Archive for the ‘Holy Water’ Category

Curse of the Billy Goat vs. Holy Water

October 1, 2008

In the “Holy Water Debate” (link to debate), I had made a comparison between the superstitions in baseball and the medieval superstitions surrounding “Holy Water.” Unexpectedly, the two have merged for TBS has broadcast some footage of a papist priest sprinkling the Cubs’ dugout with “Holy Water,” evidently in an effort to reverse the “Curse of the Billy Goat” – the supposed explanation for the failure of the Cubs to win a World Series in a very long time.

Nota Bene: Sprinkling Holy Water to win baseball games is not something that has ever, to my knowledge, been infallibly taught by the Vatican magisterium. In fact, the CCC warns against superstition. That doesn’t seem to stop it from happening in Catholicism.

If anyone can tell me the name of the priest (Matthew in the combox has noted that this is “Father” James Greaneus who, according to the article provided, is from the Midwest), his bishop, and whether his activity was sanctioned, I would be appreciative.


Steve Ray – Wearing Rosary Keeps Away Demons?

August 29, 2008

On the May 8, 2008, edition of Catholic Answers Live, I was amazed to hear Steve Ray reference (seemingly approvingly) a book called, “The Secret of the Rosary,” for the idea that wearing a rosary “around your neck keeps the Devil away – it keeps the evil powers away, because they hate the rosary and they hate the crucifix … .” I can safely say that wearing a rosary has about equal efficacy in keeping demons away as does wearing a scapular or dousing oneself in “holy water.” In short, it has no power at all.

Meanwhile, enjoy the ecumenical flavor of that most lovely work:

The heretics, all of whom are children of the devil and clearly bear the sign of God’s reprobation, have a horror of the Hail Mary. They still say the Our Father but never the Hail Mary; they would rather wear a poisonous snake around their necks than wear a scapular or carry a rosary.

And truly, I would rather (as Louis de Montfort claims) have a king cobra round my neck than participate in the superstitious and anti-Christian tradition of the rosary or the scapula. I think the portion Steve Ray was referring to was this:

Blessed Alan relates that a man he knew had tried desperately all kinds of devotions to rid himself of the evil spirit which possessed him, but without success. Finally, he thought of wearing his rosary round his neck, which eased him considerably. He discovered that whenever he took it off the devil tormented him cruelly, so he resolved to wear it night and day. This drove the evil spirit away forever because he could not bear such a terrible chain. Blessed Alan also testifies that he delivered a great number of those who were possessed by putting a rosary around their necks.

This may be from an eighteenth century book, but make no mistake, these superstitious beliefs are alive today, as evidenced by Mr. Ray’s comment.


After-Splash – Paul Hoffer Responds to Holy Water Debate

May 6, 2008

Some time ago, PhatCatholic and I concluded a debate on the alleged efficacy of Holy Water (link to debate). Now, Paul Hoffer has taken up the cause in support of PhatCatholic’s position.

His initial post is here (link), though I understand he plans a series of additional posts on the subject.

A few quick thoughts in response.

Mr. Hoffer describes my role in the debate as “defending the negative” and lists a few of the many arguments I presented. Mr. Hoffer appears to have overlooked that I actually took the negative position by presenting rebuttal arguments that took out the attempted arguments presented by PhatCatholic.

Interestingly, Mr. Hoffer fails to provide the arguments that PhatCatholic presented. Of course, in the absence of those arguments, the counter-arguments in rebuttal may not seem to make such sense. Mr. Hoffer, however, seems to be under the impression that I needed to prove “Holy Water,” to be ineffecacious. This is consistent with his presentation of only (a few of) my rebuttal arguments, and not of PhatCatholic’s attempted defense of the resolution.

Mr. Hoffer mistakenly asserted “it became clear that Turretinfan … have no real understanding of what Holy Water is or the manner in which the Catholic Church teaches it could possibly be effective against demonic forces.” In fact, I do know what it is and what the Roman Catholics teach about it. Regardless, though, whether or not I knew “Holy Water” from dishwater, PhatCatholic had the burden of establishing the actual efficacy (not “could possibly be effective”) of whatever-it-is that he calls “Holy Water.” In other words, my supposed ignorance was something that could only have helped PhatCatholic. I think that the objective reader can judge for himself whether any of PhatCatholic’s positions and/or fallback positions had merit.

Mr. Hoffer goes on to explain that he would like to spend some time explaining Sacramentals. I have no problem with him doing so, of course. I think, though, that if he wishes to revive PhatCatholic’s position that Holy Water is actually effective at stopping demonic forces, he is going to have a long creek to paddle – and that he will not get to his destination simply by explaining what they are.

At the end of the day, I think we will find that the notion of using “Holy Water” to try to ward off demons is not Biblical, but rather that such use of “Holy Water” is nothing more than a superstitious medieval invention. In fact, that it is simply a superstition that evolved over time is something that seems rather immediately apparent when an investigation into the alleged basis for the practice is made.

So, I look forward to Mr. Hoffer’s series on the so-called Sacramentals. I appreciate his systematic way of thinking and his pleasing way of presenting his position. On the other hand, I do not have high expectations that the arguments in favor of the alleged efficacy will be any less leaky than those of PhatCatholic. Still, Mr. Hoffer’s posts with their calm and well-planned presentation may provide benefit both for Roman Catholics and others in analyzing the issues and simplifying the differences between us. Additionally, Mr. Hoffer may provide a new position (for example that “Holy Water” is merely possibly efficacious) that will somewhat moderate the position taken by PhatCatholic in the debate.


N.B. Two items:

a) Mr. Hoffer at one point refers to me as “he/she.” Just for the record, it is “he,” as can be seen, for example, in my Blogger profile.

b) I note that Mr. Hoffer views this discussion of Sacramentals as more important than debating the Corban rule. I don’t know whether this should be viewed as his announcement that such a debate is off the table, or only that it is to follow the discussion of the so-called Sacramentals. Since I believe that such a debate would be instructive, I hope that the latter case is what Mr. Hoffer intended.

Anecdotal Rebuttal – Holy Water Debate Followup

April 4, 2008

Those who followed the Holy Water Debate may recall that the final refuge for PhatCatholic was under the theory that exorcisms actually occur and that holy water has proven its usefulness in such situations.

The following article provides an anecdotal rebuttal to those claims. In the article, Italian prosecutors are essentially charging a Catholic priest, “Father” Francesco Saverio Bazzoffi with fraud on account of his fake exorcisms. (link to article) This priest also claimed to perform healing.

Why is the government so interested? Apparently the priest has accumulated an enormous amount of money (millions of Euros) through his exercise of his supposed gifts.

It is interesting to note that the priest’s bishop had cautioned him previously against performing exorcisms, and that the priest claims that he doesn’t perform exorcisms, just “blessings.” In fact the priest’s bishop (who is also a cardinal) had apparently prohibited exorcisms!

What is the point? The point is to illustrate how invalid anecdotal arguments for the supposed efficacy of holy water are. There are plenty of deceivers and showman out there whether Benny Hinn or his Catholic equivalent Bazzoffi.

We need something more reliable than the fact that someone has claimed that they accomplished something using Holy Water before we accept it as a valid, efficacious practice. Does the article prove anything conclusively? Of course not. All it does is demonstrate how inconclusive anecdotal evidence is. It rebuts the case for Holy Water practices. Thus, at the end of the day, we don’t find any reason to accept Holy Water practices as anything more than superstition.


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.


Holy Water Debate is Complete

February 5, 2008

I plan to post some thoughts about the debate in due course, but just so that folks are aware, the Holy Water Debate is complete. Thanks very much to PhatCatholic for his courtesy and flexibility both before and during the debate. Perhaps, as the situation warrants, he will consider making a return appearance at the debate blog. Thanks also to our audience for reading and questioning. The topic is not the most vital one out there, to be sure. Nevertheless, I hope the readers benefited from the discussion.

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 …


Timely Article from the Trinity Review

February 2, 2008

This article from the Trinity Review is timed to address the 150th anniversary of the claims of the appearance of a Marian Apparition at Lourdes, France, to a peasant girl. (link to pdf) Nevertheless, the content of the article provides a remarkable context to frame the Holy Water Debate that is just concluding.

Last Chance for Audience Questions

January 30, 2008

The Holy Water Debate has mostly finished. My sparring partner, PhatCatholic, has posted his concluding argument, and consequently it is time for audience questions. I’ve received several questions so far. If you have a question that you would like to ask PhatCatholic or myself, please submit it for possible inclusion.

Thanks to everyone who followed the debate.


P.S. I do have some thoughts of my own about the debate, but I plan to reserve those thoughts until after the audience questions.

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