Archive for the ‘Gene Bridges’ Category

Clarification on the Tri-Partite Division of the Law

December 12, 2008

I have received a few comments from readers on my previous post on the three-fold division of the law given by Moses (link).

A first comment comes from Stephen Garrett, who asked:

Where is your scriptural support for dividing the law into those three categories of moral, ceremonial, and civil?
Are we under the lawgiver Moses or the lawgiver Christ? The Old Covenant or the New? Or, perhaps a little of both?
Is the sabbath law moral, ceremonial, or civil? How much of the Sabbath laws are binding on Christians of the New Covenant?
Is there a command in the New Testament to observe Sabbath or a condemnation for doing so?

(minor changes for spelling/formatting)I answer:
The three categories are useful bins, as it were, among which the various laws given by Moses can be organized. Many more sub-bins could be created. For example, within the bin of “moral law” there are two sub-bins: “first table” and “second table,” and then within those bins, the bins of “first commandment,” “second commandment,” etc. It’s mostly a matter of helpful organization of what the Old Testament provides. If someone wanted to use other labels for these categories, we wouldn’t object. If someone wanted to try to understand the Bible without these categories, we think they would have more difficulty, but we wouldn’t insist that making these distinctions is a core tenet of orthodoxy.
We are not living in Old Testament Israel. The Nation of Israel was destroyed around A.D. 70 by the Romans. Their civil laws consequently are not binding on us. We are not under Moses in that sense. Recall that Jesus himself told his disciples that the scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses’ seat and consequently were to be obeyed. There was not necessarily a tension, therefore, between being obedient to the civil laws of Moses and being a follower (disciple) of Christ. Nevertheless, as I already said, the nation of Israel was destroyed as such, and even if the civil laws of Moses should apply to the modern nation-state of Israel (something I don’t want to get into), most of us don’t live there and consequently are not under those civil laws.
Christ was not an earthly king. As he said, “My kingdom is not of this world….” (John 18:36). Thus, Christ did not provide a new civil law or usher in a Christian nation-state. Accordingly, with respect to the civil law, there is no “updated” form.
With respect to the moral law, Christ republished the Mosaic law both by identifying as the greatest commandment to love God and as the second commandment to love one’s neighbor. Additionally, we find each of the other ten commandments republished in the New Testament, confirming their continued applicability.
With respect to the ceremonial law, Christ fulfilled the law, and on his death “the
the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.” (Luke 23:45) Those shadows are gone, since we now have the reality. Accordingly, it is not only not required that we sacrifice animals, it would be an act of impiety for us to do so, since it would suggest that we do not understand that we have a better sacrifice: Christ the Lamb of God.
So, the dichotomy of “Moses the Lawgiver vs. Christ the Lawgiver,” doesn’t seem proper.
The law of the sabbath (one day in seven to be a day of rest and worship) is not, strictly speaking, a Mosaic provision. It was republished by Moses, but it was a Creation ordinance, like marriage. It does point forward, but it points forward to heaven. It is part of the ten commandments and properly considered “moral,” for that reason. It is a blessing, something “made for man.” (Mark 2:27) Christ did not come to take away that blessing. The other sabbaths would appear to be mostly civil, relating to land use and slavery. I would love to get into those issues in more detail some other time.
Hopefully, these responses answer Mr. Garrett’s questions.
I had written in another (but related) post, “The prohibition on garments of mixed fibres was a ceremonial law pointing to separation and physical purity. It was fulfilled in Christ, who was free from impurities.”
Mr. Gene Bridges responded: “Actually, this would, as I recall, be a concrete instance of the moral law. Wearing clothes of two fibers would have been, in that society, a signal one believed in sympathetic magic. It’s on the same level as the prohibition of boiling a kid in it’s mother’s milk.” The main problem with this analysis is that one could say the same thing about the dietary laws, since a number of the Canaanite nations evidently used unclean animals (such as the pig) in their sacrificial systems.
Recall that the New Testament approach is still not to participate in the pagan religions (whether by drinking blood or eating things sacrificed to idols – see Acts 15:20 and 29) although when purchasing food, no investigation was required (1 Corinthians 10:25).

In any event, while there may have been an underlying moral reason for the various separation-related customs, those customs are not themselves moral laws. Keep in mind that, in the first context, the prohibition on mixed-fiber garments was together with a prohibition on making mules and co-mingling crops (Leviticus 19:19) and in the second context was together with not co-mingling seeds in vineyard planting, plowing with an ox and an ass, and making fringes in the four quarters of one’s garment (Deuteronomy 22:9-12). This supports the point I had made that these customs relate to the image of separation from impurity.

Recall as well as the mixed-plowing prohibition being used by Paul as an illustration of improper partnership between Christian and non-Christian.

Mr. Bridges continued: “The most severe penalty would, indeed, have been death for the impenitent. There isn’t, IMO, as concrete a separation between uses of the law as many think.” (minor spelling change) I don’t see anything in the Mosaic law permitting death for someone who, for example, stubbornly refuses to stop wearing mixed-fiber clothes. I’m open to being corrected, but so far I haven’t seen it.

Hopefully this addresses Brother Bridges’ concerns. Next, we have a comment from Nick:

I am [Roman] Catholic, but I think the key problem in discussions with Protestants is that we don’t understand each other when it comes to ‘faith versus works of the law’ (Rom 3:28).
You said the Judaizers looked to impose some/all of the ceremonial law, but I think that is inaccurate.
They pushed circumcision because circumcision was formally subscribing to embrace the whole Mosaic Covenant, not just ceremonial parts (Gal 5:3).
Thus, when Paul said we are saved apart from works of the Law he meant the whole Mosaic Law, not just ceremonial.
I think this issue hits at the heart of the Protestant-[Roman] Catholic dispute, because it clarifies why Paul was arguing for justification apart from the Law. From my reading and discussions with Protestants, they basically propose an ‘either/or’ message for Paul in the form of: ‘Either you obey the whole Mosaic Law or you trust Jesus did it for you.’
This is where the “Righteousness of Christ” comes in, and I think where the Protestant side has it seriously wrong and foreign to Paul’s thought process. The issue for Paul was that the Mosaic Covenant cannot save, while only the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit can and does. This makes the notion of imputation and the “righteousness of Christ” non sequitur in Paul’s teaching.
I’d like to see your thoughts on this issue, because I think once these issues are clarified the [Roman] Catholic position will agree with the Biblical evidence.
p.s. are you the Tur8in guy from AOmin?

(minor spelling and formatting change; the “Roman” in brackets is, of course, my own insertion) I answer:
Last things first, yes, I am the same Tur8inFan from the Team Apologian blog at Alpha and Omega Ministries (link).
Nick said, “I think the key problem in discussions with Protestants is that we don’t understand each other when it comes to ‘faith versus works of the law’ (Rom 3:28).” This can occur. Of course, it is important to distinguish between some sort of broad category like “Protestants,” and focus on the Reformed position here, because “Protestants” has become more of a basket for non-Roman Catholic than anything else.
The Reformed position is that it is not anything that man does that saves man. This seems to be the point of Paul in Romans 3:28.

After all, Paul declares, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” This conclusion is the conclusion to the fact that boasting is excluded (Romans 3:27) by the law of faith. Rather than working for our salvation, we trust in the finished work of Christ.

This is where we part ways from the Roman and Arminian views of salvation. We hold that by faith we trust in the work of another: Christ. Thus, we view “works of the law” as broadly corresponding to all activity undertaken by men to please God.

Nick wrote, “You said the Judaizers looked to impose some/all of the ceremonial law, but I think that is inaccurate. They pushed circumcision because circumcision was formally subscribing to embrace the whole Mosaic Covenant, not just ceremonial parts (Gal 5:3).” I don’t see anything to suggest that they also wanted to impose the civil law. One would have to check to be sure, but I think the diaspora Jews did not attempt to enforce the full scope of the civil laws of Moses on their host communities (and how could they, being a minority?). I doubt the Judaizers would have exceeded the diaspora Jews in that regarded. Obviously, the Palestinian Jews continued to live under the civil laws of Moses (in a somewhat modified form in view of the Roman laws) until around 70 A.D. (in Jerusalem). Circumcision was a token of the ceremonial parts of the law.

Nick wrote, “Thus, when Paul said we are saved apart from works of the Law he meant the whole Mosaic Law, not just ceremonial.” It’s even broader than that, I think. He meant not just by obedience to the Mosaic law itself, but by any obedience. Obedience is not what saves. Recall that it is not that there was a defect in the law of Moses. If any law could have saved, it was that law.

Nick wrote, “I think this issue hits at the heart of the Protestant-[Roman] Catholic dispute, because it clarifies why Paul was arguing for justification apart from the Law. From my reading and discussions with Protestants, they basically propose an ‘either/or’ message for Paul in the form of: ‘Either you obey the whole Mosaic Law or you trust Jesus did it for you.'” Perhaps an even more important clarification should be made here. There are various types and forms of “Protestant.” I certainly don’t speak for them all. I am Reformed. The Reformed alternatives are either you perfectly obey the moral law of God, or you trust in Christ to save you by his righteousness. Since one cannot perfectly obey the moral law of God, one must trust in Christ to save one.

That is Paul’s point: either one must perfectly obey God’s law, thereby seizing the Covenant of Works by his own acts, or one must trust in the Perfect Mediator of the New Covenant, and him alone, for salvation.

Nick wrote: “This is where the “Righteousness of Christ” comes in, and I think where the Protestant side has it seriously wrong and foreign to Paul’s thought process. The issue for Paul was that the Mosaic Covenant cannot save, while only the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit can and does. This makes the notion of imputation and the “righteousness of Christ” non sequitur in Paul’s teaching.” The issue of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ is clear in Paul’s teaching. For example:

Romans 4:6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,

And elsewhere:

Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a blessing.

Psalm 51:11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

The Holy Spirit’s indwelling is a token or promise of blessings to come:

Romans 8:11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

1 Corinthians 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

Ephesians 1:13-14
13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

Notice that word “earnest.” That is sort of the downpayment or bond on the inheritance of glory to come. The Holy Spirit is also consequently referred to an official stamp or seal, testifying to the same purpose:

2 Corinthians 1:22 Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.

Ephesians 4:30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

And evidence of the Spirit can be seen in the fruit that Spirit brings forth in our lives:

Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Ephesians 5:9 (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)

Nick concluded, “I’d like to see your thoughts on this issue, because I think once these issues are clarified the [Roman] Catholic position will agree with the Biblical evidence.” Actually, the Biblical evidence is rather one-sided in favor of the Reformed position. There is a genetic reason for this: the Reformed doctrines were derived from Scripture, whereas the Roman Catholic position was not. The Roman Catholic approach to theology has not been exegesis, leading to some serious concerns particularly beginning at the start of the 20th century regarding the relationship between exegesis and dogma. Even now, there is still work being done to try to harmonize the work (in Catholicism) of theologians and exegetes. As you may or may not know, in Catholicism, the theologians role is to find support for doctrines of the church in the sources of revelation. In contrast, the exegete (and theologian in Reformed theology) begins with Scripture and derives doctrine therefrom.

That’s why the Reformed churches have the Biblical edge.



Cur Deus Homo? Further Response to Horne

August 10, 2008

Gene Bridges provided the following comments (link) which I have reproduced in part below:

As you noted, stating that the Covenant of Grace is in some way “conditional” or “conditioned” on faith does not lead to it being (a) meritorious or (b) pactum merit. Indeed that’s a non sequitur.

Turretin (the real one) went over this as hyper-Calvinism arose among the Supras/High Calvinists of his period. FT distinguished between faith as a meritorious condition and faith as an instrumental condition. We affirm the latter, not the former. Since the reason people believe is due to effectual calling/regeneration and that is only by way of grace that is applied by the Spirit, which comes a result of the atonement, which was accomplished by the Son in obedience to the Father (notice the Trinitarian relation-a relation the FVists often discuss), it is all of grace, as you say. Ergo, while affirming the latter (instrumental conditionality) we deny the former (that the CoG would be meritorious).

FT drew this distinction of conditions in the face of those who were seeking to collapse the decrees, and thus the conditions, into one, and therefore misconstruing the CoG. By collapsing the decrees, there were questions that arose as to the nature of conditions. In their day, they were asking if the CoG is wholly unconditional or conditional. FT’s reply was in essence that it is unconditional with respect to merit (being that it is of grace) yet conditional with respect to instrumentality. Sound like a familiar problem today…?

I answer:

Gene, there is a strong interconnect between the issue of faith’s role as condition or instrument (as well as the nature/basis of the hypothetical merit of Adam and the actual merit of the active obedience of Christ), and the issue of the atonement.

It is interesting to hear Pastor Horne turning as he does in the comments we were discussing (link) to Anselm’s “Cur Deus Homo,” which is usually thought of as a work on the atonement.

It seems that:

a) He (i.e. Pastor Horne) overlooks the role of sin in necessitating the incarnation. Contrary to Hodge et al., he seems to imagine that it is simply the fact that we are creatures that prevents us from having merit. Thus, he overlooks original sin: both in its effect of imputed guilt and in its effect of total depravity.

b) He also overlooks that Anselm states “Now it is not by any means to be supposed that the good angels were confirmed by the fall of the evil, but by their own merit. For as the good, if they had sinned with the evil, would have been condemned together with them; so the unrighteous, had they remained steadfast with the just, would have been equally confirmed in grace. For if some of them were to be confirmed only by the fall of others, either none would ever be confirmed, or it would be necessary that one should fall, who should be punished for the sake of the confirmation of the others; both of which are absurd.” (Cur Deus Homo, Book 1, Chapter XVII) While I do not fully agree with Anselm on this (I do not think confirmation in obedience was according to the merit of obedience, but according to grace) Pastor Horne’s appeal to Anselm is clearly erroneous, for Anselm does not build his argument on the theory that creatures qua creatures are unable to obtain merit of any kind.

c) He also overlooks that Anselm states: “So, therefore, when the angel had the power of depriving himself of righteousness, and did not so deprive himself, and had the power of causing himself not to be righteous, and did not so cause himself, he is rightly asserted to have given himself his own righteousness, and to have made himself righteous. In this way, therefore, has he his righteousness from himself, (for a creature can in no other way have it from himself,) and on that account is he to be praised for his righteousness; and he is righteous, not from necessity, but from free will, since that is improperly termed necessity in which there is neither
compulsion nor prohibition.” (Cur Deus Homo, Book 2, Chapter X) This, while not using the word “merit,” conveys a similar concept. As can be seen from the same chapter, a little further on, when Anselm asks the following penetrating question: “What do you say of God, who cannot sin; (and yet He did not merit this by having had the power of sinning and not sinning) is not He to be praised for His righteousness?”

Likewise, Pastor Horne appears to have the same thing in mind when he argues “Horton, if I recall, is all concerned about protecting Christ’s merit. I don’t see how that can fail to be proper merit without denying the absolute necessity of Christ’s work. There is a history of doing so among some of the Reformed, but I think it is now largely resisted and should be.” (source) But in this:

d)He overlooks that the merit of Christ’s active obedience in fulfilling the law is pactum merit. It is by the covenant of works that Christ as man deserves life on account of his obedience. That’s what makes his death significant. If he did not merit life, he would be dying for himself.

e) He also overlooks that Christ’s so-called passive obedience in suffering and dying on the cross can also be viewed pactum merit. It is not pactum merit vis-a-vis the covenant of works, but the covenant of grace. Christ’s humiliation is the condition of the covenant of grace (not our faith, as has already been distinguished in the preceding posts on this subject). It should be noted of course, that as Thomas Boston explains:

Secondly, How does the narrow way lead to life ? And,
1st. NEG. Not by way of merit, proper or improper. Proper merit is what arises from the intrinsic worth of the thing done, fully proportioned to the reward. Such is the merit of Christ’s obedience and death. But no such merit can be in our works ; for there is no proportion between our obedience and eternal life, whatever the papists pretend; Rom. viii. 18; 2 Cor. iv. 17; and whatever they be, they are due from us to God; Rom. viii. 12; Luke xvii. 10. Improper merit is what arises from paction ensuring such a reward on such a work as the condition thereof; so that the work being performed, the reward becomes a debt. So Adam’s perfect obedience would have been meritorious, namely by paction. But no such merit is in our works. Legal protestants advance this, though they do not call it merit, while they pretend that God has promised eternal life on condition of our obedience; thinking it enough to free them from the doctrine of merit, that they do not pretend to an intrinsic worth in the works, proportioned to the reward. But what more do they yield in this, than innocent Adam behoved to have yielded, had he perfected his obedience? Do they not hereby confound the two covenants? for all the difference remains only in degrees, which do not alter the kind. The scripture rejects this as well as the other;
Rom. iv. 4, and vi. 23. Paul would not lippen to it; Phil. iii. 9.

(Thomas Boston, Whole Works of the Late Reverend Thomas Boston, Volume X, p. 376 – 1851 ed.)

Thus, we acknowledge that Christ’s death, as the God-man, was (because of the dignity of his person) of infinite intrinsic merit, although we likewise acknowledge that such merit would have been completely without applicable value, if God had not condescended (as legislator) to permit substitution of the offender in the punishment of sin. In contrast, the dignity of a mere image of God is much less demanding only life for life (Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.).

f) Indeed, he overlooks the interconnection between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The only way that the death of an innocent man can be pleasing to God is upon the two-fold bases that (a) the innocent man’s death is being offered on behalf of someone else and (b) that the someone else is guilty.

g) He overlooks the general impossibility of anyone meriting anything from God in the strict sense. To assert that anyone can merit (in the strict sense) anything from God would seem to be a denial of the impassivity of God. If someone will argue from Christ’s deity that impassivity is not implicated, we may likewise note that Christ did all things whatsoever he did in obedience to the will of the Father, which likewise prevents them from being acts of strict merit (though we may note that they were still deserving of glory).

At the end of the day, it is Horne who overlooks why God had to become man: the covenant of works (the law) had to be fulfilled, and so did the covenant of grace. By the merit obtained under the covenant of works, and the substitution permitted under the covenant of grace, Christ merited life for those for whom he died.

It was necessary because Christ’s righteousness is the only pure righteousness acceptable to God under the covenants. No other righteousness will do: not the righteousness of the Apostles, of the prophets, or of the greatly blessed and highly favored mother of our Lord – for they were all sinners, both by virtue of Adam’s sin (as it is written, Romans 5:19 “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”) and their own sin (as it is written, Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”). Only Christ’s righteousness can save, and it can and does save completely. God graciously accepts Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of those for whom it is offered by Christ. Thus, justice is satisfied while mercy is shown.

Praise be to our Loving God,


P.S. Perhaps it would of interest to some of my readers to provide a part of a poem by Ralph Erskine:

The law of works we introduce,
As if old merit were in use,
When man could life by doing won,
Ev’n though the work by grace were done.

Old Adam in his innocence
Deriv’d his power of doing hence —
As all he could was wholly due;
So all the working strength he knew,

No merit but of paction could
Of men or angels e’er be told;
The God-man only was so high
To merit by condignity.

Were life now promis’d to our act,
Or to our works by paction tack’d ;
Though God should his assistance grant,
Tis still a doing covenant.

Though Heav’n its helping grace should yield,
Yet merit’s still upon the field;
We cast the name, yet still ’tis found
Disclaim’d but with a verbal sound.

If one should borrow tools from you.
That he some famous work might do;
When once his work is well prepar’d,
He sure deserves his due reward:

Yea, justly may he claim his due,
Although he borrow’d tools from you:
Ev’n thus the borrow’d strength of grace
Can’t hinder merit to take place.

From whence soe’er we borrow pow’rs,
If life depend on works of ours;
Or if we make the gospel thus
In any sort depend on us;

We give the law the gospel-place,
Rewards of debt the room of grace;
We mix Heav’ns treasure with our trash,
And magnify corrupted flesh.

Gospel Sonnets, pp. 301-02 (1870 ed.), Ralph Erskine

Contraception Excursion

August 2, 2008

Matthew Bellisario has posted a blog entry responding to Gene Bridge’s comments on a tangential aspect of the on-going Sola Scriptura debate (link to debate) (link to Gene’s comments – first commentsecond comment) (link to MB’s Response – caution: large purported image of Jesus at top of site: a fact that will probably be of note only to my more Puritanically inclined readers). (UPDATE: Incidentally, welcome to those visiting via Mr. Greco’s link … you may be particularly interested in the sidebar debate taking place in this post’s comment box.)

The comment that my friend Gene Bridges made, which provoked Matthew Bellisario was, as stated by MB: “He says that Catholicism does not condemn contraception, but only distinguishes between natural and artificial contraception.”

In support of Gene’s comment, I submit the following evidence: “The second area which His Holiness would stress is that of promotion. He repeats his encouragement and gratitude to all those who work for the promotion of natural family planning, whether directly with couples, or in medical and social endeavors.” and “It is important that public authorities and international bodies, medical personnel and social workers, marriage counsellors and educators should recognize the high positive values that are to be found in the natural methods, in which the dignity of the human person is fostered: a knowledge and understanding of fertility help to assure personal autonomy by liberating couples from artificial means, while leading them to a degree of sexual self-mastery which is in direct contrast with the permissiveness and promiscuity that today constitute grave social problems to be solved.” (source – note that this is from the official Vatican website)

The comments above are part of a message from pope Paul VI (sent by Cardinal Villot to Cardinal Cooke on May 24, 1978). If that evidence does not demonstrate exactly what Gene Bridges was saying, I don’t know what would.

Nevertheless, let’s examine Bellisario’s rather interesting counter-argument.

1) He quotes this definition: “Contraception is “any action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act [sexual intercourse], or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” (Humanae Vitae 14).”

2) He argues that “Those using what the Church considers to be natural is not really contraception at all. In fact even if one follows the NFP [Natural Family Planning] it is never 100% and therefore the person is not acting in a way as to eliminate the pro creative [sic] from the act itself.”

3) He ignores that even the use of barrier and chemical methods have a less than 100% success rate in preventing procreation.

In other words, if one ignores the plainest and simplest meaning of “contraception” (i.e. a practice that limits or avoids conceiving children – aka pre-conception birth control), in favor of a meaning that requires that the act have an 100% success rate, one can avoid distinguishing between NFP and artificial contraception – but at the cost of permitting most forms of contraception, including forms (such as the use of certain latex products) that everyone knows Catholicism opposes.

So, when one evaluates MB’s accusation, “This Gene Bridges hasn’t a clue as to what in the world he is talking about, nor what The Catholic Church teaches,” one may find oneself arriving at a very different conclusion from that of Mr. Bellisario.


N.B.I have intentionally avoided discussing the issues raised in the debate regarding the significance (or not) of this matter to the topic of Sola Scriptura.

UPDATE: August 3, 2008 – MB has provided a second post (link – same 2nd commandment warning as above) in which he continues to refuse to let Gene Bridges’ statement have any meaning. Apparently, Gene Bridges is not allowed (in MB’s world) to disagree with MB’s church over what constitutes “contraception.” Why is this not just impolite but absurd?

Maybe an analogy would be helpful:

Suppose that Gene’s church claimed to be against gambling, but suppose that they actually permitted betting on horse races. Someone would be within their rights to say that Gene’s church was actually only against certain kinds of gambling. If Gene replied that his church defined gambling as betting on cards, and that consequently the critic has no idea what they are talking about, we’d laugh him out of town.

The same goes here. MB’s church defines contraception (according to MB) in a way that excludes certain kinds of things that actually prevent conception. The fact that MB’s church supposedly defines contraception only to include things that they prohibit is a laughable defense to the natural vs. artificial critique. In fact, Natural Family Planning (NFP) is often used expressly to engage in sexual intercourse without producing conception. That’s a contraceptive practice, broadly defined – just as betting on horses is gambling, broadly defined.

MB’s response that “The prior post I that put up explains what the Church teaches as a definition of contraception … NFP does not fall into that category,” is exactly as convincing as Gene’s hypothetical response that “My previous comment explains what my church teaches as a definition of gambling … betting on horses does not fall into that category,” would be: not at all. If Gene in that hypothetical example then tacked on insults about the critic not knowing what he was talking about, or the like, we’d say he wasn’t just absurd, but rude too.

Of course, the most absurd aspect of the whole discussion about contraception is the fact that MB’s church is plainly wrong. If there is anything wrong with contraception (and there is no need to debate that here or at all), it has nothing to do with how that contraception is accomplished (whether by spilling it on the ground, using a piece of latex, or only having carnal knowledge of one’s wife when there is low “risk” of conception). There’s nothing inherently sinful about wearing latex, or particularly righteous about keeping track of fecundity with a calendar and thermometer.

In fact, if contraception is not an illicit goal, then arguably the technique of abstaining from that kind of physical intimacy for one to two weeks a month is wrong (because although contraception is not itself an illicit goal it may be an insufficient justification for withholding sexual relations within marriage), while wearing a contraceptive device would be acceptable in God’s eyes (since it would permit the continuity of sexual relations).

FURTHER UPDATE: August 3, 2008 – MB has posted yet a third post on this subject. (link – same warning as usual). MB still does not get that NFP is contraceptive behavior. He even makes the claim: “So now am I going to let these two define what is an act or is not considered to be an act by their own musings? I think not. NFP cannot be a form of contraception because there is no act causing it. There is nothing that keeps the sexual act from happening except for abstinence. In order for Bridges and Tf to be right they would have to prove that every couple not engaged in sexual intercourse would be considered to be engaging in a contraceptive act. This is complete nonsense.”

MB’s argument falls apart again, when one scrutinizes it logically:

1 (per MB): NFP consists of not engaging in carnal knowledge at certain times.
2 (per MB): Not engaging in carnal knowledge is not an act.
ergo: NFP is not an act, consequently NFP cannot be a contraceptive act.

At first glance, this might seem to have merit. How can not doing anything be an act? But if we apply it to an analogy, we can soon realize how foolish it is:

1 (analogy): Neglect consists in not feeding one’s children.
2 (analogy): Not feeding one’s children is not an act.
ergo: Neglect is not an act, and consequently cannot be an improper act.

I hope everyone realizes that such an argument is absurd.

But MB tags on a little something extra: he claims that, “In order for Bridges and Tf to be right they would have to prove that every couple not engaged in sexual intercourse would be considered to be engaging in a contraceptive act.”

On the other hand, however, that’s a bit like saying that to be right about the analogy one would have to prove that every family not engaged in feeding their children would be considered to be engaging in neglect. Both claims (both MB’s and that of the person in the analogy) are overblown.

All we have to show is what everybody with any brains already has figured out: people who are using NFP to avoid conceiving children are engaging in a contraceptive technique. The technique even has a name: the rhythm method.

In his pontificating, MB finally decides to expose his lack of familiarity with issues relating to contraception: “We can also see that TF still does not understand what NFP is either, after I have explained it in my earlier posts, because he says its failure rate is the same as the “withdrawal method?” What? Once again I am baffled here.”

But the bafflement is really not our fault. MB should do his research. Here’s a link providing an example of the statistics of failure rate for NFP/rhythm method (link). Here’s a link providing an example of the statistics on the failure rate of the withdrawal method (link). As you can see, the failure rate is about 20% in both cases. Of course, that’s the “in practice” failure rate, as opposed to the “perfectly performed” failure rate. One hopes that MB will read and learn.

MB even goes further and complains about GB and I supposedly being reticent to admit a mistake. MB’s a bit hasty in this regard. GB probably hasn’t even yet seen MB’s correction regarding the withdrawal method, and I did not adopt GB’s position. Apparently, MB is desperate for an example of an error, and so he’s trying to latch firmly on to this issue of the withdrawal method not being kosher among papists.

But before we close, let’s get back to that ridiculous logic that because NFP involves abstaining from sexual relations, therefore it cannot be considered a contraceptive technique. By that logic:

1. Fasting cannot be a meritorious act, since it is simply abstaining from eating.
2. Virginity cannot be a virtuous state, since it is simply abstaining from sexual intercourse.
3. Celibacy (i.e. what many mistake for chastity) … see (2).
4. Sobriety cannot be a virtuous lifestyle, since it is simply avoiding drunkenness.

In short, no patterns of negative behavior can be good, if no patterns of negative behavior can be bad. Of course, no good member of the church that is in communion with Benedict XVI can rightly deny the virtue of fasting, virginity, “chastity,” and sobriety, even though those are primarily negative activities: abstentions from various otherwise desired acts.

NFP (i.e. the rhythm method) is just another method of conception. It may be more natural than Onanism (spilling it on the ground – sometimes equated with the withdrawal method), but it is still an intentional act (of omission) aimed at preventing reproduction. A pattern of NFP behavior in which a couple engages in sexual relations at certain times rather than others in order to avoid conception, is plainly contraceptive behavior, just as eating a small amount of food every three hours can be a weight loss technique, and limiting yourself to one beer after dinner can be a sobriety technique.

YET FURTHER UPDATE: August 3, 2008 – Not able to get enough of this subject, MB has replied yet again (link – same warning regarding prominent violation of the 2nd commandment).

Now, having demonstrated his bafflement a number of different ways, MB demonstrates that he cannot address the actual arguments presented. Instead he states: “I guess every person now who is walking the face of the earth who is married and not having sex is engaged in a contraceptive act according to TF.”

That, of course, is not what I have said. NFP can be used to enhance fertility, just as it can be used to promote infertility. Couples who are not making love today in order to make love more productively tomorrow are obviously engaged in conceptive behavior, just as couples who are consciously forgoing lovemaking today to avoid conception are engaging in contraceptive activity.

NFP is to sexual activity as dieting is eating. Both are negative activities, designed to alter the consequences of the abstained-from activity in some way, as part of pattern of behavior.

Finally, MB crosses the line:

“We also see that they can make false statements like telling us the “withdrawal method” is approved by the Catholic Church, and then once they realize they are wrong the [sic] try and [sic] sidestep the issue. Unbelievable here folks. But this is par for the course when dealing with these guys. Truth has no place in their thinking.”

a) Truth has no place in their thinking? That’s an outrageous statement, even for Bellisario. In fact, Bellisario hasn’t even waited to hear Gene’s response! Talk about not caring about the truth: Bellisario is rushing to accuse Gene of not caring about the truth without waiting to see Gene’s response to the claim that Gene made a mistake.

b) Par for the course when dealing with these guys? More rhetorical banter.

c) They try to sidestep the issue? It would be more accurate to say that MB has been trying to dodge the issue from square one: the issue being Catholicism’s irrational distinction between contraception using the rhythm method and other forms of contraception. Whether they also accept the withdrawal method is a moot point, except for Bellisario’s urgent quest to find some mistake (not matter how small) in my friend Gene’s statement.

d) “They” can make false statements? Even assuming that Bellisario could establish that Catholicism condemns the withdrawal method (not just by the ordinary, but by the extraordinary magisterium), how does Gene turn into “they”? Of course, we know how it turns into “they,” because it’s convenient for the rhetorical opponent-bashing that MB has decided to engage in.

Finally, MB wraps up his post with a link to try to bolster the invalid distinction between contraception and natural family planning.

And again, here’s another quotation from materials from the Vatican’s own web site, reinforcing Gene Bridge’s original comment:

“6. This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the publication by my predecessor Pope Paul VI of the Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae. The truth about human sexuality, and the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life and on responsible parenthood, must be presented in the light of the theological development which has followed that document, and in the light of the experience of couples who have faithfully followed this teaching. Many couples have experienced how natural family planning promotes mutual respect, encourages tenderness between husband and wife, and helps develop an authentic inner freedom (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2370; Humanae Vitae, 21). Their experience deserves to be shared, for it is the living confirmation of the truth which Humanae Vitae teaches. In contrast, there is a growing awareness of the serious harm caused to marital relationships by recourse to artificial contraception, which, because it inevitably thwarts the total self-giving implied in the conjugal act, at one and the same time destroys its procreative meaning and weakens its unitive significance (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 13).” (link to source – Official Vatican website)

Here’s another:

“Their humanizing character is all the more obvious from the fact that using the natural methods requires and strengthens the harmony of the married couple, it helps and confirms the rediscovery of the marvellous gift of parenthood, it involves respect for nature and demands the responsibility of the individuals. According to many authoritative opinions, they also foster more completely that human ecology which is the harmony between the demands of nature and personal behaviour.” (link to source – Official Vatican website)

UPDATE: August 4, 2008 – MB still continues to hope to deny that rhythmic contraception is contraception. (link – same warnings about a big picture that aims to portray the second person of the Trinity) It’s somewhat amusing, because MB rushes to call GB a liar (as noted above). Now, when GB starts to explain himself, MB continues to suggest the GB is just making stuff up. I think it is apparent who is more familiar with the topic, between the two of them. MB claims that he has proved that “the Church” has not endorsed the withdrawal method. Of course, a more carefully reading of Gene’s comments is that Gene has asserted that there is no infallible condemnation of the withdrawal method. As far as I can see from MB’s 5 posts (so far) on the subject, MB has been unable to point to any infallible condemnation of the withdrawal method.

MB points to individual statements of individual popes, but while there is a sense in which such teachings are the teachings of the Church, they are not normally considered “infallible,” a fact that MB very well knows.

Furthermore, while MB claims that the very general remarks that he quotes “would include the ‘withdrawal method’,” they certainly don’t specify that method. Furthermore, MB simply fails to address GB’s point that those comments have been interpreted as referring to acts involving mechanical and chemical intervention.

MB even fails to see such an interpretation popping out at him from a quotation be pulls down from the Official Vatican web site: “Their experience deserves to be shared, for it is the living confirmation of the truth which Humanae Vitae teaches. In contrast, there is a growing awareness of the serious harm caused to marital relationships by recourse to artificial contraception, which, because it inevitably thwarts the total self-giving implied in the conjugal act, at one and the same time destroys its procreative meaning and weakens its unitive significance.” (emphasis added for those who have trouble reading)

And, of course, as noted above – this is all just a minor tangent as far as I am concerned. Everyone sees that Catholicism promotes rhythmic contraception, whether or not anyone wants to argue about their promotion of other kinds of non-artificial contraception.

Additionally, MB provides an article that attempts to dissect the various intentions in rhythmic contraception as distinct from other kinds of contraception. The clarity of the article leaves something to be desired. But it reduces to this:

1. There is an intention to do the act (drink an elixir or abstain from sex); and
2. There is an intention for the act (to avoid conceiving children).

The problem with the attempt to divide these intentions (and it is not an invalid distinction), is that the condemnation of other forms of contraception than the rhythm method must incorporate the type (2) intention, while to permit rhythmic contraception, one must ignore type (2) intention.

In other words, there is nothing sinful about intending to wear latex or drink a draught of chemicals. There’s nothing intrinsically evil about latex or progesterone (or whatever). There’s nothing intrinsically evil about putting on one or drinking the other. If anything makes their use wrong, it is the type (2) intention: the intention that the act is aimed: avoiding conception.

But the same is true of rhythmic contraception. The acts of measuring body temperature and mucosal quality, and scheduling intercourse are not intrinsically evil, but (assuming that contraception is an illicit end) the use to which scheduling is put can be wrong.

In other words, the attempt to assert that it is ambiguity in “intent” that leads to a distinction between rhythmic and other kinds of contraception is not a legitimate attempt. It fails, as has been demonstrated.

UPDATE: August 4, 2008 – Mr. Bellisario has not yet had enough of the topic of contraception. Although he offers no defense of the faulty logic, he throws around a few insults and links to yet another article that he thinks proves that NFP is not contraception. Ironically, even the abstract of the article distinguishes between “artificial” contraception and NFP. (link to Bellisario’s insult-riddled post – with the same warning as above, that one will be exposed to an enormous attempted portrayal of my Lord and Savior, the Alpha and Omega).

There is some sense in which the article that MB links to, attempts to address the objection that rhythmic contraception is just another form of contraception. It doesn’t do so by the ipse dixit approach (“we just define contraception thus and so”), but by distinguishing the moral basis.

The core of the article’s argument is this:

There is, strictly speaking, no such thing as moving the sexual act from one time to another time. Suppose one wants to say the act is “moved” from a fertile Monday to an infertile Friday. But one cannot say this. A human act is something that is unrepeatably defined temporally. A sexual act on Monday and a sexual act on Friday are two different acts. The act of abstaining from the sexual act on Monday and of engaging in a sexual act on Friday is not an act of transferring the sexual act from Monday to Friday, because it is a logical impossibility, strictly speaking, to transfer a specific act. The unrepeatable Monday-sexual-act cannot be moved to Friday any more than one can move the Monday itself to Friday.

This argument relies on the reader agreeing with the concept that a human act cannot be moved. In fact, such an expression is common. For example, one might say: “I will mow the lawn on Tuesday, instead of Monday this week, since Monday I will be too busy responding to articles linked by my esteemed colleague.”

We would all be comfortable with such an expression. In fact it is quite an ordinary way of speaking. There’s a certain poetry to saying that a specific act cannot be moved in time from one place to another, but – in fact – that is exactly what rescheduling is.

Furthermore, such rescheduling has moral significance. The law of the Sabbath provides a great example. As the reader may recall, labor is generally prohibited on the Sabbath. Consequently, it is necessary to move some labor from the Sabbath to another day. In the time of the wilderness journey, when the Sabbath was on Saturday, the people of Israel moved their food-gathering of Manna from Saturday to Friday, collecting twice as much as usual on Friday in preparation for the Sabbath (at least, those who were obedient did).

It is obvious that they are not transporting the act of gathering food through time in any mystical way, but simply rescheduling. Nevertheless, scheduling (and rescheduling) are real acts, and they do involve moving the action being scheduled from one time to another.

It may well be that “mowing the lawn on the Sabbath” and “mowing the lawn on Friday” are two “different acts” if one sophistically attempts to define the act to include the date of the act. Nevertheless, just as there is virtue in rescheduling the lawn mowing to Friday from the Sabbath (because avoiding work on the Sabbath is virtuous), there is evil in rescheduling sexual relations to avoid conceiving (if, in fact, contraception [trying to avoid conception] is an illicit end).

In short, we can see both from ordinary speech and the analogy to the Sabbath that the argument in favor of rhythmic contraception cannot be maintained on the grounds provided in the article by Alexander Pruss, to which MB linked.

UPDATE: August 5, 2008 – MB continues his campaign of accusations against my friend Gene, this time calling him a “plain liar” and an “obstacle to truth.” (link – usual caveats) He compares him to Bill Clinton and says that Gene “is nothing more than a ‘Slick Willy’.”

Ironically, MB himself in his eagerness to find fault in my friend Gene, makes a rather fundamental lexical fallacy (i.e. that if a word can mean what one wants it to mean, that therefore it meant what one wants it to mean). It’s the same fallacy we see time and time again in the form of eisegesis. It’s a bit more blatant here, since MB is seemingly unwilling to read Gene’s comments as part of a harmonious whole, hoping to set one of Gene’s comments against another of his comments. The viva voce of Gene is ignored in favor of an attempt to make Gene say something Gene didn’t mean.

Interestingly, MB’s main basis for calling Gene a liar is that Gene hasn’t proved Gene’s assertion that Rome is not monolithic on the issue in question. I have to say, I rarely see this kind of impatient rush to accusation. MB doesn’t even ask nicely, he demands. I suspect that Gene may be waiting patiently to see how much mud MB will throw and how extreme his assertions will get, before revealing his sources. In fact, having taken a peek around the Internet, I think I may be able to see where Gene is going with this.

Regardless, what is interesting is that MB has gotten so caught up in mocking and accusing (though his accusations have shifted) that he has lost sight of the bottom line.

*** end of update ***

Bottom Line: Rhythmic contraception (NFP applied to avoid conception) is a type of contraception, and (seemingly) the only kind currently widely accepted in Catholicism. It is considered “natural” and the other kinds are “artificial” or unnatural. That’s the terminology Rome has adopted, and Gene got in trouble with MB for repeating. I suggest MB take it up with his bishop rather than picking on my friend Gene (who, by the way, is quite capable of defending himself, if one is willing to wait 24 hours … check out the combox of this post).

Miscellaneous Responses to Orthodox

February 26, 2008

A while back (this post has been three months, thirteen days in the making), Orthodox offered a set of comments that I never fully responded to. I take this opportunity to do so.

Legend: MP (Me, i.e. TurretinFan, Previously); O (Orthodox); G (Gene Bridges) and TF (TurretinFan)
MP: A command is not an offer. The imperative command to repent and believe is consequently neither false, nor an offer.
O: Repent, believe and you will be saved is an offer by any reasonable definition thereof.
TF: It can be viewed as an offer, it can be viewed as a warning, and it can even be viewed as a threat. It can even be viewed as an opportunity. Just about any command can be viewed those various ways, especially commands with promise (compare, for example, the fifth commandment: Honor thy father … that thy days may be long …).

MP: Furthermore, no one is able to be sinless, and yet the law does command that. The law is not a “false offer” because it commands what man cannot do.
O: Where is the evidence that man cannot be sinless? Man chooses not to be sinless, I don’t see the evidence that man cannot be sinless. Christ commands “be perfect”. It remains the aim. That nobody has done it doesn’t prove that man cannot do it. Men would find it very difficult to do it, but not impossible.
TF: The fact that nobody has done it is strong evidence that man cannot do it. But the proof is in Scripture. Scripture explains that the natural man is at emnity with God.

MP: An affirmation of man’s ability to obey the commands is an affirmation of Pelagianism.
O: No, Pelagianism says that man can do it without the assistance of grace. Since God promises grace to those who ask, clearly this has nothing to do with Pelagianism.
TF: It is has “nothing to do with” Pelagianism in the same way that semi-Pelagianism has nothing to do with Pelagianism. But, of course, that’s not a defense of man’s ability. If you are saying that grace is required, you are affirming man’s natural inability.

MP:. If one recognizes that grace is necessary for man to obey, then one must realize that man’s ability to obey commands has nothing to do with whether the commands are fair, reasonable, or the like.
O: Not so, because God freely gives grace to those who ask. God is not asking for anything for which he doesn’t provide the means.
TF: That’s a bit different position. Nevertheless, if the question is whether God provides the means, then the question is whether God must provide such means, given the command. If so, then he does not provide the means freely, and consequently it is not properly called grace, since man would have a right to demand such means.

MP: a) Men are condemned for their sins. It would be no excuse if salvation were not offered, just as it is no excuse that not all have the gospel preached to them
O: Paul says that God’s qualities are made manifest so that men are without excuse. According to you it is unnecessary because men are without excuse anyway. Well, go argue with the apostle.
TF: God’s qualities are not the gospel. Thus, this is a fallacy of equivocation. It is also fallacy of denying the antecedent: as a logical matter, simply because they are without excuse because God has manifested Himself to them, does not imply (as a matter of logic) that they would have been with excuse if God had not revealed Himself to them.

MP: b) Men are condemned for their sins. Lack of atonement is simply the fact of the matter for those who are not “at one” with God.
O; Again, go argue with the apostle. Apparently he thinks that knowing the basics about God is a prerequisite to not having an excuse.
TF: Same fallacies here as in the previous paragraph: and perhaps even more aggravated. The apostle doesn’t address the issue of the atonement, and does not deny that men are condemned for their sins.

MP: I answer: That’s not an accurate picture of Reformed theology. If anyone truly repents and believes, they will be saved. End of story.
O: You have to [add] that “truly” [] in order to exclude a whole lot of people who sincerely believe that they repented and believe but later fall away. You are forced to make “truly” to have a special meaning []. Except that the bible never lists such a group.
TF: The apostle James in his catholic epistle discusses that group: the group with a “dead” faith.

MP: I answer: That’s a misrepresentation of the Reformed position as well as of Scripture.
a) The categories of hypocrites, self-deceived, and wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing are Biblical categories; and
O: Hypocrites are not the categories under discussion. Don’t distract from the topic by bringing in something else. What was under discussion was people who were sincere but then fell away.
TF: It seems O wants to discuss only the self-deceived.

O: As for “self-deceived”, since repentance and belief are something that the self does within oneself, it’s not a sensical object of self-deception. By putting that in there you open the floodgates to everything and everyone potentially being self-deceived.
TF: First of all, to deny self-deception generally would be foolish.

1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Since sin is something that one does within oneself, any categorical barrier as proposed would necessarily conflict with the apostle’s teaching.

To argue that this is a slippery slope, one must establish not only that there is a slope, but that it is steep and slippery. This argument can be defeated if there are fences in places to prevent the slope from being considered steep and slippery. In this case there are several fences: one is the various testimonies adduced in John’s first catholic epistle, another related one is the discussion in James’ catholic epistle.

O: And again, you introduce this wholly unbiblical category of people who think they believe but don’t. A scary category to have in a theological system indeed.
TF: James addresses people in that category in his epistle. Those with “dead” faith. Also, we see that category in the parable of the sower.

MP: b) The parable of the sower provides a great lesson in the distinction between false and true faith.
O: In the parable of the sower, seeds grow up and then are choked and die. There’s no suggestion they weren’t valid seeds to begin with.
TF: You don’t seem very familiar with the parable. In the parable, the seed is the Word of God. The various hearts are the various grounds. The good ground is one, but there are several types of bad ground.

MP: I answer: It’s really not dependent on any Reformed order of salvation
O: Yes it is, because your claim is that since the ice-cream man controls who steps into his shop he can put out the sign offering to all. But if that ordering is challenged, your argument ceases.
TF: I honestly don’t understand this objection – perhaps it is because the context is missing.

MP: but even if it were, that would be fair game, given the nature of the counter-objection.
O: When you are trying to prove a doctrine not explicitely taught in scripture, it doesn’t look good when you use as justification another doctrine not explicitely taught in scripture. That’s why I say you’ve got so many precepts built upon precepts you can’t see the bottom any more.
TF: That remark is not accurate or handy. The hidden assumption that every doctrine has to be found explicitly in Scripture is not a tenant of either yours or mine. And – as well – it seems you are mistaking rebuttal for proof.

G: This is a classic case of Orthodox utterly ignoring what he has been told in the past
O: No, it’s a case of you having an incomprehensibly complicated system that isn’t taught in the bible.
TF: Sometimes incomprehensibility is in the mind of the beholder. I think this is such a case, because I know plenty of people who comprehend the system. As for it not being taught in Scripture, we both know that arguments have presented showing that it is taught in Scripture. Simply stating to the contrary is a dispute, but not argument.


Followup to the Holy Water Debate

February 10, 2008

Gene Bridges has provided a rebuttal (link) to the response (which I addressed at item 2 here) to his previous comments hosted on his own blog. I don’t know whether PhatCatholic will continue that dialog. Obviously, the official portion of the Holy Water Debate is complete, but that doesn’t mean that we have to stop discussing the matter.


Thoughts on the Holy Water Debate

February 6, 2008
Some initial thoughts on the Holy Water debate. In no particular order.

1. Scapegoat Issues

GodIsMyJudge has indicated that in his view my answer to Paul’s question about the scapegoat could use some refinement.

Specifically, GIMJ has indicated that the NASB somehow suggests that scapegoat was offered, in some sense. Not sacrificed, but offered.

The support would seem to be: “two male goats for a sin offering” (vs. 5) and “When he finishes atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall offer the live goat.” (vs. 20). ” The “he” there is Aaron, not the fit man.

It’s interesting to note that verse 5 in the KJV is close to the same: “two kids of the goats for a sin offering” but verse 20 is different: “he shall bring the live goat.”

In any event Leviticus 16 calls for the release of the goat, not its sacrifice.

There’s another direction I could have taken the answer, and I would have taken it if space had permitted. Specifically, the Nova Vulgata translation (and New Jerusalem Bible) has a very untraditional view of the passage, with its substitution of Azazel for scapegoat. Why do I say “untraditional”? The first reason is the obvious break with the older (Jerome’s and Clement’s) Vulgate versions.

The second is the obvious disparity between the Vulgate and the Greek text. The translators of the Septuagint (LXX) clearly did not view the goat that shall be sent out (az azel) as a name, and consequently did not transliterate it, as they did with proper names.

What then can be a reason for using Azazel instead of “scapegoat” or Wycliffe’s older “the goot that schal be sent out” (the goat that shall be sent out) (vs. 5)?

One reason would be bad theology, namely theology that wants to suggest that the goat was to be offered as a sacrifice to a demon. Think it is odd? It sure is. Nevertheless, there are really web sites out there suggesting that Leviticus 16 commanded that the goat be sacrificed to a demon named Azazel.

Why think that Azazel is a demon?
A. In Paradise Lost (I, 534), Milton uses the name for the standard-bearer of the rebel angels. It seems unlikely this is the original Azazel.
B. Enoch refers to Azazel as a particularly notable fallen angel (e.g. Enoch 10:12 All the earth has been corrupted by the effects of the teaching of Azazyel. To him therefore ascribe the whole crime.)
C. In Muslim demonology, Azazel is apparently the chief demon. I found this claim on many web sites, and I could not find any that cited any authoritative link between Iblis (the “Satan” of Islam) and the name Azazel. That doesn’t mean that a link does not exist. One web site suggested that Iblis is short for Ha Bel Az (with Az being a short form of Azazel).

D. Writings attributed to Irenaeus quote an anonymous elder as saying that Marcus has been “furnish[ed with] signs unto those involved by thee in deception, Wonders of power that is utterly severed from God and apostate, Which Satan, thy true father, enables thee still to accomplish, By means of Azazel, that fallen and yet mighty angel,– Thus making thee the precursor of his own impious actions.”

Of course, as far as I can tell, neither Muslim demonology, Milton, Enoch I, nor Irenaeus makes any connection between Azazel and the scapegoat of Leviticus 16.

Traditional Theology (even Traditional Catholic theology) Supports the Answer I Provided

A. Origen in his “Against Celsus,” Chapter 43, states: “Moreover (the goat), which in the book of Leviticus215 is sent away (into the wilderness), and which in the Hebrew language is named Azazel, was none other than this; and it was necessary to send it away into the desert, and to treat it as an expiatory sacrifice, because on it the lot fell. For all who belong to the “worse” part, on account of their wickedness, being opposed to those who are God’s heritage, are deserted by God.”

B. Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary 1859 (Leviticus 16):
Ver. 8. The emissary-goat: caper emissarius; in Greek, apopompaios; in Hebrew, Hazazel. The goat to go off, or as some translate it, the scape-goat. This goat, on whose head the high priest was ordered to pour forth prayers, and to make a general confession of the sins of the people, laying them all, as it were, on his head; and after that to send him away into the wilderness, to be devoured by wild beasts, was a figure of our Saviour, charged with all our sins, in his passion. (source)

Vatican II, however, has apparently modified Scripture to accommodate some bizarre notion that God authorized a sacrifice to Satan! Quite odd.

In any event, even if Azazel were a demon and even if the goat were to be sacrificed to the demon (which it was assuredly not), the washing of the “fit man” would not have anything to do with stopping demonic forces. Instead it had to do with touching the goat. We know this because Aaron also had to wash himself after touch the goat and before proceeding with the burnt offerings.

Leviticus 16:23-24
23And Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall put off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there: 24And he shall wash his flesh with water in the holy place, and put on his garments, and come forth, and offer his burnt offering, and the burnt offering of the people, and make an atonement for himself, and for the people.

And, of course, Aaron touched the goat before the goat was sent outside the camp to be let go in an uninhabited area.

2. Exegesis Questions

Gene Bridges had posed some questions of exegesis to Dave Armstrong earlier during the debate. Dave Armstrong failed to address those questions. Thus, Gene repeated the request this time directed to PhatCatholic. Gene had also asked exegesis questions that did not make the final cut of questions for the audience questions segment of the debate. PhatCatholic responded via his own blog.

The biggest problem I have with PhatCatholic’s response is that he does not provide any exegesis. I also have some problems with the answers he provides:

a) “I hope you will excuse my ignorance on this point, but I don’t understand the distinction you are making between “spiritual uncleanness” and “ritual uncleanness.” My understanding is that, if anyone breaks the ritual law on any point, he commits a sin, and sin makes him spiritually unclean. It was a sin to touch a dead animal, or a woman who was going through her period. Sin is a very spiritual matter and it requires a spiritual remedy.Plus, how many ways are there for someone to actually be unclean? I’m only aware of two: physical and/or spiritual. If you touched a dead animal you were unclean, whether you got a speck of dirt on you or not. When you broke the law on that point it had a spiritual consequence, and of course, the required remedy (the water for impurity) had a spiritual consequence as well.”

There are a number of problems with this. First, it is clear that PhatCatholic is simply unfamiliar with the category of ritual uncleanness. Ritual uncleanness pictured spiritual uncleanness. Nevertheless, ritual uncleanness was not inherently sinful.

If it were, PhatCatholic would have some serious problems. Remember, a woman with an issue of blood (ceremonially/ritually unclean) touched Jesus, but Jesus was sinless. Furthermore, even leaving aside that issue, Mary (who was greatly blessed) was a woman. Catholic claim she was sinlessly holy. Nevertheless, women generally have periods, when they are not pregnant, and Mary was (in Catholic theology) only pregnant once.

But, of course, we don’t have any direct Scriptural evidence that Mary ever had a period.

There’s one more catch:

Leviticus 12:2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.

Mary did conceive and bear a man child, Jesus, and she was consequently unclean seven days. If uncleanness = sin, then the Catholic doctrine of the sinlessness of Mary must be discarded.

The reason, of course, that such an argument is not used in Catholic-Protestant debates on Mary’s sinlessness is that ceremonial/ritual uncleanness was not equivalent to sinfulness. PhatCatholic simply did not know what he was talking about when whe made the “unclean spirits” argument.

b) “Types, by their very nature, only go so far. I wasn’t even using that passage as an explicit example. But, the fact remains that the water in question is holy and it is being used to remove spiritual uncleanliness. That’s the only reason why I cited it.”

Types are irrelevant here. PhatCatholic may have meant something like “analogs.” The analogy is weak. The fact that PhatCatholic only cited the passage as an example of water removing uncleanness (and note above PhatCatholic’s failure to appreciate the difference between sin and ritual uncleanness), makes its use fairly well moot.

c) “Do you expect me to respond to all of that? I guess I can if you really want me to, but I would have rather respond to your own words, instead of a great big copy-and-paste. Also, you seem to be making an argument from authority by utilizing what “Keil & Delitzch” have to say. The problem is, I’ve never heard of those guys (sorry!) and so their opinion on this matter doesn’t really mean a whole lot to me. Finally, do you know what the “shotgun approach” is? It’s when you overwhelm someone with a massive amount of information and then, when he/she can’t respond to it all (b/c of the undue burden placed upon the person’s time and energy) then the person with the shotgun claims the victory. I hope that’s not what you are doing here.”

Presumably Keil & Delitzch are Catholic theologians, which is the only reason I can think that Gene would have cited them. It’s interesting that PhatCatholic thinks he could take them on. Nevertheless, I suspect that, once he realized that they were Catholics, he would recognize that he had made a mistake about his interpretation of the passages. I think that was Gene’s point: PhatCatholics attempted scriptural justification was contrary to the teachings of the Catholic church, and consequently was internally inconsistent.

That’s a similar point to the one I made repeatedly about the absence of relevant teachings in the Scriptures or early fathers.

d) “You are right, the word-limit severely hampered me. I thank you for understanding that. “

The word limit more severely hampered my ability to respond to each of the Scriptures string-cited by PhatCatholic.

e) “Now, you’ll notice that tfan is rejecting the very notion that water can even be made holy.”

It’s simply not true that I rejected the idea that water can be consecrated (which is what I assume that PC means by “be made holy”).

f) “I am showing him, with those passages, that he is wrong. Water can in fact be made holy, and it is in that limited sense that it is thus “holy water.””

I’m afraid that was something of a waste, unless PC meant something other than “consecrated” by “holy.” Like, if he meant it was endued with magic or other supernatural powers. Nevertheless, I’d agree that water can be endowed with such powers, so it would still be a waste.

g) “I’m not saying that it is “holy water” in the developed sense, as in “water that is blessed by a Catholic priest.” Those passages are merely examples of water that was made holy, and/or water that was used in the same way that “holy water” (in the developed sense) is used today.”

None of those passages, of course, show water being used in a similar way to the way that PC used “holy water” in his “confrontation with the devil.” That dissimilarity is the point. As I repeatedly emphasized during the debate this superstition that consecrated water is going to stop demons is nothing more than a superstition.

h) “Basically, the passages in question provide the principles that inform the practice, which, if you’ll read the introduction to my opening statement, is all I ever set out to provide. I think that when Dave posted my opening statement on his blog, he may have caused some confusion regarding my use of Scripture when he did not include that introduction.”

I don’t think that by citing those verses PC managed to identify the actual principles that inform the practice, and arguing the affirmative side imposes a duty on one to do more than merely explain why it is done.

i) “Hopefully, we can resolve this. If you read the passages, water is definitely being made holy and is being used as holy water is used. God blessed the water (cf. Exo 23:25); the priest took “holy water” (Num 5:17); the “water for impurity” is used to remove sin and uncleanliness (cf. Num 19:9,13-20); Elisha makes the water “healed” [KJV], “purified” [NAS], or “wholesome” [RSV] (cf. 2 Ki 2:19-22). These examples contradict tfan’s implication that water cannot be made holy.”

As noted above, that wasn’t my contention. Unfortunately, those tag lines is as close as PhatCAtholic gets to exegesis of the verse. As noted above, PhatCatholic fails to distinguish between removal of ritual uncleanness and removal of the sin that ritual uncleanness symbolizes. That failure to distinguish sinks his argument.

j. “The difference is that I base the legitimacy of my position upon the soundness of my argumentation, not upon my reputation or the status I have in the Church.”

With all due respect, the arguments presented are not sound. The only way one gets from his three main points to the resolution is by induction, based on an assumption that the practice is correct. Likewise, the only way to get from the anecdotal evidence to the resolution is by assuming that the accounts are accurate, and by filtering out the other factors involved.

k. “In other words, nothing is ever right simply b/c I say so.”

Fair enough.

l. “Instead, it is right b/c of the evidence and the argumentation that I provide.”

With respect, I don’t think that PC can claim to have one on the evidence and arguments presented.

m. “However, I’m simply supposed to believe that water is superstitious b/c some unnamed doctor a long time ago told Perrin that there were many superstitions among the people in medieval times? I mean, give me a break! Tfan wants me to simply take this guy’s word for it.”

Well, I didn’t name the doctor, but Perrin did. The doctor wrote a book, and Perrin cites to his book. The doctor is being cited for something with respect to which he is a proper authority, i.e. an expert. That subject is ailments. If I say, “That guy has a demon,” and a doctor says, “No, he has pneumonia,” you better believe people are going to suggest taking penicillin rather than a holy water bath.

n. “That’s an argument from authority, and if you’re going to make an argument like that, then you have to make sure the person you are citing is an actual authority.”


6. “No, but if you are going to use someone as an authority on history (which you just said tfan is doing here), then the person better actually be an authority on history! I dare say neither Perrin nor the doctor he talked to are authorities on this matter”

Perrin is an authority on history (he is an historian), and the citation was to one of his books on the subject. The doctor in question was an authority on medicine and demons and was being cited from his book on the subject by Perrin.

I’m willing to bet that PhatCatholic did not investigate the matter before responding as he did. The result is that he is getting clobbered by getting the credentials of those whose credentials he questions. This is avoidable with a little bit of research.

7. “I don’t engage in “rhetorical shorthand.” I don’t play tricks and I don’t dodge anything. The sentence I provided pretty much said everything I wanted to say about that. But, you are right about me trying to do too much with my concluding statement. I have yet to master the art of working well within a defined word limit. Thank you for the advice.”

Well, there may have been some rhetorical shorthand, but I don’t think PC intentionally played tricks or tried to dodge. In some cases I think PC missed the point, but I think those were honest errors. For example, while I think PC’s analysis above mischaracterizes my position, I don’t think he does so intentionally.

3. PhatCatholic’s Conclusion

PhatCatholic’s concluding argument (link) needs a little further response from me.

Leaving aside the cheesy opening graphic (ha!), PhatCatholic’s claim that: “Let’s begin by listing the various holes and omissions that weaken tfan’s defense of the negative position:” seems to indicate that PhatCatholic did not properly recognize the burden of proof in the round. A canonball riddled with holes, even to the point of become grape shot rather than a single ball, would still sink his ship.

But let’s look at the holes, and discuss them:

a) “No response to my proof that he exagerated when he said, “the passage cited by PC does not appear in several versions of the Apostolic Constitutions.””

I demonstrated that the chapter does not appear at all in two versions of the Constitutions and shows evidence of insertion in a third version (i.e. it was missing in parent version that no longer exists). That’s fairly good evidence that the chapter was a later insertion, and not an original part of the manuscript.

And I did respond to this in my conclusion: “There is no way to definitively push the cited passage of the Apostolic canons past the 12 century, and, as already demonstrated, there is evidence suggesting insertion.”

b) “No response to my argument that the anonymity of the author of the Apostolic Constitutions does not itself discredit the statements found therein.”

My response to the argument generally was: “They claim to be written by Clement of Rome, and the author claims that they are a collection of the statements of the apostles. Both claims are generally recognized to be false.” They are not anonymous, they are pseudonymous. They bear a false name. They are double pseudonymous, because they bear a false name as to the collection (it was not compiled by Clement) and because they bear false names as to the actual statements (they are not statements of the various apostles to whom they are ascribed).

c) “Nowhere in our cross-examination did he show that the casting out of devils that Bede reports was due to the soil instead of water. Tfan asserted that they were cast out by soil, I told him why they weren’t, and he simply repeated his position instead of refuting my answer.”

First of all, PC did not ask me to show that during cross-examination. He provided me three questions, not one asked for that sort of answer.

Second, if you read his source document, you’ll find that it goes like this:

– allegedly holy man dies

– his bones (relics) are washed in water

– that water is dumped in a corner of the cemetery

– the dust from that corner of the cemetery has miraculous powers

For the ultra dubious, here’s the quotation at length:

From that time, the very earth which received that holy water, had the power of saving grace in casting out devils from the bodies of persons possessed.

Lastly, when the aforesaid queen afterwards abode some time in that monastery, there came to visit her a certain venerable abbess, who is still living, called Ethelhild, the sister of the holy men, Ethelwinand Aldwin, the first of whom was bishop in the province of Lindsey, the other abbot of the monastery of Peartaneu; not far from which was the monastery of Ethelhild. When this lady was come, in a conversation between her and the queen, the discourse, among other things, turning upon Oswald, she said, that she also had that night seen the light over his relics reaching up to heaven. The queen thereupon added, that the very dust of the pavement on which the water that washed the bones had been poured out, had already healed many sick persons. The abbess thereupon desired that some of that health-bringing dust might be given her, and, receiving it, she tied it up in a cloth, and, putting it into a casket, returned home. Some time after, when she was in her monastery, there came to it a guest, who was wont often in the night to be on a sudden grievously tormented with an unclean spirit; he being hospitably entertained, when he had gone to bed after supper, was suddenly seized by the Devil, and began to cry out, to gnash his teeth, to foam at the mouth, and to writhe and distort his limbs. None being able to hold or bind him, the servant ran, and knocking at the door, told the abbess. She, opening the monastery door, went out herself with one of the nuns to the men’s apartment, and calling a priest, desired that he would go with her to the sufferer. Being come thither, and seeing many present, who had not been able, by their efforts, to hold the tormented person and restrain his convulsive movements, the priest used exorcisms, and did all that he could to assuage the madness of the unfortunate man, but, though he took much pains, he could not prevail. When no hope appeared of easing him in his ravings, the abbess bethought herself of the dust, and immediately bade her handmaiden go and fetch her the casket in which it was. As soon as she came with it, as she had been bidden, and was entering the hall of the house, in the inner part whereof the possessed person was writhing in torment, he suddenly became silent, and laid down his head, as if he had been falling asleep, stretching out all his limbs to rest. “Silence fell upon all and intent they gazed,” anxiously waiting to see the end of the matter. And after about the space of an hour the man that had been tormented sat up, and fetching a deep sigh, said, “Now I am whole, for I am restored to my senses.” They earnestly inquired how that came to pass, and he answered, “As soon as that maiden drew near the hall of this house, with the casket she brought, all the evil spirits that vexed me departed and left me, and were no more to be seen.” Then the abbess gave him a little of that dust, and the priest having prayed, he passed that night in great peace; nor was he, from that time forward, alarmed by night, or in any way troubled by his old enemy.

Note that it is not the water that casts out demons, but the dust.

d) “No response to me when I said that the way in which the water became holy was irrelevant.”

I think I actually did not respond directly to this remark. It didn’t seem particularly significant to me. I was more focused on other things. My response, had I considered it important, would have been to note that there is a difference between water that has touched a relic and water that has been consecrated by a priest. Even if the former kind of water can be called “holy” it is “holy” in a different way from consecrated water.

e) “No Scripture passage provided that either explicitly or implicitly rejects the use of holy water against demons.”

This is a bit of an absurd argument. The burden of proof is not on me to find reasons to reject the practice. There may be no such passage. That’s inconsequential. If that’s so, there is also no passage that explicitly or implicitly rejects the chanting of digits of Pi 3.141592… as a way of confusing demons. That’s not support for the Pi-chanting position.

f) “No response to the proof I provided against his assertion that “special miracles” ceased after the Apostolic period.”

Follow the link. I could not find any such proof there. I could not even find evidence against the assertion of Chrysostom there. I think I justifiably concluded that PhatCatholic had conceded that matter in face of the testimony of a saint and doctor of his church (according to his church). Since it was mostly a tangential matter, I did not rub it in, in my conclusion.

g) “In his haste to disagree with me he contradicted himself on this point, denying that holy things can be effective against demons (here) after he had affirmed the effectivneness of soil (here).”

I don’t agree that soil is effective. Those about whom Bede reports were just superstitious. I’m afraid that PC is rather optimistic in his assessment of the matter. Bede claimed that the people reported that the soil was effective. One might even claim that Bede endorsed the matter by reporting it. Regardless, PC seems to have been confused about the point I made.

Furthermore, my point was not that “holy things cannot be effective against demons,” but that PC had provided no reason to suppose that they are effective against demons generally (i.e. that holy things in general are effective), or that “holy water” specifically is effective against demons. I don’t suppose that consecrated items are in fact effective at stopping demons, and I don’t believe “relics” are “holy.” I’m afraid on this matter, PhatCatholic was guilty of assuming too much.

h) “When I pointed out the irrelevancy of his statement, “‘unclean’ is simply a figure of speech for the fact that they are evil,” I again received no response.”

In fact, I did respond. I stated: “If we were trying to make unclean spirits clean, sprinkling holy water on them might make sense. But we are not, so it doesn’t. Ritual uncleanness for which the OT prescribed washing is unlike spiritual uncleanness, for which the OT prescribed sacrifice.”

Based on PC’s comments to Gene, he may simply have missed this portion of my concluding statement.

i) “When I showed that it could just as easily be the holiness of Jesus’ name that expels demons as it could be the authority of it….you guessed it, nothing.”

j) “When I showed that it could just as easily be the holiness of Jesus’ name that expels demons as it could be the authority of it….you guessed it, nothing.”

I did not directly address this matter again in my conclusion, because I felt like my previous comments on the matter were sufficient, and it seemed like a minor matter. The supporting argument as to why “in the name” means “by the authority” would probably take a lot of space, and I won’t get into it here. I don’t think it is that controversial.

Regardless, even if it were true that “it could just as easily be the holiness of Jesus’ name that expels demons as it could be the authority of it” – such would hurt PhatCatholic’s argument, not help it. That is to say, his inductive argument is not persuasive if those two possibilities are just equal. The “holiness” option has to be more likely than not to be of any persuasive weight.

k) “When I explained the exceptions in which the devil and his demons are allowed to be in the presence of holiness, he simply called this a “fall-back position” without actually refuting it.”

Well, it is a fall-back position, and that does demonstrate a shifting position. As demonstrated in my concluding argument (link), PhatCatholic had to shift further and further away from the resolution to weaker and weaker positions. Since PhatCatholic’s claim that God sometimes makes exceptions to the general rule was just special pleading (there is no evidence of a general rule to begin with), there wasn’t much there to “actually refut[e].”

After a series of quotations/paraphrases, PhatCatholic asserts: “It should be obvious by now that the use of holy water is far from “innovative”, nor is it an invention of the Middle Ages.”

a) At least some (and apparently nearly all) of his sources refer to medieval sources, with the 6th and 7th centuries being in the medieval period.

b) Furthermore, PC essentially admitted that there is no evidence of the practice before the 4th century at the very earliest, which would just mean that the innovation was just prior to the medieval period.

c) On the other hand, I identified the Pope that instituted the weekly blessing of water, which is the source of modern “holy water” of the kind that PC doubtless used in his “confrontation with the devil.”

PhatCatholic then misinterprets the Apostolic Constitutions, saying: “But that’s not what that quotation means. Just because an exorcist is not sanctified by the act of expelling a demon, that doesn’t mean that he was not already holy to begin with.” I encourage him to read the document more carefully. Chapter II of Book VIII of the Apostolic Constitutions begins: “We add, in the next place, that neither is every one that prophesies holy, nor every one that casts out devils religious: ….” It should be clear then, that my rebuttal did accurately represent the quotation.

Next, PhatCatholic disputed my comment regarding the obvious contradiction between his claim that holy water is effective at stopping demons and a prohibition on demoniacs being ordained or praying with the faithful.

PC writes: “This is not an unnecessary prohibition. You wouldn’t want someone ordained who is susceptible to possession by the devil. As for the prohibition from praying with the faithful, there are always sinners in the Church who could be negatively influenced by the demoniac, were the demon to return.”

I agree that it is a reasonable prohibition. I don’t have anything against the prohibition. The reason it is contradictory to PC’s position, though, is that an ordained man cannot help but be involved with “holy” things. Indeed, if the church described by the Apostolic Constitutions were like a modern Roman Catholic church, the ordained man would be in contact with “holy water” on a regular basis both in performing baptisms and performing the weekly water consecration. But we know that the latter ritual only was innovated latter. Likewise, if the congregants then, as now, washed themselves ceremonially in holy water upon entering and leaving the church (as is done now) then there would be no need for a prohibition on demoniacs entering IF holy water were effective against demons.

PC then tried to respond to my point that: “2. It has not been established that “Holy Water” is, in fact, holy.” He seemed to miss the point, going off on a tangent about how water can be made holy. The point was actually that he had not demonstrated that what we see in Roman Catholic churches today is actually holy. That is to say, he has not demonstrated that he had anything more than regular tap water in his possession during his confrontation with the devil.

PC asserted that water is “holy” when Christians are involved, which would seem like a handy rule of thumb (though not something that PC could demonstrate). Interestingly, PC had early made reference to the exorcism performed by a man named “Joseph,” who – according to the account provided at New Advent, his source – was not a Christian at the time, and consequently could not be said to have used “holy” water in the sense that PC requires.

PC’s standard would also make for an interesting dilemma for those whose priest turns out to be a hypocrite who was not really a Christian. Or perhaps PC just means that someone must be outwardly a Christian in order to make water holy. It’s really irrelevant to the big picture.

Finally, PC stated: “There are no logical fallacies involved here. We are both operating under the assumption that if a belief and/or practice is found in the early Church, it is a valid one. That’s why tfan has made that a requirement of me. I am simply fulfilling his requirement.”

I wasn’t operating under that assumption at all. Regardless, I documented the many logical fallacies at length in my conclusion, and that should speak for itself.

PC next claimed: “This is not true. Scripture specifically said that the “water for impurity” was used “for the removal of sin” (Num 19:9).” as I think Gene pointed out, “it is for the removal of sin” refers to the sacrifice of the animal, not to the water.

PC next stated: “Physicians do not have authority in theological matters.” Gene’s rebuttal regarding Dr. Sippo (a lay Roman Catholic apologist and M.D.) was amusing. The main point, however, is that the physician was being cited with respect to illness. Physicians are authoritative on those matters. Furthermore, a Catholic physician was being cited, to cure the problem of bias that might be claimed if a Reformed physician were cited. Perrin cited others to confirm that matter, but I could not immediately determine whether they were Catholic and consequently left them out of the debate round.

PC next stated: “That doesn’t mean that holy water was one such superstition.” I agree that it doesn’t. The fact is, the evidence of numerous superstitions in the middle ages tends to confirm the negative position that this is just one more of them. That combined with the physician’s testimony makes it a lead pipe cinch.

PC concludes thus:

In closing, I had several quotes from the ECF’s on holy oil that I promised to provide, but the word limit confines me to this single quotation:

  • “I know that a young woman of Hippo was immediately dispossessed of a devil, on anointing herself with oil, mixed with the tears of the prebsyter who had been praying for her.” –St. Augustine, City of God (413-427 A.D.), Bk. 22

If there was every a doubt that holy things can be used to cast away demons, that should expel it.

I found this odd for several reasons.

* First, I had provided evidence that Augustine’s views on miracles developed as he grew more spiritually mature, and that they developed in favor of Chrysostom’s view.

* Second, the oil is just oil, not “holy oil.”

* Third, the oil is administered by the supposed demoniac herself.

* Fourth, the tears of the presbyter are not described as “holy” and would not be “holy” in the same sense that “holy water” that one finds in fonts in RC churches today is “holy.”

Thus, I found the conclusion rather unsatisfactory. Obviously, though, I am biased.

4. Word Length

PhatCatholic counted words differently than I did. For example, by my count his conclusion was actually 1492 words (just shy of 50% over his limit). In contrast, by his count it was still over the limit, but by less than 10%. Similar problems arose during the rebuttal. In hindsight, I probably should not have been so flexible on the word length in the rebuttal period. I don’t think PC was trying to be devious, and I don’t want anyone to read this paragraph that way. I will try to make the word limit issues more clear for the future. Lesson learned.

5. PhatCatholic’s Answers to Audience Questions

PC’s first answer was:

When you say, “the quotations,” I’m assuming you mean the quotations from the early Church, or from more recent authors about the early Church. Now, I realize that none of the works from which these quotations were taken are “infallible”, per se, but I also don’t think that’s anything I need to worry about. You don’t need the charism of infallibility in order to make a true statement, and, infallible or not, these works show that the use of holy water against demonic activity was neither “innovative,” nor was it an invention of the Middle Ages. That was my purpose for using them, and I think they serve that purpose.

I could have used infallible sources of Catholic doctrine, such as papal encyclicals or conciliar statements, but I’m afraid these hold little weight with Protestants. As such, there’s no point in even bringing them in.

I felt like this answer missed Dan’s point, and didn’t really address the question. Dan asked what kind of persuasive weight the quotations should have. PC quoted from Catholic sources citing anecdotal evidence that was, in some cases, documented very poorly (by the original source used by the secondary source cited by PC). This evidence is not very persuasive because of bias (New Advent is naturally going to take the “Catholic” side of the matter, for example), because of extraction (the sources were being filtered through several levels of abstraction from the source documents), and because of the fallacies identified in my conclusion.

In short, the persuasive weight of those quotations was very small.

I felt like PC’s claim about being able to cite encyclicals and conciliar statements was either misleading or disappointing. PC surely knew that some of his audience would be Catholic readers. For them, at least, such statements (if they even exist) would have been helpful. I’m not sure, though, that they even exist at any time that would contradict my claims of the matter being a medieval innovation based on superstition.

I also felt that Ken’s answer was penetrating. Ken asked how Christians can tell that demons are at work. PC provides a bunch of symptoms (most of which were not present, as far as I can tell by his own account, in the instance of his alleged confrontation with a demon). The bottom line, though, is that demons are generally invisible and intangible, and it is easy to blame unknown ailments on demons. In some cases, we may even see the phrase “evil spirit” used simply the way people use “negative energy” or a “sick feeling” today. In other words, demons can be used metaphorically, though it would be improper to do so in the case of a person being described as possessed by a demon.

In other words, it’s not always easy to tell if a demon is there, absent divine inspiration as to the fact. This lack of ease of identification makes the arousal of superstitious quite easy. If crops die: demons. If they survive: the exorcism worked.

Note that the claims as to holy water’s efficacy filter out the failures. Note, for example, that in the Bede’s account (shown above) the priest attempted an exorcism and failed. What’s the batting average of this particular superstition. We don’t know. It’s not scientific, even though the Rituale Romanum is quite detailed.

Finally, I think PC’s answer to Gene’s question sealed PC’s defeat:

Gene had asked: “is it fair to say that it takes a lot more than holy water to stop demons?

PC responded: “Yes, and sometimes it doesn’t take holy water at all.”

This seems to me to be the nail in the coffin. The admission that it takes a lot more than holy water to stop demons demonstrates pretty clearly that holy water is not effective.

PC continued: “After all, Jesus said that some demons are only cast out by prayer and fasting (cf. Mt 17:21, KJV). Sometimes it only takes an adjuration in the name of Jesus Christ, which is how it was most often done in the early Church. I never presented holy water as the panacea, or cure-all for demonic activity. My purpose was only to show that it can be effective.”

With respect, I think PC failed his task. Obviously, I am biased. In any event, I think PC for participating in the debate. I hope he enjoyed the experience. I would love to have him back to the debate blog in the future at some point, if he is interested, and if we can find a mutually satisfactory topic.


Gene’s Comment on the Holy Water Debate

February 2, 2008

Brother Gene Bridges has commented on the Holy Water Debate over at Triablogue. (link) I’d love to comment on his comments, but I’m reserving my own off-debate-blog remarks about the debate until the audience question phase is complete. Still waiting, by the way, for the Pro-Holy-Water questions from PhatCatholic’s side …


Gene Stirs the Pot

January 10, 2008

Gene, over at Triablogue, has stirred the Holy Water pot with a recent post (link) that addresses some of the issues he sees with the post presented by Dave Armstrong (link provided via this earlier post), generally approving (and minorly editing) PhatCatholic’s opening argument in the Holy Water Debate. Carrie adds (at least) a few ripples with her quotation on the power of priests (link).

UPDATE: Dave Armstrong has replied (link) in not perhaps the nicest of tones, which included (at the time of writing this, a concluding paragraph threatening Gene’s soul).

UPDATE: Gene has responded (link) to Dave’s reply.

%d bloggers like this: