Archive for the ‘Garry Wills’ Category

Transubstantiation: Historical Development as Described by Garry Wills

June 10, 2014

Garry Wills (author of “Why I am a Catholic”), in “Why Priests,” describes the development of Eucharistic theology in the Middle Ages (p. 43):

William of Ockham (c. 1288–c. 1346), also known as Occam, wrote a long treatise on the Sacrament of the Altar. There he admitted (because the dogma of the Resurrection demanded it) that the glorified body of Christ in heaven was material. But the sacramental body of Christ was non-material, therefore non-spatial, like that of an angel. It could be present in a punctum, a point. The Scholastic theologians are often derided for debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. That is not a thing they would ever discuss, since their angels are non-spatial and pins are spatial, so never the two could meet.

Wills explains that the position of Thomas Aquinas won out over views like that of Occam.  Thomas used an Aristotelean distinction between accidents and substance.  However, as Wills explains, Thomas took Aristotle in a way Aristotle never imagined (p. 45):

Though Aristotle distinguished substance from accident, he did not (could not) separate them. A dog cannot exist without accidents like size. And there cannot be “a large” or “a white” standing alone without a substance. It has to be a large or a white something. An accident “comes along with” (symbainei) the thing that is its essence. Thomas admitted this natural truth: “An accident assumes what it is from its substance” (ST 3.77 a1r). But for the Eucharist, he posited a miraculous disruption of the natural order. He took the radical step of claiming that a substance can exist without its proper accidents, and accidents can exist without their proper substance, though only by a special action performed by God every time the priest says the words of consecration.

Wills further explains that there was an opposition to the position that Aquinas inherited and adopted (p. 49):

Thomas was forced to go to such lengths in caring for damaged Hosts because alternatives to transubstantiation were condemned by the church. One such alternative was offered in the ninth century by Ratramnus of Corbie, who said that Jesus was present in the Eucharist only symbolically (in figura), not physically. Ratramnus was rebuked by his superior, Paschasius Radbertus, who insisted on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist–which made Ratramnus’s student Gottschalk of Orbais claim Paschasius was advocating cannibalism. The view of Paschasius was the dominating one for the next two centuries.
But then, in the eleventh century, the charismatic and ascetical Berengar of Tours renewed in a more sophisticated way what Ratramnus had argued for, that the Eucharist is Christ in figura (in symbol). Relying on Augustine’s philosophy of the sign, Berengar said that the sign does not stand alone. It has to have a signifier and recipient of the sign. The whole system cannot function without this transaction. For him, the Eucharist was a dynamic system, in which the riches of salvation were offered to those with the faith to receive it.

There was also a liturgical aspect to this development.  Wills explains (p. 51):

Even when the Host was not exposed in a monstrance, it was felt to be present within the altar tabernacle, its divinity signaled by a vigil lamp–not a sheltered matter of bread and wine but an abiding divine person to whom one “paid visits,” worshiping, genuflecting, and praying to it. Alexander Nagel points out that, increasingly, from the fourteen to the sixteenth century, the tabernacle became larger and more central to churches.

In other words, the position adopted by Aquinas and calcified by Trent was a mutation, not an ancient tradition that was first disputed by the Reformers.

-TurretinFan

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What’s the Big Deal About Priests?

June 3, 2014

Garry Wills, in Why Priests, provides some interesting thoughts on the significance of the Roman Catholic priesthood (Chapter 2, p. 20):

The most striking thing about priests, in the later history of Christianity, is their supposed ability to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. “From this unique sacrifice their whole priestly ministry draws its strength” (C 1566). Nothing else about their actions is on that scale–the fact that they can routinely work an astounding miracle. Jesus becomes present in every bit of bread and every bit of wine that is consecrated, and only one thing can make it happen–the words of a priest impersonating Jesus at the Last Supper and saying, “This is MY [i.e., Jesus’ though the priest is speaking] body . . . This is the cup of MY blood.”
The only person on earth who can do this is a priest, and he can do it all by himself, with no congregation present (in what is called a private Mass). A congregation of believers, no matter how large or how pious, cannot do this if no priest is present. The people of God cannot approach God directly, in this rite central to many Christians, but only through a designated agent. As Thomas Aquinas put it: “A priest, it was earlier said, is established as the mediator between God and the people. A person who stands in need of a mediator with God cannot approach him on his own” (ST 3.22 a4r).

This does, of course, lead to the “Protestant” objection that there is only one mediator, Christ.  This becomes even more clearly in a quotation Garry Wills provides from an RC “saint” (p. 25):

In the twelfth century, Saint Norbert, the founder of the Premonstratensian order of priests, wrote of the priest’s re-enactment of the Incarnation, “Priest you are not, because you are God.”[Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast (University of California Press, 1987), p. 57]

Garry Wills also draws a distinction between the traditional splendor of the papacy and the austerity of the original apostles (pp. 28 and 32):

Until recently the pope used to enter Saint Peter’s on a sedia gestatoria, a throne borne on the shoulders of twelve footman while two attendants used the flabellum, a large ceremonial fan made of white ostrich feathers. Despite suspension of its use, the sedia has not been formally renounced.
All this fuss and finery far outdoes what Jesus condemned in the Pharisees. “Everything they do is done to impress people. They enlarge their tefillins and lengthen their tassels” (Mt 23.5-6).

Of course I have known humble and hardworking priests, men who shamed me by their devotion to others. But there are enough of the other kind to make one appreciate the words of Jesus when he told his Followers not to strive for pre-eminence (Mk 9.33-37). Or when he sent his disciples out to preach the Gospel, saying, “Provide yourselves no gold or silver or copper in your belts, or traveler’s pouch, or a second pair of tunics or sandals” (Mt 10.9-10). Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Palace cannot claim true descent from that pair of sandals and that single tunic.

The current bishop of Rome is less interested in finery than many of his predecessors, but his “succession” is from them.  He has not condemned their moral heresy, nor does he refuse to be called “Holy Father” or “Vicar of Christ.”

-TurretinFan

Garry Wills on Augustine and the Real Presence

May 27, 2014

Garry Wills is the author of “Why I am a Catholic,” but also of “Why Priests?” and “Papal Sins: Structures of Deceit.”  His “Lincoln at Gettysburg” won a Pulitzer Prize.  He also wrote a biography of Augustine, St. Augustine (a Penguin Lives Biography).  So, it might be good for folks to pay attention when he says (Why Priests, p. 16):

Indeed, Eucharist (“Thanksgiving”) in its later sense, of sharing bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ, is never used in the New Testament, not even in the Letter to Hebrews, which alone calls Jesus a priest. Even when the term “Eucharist” came in, as with the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, it was still, as in Paul, simply a celebration of the people’s oneness at the “one altar.” That meaning for the “body of Christ” would persist as late as the fourth and fifth centuries, in Augustine’s denial of the real presence of Jesus in the elements of the meal.
What you see passes away, but what is invisibly symbolized does not pass away. It perdures. The visible is received, eaten, and digested. But can the body of Christ be digested? Can the church of Christ be digested? Can Christ’s limbs be digested? Of course not. [[Augustine, Sermon 227]]
If you want to know what is the body of Christ, hear what the Apostle [Paul] tells believers: “You are Christ’s body, and his limbs” [1 Cor 12.27]. If, then, you are Christ’s body and his limbs, it is your symbol that lies on the Lord’s altar–what you receive is a symbol of yourselves. When you say “Amen,” and you must be the body of Christ to make that “Amen” take effect. And why are you bread? Hear again the Apostle, speaking of this very symbol: “We are one bread, one body, many as we are” [1 Cor 10.17].[[Augustine, Sermon 272]]
Believers recognize the body of Christ when they take care to be the body of Christ. They should be the body of Christ if they want to draw life from the spirit of Christ. No life comes to the body of Christ but from the spirit of Christ.[[Augustine, In Joannem Tractatus 26.13]]
There are more quotations that could be added to the above, but those are certainly three of the key quotations that establish Wills point.
-TurretinFan

Garry Wills on the Title "Holy Father"

May 20, 2014

Garry Wills (self-identified Catholic, but rejecter of the papacy and transubstantiation), in “Why Priests?” has this interesting comment (p. 12):

Jesus is telling his Followers not to be like the Sadducees and Pharisees who seek the “first places”:
Everything they do is done to impress people. They enlarge their tefillins and lengthen their tassels. They like the most important place at meals, and the chairs of honor in their synagogues, and to be cheered on the street, and to be called by people “Rabbi.” You, however, must not be addressed as “Rabbi,” since you have only one Teacher, and you are brothers to each other. Do not address any man on earth as father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. And you must not be addressed as leaders, since you have only one Leader, the Messiah. The greater among you will be your servant. For whoever boosts himself up will be lowered, and whoever lowers himself down will be boosted up. (Mt. 23.5-12)
What could be more against this teaching than popes who adopt the title “Holy Father”?
Wills is exactly right.  While the “call no man father” command does not mean we can never in any way refer to other men as fathers, the kind of behavior it does prohibit is precisely the behavior of Roman Catholics, in elevating a single man above all others.
Wills continues (p. 12):

Thus the post-Gospel literature of the Jesus movement introduces people in administrative roles–Servants, Elders, Overseers. These are not charisms bestowed by the Spirit, but offices to which people are appointed by their fellow human beings–and once more the priesthood is missing from the list.

Wills is right again.  He goes on to explain what “Servants” (deacons), “Elders” (presbyters), and “Overseers” (bishops).  Wills notes that Paul, in his letters, uses the plural term “episkopoi” once (at Philippians 1:1).  Luke, in Acts, similarly reports Paul as using the plural term.
In Philippians 1:1, Paul and Timothy greet, as Wills explains (p. 13) “(1) God’s people, (2) the Overseers, (3) the Servants.”  These are the overseers, plural, for the church at Philippi.  Similarly, at Acts 20:28, Paul speaks to the overseers, again plural, of the church at Ephesus.
In two other cases, the singular form is used, but even there the occurs in conjunction with elders (presbyteroi plural) or board of elders (presbyterion – which implies a plurality of people).
I would, naturally, disagree with Wills’ suggestion (p. 14) that these possibly later singular usages point towards a development of the monarchical episcopate, such as argued-for by the letters of Ignatius.  Nevertheless, Wills historical points that Paul’s usage suggests that the leadership of the church is not a leadership by one, but by plurality of more or less equals.
Furthermore, Wills is right in noting the fundamental distinction and discontinuity between the apostles (whose gift was a charism of the Holy Spirit) and the elders/bishops that followed them, whose appointment was by men, even those who were appointed by the apostles themselves.  Even though these offices of deacon and elder are divinely authorized offices, they are divinely authorized in a different way from the apostolic office.
Significantly – both for Wills and us – none of this pointed to a priest or high priest over the local assembly.  The apostles themselves were not priests, and they did not even set up a human office of priest.
– TurretinFan

Garry Wills on Community Functions in Paul’s Epistles

May 13, 2014

Garry Wills (self-identified Catholic, though he does not accept Transubstantiation and the priesthood) in “Why Priests?” describes the evidence in Paul’s epistles regarding the community functions (pp. 10-11):

Thus community functions (not offices) are direct gifts (charismata) of the Spirit, making the early community charistmatic in the root original sense, entirely guided by the Spirit, not by hierarchical rule or appointment to offices. Paul mentions eleven such charismata in his First Letter to Corinthinans:

There are diverse charisms, but from the same Spirit. There are distinct ways of serving, but of the same Lord. There are distinct ways of acting, but the same God is at work in all acts of all the actors. The Spirit makes itself known in a particular person for the general good. One man, through the Spirit, has the gift of wise speech, while another, by the power of the same Spirit, can put the deepest knowledge into words. Another’s fidelity is from the same Spirit. Another has the gift of healing and it is still one Spirit. Another can work miracles, another can prophesy, another can read spiritual impulses, another can speak different languages, another can interpret languages. At work in all these things is the single and shared Spirit, distributing them as seems best individually. (12.4-11)
You are the body of Christ, each individually a part of it, from which God has provided for the gathering–first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then miracle-working, then healing gifts, help-providing, guidance-offering, kinds of speaking in tongues. Are all people apostles, all prophets, all teachers, all miracle workers, all with the gift of healing, all speaking in tongues, all interpreters of tongues? Strive for higher gifts than these. (12.27-31)

At Romans 12.7-8 he mentions four other charismata–for the supporter (parakalon), the servant (diakonos), the almsgiver (metadidous), and the representative (proistamenos). At Ephesians 4.11 he adds another charism, that of the shepherd (poimen). That makes sixteen actions prompted by the Spirit, none of them an office, each distinguished from the rest. Nowhere is the word “priest” (hierus) used in describing the services rendered by those receiving charismata.

Wills’ point is more significant to the debate with Roman Catholics than one may immediately realize.  If Christ had left a church resembling the Roman Catholic Church, with its massive emphasis and central role of the priesthood, it would be absolutely remarkable that when Paul writes about the gifts given to the church, the gift of the priesthood is not among them – everything from apostle to almsgiver is mentioned, but not priest.

-TurretinFan

Evangelii Gaudium – the BBC Has Overstated the Pope’s Liberal Leanings

November 26, 2013

BBC News has the headline: “Pope Francis calls for power to move away from Vatican” and the opening line: “Pope Francis has called for power in the Catholic Church to be devolved away from the Vatican, in the first major work he has written in the role.”

The document in question, Evangelii Gaudium (“Gospel’s Joy”) purports to be an apostolic exhortation. The document does state, at section 32, “Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.” I cannot find anywhere in the document the idea of actually removing power from the Vatican. There are several favorably mentions of the Second Vatican Council, but nothing opposing ultramontanism even to the extent that the Second Vatican Council attempted.

There are some other interesting aspects to the document. For example, it was interesting to see Garry Wills’ point about the power of the ministerial priesthood arising from the Eucharist. Section 104 states: “Its [the ministerial priesthood’s] key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God’s people.” Wills would, I think, respond that the power to administer the Eucharist naturally progresses into a power of domination, particularly when the power is discretionary.

Sections 147 and 148 are also interesting in terms of their relationship to exegesis:

147. First of all, we need to be sure that we understand the meaning of the words we read. I want to insist here on something which may seem obvious, but which is not always taken into account: the biblical text which we study is two or three thousand years old; its language is very different from that which we speak today. Even if we think we understand the words translated into our own language, this does not mean that we correctly understand what the sacred author wished to say. The different tools provided by literary analysis are well known: attention to words which are repeated or emphasized, recognition of the structure and specific movement of a text, consideration of the role played by the different characters, and so forth. But our own aim is not to understand every little detail of a text; our most important goal is to discover its principal message, the message which gives structure and unity to the text. If the preacher does not make this effort, his preaching will quite likely have neither unity nor order; what he has to say will be a mere accumulation of various disjointed ideas incapable of inspiring others. The central message is what the author primarily wanted to communicate; this calls for recognizing not only the author’s ideas but the effect which he wanted to produce. If a text was written to console, it should not be used to correct errors; if it was written as an exhortation, it should not be employed to teach doctrine; if it was written to teach something about God, it should not be used to expound various theological opinions; if it was written as a summons to praise or missionary outreach, let us not use it to talk about the latest news.

148. Certainly, to understand properly the meaning of the central message of a text we need to relate it to the teaching of the entire Bible as handed on by the Church. This is an important principle of biblical interpretation which recognizes that the Holy Spirit has inspired not just a part of the Bible, but the Bible as a whole, and that in some areas people have grown in their understanding of God’s will on the basis of their personal experience. It also prevents erroneous or partial interpretations which would contradict other teachings of the same Scriptures. But it does not mean that we can weaken the distinct and specific emphasis of a text which we are called to preach. One of the defects of a tedious and ineffectual preaching is precisely its inability to transmit the intrinsic power of the text which has been proclaimed.

It is interesting to hear Francis’ comments. He seems to be acknowledging that literary analysis is legitimate for figuring out the meaning of the text in section 147. In section 148, Francis is careful to add the qualifier “as handed on by the Church” (presumably modifying “teaching” not “Bible”). Still, fundamentally Francis seems to be recognizing that while people can misunderstand the text, they can use literary analysis to figure out what it means. This means that even if a “church” is helpful in analyzing the text, it is not necessary — the text has intrinsic power and self-demonstrating meaning.

Section 22 similarly acknowledges the superior power of the word to the church:

22. God’s word is unpredictable in its power. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (Mk 4:26-29). The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking.

It’s great for Francis to make these concessions, and it helps to undermine the traditional error of Roman Catholicism in treating “the Church” as a necessary gatekeeper and mouthpiece for the Word.

The RC pope may not be as liberal as the BBC portrays him, but he expresses a position a lot closer to “Protestantism” than some of his predecessors.

-TurretinFan

Garry Wills – Why Priests? – Introduction

February 25, 2013

Dr. Garry Wills is a lay Roman Catholic. His PhD in classics is from Yale (1961) and he taught history for 18 years at Johns Hopkins University. The Los Angeles Times describes him as “American Catholicism’s most formidable law scholar,” and the New York Times describes him as “One of the country’s most distinguished intellectuals.” Wills’ “Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America,” won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1993. In 2008, John L. Allen, Jr. described Wills as “perhaps the most distinguished Catholic intellectual in America over the last 50 years” in the National Catholic Reporter. His writings generally focus on historical topics, many of them on the intersection of history and religion. (I wonder if calling him a “Roman Catholic Darryl Hart” would be taken as the mutual compliment it would be intended to be?)

Some think that the dwindling number of priests can be remedied by the addition of women priests, or married priests, or openly gay priests. In fact, the real solution is: no priests. It should not be difficult to imagine a Christianity without priests. Read carefully through the entire New Testament and you will not find an individual human priest mentioned in the Christian communities (only Jewish priests in service to the Temple). Only one book of the New Testament, the Letter to Hebrews, mentions an individual priest, and he is unique — Jesus. He has no followers in that office, according to the Letter.

It is not surprising, then, that some Protestant communities are able to be good Christians without having any priests. Some priests of my youth mocked them for that reason. They said a Protestant ceremony was just a town meeting, without the sacramental consecration and consumption of the body and blood of Jesus. When I was told one of my pastors that I had admired the sermon of a visiting priest, he said I should not be looking to have my ears ticked, like some Protestant, but should concentrate on the mystery of the Eucharist. Without the Eucharist, he was implying, we would have no religion at all.

(Why Priests, Introduction, p. 2)

Gary Wills’ proposal is going to be shocking to traditionalist Roman Catholics, partly because it would require a radical change in Roman Catholicism, and partly because that radical change would like the Reformation, at least as to a substantial part of its ecclesiology (his position was compared to that of Luther in the New York Times).

We hold to the priesthood of believers, and maintain that Christians have direct access to God through the sole mediation of Christ. Thus, we reject the idea of merely human priests, affirming instead the apostolic model of a church without priests.

Wills’ proposal is one that is surprisingly ecumenical. While there would still be certain issues regarding worship that would need to be addressed, removal of the priesthood would be a major stepping stone toward Roman Catholicism being in ecumenical union with “Protestants.”

Will Will’s proposal be adopted? It seems unlikely. Those in power in Rome have every vested interest in maintaining the structures of power that require a priesthood.

-TurretinFan

P.S. I seriously doubt that any of Garry Wills’ books (from his prize winning books, to his least well recognized books, and including this book) has been submitted for nihil obstat or imprimatur. Naturally, a book (like Why Priests?) that argues as one of its main points that there shouldn’t be priests, is not a good candidate for either certification.


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