Archive for the ‘Alexander Greco’ Category

Criticism of Rome’s Celibate Priesthood – Rebuttals to Objections

December 19, 2008

A while back I had blogged a post on the Married Priest Movement (link), which garnered a variety of criticism, from one guy who insists that I must use the word “dissent” the way he says his church does – to several more interesting comments that I’d like to discuss below.

The people are being addressed in reverse chronological order of when they commented, but their comments are (I hope) presented in the order in which the respective person wrote them.

Mike Burgess wrote:

TF said “There is no basis for saying that a chaste life of marriage is less holy than chaste life of celibacy from Scripture.”

Untrue. See 1 Corinthians 7, particularly vv. 28-35. This is clear Scriptural warrant for the discipline, and it follows the spirit of St. Paul’s inspired words: the one who is celibate seeks to be holy in body and spirit, he is concerned with the things of the Lord, and it is good to be married but “better” to remain celibate.

And, to follow up, vv 36-38 make it clear that the Bishop you quoted is correct: there is no doctrinal reason, and the Church has always allowed priests in some particular Churches to marry. She has chosen to impose a discipline for reasons of “good order,” as St. Paul says, in the Latin Rite Churches of the One Church.

I presume I shouldn’t need to quote St. Paul’s words in full to such a biblically literate audience.

There are two main claims here:
1) Burgess is claiming that 1 Corinthians 7:28-35 (perhaps he means to through vs. 38) does teach that a chaste life of marriage is less holy than chaste life of celibacy; and
2) Burgess is claiming that 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 justifies the prohibition on priestly marriage for reasons of “good order.”

First things first, let’s look at the text itself. Despite Burgess’ reasonable confidence in the Biblical literacy of the readership of this blog, we should still take a look at what the text says:

1 Corinthians 7:28-38
28But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. 29But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 30And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; 31And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away. 32But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. 34There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. 36But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. 37Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. 38So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

As to Burgess’ first claim with respect to this passage, the key part of the passage would seem to be “he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.”

The very first counter-observation to be made is that the verse doesn’t say “holy” vs. “more holy” but “well” vs. “better.” The question is, in what way “better”? If the answer is “better in the sense of more holy,” then the distinction makes no difference.

Unfortunately, Burgess doesn’t provide us with much of a positive case for his position here. He seems to assume that “better” means “more holy.” Perhaps his concise comment is the rational result of my policy of publishing comments slowly, perhaps because he hasn’t considered the issue, either way we can evaluate the passage and determine whether it is holiness or something else that is under consideration.

The comparison of “well” to “better” is really a comparison between καλως (kalos = well) and κρεισσον (kreisson = better). Kreisson is rarely used in the New Testament. Its two other NT uses are 1 Corinthians 11:17 and Philippians 1:23.

1 Corinthians 11:17 states that when the Corinthians assemble, it is not for better (κρεισσον) but for worse, and the word for worse here is ηττον (hetton – worse), which does not seem have any particular moral significance.

Philippians 1:23 states that to be with Christ is a thing far better (κρεισσον), but that it is needful for Paul to be with Philippians, and consequently he is “in a straight betwixt two” as the King James version puts it or “hard pressed from both directions” as the NAS puts it.

Nevertheless, there are a few additional uses in the LXX:

1) In Exodus 14:12, the Israelites say it would have been better (κρεισσον) to serve in Egypt than die in the wilderness.
2) In Judges 8:2, Gideon praises the vintage of Ephraim as better (κρεισσον) than that of Abiezer.
3) In Psalm 36:16, it is said that a little is better (κρεισσον) to the righteous than great wealth is to the wicked.
4) In Psalm 62:4, it is said that God’s mercy is better (κρεισσον) than life.
5) In Proverbs 21:9, it is said that it is better (κρεισσον) to live in a corner of a housetop, than to live in a plastered house with unrighteousness.
6) In Proverbs 21:19, it is said that is is better (κρεισσον) to live in the wilderness than with a militant, talkative, and angry woman.
7) In Proverbs 25:7, it is said that it is better (κρεισσον) that it be said to you “come up hither” in the eyes of your prince (than to be told to take a lesser seat)

In short, what we can infer from these uses is that the word κρεισσον doesn’t have any intrinsic moral significance. It can mean simply more pleasant or more convenient. In this case, the sense of “more convenient” is one obvious sense. Why might one not agree?

Verse 37 states that “he that has decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well (καλως),” and then verse 38 adds that he who gives his virgin in marriage does well (καλως),” but that he who does not, does better. What is interesting, to me, is that there is a comparative form of καλως, namely καλλιον (kallion – better) but it is not used. I think this is significant, but at a minimum it does not support the view that the comparison between giving and not giving has to do with which one is more righteous or holy.

That it is a matter of convenience and practicality can be seen from:

1 Corinthians 7:7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

and

1 Corinthians 7:25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.

and finally

1 Corinthians 7:28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.

The point of the passage has to do with it being inconvenient to be married, thus, Paul explains:

1 Corinthians 7:32-33
32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.

That is to say, single people have more time for explicitly serving the kingdom of God than married people do. Thus, he concludes the thought:

1 Corinthians 7:34 There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

With that in mind, it should be apparent that “better” does not mean “more holy” or “more righteous,” but rather “more convenient.” Accordingly, we can reject the first of Mr. Burgess’ contentions, namely that the chaste single life is somehow more holy than the chaste married life.

Mr. Burgess’ second contention, related to “good order” is again unfounded. The Apostle Paul occupies the field of marital restrictions by insisting that bishops and deacons be husbands of one wife. Further limitations on the marital status of bishops and deacons are consequently instances of forbidding what Scripture permits. Additionally, given that Scripture clearly teaches:

Proverbs 18:22 Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD.

Consequently, we also reject Mr. Burgess’ second contention, that there is a valid “good order” reason to forbidding clergy from marrying.

From Mr. Burgess, we can turn to Mr. Greco.

Alexander Greco wrote:

Turretinfan: a) The analogy [to the idea that God is holier than angels] is distinguishable because the difference in holiness between God and angels relates to their being, not their actions. The issue here, however, is actions.
[Greco]: Good point.

Turretinfan: b) There is no basis for saying that a chaste life of marriage is less holy than chaste life of celibacy from Scripture.
[Greco]: But what do you make of Paul’s words when he describes those who live the celibate life are of the affairs of the Lord, etc? (I’m not dealing with the terminology of “holy” versus “unholy”)

Turretinfan: c) Leaving aside the issue of differences between beings (addressed under {a} above), “thing A is less holy than thing B” is logically equivalent to “thing A is more more unholy than thing B.”
[Greco]: Would this really be the case though? The elect in heaven are not as holy as God, but would you say that God allows the unholy to exist in heaven?

(brackets show my edits for clarity)
Obviously, there is no real disagreement on (a). With respect to (b), as I mentioned in my response to Mr. Burgess, Paul is talking about the fact that single people have more time to give explicitly to the service of the kingdom of heaven. With respect to (c), this gets us right back to (a). An analogy between angels and the elect would be proper (or vice versa), but for the same reasons, the “elect are not as holy as God” comparison relates to being, not actions. The issue here is actions.

From Mr. Greco, we can turn to Mr. Douglass.

Ben Douglass wrote:

[Turretinfan:] b) There is no basis for saying that a chaste life of marriage is less holy than chaste life of celibacy from Scripture.
[Douglass:] 1 Cor 7:1-2, 7-9, 26-28, 32-40.
“So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better” (1 Cor 7:38).

[Turretinfan:] c) Leaving aside the issue of differences between beings (addressed under {a} above), “thing A is less holy than thing B” is logically equivalent to “thing A is more unholy than thing B.”
[Douglass:] I deny. “Unholy” implies evil, which is a privation of good. “Less holy” implies mere absence of good. Not every absence of good is a privation, and hence not every absence of good is evil.

[Douglass quoting NatAmLLC:] According to the “insight” the Holy Ghost gave Paul, we will know the time is close to the end when we are forbidden to marry! Hmmmmmm?

[Douglass:] The Catholic Church doesn’t force anyone to take a vow of celibacy. It is purely voluntary. Quoting 1 Tim 4:3 against Catholicism is one of the silliest arguments in the Protestant [repertoire].

(brackets show my edits for clarity/spelling)
As to (b), I’ve provided a detailed answer above, in my response to Mr. Burgess.
As to (c):

i) The difference between privation of good and absence of good is something that is not agreed by the Reformed, even if it is taught from the Vatican. Scripture commands the believer to be perfect:

Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

You see, we believe that the standard of holiness that God requires is perfect righteousness. Thus, any absence of good in a person’s life is identical to a privation of good. Furthermore, since we believe that perfect obedience is required, we do not leave room for works of supererogation. Thus, either a person is as good as they ought to be, or they fall short by some measure greater or less.

In other words, whether an act is more or less good depends on how close it comes to approximating the duty God requires of man. Accordingly, there is no bear absence of good in a man’s life – instead it is privation. There are sins both of commission and omission, of course, but both are sins. The former involve a positive act, the latter the failure to act.

ii) Douglass quoted NatAmLLC: “According to the “insight” the Holy Ghost gave Paul, we will know the time is close to the end when we are forbidden to marry!”
Paul actually wrote:
1 Timothy 4:1-3
1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

Those who impose celibacy and fasting (sound familiar at all?) are those that depart from the faith. I’m not sure what Mr. Douglass (or NatAmLLC) was trying to reference. There will be no marriage between humans in heaven:

Luke 20:34-36
34 And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: 35 But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: 36 Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.

iii) Douglass stated: “The Catholic Church doesn’t force anyone to take a vow of celibacy. It is purely voluntary.”

They force anyone who wants to be a bishop to take that vow, as far as I know. Obviously, they don’t force people (these days) to become bishops, but for those that do wish to become bishops, it is not voluntary or optional – it is mandatory.

-TurretinFan

UPDATE: Updated 22 December 2008 to indicate where Mr. Douglass was quoting NatAmLLC.

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Response to Alexander Greco on Sola Scriptura

October 17, 2008

Previously, I wrote against some comments made by Mr. Bellisario (link to my post) regarding Eric Svendsen’s book, “Upon this Slippery Rock.” Mr. Alexander Greco has decided to respond as follows:

It seems to be the case that you would like to have your cake and eat it too.

On the one hand you proclaim “Sola Scriptura,” the Bible alone is the sole rule of faith.

On the other hand you have the audacity to tell me (and numerous other christians dating back to the founding of the Church) that our beliefs are wrong, that our Liturgies are wrong. You tell us that they are wrong according to how you (and in reality it is your instructor, who ever that may be…Svendsen, etc.) interpret the Gospel. However, you quickly add the caveat that you are not infallible; but never mind that, we should take your proclamation to be infallible because even with history on our side you have the superior fallible interpretation. How the early Christians practiced their faith is of no relevance to your “Sola Scriptura.”

AG’s analogy, “It seems to be the case that you would like to have your cake and eat it too,” is inapt. It’s not applicable to the case at hand. A better analogy here would be “have your orange and eat your apples,” for Mr. Greco is comparing not cake to cake but apples to oranges.

AG states, “On the one hand you proclaim “Sola Scriptura,” the Bible alone is the sole rule of faith.” AG has left out, however, the term “infallible.” Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith. But perhaps this omission is not critical to this particular discussion.

Continuing on, AG states, “On the other hand you have the audacity to tell me … that [my] beliefs are wrong … .” There is obviously more to his comment, but this seems to be the key point of his objection. In AG’s mind, if one holds to Sola Scriptura, then one cannot tell other people that their beliefs are wrong. This is an incredibly enormous logical misstep. Not only does AG’s supposition not follow – it is directly contradicted.

The fact that Scripture is a rule of faith provides a way by which doctrines can be measured. It provides the umpire to settle our arguments. If we disagree over whether Christ died or rose from the dead, we can turn to Scripture and see the answer there. The side who agrees with Scripture teaches the truth.

Where then could AG’s non-sequitur accusation come from? I cannot say for sure – logical fallacies sometimes have a way of creeping up on people. I suspect, however, that there is a chance that it has come from AG being overexposed to papist propaganda suggesting that to believe Sola Scriptura is to accept relativism.

Usually the way we see this done is more subtly (such as by pointing out a large number of denominations and then groundlessly blaming this on the standard of Sola Scriptura) but sometimes it is done quite explicitly, even to the point of point an equals sign between Sola Scriptura and relativism.

Of course, all this is absurd: everyone should realize that if one has a standard of absolute truth and that standard is external to oneself, then one is not a relativist. Sola Scripture is a standard of absolute truth and it is external to us. Therefore, those of us who practice Sola Scriptura are plainly not relativists.

And, of course, it is precisely because we recognize that Scripture is the touchstone and metric of doctrinal truth that we can judge whether a church preaches the gospel. If we did not have Scripture as a measuring stick, we’d be left floating in the breeze. Scripture provides an anchor and reference point.

Now, let’s deal with a few other of AG’s points: “and numerous other christians dating back to the founding of the Church … .” The label “christian,” here is not helpful. If a person claims to be a Christian, but refuses to heed the Word of God, what good is that sort of profession? And the “back to the founding” part of the claim is just absurd. Some of my biggest objections to Catholicism stem, as AG surely knows, from innovations that occurred in history – such as the innovation of papal infallibility, the bodily assumption of Mary, Purgatory, Idolatry, attempted communication with the dead, and Indulgences. Historically, AG doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

But furthermore, Paul himself stood up to Christians in his own day – he even opposed a fellow apostle, Peter, to his face. Christians can be wrong, and Christians can and should help to correct each other’s errors. Scripture says so.

AG adds that we also tell him that “our liturgies” are wrong. This should be no surprise. The liturgies of Catholicism (and other supposedly ancient religions) have evolved over time. The Roman liturgies (“Latin” rite) are especially famous for the dramatic changes we saw in the Vatican II era – but the others have developed as well. It’s not surprising to see them incorporating more or less error over the years, especially in a church that refuses to reform its own teachings to the norm of Scripture.

AG declares, “You tell us that they are wrong according to how you (and in reality it is your instructor, who ever that may be…Svendsen, etc.) interpret the Gospel.” This sort of comment is symmetrically reflexive and infinitely regressive. If AG’s point is valid, then it is also valid to say that AG tells us that we are wrong according to how he (and in reality it is his instructor, who ever that may be … Dave Armstrong, etc.) interprets Catholicism’s standards. But AG’s point is not valid.

We tell him that these things are wrong according to what Scripture says. Scripture, not our interpretation of it, is the standard. We acknowledge the fallibility of our own interpretations, and subject them to the higher authority of Scripture. It’s puzzling to me why this concept is so hard for advocates of Catholicism to get.

Don’t they know that the law of the land – the thing that determines whether they are committing a crime or not – is not someone’s interpretation of the law, but the law itself? In practice, people do have to interpret the law. A judge may have to noodle over the issue of what the law has to say about something, but ultimately it is the law, not the judge, that is the standard. The judge doesn’t make his own law: he interprets the law.

The same goes when Christians follow Scripture’s commands that require them to be judges of doctrine. Such obedience doesn’t require them to become laws unto themselves, but rather to interpret the law of God given in the Word of God.

But AG doesn’t stop there. He continues, “However, you quickly add the caveat that you are not infallible; but never mind that, we should take your proclamation to be infallible because even with history on our side you have the superior fallible interpretation.” This is just intentional ignorance. How one can add, “But never mind that,” knowing that isn’t what we say, is simply mind boggling.

Furthermore, of course, history is not on AG’s side. As noted above, upon historical examination, numerous central distinctives of Catholicism turn out to be innovations: neither believed nor practiced by the apostles or the earliest churches. History is not the friend of a church that promotes papal infallibility and transubstantiation.

AG concludes, “How the early Christians practiced their faith is of no relevance to your ‘Sola Scriptura.'” This is a bit misleading. It is, of course, true that no matter what, Scripture is the norm – not what early Christians did. We know from the book of Revelation that not all the early Christians did what was right.

On the other hand, what the early Christians did is still of interest. Although Scripture is the rule of faith (i.e. the sole infallible authority), the teachings of previous Christians, whether living or passed on, are of value and are not simply to be ignored. That doesn’t mean that we automatically accept everything attributed to an early Christian, but it does mean that we read what they wrote, and try to learn from it – all the while comparing it to Scripture – as they would have wanted, as we see in many cases.

-TurretinFan


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