Sunday, November 25, 2007

Newman on Bible as Authority

I'm not very far into it, but John Henry Cardinal Newman's famous An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine has already given me much to ponder. Consider his discussion on the Bible as infallible authority.

Pardon the long quote, but if you are interested in church authority, it will be worth your time.

"The common sense of mankind... feels that the very idea of revelation implies a present informant and guide, and that an infallible one; not a mere abstract declaration of Truths unknown before to man, or a record of history, or the result of an antiquarian research, but a message and a lesson speaking to this man and that. This is shown by the popular notion which has prevailed among us since the Reformation, that the Bible itself is such a guide; and which succeeded in overthrowing the supremacy of Church and Pope, for the very reason that it was a rival authority, not resisting merely, but supplanting it. In proportion, then, as we find, in matter of fact, that the inspired volume is not adapted or intended to subserve that purpose, are we forced to revert to that living and present Guide, who, at the era of our rejection of her, had been so long recognized as the dispenser of Scripture, according to times and circumstances, and the arbiter of all true doctrine and holy practice to her children. We feel a need, and she alone of all things under heaven supplies it. We are told that God has spoken. Where? In a book? We have tried it and it disappoints; it disappoints us, that most holy and blessed gift, not from fault of its own, but because it is used for a purpose for which it was not given. The Ethiopian's reply, when St. Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading, is the voice of nature: "How can I, unless some man shall guide me?" The Church undertakes that office; she does what none else can do, and this is the secret of her power...

"The most obvious answer, then, to the question, why we yield to the authority of the Church in the questions and developments of faith, is, that some authority there must be if there is a revelation given, and other authority there is none but she. A revelation is not given, if there be no authority to decide what it is that is given. In the words of St. Peter to her Divine Master and Lord, "To whom shall we go?" Nor must it be forgotten in confirmation, that Scripture expressly calls the Church "the pillar and ground of the Truth," and promises her as by covenant that "the Spirit of the Lord that is upon her, and His words which He has put in her mouth shall not depart out of her mouth, nor out of the mouth of her seed, nor out of the mouth of her seed's seed, from henceforth and for ever." [citing 1 Tim. 3:16* and Isa. 59:21] (from Chapter 2, Section II, emphasis added)"

* I believe this should be 1 Tim. 3: 15.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Fetal Murder, Texas Style

[Fine Print: the below is about an hour's worth of Google-only legal analysis, so I welcome any corrections, especially from my esquired readers.]

For an interesting piece about non-elective abortion being treated as murder in Texas, read here. By "non-elective abortion", I mean the death of a fetus-child not elected by his or her mother to be performed by a physician, and I mean to exclude "spontaneous abortion" (i.e., miscarriage).

It is an interesting approach Texas has taken, and an interesting fact pattern it is pursuing in court. A boyfriend, angry at the recently pregnant mother of his child, murdered her (and the child with her). He is being prosecuted on two counts of murder. Texas defines capital murder to include, inter alia, murders of more than one person in one "criminal transaction", and of a child under the age of six (Tex. Penal Code, Title 5, Sect. 19.03(a)(7)(A) and (a)(8)). So, much is on the line for this young man.

Criminal law requires both a guilty mind (mens rea) and a guilty act (actus reus) to have a guilty defendant. The guilty mind element does not mean that one has to hate or feel scorn before one faces criminal liability. Rather, it requires that one act with intent, knowledge, or recklessness with regard to the prohibited conduct.

The Texas Penal Code defines murder as "intentionally or knowingly caus[ing] the death of an individual" (Sect. 19.02(b)(1)). As Texas has separately defined a fetus as an individual, a physician intentionally causing the death of a fetus there would meet both the mens rea and actus reus requirements of Texas' murder statute.

Of course we know such a plain reading does not conform with the U.S. Supreme Court's mandate in Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the standing ruling that reinvented the sputtering rationale underlying Roe v. Wade. A law that inhibits a so-called "fundamental liberty interest" such as abortion will be struck down (as was, for example, the fate of Connecticut's anti-contraception law in Griswold v. Conn.). I, for one, would enjoy seeing the Supreme Court strike down Texas' entire Criminal Homicide Chapter as an unconstitutional infringement on fundamental liberties, but those sensible jurists in black are too wise for such attention-gathering shenanigans. They will find a subtler way to act. They could, for example, simply strike down the Texas law that defines a fetus as an individual. That would solve several problems, including the possible death sentence this father faces for killing his girlfriend and child.

I really believe that states opposed to the Roe mandate can do no better in the near term than to legislatively define the fetus as a person endowed with his or her own rights. The difficulty here in distinguishing murder from medicine may leave courts looking high and low to nix the law. I hope to hear more of this case as it works its way through the cogs of the appellate process.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Church-State Organic Unity?

Vladimir Soloviev, in "The Russian Church and the Papacy", tells us that neither the Church nor the secular state (relying upon its own resources) can succeed in establishing "Christian justice and peace on earth."

In discussing the co-mingling of church and state, he says "if we consider the political and social condition of Europe toward the close of the Middle Ages, we must admit that the papacy, robbed of its secular organ... was unable to give a genuinely Christian organization to the society which it had governed."

He saw the social constitution of Europe as based on power disparity, an insurmountable barrier between "victors and vanquished". This caused a horrific tendency to do violence, making "every country the scene of civil war and plunder... Where in all this can the features of a truly Christian society be recognized?"

Turning to his modern era (late 19th century), Soloviev reviews secular efforts at providing political justice in Europe. Post-Reformation European states, freed from church oversight, tried to improve upon the Church's labor. The result?

"The philosophy of the revolutionaries has made praiseworthy attempts to substitute for [Christian] unity the unity of the human race--how successful is well known: a universal militarism transforming whole nations into hostile armies and itself inspired by a national hatred such as the Middle Ages never knew... and a continuous lessening of the moral power in individuals."

I am certain that had Soloviev lived to see the devastation of war upon Europe in the 20th century, his opinion would have only strengthened. This humanism-based unity continues in full force, but I am curious to know what will replace waning Nationalism (or will Nationalism resurge?). His individual moral power line was prophetic.

But I am not sure I can agree with the ultimate conclusion he reaches, that church and state must be closely aligned in an organic union "without confusion and without division (emphasis original)" to achieve "true social progress". My disagreement probably stems from my very non-Orthodox eschatological belief that such "true" progress is not for this world. The best I expect to see is fits of something less than "true" (i.e., idealistic, Kantian) progress, always to be interrupted by sin. Even granting that Christ gave His graces to the Church such that it can be preserved from all error, I don't see that flowing into an establishment of an infallible state. Heaven is not on earth. Not yet.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Early Church Worship

If you are interested in learning how the earliest Christians worshipped God (and ordered their services), please read this excellent article from the Orthodox

(HT: Tim Troutman)

It spells out the development of Christian worship practices from Jewish-synagogue roots, to attending both Jewish and Christian services, and finally to being excluded from Jewish practice, and left exclusively to Christian practice.

I was particularly interested in the dual practice of conducting an "Agape Meal" (or "Fellowship Meal") and Eucharistic celebration. I've read (from Reformed writings that I can't put my thumb on) the theory that the Agape meal was one and the same with communion. This has been used to justify children communing (paedocommunion), and to detract from stronger sacramental sentimentalities in the Lord's Supper.

The way one handles, interprets and applies the lessons of History has consequences.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Peter, Oakseed Of Papalism

Sometimes it's hard to remember why I ever got swept up in curiosity about the Apostolic Churches. The more I experience of Catholicism in practice, the more I find that makes me cringe.

But then I look back, and my memory is quickly revived. In Protestantism, all truth seems relative, made subject to individual will. Authority is tentatively placed in the hands of 66 Bible books, but no one can explain, without reaching for pluriform post hoc justifications, what the authority of the placement of the Bible as authority and the definition of its canon was.

19th-Century Orthodox writer Vladimir Soloviev has had some of his writings recompiled into the brief book "The Russian Church and the Papacy". Catholic Answers publishes the work, which gives a noteworthy critique of the Eastern Orthodox approach to church authority (especially biting is his articulated claim that secular emperors orchestrated the various heresies the Church has faced). The recent ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and certain Orthodox theologians makes his discussion of the authoritative, and not merely honorific, primacy of the Roman Bishop seem prescient. There's nothing like authority to cure malaise over individualism.

He says about the development of the doctrine of Papal Primacy:

"Scripture tells us of the primacy of Peter; his right to absolute sovereign authority in the Church is attested by Orthodox tradition [(having previously cited, inter alia, St. John Chrysostom)]; but no one possessed of any historical feeling or indeed of any ordinary common sense would expect to find legally defined powers taking effect according to fixed rules in the primitive Church, not only of the period when "the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul" but also long after. There is always the temptation to expect to find the branches of the oak in the acorn. The real and living seed of the supreme authority of the Church which we discern in the prince of the apostles could only be displayed in the primitive Church by practical leadership on the part of Peter in every matter which concerned the universal Church, and this is what we actually find int he Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles (emphasis mine; pp. 152-153)."

Studying doctrinal development has been challenging and rewarding. I recommend it to anyone hoping to learn from the practices of the early Church.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sophistry Sinks (genuine) Ecumenism

Please see the excellent discussion of a precondition to genuine ecumenical dialogue at PrincipiumUnitatis.

The thesis is:

"One precondition for genuine and fruitful ecumenical dialogue is understanding the difference between sophistry and rational dialogue, and being sufficiently self-disciplined to engage only in rational dialogue and avoid all sophistry."

I'm persuaded! May we avoid sophisms and seek the Truth.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mary Forgive Me? Grant Me Heaven?

St. Germanus of Constantinople, famous for not submitting to Emperor Leo III's iconoclastic rule, recorded in his prayer to Mary, "Do not despise petitions which have been uttered by an unworthy mouth. On the contrary O Lady glorified by God, considering the love with which we say these things to you, grant us forgiveness of sins, the joy of eternal life and freedom from all faults. (Homilia in Sancta Mariae zonam, as translated in Glimpses of the Church Fathers by Claire Russell)"

This fits with the overall tenor of his homily, but for the whole thing you'll have to acquire Russell's work.

I wonder, within Catholicism (and Orthodoxy!), what petition to Mary would "cross the line"? Germanus' expressions of Marian devotion attribute merciful, salvific and sanctifying acts to her. Even granting that God chose Mary to be the Ark-womb of Jesus and the New Eve (countering Eve's introduction of death into the world by introducing Life into the world), I am caught unprepared to imagine a defense of St. Germanus' exuberance. An expression of gratitude to Mary for 'causing' the possibility of New Life differs in kind from a petition to her to grant forgiveness, which of course only Christ Jesus can grant.

I suppose the apologist could contend that Germanus was asking her to "grant" the forgiveness indirectly through her petitioning to her son to do the real effectual granting. But this is not remotely the clear meaning of the expression "grant me forgiveness" or "grant me eternal life." At some point, shouldn't prudent concern for confusing and improperly catechizing the masses outweigh what is hoped to be achieved by this type of request to Mary? After all, this is no small expression, having no small implication on Christology (the purported end of all Mariology).

Nagging feeling, anyone?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Interfaith Concert

To see the Hindi Pushpanjali Dance Group, hear a Mormon choir or experience the Washington Baha'i Chorale all in the comforts of a Basilica dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, consider attending the 28th annual "InterFaith Concert"

I wonder, what are the rules of proper deportment when in the presence of an altar consecrated by the Bishop? Will the elements of the Eucharist remain present in the Tabernacle during these performances?

And who is really comfortable with this arrangement? I would guess that the faithful Muslim or Mormon is going to look forward to this event primarily for the opportunity to "poach" those of the others faith groups present... but I've always been a nay-sayer.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Marian Prayers and Angst

It is no small wonder that, as a conservative Reformed Protestant, one of the hardest concepts for me to accept (or even tolerate) about the great Apostolic Churches is their Marian devotions. From what I've read, mine is not an uncommon experience. While not the prima facie catalyst of the Reformation, I note that today it seems to be the most prominent issue with which we justify our divisions. My ordained Reformed dad has opined that if it weren't for Marianism, the church could have reunited shortly after the Council of Trent. Would that this had been true.

While the formal Catholic teachings on Marianism stand up to some measure of my (admitedly individualistic) scrutiny, I fester over the Marian 'lex orandi' side of things. I have been repeatedly assured by Catholic Aplogetic literature that any prayer to Mary is no more than a petition for her to pray for us. To ask her or any saint to do more than petition to Jesus is to exceed permissible bounds.

The 'Hail, Mary' sure seems to fit safely within that rule, what Fr. Neuhaus would call rightly ordered devotion. But how about the traditional prayer, 'Hail, Holy Queen'?

"Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!"

It is surely a hard teaching that asking the Blessed Mother to turn her eyes of mercy toward us is formally nothing more than asking for her intercessory prayers. It would seem more safely within the confines of formal teaching to say 'pray that we may receive your Son's mercy.' I know, I'm biased -- not atuned to the Catholic Marian Pathos. I seek to understand, but see the danger of getting 'rightly oredered devotion' to Mary 'wrong' as a grave matter - superstition of not idolatry.

I know... I know...

Trash Can Lunch

Walking through what could objectively be described as a "depressed" neighborhood in Baltimore I saw a rather horrifying sight. I'm sure I've seen this many times before, and I'm certain that I will see it again. But it was striking nonetheless. A woman was eating her food from a city trash can.

"Okay, Thos, what's your point?"

I have a few points: 1) remember to be thankful for the meals you've been given this day, 2) remember that God answers when we petition to him, "give us this day our daily bread" (ergo, don't take your provisions so for granted that you forget to ask and thank the Giver), and 3) be prepared with a course of action the next time you see a person eating their meal out of the refuse.

I'm always flat-footed when I encounter these situations. I don't want to embarrass anyone for being poor. I don't want to act like I'm some kind of Warren Buffet of the slums. I don't want to mindlessly dole out whatever cash I happen to have in my wallet (not that I'm opposed to poor people choosing to spend their cash on Captain Morgan). But I do want to feed Christ when He's hungry. Unfortunately, today there were no food establishments within sight (the nearby shops had plywood windows), for I was going to run and grab some un-trash-canned food to give her. But if anyone cares to opine on a better plan, I'm all ears.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Dobson a Defender of Life?

[NOTE: This post is meant to be about the power of para-church organizations as much as about abortifacients.]

Driving into Washington, D.C. last week at 5:00am, I had my dial tuned to a local Christian radio station. They were replaying an event from the "Family Values Voters Conference" honoring Dr. James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to "Nurturing and Defending Families Worldwide." The event was the "Family, Faith and Freedom Gala Dinner" and included praises from the likes of Chuck Colson (Prison Fellowship), Ed Meese (Heritage Foundation), as well as "doctor's" son, daughter and wife.

Flattery and praises aside, what raised my ire was a claim one of these distinguished panegyricists made of Dr. Dobson's pro-life track record. I can't find a transcript of the event, so this para-quote is to the best of my memory: 'Dr. Dobson is an unmatched defender of the sanctity of life.'

My knuckles turned white on the steering wheel more from this fallacious statement than from the insane drivers on the Anacostia Freeway (295 South in D.C.). You see, Dr. Dobson (a doctor of philosophy, not medicine or theology) has come to the conclusion that the birth control pill does not have an abortifacient effect (see my contradictory evidence here). His position paper on this matter used to be available online (I read it years ago, and you can find the broken link here, at footnote 60), but now you have to mail in to request it.

But we are given this snippet from the Focus on the Family website: "The majority of the experts to which Dr. Dobson has spoken feel that the pill does not have an abortifacient effect. A minority of the experts feel that when conception occurs on the pill, that there is enough of a possibility for an abortifacient warrant informing women about it."

Enter the power of the para-church, and the colossal strength of the Evangelical superstar. In the court room, a judge decides which testifying witnesses qualify as experts. A jury sits through the tedium of their expert testimony and is expected to painstakingly weigh the evidence. But in Evangelical Christendom we have delegated that chore to a Ph.D. granting his imprimatur to his own committee's report. He has spoken with the experts, he has tabulated who thinks the pill kills and who does not, and he has reached the verdict: it probably does not, but at least you should know.

This is only possible because of the categorical tool employed by Focus on the Family: contraception is a matter of conscience. The Bible is not clear on this point, so you can decide for yourself. And if you need help, Dr. Dobson has already decided for you. Never mind that under one scheme a loss of sexual liberty is on the line, and under the other a loss of your child's life. Don't let the Pope, your mother, your elder or your husband tell you the pill causes abortion. Don't listen to the "minority" of medical and scientific experts either -- especially not them, since they fail to adhere to the mainstream scientific consensus. Take solace from the para-church organization; it's a matter of conscience.

As for me, I have reached the conclusion that Dr. Dobson is not an unmatched defender of the sanctity of life. I pray that he uses his position to become one. But we must beware the solace of the para-church, for its contrived authority will be no comfort on the day of judgment.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Twin Survives Abortion Attempt

Read about the mother who asked doctors to abort her impaired son so he could die peacefully in the womb next to his twin brother, rather than cruelly in this world. Not only were the doctors unable to conduct said mercy killing, but it turns out this boy is doing just fine in this cruel world too!

(Note: "Wrongful Birth" is a cause of action in at least some of these United States. Fortunately, this mother seems happy that both of her twin sons were born.)

Perhaps of most significance to me in reading this article was the clear use of life/death language in regard to the boy's state while still in utero. Unfortunately, I think the level of comfort with that language is based on his mother's desire to have him, as opposed to his inherent worth as a human creature. But maybe this is progress nonetheless.

HT: Drudge.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

God's People One Whole Garment

God's people of the New Covenant are like one seamless garment, untorn.

In 1 Kings 11:29ff, we read that Solomon would lose his kingship of the 12 tribes of Israel. There would be a tear in God's chosen race, as Israel and Judah would divide into separate kingdoms.

"About that time Jeroboam was going out of Jerusalem, and Ahijah the prophet of Shiloh met him on the way, wearing a new cloak. The two of them were alone out in the country, and Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. Then he said to Jeroboam, "Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon's hand and give you ten tribes... I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molech the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in my ways, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my statutes and laws as David, Solomon's father, did. (NIV)"

Compare this pericope with John 19:23-24:

"When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

""Let's not tear it," they said to one another. "Let's decide by lot who will get it."
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said,
"They divided my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing." So this is what the soldiers did. (NIV)"

The old Prophet tore his garment to symbolize the division of God's chosen people, caused by their rebellion. But the garment of our Prophet, Christ the King, was seamless and remained untorn.

There is a tendency within Protestantism to read the account of the division of the Jews as prophetic of the New Covenant and the Reformation -- to liken Catholicism to the Israelites. But if the garment typology of 1 Kings and John bears merit, such a likening is no cause for comfort. God's people are no longer a divided garment or a divided kingdom, broken into pieces. We are called to be one (John 17:11), seamless, undivided. This would be ecumenicity.

Christ have mercy.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Gay Catholic Parishes

As Providence would have it, the local Catholic parish in my town has a "gay and lesbian ministry" and considers itself to be "gay friendly." They proclaim this: "committed to an attitude of welcome and firmly opposed to discrimination in all its forms, we declare our support for gay and lesbian Catholics..." I didn't know "welcome" was an attitude. I have the highest doubt that they oppose discrimination "in all its forms." I'm sure that they have a definite opinion of the policies of Bob Jones University, for instance, and of people who choose to go there.

There's a thoughtful program to make sure that children between the ages of 14 and 18 feel comfortable expressing their desire to be identified as homosexual. We should make sure that those enduring the process of puberty feel that their inclinations are welcomed.

They even have photos on the Parish website from the 2006 Gay Pride Day.

What's one to do? Pride over practicing what their Church calls a sin? How about Incest Pride Day! Masturbation Pride Day! Bestiality Pride Day! Or, closer to home for many perhaps, Affair Pride Day! Perhaps this "ministry" invites to communion those with homosexual desires but who are not practicing their homosexuality. Those-Inclined-To-Have-Affairs Pride Day?

This makes it very hard to take Catholicism's teaching seriously. Perhaps the new Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore will make the Catholic Church's teaching more evident.

UPDATE: And lest you think that this is all happening under the Bishop's radar, this was in a recent Bishop's Report from Bishop Rozanski, "I wish to commend the community for your inclusion of Gay and Lesbian Catholics into the life of the community, including specific ministries in this area—Beginnings, Reclaim and Gay and Lesbian Ministries." One may be excommunicated for having doubts about indulgences, but another is 'incommunicated' as a Gay or Lesbian Catholic...