Has the Church contradicted herself on “extra ecclesiam nulla salus”?

For what it’s worth, here is an article I wrote several years ago in response to a Protestant friend, with whom I was debating the doctrine of papal infallibility with regard specifically do the doctrine of “no salvation outside the Church”. Has the Church contradicted herself on this doctrine?

  1. Response to your message

1.1.     Critique of your argument

You write,

“A. Infallibility is the inability to commit error;

  1.   Where a contradiction exists error is necessarily present;
  2.   Church A has contradicted herself;
  3.   Therefore Church A has committed error;
  4.   Therefore Church A does not possess the charism of infallibility”

While steps B through D of your syllogism are valid, A is materially defective, leading to your false conclusion E.

The reason is that premise A, insofar as it purports to define infallibility as it applies to the Catholic Church, is incomplete. When the Church calls itself infallible, it does not mean, “The Church never commits error.” Rather, as I have explained before, it means the Church is protected from committing error under certain specific circumstances. Those circumstances are, when the bishops in union with the pope teach a doctrine pertaining to faith and morals, which usually takes place in ecumenical council; or, when the pope himself teaches a doctrine pertaining to faith and morals. And it only applies when they are intending to define something infallibly to the entire Church.   (For ease of typing, I will refer to the circumstances in which infallibility applies, as “the Circumstances of Infallibility”, or “COI” for short.)

Infallibility may be refuted in one of two ways: (1) by showing that something which was defined infallibly is demonstrably false; or (2) by showing that something which was defined infallibly contradicts something else that was defined infallibly.

So if you are going to show that the Church has contradicted itself in a way that refutes infallibility, it’s not enough to show that one pope has contradicted another pope, or that a pope has contradicted a council. You have to show that a pope or council, when intending to speak infallibly, has contradicted what another pope or council has taught when intending to speak infallibly or in other words, under COI.

So your syllogism, in order to prove what you are trying to prove, would need to run like this:

  1.   The Catholic Church’s claim to be infallible, means that under COI, the Church cannot commit error or contradict herself.
  2.   The Catholic Church has contradicted herself under COI.
  3.   Therefore the Church is not infallible.

Thus in order to prove the Church is not infallible, you have to show that premise B. is true: that the Church has contradicted herself under COI.

In your attempt to show this, you have provided two citations, one a papal bull and another a statement of an ecumenical council, both of which teach that there is no salvation outside the Church.

Then in an attempt to show a contradiction, you have cited the statements of Vatican II that I provided, which say that it’s possible for someone who is not a formal member of the Church to be saved.

The problem, of course, is that the V2 statements I provided were not intended to be infallible definitions of faith and morals (as I explained previously), and therefore do not fall within COI. So you have not established premise B. If premise B. fails, the syllogism fails, and you have not proven your point. Continue reading

Synod on the Family

Joseph Moore is right when he says, “do not read anything about the synod.”

But if you are going to read about it, read this. Evidently the bishops broke up into groups to discuss the Relatio, and most of them were critical of it and wanted it changed to better reflect the traditional Christian understanding of marriage. One point stressed repeatedly is that we should not be so focused on easing the way for broken families, that we fail to affirm families that have been striving to live the Christian ideal of marriage, and to hold them up as an example to others. Also that pastors need to “recognize their own failures and their inadequacies in fostering support for families.”

My favorite line: “[T]here is an urgent need for leadership in today’s world and … such clear leadership can only come from the Church. Such leadership is an urgent part of the Church’s service to contemporary society and a failure to give such witness would be to fail humanity.”

It made me feel a lot better.

The Mass in literature, part 3

‘Mass was at eleven. … Amedee’s was the only empty pew, and [Emil] sat down in it. Some of Amedee’s cousins were there, dressed in black and weeping. When all the pews were full, the old men and boys packed the open space at the back of the church, kneeling on the floor. There was scarcely a family in town that was not represented in the confirmation class, by a cousin, at least. The new communicants, with their clear, reverent faces, were beautiful to look upon as they entered in a body and took the front benches reserved for them. Even before the Mass began, the air was charged with feeling. The choir had never sung so well and Raoul Marcel, in the “Gloria,” drew even the bishop’s eyes to the organ loft. For the offertory he sang Gounod’s “Ave Maria,”—always spoken of in Sainte-Agnes as “the Ave Maria.”

‘… Overtaxed by excitement and sorrow as he was, the rapture of the service took hold upon his body and mind. As he listened to Raoul, he seemed to emerge from the conflicting emotions which had been whirling him about and sucking him under. He felt as if a clear light broke upon his mind, and with it a conviction that good was, after all, stronger than evil, and that good was possible to men. He seemed to discover that there was a kind of rapture in which he could love forever without faltering and without sin.’

Willa Cather, O Pioneers! (1913).

The hypostatic union hard to understand?

Someone told me recently that he didn’t understand how Jesus could have two natures. He wasn’t saying merely that he didn’t believe it, but that he found it incomprehensible.

One thing we need to guard against is the idea that things which are hard to imagine are hard to understand. Imagining and understanding are different things. One or the other may be hard in a given instance, but the one being hard doesn’t have to make the other hard. Examples may be multiplied of things which are easy to imagine but hard to understand, and vice versa.

I suspect that some people have a problem with the hypostatic union because of the idea that two things can’t occupy the same place at the same time. But it’s important to remember that the divine nature, being spiritual, takes up no physical space.

If Jesus is God, then either he is like a centaur, being half God and half man; or he is fully God and fully man. Although, theoretically, an animal could be half human and half horse, there’s no way he can be fully human and fully horse, because part of the nature of human and of horse is to have a physical body, and he can’t have two physical bodies at the same time and in the same place.

But since it is not of the nature of God to have a physical body, there is no necessary conflict in conceiving of Jesus as fully God and fully man.

A nature is that by virtue of which a thing acts as it does. Thus, human beings walk because it’s our nature to have legs, and we think because it’s our nature to have an intellect. Jesus’ having two natures means that in addition to the things he does by virtue of being human, there are also things he does by virtue of being God.

He’s not half God, as if he can act like God but with only half the power. And he’s not half human, as if he only has one eye, one ear, one arm and one leg. He’s fully human, with a whole human body and intellect, and he’s also fully God, having existed for eternity and possessing infinite power, etc.

I don’t see the problem. I can understand people not believing this doctrine, if they already believe something which contradicts it (such as that God and man are of the same nature but at different stages of development). But I don’t see why it must be thought of as incomprehensible or self-contradictory.

Christians against ID, Part 3

[See Part 1 here; Part 2 here.]

By coincidence, I came across a couple passages in the Summa which seem relevant to this topic, though not directly addressing it:

“For we must take into consideration the difference between a particular agent, that presupposes something and produces something else, and the universal agent, who produces the whole. The particular agent produces the form, and presupposes the matter; and hence it is necessary that it introduce the form in due proportion into a suitable matter. And so it is reasonable to say that it introduces the form into such matter, and not into another, on account of the different kinds of matter. But it does not seem reasonable to say so of God Who produces form and matter together, whereas it is considered reasonable to say of Him that He produces matter fitting to the form and to the end.”

 ST I, Q. 46, A. 1.

He talks about a particular agent and the universal agent. As I understand it, the universal agent is God, who creates everything: He creates the whole context in which everything happens. The particular agent (a watchmaker?) makes something by thinking of a form, and then looking around for suitable preexisting matter into which to introduce the form.

He says that God is not like this. Rather, God produces both form and matter, and makes the matter “fitting to the form and to the end” – i.e., he creates matter which is suitable to the formal and final causes that he has in mind.

This points up the manner in which God is not like a watchmaker, who thinks up a complex mechanism and makes it out of preexisting stuff, but makes the stuff to suit the thing he has thought up. Thus, God thought us up and then set about creating a universe in which we might come into existence.

But does the ID theorist necessarily disagree with this? Would he not agree that God created the natural processes through which matter evolved, specifically because he wanted exactly that type of matter into which to introduce the forms that he had in mind?

In which case, the process would go like this: God creates the singularity which exploded at the Big Bang, and fine-tunes it such that the matter we’re made of evolves just the way he wants it. But once that process is finished, once he has the matter in hand, he then takes the preexisting matter and forms it into the organisms we see around us, including ourselves (since it is believed that this cannot happen via “natural processes”). So God is both the watchmaker and the creator of the matter of which the watch is made.

The problem, it seems to me, is this idea of breaking up God’s creative process into two separate processes, one of which works through natural causes, and the other of which does not. For me it just seems far more intuitively correct, that God would create us through one continuous process. Continue reading

The power of the damned

Bruce Charlton argues that the “self-damned” have the power to hurt God. In other words, people sometimes try to lash out at God by rebelling against him and doing evil things, even to the point of damning themselves eternally. And, Bruce says, it works: They do manage to hurt God, emotionally. Because if God couldn’t be hurt, then he would not be a loving father.

You can see Bruce’s post for his argument in detail. Here are just some random thoughts of my own, stimulated by the post and some of the comments:

* You say that when you love someone, you must feel sorrow when they suffer. But that’s not always the case. There have been times when my kids were suffering, yet I could barely stifle a laugh because they were being so ridiculous. Their ridiculousness arose from their ignorance and inability to see the larger context. I wasn’t sad over their suffering because I knew they would get over it in short order and be fine.

In this life we may suffer for a lifetime, but what is a lifetime to God? Who’s to say he doesn’t find our whining and complaining ridiculous, and see us as inflating our troubles because of our inability to see the bigger picture? What else could Paul mean when he says that our present sufferings are “nothing” compared to the glory that is to be? Why can’t God see them as “nothing”, being present, as he is, in the glory that is to be? Certainly he can understand why we see them as a big deal, from our limited perspective, but that doesn’t mean he must see them that way.

If, as some suppose, people in hell choose to be there, and if you pulled them out by force they would resist tooth and nail, because they can’t stand God’s presence, will they not seem ridiculous to God, and to the blessed, for choosing such obvious evil over such obvious good, due to self-inflicted blindness?

* If God is vulnerable to emotional attacks, why is he not vulnerable to physical attacks? Is it only because he is physically far away? If he came close enough that people could attack him physically, would he let himself be vulnerable to knife and bullet wounds, or would he defend himself against physical harm? If he defended himself, would it be through physical barriers like armor, or would he utilize supernatural means of shielding himself from harm? Are there no such means available to shield himself from emotional harm? [Obviously this assumes for the sake of argument that he is capable of feeling physical and emotional pain.]

* Certainly I would agree that God can know what the experience of physical and emotional pain are like, since nothing is beyond his knowledge or understanding.

* Saying that if God can’t feel sorrow then he also can’t love, seems to assume that love is ultimately a feeling.

Emotions are fleeting physical phenomena, arising from the fact that we experience life one moment at a time. As we go through a process we might feel one way at the beginning, another way in the middle and another way at the end. But if we could see the process as a whole instead of being limited to experiencing it in tiny segments, we would not experience it through a range of rising and falling emotions.

Also, we might feel differently in viewing a sorrowful scene, if we knew how it would turn out in the end.

* Emotions and physical pain in us seem to serve the purpose of warning us of danger, as well as deterring us from certain behaviors and encouraging us to others. God, not being susceptible to physical harm, has no need of pain to warn him of danger. He has no need of feelings to encourage him to do certain things and avoid others. For example he has no need of guilt as a punishment and a deterrent for sin, because he can’t sin; nor has he need of feelings of gratification and satisfaction as a reward for good deeds, for he does nothing but good by his very nature. Likewise if suffering in us serves the purpose of building character, God has no need of character-building.

What is tolerance?

The Emperor summons before him Bodhidharma and asks: “Master, I have been tolerant of innumerable gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, transgender people, and Jews. How many Tolerance Points have I earned for my meritorious deeds?”

Bodhidharma answers: “None at all”.

The Emperor, somewhat put out, demands to know why not.

Bodhidharma asks: “Well, what do you think of gay people?”

The Emperor answers: “What do you think I am, some kind of homophobic bigot? Of course I have nothing against gay people!”

And Bodhidharma answers: “Thus do you gain no merit by tolerating them!”

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup“, slatestarcodex.com, September 30, 2014.

Exactly so. Thus, the Catholic Church considers homosexual acts gravely sinful (Catechism 2357), nevertheless since it also teaches that homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and that “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Catechism 2358), it is being genuinely tolerant.