Signs of Life

Of the Benedictines of Norcia:

“There was such a sense of brotherhood and peace among those men. Father Martin told us, as did the prior, Father Cassian, a day earlier, that it all comes from a life of prayer. I kept thinking: Anybody who despairs of the Church, or of their spiritual lives, should come to Norcia. This monastery and basilica glows with peace and joy. It is, as I said yesterday, both a lighthouse and a stronghold. More people should know about this monastery. I don’t know what exactly they are doing, but the spiritual fruits of their community are palpable. They are gaining so many vocations that they are outgrowing their small quarters. We read and hear about so many defeats for the Church these days, but in the mountains of Umbria, the faith is winning.

“You need to go see this place for yourself. If you can, make a retreat there. Casella and I hated to come down off the mountain today, but we have a plane to catch in the morning. Tonight we walked around Rome and visited some of the great churches of Christendom, but all we could think about was the monks of Norcia, and wishing we were back there with them.”

Thus Rod Dreher.


The monks brew Birra Nurcia beer.

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

For what it’s worth, here is a paper 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