Archive for the ‘Mark Shea’ Category

The Roman Catholic Problem of Hell

January 20, 2014

Scott Windsor has a post, “The Matter of Hell,” in which he sides with unordained Michael Voris against ordained priest Robert Barron. By contrast, Mark Shea has a post, “Michael Voris Again Smears an Innocent Catholic,” in which he sides with Barron against Voris.

Shea argues that Barron is saying almost exactly what Pope Benedict XVI said on the topic, whereas Windsor argues that Barron’s position comes close to falling under the condemnation of the Second Council of Constantinople. Per Windsor, Barron’s view is “scandalous at best and perhaps even heretical” whereas Shea thinks “Barron is guilty of no heresy, has said nothing “wrong” and is perfectly within the pale of orthodox speculation.”

At issue is Barron’s apparent view (which he says agrees with Balthazar’s view) we should believe that Hell is at least possible (as a metaphor for loneliness from divine love, not actually a place) but that we can reasonably hope that Hell is empty based on God’s universal salvific desire. Barron concedes to the big tent nature of Roman Catholicism, pointing out that folks like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas would disagree with him.

Shea likewise balances his comment by pointing out:

Now those, such as Ralph Martin who speculate that few will be saved are also (obviously) also within the pale of orthodoxy and share their opinion with not a few Fathers and theologians. But at the end of the day, that’s all you have: two schools of opinion–both of which are allowed by the Church.

But it’s not just Windsor and Voris vs. Shea and Barron. We could add that we have previously pointed out contemporary cardinals holding that hell may be empty (Cardinal George Pell and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor).

So, what’s the big deal? Well, on the one hand – the Scriptures are clear that there will be men in hell. For example:

Matthew 7:23
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Matthew 25:41
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

Revelation 20:14
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

Revelation 21:8
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Matthew 22:14
For many are called, but few are chosen.

1 Corinthians 1:26
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

Matthew 26:28
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

Mark 14:24
And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.

Romans 9:22
What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:

Matthew 8:12
But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And we could on and on.  Although the great Origen erred in hoping for the eventual restoration of all creation, such a view is not consistent with Scripture’s teachings both that hell is real and that the punishment of hell is eternal punishment.

So, on the one hand, Windsor is right that people like Barron and a couple of Windsor’s cardinals are wrong.  On the other hand, such a problem is not resolvable on Roman Catholic grounds for basically the reasons that Shea and Barron enunciate: there has been no “official teaching” that anathematizes one or the other position, and consequently both contradictory positions are acceptable, even though both cannot be right.

Worse yet for Windsor and Voris, the evidence is that the current hierarchy supports and teaches the erroneous view.  I have not confirmed whether Shea is accurate in characterizing the teachings of Benedict XVI, but it clearly extends at least up to the cardinals.

The most remarkably thing is that Windsor and Voris continue to trust in this church (which teaches and promotes errors that they themselves are able to identify) rather than trusting in God alone and His Word. They may be able to convince themselves that these same hierarchs would never commit their erroneous doctrines to an allegedly infallible document, but such thinking seems wishful indeed in view of the highly compromised documents of Vatican II, not to mention the victory of the ultramontanists in Vatican I.


What a Tangled Web is Woven to Defend Tobit!

January 23, 2013

Over at the “National Catholic Register,” Mark Shea provided a piece responding to a reader’s concerns about the apocryphal book of Tobit, which is included within the canon of Scripture by the Council of Trent. I’m afraid the reader of Shea’s response has been seriously disserviced by Shea’s misleading answer.

Mark Shea wrote: “I’m of the opinion (perfectly acceptable, though not, of course, mandatory for Catholics) that Tobit is a work of fiction.”  I suppose people may differ over what is “perfectly acceptable.” In Denzinger’s “Sources of Catholic Dogma” the “Decree of Damasus” supposedly from a Council of Rome of 382 lists the book (consistently referred to as Tobias in Denzinger) within the list of “histories” together with Job, Esther, Esdras A & B, Judith, and 1 & 2 Maccabees. (p. 34)  Likewise in a letter to Exuperius, Innocent I categories the book within the “histories” category, additionally including 1 & 2 Chronicles in the same category. (p. 42) Trent, Session IV, does not explicitly state whether Tobit is historical, but places it amongst the historical works, after Nehemiah, but before Judith, Esther, and Job.

Likewise John Paul II refers to it as historical:

1. The Liturgy of Lauds has gathered among its Canticles a fragment of a hymn, that is placed as a seal on the history narrated in the biblical Book of Tobit: to which we listened a few moments ago. The rather long and solemn hymn is an expression typical of Judaic prayer and spirituality, which draws on other texts in the Bible.

(General Audience, August 13, 2003)

Where is any tradition that it is fiction?

Yes, the version of the Bible approved by the U.S. Council of Bishops (NABRE) in its notes does identify the book as historical fiction, but then again it also says the same thing about Judith and Esther: “The inspired author of the book used the literary form of religious novel (as in Esther and Judith) for the purpose of instruction and edification. The seemingly historical data, names of kings, cities, etc., are used as vivid details not only to create interest and charm, but also to illustrate the negative side of the theory of retribution: the wicked are indeed punished.” (source) But who before the 20th century believed such a thing?

Luther himself was on the fence about the matter (as quoted by Fitzmyer in Tobit (Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature), p. 31).  Who before Luther appreciated that the book might be fiction?

Mark Shea stated: “The clues in the text strongly suggest this, as when Tobit is named as the uncle of Ahiqar, a figure out of ancient mideast folklore.” On the one hand, we may believe that Ahiqar (and the work, “The Story of Ahiqar”) is fictional. On the other hand, it is not clear that the author of Tobit or that author’s immediate audience were aware of the fact that Ahiqar was fictional.

Indeed, Roman Catholic historian Joseph A. Fitzmyer, in his commentary on Tobit, asserts that Ahiqar “may well have been a historical figure” (p. 37).  So, while Shea may be right that the person is a character in middle eastern folklore, folklore grows up around historical figures (the cherry tree story about George Washington comes to mind – or the story of the Assumption of Mary).

Mark Shea continued: “If you want to get a feel for how that sounded to the original audience, imagine telling a tale to an English speaker that announces its hero as the uncle of Jack the Giant Killer. Your audience instantly knows from such a cue what sort of story it is hearing and interprets it accordingly.”  What is missing is any documentation at all from Mr. Shea that anyone at all had that perception of the Story of Ahiqar during the inter-testamental period when Tobit was written. While the Story of Ahiqar (as it has come down to us in various fragments) may have epic qualities, it’s not like “Jack and the Beanstalk” in terms of making reference to magic, for example.  Indeed, clearly Fitzmyer (who is an actual historian) doesn’t think that Ahiqar is a virtual Jack the Giant slayer.

Mark Shea continued:

That said, I guess I see no reason why God could not inspire a folk tale that begins “Once upon a time”. Jesus told fictional stories all the time. There was not really a Prodigal Son. There was not really an unjust judge, or a man who found a pearl of great price, or Good Samaritan. What’s wrong with an Old Testament author doing likewise and obeying the conventions of a good “entertaining angels unaware’ yarn in order to show virtue triumphing over evil through patient endurance?

One obvious difference between Tobit and Jesus’ parables is that Jesus’ parables are – you know – described as parables. Tobit, on the other hand, is provided with lots of supposedly historical details that are actually garbled and erroneous (not just claiming that the main character is a relative of fictional Ahiqar, but a number of other issues).

Mark Shea again: “Not, I repeat, that you have to think Tobit is fiction. Lots of people in antiquity took it for a factual story. I don’t think it matters.”  First, if it’s a “factual story” then it matters if one of the main characters claims to be related to a fictional character or if the book is riddled with (other) historical inaccuracies (and it is).  As Fitzmyer concedes, “the vast majority of modern commentators” acknowledge it is not historical, even though there were some attempts to defend its historicity at the beginning of the 20th century (p. 31).  The reason that they acknowledge it, is that the book has so many historical blunders (depending on which recension you follow).

Second, who in antiquity did not take it for a factual story? Can Shea name even one?  Even the authors who allegorized it did not argue that it was allegory as distinct from history.

Mark Shea yet again: “And the people who took it for a factual story don’t seem to have spent a lot of time worrying about it.” This might be significant if anyone at all had “worried” about it. Shea doesn’t (probably because he cannot) point to any author before the Reformation who “worried” about whether Tobit was a purportedly historical work or whether it was an historical novel.

Rather, as noted above, the few “sources of Catholic dogma” that address the matter unanimously describe it as historical.  And we could add to that the writings of people like Origen who treated the work as historical in his Letter to Africanus, at section 13 (link).

Mark Shea once more: “The Fathers of the Church who comment on Tobit are not, as is their custom, super-concerned with whether it is factual.” What “Fathers” does Shea have in mind? Who besides Bede the Venerable (who died in the 8th century) provided a commentary on Tobit?  Who before the 15th century took any serious in the book besides Bede and Ambrose?

As Geoffrey David Miller explains in “Marriage in the Book of Tobit” (p. 14):

Christians have read the Book of Tobit for centuries, but scholarly interest in the book is a relatively recent phenomenon. Ambrose of Milan (339-97) wrote a commentary on Tobit in the fourth century entitled De Tobia, but it was a condemnation of usury rather than an analysis of the story. The eighth-century commentary of Bede (673-735) focused on the actual story of Tobit but only in a superficial manner, offering a mere summary of the book while Christologizing it (For example, Tobiah’s victory over the fish in 6:3-4 represents Christ’s victory over Satan). 

Mark Shea again: “What they are interested in is what God is saying to us through the story and so they mine it for its moral teaching (primarily) and (secondarily) for its allegorical meaning concerning Christ.”  Which, as far as it goes, is true, with Ambrose being an example of the former, and Bede being an example of the latter.

After a quotation from Reardon (who uses the term “historical” in describing the work, repeatedly, without ever acknowledging that Tobit is historically inaccurate, either in that article or the follow-up) that we can pass over for now, Shea concludes:

As to why the Pope keeps it in the Bible, it’s not the Pope’s Bible to fiddle with.  The Pope is bound by apostolic tradition.  The apostles accepted and used the canon of books found in the Septuagint (including Tobit).  So the Pope accepted it as Scripture because the apostles taught him to.  Once the canon of Scripture is defined, the Pope has no authority to contradict what the Holy Spirit has spoken through Holy Church.  Nor do we.  Scripture is not there to affirm our aesthetic choices, but to reveal divine truth to us on God’s terms, not ours.  The healthy approach to Tobit is therefore to let it challenge you, rather than for you to ignore it.  Why not try a decent commentary on Tobit that draws on the Catholic tradition to see what the great saints and thinkers of the Church have mined from it?

First, the “canon of the Septuagint” depends on what century you look at.  Suffice to observe that Trent did not adopt Septuagint Esdras A (see discussion here) or a variety of other “Septuagint” books, such as 3 and 4 Maccabees or 1 Enoch.

Second, the idea that the Apostles used Tobit (as Scripture) is not historically supportable.  The historical evidence is that the Jews of the 1st century did not view Tobit as Scripture, just as the Jews of the patristic era did not(see Origen’s letter to Africanus, linked above, for evidence of that from the first half of the 3rd century), and just as modern Jews do not.  We have Josephus’ testimony regarding what 1st century Jews accepted as authoritative.

Third, the same “tradition” that supposedly passed down to Trent that Tobit is canonical also passed down that it was historical (as shown above).  Moreover, Trent did not depart from the arrangement of Florence and left Tobit and Judith amongst the historical works.

Finally, if Tobit were inspired Scripture, Mark Shea’s last few lines might make some sense.  The problem is that Tobit is not Scripture.  It’s an uninspired work of historical fiction that was passed off for centuries as though it were an historical work.  While it may have some useful teachings, so may the Story of Ahiqar – so may many other uninspired writings.

– TurretinFan

P.S. It’s interesting to note that a statistically insignificant sample of readers at Catholic Answers Forums voted by a simple majority (14 out of 27) that Tobit is entirely true (link).

Two Examples of the Guilt by Association Fallacy

April 16, 2012

The first comes from Mark Shea (trying to defend Cardinal Pell), who tries to associate a literal understanding of Scripture with Atheistic and Fundamentalist advocates (and them with each other).  The second comes from my dear friend Steve Hays (trying to respond to something I wrote) who tries to associate a particular argument with naturalism in the form of the non-overlapping magesteria of Stephen Jay Gould and philsophical naturalism with the example of Bart Ehrman. Ultimately, both posts serve a similar rhetorical purpose.  “You say X, but that sounds just like the bad guys.”

The exceptionally bright reader has already noticed that this post does the same thing, by associating Steve Hays with Mark Shea (or vice versa, if you are in a mirror universe where Mark Shea is a good guy).  Of course, I’m employing that device while calling attention to it, for the deliberate purpose of making the point that this sort of rhetoric is really a fallacious appeal.

As for Steve’s points, Steve states:

I’m not clear on what TFan means by this. On the face of it, it bears a startling similarity to methodological naturalism or Gould’s nonoverlapping magisteria. Unbelievers frequently tell us that “by definition,” supernatural events can’t be historically or scientifically confirmed.

It’s surprising that Steve does not know what I mean by what I wrote (in this earlier post).  I mean just what I said.  I didn’t say that by definition supernatural events cannot be historically or scientifically confirmed.  I said that “The shroud could be the artifact of a supernatural process, and there is no way that this hypothesis could be completely ruled out, because it is not as though supernatural activity would leave any tell-tale marks.”

Steve then states:

Moreover, it’s common for Christian philosophers to infer supernatural causes from natural effects. Consider the many versions of the cosmological and teleological arguments. Or the argument from religious experience. Or intelligent design theory. Or the argument from miracles. Or the argument from prophecy.

Is it TFan’s position that we can never infer supernatural agency from experience? What about answers to prayer? Can we never infer that God answered our prayer?

It seems that Steve’s questions are mostly about positions I haven’t taken.  For example, my post does not take a position regarding whether we can ever infer supernatural agency from experience – my post does not deal with answers to prayers, or whether we can infer that God answered our prayer (whether by supernatural or natural agency).

Likewise, my post does not deal with the cosmological or telelogical arguments or the argument from religious experience, or intelligent design theory, or the argument from miracles or the argument from prophecy.

In fact, my post doesn’t address those things at all.  I may have opinions about all those things, but I don’t express my opinion about them in the post.

In short, there is little relationship between Steve’s comments and what I actually wrote.  This is explained by Steve’s point that he did not understand what I meant.  Nevertheless, it does not lead to me providing much by way of rebuttal, except to say that no – I don’t agree with Bart Ehrman, even though I would agree with some of his criticisms (the good, valid ones – even rascals can make good criticisms sometimes) of Craig’s evidentialism.

But to clarify, since I should do my best to help my good friend Steve understand what I wrote, methodological naturalism has limits as to what it can establish.  Methodological naturalism, also referred to as science, can only provide or eliminate natural explanations of phenomena.  Methodological naturalism can (and did) prove that Jesus was dead, and it can (and did) prove that Jesus was alive at a later time.   It cannot explain the resurrection itself – the way Jesus got alive, because the resurrection was supernatural.  Thus, methodological naturalism could (and does) provide premises that lead one to infer a supernatural resurrection.

If the Shroud had existed in the 1st century (which it definitely didn’t), if it had been used to cover Jesus’ body (which it definitely wasn’t), and if the resurrection had produced the image (which we can be sure it did not) it would have been hypothetically possible for an observer to use methodological naturalism to examine an ordinary shroud beforehand and a shroud with an image on it afterwards.  These premises might lead to an inference that the resurrection produced the image.  But methodological naturalism cannot explain how such an image was produced, if it was not produced naturally.

Likewise, methodological naturalism could have demonstrated that the linen of the shroud was very ancient linen (in fact, it demonstrated that it was medieval linen), but it could not have demonstrated that the image on the shroud was supernaturally produced.  Such would simply have been an inference that people might draw.

All that scientific investigation of the shroud can do is tell us what the shroud is, and how it became what it is through natural processes, if it came to be through natural processes.   Much like science could only determine that the risen Jesus was first really dead and then really alive and well, not that he was supernaturally resurrected.

What’s missing from Shroud advocates is a credible inferential argument from historical or scientific evidence.  The death and resurrection of Christ has multiple contemporary eyewitnesses.  There was scientific examination of the body after death (spear to the side) and after resurrection (demonstration of food consumption).  The shroud doesn’t have any eyewitnesses.  No one can testify who made it or when it was made.


Waltz, Nicaea and Shea

August 16, 2011

David Waltz (no great fan of mine, if memory serves correctly) has nevertheless provided a helpful two-part post in response to my rebuttal to Shea’s post on Nicaea. Mr. Waltz has, I suspect, read more about the Nicene and early post-Nicene period than most people ever will. So, I appreciate that he took the time to read and comment on my post.

Waltz concedes the central theses of my post, namely that Augustine was referring to the council of Nicaea, and that Nicaea was not properly a “local council.” Once those points are conceded, Shea’s argument is shot. The central, and oft-repeated, premise of Shea’s post was that Augustine was referring to a local council.

One might expect that Waltz would realize that the point of the post was right on the money, and stop there. He did not. I won’t speculate on his motives. After all, a man of his reading may simply have wanted to correct what he perceived to be some errors in my post. For such correction, where appropriate, I am always appreciative.

Let’s consider Waltz’s points:

Waltz corrects some citation and quotation problems in a post by the reader to whom Shea’s post was addressed. While I appreciate Waltz’s attention to details in this regard, I haven’t bothered to confirm these matters, since they don’t seem to have any direct connection to my own post.

Waltz corrects a typo in the name of the editor (“JohnE” should have been “John E”) and pointed out that the quotation actually begins on page 281 (the citation had indicated p. 282). These errors have been corrected in the post. Thanks very much to Waltz for pointing them out.

Waltz next discusses the “little background” I provided with respect to the quotation from Augustine. Waltz writes:

Strictly speaking, TF’s “little background” is deficient, for it fails to accurately portray the historical context of Augustine’s statement. The period between the council of Nicaea in 325 and Augustine’s Contra Maximinum Arianum (427/428) was one of the most contested in the history of the Christian Church; more than 130 councils were convened! (Consult Ramsay MacMullen’s, Voting About God, pp. 3, 4 for the names and dates of the councils—see this thread for information about the book).

Without discussing his precise claims, I willingly concede that my background (which was completely accurate) was nevertheless not as complete a picture as could be drawn. In other words, Waltz has here mistaken the idea of precision (detail) with accuracy. Nevertheless, his error is of little significance, so let us proceed to his next comment regarding the background.

Concerning this turbulent period, Shea is certainly correct when he states that, “the Church Universal has not yet arrived at a consensus“. Directly related to this historical fact is [the] nature and role of the various councils that were held during this period; the understanding that some councils were “ecumenical”, that the “ecumenical” councils were infallible when teaching on faith and morals, and needed to be accepted de fide, was a much later doctrinal development. As such, to write that, “Augustine didn’t share the epistemology of modern Rome“, concerning nature and role of councils convened in 4th and early 5th centuries, is to state the obvious. IMO, TF is pretty much wasting our time here, for even Shea is in agreement with him on this point!

Shea certainly did not express an opinion that Augustine doesn’t share the epistemology of modern Rome. In that regard, Waltz is wrong. Which is why Waltz’s view about time being wasted should be revised. On the contrary, Shea claims that Augustine “is, instead, assuming a thoroughly Catholic backdrop to the whole discussion.” (emphasis added) Perhaps Mr. Waltz thinks Shea doesn’t mean “Catholic” to refer to the modern Roman conception of what it means to be “Catholic,” but such a hypothesis is untenable. In short, my comments were a needed corrective to Shea, and I am glad that in substance Waltz agrees and even thinks my point is “obvious.” It’s obvious to Waltz, but it wasn’t obvious to Shea.

The idea of the universal church arriving at a consensus by the time of Augustine on the topic of Arianism is, of course, to some extent an anachronism. In that sense, Shea is – we might say – accidentally correct (you will notice I didn’t dispute his claim in my original post, I merely highlighted it and pointed out its inconsistency with the modern Roman view). He didn’t mean to imply what he implied about Nicaea, but in this case we might almost say that two wrongs make a right. Viewed through the lens of modern Roman dogma regarding conciliar authority, Nicaea did represent a consensus view. However, there are serious problems with that kind of claim.

Waltz continued:

Moving on, TF’s statement that, “Maximinus was an Arian“, is, at best, breathtakingly simplistic. An Arian is one who adheres to the basic theology of Arius—did Maximinus endorse Arius’ basic theology? No, he did not. In fact, he emphatically denied THE defining doctrine of Arius, the doctrine that the Son of God was created ex nihilo; note the following:

The part of Arius’ doctrine which most shocked and disturbed his contemporaries was his statement that the Father made the Son ‘ out of non-existence’ (ἐκ οὐκ ὄντων). (R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, p. 24.)

This particular view of Arius [i.e. creation of the Son of God ex nihilo] has never been supplied with a convincing antecedent. It has always been an erratic boulder in his doctrine, preventing that doctrine being easily fitted into any known system…(Ibid., p. 88)

Waltz’s criticism here is bizarre. The title usually given for Augustine’s work from which the quotation in question comes, as Waltz knows, is “Contra Maximinum Haereticum Episcopum Arianorum libri duo.” That “Arianorum” is the Latin word that we translate “Arian.” It’s normal and customary to refer to Maximinus as an Arian, without implying that his views are identical to those of Arius.

Moreover, R.P.C. Hanson identifies Maximinus as an example of a source for Arian writing (p. 100), as an example of Homoian Arianism (p. 126) of the work that Waltz cited, even though Hanson also acknowledges that Maximinus “explicitly denies” the tenet that Waltz highlighted above (p. 564).

At most, Waltz has correctly identified that there is more than one species of Arians, and that the normal practice of referring to Maximinus as an “Arian” is to paint Arianism with a broad brush.

Waltz continued:

Before getting to Maximinus’ theology, I think it would be prudent to supply a little background. Shortly after the council of Nicaea (325), the ordained bishops of the Christian Church at large split into 4 distinct factions; modern patristic scholars have termed those 4 factions as: 1.) the homoousians, those who accepted the Nicene Creed; 2.) the homoiousians, those who replaced homoousios (same being/essence/substance) with homoiousios (like being/essence/substance); 3.) the homoians, those who rejected the terms homoousios and homoiousios as being un-Biblical, and embraced the view that the Son of God was homoiōs (like, similar, in the same way) with respect to God the Father; and 4.) the ‘Neo-Arians’, sometimes termed the anhomoians (see Hanson, Search, p. 598 for the reason why many modern patristic scholars prefer the name ‘Neo-Arian’ over others).

Of the 4 factions, only the ‘Neo-Arians’ accepted Arius’ most basic tenant that the Son of God was created ex nihilo, with the other 3 emphatically rejecting this doctrine.

Now, Maximinus was a staunch homoian, his theology being essentially that of the creed universally adopted by Christian Church at a council convened in 360 AD at Constantinople, which creed was a slight revision of so-called “Dated Creed” that was adopted in 359 AD via the convocation of a general council by emperor Constantius II, which convened at two separate locations: Ariminium (now Rimini) and Seleucia.

Of course, none of this contradicts anything I said. In fact, most of what Waltz said is relatively non-controversial (in terms of the various divisions that existed, and so forth). One surprising point is Waltz’s claim that regarding the creed of Ariminium, namely that it was “the creed universally adopted by Christian Church at a council convened in 360 AD at Constantinople… .

Whether or not we should dispute this claim, I think Waltz must admit that Shea cannot accept this claim. Shea cannot admit that the “Christian Church” universally accepted an Arianizing creed, such as that of Ariminium.

Waltz wraps up the first part of his post this way:

Commenting on this creed of 360 AD, the esteemed patristic scholar, J.N.D. Kelly wrote:

Arianism, it will be appreciated, is really a misnomer, for the creed asserts none of the articles of the old heresy [i.e. Arius/Arianism] and explicitly condemns Anomoeanism [i.e. ‘Neo-Arianism’]. (Early Christian Creeds, 2nd edition, 1960, p. 294.)

So, is it accurate to call Maximinus an Arian? With all due respect to the scholars that do attribute the label “Arian” to Maximinus, to do so is, IMO, a “mis[n]omer“, for Maximinus emphatically denied (as did all homoians) the most basic tenant of Arian theology: the creation of the Son of God ex nihilo. To call Maximinus an Arian would be analogous to calling someone who emphatically rejects TULIP a Calvinist!

Kelley himself, while conceding that the term is something of a misnomer, calls the very chapter from which Waltz is citing “The Triumph of Arianism,” of which the very creed to which Waltz has been referring is the crown jewel. So, while it is a misnomer in the sense that the creed isn’t fully consistent with Arius and/or Neo-Arianism, it is a description that is given to it not only by Hanson but also by Kelley.

Regarding TULIP, the comparison is somewhat inapt. TULIP was the production of the Synod of Dordt, held after Calvin’s death. And even to this day, Amyraldians insist that Dordt departed from Calvin on the “L” (they’re wrong, but that debate clearly is for another topic and day).

Moving from part 1 to part 2, Waltz begins:

In part 1, I demonstrated that Maximinus was not an Arian, but rather a homoian, and that homoian Christian bishops condemned Arianism.

This insistence on not referring to Homoian Arianism as “Arianism,” is not something that Waltz actually demonstrated is necessary. Indeed, his own sources refer to Homoian Arianism as a species of Arianism, even if not fully consistent with Arius’ own beliefs.

Waltz continues:

TF then states that, “Augustine was the orthodox (“catholic” but not “Catholic”) bishop of Hippo, as everyone knows”. Once again, TF is anachronistically portraying this historical period, for ‘orthodoxy’ was anything but a settled issue. (As for Augustine being “catholic” but not “Catholic“, I will deal with this silliness in a subsequent post.)

Waltz is here arguing against a straw man. I didn’t insist that orthodoxy was a “settled issue,” at the time when Augustine was debating with Maximinus. Shea would need to insist that, given the modern Roman view of councils. I, however, am under no such obligation. I’m not sure why, given his penchant for decrying anachronism (even without it being offered), Waltz finds the distinction between “catholic” and “Catholic,” silly. However, since he has left it for another post, and since it was a relatively minor point in my own post, it can safely be tabled for now.

Waltz once more:

He then gives one a misleading impression with his statement that, “both Augustine and Maximinus were in the same locale and region“—fact is, Maximinus had just arrived in Hippo with, “Count Sigiswulf (Segisvultus), a Goth,” who in 427, “led a Roman army to Africa in order to suppress the rebellion of Bonifacius” [see John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 1, Vol. 18, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J., Debate With Maximinus, Introduction (New York: New City Press, 1995), p. 175.]—his ordination, and conciliar loyalty, had NOTHING to do with the Hippo locale/region. Yet once again, though neither Shea, nor TF have a good grasp of the historical landscape of this period, Shea is the more accurate.

Waltz’s points about where Maximinus came from doesn’t really have a bearing on the fact (undisputed by Waltz) that Maximinus was the Arian bishop of Hippo (Waltz doesn’t like that “Arian” label for the homoians, as noted above). In fact one scholar expressed it this way:

Nearly ten years after his Answer to the ‘Arian Sermon’ (between A.D. 427 and A.D. 428), Augustine entered into a public debate at Hippo with a major representative and vigorous defender of Homoian Arianism. Bishop Maximinus had only recently arrived in North Africa in the company of Count Sigiswulf (or Segisvultus), a Goth who led a Roman force against a local uprising, and who had encouraged this encounter with Augustine in order to secure peace between Arians and Catholics in the region.

Studia Patristica vol. 38, St. Augustine and His Opponents: Other Latin Writers, Wiles and Yarnold eds., “The Significance of the communication idiomatum in St. Augustine’s Christology, with special reference to his rebuttal of later Arianism,” by Joseph Torchia, O.P., pp. 314-15.

Waltz is dead wrong about Shea being more accurate. Shea had claimed, “[Augustine] regards himself as bound by the teaching and discipline of the synod whose jurisdiction is over his local geographic region, and the person he is writing to likewise feels bound by his local synod,” (and Shea compared the situation to that of local fasting rules in Rome vs. Milan) but in fact the issue wasn’t geographic and at the time of the dispute, the two bishops were in the same locale, directly contrary to Shea’s analogy to Milanese vs. Roman fasting rules.

Waltz continued:

The only point that TF has “debunked” is that neither of the two councils being discussed were “local“, the rest of his musings are [sic] do not fit the facts. FACT #1: no council and/or creed up to this period was recognized as universally binding; FACT #2: if any council up to the date of the debate between Augustine and Maxinimus (427/428) had any semblance of a claim to universal authority it was the dual councils of Ariminum and Seleucia, which were convoked by emperor Constantius II in 359. These two parallel councils were really essentially one council held in two different geographical locations for the sake of logistics. The estimates of the number of bishops that attended range between 550+ and 750+, which means that this dual council was significantly larger than council of Nicaea held in 325. Not only the size, but also the geographical and theological representation was considerably more significant—Augustine was engaging in a bit of ‘damage control’ when he demanded that competing councils be left out of the equation.

Waltz here concedes the main point of my post, and yet insists that the rest of my “musings” “do not fit the facts.” But actually, Waltz cannot point to any of my musings that don’t fit with his two purported facts. Moreover, of course, Shea is not free to admit with Waltz that Nicaea was not universal binding. I am free to agree with Waltz on that point, but Shea is not – because Shea’s church insists on a particular view of conciliar authority – one that wasn’t shared by Augustine.

Waltz is right about the fact that the size of the councils of Ariminum and Seleucia were (in combination – and perhaps even Ariminum individally) considerably bigger and more geographically diverse than Nicaea. That’s one of those inconvenient conciliar truths I try to warn people about, when they place their confidence in large councils.

Waltz’s final point is to argue that Augustine’s quotation makes it sound as though Maximinus had tried to suggest that Ariminum was binding, whereas Maximinus had likewise agreed to settle the matter by the Scriptures. Of course, the purpose of my post was not to suggest that Maximinus believed what Shea believes about councils, or even to discuss at all what Maximinus thought of conciliar authority. So, while I might quibble over whether Augustine’s comments give a misleading impression regarding Maximinus’ position, it seems Waltz’s comments in Maximinus’ defense are at best tangential to the thrust of my post.

Waltz concludes:

To sum up, apart from incorrectly terming the councils of Armininum (359) and Nicaea (325) as “local“, Shea’s assessment that, “What Augustine is doing is appealing to a common authority in a dispute where the Church Universal has not yet arrived at a consensus“, is quite accurate, whilst TF’s overall critique is significantly flawed.

As noted above, if Shea is correct in that sentence, it is only because, although he has a wrong view of conciliar authority, he mistakenly thought that Nicaea was a local council. Thus, while Shea may be accidentally correct in that statement (as mentioned above – and as was not denied in my original post), Shea’s underlying rationale is at odds with his Roman views of Nicaea.

So, thanks again to Waltz for his additional comments and – frankly – reinforcement of the points I was making. I don’t find Waltz’s objection to referring to Homoian Arians as “Arians,” to be particularly compelling, and that seems to be the major beef he has with my post. I also reiterate my thanks to him for his identification of the editorial problems in my original post to which I’ve now attended.


Apology Accepted, Mr. Shea

December 23, 2010

In which Mr. Shea apologizes for his previous claims (link)(link to more recent previous claims)(and original previous claims). Although he doesn’t specifically name me, since his original post was obviously aimed at what I wrote, I’m happy to grant his apology and forgive him for his misstatements.

Eastern Orthodoxy and Reformed Radar

April 18, 2010

Mr. Mark Shea is determined to make sure that Eastern Orthodoxy is on our radar (link to Shea’s post). While we appreciate Mr. Shea’s attempt to bring clarity to the table, we are well aware of the Eastern Orthodox.

In fact, we’re well aware of attempts like those those of Mr. Shea to overplay the similarities between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. I responded to one such attempt in article called “If You Look Only at the Similarities, They’re Exactly the Same!

That article is actually an example of me discussing Eastern Orthodoxy with a Roman Catholic, but I’ve also defended Augustine against false charges brought by the Eastern Orthodox crowd in an article called “Eastern Orthodox Confusing Augustine with Gnostics

I’ve discussed the difference between the Western and North African canon of Scripture and the canon of more “eastern” fathers, such as John of Damascus in an article called “Did Hippo, Carthage, or Rome’s Bishop Settle the Canon?

I’ve responded to an Eastern Orthodox blogger on the topic of Ecclesial Infallibility (link).

Other posts related to the topic of Eastern Orthodox may be found under the “Orthodox” label on my blog (link to list of posts with that label).

I’ve even done a debate on Sola Scriptura with an Eastern Orthodox opponent (link to debate, in reverse chronological order).

Does some of the Internet apologetics world have a blind eye for Eastern Orthodoxy? Undoubtedly. Does Eastern Orthodoxy occupy as much of our energy as Roman Catholicism? Certainly not. Yet it is on the radar screen.

Shea quotes himself as thinking:

Dude. Have you ever heard of the Orthodox? They don’t exactly get their marching orders from the Pope, but they will laugh you out of dodge if you tell them these things are not apostolic or try to get them to sign off on some cockamamie theory of sola scriptura as though that’s what Athanasius believed.

If the Sufficiency and Perspicuity of Scripture a “cockamanie theory” so be it, but we’ve already seen that Athanasius held them (link to discussion of one of Athanasius’ letters).

It’s interesting that Shea said “laugh you out of dodge” rather than “refute your arguments.” It is, of course, one thing to laugh as Shea himself does, and as some Eastern Orthodox folks do. It is quite another to investigate Scripture to find out what is apostolic. It takes more than a jelly-bowl-imitating belly to digest history and investigate the truth of both Rome’s and Moscow’s claims.

This requirement for some amount of cerebral activity may explain the general paucity of apologists of all stripes (on both sides of the Tiber and the Bosporus). And while there may not be many Roman Catholic apologists of note in the English-speaking blogosphere, there are even fewer Eastern Orthodox, for a variety of reasons.

Even if the Eastern Orthodox were more numerous, however, there is at least a perception (among Reformed apologists) that Eastern Orthodoxy doesn’t have a Trent: it does not have a dogmatic definition that declares the gospel of Christ to be anathema. It does not have a Vatican I: it does not claim that any of its bishops are infallible, nor does it claim that even the so-called Ecumenical Patriarch is the jurisdictional visible head of the church.

Eastern Orthodoxy has had men like Cyril Lucaris (1572–1638), who served as Patriarch of Alexandria and subsequently Patriarch of Constantinople. Cyril Lucaris allegedly (and various folks dispute this) wrote a Calvinistic “Confession” (link to confession). He also provided King James I with a copy of the ancient Scripture manuscript Codex Alexandrius (5th century) as a gift.

There may be many serious errors in Eastern Orthodox doctrine and practice, and we do respond to them as the opportunity presents itself. Nevertheless, Rome’s opposition to the gospel is more systemic and blatant.

This article was initially drafted in response to Mr. Shea, but in the meanwhile, I notice that a number of additional Roman Catholic bloggers have picked up on the same idea. The transmission of this argument is thus:

Dave Brown at Orthocath building on his own earlier post

via Dave Brown, Mark Shea at Catholic and Enjoying it!

via Mark Shea, Fr. Dwight Longenecker at Standing on my Head simply asserts that “Mark Shea makes a good apologetical [sic] point.”

via Mark Shea, Brian Visaggio at Saint Superman (quotes from Brown, with some comments on the beauty of the Coptic/EO liturgies)

via Dave Brown, Devon Rose at St. Joseph’s Vanguard and Our Lady’s Train (quotes from Brown, with repetition of some of Brown’s claims)

via Dave Brown, Francis Beckwith at Return to Rome (Beckwith simply provides a block quotation from Mr. Brown)

via Dave Brown, David Palm at The Reluctant Traditionalist (Mr. Palm makes a number of additional claims )

Additionally, one of Mark Shea’s readers, Alphonsus, points us to Jonathan Deane at Called to Communion with some similar thoughts.

Thus, I’d like to slightly broaden this post. First, in response to Mr. Brown, it is true that “Protestants” sometimes do sometimes think that church history goes from the book of Acts (or perhaps John on the Isle of Patmos) to Luther in 1517 (or to Billy Graham or their own parents). This is sad. There is much to learn from history, even though Scripture, not history, is our infallible rule of faith and morals.

Mr. Brown criticizes Lorraine Boettner, stating “This same list of “inventions,” popularized by Protestant theologian Loraine Boettner, puts the idea of seven sacraments as late as 1439.” In fact, in one list that Boettner provides, Boettner states: “34. The doctrine of Seven Sacraments affirmed: a.d. 1439.” The list of a list of dates of adoption, not dates of innovation, a distinction that Mr. Brown would do well to note.

In point of fact, while the Council of Florence (1439) enumerated seven sacraments, it remained to the Council of Trent (1545-63) to formally define the matter. Others may point to the idea that the Council of Lyons (1274) had the same enumeration among the documents presented to it. However, Roman Catholic sources themselves (such as the so-called “Catholic Encyclopedia”) will acknowledge that the honor or infamy for the “seven sacraments” distinctive lies with with Otto of Bamburg (around 1139) or more properly Peter Lombard (lived from about 1100 to 1160). Both of these men post-date the 1054 division between the eastern patriarchates and Rome. While the continuing interaction between East and West may well have cross-pollinated the error of seven sacraments to the East, it began as a distinctively Western error, even if folks like Otto of Bamburg and Peter Lombard were not “Roman Catholic” in the modern sense.

Mr. Brown goes on to overstate the separation of the “Coptic Orthodox” both from the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. His idea is to suggest that when Coptics, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholics agree on something, it proves it goes back to 450 A.D. This kind of idea is naive at best, for it ignores the very real interaction and cross-pollination that exists amongst those three groups, as well as between those groups and other groups, such as the Assyrian Church of the East or the Ethiopian Orthodox.

Mr. Brown concludes: “At the very least, we can say that at the time of the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), a Protestant theological approach is light years away. Did it exist before then? Were there Christians in the Early Church who looked like the Evangelicals of today? If so, they left no mark in either the Ancient Churches nor in the writings of the Church Fathers in East or West.” However, Mr. Brown should read more of the writings of the fathers, if he wants to find marks of the “Protestant theological approach” (at least as it relates to the formal principle of Sola Scriptura).

Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch of Alexandria from 412-444), for example, said: “That which the divine Scripture has not spoken, how shall we receive it and reckon it among verities?” (Glaphyrorum in Genesim, Book II) He also wrote: “It is best not to love to be moved by the bold assertions others, since they carry us away to incorrect views, but to make the words of the inspired writers the correct and exact rule of faith.” (Of the Holy Trinity, Dialogue 4)

Let us grant that Cyril died in the decade prior to the Council of Chalcedon, yet it should be apparent to all but the most obstinate readers that his comments quoted above sound more “Protestant” than not. Surely, Cyril was not a “Protestant” nor would his church have looked like a typical American Evangelical church in a number of ways. Both ideas would be anachronistic. While we Reformed Christians would agree with Cyril on most things, there would doubtless be points where we would differ from him. When we would do so, we would do so because methodologically we agree with him: we make the words of the inspired writers the correct and exact rule of faith and do receive and reckon among those things to be believed those things the divine Scripture has not spoken.

And if someone will insist that we must bring forward someone who lived through the Council of Chalcedon, we will cheerfully point to Theodoret of Cyrus (lived from about 393 to 457) who wrote: “Now, I do not state this dogmatically, my view being that it is rash to speak dogmatically where holy Scripture does not make an explicit statement; rather, I have stated what I consider to be consistent with orthodox thought.” (Question 4 on Genesis) Keep in mind that Theodoret was, at times and on certain issues, a theological opponent of Cyril of Alexandria (I am understating the level of their disagreement). Yet both men agreed with each other and us on the fundamental rule of faith.

While Mr. Brown was more cautious in his claims, Mr. Palm was rather more reckless. Mr. Palm stated, among other things:

Christians have always been distinctively Catholic in their doctrine and worship. The Protestant “Reformation” was not a return to a lost “pure Christianity” but was in many areas something entirely new and revolutionary.

This sort of assertion is bold, but unfounded. Whether one looks at Newman and his development hypothesis, or the work of more recent historians such as J.N.D. Kelly or Jaroslav Pelikan, anyone who seriously studies history will find that as they get closer and closer to the time of the apostles, more and more of the “distinctively [Roman] Catholic” elements disappear. Indeed, the early church is “catholic” in the true sense, but it is not Roman Catholic.


While Eastern Orthodoxy is on our radar, it gets less attention for a variety of reasons that are discussed above. Like Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy alleges historical continuity – but a serious historical investigation shows that both Rome and (to a lesser extent) Eastern Orthodoxy have wandered from the purity of the apostolic faith and practice.


Shouldn’t You Be Eating Chocolate?

December 30, 2009

The always-creative adherent to the papacy, Mark Shea, seems to think that I (TurretinFan) am not much fun at parties because I spent part of Christmas 2009 in service to my Lord, demonstrating that the rule of faith of Aquinas is different from the rule of faith of Rome today (Aquinas and Formal Sufficiency & Aquinas and the Rule of Faith) while others were out, in Shea’s words, “opening presents, eating too much chocolate, singing and generally making merry” (link to Shea’s article).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an ascetic monk who condemns all pleasures entirely. There is a time for everything under the sun. Nevertheless, criticism for being about my Father’s service by defending the faith seems odd, as though amusing oneself with merriment were more important on the 25th of December than promoting the position of the Word of God as the alone rule of faith by answering Rome’s false claim of historical continuity to a different rule of faith.

Mr. Shea, however, offered no response to the merits of the blog posts. Instead, he commented:

Replying to professional anti-Catholics like TurretinFan or James White is like the world’s longest game of whack-a-mole. Aside from a tiny fanbase of fellow TRVLY REFORMED types who are there to cheer for their champion as he sallies forth to do battle with the Great Whore, nobody cares about this stuff, nobody is impressed with “Look! I Quoted Thomas in the Original Latin!” It touches nobody’s life and serves only to expand the egos of the Cult of White and His Acolytes to Hindenburg proportions. (And it tempts not a few young single Catholic males with a chip on their shoulder to answer in kind.) Enough!

There is an odd sort of consistency to Mr. Shea’s comments. Although he occasionally throws some stones, he doesn’t actually answer us on the substance of the issues. He may call us moles, but he doesn’t actually whack us. And he rightly does not refer to himself as an apologist, for an apologist would have to do something more than accuse Rome’s critics of being no fun at all.

Ironically (ironic in that Shea’s negative post refers favorably to Catholic Answers Apologists), Patrick Madrid – an apologist for Catholic Answers – posted a quotation from Francis de Sales (a great enemy of Calvinism), parts of which seemed appropriate to the situation:

It is true, Philothea, that if we are ready to laugh, play cards, or dance with the world in order to please it, it will be scandalized at us, and if we don’t, it will accuse us of hypocrisy or melancholy. If we dress well, it will attribute it to some plan we have, and if we neglect our dress, it will accuse of us of being cheap and stingy. Good humor will be called frivolity and mortification sullenness. Thus the world looks at us with an evil eye and we can never please it. … Let us give up this blind world, Philothea. Let it cry out at us as long as it pleases, like a cat that cries out to frighten birds in the daytime. Let us be firm in our purposes and unswerving in our resolutions.


While, Mr. Shea might think that my comments on the rule of faith were my “latest punch at the false religion of Rome” he actually missed my more recent post on Vasquez’ inappropriate Mariolatry. He seems to think the punch he saw was an inappropriate substitute for fruit punch and figgy pudding, and consequently did not rise to meet the challenge presented. Nevertheless, if a few hours spent on the 25th of December poring over Latin texts rather than drowning my taste buds in mulled cider will help someone see that Scripture should be honored above all other proposed rules of faith, I will consider it a worthy sacrifice to the cause of Christ. If by giving up the pleasure of a little chocolate, I may be able to help someone gain the true gospel of Christ, it was well worth it.

To the glory of the alone Head of the Church, namely my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,


Because Morality Changes over 800 Years …

December 23, 2009

That must be why we see responses like this (link to response) from Roman Catholic human being Mark Shea. Of course! How could we be so dim! Christifideles Laici overrules 800 years of tradition, and the moral basis underlying the canonical provisions we previously identified (link).

But wait, does Christifideles Laici actually contradict those earlier documents in any way?

Does it permit any lay person to “engage in dispute, either private or public, concerning the Catholic Faith” contrary to Pope Alexander IV’s decree? Does it permit any lay person “publicly make a speech or teach, thus investing himself with the dignity of a teacher” contrary to the degree of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council? Perhaps you have to read between the lines with special golden spectacles.

So let’s see, when a really old document matches what Mr. Shea believes, it’s those evil Calvinists trying to throw off tradition, but when the 800 year old document disagrees with Mr. Shea, it’s so much out-dated rubbish.

Got it.


P.S. For those who haven’t yet become accustomed to my style, I think it is absolutely absurd to think that it was immoral of laity to teach 800 years ago, but perfectly fine, in fact their duty, to do so today. Morality doesn’t change, because God (the God of the Bible) doesn’t change.

Mark Shea on Me on Hitchens and Fry

November 23, 2009

Mark Shea seems unhappy (link to his post). He states:

Speaking of weird partisanship, here’s yet another Calvinist sitting in the peanut gallery and cheering on the atheists because they happen to be quarreling with Catholics. Better that God be blasphemed than that any slight pettiness of the 16th Century quarrel be abandoned for one second. We must have our priorities!

He’s complaining because I posted a link to a debate in which a Roman Catholic archbishop and a Roman Catholic member of the British parliament got trounced in a debate with Hitchens and Fry (link to my previous post).

He didn’t make the same complaint when I posted a link to a debate between Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza (link to my previous post).

Perhaps that’s because I had positive things to say about Dinesh’s performance and negative things to say about the performance of Archbishop Onaiyekan. That is a bit odd, though, because I didn’t see Shea complain when Patrick Madrid posted this same debate and said negative things about Archbishop Onaiyekan’s performance (link to Madrid’s post).

Shea mentions something about cheering from the peanut gallery, but frankly if you read my post, there isn’t actually any “cheering” going on there. In fact, there was more cheering in the Dinesh post than in the Onaiyekan post.

What makes Shea’s botched potshot more amusing is that so far no atheists have complained about “weird partisanship” because of my comments about Dinesh. Although, in fairness, Roman Catholic Dave Armstrong did mock me for my post saying something nice about Dinesh’s performance (link to Dave Armstrong’s mockery).

So, when I post a debate that went poorly for Rome, I get targeted by Shea while he leaves Madrid alone; meanwhile when I post a debate that goes well by a Roman Catholic debater I get targeted by Armstrong.

The moral of the story: you can’t make folks with double standards happy.

Out of Tune with the Roman Magisterium?

August 18, 2009

Mr. Shea has posted a still further response on the topic of Mary’s birth pangs or lack thereof and the woman of Revelation 12 (link to Shea’s post). Mr. Shea seems to think our arguments “flat-footed” and compares discussing this with us to discussing music appreciation with a deaf man. This flatfloot, however, is less interested in arresting Mr. Shea for playing such bad music, but for doing so without the proper license.

Mr. Shea characterizes his previous arguments with respect to Mary’s birth pangs and Rome’s teaching or not on that subject as follows: “the whole point is that Rome acknowledges this opinion, but does not commit us to it.” Here, however, the flatfoot in one thinks to investigate. Does Rome merely acknowledge the opinion or actually teach it? Are we tone deaf, or is Mr. Shea out of tune with his magisterium?

The Catechism of Trent, most recently (that I could find) promulgated by the encyclical In Dominico Agro, on June 14, 1761, by pope Clement XIII included the following paragraph:

The Virgin Mother we may also compare to Eve, making the second Eve, that is, Mary, correspond to the first, as we have already shown that the second Adam, that is, Christ, corresponds to the first Adam. By believing the serpent, Eve brought malediction and death on mankind, and Mary, by believing the Angel, became the instrument of The divine goodness in bringing life and benediction to the human race. From Eve we are born children of wrath; from Mary we have received Jesus Christ, and through Him are regenerated children of grace. To Eve it was said: In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children. Mary was exempt from this law, for preserving her virginal integrity inviolate she brought forth Jesus the Son of God without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain.

Notice how Clement XIII’s catechism not only makes the connection that Mr. Shea previously attempted to criticize (“By the logic of this argument, it would also be possible to indict Jesus as a sinner since he suffered, toiled, sweated, and died, just like Adam (cf. Gen. 3:17-19).”), namely that because the sufferings were part of the curse, therefore, Mary didn’t suffer them. So, the tones of Mr. Shea’s song seem to be a bit off, if we’re permitted to use the official teachings of his church as our tuning fork for what constitutes Roman Catholicism – after all, they are the licensed magisterium, but I don’t think he can claim that same privilege.

In fact, and germane to our discussion, this paragraph it is not just from any old catechism, but from an official catechism. You will recall earlier that Mr. Shea built his argument that Rome doesn’t teach the view on the grounds that: “But as the carefully worded language of the Catechism (quoted in the combox) makes clear, the Church doesn’t go to the mat on this question.” By Mr. Shea’s apparent reasoning, Clement XIII’s Rome did “go to the mat” on this question, whether or not the ambiguous wording of the more recent 1980’s catechism does. Yet Mr. Shea seems insistent on relying on the silence of the current catechism on this particular issue.

Even in his latest post, Mr. Shea writes:

Note what is not demanded here. There is no clause saying “The faithful must, on pain of excommunication, believe and profess that Mary suffered no birth pangs.” So it’s rather a stretch to say “Rome teaches” this. In fact, Rome acknowledges it as a very common opinion and it is certainly something many great Catholics have held.

This kind of comment simply shows how out of touch Mr. Shea is with the life, discipline, and history of his own church. As Clement XIII explained regarding the Catechism of Trent:

The popes clearly understood this. They devoted all their efforts not only to cut short with the sword of anathema the poisonous buds of growing error, but also to cut away certain developing ideas which either could prevent the Christian people unnecessarily from bearing a greater fruit of faith or could harm the minds of the faithful by their proximity to error. So the Council of Trent condemned those heresies which tried at that time to dim the light of the Church and which led Catholic truth into a clearer light as if the cloud of errors had been dispersed. As our predecessors understood that that holy meeting of the universal Church was so prudent in judgment and so moderate that it abstained from condemning ideas which authorities among Church scholars supported, they wanted another work prepared with the agreement of that holy council which would cover the entire teaching which the faithful should know and which would be far removed from any error.

So, the purpose of the Tridentine catechism was to be “another work prepared with the agreement of that holy council which would cover the entire teaching which the faithful should know and which would be far removed from any error.” In fact, according to Clement XIII, the catechism was drawn up in a minimalist way: “they proposed that only what is necessary and very useful for salvation be clearly and plainly explained in the Roman Catechism and communicated to the faithful.”

Is the miraculous/painless birth something to which denial has been penalized with an anathema? I’m not aware of any such promulgation. Does that mean Rome has not explicitly taught that view and even grouped it as being a matter that is “necessary and very useful for salvation”? But Mr. Shea thinks that he’s free to accept it or not accept it: cafeteria-style Roman Catholicism at its most polemic (How polemic is his cafeteria position? he compares the view of Mary’s birth of Jesus being painless to geocentrism and the idea that Jews are accursed).

Mr. Shea claims: “In similar ways, the Catholic Church has had all sorts of schools of opinion on all manner of subjects, while the Magisterium has refrained, sometimes for centuries, from plumping in favor or one or the other.” I don’t know about you, but to me putting something in a catechism and saying in an official papal encyclical that the catechism only has matters that are “necessary and very useful to salvation” sounds like “the Magisterium” taking sides on the matter. As Clement XIII points out, after all, the Roman Catechism (as it was then called) was actually the product of Pius V (pope from January, 17, 1504 – May 1, 1572).

Moreover, as I pointed out in my previous post, Mr. Shea has yet to show us someone who holds to “in partu” virginity of Mary and yet asserts that Mary had birth pangs. This is not like the Thomist / Molinist controversy in which the popes simply avoided taking sides and eventually permitted both views to be maintained. Despite Mr. Shea’s lack of assistance, I’ve looked diligently for another side to this supposed controversy. The closest one finds is Ludwig Ott:

2. Virginity During the Birth of Jesus: Mary bore her Son without any violation of her virginal integrity. (De fide on the ground of the general promulgation of doctrine.)

The dogma merely asserts the fact of the continuance of Mary’s physical virginity without determining more closely how this is to be physiologically explained. In general the Fathers and the Schoolmen conceived it as non-injury to the hymen, and accordingly taught that Mary gave birth in miraculous fashion without opening of the womb and injury to the hymen, and consequently also without pains (cf. S. th. III 28, 2).

However, according to modern natural scientific knowledge, the purely physical side of virginity consists in the non-fulfilment of the sex act (“sex-act virginity”) and in the non-contact of the female egg by the male seed (“seed-act virginity”) (A. Mitterer). Thus, injury to the hymen in birth does not destroy virginity, while, on the other hand, its rupture seems to belong to complete natural motherhood. It follows from this that from the concept of virginity alone the miraculous character of the process of birth cannot be inferred, if it cannot be, and must not be derived from other facts of Revelation. Holy Writ attests Mary’s active rôle in the act of birth (Mt. 1, 25; Luke 2, 7: “She brought forth”) which does not seem to indicate a miraculous process.

But the Fathers, with few exceptions, vouch for the miraculous character of the birth. However, the question is whether in so doing they attest a truth of Revelation or whether they wrongly interpret a truth of Revelation, that is, Mary’s virginity, from an inadequate natural scientific point of view. It seems hardly possible to demonstrate that the dignity of the Son of God or the dignity of the Mother of God demands a miraculous birth.

Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 205

Ott himself doesn’t come out and advocate a lack of physical integrity in Mary, but he does criticize the physical integrity in partu position on the basis of (of all things) Scripture. He ends up expressing uncertainty over whether the Fathers were “attest[ing] a truth of Revelation” or “wrongly interpret[ing] a truth of Revelation” based on “an inadequate natural scientific point of view.” That kind of agnosticism over the issue is far to the “other side” as I was able to locate from any kind of authority in Roman Catholic theology. Of course, the body of Roman Catholic literature is enormous, and I may have overlooked something.

Mr. Shea eventually ends up consenting as well, if somewhat grudgingly. He states: “None of that is to say that it is wrong to think Mary suffered no birth pangs. I think the patristic logic is sense,” although he goes on to insist that since there is no anathema “that’s a matter of liberty, not of ‘Rome teaches’.”

Finally, Mr. Shea gets to what he views as the argument. He wants to interpret the birth pangs of the Revelation 12 woman as not being literal birth pangs but some kind of psychological pains such as those experienced by Mary when Jesus was crucified.

While that might seem like an escape, it undermines the identification of Mary with the Revelation 12 woman. After all, the main reason to identify Mary with the Revelation 12 woman is the fact that the woman there gives birth to a man child. In other words, one has to interpret that giving birth literally in order to connect Mary to the Revelation 12 woman. Then to turn around and make the travails non-literal seems arbitrary at best. Finally, to make them the psychological pain Mary experienced when Jesus was crucified ignores the temporal sequence found in Revelation 12, and further demonstrates the arbitrary nature of the association between Mary and the woman of Revelation 12.

Mr. Shea might think that having to defend his position is “like arguing about music appreciation with a deaf man” and call our arguments “flat-footed,” but that flat platform apparently leads to sure-footed stability of consistent explanation and a knack for detective work in tracking down what Rome actually teaches. Likewise, while we may be deaf to the sirens of Rome (though it seems to be Mr. Shea who is not quite in tune with Rome’s orchestra), we lack the inner ear problems that result in the wobbly (and eventually toppling) arguments trying to link Mary and the Revelation 12 woman.


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