Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Updating Reading List 

My brother Christopher, having recently posted his own reading list for this year, has inspired me to update my own, which has not been updated in about three years. And, well, I have read at least a few books since then. I keep mine on the right-hand column of this blog, which I will strive to keep updated.

A professor in grad school once suggested that we all keep 'running bibliographies', not only of books we wanted to read in the future, but also of books that we have read. I wish to hell I had kept his advice. How many times have I wondered, 'wait, I know I read a book about that topic...' Hopefully it's not too late to start.

# posted by Jamie : 3:45 PM


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Student's Question on the Tree of Knowledge 

As I was looking over the notes from the other day and reflecting upon your lecture, a question arose. I agree that in order to love someone, you must first know them. Additionally, if the person is good (or perfect...aka God), then the more you learn about them, the more you grow in your love for them. God truly wants us to love (and therefore know) Him. Yet, He forbade Adam and Eve from eating from the Tree of Knowlege. Why would God take away that venue if it would only lead humans to a closer relationship to Him? As I said, it's just a little incongruity that popped into my mind. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Yes, of course God desires us to know Him, the better to love Him. Thus, He would never forbid us to have recourse to knowledge of Him. We just need to be cautious in our exegesis of the Genesis story.

The identity of the ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’ has been a great challenge to theologians. No one can claim with any confidence to understand exactly what the sacred writer meant by this symbol. Certainly, it cannot mean mere ‘knowledge’ of good and evil, in the way that we think of ‘knowledge’. Certainly, our first parents would have already had knowledge of good, since they were created good by God, and experienced communion with God (Adam ‘walked with God’ in the garden). And, while they would not have ‘known’ evil in an experiential way (in the sense that I ‘know’ what it feels like to step in a mud puddle), they would at least have had some ‘notional’ knowledge of evil, in the sense that, being free, they would have been aware that a rejection of God’s commands was at least a possibility open to them.

Most exegetes have preferred to see this tree not as a ‘knowledge’ of good and evil, straightforwardly, but as symbolizing the authority to define good and evil. In this way, God, as the author of good and the giver of the moral law, has supreme authority to dictate what actions are good, and what are evil. Our first parents had the responsibility to accept, humbly, their creatureliness and God’s deity, and to submit to His instruction as to what was good and what was evil. Instead, Satan invited them to refuse the state of creatureliness, and to attempt deification, i.e. to supplant the Creator Himself and become God: as he said, ‘your eyes will be opened and you will become like God, knowing good and evil’ [= ‘having the authority to define good and evil’]. By eating of this fruit, our first parents chose to reject God’s determination of good and evil, and to set for themselves good and evil. As Isaiah 5:20 says, ‘Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil’. They determined that accepting God’s command would be evil, to break it would be good.

Whether or not this understanding is faithful to the text, it seems the best way of handling the complicated issues involved. In any case, it is the understanding which the late John Paul II gives to the text in his encyclical Veritatis et splendor, from which my comments above are largely borrowed. Hope that helps,

# posted by Jamie : 10:21 AM


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Student's Question on Jesus' Baptism 

I was just posed a difficult question by one of my teens and was wondering if you would be able to help shed some light on the issue for me. We were reading through the story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan women in John's Gospel. Right before that study, there reads this interesting little verse.

John 4:1-2 "Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself was not baptizing, just his disciples) . . . "

The two questions I was posed were, 1. "Why doesn't Jesus baptize his disciples" and 2. "If Jesus doesn't baptize his new disciples why does he let his disciples baptize them?"

Purely speculation, of course.

As for Jesus ‘delegating’ the task of baptizing converts to his apostles, there may be no profound theological reason. His primary ministry was to preach. The early apostles established the ministry of the deaconate precisely so they wouldn’t have to deal with practical matters like distribution of charity, and so ‘neglect the preaching of the word’ (Acts 6:2). St. Paul himself says that his primary ministry is to preach ‘Christ crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2), so that he very rarely performed baptisms (1 Cor. 1:14), but left that to others. So this could be the practical reason: like Paul, Christ focused on preaching, and left practical tasks like baptism to others.

As to why Jesus never baptized His apostles, we don’t know that He didn’t. The fact that Jesus is not recorded as baptizing them does not mean that He didn’t. It could simply be not recorded. But in my opinion (and this is just my opinion), it is likely He did not, because He did not need to. In his Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God, Edward Schillebeeckx points out that St. Paul was the only apostle whose baptism is recorded in Scripture (Acts 9:18), and he was also the only apostle who never had a personal, physical encounter with the Incarnate Christ while on earth. Schillebeeckx calls Christ the ‘primordial sacrament’, who, after His physical departure into heaven, leaves behind the seven ‘separated sacraments’ as ‘substitutes’ for His own presence. His theory: While Christ was on earth, the ‘separated sacraments’ are not needed, because men can encounter the ‘primordial sacrament’. (E.g., why do we need the Eucharist if Christ is hanging out with us daily?) Once Christ physically departs, we need the ‘separated sacraments’ as a substitute. That is why Paul needed baptism, and the others did not.

A last consideration. There were, after all, two baptisms: John’s baptism of water for repentance (a purely symbolic baptism), and Christian, sacramental baptism. The distinction is made in Acts 19. Jesus received only John’s baptism. The first command to receive specifically Christian baptism (baptism into the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is made in the Great Commission in Matthew 28, right before Jesus departs the earth (see the point above on ‘separated sacraments’). The question is, then, which baptism were the apostles performing during Jesus’ earthly ministry. I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to that question, much less an official one. I would propose (though I am happy to be corrected) that it was John’s baptism. After all, Christian baptism is an incorporation into Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6), and an infusion with the divine grace won by Christ’s Passion. This is not possible without the death, burial and resurrection having taken place. Which is why, I think, Christian baptism is inaugurated only at the Great Commission, after the Resurrection. If this is true (and again I’m happy to be corrected), it does change the significance of the passage you mention, where Jesus does not personally baptize. John claims that Jesus’ purpose is to bring a new baptism, not with water but with ‘Holy Spirit and fire’ (Matt. 3:11-12). But this could only be done after Easter. Thus, while Jesus allows John’s baptism with water for repentance to be carried on, it is not the purpose of His ministry, nor does He carry it out personally. His purpose is to die, which He calls His ‘baptism’ (Luke 12:50).

Hope those thoughts help.

# posted by Jamie : 2:24 PM


Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Student's Question about Sacrifice 

A student asked the following question about sacrifice, and the connection between Christ's activity and our own.

So I find it funny how God works sometimes. Just yesterday I was praying about the importance of sacrifice. Rarely do I sacrifice or give up something that I enjoy for the greater glory. Today you mentioned how we are imperfect people and our small sacrifices cannot come close to the ultimate sacrifice that is pleasing to God and that is Jesus's death on the cross. I firmly understand that and believe that. Where I am confused is in the point of our sacrifice. If God is not satisfied in our sacrifice, than why do it? I was praying about setting up a yearly calendar where every 2 weeks I make a sacrifice such as giving up sweets or soda...why should I do this if it is not pleasing to God?

My reply:

It is not that God is not pleased with our sacrifice, but that our sacrifice in and of itself is not sufficient to please Him. It is not that we cannot perform good acts – we can, should and must. But there is a difference between a good act and a good act. This is the distinction between natural and supernatural virtue we discussed in class. Given that God created us with natural powers and abilities (a mind and a will, e.g.) we can use those powers and abilities to perform acts which are, in and of themselves, good – refraining from excessive indulgence in food and drink (moderation), making wise decisions about how we spend our money (prudence), etc. But two observations: (a) in actual fact, we rarely perform them at all, and when we do, they are often done in a half-hearted, begrudging, and morally ambivalent way, often with a mélange of mixed motives; and (b) even if we did perform them (a) continuously, perpetually, and without fail, and (b) with wholehearted and unflagging zeal, they still would not satisfy the demands of God, which are the demands of justice (justice = everyone gets what He deserves). What, then, does God deserve? He deserves far more than this collection of natural virtues. He demands what are properly superhuman virtues – that we accept as true everything He tells us, even those things which don’t make a lot of sense, like the Trinity (faith), that we trust Him to guide us to an eternal happiness we cannot imagine (hope), and that we be willing to sacrifice everything that we want and have for the sake of benefiting others (charity/love). These are things which require powers and abilities which we by nature do not have. They require supernatural assistance, or grace, and this grace can only come from the perfect act of Christ, who offered to God (on Calvary) exactly what God had always demanded of the human race, which is simply what God deserves of us, and which He had never until that time received. But note this: Christ’s activity is not a substitute for our own, as though we could sit back and do nothing, confident that God would accept His activity in lieu of our own failure. No, His activity enriches, empowers and enables our own activity, so that we can do what we could not do before. That is, now that Christ’s grace has been communicated to us through the Holy Spirit, in and through the sacraments of the Church, we can now (a) perform natural acts of virtue with greater frequency and (b) with greater zeal than before, and also (c) perform those supernatural acts of faith, hope and charity which were impossible to us before, and thus . . . please God. So, to come full circle, does the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice imply that there is no meaning to your own sacrifice? No, just the opposite. The efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice is precisely what gives meaning to your own sacrifice. For when you perform these acts of sacrifice, it will be Him acting in and through you.

Hope that helps.

# posted by Jamie : 11:25 AM


Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A Short Guide to Praying the Liturgy of the Hours 

A close friend of mine asked me for some assistance in navigating the Liturgy of the Hourse, a.k.a. the Breviary, a.k.a. the Divine Office. This priceless gem of Catholic liturgy, long a cornerstone of the Church's spirituality, remains an undiscovered treasure for many Catholics, and many who have discovered it have since abandoned it, bewildered and confused by its complex structure.

(For those interested in purchasing the office, it comes in a four-volume set, although laypersons might prefer the cheaper [although much more complicated due to its condensed structure] one-volume version, or even the Shorter Christian Prayer, which contains only Morning and Evening Prayer [probably the only two prayers I would recommend for beginners anyway]. Alternatively, a subscription to Magnificat includes a daily selection from the office [although I personally find it overly simplified and methodologically flawed], or one could just keep it simple and pray a couple of the Psalms every day - which is, after all, how the office started anyway.)

I am cutting and pasting here a two-page summary of how to navigate the Liturgy of the Hours. I threw it together in twenty minutes and -- yes, I know - it is quite incomplete and even simplified to the extent of being partially inaccurate. But I post it here in the event that some reader may find it helpful.

There are four sections of the office relevant for our purposes: the Proper of Seasons, the Psalter, the Commons, and the Proper of Saints:

The Psalter: This is the 'foundation stone' of the entire office, and consists essentially of the 150 Psalms from the Bible (along with a handful of other 'Psalm-like' New Testament passages), which are broken up over a four-week cycle. Every day during this four-week cycle includes seven 'hours' for prayer: each hour, with some exceptions, has three Psalms (or, in the case of longer Psalms, segments of a Psalm). The four weeks are identified by Roman numerals (Week I, Week II, etc.). The Universalis Calendar is a good key to finding out which week we are presently in: just find the date and look in the right-hand column. If we are in, say, Wednesday of Week I, you will go to that respective day in the Psalter. That day will have a section for each hour: Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer. (There are actually three ‘daytime hours’, but only one is included, for reasons we won’t get into here.) Traditionally the hours are said at the following times: Morning Prayer at 6am, the Daytime Prayers at 9am, noon and 3pm, Evening Prayer at 6pm and Night Prayer at 9pm or right before bedtime; the Office of Readings can be said at any suitable time, but is often said right before Morning Prayer. Not all the offices need to be said; pick those suitable for your schedule - most laypersons stick to Morning and Evening Prayer, the 'two hinges' of the day.

Now, the parts of each 'hour'. The Office of Readings, Daytime Prayer and Night Prayer are a little different, and each has its unique character, so let's stick with Morning and Evening Prayer for now, which are nearly identical to each other. Each begins with some opening prayers ('Oh God, come to my assistance, etc.'). Then a hymn is typically sung, though this can be omitted if you are praying alone. Then the three Psalms are given; each has an 'antiphon' (marked 'Ant.') which is said/sung immediately before and after each Psalm, to 'set the tone' for that Psalm. Some Psalms have a 'Psalm-prayer' afterwards which may also be said as a reflection, though this too can be omitted. After the Psalms comes a brief biblical reading and a reflective 'response' afterwards. Then comes either the Canticle of Zechariah (Morning Prayer) or the Magnificat (Evening Prayer), which also has an antiphon. (Since this is said every day, it may not be printed out in the hour; it is probably located somewhere else in the office, or in a separate sheet.) The hour closes with a set of petitions/intercessions, then the 'Our Father', a concluding prayer and then the closing words ('Let us praise the Lord', etc.). Morning and Evening Prayer should take about 10 minutes to say alone, maybe 15 in a group. If you say it with more than one person present, the Psalms and Canticle/Magnificat are often said 'in choir' - that is, with each person saying one 'paragraph' and then switching back and forth, and assigning respective duties for each other section (one person assigned to do the reading, another to lead petitions, etc.). This Psalter, again, is the 'core' of the office, and in ordinary time when no feast is being celebrated, that's about as complicated as it gets.

Proper of Seasons: Things get only a little more complicated when we step out of ordinary time. The Proper of Seasons specifies certain changes that are made to the Psalter when a feast or season is being celebrated – mainly Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and other 'moveable' feasts (i.e., feasts which are not on a set calendar day but shift around each year). It is good to keep one bookmark (most offices have ribbons) in the Proper of Seasons to keep track of where you are in the year. Apart from the long 'deserts' of ordinary time (such as we are in now), some things will change. What will typically change are the hymns (there are 'season-specific' hymns suggested for Lent, Easter, etc.), the antiphons and the concluding prayers. The Psalter, biblical reading and petitions will usually stay the same, except on the most important feasts, when these too change. So, on these days, you will often be flipping back and forth between the 'Proper' (for those things which change) and the Psalter (for those which don't). That’s when ribbons/bookmarks are handy. If the Proper of Seasons does not offer a substitute set of Psalms, e.g., then assume it is the same.

Proper of Saints: Most of what was said above for the Proper of Seasons can simply be repeated for the Proper of Saints, which is for all feasts of saints and other 'fixed' days (which are set on a calendar day each year). The Universalis calendar, linked above, can help you keep track of what feasts is being celebrated. Keep in mind that, when feasts overlap (say, St. Patrick's is on a Sunday of Lent), a very complicated system dictates which 'trumps' which: Sunday, e.g., always 'trumps' nearly every saint's feast. So keep the calendar handy. Every saint’s feast has a 'rank', and the lowest 'ranked' feasts ('optional memorials') are just that, optional, so they need not be celebrated, unless you have a particular devotion to that saint. So what was said above applies here. When you are celebrating the feast of a saint, go to that page (the Proper of Saints is in chronological order, so just keep another bookmark here) and it will tell you what changes. Typically, for saint's days, very little changes - often just the concluding prayer and often the antiphon. Everything else stays the same.

Common of Saints: Think of this as what fills the 'gap' between the Proper of Saints and the Psalter. Let’s say you’re celebrating the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on October 7. You have a strong devotion to the Rosary and want to devote as much of the daily office as possible to the Blessed Mother. But, to your dismay, the Proper of Saints only offers a concluding prayer for this feast, and everything else remains the same. The Common of Saints offers a resource for expanding the celebration to include MORE of that saint/feast. The Common of Saints is broken up into categories: virgins, martyrs, pastors, apostles, etc., including one for the Blessed Virgin Mary. If you wish to devote more of the daily office to the celebration of a certain saint, you may go to the Common of Saints. In this case, you go to the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and it will offer additional substitutes for the antiphons, Psalms, readings, petitions, etc., all of which have a 'Marian' flavor. But, of course, you don't have to do this if you don’t wish.

So, again, things only get complicated on feasts. On some days - say, a feast in the middle of Christmas – you might be switching back and forth between all four sections. During ordinary time on non-feast days it’s just the Psalter. In fact, while you are getting used to the office, I would suggest simply ignoring the feasts and seasons and doing the Psalter alone for a couple of weeks. Then expand to other sections as you get more comfortable. Don’t worry about perfection - I've heard forty people say the office and each does it differently. There’s no 'wrong' way - as long as you are doing it at all, that's right.

# posted by Jamie : 12:49 PM


Friday, November 20, 2009

Response to Protestant Inquirer #2 

The following is a response sent to another dear Protestant friend. As in this post below, this student is in a mainstream, liberal-leaning divinity school and is having trouble maintaining the tension between his Evangelical convictions (about the Bible, in particular) and the historical critical questions raised by modern criticism of Scripture.

My response to him follows:

I think, even if my examples aren't always the most apropos, [this] captures the essence of my frustration with Evangelicalism - the sense that the entire foundation of my faith didn't really seem to get beyond me. It led to frustrations even in college, and I remember having a lot of talks with [a friend] who was going through a lot of the same things (though he didn't go the way I did). There was a burning sense that, when [a teacher] pointed out an error in the Scriptures, I felt that, if I didn't personally resolve the problem and disprove [the teacher], my entire faith would go plummeting down in flames. If I couldn't defend an article of faith in a debate with a fellow believer, then I had to adjust my entire system accordingly. That I was accountable to, and could depend upon, no one but myself.

I remember reading a debate between an Evangelical and a Catholic (when I was looking into this I looked up every debate I could find on the internet - there are a surprising number of them, many of them videotaped, and I never found one where the Evangelical came off looking smarter) where the Protestant ended the debate by saying something along the lines of, "All I want is for every Protestant to wake up every day and ask himself, 'why am I not Catholic?'" What he meant was that he felt that Protestants had drifted into a chummy, ecumenical co-existence with Catholics and had forgotten why the Reformation happened, and that being a Protestant meant being in a constant state of Protest against the Catholic enemy, and hence insisting again and again upon points like sola scriptura and sola fides, because when we forget those things, we forget who we are as Protestants, and what is most important to us. Well, the Catholic opponent immediately stood up and said that was exactly what HE wanted too - the Protestant to continually ask himself why he was not Catholic. So this seemed a good starting point. At the time I had been calling myself a 'Christian' instead of a 'Protestant', deliberately and self-consciously, because I wanted to transcend and stand above all of those differences. And I took some comfort in C. S. Lewis' 'Mere Christianity', which aims at something just like this. But soom I realized that I was 'cheating', in a way. Because one cannot simply be a 'mere Christian'. Such a creature does not exist. Lewis, in an essay I have never been able to find . . . speaks of the Christian hanging out in the 'hallway' between various rooms (the 'rooms' being denominations', and that the hallway between the rooms ('mere Christianity') is often more attractive than any of the rooms, but the Christian can only stay a while and then he will have to grow up and decide on a room. Simply because a hallway is not a home and one cannot live there. The denominations, like them or hate them, have provided the only stable, communal, structural Christian 'environments' where one can make a home. To avoid denominations is to be in a continual state of drift, which is to live a lie. So here I was, pretending that the great rifts of our history had never happened, and that we were all one happy family.

So now I began to ask myself the question that both apologists (Catholic and Protestant) had asked me to ask myself - why am I not Catholic? And I began to see the horror of the question, you see, which is that Catholicism is the default position, for the burden of proof lies with the Protestant. If one cannot come up with a satisfactory answer to the question, one is left with the option of Catholicism. So the question was framed in a way that seemed to pre-empt a thorough answer. But you see, one cannot really frame it any other way. One cannot ask the Catholic to ask 'why am I not Protestant', because Protestantism is not a default position. Protestantism exists precisely as a rejection of Catholicism, and identifies itself with a set of epithets (sola Scriptura, sola fides) which are really concise rejections of the Catholic system. Protestantism, is, by its very name, a protest against Catholicism. So it cannot very well be a default; it makes no pretenses of being 'mere Christianity'. But Catholicism is not like this at all. Catholicism is not a rejection of the Protestant system. Catholicism does not formulate its teachings in a polemical or antithetical manner.

This is exactly what made the Catholic church so horrifying to John Henry Newman, who is one of my heroes - an Anglican church historian from the 19th century who at the end of his life became Catholic. 'Unjudged, she judges the world', he says. In other words, the Catholic Church simply goes about her business teaching, and doesn't really seem to care what anyone else thinks of her teaching. She makes utterly preposterous claims - like being the one Church of Christ, His vicar on earth, an infallible vessel - with the same kind of flippancy with which one pronounces that one likes one's pancakes with syrup and not butter, without diffidence or defensiveness. And if challenged, she insists that she has always taught these things, and will never stop teaching them.

And the frightening thing is how well these claims stand up to the test. I went into church history for a reason, and the classes I took with . . . started this journey for me. Newman wrote a book called 'Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine', and he noted that Christian doctrine develops without changing. Using analogies from human and plant growth (think an embryo-->adult, or acorn-->oak tree), a thing develops and expands while remaining substantially the same. I knew that all of the doctrines the Catholic Church taught today (regarding Mary, the Pope, etc.) would never be found in the early Church. Not in the same form, that is. But I found that all of the doctrines that I held dear (the Trinity, the inerrancy of the Bible) were not taught in the early Church either. What I found in the early Church were early hints of those doctrines (Triniity, Bible), like acorns and embryos, which I could recognize as having some loose connection with the later development of the doctrines. The problem, of course, was that I found just as many hints (acorns and embryos) for all those Catholic doctrines (Mary, Papacy) I wished to avoid. In fact, in many cases, there was much stronger evidence in the early Church for the Catholic doctrines (Eucharist, purgatory, papacy) than for the doctrines I preferred.

Anyway, I'm sounding preachy and I'm beginning to annoy myself. You have to understand I've been teaching all weekend, a good deal of it on John Henry Newman, so I get in a certain mode, and I have to remember I'm supposed to be writing a personal email and not a sermon.

The point is, Newman famously said, 'to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant'. I found that to be true, and I've known very few Evangelicals who have survived the journey. It's true that not all have become Catholic - some have found happy homes in Orthodoxy or even (pace Newman) Anglicanism. There are some rare birds who are content to remain Evangelical, but these - if pressed - are often more Catholic in their doctrine than they want to admit. I can't guarantee that, had I been surrounded by Orthodox or Anglicans instead of Catholics, I wouldn't have gone that direction at the time, although in retrospect I can now say that neither could prove as satisfying. I met a guy at a conference in North Carolina last month who said he converted from Evangelicalism to Anglicanism because he just wanted to be an 'ecclesial' Christian, and I think that about sums it up. The Evangelical, to me, is not an 'ecclesial' Christian, because he does not live his Christianity in reference to other Christians. His gathering with other Christians on various occasions - Sunday worship or other social events - is a purely accidental feature of his Christianity. He does not allow other Christians to define his faith. He does not allow other Christians to define his mode of worship. He does not allow other Christians to modify or intervene in his relationship with God. The 'ecclesial' Christian, on the other hand, knows that his relationship to God subsists only through the medium of the Christian community - its creeds, its worship and its traditions. The most helpful book for me in making this realization was 'Evangelicalism is Not Enough' by Thomas Howard, who wrote this book after he converted to Anglicanism. (He later became Catholic.) I think both Orthodoxy and Anglicanism can be called 'ecclesial' communities, although (naturally) I think the logic of ecclesiality is realized most fully in Catholicism. (And perhaps Lutheranism is the most 'ecclesial' of Protestant communities, and Reformed coming somewhat after that.)

And I hope you understand, I bear no bitterness against my Evangelical past - I realize I keep referring to my 'frustrations' but I think I only realized I was frustrated in retrospect, like when you get in a warm bath and find yourself falling asleep within two minutes, and only then do you realize how hellish the day must have been that you've just been through, based on how dramatic the relaxation was (wow, how did I come up with that analogy?). I was raised as a Reformed Christian, and discovered my faith as an Evangelical, and I have the kindest, warmest memories of my time in Intervarsity [Christian Fellowship], where my faith bloomed. In fact, I think that it was the inner logic of this Evangelical experience that led me to the Catholic Church. I think, in retrospect, all of the positive, Christian values of Evangelicalism (what Louis Bouyer calls the 'spirit of Protestantism') - vibrant spirituality, disciplined prayer, zealous evangelism, biblical rootedness - is best protected, fostered and channeled within the ecclesiality of Catholicism. While at the same time, the exaggerations and dangers of Evangelicalism - emotionalism, individualism, anti-intellectualism (what Bouyer calls the 'forms' of Protestantism) - are avoided or carefully restrained.

So, it's late and I'm just dumping some thoughts on paper. I hope I don't come off as preachy. I've come so far from the days when I knew you that, sometimes, and it's hard to express this, I don't really know how I sound to Evangelicals anymore. The frustration of the convert is that 'once I was X, and I saw Y, and when I saw Y I realized with absolute clarity that I could no longer remain X - so, given that you are X, and you see Y, I assume you realize too with the same absolute clarity that you can no longer remain X.' When of course we realize that we are not talking X's and Y's but persons, each of whom has his own history and his own framework by light of which he sees things.

# posted by Jamie : 4:13 PM


Email to a Protestant Inquirer 

Below I am copying some correspondence between myself and a dear Protestant friend. He is currently in a Protestant Evangelical seminary and is grappling with the difficult problems raised by modern, historical-critical exegesis. Just in the case that some casual reader may benefit from this correspondence, it follows. Elipses below indicate that personal, identifying material has been removed:

His email:

I've been here . . . going to seminary , hoping to find some of the answers to all of the questions that had been bombarding me at liberal universities . . .. Most arguments I believed were invalid because they relied on the assumption that God does not exist and that prophecy is impossible. But a lot of arguments sounded extremely logical and difficult to refute. Those types of questions multiplied when I went to [a graduate school in theology], but I always assumed that just because something looked suspect and hard to account for didn't mean that there was not an answer.

So when I got here, I couldn't wait to hear how conservative scholars handle these types of issues, but surprisingly there were not many explanations I had not encountered before. When I took a class on the history of doctrine, it just left me wondering why it took so long to formulate the canon, and why so many people, believing themselves to be Christians, believed so many different things about Jesus early on.

I've taken a special interest in Christian origins and NT textual criticism, looking closely at theological development and textual variants. When I started to read each book of the Bible independently, as they no doubt originated, I began to notice how much of my "orthodox" theology I have to import into each one on order to make it also sound "orthodox." For 11 years I've had the same view of the scriptures, and so I went kicking and screaming into a realization that something might be wrong with that view. Just reading the two birth narratives again (Mt and Lk), I could see that there were problems in thinking that both of them could be historical. I started considering the evidence for identifying the pastoral epistles as pseudonymous, and it was very convincing.

And after taking all of the problematic issues into account, it was impossible to still think of the Bible as the inspired, infallible, word of God. So I was tempted to do what my theology had taught me to do, which was just junk it all. If you can't trust one part, you can't trust any of it. But that seems extreme. So now I'm trying to reconstruct a theology around a view that sees scripture as a witness to revelation, rather than absolute, undiluted revelation straight from the mouth of God.

I just wondered if you had come to terms with any of the findings of historical criticism in this respect, but I have a sense that you might have the same views I had up until about 2 months ago. I agree that there is everything wrong with reconstructing historical events, but what if the events that were recorded were not historical? For 11 years I refused to consider the possibility that the Bible could be wrong about anything, but why? Is there a scripture that says that all Christians must believe that every book that would eventually come to be placed in the NT canon must be believed in its entirety? Or is that something that has been developed later? It's comforting to think that God superintended the formation of the canon, and inspired all of scripture contained therein, but there seems to be too many problems with that view for me to continue with it honestly.

My response follows:

First off, as I’m sure you recall, my response to this question will be different from yours simply because I’m a Roman Catholic. (Although, I’ll add, part of the reason I became Catholic is because of the problems you raise. I found that Evangelical Protestantism proved to be a dead-end in answering the questions posed by modern secularism, whereas only Catholicism (in my experience – if there’s another church that does, I’m not aware of it) provided answers). In sum, I have (historical, biblical) reason to believe that Christ, while on earth, founded an authoritative Church, built on the foundation of the apostles, to teach in His name, and that the Pope and bishops of the Catholic Church are the legitimate successors to these apostles, and hence hold their authority. Thus, I do believe that the Scriptures are ‘inspired’ and ‘inerrant’ (without error), and I believe this on the authority of the Church, since the Pope and bishops have always proclaimed these doctrines. To quote St. Augustine, the 4th century African Father of the Church, ‘I would not have believed the Gospels themselves, unless the authority of the Church moved me to do so’. Naturally, you haven’t been convinced by the Catholic arguments, so your approach would be different, but I wanted to state right out (without getting into an argument over this, since I’m not terribly interested) that I’m in a very different position than yourself when it comes to this. My position is, as it were, easier than yours. I don’t have to bother with refuting each and every argument posed by the historical-critics, because I have it on a higher authority that they are simply wrong. (Naturally, the truth is much more complicated than this, but I’m simplifying.)

For the Protestant, who is reluctant to allow for the authority of an institutional church, as I see it, you have two routes to securing biblical inspiration and inerrancy:

1. The easy way: accept by way of an ‘inner testimony’ of the Holy Spirit that the Scriptures are true; God speaks in my heart that they are true and I will not doubt God – just as God testifies to my eternal salvation (as most Evangelicals believe), He testifies to the authority of Scripture. And not only the authority, but the contents of the canon. As my roommate . . . (you’ll remember him) told me, ‘I cannot accept that God would allow me to be deceived as to the contents of the Scripture’. This sounds good as far as it goes, but there are obvious problems. How do you distinguish between the ‘inner testimony’ of God and a mere psychological confidence? I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of things I thought God was telling me that later proved out to be ‘mis-readings’ on my part of His will. And as I told my roommate, as far as the canon goes, the Protestant has to believe that God allowed every Christian from the 5th century to the 16th, including all Catholics to the present day, including Mother Theresa herself, to be deceived about the contents of Scripture, since all these Christians accepted a different canon than you. (The Catholic canon, of course, is different than the Protestant’s.) So, if God would deceive these gazillion Christians, why would He treat you any differently? (Unless, of course, you take the route that none of these people were ‘true’ Christians, and Mother Theresa is burning in hell. Fine then, that’s a way out. But also, to rest the inspiration of Scripture on an inner psychological sentiment (which sounds Mormon to me) proves remarkably weak when you begin to confront the hard challenges posed by historical critical scholars. As in your case – you have to set the self-evident proof of errors on the page against your inner certainty that they are not really errors. You’re not going to win that fight.

2. The hard way: Do the historical critical work better than the scholars do, and disprove them. Every ball they toss at you, bat it back at them. Every error they point out, prove that it’s not an error. This has been the ‘labor of love’ performed by countless Evangelical scholars over the years, and has typically been the route they’ve gone. Admittedly, they’ve been pretty good at it, and most of the errors proposed to be in the Bible have been pretty handily resolved by Evangelicals. Most. Not all. The problem is that, again, this is harder than it seems, and requires a great amount of faith. Some problems in Scripture, like the discrepancy between John and the Synoptics as to which day Jesus died on (John has it on Saturday, the Synoptics on Friday, as I recall) can be resolved in historical critical ways, such as pointing out that John and the Synoptic authors used different calendars. Fine. Others are not so easy. I needn’t point out examples to you, but there are some problems (in the genealogies, e.g., or in the Genesis stories) which appear intractable, and for which I have yet to read a satisfactory response. And who knows, other problems could be pointed out in the future, or others may be out there I haven’t heard yet. So I have to have faith, that these seemingly intractable problems do indeed have a solution, and that every problem posed in the future will have a solution, but again, that’s not resting on empirical evidence, but on faith (back to the ‘inner testimony’), and the longer you stay in the game, the harder the fastballs keep coming. This seems to be what you hoped to find in Dallas – better batters who could return the fastballs – but the hard truth is that most of the batters have long since given up.

Those are the only suggestions I’ve been given by Protestants. As you can tell, I’m not terribly sanguine about them in retrospect, and they didn’t convince me at the time. The other possibility:

3. As the liberal Protestant concludes, we can just abandon the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy. Admit that the Bible does have errors in it, or find a compromise, that the Bible is inerrant on ‘matters of faith and morals’, but not on historical/scientific matters. (Many liberal Catholics take this route.) Or deny inspiration, and claim that the Scriptures are simply the historical testimony to the faith of specific historical people, and is ‘inspired’ only in the loose sense, that it ‘inspires’ faith in the reader. That is, not ‘inspired’ but rather ‘inspirational’. The trouble is, as you know, this is simply the first domino in a long stack. For the Protestant, whose faith rests on ‘sola Scriptura’, the authority of Scripture alone, once you abandon the notion that Scripture has any authority, what else do you have? Or once this authority is admitted to be full of errors, then its authority has to be qualified – it is authoritative, but only when it has been ‘vetted’ by historical critical scholars to remove the erroneous parts. And this gives biblical scholars a kind of ‘Magisterium’ or authority over Scripture, and they get to pick and choose what parts are authoritative. Don’t you know what parts they will remove? I teach a class on Paul’s letters, and can you take a guess at what parts of Paul’s letters most scholars think are illegitimate, i.e. not by Paul? 1 Corinthians 11, which says women ought to submit to their husbands, Romans 1, which condemns homosexuality, etc. . . . . In the Catholic Church we complain about ‘cafeteria Catholicism’, where people pick and choose what doctrines they like and don’t like, as though they were in a cafeteria. Once Protestants accept that Scripture includes errors, prepare yourselves for ‘cafeteria Protestantism’. Should it be any surprise to you that the liberal Protestant denominations, which abandoned biblical inerrancy in the late 19th century (Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans) are now ordaining homosexuals and approving divorce, abortion, and all the rest? You ask if there is a scripture that suggests that everything in the canon must be believed in its entirety – well, no, of course not. There is, of course, 2 Tim. 3:16, but this hardly says that. But, naturally, once you suggest that parts of the canon need not be accepted, you can hardly call yourself a self-respecting Protestant. (I think the absence of any such passage speaks more of the weakness of the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura than of errors in the canon, but that’s another matter.)

There is another path, of course. You speak of Scripture being a ‘witness to revelation’, rather than revelation itself. Well, yes, fine – this is, of course, the Catholic position, more or less. But I’d ask you – what exactly is this revelation you speak of? What, exactly, does Scripture testify to? Here’s the problem. If Scripture is not revelation but a witness to revelation, then Scripture itself has no direct authority – revelation does, and Scripture only has authority INASMUCH as it testifies to revelation, and if (as the scholars tell us) Scripture does a rather poor job of testifying to revelation (since it is, supposedly, full of errors), then Scripture only has a very limited, qualified and mitigated authority. In other words, one can play off Scripture AGAINST revelation – I have heard these arguments used to justify gay marriage. God’s Revelation is of absolute, unconditional love for all, and Scripture is only meant to testify to this; if parts of Scripture do a very poor job of this, since they are written by bigoted, hatemongering sycophants (such as whoever wrote Romans 1), they we ought to defy or ignore such passages, and in the name of our holy obedience to God’s Revelation, we should accept the holy sanctity of gay sodomy. In other words, in the name of our obedience to Revelation, we ought to defy Scripture. There’s a sick kind of logic there, but that’s the slippery slope you get on. So, I’m find in following you in saying that Scripture is a testimony to revelation rather than the sum total of revelation itself. (I happen to believe Scripture is an inspired, inerrant, authoritative testimony, but we’ll save that discussion for later.) But if you don’t specify exactly what you mean by revelation, but leave it up to the vain speculations of individual Christians to define for themselves, you see where the slope slides. Is this revelation some vague idea, or is it concrete, historical, flesh & blood revelation? If you can’t actually point to what this revelation is, then your only solution is to abandon any notion of Scriptural authority and part ways with the Reformers. This is, of course, exactly the service which the Catholic provides, which is to:

4. Identify God’s revelation with ‘Tradition’. ‘Tradition’, in the Catholic meaning, does not refer to a collection of ‘secret doctrines’ which are not found in Scripture (I strongly suggest this article by a convert to Catholicism). Rather, Catholics speak of God’s full revelation as consisting in the Incarnation of His Son and the sending of His Spirit. Thus, while on earth, Jesus showed us not only a fragmentary revelation of God (Hebrews 1), but the Full Revelation of God Himself, i.e. the very face of God. He left all of this revelation to His apostles, subsisting in the giving of the Spirit as the ‘guarantee’ or ‘deposit’ of truth, which would bring to their minds what He taught them. This truth, then, was ‘handed on’ from Christ to the apostles, which they ‘handed on’ to the Christians after them. (‘Tradition’ – Latin ‘traditio’, Gk. paradosis- literally means ‘to hand over’). Some of these teachings are enshrined in Scripture, but not all (Jn. 21:25 – the world count not contain the books which would include everything He taught), and thus St. Paul (2 Thess. 2:15) urges his churches to obey all the traditions (paradosis = ‘what is handed on’) which he taught them, whether by word of mouth or by letter (e.g., not only the Scriptures he wrote, but also his preaching). ‘Tradition’ is not a set of secret doctrines but rather the whole life of the Church, which is the teaching of Christ – doctrine, creeds, worship, prayer, songs, virtues, stories, practices, the whole kit & caboodle. As the Catholic teaching puts it: Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes...So, this ‘revelation’ which Christ brought is simply the life and teachings of the community of the Church. Scripture is simply a witness to this revelation. Scripture itself, after all, is a work of tradition, a part of that which is ‘handed’ on, but hardly the whole thing. (Even if it is, of course, the central thing.) Catholics, for their part, are happy to agree that all doctrines are found in Scripture, as long as we maintain that Scripture is never to be read ‘in a vacuum’, but only within the community of the Church, taking into account the larger ‘tradition’, including the creeds of the early Church. This, of course, also allows for some authority of church leaders (bishops or what not) to preside over this tradition and distinguish true from false traditions. Does it bother me that the canon was not formalized until the 5th century? No, of course not. It bothered me as a Protestant, since I had to wonder what it was that the early Christians used as their authority in the first 400 years – naturally, it was ‘tradition’. And how did Church authorities know which books to include in the canon? They tell us themselves (read Jerome) that they chose those books which best embodied the ‘tradition’ which came from the apostles. Does it bother me that Christians very early on came to different interpretations of the Bible? No, of course not. Because I believe that God has provided a means, outside the canon, as a guarantee of a right interpretation of the canon – that is, the tradition, as interpreted by Church authority. Arius, who denied Christ’s divinity, misinterpreted the canon because he denied the tradition of the Church and was condemned by a church council. But if one believes in NO authority outside the canon, one is sort of up a creek, for the history of doctrine will be bewildering. Find me any thinker in the early Church, before Luther, who believed that the Bible alone was an exclusive source of authority, and that tradition had no authority.

I don’t mean to get detained with Catholic arguments. That wasn’t, as I said, my point, and I’m not much of a debater on these things. But, when you deny that the Bible alone is an adequate and exclusive source for authoritative revelation, and suspect that there must be some source of authority outside the canon, of which Scripture is a partial but not exclusive witness, you should be aware that this is exactly the position of the Catholic Church, and I am unaware of any other Christian denomination (save perhaps the Orthodox, and maybe the Anglicans) who will tolerate such conclusions. And, again, it was exactly this logic which led me to consider the Catholic Church in the first place. I did not find #1, #2, or #3 above to be viable options, and simply couldn’t find a fifth. Obviously, again, you have (so far, at least) found a different route than mine, so more power to you.

As a final comment, a word on the Catholic view of Scripture, which may prove helpful. You might peruse, just as a supplement to your own studies, the Catholic document on divine revelation, Vatican II’s Dei verbum. Chapter 3, in particular, speaks of Scripture. You’ll note that Catholics believe in ‘inspiration’, defined as the notion that the human authors of Scripture wrote only those things which God wanted them to write, so that the text can be considered ‘divinely willed’, with God as its primary author. Also, Catholics believe in ‘inerrancy’, since the texts are held to teach ‘solidly, faithfully and without error’ divine truth. Note, however, that in the Scriptures God speaks to us ‘in a human fashion’, and that the human authors spoke of things using their own free wills and minds, and from their own points of view (so, e.g., they speak of the sun ‘rising and setting’, which is ‘true’ as it goes, from a human point of view) – so we don’t expect the Bible to be a ‘ready-made encyclopedia’ of scientific knowledge. In particular, ‘anything asserted by the human authors’ is asserted by the Holy Spirit, who cannot deceive or be deceived, and so exactly this is inerrant. Thus, the importance of historical-critical study, to determine exactly what the human authors ‘asserted’. We should allow that in cases of metaphor (‘God is a rock’) or ‘hyperbole’ (‘the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds’), or poetry (Job’s reference to sea monsters, or leviathans; perhaps the six days of creation?) we should understand that what the human author is ‘asserting’ should not always be taken literally. This alone accounts for a good number of so-called ‘problems’ of Scripture, and is a healthy ‘balance’, I think, between the need for historical-critical study and the authority of the text. But, in the end, whatever the human author can be identified as asserting is believed by the Catholic church to be inerrant and trustworthy. On that I tow the line.

# posted by Jamie : 2:02 PM


Thursday, May 11, 2006


A break from my non-blogging hiatus for a friend. Let me just point out, you would be working for this guy.

Director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute

Full time faculty position in Theology, to begin in July 2006 -- or sooner, if feasible. The successful candidate will possess a Ph.D. or S.T.D. The Institute is seeking an established scholar with recognized contributions to the field of Theology to direct the newly founded Institute and to teach and author courses in our integrated core curriculum.

Applicants should be conversant with patristics, moral theology and all magisterial teaching. In addition to suitable credentials, applicants should demonstrate experience in pastoral settings, a knowledge of and commitment to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, competency in Latin or Greek desirable, ability to travel regularly, management and leadership skills, and the classroom skills appropriate to the educational needs of a markedly diverse student body.

In addition, the successful applicant will be committed to the educational mission of the Diocese, which is the education of the whole person in the Catholic liberal arts tradition, as articulated in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Veritatis Splendor, and Fides et Ratio.

Applicants should submit a letter of application, a short statement relating the diocese's mission to their philosophy of teaching, curriculum vitae, official transcripts, and three letters of recommendation to: Rhonda Stucinski, Human Resources Director, Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph, Post Office Box 419037, Kansas City, Missouri 64141-6037. Electronic applications are preferred. Review of applications will begin upon receipt and continue until the position is filled. The Diocese is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

# posted by Jamie : 9:23 AM


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