Thursday, June 06, 2013

A Few More Thoughts


I guess I'd have to cop to it, you know. James White is always accusing his favorite friendly neighborhood Catholic apologist of being committed to Sola Ecclesia instead of Sola Scriptura.


I've thought it over, and I think it's true. Worse still--or maybe better still--I'm not mad about it. After all, what is the Church? Is it not the supernatural communion of love between God and man, and men with each other? What else do you need besides that? Luckily, unlike Mr. White, there is no dichotomy or unnatural juxtaposition between the Scripture and the community vivified by God's own Spirit for me. This is also the answer to the question of why Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture cannot contradict one another. In both forms, God has communicated a testimony to the necessity and the reality of communion with Him. As I am constantly and perhaps needlessly reminded, many Protestants would not object to the statement, "Scripture must be interpreted in the Church and by the Church." It is only the fact of the equivocation on the term that requires me to continue arguing the point. The true final interpretive authority under the regime of Sola Scriptura destroys any and all potential mediation as realized or embodied in visible communities. That final interpretive authority, vested in the individual, is the trump card that destroys the whole ecclesiology, because the believer is never at any time simply a receiver of divine truth, to which the only proper response is submission. We ought to know that something of the divine perfection is and must be part of the Church however conceived, if only because Christ promised his own protection of it in Matthew 16:18.

So, on a personal level, I was instinctively inclined to accept instead that the Church was fundamentally visible, and in some manner infallible, because anything else fails to take account of the promise, or provide a context in which the Scripture is rightly heard.

Looking back, the most terrifying and incomprehensible aspect of the whole journey was the assertion that somehow, God was protecting an invisible concept as the sign to the world of communion with himself, but one person could not know and ought not ask the contours and the content of the theology that is that communion. It is though the entire confidence of the Christian was entirely eschatological, entirely of hope, and not of faith, and only of love to the extent allowed by our extrinsic and non-participatory soteriology.

Some people claim that Catholics possess and over-realized eschatology. I might say in reply that on these terms, you have an under-realized one. The claim that to know doctrine more specifically than on the terms indicated by our imperfect unity somehow is an improper desire for certainty is in fact cutting off the very branch upon which one is standing. The one who proposes doctrines knows specifically what he proposes, and presumably has taken care to define them in contradistinction to other possible theological systems. We can easily conclude that he knows them in their particularity, and in fact believes the distinctions to be important and beneficial to make. It seems ironic that he would retreat to a theological agnosticism at precisely the point where his authority to articulate the doctrine of God is challenged. In short, if he knows enough to object to the theology on offer, he is able to know enough to be wrong in what he proposes.

Lowest Common Denominator Theology?

The communion of all Christians by baptism is real. It is as real as the hands which type these words, and in fact, more so. We know that because the bonds of charity persist beyond death and make distance meaningless. What we've got to do is ask ourselves if we are strengthening that communion, or not.

Let me get some things off my chest: First, I am not a Feeneyist or some kind of radical, Steve Schaper. I believe every letter of Vatican II. And, here's the key: NOTHING CHANGED. If you are committed to the idea that Vatican II signaled a shift in how Catholics understand non-Catholic Christians, frankly, you are wrong. I could see why that would be an appealing lie to believe, since a slobbering cabal of conversionist radicals you can conveniently dismiss as out of step with their own Church is useful for those in a schism. Ahem.

I just need to be blunt about that. The reason the whole "Christianity would be fine, if Catholics would stop excluding everyone" saw doesn't cut anything is that, without the Catholic Church, there is no Christianity at all. There's no Church to go back to instead. We cannot explain the orthodoxy of the first millennium at all without If I would have found it, I swear to you, I'd tell you. You think I wanted to torpedo my career? But look at the evidence yourself. As I once wrote, "Why would I pay as much attention to the text, context, place in the canon, authorial intent, and myriad other things in order to rightly handle the word of truth, and completely ignore the same with respect to the creeds?" To whom do they belong? Moreover, either they are my master, or I am theirs. If I am theirs, it is actually me I'm submitting to. We can dress it up all we like, but unless the Church has the final word always, you are in the same position as Mr."Me and My Bible."

This of course automatically implies a visible Church, because those dogmas and the means by which they come to us are as visible and as particular as the people involved. There is no orthodoxy apart from the Church who articulated it. I'm no more apt to buy the "We Lucked Out" version of Christian history, where a contextless, faceless, Churchless orthodoxy emerged from the primordial soup of theological reflection, than I am to use The Message for exegetical study. I never saw the visible and ecclesial dimensions of that heritage of orthodoxy upon which I relied, because at first, I didn't bother to look. This is the meaning of Newman's "history" remark.

In a certain way, we're talking about letting the common orthodoxy impel us toward unity. The mildly inconvenient reality (at least, it is claimed) is that its source is the Catholic Church. A friend pointed out therefore that Christ in the Eucharist is calling out to us. Dr. Cross, do you remember the moment we both realized this was so? The most precious grace was to know in fact that I did not give up everything. LG, 8 is not a concession to a more ecumenical age, though most certainly, we are in one. Rather, the Church recognizes the splendor of her own beauty--her holiness--in the lives and hearts of those separated from her! Why do I push so hard? Because even if I knew that all of us were saved, we still don't share the Eucharist. "That they may be one" is as deep as you can go, not only part way.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013


I can give you a pretty basic definition of religious indifferentism: It is the belief that it doesn't matter what one believes about God. There are dozens of reasons why someone might find it appealing. But I can say without a hint of hesitation that my journey toward Catholicism began at the catching of a more than faint whiff of religious indifferentism.

Secondarily, it was about ecclesiology, because the ekklesia is supposed to be the place where I am formed and shaped by God, who is Truth. It is simply not correct to assert that a desire for that truth is some vestige of Enlightenment rationalism; ironically, in fact, it is that rationalism that makes indifferentism popular. In any case, we do not fear to find that Protestants and Catholics have different doctrines concerning God, and different sources (to some extent) for identifying and applying what God says. We should vehemently reject any notion that we cannot and ought not know what He has said, for indeed, the basis of any theology is revelation. And in fact, ecclesiology's only real purpose is to contextualize the truths of revelation, to filter out what a person or group of them may add to God's communication. Because the Church is the very communion where God dwells, because we who believe are that dwelling-place, (Ephesians 2) there is a limit to how much we can say, "I don't know" in theology without slandering God, who wishes to be known. At a minimum, what is asserted theologically is presumed to be the content of revelation, or something that necessarily follows from it. Otherwise, the theological assertion in its particularity is not important enough to be asserted. And if one cannot know the truthfulness of what is asserted, it is unwise to assert it.

Because the Church is the dwelling-place for God, the very place where His salvation is realized, the Church on some level must know what God has revealed. The biggest problem with the notion of an invisible Church (a notion that follows by necessity from the unavoidable individualism of Sola Scriptura) is that it implicates the Holy Spirit in the dogmatic/epistemic doubt that follows from the concept. God cannot contradict Himself, so the concept--which by its very nature asserts that God the Holy Spirit teaches contradictory things about non-negotiable matters--cannot be the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. They may well be His People, and they may be trying to be the Church, but the concept won't survive, if we desire to reject indifferentism. Indifferentism is in fact one outcome of the problem caused by the concept. If visible unity is neither desirable nor necessary, we must still live with the theological implications of that reality. If we are not willing to concede that the faults in the process belong to humans, and that the process itself may be wrong, the only other choice is to call God a liar. This is not an acceptable Christian position.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

What Took You So Long?

This is adorable. And hilarious. And WAY overdue. Seriously. I get mad at the Kay Jewelers commercials because they never have mixed-race couples. Cowards.

Hard To Quibble With This

Of course, you have my forgiveness and prayers! Are you kidding? OK, but I really like Paul Ryan. It's probably a man-crush. I was mad about that. But since he fell under the Curse of Mittens, I doubt we'll see him again, anyway.

Anyway, party on, Mark!

Monday, June 03, 2013

"Ben Maxwell," "Tam Elbrun," And Me

It's no secret that I'm a Trekkie. I'm proud of this. I think it is one of the most important cultural touchstones in our history. If you really know Star Trek, you may be a nerd, but you are also attuned to understanding humanity. Because that's what Star Trek is about. It probably represents the most compelling humanism since the Renaissance.

In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered on television. We would not be all going to see Star Trek: Into Darkness without it. With apologies to what is now canonically known as 'The Original Series,' it is this series that became the guardian of Star Trek. It's among my 3 favorite TV shows ever. (And no, they are not all science-fiction.)

The characters named in the title of this post demonstrate the greatness of the Star Trek story for telling the human story in themselves. I see myself in them, and that's why I'm telling you about them.

Ben Maxwell was the captain of the USS Phoenix, a Nebula-class Federation starship equipped especially for advanced surveillance and combat. He stood accused of destroying Cardassian outposts and ships after a peace treaty with the Cardassians had been signed after a long war. After making contact with the Enterprise, Maxwell initially agrees to return to Federation space under escort to answer for the crimes. But Maxwell takes the Phoenix back to Cardassian territory and attacks more targets. More than 700 Cardassians die at his hands before Miles O'Brien, an officer who previously served with Maxwell, convinces him to stand down without a fight.

It is determined that Maxwell has suffered a breakdown caused by the previous murder of his wife and children during the war by Cardassians on the colony planet Setlik III.

We learn that Maxwell had learned to live and cope with the anger inside him. No one else could see it. He seemed normal. He seemed as he was. But obviously, he was not.

Tam Elbrun was a specialist in first contact situations with alien races. He was a Betazoid, a telepath. He was also a person with a disability. His telepathic abilities were activated at birth instead of adolescence. As a result, he was generally unable to block out the strong emotions of others. This had the effect of making him vulnerable to stress, which had required several hospitalizations.

His greatest failure as a liason was the so-called "Ghorusda Disaster," in which 47 members of the USS Adelphi were killed for violating Ghorusdan cultural taboos.

But when a living ship takes up orbit around Beta Stromgren, a distant star nearing supernova, Elbrun travels aboard the Enterprise to investigate. The Enterprise is damaged when Elbrun warns the creature--christened "Tin Man"--telepathically concerning the hostile intent of a Romulan ship. Tin Man destroys the ship. A second ship which had been pursuing the Enterprise appears, and Elbrun is sent with Commander Data to convince Tin Man to leave the vicinity.

The reclusive Elbrun realizes that friendship with Tin Man is what he has been seeking, and chooses to remain. Tin Man throws the Romulan ship and the Enterprise clear of the star, and Data is returned to the Enterprise.

We learn that "Gomtuu" had been as wounded as Elbrun when its crew had been killed by radiation. The mutual sadness and alienation felt by both was healed. We do not see both again, although it is strongly implied that Elbrun and the creature survive and continue their journey.

I very much resonate with this character's desire to "fit in," and the added challenge of having a disability. I identify with both characters in their wounds, and flawed people really stand out in this allegedly utopian universe.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

We Shot Him Out Of A Canon

I know of two main arguments against the seven books of the Old Testament called "deutero-canonicals": 1) They were not accepted as part of the canon by the Jews; and 2) there are no Hebrew originals of them. For the first to be a good objection, we must know why they rejected them. Frankly, I thought that the chief reason the Jewish leaders of the time rejected them because they were accepted by the Christian community, a movement they regarded as heretical. If we are Christians, then, we ought to have serious suspicion about that rejection, because Christ is the fulfillment of God's work among the people He had chosen. The same evangelistic heart that caused Christ to weep over Jerusalem is the heart we should have. The forthright defense of those Scriptures should be in the same spirit that moved St. Paul to say: "I wish that I myself were cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren."

The second objection deserves no weighty reflection, because the events of Ezra-Nehemiah amply show that God does not forsake His people, though they did not even know the Law, or speak in the tongue in which it was given. God will go to any length to show mercy, to communicate (see Joel 2/Acts 2) or to join strangers and aliens in one Body (see Ephesians 2:11-22).

Any other objections would arise from an a priori decision that particular doctrines could not be true if found therein, and must therefore be rejected as anachronistic and unprincipled.

And Boy, Are My Arms Tired

5 Thoughts For Today

5. Yes, Lord, I long to eat better than the pigs. But all bets are off if the pigs are having Dodger Dogs.

4. Then again, the pigs are the Dodger Dogs.

3. Excuse me, Father, but I don't think a "Solemn High Nap" is a validly recognized liturgical expression.

2. Sheesh, I haven't seen this many people at Mass since...Christmas and Easter.

1. I knew he didn't agree, but he grew visibly uncomfortable when the other man called me an "armchair theologian."