attitudes parroted by the author remind me, once again, why Eastern Orthodoxy could best be described as Anti-Western Orthodoxy, since it seems incapable of defining its own identity in terms other than opposition to the West, whether Protestant or Catholic. It altogether loses sight of the fact that its own tradition, despite whatever cultural differences that emerged between the Greek and Latin divisions of the Roman Empire, is seamlessly Catholic up until and even substantially beyond AD 1054, that all Christians-- East and West-- accepted not only the Primacy but Supremacy of Rome and the unity of the Orthodox and Catholic Faith. (See for example the early testimony of St. Maximus the Confessor and the early Popes, or the witness of the Eastern Acacian Schism of 484-519.)

For example, when Jason Byassee draws a contrast at the beginning of this article between all the debates and dualizations of the West between Protestant and Catholic, on the one hand, and the unity transcending such debates and dualities found among the Orthodox, on the other hand, he's parroting Eastern Orthodoxy's paradigmatic self-identification as non-Western, as independent of all these false problems and futile dualizations of the West. On this view, Catholics and Protestants debate endlessly whether conversion is by grace or free will; whether theological disputes are adjudicated by the Bible or tradition; whether the Church's authority resides in pope, bishops, or the faithful; and over such dualizations as those between academic theology and sacred worship-- whereas Eastern Orthodoxy remains a bystanding observer removed from the fray, sadly lamenting all this Western foolishness in its own wise realization that these are all false dualities and that the truth of the matter resides in the duality-transcending unity of its own surpassing unitive wisdom. On this view, Western theology (whether Catholic or Protestant) is rationalistically compartmentalized into fragmentary disciplines focused on Scripture, ecclesiology, Church history, systematic theology, pastoral ministry, etc., whereas Eastern Orthodoxy, in its wisdom, understands that theology is ultimately no more than doxological prayer and worship. On this view, Western theology is centered either atomistically on "individuals" or on an impartial "they," while Eastern Orthodoxy, in its divine wisdom, is conducted in the first-person plural "we," in the understanding that theology is a loving word of praise to God who first speaks His Word to us in Christ and by the Spirit draws us into the communion of the Holy Trinity.

Of course, all this is very beautiful and sublime and enticing; which misses the point, however, that it is all a piece of historical fiction fabricated in opposition to a straw man, at least as far as Catholic tradition is concerned. For Catholic tradition has never insisted against Protestants that conversion is by free will in opposition to divine grace, but by means of both--100% each. Catholic tradition has never insisted against Protestants that theological disputes are to be adjudicated by appeal to the Church's Sacred Tradition in opposition to the Bible, because the Bible is part of Sacred Tradition and may never be contradicted by Church teaching. Catholic tradition has never insisted against Protestants (or the Orthorox) that the church's authority resides exclusively in popes in opposition to bishops or the faithful, but in the college of bishops in unity with the pope in the context of the historical sensus fidelium ("sense of the faithful"). Catholic tradition has never assumed (against the Orthodox) that its Faith, whose diverse aspects are the subject of different divisions of theological inquiry, are meant to be divorced from the Church's life of prayer and worship, but rather has always insisted proverbially that "the law of prayer is the law of faith" (lex orandi, lex credendi). Catholic tradition has never focused impartially on atomistic "individuals" to the exclusion of the first-person plural "we," but always maintained that salvation is a matter of incorporation through baptism into the mysterious "Body of Christ," or that Church membership is a matter of being received aboard the "Ark of Salvation" in the company of the Communion of Saints.

In short, all of this enthusiasm about Orthodoxy's unique, non-Western identity is not merely misleading and dishonest, but the bad fruit of pernicious historical resentments and willful self-deception. Many Eastern Orthodox theologians, like many Protestant ones, have profound gifts of biblical, theological, and spiritual insight that should be appreciated and celebrated by all Christians. But efforts of contemporary Eastern Orthodox Christians to elevate themselves by falsely derogating, disparaging, or otherwise detracting from Catholic (or Protestant) tradition in this fashion simply exhibits the degree to which Eastern Orthodoxy has fallen from its claim to embody the universal Church and succumbed to a negativism that is most aptly described as Anti-Western Orthodoxy.

For bibliographical resources, click here, then scroll down. Also see Al Kimel's discussion of Eastern Orthodox hostility toward St. Augustine in Pontifications 7/5/2004.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Decline of Western Civilization and the 2004 Election

People being fed to wild beasts in an arena, or burned alive as torches. Unwanted infants abandoned outside to die of exposure or starvation. Gladiators fighting each other to the death in a grand spectacle. Many of us would recognize these as images of the ancient Roman Empire. Today, we find it difficult to imagine a life where such violence was commonplace or legally sanctioned.

In later centuries, however, the Empire went through a profound transformation, and none of these gruesome practices survived. While a thorough analysis of the history of the western world is beyond the scope of this short speech, and beyond my ability to provide, there is an important point here. The change that came over the Roman Empire was not a matter of changing a few laws. It went much, much further than that, and it affects this Western Civilization, which, like it or not, we are part of, even in our time.

Much could be said about this transformation, but I will draw attention to only one aspect. On some level, there came to be a recognition, however imperfect, of the unique value and dignity of every human being. It is not hard to see that such an understanding would have far-reaching consequences in many areas of life, including the laws of a society. If a human being possesses a unique value and dignity, no one has the right to treat him or her any old way, not even someone in a position of power. Might does not make right.

As I see it, this recognition of the unique value and dignity of each human being is one of the greatest legacies we have inherited down through the centuries, one of the most fundamental principles of Western Civilization.

Now let's see what's happening in 21st century America: A baby is being delivered. The legs are out. The arms are out. Just a few more inches and there will be a new citizen, somewhat premature, but healthy and viable with modern neonatal care. But that is not what happens. A doctor so-called, completely unworthy of the name, pierces the skull, uses modern technology to suck out its brain, collapses its skull, and delivers a little corpse instead. I don't know about you, but it boggles my mind that this goes on in our society.

We like to fancy ourselves so advanced and civilized and refined, so modern and progressive... but what has become of the value and dignity of every human being? Do we recognize it no longer? Is it okay to deny another their value and dignity if no one can hear them scream? If it is done in a modern, clean, antiseptic way - quietly - away from the noise of the arena?

Some argue that the little unborn ones in question are not really human... but I have seen that argument before. It was used by some of those who argued in the past that women didn't need to be given basic rights. They said women weren't fully human... It was used of people of various races. Members of those races weren't fully human, so denying them various rights was justified. Is the argument really any more believable this time? Isn't it more likely that once again, we find it easier to deny someone their rights, or treat them however we please, if we have first denied their humanity?

And hasn't all the once-popular rhetoric reached a level of complete absurdity when the difference between a citizen and a lump of tissue to be dealt with as we please is a mere several inches in the position of the head?

And now to the 2004 election. So-called doctors, completely unworthy of the name, who perform the above described quiet, clean, modern, murderous procedure support the Kerry campaign. They are familiar with his voting record, and know that Senator Kerry has consistently voted against any attempt to ban or restrict the procedure in any way.

Am I the only one that finds this troubling? Don't we all think that recognizing and respecting the value and dignity of every human being, whether or not it is convenient, is a matter of great importance? Is a fundamental principle of our civilization - a principle that goes a long way toward making our society truly civilized - at stake?

I had requested to speak last month, or later this month, but that is not the way the schedule worked out. I had planned to give a nice little speech on a nice little topic, but in the end I just couldn't do it.

First, there was the article in the October Toastmaster magazine suggesting that we shouldn't avoid controversial topics. Then, there were the weeks of working on a campus which seemed thoroughly enamored with Kerry, riding my bike home each day with these thoughts coursing through my veins and seeing Kerry/Edwards signs sprouting along my route like mushrooms after the rain. I actually didn't see people engaged in thoughtful discussion with each other, just little hints and remarks that assume that everyone must obviously be on their side too, that any educated, sensitive, reasonable person could not do otherwise. For weeks, I was very quiet. In the end, I felt that if I didn't let these thoughts out they would burn a hole in my insides.

Enough apologizing and explaining. Here are my final questions. Have the citizens on this campus and in this city given this matter I have discussed any thought? Is Western Civilization in decline?
The foregoing address was delivered by Mira Kanzelberger last fall at a Toastmasters convocation in Seattle, Washington, preceeding the national presidential election in November. Her paper is offered in rememberance of the 4000 unborn children who have been killed every day in the United States for the last 32 years on this anniversary of Roe v. Wade (Jan. 22, 1972), the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in this country.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

Dems attempt to woo religious constituency

The big lesson of the last election, as reported in the media, was that values still count for something. In fact, they still count so much that they made the difference between a win for Bush and a loss for Kerry. All the media outlets were abuzz with the "hard data" of the exit polls: what mattered most to people was values. Moral values. Religious values. Traditional family values. All across the country, following the election, there have been Democratic Party town meetings to discuss "What went wrong?" The conclusion? We neglected values. What can we do to win in 2008? We gotta get them values. How do we do that? Start talking about them. Make them personal. Family values. Moral values. Above all, religious values.

Well, it seems Hillary Rodham Clinton has found it expedient to "find religion" and go public with it. On this topic, an article in the Jan. 20, 2005 issue of the Boston Globe by Michael Jones reports:
On the eve of the presidential inauguration, US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton last night embraced an issue some pundits say helped seal a second term for George W. Bush: acceptance of the role of faith in addressing social ills.

In a speech at a fund-raising dinner for a Boston-based organization that promotes faith-based solutions to social problems, Clinton said there has been a "false division" between faith-based approaches to social problems and respect for the separation of church of state.

"There is no contradiction between support for faith-based initiatives and upholding our constitutional principles," said Clinton, a New York Democrat who often is mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2008.

Addressing a crowd of more than 500, including many religious leaders, at Boston's Fairmont Copley Plaza, Clinton invoked God more than half a dozen times, at one point declaring, "I've always been a praying person."

She said there must be room for religious people to "live out their faith in the public square."
Caveat emptor ("Let the buyer beware"): Some Dems peddling religion must be counting on our not knowing the difference between chicken soup and chicken spit. Read more, if you can stomach it, here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Secret of the Vatican Secret Archives

The best kept secret of the Vatican Secret Archives is that there isn't much to get excited about. "Many clamor to enter this secret fortress, and then, when it's open, they disappear," says Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives. They point fingers and clamor for the Vatican to reveal its secrets, and when the Vatican opens its archives and they don't find the scandalous material they expected and hoped for, they all just disappear. Much of the controversy centers on Pope Pius XII (pictured left), whom many allegedly suspect of having collaborated with the Nazi deportation of Jews to extermination camps during the Second World War--despite the fact that former Israeli Premier, Golda Meir, Albert Einstein, and many Jewish dignitaries went on public record after the war specifically to thank Pople Pius XII for his help in rescuing thousands of Jews destined for Hitler's death camps. The chief rabbi of Rome, Rabbi Zolli, even converted to the Catholic Faith after the war on February 13th, 1945. The pope's private archives, which consist of a thousand years of documents in eighty kilometers of shelves, will be open to the public in 2006--at least back to 1939, the critical period of time so far as the controversy surrounding Pope Pius XII. For Gian Maria's interview with Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, and for Sandro Magister's article, "All the Secrets of the Vatican Secret Archives," click here. (Gratia tibi, Sean Fagan)

Eastern Orthodoxy's Witness to Papal Primacy: The Acacian Schism of 484-519

My recent posts (January 10th; January 14th; and January 17th) on the Eastern Schism elicited some lively responses. Most engaging for me personally were some thoughtful comments from Dan Jones protesting Rome's notion of Papal Primacy based on the assumption that Catholic ecclesiology, centered on the Holy See and Vicar of Christ, is a historical development emanating from a faulty neo-Platonic theology of "absolute simplicity" found in Western Christology and theology of Original Sin. Whether this bold inference, and the assumption on which it is based, stand the test of reason is a discussion for another time. However, I am particularly struck here by the singular absence of comment from the Eastern Orthodox quarter on some historical data that seem to me all but ineluctable. My first post offered several examples of testimony to Papal Primacy in the ancient Church. Rather than address these directly, our friends turn to arcane theological considerations, claiming that these are the root of the problem with the Western assumption of Papal Primacy. However, their theological case is far from clear, and more importantly it ignores the blatant historical fact that the early Church accepted Papal Primacy right up through the history of the Church they claim to be Orthodox, as opposed to Catholic. As an example of what I mean, I offer a discussion of the Acacian Schism of 484-519. You can find it in my post for January 19th on my Scripture and Catholic Tradition blog.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Peter Kreeft incites a riot

Well, sort of ...

A student pro-life organization at St. Michael's College in Toronto invited the renowned Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft to speak at a campus gathering back in 2003, and here's what happened:
During his presentation Dr. Kreeft answered questions about homosexuality from a Catholic perspective which enraged homosexual activists who targeted the meeting.
Under political pressure from the gay/lesbian lobby, the cowed Catholic administration evidently failed to back up the student organization against charges of inciting hatred. Read more here (gratia tibi, Curt Jester); and for Kreeft's original presentation here (gratia tibi, Apolonio).

Pope Grants Plenary Indulgence for Year of the Eucharist

This bit of good news is brought to you in honor of my Lutheran colleagues, students and friends at Lenoir-Rhyne College and in celebration of their affection for Martin Luther, for whose soul I secured a Jubilee Indulgence in the year Anno Domini 2000, in hopes of his being granting release from Purgatory, if he was lucky enough to make it that far:
VATICAN CITY, JAN 14, 2005 (VIS) - A Decree from the Apostolic Penitentiary, dated December 25, 2004 and published today, states that during an audience granted on December 17, 2004 to Cardinal James Francis Stafford and Fr. John Francis Girotti, OFM. Conv., respectively penitentiary major and regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, "the Holy Father wished to enrich with indulgences several determined acts of worship and devotion to the Most Holy Sacrament, which are indicated below. ... The Decree will be in force during the Eucharistic Year, starting with the day of its publication in the L'Osservatore Romano. Notwithstanding any disposition to the contrary."
Read more (courtesy of Benjamin Blosser at Ad Limina Apostolorum, Jan. 14, 2005).

The Easter Schism: a postscript

Eliot Bougis says in a comment he left on my recent (Jan. 14th) post on The Eastern Schism revisited (on my Scripture and Catholic Tradition blog) that the last time he drew readers' attention to his post about Eastern testimony to Roman primacy/supremacy, it caused "a veritable yellow poop storm" of controversy. (To read his post, click on his Saturday, November 13, 2005 post.) From the reaction to my own brief post, the pattern appears to be an inevitable one. Having neither the time nor inclination to join the fray at this point, I have posted a list of resources for cooler minds to make use of as they can and wish, in the interest of light rather than heat.

To read more, click on The Eastern Schism: A Postscript.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Eastern Schism revisited

In response to my recent post, "Petrine jurisdiction exercised in the ancient Church" (on my Scripture & Catholic Tradition blog, Jan. 10, 2005), Dan Jones kindly offered a number of critical rejoinders in the Comments at the end of the post from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. Jones sees "errors" in Rome's idea of Church unity and primacy embodied in a Pope with universal jurisdiction as stemming from (Augustine's?) theological "errors," in turn stemming from the neo-platonic idea of absolute simplicity and the notion that God's own unity must be understood as a unity of being having absolute simplicity. Even the filioque ("and the Son") insertion in the Nicene Creed, he says, is a product of this view. He asserts that this view is problematic and that Orthodoxy offers a solution to the problem of unity and plurality unavailable to the West, and that the Eastern churches preserve an ecclesial unity without the pope. Read more here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

"Smart people and believing in God"

Kirk Kanzelberger, a good friend of mine who is a Caltech grad currently completing his doctorate in philosophy at Fordham, has just created a new blog you will want to keep your eye on, by the name of Sapor Sapientiae. In his opening post, he addresses the question, "Why is it that there are smart people who believe in God, and smart people who don't?" I think you will find his Pascalian approach in answering this question quite provocative. Have a look and leave a comment telling him what you think. Oh, and here's the link to his post.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Petrine jurisdiction in the early Church

Whenever Catholics bring up the record of the Church Fathers and writers of antiquity, their brethren from the various Eastern Orthodox tradition accuse them of citing them "out of context." The tit-for-tat quickly becomes an exercise in futility. The important things is just be sure to examine the record for yourself, context and all. On the exercise of Petrine jurisdiction by Rome in the ancient Church, for example, here's a sampling.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Should Episcopalians become Roman Catholic?

I have been asked by a friend to offer some reflections on the question "Why Episcopalians Should Become Roman Catholic." His suggestion was that a number of his acquaintances have been struggling with the question of whether to remain in the Episcopal Church, with the underlying issue being not so much whether to flee, but rather whither and why. The prospect of offering counsel to anyone in these circumstances is, of course, fraught with difficulties. For one thing, it cannot avoid presumption. That I am a convert to the Catholic Faith from a Protestant background, most immediately in the Episcopal Church, may be of some help here. But I cannot begin to know the various particular circumstances of the individuals in question; and even if I did, I could not presume to tell them what they must do. Whatever the negative experience of religious dissatisfaction in which they find themselves, this is not yet the positive experience of religious conviction required to compel conversion; and nothing short of such conviction will do if they want to become truly Catholic. At best, I can offer some reflections on what I believe and what my experience and that of others has been, and leave it to them to draw whatever conclusions they are able. The convert's challenge of explaining his own conversion is already sufficiently daunting without entertaining the question of what others should do. As John Henry Newman (pictured left) is said to have remarked, perhaps with just a touch of impatience, when asked why he had become a Catholic, it is not the kind of question one can answer adequately between the soup and the fish courses.... Read more . . .

Monday, January 03, 2005

Can anyone help with data on relation of G.K. Chesterton to Christopher Derrick?

Can anyone help me with information on the relationship between Christopher Derrick & G.K. Chesterton? I know Chesterton is convert. I remember reading about a connection with Derrick or his grandfather somewhere-- either that Derrick's grandfather was instrumental in Chesterton's conversion, or vice versa. Can anyone tell me if Christopher Derrick is a convert to Catholicism or cradle Catholic?

Christopher Derrick, of course, was the author of such well-known books as That Strange Divine Sea: Reflections on Being a Catholic, Sex and Sacredness: A Catholic Homage to Venus, and C.S. Lewis and the Church of Rome: A Study in Proto-Ecumenism. [Amazon links]

G.K. Chesterton, as you will all know, wrote such gems as Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man, Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox, and Saint Francis of Assisi [Amazon links]

If anyone can help me with any information about their relationship, I would be much obliged.

Update (1/3/06):

I recently received a phone call from Pete Sheehan of the Long Island Catholic, who told me that he once had the privilege of interviewing Christopher Derrick. Among other things, two helpful things I learned are that Derrick is a cradle catholic, and that the influence of Chesterton on him was in all probability more by way of inspiration than by way of any direct personal influence. My thanks to Mr. Sheehan for this help in filling in the details a bit more. Those interested may see Mr. Sheehan's recent article, "Always Winter and Never Christmas," at the Long Island Catholic website. What remains in question -- based on a sketchy recollection of something I read somewhere -- is whether Chesterton was converted through the influence of Derrick's grandfather or Derrick's father was converted through the influence of Chesterton -- something like that.