"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Yogism: The Holy Family is a family

Today's feast used to bore me as a bit of particularly high-flown irrelevance. Jesus, the child, was God Incarnate; Mary, the wife and mother, was without sin; poor Joseph, the husband and father, responsible for supporting and protecting them, was actually his foster son's creature—and had no sex with his wife, who was and always would be greater than he in God's great design. This is a family we can relate to as a model? Seems more like something to deck the wall with as an icon and admire, in occasional befuddlement, from a distance.

Actually, the Holy Family is relevant, and more so today than ever. It took me a long while to see that. To share the perspective, I suggest you start with Dr. Marcello D'Ambrosio's article for the day. The Holy Family was far from lacking in the tensions, dangers, challenges, and daily grittiness of family life. Was that so in spite of the exalted status of its members? Hardly. Family life was rather made an occasion of holiness precisely by God's having chosen to share it as he did. It is the first and most logical extension of the Incarnation itself.

The family so understood is what it is irrespective of the individual vocations of its members. Whatever those vocations may be, the family is the crucible in which they are forged. It has a sacred order, a "hierarchy," that is not overturned or altered even by the unique membership of the Holy Family. And so, to treat the structure of the family as a human creation, as something we may or even can define for ourselves, is a perversion that can only lead to the destruction of the civilization that so treats it.

That is what we're doing today and have been doing for decades. For long we have treated marriage as a contract that can be ended at will by one party; now, with the idea of "same-sex" marriage and homosexual adoption, we are ready to proceed further on the false but abiding premise that marriage and family are human creations that humans may redefine at will. By encouraging contraception and permitting abortion, we proceed on the premise that the connection of sexual intercourse with the transmission of life is purely up to us either to permit or to sever. We are doing the same with artificial reproduction. Indeed, all the developments in contemporary society that pertain to the family proceed on the assumption that there is no sacred order given for the family, but only a human order that can be defined and modified to suit individual ideas of self-fulfillment. That is a denial of the reality God has established, which is the only reality we are called to abide in. Unless the trend is reversed, our civilization will perish almost before we realize it.

Holy Family, pray for us.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ampliative development of doctrine III, continued

As I've said: "The disputes begin when we consider what 'implicit' means." If whatever is patent was latent, then developed doctrines are to some degree implicit in the faith-once-delivered, which somehow contains all that God willed to reveal to us. The sole issue is how literally to take 'implicit': strictly, like Scott Carson, thus positing deductive necessity as the sole principle of legitimate DD; or more loosely, thus positing...what?

One way not to go is to define the problem away. Scott, for example, doesn't even think the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are instances of DD at all; instead, he says, "they're pretty straightforward teachings of the Church." Now I agree that they are at least relatively straightforward teachings. But it follows that they are not instances of DD only if one also assumes at least one of two things: (a) that no result of DD is such a teaching, or (b) that both teachings in question follow neither by deductive necessity from the normative sources (and other, equally unexceptionable premises) nor by some form of induction therefrom. I can find no justification for either assumption. Obviously, (b) is unacceptable because tantamount to claiming that neither dogma is latent in the deposit, which contradicts what has already been admitted. Nor does there seem much reason to believe (a), i.e., that only non-straightforward teachings—arcane or roundabout teachings, perhaps—count as instances of DD. The way to determine whether a given doctrine has developed is answered not by assessing complex or simple it is, but by learning whether or not the form of it we now profess was known and professed by the early Church. If it was not, then it's an instance of DD; if it was, then it isn't. By treating as irrelevant how late the two dogmas in question are, precisely as dogmas, Scott effectively tries to define the problem away with an implicit definition that may be stipulative but certainly isn't persuasive.

I've urged that some DD is "ampliative," meaning that its legitimate results amplify our understanding of the depositum fidei without being formally deducible from the normative sources and other, equally unexceptionable premises. So much seems obvious to me in the case of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. What's implicit in them, in a non-technical sense of 'implicit' synonymous with 'latent', is made more explicit by a kind of abduction: inference to the best interpretation, in this case of the sources' larger meaning and purport. That's what the papal documents defining those dogmas do, by way of boiling down what the sensus fidelium and the labors of theologians had been doing for centuries. I've also suggested that the DD process may work similarly to how the sensus plenior in Scripture does. Thus, just as the meaning of older texts gets amplified and filled out by later ones, as happened to the OT in the NT, so too does the meaning of various professions and formulae of the Church get amplified and filled out by later events, reflections, and efforts at interpretation. That would hold not just of the two defined Marian dogmas, but the more offensive ones of papal infallibility and the filioque too.

Now Scott is, rightly, a big fan of Newman's. But it seems to me that Newman's seven "notes" of "genuine" development, if substantially reliable, indicate that genuine DD need not be deductive and often is not. Such notes would not, for the most part, even be relevant if all genuine DD were deductively necessitated by statements the normative sources and other, equally unexceptionable premises. The seven notes work as a way of assessing the plausibility of essentially abductive interpretations. So I'm mighty puzzled by the fact that a Newman fan has been defending a strictly deductive model of DD.

I say "has been" because Scott is feeling for some common ground between us. While continuing to insist on a sharp distinction between inference and interpretation, and now also between both and inspiration, he is willing to grant that some of the premises needed for deductive DD can be arrived at by some-or-other form of induction. For the time being, I am content with that. If a given doctrine is what I call a "legitimate" and what Newman calls a "genuine" development, then it is certainly true as belonging to the deposit of faith; and if so, then there is at least one sound deductive argument for it. But as I asserted a few posts back, the deduction is often just "icing on the cake." The real work of DD takes place by means of interpreting the sources in such a way that premises for a sound deductive argument, if that's what's sought, can be provided. And I would still insist that such work typically takes place by a kind of abduction that I've called "inference to the best interpretation," which is akin to how Aristotle says we know by induction that all humans are, necessarily, mammals. The value of Newman's notes lies in their efficacy as a test of such explanations.

Examples are surely needed. I offer two: the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and papal infallibility.

The DIC cannot be proved from Scripture, the creeds, the liturgies of the first-millennium Church, or even popular devotion, if by 'proof' one means a deductively sound argument whose premises require no inductive support. The development of the idea of the Immaculate Conception occurred as a way of accounting for a number of things: as Theotokos, she had to be a "fitting vessel" for God the Son; she was acclaimed as the Panagia or "All-Holy" fairly early in the Eastern churches; as paradigm of the disciple, she had to be the most perfect instance of a child of God by adoption. Neither severally nor collectively do such data allow one to infer deductively that Mary was always free of the stain of original sin and that such an affirmation was always latent in the depositum. Indeed there were technical objections, such as Aquinas', to overcome. But once those objections were overcome, the DIC emerged in the Catholic Church as not only plausible but also as an almost irresistible interpretation of the relevant data. The process of arriving at it was a case of inference to the best interpretation of the data I've cited, and others. Deductive argument for DIC, if desired, adds nothing to the content or persuasiveness of that result. The real work is done by a kind of induction, in this case by a kind of abduction. And that work survives the test of Newman's seven notes.

The example of Vatican I's definition of papal infallibility is similar and even more pointed. Rome had always maintained, when the issue came up, that the teaching or ratification of the Bishop of Rome was necessary for a given doctrine to bind the whole Church as an object of the assent of faith. That appears to have been the common view throughout the Church up through most of the first millennium. But of course it does not follow, deductively, that the definition of a given doctrine by the Bishop of Rome would itself be sufficient to so bind the whole Church to that doctrine. That only follows if one assumes (a) that the Church as such cannot teach what is false as a doctrine belonging to the deposit, and (b) by virtue of his apostolic authority, the Pope speaks for the Church as such. There is general agreement between Catholicism and Orthodoxy on (a) but not on (b), which is a development not itself secured by deduction from unexceptionable premises. But (b) is one possible explanation of a doctrine that was held in common through most of the first millennium. Its plausibility as an interpretation of the normative sources emerges from a confluence of factors: the sources themselves, the common tradition for dealing with the decrees of councils, Rome's record of orthodoxy, and consideration of alternative ways of explaining how the teaching authority of the Church, evident in the sources from the beginning, binds the Church. Like any induction, the interpretation that got defined at Vatican I is not logically necessitated by such factors. But it is plausible enough, in Newman's view, to pass the test of his seven notes.

The hanging of Saddam: some reflections

It was only a matter of time; the time has come and gone. That's the only good thing about it.

The Vatican characterized the event as "tragic" for two reasons. The first is familiar as the current Church teaching applied in all such cases: capital punishment is no longer justified today because other means of preventing further aggression by killers like Saddam are readily available. The second is that his execution is likely to arouse emotions that will only make the current strife in Iraq worse. I tend to agree, even as one who was happy to see Saddam and his evil regime come a cropper. (That's a separate matter from the question whether the post-Saddam era should or even could have been handled better; the question of the war's justice hinged on that other question, and things aren't looking good right now.) It may well be that more death will result from executing Saddam than would have from letting him spend his waning years in prison. But we need to be careful here. This is not simply a matter of reciting the catechism.

To be sure, Catholics as such are bound in conscience by the following teaching:

Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

However, there is a question about the next paragraph:

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent." 68

If one construes 'incapable of doing harm' narrowly, to apply only to the convict's physical actions, then the Vatican is right to condemn Saddam's execution as unnecessary for the public good. But there are cases where one might and even should construe that phrase more broadly. One can think of captured people, typically terrorists, dictators, and warlords, who are more dangerous alive than dead because, as long as they remain alive, their followers might not shrink from fighting for them and even from fighting to spring them. It's doubtful that was the case with Saddam, which is why I incline to agree with the Vatican's judgment in this case. But there doubtless can be, and may even be, relevantly different cases in which society is much safer with the perp dead than alive. If and when there are such cases, the death penalty is justified. I'm not asserting that there are such cases right now. I don't know. But Catholics as such are not obligated to believe there aren't and won't be any. That is a matter of empirical judgment, and the Church neither enjoys nor claims infallibility in such judgments.

The other thing to consider is that Saddam quite possibly was enabled to "redeem himself" by the way his sentencing must have concentrated his mind. In a letter he is said by his lawyer to have written on November 5, the day of that sentencing, he wrote: "I call on you not to hate because hate does not leave space for a person to be fair and it makes you blind and closes all doors of thinking..." He also was clearly making preparations to meet his Maker. Such things indicate that he might, just might, have begun to repent. I don't think he would have been even mildly inclined to do so if he had not been sentenced to death. With other trials pending, his harangues and theatric protests would simply have gone on for years.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Ampliative development of doctrine III

Prof. Scott Carson has been busy this Christmas season developing his thoughts on the development of doctrine. He's now at least two posts ahead of me in our friendly debate, which the Pontificator recommended last week. Anybody who cares to follow us needs to follow the links in Fr. Kimel's post.

Scott posted his latest on the topic, Back to the (for me) Source, on Christmas Day itself when, frustrated preacher that I am, I was more into edifying than theologizing. Alas, this past week I've been hard at work for money, as distinct from hard at what I prefer to think of as my real work, i.e. theology, and thus have been too tired to write with the care required. But the time has not been wasted. First, I've had a chance to read a few things: thanks to the kind offices of The Ochlophobist, Fr. Andrew Louth's acclaimed essay "Is Development of Doctrine a Valid Category for Orthodox Theology?", from the recent Pelikan festschrift; and parts of Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine which I had forgotten, having first read the EOD in college three decades ago. And since I'm a courier, who thus spends most of his work time driving, I've also had a bit of time to think before I write.

I shall accordingly begin with Scott's previous post on our topic: Just What Is the Principle of the Development of Doctrine, Anyway?; in a way, that is the most basic question from which all the others flow. Since, among thinkers belonging to the churches with valid apostolic succession, it cannot be seriously argued that there is no such thing as development of doctrine—and such writers as Pelikan, Louth, and even Fr. Reardon accept that there is—one needn't begin with the topic of DD by raising the question whether there is such a thing as DD. One may take for granted that there is. The ur-question is what the principle(s) of legitimate DD may be.

Scott affirms the principle, which I accept and Newman of course accepted, that "whatever is patent was latent." But that is just another way of saying that legitimate DD does not add to the deposit of faith, delivered once-for-all to the saints, but only brings forth what was somehow implicit in it. That is not in dispute. The disputes begin when we consider what 'implicit' means. On the deductive model Scott defends, 'implicit' has quite a literal sense. DD consists essentially in bringing out the logical implications of statements in the normative sources, where by 'implication' one means that which follows by deductive necessity from those sources. I'm willing to concede that some legitimate DD is like that. But I do not believe that all is, especially in the controversial cases. That's where the disagreement continues.

More tomorrow...have to be at work at 6 a.m.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Feast of the Holy Innocents

One hopes that preachers will remind the many Catholics who attend daily Mass, as I once could and did, that today's feast is especially timely.

We live in a world where many innocent children are killed every day. Thousands are killed each day in the womb at their mothers' behest: some because their birth would make their mothers' lives very difficult; others because their birth would make their mothers' lives less commodious; a few because their birth would end their mothers' lives. Dozens if not scores are killed each day in warfare, either as "collateral damage" or as targets of deliberate massacre. A few here and there are killed by psychotic parents. The toll is depressing. We need not despair, of course: the Holy Innocents are their patrons in heaven.

Still, 'tis strange how little those patrons are invoked. Perhaps they are by a few Catholic or Orthodox mothers who regret having aborted children of theirs, or by a few unheralded priests or religious. I don't know of many people who would even think to do it. Yet the Holy Innocents should also be patrons of all who die on Christ's account without knowing it.

Sometimes such people are called martyers. The term 'martyr', meaning "witness," is sometimes used that broadly, to include not only those who either choose to die or know they are dying on Christ's account, but also all those whose deaths witness to Christ, as that of the Holy Innocents surely did. I myself prefer the narrower definition, according to which St. Stephen would be the first recorded martyr; otherwise we end up inviting, like vapid universalists, inclusion of too many doubtful cases. But there can be no doubt that the Holy Innocents are where the martyrs strictly speaking are. Let us ask them to help us end the slaughter of children, of which abortion is the most common example.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Why I like Boxing Day

Not because of the tradition that the British made of the day after Christmas, which is about extending Christmas gift-giving. Rather, because it's the Feast of St. Stephen, the first recorded martyr (Acts 6:8-7:60). What I love about this saint is that, "filled with the Holy Spirit," he did not hesitate to tell the religious "authorities" exactly what they did not want to hear, in a manner that could not have been better calculated to infuriate them. He probably knew he would pay for it with his life—which he promptly did, while forgiving his killers.

Since it is related approvingly by Scripture, what this episode shows is that there is a place for confrontation about religion. In a country like ours, that place seems ever narrower. Persecution is very rarely violent, and takes place not in the name of putative Truth—which I wouldn't so much mind—as in the name of "diversity" and "tolerance," which disgusts me. In keeping with the values of our cultural élites, the courts are determined to make the public square ever more secular. Ideology aside, only religious nuts fail to weigh the evangelical disadvantages of being considered a religious nut. And many of us have obligations to others that the pleasure of martyrdom would not be excuse enough for avoiding. Even so, I know there is a fearless St. Stephen hidden within me, itching to get out, and I am far from alone: otherwise we wouldn't be writing blogs in which the subject most often discussed is one that American mores enjoin people from discussing, save perhaps obliquely, in polite company. A few sound religious bloggers I follow, who shall remain unnamed for reasons that good sense precludes stating, have received death threats for publishing their views.

But the world is bigger, both temporally and spatially, than the deracinated West nowadays. The 20th century saw more Christian martrys than all others combined. Today still, though not on a totalitarian scale, Christians abroad are being attacked and in some cases killed just for their faith. Behind our computers, it's easy to forget that.

St. Stephen, pray for us.

MBA study notes for Catholics

You don't have to be Catholic to enjoy this bit of humor from Hugo Mendez. But it sure helps!

Just one item to entice you (or repel you, if this is not your kind of humor...):

7. Initial Public Offering: (a) The point at which feminist, homosexual, and liberal lobbies first bought shares in the PCUSA "Book of Order." (b) In Catholic parishes, the term is equivalent to the casual term "first collection," defining one of (too) many rotations of the collection plate.

An honor craved is an honor granted...for once

Bernard Brandt is one of my favorite people in the blogosphere. An Eastern Catholic, he posts erudite yet pithy things about Muslim outrages, Catholic-Orthodox issues, politics, and the arts, including his own surprisingly good poetry. Because he rarely indulges in theological polemics himself, I rarely comment at his blog and he rarely comments at this one. But I was glad to know he's around doing his thing even before he bestowed on me, as his Christmas gift, knighthood in the Order of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

I am as close to speechless, in this case with gratitude, as I am ever likely to get. Indeed I had been craving this honor with barely contained envy ever since Bernard bestowed it last year on the Pontificator, Fr. Al Kimel—who, I hasten to add, was tickled pink. With due measures of levity and gravity, Fr. Al has seconded the announcement of this latest member's induction. If you care to join in the fun.

In celebration, enjoy the six-second audio of the following prayer's first line:

"O Lord, bless this, Thy hand grenade, that with it, Thou mayest blow Thine enemies to tiny bits … in Thy mercy.” And the Lord did grin, and the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths and carp and anchovies and orangutans and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats and large chu … [”skip ahead a bit, brother”] … And the Lord spake, saying, “First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then, shalt thou count to three. No more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who, being naughty in My sight, shall snuff it. Amen.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Bethlehem this year

Israeli Arab Boy
(Photo Credit: Reuters, Gil Cohen Magen)

A Child's Prayer

Father I implore thee now,
sign your Spirit on my brow,
you who sent your saving Son,
he who was the Chosen One,
a little boy like me I'm told,
born in stable, born of old,
born upon a bed of straw,
under Star the Magi saw,
born to die, yet Risen One,
born in town of Bethlehem,
destined for Jerusalem,
born in hearts receiving him,
born of Virgin Maiden pure,
born that he might death endure
and all our sorry sickness cure.
Santa, Santa, in this town
Holy Innocents were struck down
by those that ride again today.
Oh Santa you should stay away
so missiles may not strike your sleigh,
for all this fighting I do fear
could jeopardize your gay reindeer.
Palm to little palm I press
that I may thus my prayer express
for Christmas meaning most to me:
a world of peace from terror free,
a gift of love that all might see
the wondrous grace of Goodness Bright
descending on this Holy Night
that all might share his Marvelous Light.

Robert J. Kovacs
Christmas Eve, 2006

Gloom hovers over Bethlehem Christmas


Marching bands, children dressed as Santa Claus and clergymen in magenta skullcaps gathered in the center of Bethlehem on Sunday to celebrate Christmas Eve, doing their best to dispel the gloom hovering over Jesus' traditional birthplace.

In an annual custom, townspeople enacted Christmas rituals that seem out of place in the Middle East. Palestinian scouts marched through the streets, some wearing kilts and berets, playing drums and bagpipes. They passed inflatable Santas looking forlorn in the sunshine.

Other acts, however, could take place nowhere else. To get to the West Bank town, Michel Sabbah, the Roman Catholic Church's highest official in the Holy Land, rode in his motorcade through a huge steel gate in the Israeli barrier that separates Jerusalem from Bethlehem. Israel says it built the barrier to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from reaching Israeli population centers. Palestinians view the structure, which dips into parts of the West Bank, as a land grab.

The robed clergyman was led into Palestinian-controlled territory by a formal escort of five Israeli policemen on horseback. Two officers of the Israeli Border Police closed the gate behind him.

"God wants us all to be peacemakers. He wants every believer who has faith in God - Jewish, Muslim or Christian - to work to make peace," Sabbah said in his annual Christmas address at his Jerusalem office before going to Bethlehem.

"Our leaders so far have only made war, they haven't made peace," he added.

Bethlehem's tourist industry has been hit hard by six years of Israeli-Palestinian violence, construction of the barrier and internal Palestinian fighting.

This Christmas was the first under a Palestinian Authority controlled by the militant Islamic group Hamas.

To alleviate Christian fears, Hamas promised to provide $50,000 for decorating Manger Square in the town's center for the holiday, but it wasn't clear if the money arrived.

There were fewer Christmas decorations than in the past, and for the first time no Christmas carols were piped over the loudspeaker system.

Standing outside his empty souvenir shop, George Baboul said it was the "worst Christmas" he had seen in more than 30 years. His Bethlehem Star Store is in a prime location, at the side of the Church of the Nativity, but he said there is no business.

"No tourists are coming," said Baboul, 72, who opened the shop in 1967. "I don't know what's the reason for that. There are no problems, Bethlehem is safe, but tourists are afraid to come."
Mayor Victor Batarseh said the city would celebrate Christmas despite the hardship. "With all this oppression, this economic stress, physical stress, psychological stress, we are defying all these obstacles and we are celebrating Christmas so that we'll put joy into the faces of our children, joy to the citizens of Bethlehem," Batarseh said.

Each year, Israel eases travel restrictions to Bethlehem. Last week, Israel's Tourism Ministry said it would provide free transportation between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Israel's Tourism Ministry forecast 18,000 tourists would visit Bethlehem during the holidays, up from 16,000 last year, but far below the tens of thousands who thronged Manger Square at the height of peacemaking in the 1990s.

But most of those in Manger Square on Sunday were locals. The sprinkling of foreign tourists included a Polish choir and a handful of South Korean pilgrims who gathered to sing carols in a corner of the square, interrupted briefly by the call to prayer from a nearby mosque.
"It's exciting. I can feel that Jesus was here," said Jae Hwan Kim, 29, of Seoul.

The only large foreign contingent was made up of 200 or so Filipino Christians who work in Israel.

"We will have three Masses tomorrow," said Father Angelo, the group's small, bubbly spiritual leader who was herding them through the narrow entrance to the Church of the Nativity. He predicted 3,000 Filipinos would be in Bethlehem on Christmas Day. "It's Christmas, it's time for joy, hope and peace, and happiness for all," he said.

In the Gaza Strip, where 3,000 Palestinian Christians live among around 1.4 million Muslims, the head of the tiny Roman Catholic community canceled midnight Mass, citing recent gunbattles between the Fatah and Hamas movements.

Father Manuel Musallem said young Christians in Gaza were scared. "The children told me Santa Claus won't come this year because it's too dangerous," he said.

Cur Deus Homo?

An old staple of theological debate has been the question whether the Word would have become flesh even if man had not sinned. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher of the Papal Household, offers an interesting answer to that question. The difficulty I have with his answer explains why I believe the debate is irresolvable and hence best put aside.

He says:

Let us go right to the apex of the prologue of John's Gospel, which is read at the third Mass on Christmas day.

In the Credo there is a line that on this day we recite on our knees: "For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven." This is the fundamental and perennially valid answer to the question -- "Why did the word become flesh?" -- but it needs to be understood and integrated.

The question put another way is in fact: "Why did he become man 'for our salvation?'" Only because we had sinned and needed to be saved?

There is a vein of the theology inaugurated by Blessed Duns Scotus, a Franciscan theologian, which loosens a too exclusive connection to man's sin and regards God's glory as the primary reason for the Incarnation. "God decreed the incarnation of his Son in order to have someone outside of him who loved him in the highest way, in a way worthy of God."

This answer, though beautiful, is still not the definitive one. For the Bible the most important thing is not, as it was for Greek philosophers, that God be loved, but that God "loves" and loved first (cf. 1 John 4:10, 19). God willed the incarnation of the Son not so much as to have someone outside the Trinity that would love him worthily as to have someone to love in a way worthy of him, that is, to love without measure!

At Christmas, when the child Jesus is born, God the Father has someone to love in an infinite way because Jesus is together man and God. But not only Jesus, but us together with him. We are included in this love, having become members of the body of Christ, "sons in the Son." John's prologue reminds of this: "To those who welcomed him he gave the power to become sons of God."

Therefore, Christ did descend from heaven "for our salvation," but what moved him to come down for our salvation was love, nothing else but love.

Fr. Cantalamessa's conclusion is true and not in dispute. And his proffered correction of Duns Scotus is indeed an improvement on the great theologian's explanation, which in turn had been offered, rightly or wrongly, as an improvement on Thomas Aquinas. The preacher's improvement is this: "God willed the incarnation of the Son not so much as to have someone outside the Trinity that would love him worthily as to have someone to love in a way worthy of him, that is, to love without measure." As we adore the Christ Child, we can surely see Love without measure that is loveable without measure. But there is a problem nonetheless.

Do not the persons comprising the triune God, who are each the same God, "love without measure" just by eternally loving each other? If not, it follows that their mutual love is not infinite and complete and thus does not constitute Love Itself. But "God is Love" (1 John 4) as well as infinite and absolutely perfect. So the conclusion that I've said follows is inadmissible in itself. But if the triune God as such is already love without measure, then what is illuminated by saying that God willed the Incarnation "so as to have someone to love in a way worthy of him?" God already has someone to love that way just by being triune—and necessarily so. It seems we have a dilemma here. The purpose of the Incarnation was, on this account, to do something that God in himself already does completely and necessarily ad intra.

An obvious way to try to resolve the dilemma would be to say that God willed the Incarnation not so as to have someone to love infinitely when he otherwise wouldn't have, but so as to love someone infinitely ad extra as well as ad intra. That makes the love embodied in the Incarnation intelligible, but not necessary. That is, given that God in himself is infinite love necessarily, it makes sense that he also willed the Incarnation in order to manifest such love, even though he didn't "have to" in any meaningful sense. Gratuitous love, after all, is at least as perfect as necessitated love. This would be Mystery in a positive sense: not what is opaque to all knowledge, but what is intelligible without in any way being necessitated.

But a problem remains. If Aquinas was right and God became man only to save us from our sins, then the Incarnation makes more sense than it does on the above account. For it would have made less sense, from the standpoint of infinite love, for God to create our first parents in a state of original justice and holiness but then decline to save them and us from the consequences of their Fall, than it would have for God not to have chosen to become incarnate if man had not sinned in the first place.

Wittgenstein said, for the wrong reasons, that "that of which one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent." Here we contemplate a Mystery of which it is probably wise not to speak further. The account one prefers depends largely on what one believes the nature of mystery to be. On either the Thomistic account or the more Scotistic one offered by Fr. Cantalamessa, we have "positive" mystery, since even on the Thomistic account, the creation and original elevation of man did not have to occur. But the latter account still makes the mystery of the Incarnation more intelligible than the former. As far as I can tell, there is nothing in the deposit of faith to require adherence to one account of the Great Mystery over the other. And so there is little point in pressing speculation any further. Take your pick, but remember that it cannot go beyond opinion—in this life.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The unum necessarium for Christmas

Christmas is the Feast of the Incarnation. Reams have been written about the Incarnation by minds, and souls, greater than mine. In the hope of avoiding cheap imitation, I shall restrict myself to an aspect of it that, while doubtless addressed better by others somewhere, is the most important among those which are often forgotten.

The Incarnation and the Passion are necessarily connected as manifestations of the same thing: God's intimate, redeeming presence to us in every corner of life. An obiter dictum of patristic orthodoxy was: "whatever is not assumed is not redeemed." That is the contrapositive of the truth that whatever is assumed is redeemed, the implication being that everything was assumed by Jesus Christ. Leaving aside the endless and largely sterile debates about atonement theory, we must therefore say that the actual crucifixion, death, and burial of Christ is but the most shocking stage of a salvific process of which his birth was but the first manifestation or "epiphany." Stressing the Resurrection without the Passion is empty triumphalism, even as stressing the Passion without the Resurrection is an invitation to despair about this life. God made us eternally rich by emptying himself for a short time. And that began with the Incarnation itself.

I've always loved the Gospel verse telling us that Jesus was born in a manger because his parents couldn't get a hotel room. How like the world. A couple of modest means, travelling to town only for the sake of obeying the law, was forced to deliver their firstborn child, the Author of Life himself, in a cold stable because it didn't occur to anybody to give up their room to them. You can be sure it wouldn't occur to anybody today either. The hotel clerk wouldn't even think to ask anybody. If Jesus were born today, it might well be in the garage of a service station next to the Days Inn you can find in most towns. The equivalent of the shepherds would be the people working third shift for peanuts and the drunk sleeping under the nearby bridge. They might notice and marvel, but that would be about it.

The local news media wouldn't notice either. Perhaps the circumstances of Jesus' birth were part of God's plan for diverting Satan's attention from the Redemption until the time was ripe. Given Herod's fears, that is quite likely. I was led to consider that possibility by reading The Lord of the Rings nearly forty years ago. In that trilogy, Gandalf's plan for defeating Sauron was to put The Ring in the hands of a few unassuming hobbits who, unlike the lords of the West, would be able to sneak into Mordor to destroy it even as its lord's attention was on the relatively weak army sent to challenge him. I've come to believe that's how God operates in most of our lives. If we would but watch and pray in humility, we would come to see that it's in the mundane little things, especially the aversive ones, that God most often speaks clearly to us and seeks to unite himself to us. I hate mundane, aversive little things, as much for their littleness as anything else. I think them unworthy of my attention. I remind myself today how deadly that attitude is. When we're riding high and full of ourselves, Satan has an opening. We're on his radar screen. When we're brought down, frustrated, weak, and helpless, God has us right where we can be with him in that manger and listen to him. If we're willing, that is. Satan has an opening then only if we're not willing. The Herod in each of us can win only if we let him.

That, to me, is the one thing necessary to remember about the meaning of Christmas. Without it, Christmas is sentimentalism for the fortunate and an added reminder of misfortune for the unfortunate. That is what I shall meditate upon before the crèche. There are many for whom this will not be a particularly merry day: the hundreds of millions of dirt-poor folk; the lonely; the mentally ill; the addicted; our troops abroad, fighting and dying far from their loved ones for a cause on which the majority of their fellow citizens have given up. For myself, this Christmas I cannot afford to travel to see those who love me. I cannot even afford to send gifts, and the ones I will have received are not the kind one can put under a tree. And I'm more fortunate than some. But none of that matters if one lets oneself be assured that the divine light is closest to us when the darkness of this world's night seems deepest.

O holy night....

Enough on DD already...temporarily

Fr. Al Kimel, the Pontificator, has recommended to his readers the ongoing exchanges between yours truly and Professor Scott Carson on the development of doctrine. I thank him for that. It might even bring enough hits to Scott's and this blog to interest Google—or Amazon.com, anyhow, since only the bookish care.

I plan on continuing the discussion with a reply to Scott's latest. Zippy Catholic has already beaten me to the punch. But I won't do so until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest. Nobody between now and then will care about debates over DD, nor should they. Have a merry Christmas, while you can.

Avoiding docetism

Mass this morning is for the Fourth Sunday of Advent; Mass this evening will be Midnight Mass for Christmas. I plan on attending both: a liturgical feast as our fast concludes. It's a day of enchantment if done properly. Which brings me to my main topic.

I've noticed that this blog, for fairly obvious reasons, does not attract Catholic progs; or so I conclude from the fact that none comment here. But I am surprised to observe that some people who do comment seem to be even more conservative, in a certain sense, than I am, without being Catholic trads. Whether Orthodox or Catholic, they are bothered by what they take to be the fact that orthodox Catholicism today, while swerving "neither to the left nor to the right," is not nearly...well, orthopractic enough. That defect is thought to be expressed chiefly in two ways: the enormous intellectual effort devoted to the hermeneutic of continuity and a drab, deracinated liturgy that shows why the effort is almost beside the point. One commenter, "Jack," even says that what we've got is "liturgical docetism." I see what he means. What such critics want is the return of enchantment, of embodied mystery, in the Church's collective life. I sympathize with that. But there's an unavoidable limit to the usefulness of what they want.

In an essay much acclaimed by the sort of people I have in mind, Daniel Mitsui of The Lion and the Cardinal concluded:

The Church has suffered immeasurably from Protestantization and from historical-critical modernism. A rediscovery of a more ancient and less literal piety, informed by sanctoral legend, miracle story, and apocrypha may be the best antidote to these trends. This does not necessitate a vain credulity that considers them literally, or that assigns them undue authority; the dangers of that can be seen now in the charismatic movement and the dubious cults of apparition. Nor does it discount healthy criticism; certain of the church fathers were themselves critical of apocrypha and the manifestation of legend in the popular piety of their time. But the Christian East has managed to be both strongly legendary and strongly patristic without contradiction. This sort of traditionalism has been lacking in the Christian West for centuries. If anything, its rediscovery will help the Catholic to see beyond the arguments between Catholicism and Protestantism, and to inhabit an older and larger world. It will help him to see the profound allegory and sublime anagogy in the wisdom of our inheritance from the saints, both simple and wise, naturally expressed in pious tradition.

I have no quarrel with the sentiments expressed therein. I agree that the gradual elimination of nearly all non-scriptural references in the liturgy, the ending of veneration of saints whose existence and exploits cannot be historically verified, and the weakening of biblical piety by the wide dissemination of the results of the Higher Criticism, has weakened Catholic piety. (In that vein The Pertinacious Papist, Dr. Phil Blosser, offers a pointed Christmas reflection that includes C.S. Lewis' classic remarks on modern biblical criticism.) But the Roman liturgy has never been as "packed" as the Eastern with the sort of thing Mitsui wants, and it would be untraditional to insist that it should be. What's more, even on Mitsui's own showing, we can't quite go back to pre-Tridentine piety.

Suppose we did see, both within and outside the walls of Catholic churches, a renewed suffusion of "sanctoral legend, miracle story, and apocrypha." I grant they would be useful as catechetical devices for adults and as ways of enchanting children with the Faith. If they once again became staples of piety in those ways, I would not mind in the least. But things wouldn't and shouldn't go further than that.

Mitsui himself explains why. He doesn't want what often comes with such things, and did in the Middle Ages: "
a vain credulity" and a lack of "healthy criticism." OK. So if we are to avoid those things while also avoiding "liturgical docetism," what are we going to recommend? Apparently, something very much like the piety embodied in the liturgy of the "Christian East," which "has managed to be both strongly legendary and strongly patristic without contradiction." And how is contradiction avoided? Presumably, by not believing that "sanctoral legends" are literally true, or that all "miracle stories" happened as related, or that everything in "apocryphal" books, such as the Protoevangelium of James, is equally worthy of belief. But if we're not going to believe those things, then how, exactly, do we robe the hermeneutic of continuity in flesh by reviving them—in the liturgy or otherwise? Other than providing fresh ammo for skeptics and scoffers, all that could be accomplished by re-introducing them in some fashion is what I said: the expansion of catechetical devices and, for those willing to suspend disbelief, the enchantment of the children within us.

Bring it on if you will. But don't let's pretend that their relative absence today in Catholic piety renders the hermeneutic of continuity "docetist," or that their appeal would be less a matter of taste than the sorts of liturgical variations we see even now. If we did the liturgy as the Pope wants it done, the trimmings could serve their modest purposes in other spheres of Church life.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

That little row on Mt. Athos

People have been e-mailing me, and many have been blogging, aboutwhat happened last Wednesday on Mt Athos, where some dissident monks, long displeased by the idea of ecumenism with Roman Catholics, invaded a construction site and assaulted other monks with hand weapons. A few injuries are serious. Apparently, the perps had already been excommunicated by Patriarch Bartholemew and ordered to leave. The matter is now in the hands of the civil authorities. I sure hope so.

I've refrained from commenting until now because I needed time to allow my Advent ascesis to eliminate even the temptation to Schadenfreude. I have succeeded. I was tempted to say some polemical things about how dangerous a thing ecumenism can be in Orthodoxy, but that would be worse than useless. Catholics have occasionally had their little internecine rumbles too, not to mention full-scale wars over the usual things wars are fought about. I don't like glass houses.

Of course we haven't had many such rumbles lately. Too many of us have been singing "You'll know they are Christians by their love..."

The brave new world looms ever closer

The debate over embryonic stem-cell research is already being overtaken by events. One hears periodic reports that it delivers far less than promised even as other, less ethically objectionable techniques yield results. But we now face something still more deadly: prenatal genetic diagnosis, or "PGD" for short. You might ask how anybody can object to mere "diagnosis." You'll see.

Last week NPR did a two-part radio report on PGD. The first, whose transcript is available here, was a story about the Magliocco's, a Connecticut couple whose first child died within weeks of birth from a rare genetic disorder. Wanting more children, but not children like that, they went in for PGD. Essentially, it involves producing an array of embryos by IVF, finding out which have the defect, eliminating them, implanting one healthy one in the mother's womb, and freezing the rest for thawing when convenient.

Read the segment for further details of what's involved. I strongly suspect this couple are cafeteria Catholics, given their name and location. Figures.

The second segment was an interview with Eric Cohen, director of the Bioethics and American Democracy program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. I heard it all on the radio, but you can't get the transcript on the NPR website, just a podcast. I'll sum up his wise words.

First, PGD is a case of "eliminating the disease by eliminating the patient." That's Cohen's phrase; I couldn't have put it better myself. Second, PGD is now used by some couples for gender selection and, in one case, by a deaf couple to produce a deaf child. Eventually, Cohen speculated, PGD could be used to select genetically for children with all and only the qualities desired by their parents. Children produced to order like commodities. The way Dell builds people's computers, I would add.

I am revolted by all of this. But it will march on, inexorably. As it does so, those who heed the voice of the Catholic Church will find themselves an ever-shrinking minority. Perhaps the "ecclesial movements" will be the only way for faithful laity to provide the mutual support needed to maintain the light in the encroaching darkness.

Trad taxonomy

Spurred by his liking of my post yesterday on the hermeneutic of continuity, John of Ad Orientem explains that there are three types of Catholic trads in the world.

Those who aren't familiar with Catholic traditionalism can get up to speed very quickly by reading John's witty and concise post. I especially enjoyed his selected image of Anti-Pope Pius XIII who, I believe, resides in comfortable obscurity somewhere in the Midwest. His followers refer to Benedict XVI as "Fr. Ratzinger."

The more one surveys this panorama, the better it gets.

What goes 'round...

French parishes count on foreign priests to preserve the faith.

Poignant indeed. The Anglicans think they have an African problem. We've got news for them: an African solution.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The irony du jour

For Zenit, art professor Elizabeth Lev reports on a recent formal conversation in Rome on "Feminism and the Catholic Church" between her mother, Mary Ann Glendon, Professor of Law at Harvard and President of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences, and Lucetta Scaraffia, Professor of je ne sais quoi at the La Sapienza University in Rome. Here's the part I most like:

Scaraffia, in her insightful talk, brought out the historical foundations of feminism. She proposed that the ultimate solution to the feminism-in-the-Church question lies in more women holding decision-making positions in the Church. Indeed, one of the most amusing moments of the evening came when one woman in the audience demanded to know when a woman would be placed as the head of something in the Vatican. The three cardinals present pointed in a single gesture to Glendon, who is the president of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences.

For her part, Glendon did not suggest that the answer is flooding the Holy See with résumés to become head of this or that, but to courageously live out the vocation common to all lay people, men and women, to bear witness to Christ out in the secular world. She speculated that an implicit "clericalism" still lingers behind much of the push for women occupying positions in parishes, while the more fundamental work of evangelizing the secular world is neglected.

How delicious! The one example on earth of what Scaraffia called for did not agree that such was what was women, and men, most needed. The more important answer is to be a leaven in the world, not to seek power like those of the world.

Irony is powerful. Catholics need to hear more of it. Of course, they need to get it too. About that, I'm not sanguine. If my experience is any guide, Catholic progs are singularly lacking in the sense of irony. But that sense seems to go with the Faith. Any God who saves the human race by letting people torture and execute him as a threat to public order has quite a sense of irony. We need to share it.

The travails of the hermeneut of continuity

Over at The Undercroft, a blog by a trad Catholic who calls himself "moretben," and who barely maintains communion with the Church today, but only given the alternatives, one finds a post called More Hermeneutico-whatsit. Its content, as well as that of the combox that follows, is essentially a set of complaints about the sort of thing I happen to spend much of my time online doing. I've often encountered and responded to pretty much the same complaints elsewhere in the blogosphere. But since today is the first anniversary of an important address given by Pope Benedict XVI to the Curia on this nest of topics, I thought I'd take this occasion to sum up the issues.

The following quotation supplies what His Holiness said that is germane. It's worth reading the lengthy passage in full so as to forestall the misunderstandings and rhetorical distortions that often plague discussion of these topics.

The last event of this year on which I wish to reflect here is the celebration of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council 40 years ago. This memory prompts the question: What has been the result of the Council? Was it well received? What, in the acceptance of the Council, was good and what was inadequate or mistaken? What still remains to be done? No one can deny that in vast areas of the Church the implementation of the Council has been somewhat difficult, even without wishing to apply to what occurred in these years the description that St Basil, the great Doctor of the Church, made of the Church's situation after the Council of Nicea: he compares her situation to a naval battle in the darkness of the storm, saying among other things: "The raucous shouting of those who through disagreement rise up against one another, the incomprehensible chatter, the confused din of uninterrupted clamouring, has now filled almost the whole of the Church, falsifying through excess or failure the right doctrine of the faith..." (De Spiritu Sancto, XXX, 77; PG 32, 213 A; SCh 17 ff., p. 524).

We do not want to apply precisely this dramatic description to the situation of the post-conciliar period, yet something from all that occurred is nevertheless reflected in it. The question arises: Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult?

Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or - as we would say today - on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarrelled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture"; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the "hermeneutic of reform", of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.

These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council's deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.

In a word: it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim.

The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood. In this way, it is considered as a sort of constituent that eliminates an old constitution and creates a new one. However, the Constituent Assembly needs a mandator and then confirmation by the mandator, in other words, the people the constitution must serve. The Fathers had no such mandate and no one had ever given them one; nor could anyone have given them one because the essential constitution of the Church comes from the Lord and was given to us so that we might attain eternal life and, starting from this perspective, be able to illuminate life in time and time itself.

Through the Sacrament they have received, Bishops are stewards of the Lord's gift. They are "stewards of the mysteries of God" (I Cor 4: 1); as such, they must be found to be "faithful" and "wise" (cf. Lk 12: 41-48). This requires them to administer the Lord's gift in the right way, so that it is not left concealed in some hiding place but bears fruit, and the Lord may end by saying to the administrator: "Since you were dependable in a small matter I will put you in charge of larger affairs" (cf. Mt 25: 14-30; Lk 19: 11-27).

These Gospel parables express the dynamic of fidelity required in the Lord's service; and through them it becomes clear that, as in a Council, the dynamic and fidelity must converge.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity is countered by the hermeneutic of reform, as it was presented first by Pope John XXIII in his Speech inaugurating the Council on 11 October 1962 and later by Pope Paul VI in his Discourse for the Council's conclusion on 7 December 1965.

Here I shall cite only John XXIII's well-known words, which unequivocally express this hermeneutic when he says that the Council wishes "to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion". And he continues: "Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us...". It is necessary that "adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness..." be presented in "faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another...", retaining the same meaning and message (The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., p. 715).

It is clear that this commitment to expressing a specific truth in a new way demands new thinking on this truth and a new and vital relationship with it; it is also clear that new words can only develop if they come from an informed understanding of the truth expressed, and on the other hand, that a reflection on faith also requires that this faith be lived. In this regard, the programme that Pope John XXIII proposed was extremely demanding, indeed, just as the synthesis of fidelity and dynamic is demanding.

However, wherever this interpretation guided the implementation of the Council, new life developed and new fruit ripened. Forty years after the Council, we can show that the positive is far greater and livelier than it appeared to be in the turbulent years around 1968. Today, we see that although the good seed developed slowly, it is nonetheless growing; and our deep gratitude for the work done by the Council is likewise growing.

Now it is just that "hermeneutic of reform," sometimes also called "the hermeneutic of continuity," that is so important for the defense of the Faith today as well as the correct implementation of the Council, which has admittedly been spotty because of the very sort of thing the Holy Father was lamenting. Catholicism can be credible today only if Vatican II did not, as trads and progs seem to think, represent a decisive break with the Church of the past, but rather undertook a Spirit-inspired program of reform that speaks to the needs of today without repudiating anything definitively taught by the Church in the past or otherwise jettisoning integral elements of Tradition. The job of the hermeneut of continuity is to show just that.

And that's what I spend a lot of time doing online. An important part of that work is to show that the development of Catholic doctrine does not negate anything taught in the past that was presented as calling for the assent of faith, i.e., whatever was thus infallibly taught by the ordinary or extraordinary magisterium. That was the purpose of my essay "Development and Negation," which discusses several of the standard topics on which the Church is charged with undermining her own teaching authority by negating doctrines taught in the past. (You can access the essay by clicking the link in the left sidebar.) Another important part of said work is to show that, despite the many depradations and divisions that have marked Catholic life since the Council, continuity of both doctrine and practice is still maintained in certain quarters of the Church and is not doomed to extinction. Over the past year, I've argued to that effect that in the comboxes of numerous blogs.

Now here's what "moretben" says (I've added the emphasis):

This whole “Hermeneutic of XYZ” business originates, of course, with that famous address the Holy Father gave to the Roman Curia almost exactly a year ago (I say “famous” in the sense that every Catholic blogger of traditionalist and conservative stripe has been over it with a toothcomb in the intervening year; beyond this and its immediate audience, I suspect it might as well have been played on a dog-whistle). It has been adopted as a kind of “mission statement” by conservative Catholics, something that provides both a key to the upheavals of the recent past, and a modus operandi for the future.

But does it? Almost every post on this blog that deals directly with the crisis in the Church is an exercise in elaborating a single idea – that Catholic belief and Catholic practice have become dangerously bifurcated as a consequence of an unbalanced ecclesiology, the origins of which are to be sought far further back than the Second Vatican Council. The hermeneutic of Continuity sets out to draw things back together by insisting that they were never legitimately loosened, far less separated, in the first place: that the discontinuities actually experienced by real live Catholics – those who approved, those who disapproved and the majority who remain absolutely indifferent because they "follow the Pope" – are the consequence of misunderstandings, misinterpretations, misapplications. In other words, another theoretical apparatus is proposed, to cover practical discontinuities that remain self-evident nevertheless to very nearly every adult in every diocese of the Catholic world.

To return to the burden of Tony’s post, then: this “Hermeneutic of Continuity” - can you touch it? Can you smell it? Can you sing or pray it? Can you make an icon of it? Will it lodge in the imagination of a five-year-old? Will it enable her to grow up understanding why we have to drive past four Catholic churches to attend a Mass thirty miles away?

So long as the answer to any of these questions is “no”, I’m afraid it’s of absolutely no earthly use.

The gravamen of those remarks can be summed up thus: unless and until the hermeneuts of continuity succeed in getting the conclusions of their theory actually embodied in the piety of ordinary Catholics across the board, then that theory is useless.

I'm afraid that holds us to an impossible standard. The apologetic side of the hermeneutic of continuity (HC) is to rebut charges of inconsistency in principle, and I have noticed that the point is often conceded. In my experience both on and offline, critics of HC, whether Catholic trads, Catholic progs, or Orthodox believers, typically concede that it succeeds in exhibiting overall theoretical consistency in Church's development of doctrine. But the number of Catholics who act accordingly is, of course, another matter. Hermeneuts of continuity do not have an inquisitorial police to ensure that the clergy and committed laity make on-the-ground practice in the parishes conform to theory. We can only aid what the previous and present popes have been trying to do. That takes time. In many ways, we're still "the resistance" on the ground.

The critics, needless to say, are unimpressed. Some even complain that the very intellectual sophistication of HC apologetic is evidence against its authenticity. As one commenter on moretben's post puts it:

It now appears to require a doctorate in modernist analytical 'philosophy' to be a Catholic. The sheer weight of the intellectual apparatus-of-continuity is astonishing, a true wonder to behold. But is this the cross we are to carry?

Well, I happen to hold such a doctorate, but I reject the label 'modernist', which serves at most to make the little band to which I belong seem guilty by association with the Modernists of a century ago. We are not. We reject their approach to doctrine, even as we accept Cardinal Newman's and Cardinal Congar's, as does Joseph Ratzinger, a cardinal turned pope. But aside from that, one doesn't need such a degree "to be Catholic." Such a degree is useful for equipping one to explain, intellectually, why one can and should be the sort of Catholic the Pope wants to see more of. People who aren't equipped to follow the resulting explanations are invited simply to accept what they are meant to support. It's no good pressing the questions if one can't or won't do the work of understanding the answers.

In most quarters, however, that is not the problem. What prevents the substance of the Pope's message from getting through to a lot of ordinary Catholics, and hence being embodied in practice, is a clergy which, in many cases, is still being guided by the hermeneutic of discontinuity that set in during the 1960s and 70s. That's the problem the Pope was addressing above. The confusion and infidelity fostered by such clergy present a very serious problem for the Vatican. By way of solution, there are three possible approaches: do nothing; do a thorough and nasty housecleaning; or, as I put it in a previous post, "wait for the hopeless older set to die off, while replacing them with a younger set by attracted by such integrity and beauty as can be routed around the corrupt middle management." The Vatican under John Paul II and Benedict XVI has opted for the third, which I agree is better than the alternatives. But in the meantime, progress is slow, spotty, and incremental, so that the evils that the progress is meant to overcome continue to flourish. That's what moretben and his friends complain about, and that's why they think the approach "of no earthly use."

Such an all-or-nothing stance, I'm afraid, signifies of the sort of absolutism that typically motivates Catholic traditionalism. It has no tolerance for human messiness. I guess that's why I'm not a trad.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ampliative development of doctrine II: a reply to Scott Carson

I want to thank Scott Carson for being kind enough to reply almost immediately, and at some length, to my post yesterday. One of his points is cogent enough to call for a significant adjustment in my position; other criticisms are intended as technical corrections of my language, ones that I happily accept from a pro who's been in the game throughout a period when I have not. But I think it useful at the outset to state, or perhaps restate, the core of our disagreement.

Scott writes (emphasis added):

My claim in "Further Notes" was that doctrine only develops in accordance with deductive principles. I confess that at least part of the motivation behind my claim was political in an ecumenical sense: I want to set at ease the hearts and minds of those Orthodox who worry that the principle of the development of doctrine warrants introducing radically new (and possibly heretical) belief-statements into the corpus of beliefs that must be held de fide. I think that this is a "valid" worry (non-technical use of "valid" here), and it is one that I share. The difficulty with any and all inductive inferences is that they are subject to (often massive) underdetermination, that is, the evidence can never establish the truth of any particular inference to the exclusion of all competing, non-consistent inferences. This is not a situation in which we want to find ourselves when trying to discover what must be believed de fide.

Scott's motivation here is admirable, and developing doctrine by deduction is certainly preferable if and when possible. That is partly why, a bit further down, he also says about my homoosious example:

...I think that the homoousios doctrine does follow by strict deduction. This is not to say that every premise needed for that deduction is made explicit in Scripture; some premises are themselves intermediary conclusions of other deductions. But the inference itself needs to be deductive or else there is no rationally compelling reason to believe it.

The notion of compulsion here is extremely important--it is not just a rhetorical nicety to stick in a word like that. Inductive inferences have a certain rational warrant to them--that is, if they are strong it is not irrational to accept them--but precisely because of underdetermination there is no compulsion to believe them--we may always question any inductive inference and in so doing we still act rationally. It would be irrational, by contrast, to question a sound deductive inference.

This is where I disagree with Scott. He believes that DD by "non-ampliative inference," in the form of objectively sound, deductive arguments that are thus "rationally compelling," is the only kind admissible for yielding de fide doctrines as a process of development. What's more, there are such arguments, such as for the homoosious.

But does it follow that the Arians as such, and indeed heretics in general and as such, were or are being irrational, in the same sort of way in which somebody with the mental capacity to understand the proof of the Pythagorean Theorem is being irrational if they remain unpersuaded of the theorem by the proof? Hardly. And, sensibly enough, Scott doesn't say it follows.

To be sure, people sometimes are irrational in that sort of way. Anybody who's taught a class, especially in logic or mathematics, would surely agree. Not all rationally compelling arguments actually do compel everybody to accept their conclusions; people sometimes just are irrational. But it cannot be seriously argued that the Arians in general were being like that for decades and generations. They weren't all just being thick, or ornery, or guilty of "bad faith," i.e., of willfully refusing to be compelled to orthodoxy by a rationally compelling argument. Many if not most of them just interpreted the normative sources, which supplied the premises for Nicaea's definition, differently from the bishops at that council. And the point holds quite generally for doctrines that either were or are widely disputed for a long time. That is why I have often said, on blogs where Catholic-Orthodox dialogue occurs, that there are no rationally compelling arguments, using premises both Orthodox and Catholics would accept, from which the truth of doctrines distinctive of Catholicism but questioned or rejected by Orthodoxy would follow. If there were such arguments, the schism probably would not have occurred and certainly would not have lasted as long as it has. While thickheadedness, orneriness, and bad faith can be found in Orthodoxy—as they can be anywhere else—their incidence hardly suffices to explain why the Orthodox are disinclined to restore full communion with the Catholic Church. It would be most unecumenical, as well as false, to maintain otherwise.

What does suffice is honest, informed disagreement about what the normative sources mean. But that is precisely the problem I believe is addressed by claiming that, in some cases at least, DD takes place by ampliative inference. For the meaning of the normative sources is precisely what is supposed to be brought out by ampliative DD; if DD in any form told us anything that is not at least materially present in the deposit of faith, as contained in the normative sources, it would be addition to the deposit of faith and thus unacceptable. The whole point of DD is to make formally clear what is materially present in the sources but is, to some degree, merely implicit.

Some philosophers have thought that that's just what deductive arguments do. Scott seems to think so. But I think the two cases are different. Of course I agree that, if and when DD by ampliative inference is done well, it is not hard to go on to construct a rationally compelling deductive argument for the relevant conclusion. But that is not terribly interesting and not the real job DD is supposed to do. The real job, one might say, is to come up with the right premises for such an argument. That job is one of interpretation, and I agree with Scott that interpretation is not the same thing as inference. So it is tempting to say, as Scott implies, that interpretation rather than inference is what I'm really about when advocating ampliative "inference" in DD. But that would be a false dichotomy. What I suggest is done by "ampliative" DD is interpretation by inference: the conclusions of warranted ampliative inferences in DD just are what the normative sources, which supply the premises for deductive arguments, mean. "Rationally compelling" deductive argument, if and when given, is just icing on the cake.

Philosophers of science acknowledge something called "inference to the best explanation," which is also called abduction. As Scott points out, that is induction by another name; and even when rationally warranted, abduction is not rationally compelling. The most it can do is come up with an explanation that is more plausible than competing ones. Ampliative inference in DD ('AIDD' for short) seems to be much more like that than like either deduction or other, garden-variety instances of induction that are recognized as warranted. For reasons I've already given, I don't have a problem with that; when the subject matter is revealed mysteries, one cannot always or even often expect more. Nonetheless, while ampliative inference in DD is very similar in form to abduction, there are two key differences between them.

One is that abduction typically seeks to explain states of affairs, events, or patterns thereof which are observable. When abductions can be tested, they are tested by further observation. AIDD is not like that. Its explananda are truths to be found in sources such as Scripture, creeds, liturgical expressions, patristic texts, the example of saints, and the experience of the faithful; while texts, liturgies, and people are observable, they are observable only as media and tokens, not as the living doctrines embodied thereby; and it is the latter which constitute the explananda. Correspondingly, the explanantia of AIDD are inferences, drawn from a variety of things, which yield interpretations of those doctrines that in turn can form the premises of deductive arguments.

The other difference between abduction and AIDD is that the latter is useful for telling us what we should believe by divine faith, not merely what we are rationally warranted in believing. The subject matter of AIDD is, after all, the deposit of faith. But absent some underlying principle of doctrinal authority, the inferences involved in AIDD do not, of themselves, give us anything more than rationally warranted interpretations of the normative sources. And so AIDD tells us what we should believe only when its conclusions are certified by authority. Scott seems to recognize this in his final paragraph.

All the same, I am given pause by one criticism he offers. Referring to how I used the example of Isaiah 7:14's history of interpretation, he says: ...the fact that this pattern is to be found in the "unfolding of divine revelation" is insufficient to show that the pattern of inference involved in the development of doctrine is not deductive. I would have to agree with that. Yet I don't think I need offer that pattern in order to show that inference in DD is "not deductive." Some inference in DD may well be deductive; and when we properly interpret the sources, we thereby supply the premises for sound deductive arguments. All I would suggest is that AIDD is often the way we must interpret the sources.

Christmas: the resistance

Fr. Al Kimel has graciously granted me permission to quote the following post in full:

On Sunday afternoon I attended a Christmas choral program at my wife’s parish, Our Lady of Sorrows. The music was wonderful. As I listened to the anthems and carols, I thought on the loss to the world if the secularists should ever succeed in eradicating Christmas from Western cultural life and memory. The secular world is incapable of producing such beauty and grace. Oh how dismal and empty the holiday season would become if the story of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were to be driven back into the ghetto of the Church. How awful it would be if “Silver Bells,” “Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer,” and “Frosty the Snow Man” should become the principal fare of the season. All would suffer. All would be impoverished. One does not need to be a believer to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of Christmas. I am reminded of the old professor in “The Bishop’s Wife” who finds himself holding onto the symbols of Christmas, despite his skepticism.

Today I wished a shopkeeper “Merry Christmas.” “How nice,” he said, “to hear someone say ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Holidays.’”

With all our heart and energies, Christians and all folk of good will must resist the political campaign to eliminate Christmas. This campaign ultimately flows from a barbarism of sentiment, drivel, violence and greed. The world may not know it, but it needs the story and music of Christmas. The world may not know it, but it needs to annually hear and experience the divine promise of peace and joy.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ampliative development of doctrine

My friend, the philosopher Scott Carson, has recently put up a post entitled Further Notes on Ampliative and Non-ampliative Inference, which is ultimately about the endlessly controversial idea of the development of doctrine (DD). He holds that DD entails only "non-ampliative" inference, i.e., strictly deductive inference from whatever the relevant data happen to be. By contrast, "ampliative" inference is not strictly deductive. I disagree with Scott. I want to argue here that authentic DD sometimes does involves ampliative inference.

Scott does an excellent job of explaining what's involved in the two types of inference. To sum up, he writes:

When the argument form is inductive rather than deductive, the information in the conclusion is actually new, and there is no guarantee that it is true even if all of the premises are true.

Inductions, then, are ampliative in the sense that they claim something above and beyond what the premises claim. Deductions, by contrast, are non-ampliative, because their conclusions do not state anything different from what the premises collectively tell us. Doctrine develops only deductively, not inductively hence, doctrine develops only in a non-ampliative manner.

The difficulty with that distinction is that, even if it's exhaustive in principle, it does not distinguish among different sorts of "induction" and therefore cannot tell us what would be distinctive about ampliative DD, if there is such a thing.

In the lingo of logicians, "inductive" inference is any type of inference that is valid, in principle and for certain purposes, but not strictly deductive. The most common sort of induction is inferring that the future will, in this or that respect, be like the past. Thus, e.g., we infer from our past experience that the sun will rise tomorrow. That's so safe an inference as to be just about ironclad. You can count on it. But from the fact that the sun has always risen each morning in the past, it does not deductively follow that it will do so tomorrow; and several billion years from now, if the astronomers are correct, the sun will cease to "rise" at all, its expansion as a red giant having vaporized this planet.

Others inductions we naturally make are somewhat less safe than that the sun will rise tomorrow. Thus, if we observe fifty ravens and find they're all black, we infer that the next raven we observe will be black too. That inference seems as safe as the first; but given the phenomenon of genetic variation, it's not quite as safe. And of course one can go down the line, identifying inferences that are progressively less and less safe objectively, but still so natural as to be almost inevitable. In my case, one example would be that the next time I check my bank balance, it will be less than I would have anticipated. I've gotten pretty good at tricking myself out and refining my inferences accordingly.

Now I consider it fairly obvious that some, perhaps even much, DD is ampliative and thus "inductive" in logicians' lingo. To take my favorite example, that the Son is homoousios (of the same substance) as the Father does not follow by strict deduction from the testimony of Scripture, the Apostles' Creed, and what the various liturgical rites of the early Church all had in common. If it did, then all it would have taken to refute the Arians decisively, once for all, would have been a logical proof of the sort that had long before been provided for, say, the Pythagorean Theorem in geometry. But that didn't happen, and it wasn't just because the orthodox weren't clever enough to do it. Such proofs, if and when possible at all, are notoriously difficult to produce in theology precisely because the objective meaning of the relevant premises is not entirely clear to everybody who holds them, unlike those supporting the Pythagorean Theorem, which are pellucidly clear to anybody of a certain mental age. That is because, in doctrine and theology, we're dealing with revealed mysteries, which are not products of the human mind or corresponding features of the natural world. Thus, what seemed obvious to the orthodox under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and rightly so, did not seem at all obvious, but rather false, to others who claimed in all sincerity to accept the same prior media of revelation as normative. The difficulty is one of interpretation; and the sources do not interpret themselves.

Now the homoousios, if the product of valid induction, is not the result of the sort of induction we usually make. One cannot conclude that the Son is of the same substance as the Father in the same way as one can conclude that the sun will rise tomorrow or that the next raven one sees will be black. But it is a kind of inference. What kind?

I can't think of a name offhand, but I believe I can see the pattern in the unfolding of divine revelation itself. Consider how Matthew 1:23 cites Isaiah 7:14 to support the claim that Jesus was born of a virgin. Matthew was relying on the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which uses the term parthenos, meaning "virgin," to translate Isaiah's almah, meaning "young woman." Why that translation? After all, not all virgins are young women and not all young women are virgins. Perhaps the "seventy" Jewish scholars in Alexandria who produced the LXX believed that the Messiah would be born of a literal virgin; but then, perhaps not. We really don't know. They may simply have chosen parthenos as a decorous synonym for 'a young woman' with the implication that the Messiah would be her first-born. At any rate, we have no evidence that first-century Jews assumed the Messiah would be born of a literal virgin. There doesn't appear to have been any consensus among Jews about how to construe Isaiah 7:14 on this particular point. Yet Matthew, or at least the early Church that received his Gospel as canonical, seems serenely confident that it prophesied that Jesus the Messiah was born of a literal virgin.

This is but one instance of how the New Testament in general treats the Old Testament. The NT even has Jesus himself explaining "the Scriptures,"—i.e., the works comprised by the LXX—as referring to him in various ways that either the original authors of the Scriptures or their audiences do not seem to have had in mind. So if Christianity is true, then the material sense of those Scriptures is far broader than what they formally say. The full material sense—what Scripture scholars call the sensus plenior—is formally brought out only in light of later events, reflections, and interpretations. And that, I believe, is how a great deal of DD also proceeds even after the complete divine revelation was fully given to the Apostles. The process of coming to understand the deposit of faith, given once-for-all to the saints, recapitulates the unfolding of divine revelation itself during the long period leading up to and including "the Jesus event."

Accordingly, if such controverted doctrines as papal infallibility and the Immaculate Conception are instances of authentic DD, they are so because they are derived from the faith-once-delivered in a way very similar to how christology is derived by the NT from the OT and by the first several ecumenical councils from the NT and other early Christian sources. They are not strictly deducible from what everybody professed formally in common during the first millennium of Christianity; they formally express what was there all along, to be sure; but they could not be derived, by any means generally acknowledged as logically reliable, from what was there all along. I don't think 'induction' is quite the right term for that. I can think of no better term than, simply, 'ampliative inference'.