Friday, August 12, 2005

Cafeteria Catholicism

One of my comments in an earlier thread here stated:

If I deal with Catholicism, I deal with the business end of Roman Catholicism, such as Rahner, Fitzmeyer, JPII, Ratzinger, Brown, etc. Lay apologists defending an authority-driven institution cause the cognitive dissonance alarm in my head to go off.

One of the commentators at David Armstrong's outfit, a Mr Jordan Potter, gives a direct response to Armstrong's quote of my words:

It's common for non-Catholics to not understand how the Church works, so I'm not surprised that PP lumps Rahner, Fitzmeyer, and Brown together with John Paul II and Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger. He thinks they are all examples of "the business end of Roman Catholicism," whereas in fact only John Paul II and Benedict XVI in that group really qualify — only they are magisterii, while the others are theologians. All that separates them from a lay Catholic is their ordination (which is not necessarily related to one's qualifications as a teacher or apologist for the Faith) and the amount of formal advanced theological training they may have received. The views of Rahner, Fitzmeyer, and Brown don't always reflect the traditional teachings of the Church, just as Dave Armstrong's views may occasionally depart from the Faith (not intentionally, of course).

Apparently, if I'm understanding Mr Potter correctly, taking Mother Church's authority-driven structure seriously and understanding it leads to the conclusion that those of us who look past lay apologists and go to the big names of the RCC and RC scholarship are somehow in some benighted state with respect "to how the Church works." I am excused from Mr Potter's charges of ignorance in going to Ratzinger and JPII, but, when it comes to letting the likes of a Raymond Brown or Karl Rahner command my attention instead of a self-appointed lay apologist, I am suddenly in error. They don't speak for the Church. Or so the claim would go.

Let's focus attention on Raymond Brown, for example, one of the liberal bogeymen that possibly Mr Potter and some other Catholics would like to see me [and other Protestants] exclude from my Who To Take Seriously in Roman Catholicism list, a list that, while not being written down in its earliest formative stages, exists as a five-stage oral tradition within the Pedanticine school of disciples. Here is some information on Brown:
Brown, a Sulpician priest, was Auburn Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Union Theological Seminary, New York. He was twice appointed a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, by Pope Paul VI in 1972 and by Pope John Paul II in 1996. He wrote extensively on the Bible. In addition to his books, he was a frequent contributor to Catholic Update, St. Anthony Messenger magazine and Scripture From Scratch (all publications of St. Anthony Messenger Press). [From this link.]

Some comments upon a moment of reflection:

(1) Brown was appointed by Paul VI and John Paul II. In order to escape Mr Potter's criticism, it should be noted that these two men occupied the highest position in Rome, so Brown had papal approval, being appointed and recognized by popes. I'd venture a safe guess here that papal approval is about as high an approval in the RCC that one can obtain. Well, perhaps it isn't as high as a pat on the back from an internet Romanist, but it is still high approval nonetheless!

(2) Brown had, shall we say, less-than-conservative views on scripture that, besides piquing a conservative such as myself, stirred the pot of other Romanists. [See, for example, this link by Robert Sungenis at CAI]. What does that say of Paul VI and JPII, who, it can be safe to say in my alleged state of ignorance, held the highest position in the RCC?

(a) Do Mr Potter and others who would make the same charge wish to say that Paul VI and JPII were mistaken? He's welcome to say so, but that sure sounds a lot like private judgement to me. Roman Catholics putting their private judgement above that of popes sure doesn't sound like submission to my ears. Would others who demur Brown's inclusion really say to the face of the Paul VI and JPII that he is wrong?

Ah, but perhaps the popes weren't speaking ex cathedra. Yet this sort of device is a mere formality, for whether or Paul VI or JPII were speaking under the guise of infallibility, they were still making decisions that affected the faith and direction of the RCC. So, even if one wants to claim that these popes erred, then it is mere wordplay to hide behind the concept of ex cathedra, since, regardless of what we call it, these sorts of decisions affect the faith and the entire RCC. Two popes --- not just one --- put a liberal that many internet Catholics would like to ignore on a very important papally-sanctioned commission. I hope Mr Potter and others won't consider me benighted for saying that Rome is sympathetic to liberalism based on the actions of popes.

(b) There is also the fact that in making appointments to something as prestigious as the Pontifical Biblical Commission, one is responsible for one's appointments. Presumably, one appoints those who share one's outlook on things. I don't know of any sort of hiring that is not based on this principle. What then does this say about the outlook of Paul VI and JPII regarding scripture that they would appoint Brown to such a prestigious commission with the title "Pontifical" ? Is this the on-paper-only allegedly superior Roman unity in action once again, where fundamental differences regarding revelation and its understanding are ignored because Brown, Paul VI, and JPII can all merely call themselves Roman Catholic? Is this like my old RC university, where the Roman Catholic theologians don't take the historicity of the gospels in a way of which internet Catholics would approve, but, they're still Roman Catholic, still teaching theology and religion at an officially RC institution, despite the archbishopric and Vatican supposedly being aware of what is going on?

(c) Perhaps Paul VI and JPII didn't agree with Brown, and just weren't careful. Perhaps they got bad advice from their handlers and subordinates. In this case we have, according to those who might sympathize with Mr Potter, a pretty big blunder on a pretty big thing that doesn't reflect well on the popes. But if [on a straightforward matter such as this] the appropriate members of the RCC can't get something right, it is a rather big pill for me to swallow that on matters of dogma and such the RCC does get things correctly. If an ignoramus such as myself can easily spot Brown's liberalism from afar, then it just doesn't seem possible that he snuck in under the nose of the popes. No, it is quite safe to conclude they knew what he was.

(d) Perhaps one would argue that the Pontifical Biblical Commission isn't a big deal anyway, or that it doesn't have any sort of great standing or importance. That ship, alas, runs aground on the following text:
In his encyclical letter "Providentissimus Deus," given on November 18, 1893, our predecessor, Leo XIII, of immortal memory, after describing the dignity of Sacred Scripture and commending the study of it, set forth the laws which govern the proper study of the Holy Bible; and having proclaimed the divinity of these books against the errors and calumnies of the rationalists, he at the same time defended them against the false teachings of what is known as the higher criticism, which, as the Pontiff most wisely wrote, are clearly nothing but the commentaries of rationalism derived from a misuse of philology and kindred studies. Our predecessor, too, seeing that the danger was constantly on the increase and wishing to prevent the propagation of rash and erroneous views, by his apostolic letters "Vigilantes studiique memores," given on October 30, 1902, established a Pontifical Council or Commission on Biblical matters, composed of several Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church distinguished for their learning and wisdom, to which Commission were added as consulters a number of men in sacred orders chosen from among the learned in theology and in the Holy Bible, of various nationalities and differing in their methods and views concerning exegetical studies. In so doing the Pontiff had in mind as an advantage most adapted for the promotion of study and for the time in which we live that in this Commission there should be the fullest freedom for proposing, examining and judging all opinions whatsoever, and that the Cardinals of the Commission were not to reach any definite decision, as described in the said apostolic letters, before they had examined the arguments in favor and against the question to be decided, omitting nothing which might serve to show in the clearest light the true and genuine state of the Biblical questions under discussion. Only after all this had been done were the decisions reached to be submitted for the approval of the Supreme Pontiff and then promulgated.

After mature examination and the most diligent deliberations the Pontifical Biblical Commission has happily given certain decisions of a very useful kind for the proper promotion and direction on safe lines of Biblical studies. But we observe that some persons, unduly prone to opinions and methods tainted by pernicious novelties and excessively devoted to the principle of false liberty, which is really immoderate license and in sacred studies proves itself to be a most insidious and a fruitful source of the worst evils against the purity of the faith, have not received and do not receive these decisions with the proper obedience.

Wherefore we find it necessary to declare and to expressly prescribe, and by this our act we do declare and decree that all are bound in conscience to submit to the decisions of the Biblical Commission relating to doctrine, which have been given in the past and which shall be given in the future, in the same way as to the decrees of the Roman congregations approved by the Pontiff; nor can all those escape the note of disobedience or temerity, and consequently of grave sin, who in speech or writing contradict such decisions, and this besides the scandal they give and the other reasons for which they may be responsible before God for other temerities and errors which generally go with such contradictions.

[Pope Pius X:Praestantia Scripturae]

As a matter of reply to this hypothetical argument of (2)(d):

(i) Note that the PBC, according to Pius X, was established, in part, to defend scripture against rationalism, higher criticism, and an increasing propagation of erroneous views. Thus, taking Roman authority seriously, Raymond Brown was on a council that was set up according to the papal desire to promulgate a correct view of scripture, among other things. I don't know about others, but this makes Brown a voice of Catholicism for me.

(ii) The PBC decisions were to be approved by the Supreme Pontiff and then promulgated. Sounds to me like the PBC is a big deal. I don't hear about lay apologists and your internet Romanists being required to seek approval by the Supreme Pontiff!

(iii) The second paragraph above is partially an expression of satisfaction on Pius X's part as well as consternation. The satisfaction was from the PBC's having given good and useful decisions for promulgation [remember, dear readers, this is a Roman Pope speaking!] The consternation was from the fact that others would not let themselves be normed by the decisions reached by the PBC! If a pope is happy when people follow Y and not pleased when others don't follow Y, those who take Roman authority seriously can safely deduce that Y is important.

(iv) If the PBC isn't a big deal and doesn't speak for the magisterium, then it is pointless to say along with Pius X that
...all are bound in conscience to submit to the decisions of the Biblical Commission relating to doctrine, which have been given in the past and which shall be given in the future, in the same way as to the decrees of the Roman congregations approved by the Pontiff; nor can all those escape the note of disobedience or temerity, and consequently of grave sin, who in speech or writing contradict such decisions, and this besides the scandal they give and the other reasons for which they may be responsible before God for other temerities and errors which generally go with such contradictions.

(v) Note too that the binding nature of the PBC isn't a temporary affair: "which have been given in the past and which shall be given in the future."

One of the really annoying points that more than makes up for my few charming points is that I take a text to mean what it says, and I take what a pope says seriously. It seems that I take popes more seriously than some internet Catholics do. It causes a sort of cognitive dissonance when I see Mr Potter claim that I don't know how Rome works when I'm taking Mother Church at Her word, a word expressed by no less than a pope. When a pope talks how one is bound in conscience to submit to decisions by the PBC, and that these decisions will be given in the future, and the term "future" isn't qualified, and the possibility of "grave sin" hangs over those who are not bound in conscience to the conclusions of the Commission, I can only draw the conclusion that this Commission is a big deal that relates to Catholic faith and the inner intellectual life. But that's just me.

(vi) Even in post-Vatican II days the PBC enjoys a special authority. Ratzinger, who happens to be the current Bishop of Rome and therefore is probably more authoritative on the scope of the PBC than, say, an internet Romanist or self-appointed lay apologist, states in the preface of the PBC work The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church that
The Pontifical Biblical Commission, in its new form after the Second Vatican Council, is not an organ of the teaching office, but rather a commission of scholars who, in their scientific and ecclesial responsibility as believing exegetes, take positions on important problems of Scriptural interpretation and know that for this task they enjoy the confidence of the teaching office.

If the PBC enjoys the confidence of the teaching office, then it seems that the PBC is indeed a major player in the Roman hierarchy even today. Conclusion: if one wants to ignore Pius X's words [nearly a century ago] above relating to submission to the Commission "in the future," then one runs into a more modern affirmation of the PBC's importance, and this affirmation is by no less a man than Ratzinger, and I consider Ratzinger a safe pick for an official voice for the One True Holy Mother Church. [But again, that may just be one of my many statements exposing my ignorance on the Roman Church.]

Wrapping up subpoints (i)-(vi) of (2)(d), we summarize (2) by stating the following conclusion: Brown is a papally-appointed scholar who is, by virtue of this papal appointing, a member of a commission that has:

(alpha) Papal approval,

(beta) "The full confidence of the teaching office" relative to the matters on which it makes judgements, matters which affect the entire Catholic faith assuming that Catholicism still deals with scripture,

(gamma) An impetus derived from a papal desire to keep ideas about scripture and such within certain normative conditions.

(delta) The property that [says Pius X] those who contradict the decisions of the body are responsible before God, and they just might not be able to escape the consequences of grave sin.

(epsilon) The property that [again says Pius X] the importance and normative force of this commission holds now and in the future.

Again, just for a reminder, I've quoted both Pius X and Ratzinger. Neither of these men have been secretly in league with Reformed bloggers, nor have these men said or done anything to add to the nigh-daily and public teen tragedy-queen angst that self-appointed Catholic lay apologists must heroically endure when somebody like a Steve Hays points out that the Catholic Countryside is not the utopian conservative Pepperland that starry-eyed internet Roman Catholics want it to be. Presumably, Mr Potter will permit me to consider them as representatives for the voice of Holy Mother Church.

Having completed parts (i)-(vi) of point (2)(d), let's go on to the next subpoint of (2):

(e) We can find liberalism in Ratzinger and JPII, so perhaps some conservative Catholics might want to exclude these two fellows from the list of the people who speak for Rome. Are we forgetting about, say, Ratzinger's adoption of a variant of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis? Are we forgetting about, say, JPII's very public kissing of the Koran? Are we forgetting about, say the rampant liberalism of which very little was done under JPII's watch? Or are/were there multiple Ratzingers and JPII's, and I've just been wathcing the wrong ones?

So, taking (2)(a)-(e) in all at once, one can only deny that Brown is part of the "business end" of Roman Catholicism by implicating Pius X, JPII, Benedict XVI, as well as their clear words and actions. As I take the aforementioned mens' words and actions seriously, I take Brown as an official voice for Rome. So, Mr Potter's charge seems to be empty upon closer inspection.

(3) After demurring at my referring to Brown as somebody I take seriously in contradistinction to, say, self-appointed internet lay apologists for Rome, Mr Potter states in a closing statement that
So, I think PP's attitude reflects ignorance of the Catholic Faith, and also serves as a mighty useful cop-out for him to keep from having to deal with any arguments a lay Catholic may offer in defense of the Faith.

If I'm ignorant about Romanism in the way that Mr Potter indicates, I've merely been taking Pius X, Paul VI, Benedict XVI, and JPII seriously, not to mention citing their words in context with specific links so that others can check, so, relative to Mr Potter's claim, this doesn't bode well for an authority-driven Church, as then popes such as Pius X, Paul VI, and JPII are ignorant regarding the Church in the way I am. Perhaps the papacy should instead be divided among the internet Romanists and their readers on a rotating basis, as Pius, Paul, and JP just don't get it. Just don't expect me to kiss the ring of Pope Armstrong or Pope Sungenis or Pope Sippo!

This aforementioned individualistic attitude about knowing who the "real" representative Catholics are despite the facts such as mentioned above reflects at the very best an unwillingness to take a pope or an encyclical seriously. And encyclicals, say, are not like stream-of-consciousness blog entries that are written on the fly. There is a patient and deliberative element to them. The pope thinks, we assume, pretty hard and deep about the matters on which he writes, and, we think, considers carefully the wording employed. So, if one wants to claim that an encyclical's wording and original intent is incorrect, then such a claim, at least for a conservative Catholic, rather defeats the idea of a teaching office and papacy that exist not only for the placing of a fresh dinner mint on the faithful Catholic's pillow when it makes his bed in the morning and puts in fresh towels, but to also provide that elusive epistemic certainty of which benighted conservative Protestants allegedly dare only dream. This sort of claim and the accompanying attitude also serve [stealing Mr Potter's wording] as a mighty useful cop-out for them to keep from having to deal with the actual texts and decisions that some popes have made. That attitude, in the end, allows them to adopt a simian hear-n-see-no-evil pose regarding a part of the business end of their Church --- a part that to them is liberal and therefore is to be locked away in some dusty and obscure corner of the Vatican basement.

So, abortive attempts at humor notwithstanding, there's my case for just why I think Mr Potter is wrong in denying that, say, a Raymond Brown is a simulacrum for the voice of Rome.

(4) By the way, despite my puckish tone at times, I have great sympathy for Romanists of a conservative stripe, many of whom are far better people than yours truly. They stand for something [to most of which I agree on the civic level], and the world hates them for it, not to mention the really liberal Catholics who want to turn the Church into an agent for social utopia. [Sounds a lot like liberal Protestantism, methinks.] As do the conservative Catholics, I too roll my eyes when my university runs The Vagina Monologues and promotes anti-Catholic culture. I too get cranky when liberals and liberal Catholics attempt to use somebody's conservative Catholicism as a way of attempting to disqualify or smear that somebody. [John Roberts --- cough cough.] My eyes, like those of conservative Catholics who have a conservative view of scripture, roll as well when I read, say, Brown's NT Intro volume [note the nihil obstat and imprimatur for this book] or read about his theories of composition regarding the fourth gospel. So, to all the Romanists out there, "I feel your pain." I'm not saying anything that a Catholic pub such as New Oxford Review isn't saying and complaining about already. [Loved their ads in National Review, btw.]

What I emphatically don't have sympathy for is a Roman Catholic who makes all sorts of triumphalistic claims about Holy Mother Church, what with her continuous succession back to the apostles, her infallibility, her provision of epistemic certainty, etc, while ignoring the fact that the biz end of modern Romanism has greatly changed course in fundamental issues such as the nature of tradition, the view of scripture, the degree to which modernism makes inroads into theology, etc.
Nor do I have sympathy for triumphalistic Roman claims of some great unity when in the unity is a mere organizational unity, allowing liberals, heretics, etc to work and operate in the fold.

Neither do I have sympathy for Roman Catholics who glory in Holy Mother Church while having a self-selecting Cafeteria Catholic methodology of deciding what counts as authentically Romish while blithely declaring by virtue of their private judgement [the lynchpin of Protestant anarchy!] that those outside this self-selected circle don't speak for the Church, despite the clear writings and actions of popes. While God has blessed [and chastised] me in many ways and helped me to inch along the road to sanctification at a snail-like pace, I have yet to be blessed with the ability to suffer foolish and triumphalistic claims quietly.

What I've hoped to show in this thread is that, yes, somebody like Brown is to be taken as a voice for Catholicism. He's a liberal voice, and there are conservative voices, but one just can't throw out the liberal voices and put in place a self-selecting a posteriori list of conservatives. Those conservative Catholics who do something like this, despite their love for Holy Mother Church, are nothing but Cafeteria Catholics who, upon the rubber meeting the road, act no differently than Protestants who use their private judgement to sift truth from falsehood, all while triumphantly pointing out our [allegedly] benighted state that arises from opening the flood-gates of private judgement.

Addendum: A Note On What To Expect With Certain Types of Roman Apologists

The main part of this long thread is now complete, but it seems appropriate to mention a few more points that are only loosely connected together, though they have some connection with the main thrust of the post.

(5) I don't interact, nor have I ever seriously interacted in public with internet RC apologists, because, as stated earlier, I deal with what those who have official positions say, not what self-appointed lay apologists for Rome say. When I have to deal with Rome, I do so on Roman ground, which means I take its authority-game and power structure seriously, often more seriously than many Cafeteria Catholics who have their websites and an impressive amount of accrued supererogatory merit from defending Holy Mother Church against the Protestant hordes. So I'm not some battle-hardened "Protestant apologist," except indirectly, when something out there produces an itch that requires a scratch.

(6) I named this blog "Pedantic Protestant" not because I'm so much interested in being a Protestant missionary to the Roman masses, but for the simple reasons of (i) I'm pedantic and Protestant and (ii) "Protestant" starts with "P" and forms a nice alliteration, and I'm a sucker for alliteration. This is roughly how the maiden post of this blog, Genesis 1:1 stated things. My webpage design skills are minimal at best, so this blog is a visual antithesis to, say, Phil Johnson's visually appealing outfit over yon on Blogspot. The name "Pedantic Protestant," far from being the name of a blog designed to keep Romanists either laughing hysterially or shaking in dreadful fear [depends on who you ask], is just an attempt to give the blog a distinctive non-pretentious fun name that corresponds to reality. The blog name hopefully diminishes the force of the fact that this blog is a visual eyesore on Blog Street, just like that annoying neighbor of yours who ruins other people's property values as well as the street aesthetics because he lets house go to pot, keeping a rusting old long-since-dead car up on blocks in what should be a nicely mowed front yard.

(7) My main interest, by the way, is in evidentialist argumentation for the historical truths of the central events of Christianity, such as the Resurrection, the historicity of the gospels, the authorship questions regarding, say, the Pauline letters, the defense of miracles and the supernatural, critiquing naturalism and higher-critical assumptions/methodology, and so on. These are issues logically prior to both conservative Protestant and Catholic positions.

(8) Without worrying too much of what Roman Catholics think, I've written this thread strictly for other Protestants out there, hopefully having been reasonably fair to the opposing side. As I've personally told a few fellow students and observers of Rome [all of whom are farther along in knowledge than I am], whenever you find a possible anomaly of the Roman flavor, the following will happen when you encounter a starry-eyed Roman apologist who trumpets the greatness of Holy Mother Church:

(a) You'll at first be told that, loosely put, you don't understand the Church.

And perhaps they're right. There's a lot of bad Protestant stuff out there regarding Rome.

(b) But then you read a subset of the writings of the RCC. At this point, you'll be told that you didn't read the "right" writings, so you'll be told again that you do not understand the Church.

(c) Then you read the "right" writings [where the meaning of "right" seems to vary from Catholic to Catholic], and even in this case you're afterward put to death by a multiplicity of qualifications about what is binding, timeless, and so on, qualifications that are not there in the writings in any contextual sense, so in the end you'll still be told that you don't understand the Church.

(d) Alternatively, you'll be told that the original intent of the writings is no longer understood by Holy Mother Church the way a grammatical-historical [i.e. the natural] reading of the text would indicate. Now the text means something else:

(i) Those Tridentine anathemas applicable against against me are somehow swept under the rug when we get to the fuzzy-wuzzy ecumenism of Vatican II, say.

(ii) Trent and V-I on tradition no longer mean what they seem to say, as V-II reinterprets what appear to be clear statements.

The starry-eyed type of Catholic will stand on the rug, on top of the huge lump underneath, and, taking umbrage at your raised eyebrows, will sternly ask you to stop your unsightly staring at the strange topography of the rug.

You're also lazy or sloppy for not reading the latest reinterpretation of the reinterpretation of the clarification of the original document.

(e) Or, you'll be given an appeal to the general development of doctrine, a device whose apellucidity and apologetic plasticity would make the most ideological Darwinist, Marxist, or Freudian ragefully jealous. Not only will you be told that you do not understand the Church, but in addition you will be told that you don't understand development. Now there are two things on which you're ignorant.

(f) Or you'll be told quite simply that you're anti-Catholic, and this label is to serve as a compact and decisive argument that you are, in every way, errant. BTW, this isn't any different than leftists and progressive over the years calling conservatives "racist" or "homophobic" or "nonecosustainable" or whatever, as if argument-by-label was a valid sort of argument.

Quoting Steve Hays' words on this situation [see the first link below]
Here the Romanist absolves himself of any moral or intellectual responsibility to answer a critic of the church, even if the critic is basing his case on official Catholic conduits, on the subjective grounds that the critic is a hateful sinful bigot, plain and simple. Period. Full stop. End of story.

This, of course, betrays the hidebound herd-instinct of a suicidal cult-member. Whether the object of faith is Mother Church or the Mother Ship, heaven or Heaven’s Gate, the Pope or little Bo-Peep, the chalice or the Kool-Aid, is simply an accident of birth and breeding.

Regardless, after all this, you still "just don't get it."

For some examples of some or all of these sorts of responses in action, see these links, given in no special order, courtesy of Steve Hays, who, unlike me, has a public record of such dealings.

Link 1

Link 2

Link 3

Link 4

Link 5

Link 6


Blogger steve said...

Jordan Potter defends Catholicism the way a consigliere defends a shell corporation owned by the Mafia. The Don is a poor man for tax purposes. All those yachts and Tuscan villas and Lamborginis and Rolexes and Italian suits belong to an offshore subsidiary headquartered in Brazil.

Saturday, August 13, 2005 1:40:00 PM  
Blogger William Roper III said...

It seems to me, all you have proven is that Paul VI and John Paul II were bad Popes, so what? We all know there can be bad Popes mand no sane catholic ever denied it.

Your whole argument that it is hard to believe that these Popes could screw up so badly but be reliable when speaking ex cathedra seems to me to rebound on you. I mean, protestants believe the New Testament is infallible, but I could fill a book with the stupid or outright sinful things New Testament authours did.

It is also worth noting that the PBC had magesterial authority prior to Vatican II but Paul VI removed that authority from it, which seems to me an act of divine providence to defend the magesterium.

Jason Cebalo

Saturday, August 13, 2005 3:45:00 PM  
Anonymous jon said...

Liked your article, but this doesn't make any sense: "Are we forgetting about, say, JPII's very public kissing of the Koran?" *That's* all you got to showcase him as having some liberal tendencies? I mean c'mon--the guy wrote encyclical after encyclical, and gave address after address; surely you could come up with something better than the above and, 'oh--And he also appointed liberal Mr. X to a pontifical commission..' Quote the man directly if you really got something here...

Saturday, August 13, 2005 4:38:00 PM  
Blogger steve said...


The PP will have to speak for himself, but this, in my view, is the nub of the problem which the PP is addressing:

The basic ploy is to play up the religious certainty afforded by the magisterium in Catholic offensive apologetics, while playing down the religious certainty afforded by the magisterium in Catholic defensive apologetics.

When Catholicism is on the move, attacking Evangelicalism, it advertizes a degree of epistemic assurance which we supposedly lack; but when Catholicism is fending off Evangelical attacks, it retreats into scepticism.

As far as I'm concerned, Catholicism loses either way. Either it's provably false or it's unprovable. If you can't pin it down, then, sure, you can't disprove it, but by the same token, if you can't pin it down, then there's nothing to believe.

Saturday, August 13, 2005 4:42:00 PM  
Blogger steve said...


Since you bring up the issue of infalliblity, perhaps you point the PP and me to an official cumulative index of when the various Popes have spoken ex cathedra. After all, there's not much value in the Pope speaking ex cathedra unless the faithful know when he has spoken ex cathedra. So where can we find this information? Is it available online from the Vatican Library? What search words should we use?

Saturday, August 13, 2005 4:53:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Jason and Jon --- Julie the Cruise Director isn't here to welcome you directly, nor is Gopher anywhere in sight, so it is up to me to say hello and greetings.

I'll try to write a post later this evening answering your questions. I won't have much else to do apparently, since having played tennis [or what passes for tennis] for two hours in 100 degree heat this afternoon I won't want to do much other than sit in a chair and do low-energy things!

Now I need Isaac to bring me one of those cool drinks with an umbrella in it...

Saturday, August 13, 2005 6:22:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Jason --- for what it is worth, I'd ask the same thing as does Steve regarding infallibility and such.

Saturday, August 13, 2005 7:15:00 PM  
Blogger patrick said...

It's cruel of you to dig up some of those links, PP. Posting Link 2 was especially heartless. Steve Hays must find it pretty humiliating to see you link to the discussion with me where he made believe that a certain claim made by Archbishop Chaput committed him to open theism. That was a real trainwreck.

Interestingly relevant to the point at hand--that is, the way you and Hays pay attention to the "business end of the Church" is his claim in that same link that "Catholicism has this two-tiered piety, with the laity on the lower tier and a spiritual elite of monks and nuns on the upper tier. Is that how you interpret the Sermon on the Mount? Is the Sermon on the Mount only for some Christians, and not for all Christians?"

Yes, clearly Steve Hays is getting his interpretation of Catholicism from the business end of the Church. After all, the Second Vatican Council taught that "The Lord Jesus, divine teacher and model of all perfection, preached holiness of life (of which he is the author and maker) to each and every one of his disciples without distinction: 'You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.' (Mt 5:48) ... All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love." (Lumen Gentium, section 40.) I can certainly see how Hays could get his "two tiered" approach out of Catholic teachings like this! (Cough cough.)

Or perhaps Lumen Gentium doesn't count as genuine Catholic teaching because it doesn't flow from the pen of Raymond Brown?

I must say, in response to your own words, PP--leaving behind your friend Mr. Hays for the moment--that it's very surprising to see you raise points "delta" and "epsilon" in relation to Brown's appointment to the PBC, since as you yourself seem to recognize, neither delta nor epsilon applied to the PBC at the time of Brown's appointment.

There's more that could be said in rebuttal to your long post, but I think the fact that you tried to make hay out of the quasi-magisterial status of the PBC even though you knew it no longer had that quasi-magisterial status tells us what we need to know about the seriousness with which you approach these discussions.

Saturday, August 13, 2005 9:24:00 PM  
Blogger Damascene said...

The citation from Pope St. Pius X is referring to the PBC as it existed from 1902 to 1971. Fr. Raymond Brown notes:

"Gospel historicity (1964; -> 35 above) was the last statement of the PBC as established in 1902 (cardinals as the members; decrees binding Catholics to internal assent). ... On June 27, 1971, Paul VI ("Sedula cura", AAS 63 [1971] 665-69) reorganized the PBC as a body advisory to the Doctrinal Congregation. The members would be twenty scholars (appointed by the pope for five-year terms) 'outstanding for their learning, prudence, and Catholic regard for the Magisterium of the Church,'" (The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 72:37).

It's strange that you don't realize that (a) St. Pius X is, at any rate, referring to decrees of the commission, not the views of members of the commission, and (b) your quote from Cardinal Ratzinger plainly states that the reorganized PBC is no longer "an organ of the teaching office".

Your insinuation that Paul VI and JP II shared Fr. Brown's liberal views on the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture is also unfair. Paul VI specifically rejected drafts of Dei Verbum which could be understood as compatible with Fr. Brown's views, and JP II was similarly clear, in, for instance, CCC 106-107, which follows the Council exactly in affirming the plenary inspiration of Scripture, and, incidentally, has had a far wider influence than his appointment of Fr. Brown.

Saturday, August 13, 2005 9:36:00 PM  
Blogger patrick said...

Before I go, let me refrain from being snarky for a moment and try to make a simple but serious point.

Pope Paul VI convened a theological commission to study the issue of artificial contraception. Clearly, by convening this commission, he at least implicitly expressed his confidence in its members. (Why would he ask for their advice if he thought the advice would be worthless?) And apparently, when he received their recommendation, he really struggled over what to do about it. You see, the commission recommended that he "update" Church teaching on contraception. (Because of the new methods then available--i.e. the pill--this wouldn't have amounted to a substantive change in Church teaching. Rather, it would have been an application of Church teaching to a new area. But we needn't bother with this distinction, of course, because of Paul VI's decision, which was...) He rejected their advice, and issued _Humanae Vitae_. That's the teaching of the Church. The recommendation of the theological commission is entirely irrelevant.

You see, theologians and biblical scholars--even ones trusted by popes and appointed to prestigious commissions--really only serve in an advisory role. Every organization has a board of advisors. And you know how much real authority a board of advisors has? None. None at all. People get onto boards of advisors for any number of reasons. Just like there could be any number of reasons why Raymond Brown was on the PBC. Maybe he was there because the popes who appointed him approved of his work. Or maybe he was there for some other reason entirely. Who knows? The point is that his being there does not make him an official spokesman for the Church. This, I think, is what Jordan Potter was getting at by objecting to your putting Brown et al in the same category as the popes.

Indeed, you seem to fail to make an extremely important distinction between the actual teaching of the Church on the one hand, and the various theologies and philosophies through which the Church's intelligentsia seek to interpret and understand the teaching of the Church. Theologians do important work, but their work qua theologians--or qua biblical scholars, or qua philosophers--is speculative, and it's a very bad idea to conflate this speculative work with the teaching of the Church. Even the theology of Aquinas can't hold up to that kind of conflation. And, in fact, because the apologist is not engaging in such a speculative enterprise, it may actually be much wiser to go to a trustworthy apologist than to a speculative theologian if what you're looking for is a straightforward presentation of the teaching of the Church.

For my part, I don't care in the very least if you read Dave Armstrong's work (or Scott Hahn's, or Mark Shea's, or...). Suit yourself. But I do agree with Jordan Potter that you are plainly making some bad mistakes in the way you understand the Church.

Saturday, August 13, 2005 9:49:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...


(1) Your first question is nonapplicableto me or the post. I wasn't trying to prove that either of Paul VI or JPII were "bad popes." If my article did try to prove those statements, it would've been a gross failure. I was trying to show why I considered Brown one of the voices for Catholicism, nothing more.

(2) Your second point seems weighty at first; here's how I'd attempt to parry it:

(a) We're not talking about whether or not the NT authors sinned and such, because they certainly did. And certainly popes sin too. Paul sinned [Rom 7], etc.
Note that I don't argue against Roman Catholicism or popes on the basis that popes sin, for then I, being a worse sinner, would undercut myself to a greater degree than the target of that hypothetical polemic.

(b) If one or some of the NT authors Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Jude, Peter, and the author of Hebrews knowingly appointed the 1st century equivalent of a Ray Brown to an important position of ministry affecting central areas of the faith not once, but twice, despite this Brown-ish person's views being well known, it would indeed be special pleading on my part to argue against ex cathedra infallibility, say, while upholding the infallibility of the NT documents.

The problem for this attempted type of argument as I see it is that we don't have any clear data that indicates this. If you think you have a candidate datum or two of the type described above for the NT authors, feel free to bring it up.

Others are welcome to comment on this line of defense.

(3) Pius X's wording doesn't seem to have the proviso or qualification that the possibility of grave sin for going against the commission [to put it roughly] is there until somebody in the future comes along and changes things.

What does Ratzinger's "full confidence of the teaching office" in the PBC document I cited mean to you? If the PBC has this, the distinction between "magisterial," "quasi-magisterial," and "non-magisterial" seems meaningless to me.

Saturday, August 13, 2005 11:44:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...


(1) I was giving some quick examples; I didn't intend to give a complete list, nor did I present my list as exhaustive in any way. So here, I'm not sure as to your first objection.

(2) Are actions of JPII separate from the writings of JPII in your book? You seem to draw that distinction in your comment.

(a) You'll have to take my word for it on this, but publicly kissing the Koran is one of those things that makes me reach for the Maalox. Now I admired JPII in many ways and I try to give him the benefit of the doubt, since I like to receive the benefit of the doubt as well. But for the life of me, I haven't seen any explanations for this ecumenical act that satisfy me. I'll also note that some Catholics I've known have, like me, been flummoxed and rather embarrassed by the whole thing. Do you think that an act doesn't reflect a liberal and/or overly ecumenical view? Or, to be rhetorical, could you see St Paul kissing the Koran? I sure couldn't. But that's just me.

(b) Appointing liberals to Church commissions seems like a liberal act to me. Again, could you see St Paul appointing somebody with antithetical views on fundamental issues to some position of advisory and/or authority? Again, I sure couldn't.

So, in conclusion, not trying to be puckish [though I fear it will come across as such, so let me apologize in advance here!], it sounds like you're saying that apart from the two liberal acts I've described --- acts that, even if you disagree you can see where I'm coming from --- I haven't described any liberalities of JPII.

Also, if you sort of want a meta-liberality [to make up a word], I didn't see a major crackdown on dissidents and the like. Surely there are other RC's out there bedevilled by this fact as well.

And, to be sure, I didn't say that JPII was liberal, implying that he could be accurately summarized by this word. JPII was a complex man, a fascinating man an educated man, and he deserves to be taken respectfully and seriously. For the record, if you go back and look at my wording, I stated that "we can find liberalism" in JPII. I didn't begin to claim that the totality of his being was described the word "liberal." Would it make you feel better if you knew that I agree as well to the statement "we can find a lot of conservatism in JPII as well" ?

For example, his statement about the Roman Church containing the full deposit of the faith whereas others don't, well, that just about brought a tear of joy to my eye. Not that I agree with him, mind you, since otherwise this blog would be named Pedantic Papist, but here was a guy standing up for propositional truth and having a spine saying "Yes, we're right on these things, and those who contradict us are wrong." I enjoyed watching the leftists and progressives and libs squeal over that.

Sunday, August 14, 2005 12:08:00 AM  
Blogger patrick said...

PP says: "Pius X's wording doesn't seem to have the proviso or qualification that the possibility of grave sin for going against the commission [to put it roughly] is there until somebody in the future comes along and changes things."

That proviso _always_ attaches to disciplinary issues. There is no essential difference between (on the one hand) Pius X giving a certain position of authority to the PBC and a later pope rescinding that authority and (on the other hand) one pope decreeing that it is hereby mortally sinful to eat meat on Fridays and a later pope rescinding that discipline. It is patently obvious that Pius X never meant to suggest that it is part of the Deposit of Faith that the PBC holds any authority. It would only be if he had made that (obviously absurd) claim that any kind of irreformability would attach. For another point of comparison, the Latin rite of the Church now demands celibacy of most of its priests. It would be a very grave matter for a priest to try to get married right now. But the Church could change that discipline at any time. She has the authority to make these decisions. (Whereas the Church has no authority to change teachings--for example, she can't ordain women, because of her understanding of the nature of the sacrament of holy orders.)

PP: "What does Ratzinger's "full confidence of the teaching office" in the PBC document I cited mean to you? If the PBC has this, the distinction between "magisterial," "quasi-magisterial," and "non-magisterial" seems meaningless to me."

President Bush has recently claimed to have full confidence in Carl Rove. But, interestingly, Carl Rove still lacks any authority whatsoever to sign any bills into law. He advises the President, but he can't make any binding decisions. This would be the (analogical) equivalent of a non-magisterial position.

In imperial Roman times, provincial governors had full control of their provinces, and their word was law. But there were, of course, limits. First, they couldn't make laws that contradicted the law of the empire. Second, leaving laws aside, if the Emperor intervened in any provincial matter, his authority always trumped the authority of the governor. Third, the governor served at the pleasure of the emperor. He could be removed at any time, for any reason. This is an anological equivalent to a quasi-magisterial position.

The magisterium has no such human bounds on its authority. The popes and the councils jointly occupy the position of the emperor. Of course, they are bound by the deposit of faith, and they serve at the pleasure of the Lord. So there are, of course, vitally important limits to their authority as well. (Such as--they can't go around changing doctrines.) This is the magisterium.

Theologians serve in a non-magisterial position. Unless, of course, they become part of a congregation of one kind of another that enjoys quasi-magisterial status. So once again, this is why it is confused to think of Ray Brown as somehow speaking for the Church.

I don't think there's anything very tricky about these distinctions.

Sunday, August 14, 2005 2:32:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Patrick --- I've tried to precisely delineate the difference between how we see things in the latest post: The Dog That Purrs.

I'd say you seem fixated on the *formal* standing of Brown, and I don't believe I ever claimed he was formally magisterial. Correct me if you see any statement of this sort.

What I *did* try to do was give an argument that yes, he is to be taken seriously. Advisors to popes and the magisterium are people I take seriously. Therefore, in a practical sense, Brown seems worthy to go into the Who's Who list.

This isn't any sort of absurdity. Your post merely dismisses my position, a position that looks at what I consider the practicalities of the situation, as something clearly absurd, as if this is much ado about nothing.

Fair enough, we each have our opinions. I gave my evidence. And, I've discharged a reasonable amount of intellectual duty with two blog entries on your comments.

I don't think there is anything tricky about how I'm operating, to be honest. And, while a man is often not his own best judge, it doesn't look like I've changed my tune nor moved any goalposts, but have stuck to my guns. Either I'm defiantly correct here or throwing good money in the pot after bad!

On the side end of comments:

(1) Are you saying Karl Rove is not a face of Republican politics to be taken seriously? By your standards, a leftist should merely say that "Karl Rove is not a formally elected politician" and ignore the fact that he is an architect and force of some of the President's major policies.

(2) I'd make the same sort of comments regarding your analogy regarding the Imperium.

(3) I can be rightfully be blamed somewhat for being a bit loose with terminology. I've talked about Brown being a representative of the Church, Brown being somebody to take seriously, and Brown being in my Roman Who's Who list. I'm not sure if you've taken these loosely synonymous phrases to be equivalent to "Ray Brown is a member of the magisterium or not." To try to interpret my own words, I'm merely saying that Ray Brown, among other people probably a lot more to your liking and some a lot less, is a face of Catholicism to me given the arguments he made. What he says represents an important opinion in the RCC, and when popes approve and appoint him, they are lending their papal credence to his points.

Does this clarify things? I hope so, because we may very well be reaching diminishing returns here.

Sunday, August 14, 2005 3:41:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Correction: in (3) above I meant "given the arguments *I* made", not "given the arguments *he* made." The latter reading makes no sense, and I meant to use the first-person pronoun.

Sunday, August 14, 2005 10:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Ismael Hernandez said...

Just to say that I respectfully dissagree with the "cafeteria catholicism" coment.

I believe that simply because a pope assigns a specific theologian to a commission does not mean that such theologian's statements, works in theology, or comments are then necessarily sponsored by the pope. In fact, there are many members in Vatican commissions, often with contrary opinions on issues. This is often done precisely to foster dialogue and exchange. For example: Pope Paul VI's commission on birth control issue had scholars and other members who dissagreed furiously on the issue and even drafted separate final documents. At the end, the Pope issued his encyclical Humanae Vitae with a teaching contrary to the official commission's recommendation.

Of course I agree that the views of prominent Catholic scholars ought to be examined and discussed but we need to be careful to distinguish between the Magisterium and other theologians in the Church.

Finally, lay apologist's ofen express their opinions based on specific Protestant issues and specific Protestant arguments. This is often not the case with Magisterial documents. One thing is to issue a document or a statement, another is to dialogue or debate on the significance or interpretation of such in light of specific (often related, often tangential) arguments.

It would seem to be an error tobypass the opinions of apologists who are trying to engage the specific issues and arguments raised by Protestant apologists. We all can at times get upset with one another as apologists on both sides are dealing with specific controversies about which we all often have very strong opinions. At times we are also dealing with personality conflicts -- on both sides I think.

I appreciate the opportunity to post.

Friday, August 19, 2005 5:55:00 AM  

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