October 7, 2014 § 16 Comments

I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a while.

It isn’t ‘mercy’ to send someone down the road to Hell

October 6, 2014 § 17 Comments

As the Extraordinary Synod gets underway I expect to hear lots of Orwellian talk about ‘justice versus mercy’, as if they were opposites.  This is just a rhetorical trick, because it attempts to frame ‘pastorally’ sending vulnerable people down the road to Hell as ‘mercy’.  Even if we accepted the false dichotomy, deliberately leading souls to Hell by treating ignorance as the eighth sacrament isn’t ‘mercy’.  As soon as a person knows that his objectively adulterous acts are grave matter, he must seek the grace to cease choosing to engage in objectively adulterous acts. And the longer things go on without him learning the truth, the more difficult his situation becomes.

Pastoral ‘solutions’ which propose to reduce objectively adulterous acts to the status of venial sin (a prerequisite to receiving the Eucharist without that reception itself involving mortally sinful sacrilege) therefore depend on keeping people in difficult marital situations ignorant.  They necessarily involve hiding the truth, out of a fear that once told the truth these people will go away sad. Furthermore, to be sustainable this hiding of the truth must persist over time: as soon as the person actually learns the truth the game is up.  So the truth not only must remain unspoken: it must be actively hidden and suppressed.

These ‘pastoral solutions,’ then, are necessarily plans from the Father of Lies. It isn’t ‘mercy’ to send people down the path to eternal torment, or to pat them (and ourselves) on the back paternalistically while lying to them, telling them that they will be just fine even if they continue to choose gravely immoral behaviors.  Pastors will have to lie and persist in the lie – to actively hide the fact that objectively adulterous behaviors are grave matter – in order for this to ‘work’.

However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”(180)

Similarly, the respect due to the sacrament of Matrimony, to the couples themselves and their families, and also to the community of the faithful, forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry. Such ceremonies would give the impression of the celebration of a new sacramentally valid marriage, and would thus lead people into error concerning the indissolubility of a validly contracted marriage.

By acting in this way, the Church professes her own fidelity to Christ and to His truth. At the same time she shows motherly concern for these children of hers, especially those who, through no fault of their own, have been abandoned by their legitimate partner.

With firm confidence she believes that those who have rejected the Lord’s command and are still living in this state will be able to obtain from God the grace of conversion and salvation, provided that they have persevered in prayer, penance and charity.Familias Consortio

An annulment mill straw man, or, turning ignorance into the eighth sacrament redux

October 4, 2014 § 25 Comments

Catherine Harmon quotes Ed Peters:

No, the objections of the first group to the number of annulments being declared is, I suggest, not to the annulment process but to the people running that process. Tribunal officers are, it is alleged, too naive, too heterodox, or just too lazy to reach sound decisions on nullity petitions; they treat annulments as tickets to a second chance at happiness owed to people who care enough to fill out the forms. How exactly members of this first group can reach their conclusion without extended experience in tribunal work and without adverting to the cascade of evidence that five decades of social collapse in the West and a concomitant collapse of catechetical and canonical work in the Church is wreaking exactly the disastrous effects on real people trying to enter real marriages that the Church has always warned about, escapes me. Nevertheless that is essentially their claim: the process needs no major reform, processors do.

Peters in effect asserts a reverse ad hominem, suggesting that opponents of the annulment mill are attacking the character of the people carrying out the process rather than attacking the process itself.

There is a another view, which is that the process needs to be reformed because the ‘internal forum’ criteria for defective consent are inherently subjective. On this view, attempting to judge the majority of ‘internal forum’ annulments is like attempting to judge whether a particular confession was valid or not, based on the testimony of the penitent — who, by the time the issue comes up juridically years later, may not be certain himself.

In the case of a bad confession there is a simple sacramental solution: go make a good, valid confession and don’t leave anything involving ‘grave matter’ out, including the possible invalid confession.

In the case of uncertain consent to marriage there is also a simple sacramental solution: convalidation.  This is how the Church has always consistently treated epistemic doubt about the validity of sacraments, to wit, conditional baptism.  When in doubt because of inherently subjective factors or other uncertainties, the way forward is to insure that the sacrament is confected validly and licitly.

Modern annulment practice is unique in the history of the Church, inasmuch as it treats a possible sacramental irregularity – based on purely subjective considerations – as a two way street.  It doesn’t provide a way forward, it provides a way backward, in the name of a false ‘mercy’. This is terribly unfair in a way in which carrying out the death penalty without objective third-party evidence would be terribly unfair.  Errors in death penalty cases result in killing the innocent; errors in ‘internal forum’ annulment cases turn various people (including innocent ‘spouses’, past and future) into material adulterers.  This is just the very modern phenomenon of turning doubt or ignorance into an eighth sacrament: it pretends that mercy means letting people stew in objective evil with no real way out.

It is quite human for the sinner to acknowledge his weakness and to ask mercy for his failings; what is unacceptable is the attitude of one who makes his own weakness the criterion of the truth about the good, so that he can feel self-justified, without even the need to have recourse to God and his mercy. An attitude of this sort corrupts the morality of society as a whole, since it encourages doubt about the objectivity of the moral law in general and a rejection of the absoluteness of moral prohibitions regarding specific human acts, and it ends up by confusing all judgments about values. – Veritatis Splendour

I’ll cite the documents of one American diocese just to give flavor on the sort of criteria which are actually being employed in the actual current process to annul marriages.  Of course examples can be multiplied, and I’ve seen many more egregious examples than these.  If someone doubts that, we can hold a contest to come up with more examples.  This just happened to be what I grabbed with a quick Google:

Error Concerning a Quality of the Person: (canon 1097, §2) Defect of consent due to error concerning a quality of the other person, directly and principally intended in a spouse. If one party intended to marry someone who possessed a certain quality (perhaps of a moral, social, physical, religious, psychological or legal nature), and the primary reason for entering the marriage was the erroneous belief the intended spouse possessed that quality, the marriage may be invalid. The intended quality must be of such a magnitude that, without it, the person would not have married the other, and the discovery of the truth must have had a serious effect on the nature of the marriage.

Conditioned Consent – Past and Present Condition (c. 1101, §2) Defect of consent when a person entered a marriage based on a past or present condition of the existence or non-existence of a fact, typically concerning the spouse’s or his/her past (e.g., citizenship, criminality) or present state (e.g., pregnancy, a medical condition, career, a character or trait). Placing such a condition on the marriage raises serious questions, and it invalidates marriage when it is proven the condition, upon which the marriage decision depended, was not fulfilled at the time of marriage. This ground may be considered when one or both spouses entered the marriage with an expressed condition based on something from the past or present

Notice that, in addition to relying on wholly subjective testimony about peoples’ expectations going into marriage, these two criteria basically contradict each other. If you married expecting your spouse to have a certain quality and your spouse doesn’t turn out to have that quality, the marriage is null because your spouse didn’t have that quality. But if you married expecting your spouse to have a certain quality at all, that too casts doubt on the validity of the marriage.

This sort of jurisprudence makes the very idea of validly consenting to marriage into a joke.

Now reforming the process to basically close off the way backward represented by ‘internal forum’ annulments still leaves ‘external forum’ cases open to adjudication, and I would use the term broadly to include cases where objective third-party evidence of defective consent prior to the wedding is admissible: e.g. bragging to friends about the mistress at the bachelor party, as attested by third party witnesses.

But closing the door on all ‘purely subjective’ and even self-contradictory internal forum cases – whatever one thinks of it – would (contra Peters) be a process reform, would be consistent with the way the Church treats cases of possible invalidity when it comes to other sacraments, and would preach to the world by walking our talk – unlike current practice – that the Catholic Church is serious about the indissolubility of sacramental marriage.

We’ve all got babies to kill

September 27, 2014 § 145 Comments

I could be wrong, but in my understanding Augustine and Aquinas were primarily concerned with whether the Israelite conquest of Canaan was justifiable at all: with jus ad bellum. After all, on its face it was a war of conquest, and wars of conquest are morally wrong.

Just conduct during war, jus in bello, is clearly – and is formally recognized by the Church as – an entirely distinct subject.

At least one Church Father though has directly addressed accounts of killing infants in the Old Testament and how they are to be interpreted. Here is Origen on the “dashing of babies” in Psalm 137:

And in this way also the just give up to destruction all their vices, so that they do not spare even the children, that is, the early beginnings and promptings of evil. In this sense we understand the language of Psalm 137 … For, “the little ones of Babylon” (which signifies confusion) are those troublesome sinful thoughts that arise in the soul, and one who subdues them by striking, as it were, their heads against the firm and solid strength of reason and truth, is the person who “dashes the little ones against the stones”; and he is therefore truly blessed. – Origen, Contra Celsum, translated by Frederick Crombie, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to AD 325, edited by Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1989)

So according to Origen, Old Testament accounts of killing infants refer metaphorically to destroying heresy and vice in ourselves in its infancy; and the weapons of destruction are reason and truth.

In that sense, we should all be dashing the heads of infants against the rocks.

(UPDATE: Made a minor tweak to my post-citation commentary)

Literal insanity

September 13, 2014 § 224 Comments

Biblical inerrancy is one thing.  It means that there exists a true (corresponds to reality) and correct (corresponds with what the author intends to say about God and salvation) meaning or interpretation of Biblical texts.  That is really all that it means, which is not enough to solve the ‘problem’ of interpretation. That a true and correct interpretation exists doesn’t imply that some specific interpretation is true and correct.

Note that inerrant meaning is ascribed to the author of the text, not the characters and people who are the subjects of the text. That the sacred author’s meaning is inerrant does not imply that King Saul, in his actions and words, was infallible. A true and correct history of the words and deeds of Thomas Jefferson does not imply that the words and deeds of Thomas Jefferson were infallible. Furthermore Scripture gives no list of characters to whom infallibility is to be attributed nor any criteria for determining when their actions or words are infallible.

So when it comes to Scriptural inerrancy there is much less there than meets the positivist eye.

Biblical ‘literalism’ is another thing entirely. It assumes (incoherently) that Scriptural text in itself completely determines meaning, and asserts that the putative ‘literal’ interpretation is true.  This isn’t just wrong: it is rationally incoherent, because any text of sufficient complexity always underdetermines theories of what the text means.

Biblical literalism has a long pedigree, probably because the great majority of human beings throughout the great majority of history have not understood the limitations of text and meaning.  Text and meaning are just things we take for granted and don’t think much about in themselves. The longest lasting institution in all of history, the Roman Catholic Church, however, has always implicitly functioned on an understanding that literalism is incoherent. One might be tempted to attribute this to supernatural grace.

Attempting to interpret the Bible ‘literally’, then, is not something which I take particularly seriously, nor do I think anyone should take it particularly seriously. On the other hand, when talking to a whole society of people in the grip of a basic epistemological error you have to sometimes speak in terms that they can understand.

If I attempt to interpret the book of Deuteronomy like a literalist – and start at the beginning so that I am not pulling things out of context – I find that Moses attributes some things to the Lord and many more things to himself. He doesn’t explicitly assert any claims of infallibility for himself. Here is the first bit (Douay-Rheims), into which I have inserted the referent (Moses or the LORD) in [square brackets] in a number of places:

[1] These are the words, which Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan, in the plain wilderness, over against the Red Sea, between Pharan and Thophel and Laban and Haseroth, where there is very much gold: [2] Eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Cadesbarne. [3] In the fortieth year, the eleventh month, the first day of the month, Moses spoke to the children of Israel all that the Lord had commanded him to say to them: [4] After that he had slain Sehon king of the Amorrhites, who dwelt in Hesebon: and Og king of Basan who abode in Astaroth, and in Edrai, [5] Beyond the Jordan in the land of Moab. And Moses began to expound the law, and to say:

[6] The Lord our God spoke to us in Horeb, saying: You have stayed long enough in this mountain: [7] Turn you, and come to the mountain of the Amorrhites, and to the other places that are next to it, the plains and the hills and the vales towards the south, and by the sea shore, the land of the Chanaanites, and of Libanus, as far as the great river Euphrates. [8] Behold, said he, I [The LORD] have delivered it to you: go in and possess it, concerning which the Lord swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that he would give it to them, and to their seed after them. [9] And I [Moses] said to you at that time: [10] I [Moses] alone am not able to bear you: for the Lord your God hath multiplied you, and you are this day as the stars of heaven, for multitude.

[11] (The Lord God of your fathers add to this number many thousands, and bless you as he hath spoken. [Moses speaks a blessing]) [12] I [Moses] alone am not able to bear your business, and the charge of you and your differences. [13] Let me have from among you wise and understanding men, and such whose conversation is approved among your tribes, that I [Moses] may appoint them your rulers. [14] Then you answered me: The thing is good which thou [Moses] meanest to do. [15] And I [Moses] took out of your tribes men wise and honourable, and appointed them rulers, tribunes, and centurions, and officers over fifties, and over tens, who might teach you all things.

[16] And I [Moses] commanded them, saying: Hear them, and judge that which is just: whether he be one of your country, or a stranger. [17] There shall be no difference of persons, you shall hear the little as well as the great: neither shall you respect any man’ s person, because it is the judgment of God. And if any thing seem hard to you, refer it to me [Moses], and I [Moses] will hear it. [18] And I [Moses] commanded you all things that you were to do. [19] And departing from Horeb, we passed through the terrible and vast wilderness, which you saw, by the way of the mountain of the Amorrhite, as the Lord our God had commanded us. And when we were come into Cadesbarne, [20] I [Moses] said to you: You are come to the mountain of the Amorrhite, which the Lord our God will give to us.

The entire book of Deuteronomy is like this, recounting the words and deeds of the man Moses, as spiritual and political leader of the Israelites, interspersed with specific things attributed by Moses to the LORD. We are given no recounting of how in particular the attribution is made, etc — whether it came in a dream or was recorded onto an SSD recorder at the site of the burning bush or whatever.

But in general it makes no sense in reading Deuteronomy to attribute things to God that Moses himself doesn’t attribute directly to God. (I am sure that God alone actually could ‘bear their business’ if He chose to).

Given that background we can look at the ‘offending’ passages in Deuteronomy 20 where Moses orders the genocide of the Canaanites.

[16] [Moses giving orders] But of those cities that shall be given thee, thou shalt suffer none at all to live: [17] But shalt kill them with the edge of the sword, to wit, the Hethite, and the Amorrhite, and the Chanaanite, the Pherezite, and the Hevite, and the Jebusite, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee: [After the colon, the command Moses attributes to the Lord] [18] Lest they teach you to do all the abominations which they have done to their gods: and you should sin against the Lord your God. [19] [Back to Moses giving orders] When thou hast besieged a city a long time, and hath compassed it with bulwarks to take it, thou shalt not cut down the trees that may be eaten of, neither shalt thou spoil the country round about with axes: for it is a tree, and not a man, neither can it increase the number of them that fight against thee. [20] But if there be any trees that are not fruitful, but wild, and fit for other uses, cut them down, and make engines, until thou take the city, which fighteth against thee.

As a literalist I had better not attribute things to God which are not explicitly attributed to Him.  The text doesn’t say that God was giving orders, it says that Moses was giving orders. This is clearly Moses speaking and commanding, much as he did when he told the Israelites that he (Moses) could not handle all the work of judging their disputes and appointed leaders to do that on his behalf.  God did not come down from the mountain and appoint the leaders, and it wasn’t God whose capacity to judge disputes was limited and required more manpower.  The thing Moses himself attributes to God is that the Israelites should not learn pagan ways and worship pagan gods. Moses himself doesn’t in any direct way attribute the means that he (Moses) chose to God.

Of course there are other ‘problemmatic’ passages which present different interpretive ‘difficulties’ for the literalist.

But if they are a problem for you, the problem arises not from Scripture or inerrancy but from the fact that you are a literalist.  A literalist is a kind of positivist, a person who is committed to the idea that text does not underdetermine meaning. But the way the world actually works, meaning actually is underdetermined by text.

So the thing to do isn’t to wrestle with conundrums like a literalist.  The thing to do is to stop being a literalist, because literalism rests on a false understanding of reality.

Hail Judas

September 8, 2014 § 16 Comments

Morality is the active aspect of holiness.

The resurrected Christ is Holy.

There had to be Good Friday in order for there to be Easter.

There had to be Judas and Pilate in order for there to be Good Friday.

There had to be Satan in the Garden in order for there to be Judas and Pilate.

Does it follow that Judas, Pilate, and Satan should be emulated as models of Christian holiness?

By their beheadings of children ye shall know them

September 5, 2014 § 31 Comments

The fruits of theological voluntarism as trump card over the natural law and the traditional understanding of the fifth commandment are on the front page.

“From this book, accordingly, we see that the religion of the Turks or Muhammad is far more splendid in ceremonies — and, I might almost say, in customs — than ours, even including that of the religious or all the clerics. The modesty and simplicity of their food, clothing, dwellings, and everything else, as well as the fasts, prayers, and common gatherings of the people that this book reveals are nowhere seen among us — or rather it is impossible for our people to be persuaded to them. Furthermore, which of our monks, be it a Carthusian (they who wish to appear the best) or a Benedictine, is not put to shame by the miraculous and wondrous abstinence and discipline among their religious? Our religious are mere shadows when compared to them, and our people clearly profane when compared to theirs. Not even true Christians, not Christ himself, not the apostles or prophets ever exhibited so great a display. This is the reason why many persons so easily depart from faith in Christ for Muhammadanism and adhere to it so tenaciously. I sincerely believe that no papist, monk, or cleric or their equal in faith would be able to remain in their faith if they should spend three days among the Turks. Here I mean those who seriously desire the faith of the pope and who are the best among them.”
– Martin Luther, preface to the Tract on the Religions and Customs of the Turks, published in 1530.


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