Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Stumbling Block of Authority

From a recent email:

Thanks for the invitation to bounce questions about RCism. It's funny, really: I have no problem with real presence, Marian devotion, praying to saints, apostolic succession, all of the things that usually hold protestants up. For me it's all about AUTHORITY, viz., why does the Roman Church think it has so much of it? And I know my doubts about the authority of the magisterium and the Holy Father put me squarely in the Protestant tradition...for now.

Here's my reply.

0. Let’s get your concept of authority and how much of it you think the Church claims, and what portion thereof you think excessive. This might clear up some necessary difficulties.

1. I don’t have the time to put this sensitively, but perhaps the best argument for the necessity of authority is the results of the lack of it ravaging the Anglican communion right now. I can’t remember if I mentioned how much I loved and still love Anglo-Catholicism. It was absolutely perfect. Too good in fact. It suited *me* too perfectly, just as it was designed to.

2. The Church is an organism of sorts, the Body of Christ. An organism must have a principle of unity sufficiently strong to make the organism a true organism and to maintain its organic integrity. Furthermore, the Church is the *visible* body of Christ, so it needs a *visible* head. I think a central authority is just a consequence of the very concept of the Church as the Body of Christ.

3. The bottom line, perhaps, is that Jesus has simply *established* the authority of the Church and so the Church’s authority is His authority.

Consider Matthew 16:

17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed[d] in heaven.”

That’s pretty strong stuff. We all know that verse is there, but it’s one of those scandals from which we divert our eyes, for when we attend to them we are offended. The giving of the keys in the OT and surrounding culture symbolized the transference of power to the Viceroy. Matthew’s language is clearly meant to bring to mind the prophecies of the Messiah Himself in Isaiah 22:

22And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open and none shall shut, and he shall shut and none shall open.

Consider also Matthew 18:

15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’[b] 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

The context here clearly portrays the Church as a kind of Supreme Court.

Finally, consider the commissioning of the Apostles in John 20:

“Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

That is mega-authority.

4. Apostolic Succession is huge as is the Transubstantiaionism inherent in early accounts of the Real Presence. All I can do for now is attach some documents which have some source material on this. Gotta go.


PS - There is a *great* article in this months First Things (perhaps providentially so) by Avery Cardinal Dulles called “The Orthodox Imperative” which I think would address some of your concerns (again, though, we need to get those concerns on the table so we know what the problem is: “What’s the deal with authority?” is not a very easy question to address!). I highly recommend going to B&N and checking it out.

Newman Online!!

I just found this awesome website: http://www.newmanreader.org/

It seems to have the complete works of John Henry Cardinal Newman--probably the most influtential think besides Irenaeus and Ignatius of Antioch on my conversion. It also has biographical info and pictures.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Postcard from the Edge

Oksana said here that "I find it helpful to read posts on this blog, they help me to figure out what to say to other people when they disagree. I would also be happy to see more sharings about people's personal struggle for virtues." I agree.

I've got a friend who is having a very hard time accepting the death of her sister. She is a very intelligent and faithful Catholic, but I thought to myself that where she is right now I could see her drifting away from the Faith. And I thought how odd that would be. For the Christian view of death is summed up in the words of the Apostle Paul: "To live is Christ, to die is gain."

It makes sense to miss the loved one, but--if Christianity is true--not only is there no injustice in a "premature" death, it is a bonus: freedom from the veil of tears, and entry on the path to the beatific vision. Yet...and yet..

I feel that I would never be able to forgive God if something happened to my loved ones. I fear this immensely, even pathologically. I can't forgive God for the atrocities He's allowed thus far that don't affect me personally in any way. I'm more afraid of God, than of anything on Earth.

That's just irrational, but that's the way it is.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Emergence of the Church I: The Jerusalem Council

I received this question via email today:

_____ and I have been talking about the import of the Jerusalem Council. Was it intended to start a new group apart from worship at synagogues or was it intended to reflect God’s acceptance of Gentiles into the Jewish community by the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles?

My reply:

I don’t see myself, nor am I aware of cogent arguments that the Jerusalem Council in any way intended to “start a new group” but I’m not sure the other option is “acceptance of Gentiles into the Jewish community”. Like the development of Christology I think the development of Ecclesiology was largely a Spirit-guided reaction to present circumstances. Given what Judaism was, it seems to me they *couldn’t* have explicitly intended to bring the gentiles into the Jewish community. There’s a word for that: “proselytism” and that’s clearly not what was going on.

So I would prefer to speak in the passive voice--with tacit reference to the Holy Spirit--and say that a new community was formed. De facto, this is just the case: the Gentiles weren’t Jews and didn’t become Jews and the Jews didn’t become non-Jews. Perhaps the best way to say it is that a new *genus* was formed which encompassed both Jew and Greek. That’s the sort of transcendent language that resonates with Paul’s “neither Jew nor Greek” language in several places. As the situation developed, the Spirit continued to lead the Church to new de facto constitutions and to new self-understandings.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Scientists Harvest Stem Cells Without Destroying Embryo

This story might be very good news. I expect it to be commented upon at www.FirstThings.com pretty soon.

Ben Stein's Last Column...


How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's

As I begin to write this, I "slug" it, as we writers say, which means I put a heading on top of the document to identify it. This heading is "eonlineFINAL," and it gives me a shiver to write it. I have been doing this column for so long that I cannot even recall when I started. I loved writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would never end.

It worked well for a long time, but gradually, my changing as a person and the world's change have overtaken it. On a small scale, Morton's, while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves and definitely some stars. I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right before that, I saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty in an elevator, in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a super movie. But Morton's is not the star galaxy it once was, though it probably will be again.

Beyond that, a bigger change has happened. I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to.

How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today's world, if by a "star" we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model? Real stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or
getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they have Vietnamese girls do their nails.

They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer. A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world.

A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed him.

A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a
family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.

The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish weddings on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists.

We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our magazines. The noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in submarines and near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die.

I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such poor values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that who is eating at Morton's is a big subject.

There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament...the policemen and women who go off on patrol in South Central and have no idea if they will return alive; the orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery; the teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children; the kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards.

Think of each and every fireman who was running up the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to collapse. Now you have my idea of a real hero.

I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters. This is my highest and best use as a human. I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin...or Martin Mull or Fred Willard--or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them.

But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main task in life. I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister's help). I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms.

This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help
others He has placed in my path. This is my highest and best use as a human.

Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will.

By Ben Stein

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


"You pay for freedom with your whole being. That is why you will call freedom 'that which, while paying for it, helps you to know and control yourself over and over'."
-Karol Wojtyla

Saturday, August 12, 2006

I'm baa-aak!

I just got back from the Princeton Seminar on Thomism and Analytic Philosophy, and it was great! My thanks to the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton University and the Templeton Foundation for making it possible.

I was led much to reflect upon the ways in which Tradition influences current thought. After the Protestant Revolution the Great Conversation broke up into little cliques. Some Catholics thinkers continued the conversation still largely dominated by Saint Thomas Aquinas and other contributors to Scholasticism (most prominently Scotus, Ockham, and Suarez (and getting increasing attention is Buridan).

Others were more sympathetic to strains of thought coming out of the Renaissance such as Erasmus and Saint Thomas More. Still others seemed to be just striking out and starting their own conversation like Descartes. (Galileo and Leibniz are to be commended for taking a more rational course of honest inquiry into and learning from scholasticism while trying to expand the frontiers of thought at the same time (which they both did quite well!).

Thomism is considered by the Church to be the "perennial philosophy" but that doesn't necessarily mean that thought has stopped forever with Saint Thomas. On the contrary, what made Thomas Thomas was that his ingenious ability to express and organize the Truth of the Catholic Faith in the contemporary language of the day. That's true thomism.

Back from Princeton

I just got back from the Princeton Seminar on Thomism and Analytic Philosophy, and it was great! My thanks to the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton and the Templeton Foundation for making it possible.

The week began with Metaphysics and worked its way up to Natural Law theory. Folks, the future looks brighter to me all the time. There were many highly competent theorists with a firm commitment to the faith. I met not only such First Things notable contributors as Robert George (who, I discovered, goes by "Robbie" and Jean Bethke Elshtain (who does not, as far as I know, go by "Jeanie").

More importantly, I was surrounded by the next generation of Georges and Elshtains. Be not affraid!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

On the Road Again...

Back from my Alaska Trip, but now heading out to this seminar at Princeton on the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinias and modern philosophy.

See you when I get back.