Category Archives: Islam & Judaism

Un-Catholic to set “Mercy” in opposition to Law: Part 1

A prominent Rabbi has just complained that rhetoric coming out of the Vatican is, as he hears it, anti-Jewish. A link to his open letter is here.

It is very good that this Rabbi knows of the difference between personal opinions spoken by men who happen to be Catholic authorities and the authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church herself. In the Church’s history, popes have spoken in two ways: Sometimes as pope and sometimes as a private person. We must not confuse these. Only words spoke as pope, only papal words, can be authoritative. Mere words of a man who happens to be pope are not authoritative.

So, most importantly, what is the Catholic view of the Law? The Rabbi’s open letter calls for clear presentation, not of personal whim, but of the truth, of true Catholic Dogma which no man has authority over.

Well, first, let us consider the gravest heresy of all regarding the law, Marcionism. Marcionism holds that the God of the Law has nothing to do with the God of the Gospel. They are, Marcion believed, enemies. 

For Marcion (excommunicated in AD 144), the God of the Law is only just, not merciful; only a law-giver not a grace-giver; only a judge, not a forgiver; only a commander, not a promiser. Few would jump for joy at such a God!

By contrast, the God of Marcion’s heretical Gospel is: only merciful, not just; only a grace-giver, not a law-giver; a law-abolisher not a law-enhancer; only a forgiver not a judge; only a promiser not a commander. 

Marcion’s heresy no one today believes as he taught it. However, its family resemblances are tempting. Today, and since Luther’s revolt, it is the sin of presumption. It presumes that God’s mercy will ill-befit his justice. It presumes, against St. Paul (Romans 2) that God’s mercy indulges human sin. The conclusion of heresy: “Therefore, sin boldly, that God may indulge the more!” NO SAINT EVER SAID THAT. ALL WHO HOLD THAT HOLD HERESY, DEFY REVELATION, AND PORTRAY GOD IN A FALSE LIGHT. ERGO, ALL SUCH ARE FALSE MESSENGERS OF THE GOSPEL.

It is interesting that a notable scholar relates that Luther thought that Marcion got Paul mostly right, excepting that the 2 Gods are just one God, who can act in 2 ways towards us. Whereas Marcion banished the evil God, Luther kept the “merely just” attitude of God close at hand, to be considered in dialectical tension with the “merely merciful” aspect of God.


Dogmatic Theology 1.8a: Catholicism the One True Religion

In this podcast, I make an initial argument that the Catholic religion is the one true religion. I say initial because in this podcast, I argue for the core truths of Christianity. It is indeed “summary,” an invitation to read some excellent sources on your own.

First, I note the Church’s teaching that Catholicism is the one true religion. Second, I note the Church’s teaching that the first claim is made knowable to reason by certain signs in world history. Third, I note some of these signs.

Lesson from Leo XIII and Pius XI on False Religions

The below is a prayer of consecration, written by Pope Leo XIII, Great Pope that he was, and later used by Pope Pius XI of Immortal Memory. It is a prayer consecrating the entire human race to the Sacred Heart. He asks

Most sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us humbly prostrate before Thy altar. We are Thine, and Thine we wish to be; but, to be more surely united with Thee, behold each one of us freely consecrates himself today to Thy Most Sacred Heart. Many indeed have never known Thee; many too, despising Thy precepts, have rejected Thee. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to Thy Sacred Heart.

Be Thou King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken Thee, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned Thee; grant that they may quickly return to their Father’s house lest they die of wretchedness and hunger.

Be Thou King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof; call them back to the harbor of truth and unity of faith, so that soon there may be but one flock and one Shepherd.

Be Thou King of all those who are still involved in the darkness of idolatry or of Islamism; refuse not to draw them all into the light and kingdom of God. Turn Thine eyes of mercy toward the children of that race, once Thy chosen people: of old they called down upon themselves the Blood of the Savior; may it now descend upon them a laver of redemption and of life.

Grant, O Lord, to Thy Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give peace and order to all nations, and make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: Praise to the Divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to It be glory and Honor forever. Amen.

Rebuilding the Temple?

People sometimes wonder whether there may come a time in which an attempt is made to rebuild the Temple.

An attempt already was made. Under an Apostate Christian Emperor, Emperor Julian, the Apostate. In order to snub the Christianity he once confessed at least on his lips, he sought to rebuild the Temple. He threw lots of imperial money that way. Transferred Alypius from Britain to the Holy Land.

To no avail.

The pagan historian alive at that time, known for accuracy and learning, Ammianus Marcellinus, informs us that balls of fire burst forth from openings in the earth, so as to prevent the workers from finishing their job.

Christians at the time regarded this defeat as a fulfillment of a prophecy in Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures, written some ten to fifteen years earlier. Cyril had stated that when Antichrist comes, Not one stone shall stand upon another (15.15). From Christian accounts at the time, we gather that there was a great wind that made a mess of the equipment and that there was an earthquake. The earthquake apparently heaved up some of the foundation stones, causing the Temple to fall yet further into degeneration. Cyril’s pronouncement about Antichrist implied that Jesus’ announcement,  “Not one stone…” had yet to be fulfilled, as there were, at the foundations of the altar, yet standing certain foundation stones.

Gregory of Nazianzus, writing his 5th Oration (not one of his 5 theological orations), denounced Julian and recounted this very event. He delivered this oration the very year of the event itself. Ammianus wrote his account also that same year. Gregory thus exposed himself to utter ridicule if there were testimony contrary to his account.

All accounts were agreed that marvelous a marvelous event of nature prevented Julian from accomplishing his task. Thus, even today, the Temple does not exist. The Christians are right, John Henry Newman is right: This event was the hand of God (Essay on Miracles).

The Old Covenant is fulfilled only in the new, lives on only in the new, as transformed and not as still expectant of the Messiah to come. The divine appointment of the Temple has ceased. The only divinely appointed worship presently is that of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Abrogation of the Old Law

A question has come up from an insightful reader. Did Jesus really abolish the Old Law?

Of course, we must not agree with the Lutheran thesis that observance of the commandments is no longer a “way and condition of salvation”. For the Catholic Church teaches that such observance is indeed a “way and condition” of salvation. See Veritatis splendor, art. 12. Irenaeus most helpfully teaches that Jesus re-affirms the core commandments and makes them even more stringent. I.e. the Sermon on the Mount is more rigorous. Thus, we see one element of the meaning of “fulfillment” in Mt 5:17. Jesus does not leave us with a religion void of those core commandments but in fact with one replete with the inner and the outer.

Nevertheless, the entire Old Law was issued by Moses. Although that which is commanded in the core commandments is also commanded by Jesus, the Old Law is itself abrogated by Jesus, the founder of our religion. Pius XII, Mystici corporis, art. 29, citing back to Leo the Great (sermon LVIII):

And first of all, by the death of our Redeemer, the New Testament took the place of the Old Law which had been abolished; then the Law of Christ together with its mysteries, enactments, institutions, and sacred rites was ratified for the whole world in the blood of Jesus Christ. For, while our Divine Savior was preaching in a restricted area – He was not sent but to the sheep that were lost of the House of Israel [30] – the Law and the Gospel were together in force; [31] but on the gibbet of His death Jesus made void the Law with its decrees [32] fastened the handwriting of the Old Testament to the Cross, [33] establishing the New Testament in His blood shed for the whole human race.[34] “To such an extent, then,” says St. Leo the Great, speaking of the Cross of our Lord, “was there effected a transfer from the Law to the Gospel, from the Synagogue to the Church, from the many sacrifices to one Victim, that, as Our Lord expired, that mystical veil which shut off the innermost part of the temple and its sacred secret was rent violently from top to bottom.” [35]

Thus we see the second meaning of “fulfillment”. That which was shadow must pass away when that which is its reality comes.

Israel is first in the order of pedagogy and development, just as matter is first in the order of natural development and just as individual things are first perceived by the senses before words can make any sense at all. You don’t know what “ball” means until you see many of them. Israel was preparation for the reality. Forgiveness of sins was not offered through the sacrifices of the Old Law except, as it were, in a manner of a plea, by anticipation of the coming Cross of Christ.

Christ is first in the order of excellence and nature, just as form is first in terms of ontological priority.

So we come to the question: Did Christ found a new religion?

Well, in that Israel was the expectation of him, in that it was divinely appointed to expect him and to prepare the minds and hearts of many for his appearance, no. In this sense, he comes to be the substance of what Israel was in shadow. And in this sense, there is significant continuity. According to the flesh, he is son of David.

But in that he is the Incarnate Son himself, he by his own authority establishes his religion. He does not “hearken” to any man’s voice but only to the Father. Thus, his religion is the radical foundation. Just as form — not matter — is the radical foundation of entity, so Christ — not the shadows anticipating him — is the radical foundation of the Christian religion. He has no foundation beneath him. And since he himself in his flesh founds this religion, it is new with him and it is a new religion.

But this second consideration throws the question into new relief. For it exhibits that insofar as Israel was truly a divinely appointed religion, it is the im-perfect form of the religion Christ establishes. In this sense, he does not form a new religion parallel to the old (yet superior). Rather, the old is in fact — in the order of divine intention and in the order of excellence and nature — subsequent to that of Christ. This is to say that Israel is built upon Christ, not Christ upon Israel.

There may be an analogy with evolution provided we understand it as directed by God as transcendent cause. The former stage is for the latter stage. If indeed we have evolved, yet are standing now erect and thinking, we are the reality not the previous stages as such. And we are that reality by our human souls. And our human souls do not evolve. They are im-material. But everything that evolves is material. It is matter brought to form through processes. But what is im-material cannot be “brought” to be through the manipulation of matter. At each transition, the former is for the latter. The former is the disposition to the latter. Yet the latter is the reality with respect to the former. So too, Christ is not the product of Israel. He is not appointed by Israel. He is its foundation and chief, the only true door to salvation. Christianity understands itself to be thoroughly Jewish in that Judaism had nothing false in it; only truth; and divine truth. This truth finds its true foundation in Christ Jesus, not a mere man and not a mere angel and not only God, but the God-man.

The Trinity and Islamic & Jewish Questions (Part 7)

Part the Last

What we have been witnessing is an ascending series of ever more noble emanations. In the lowest, a thing is not self-moving. Rather, what emanates from it, force, is what was worked on it by another: Billiard ball hits billiard ball, etc. Living vegetables (plants) move themselves and thus produce a product of themselves. However, this product (seed) separates off. Animals produce a product that remains within, the “picture” or trace of the thing that is sensed. However, the picture is always of something other than the sense power itself. The lion retains an image of the sheep, or the lamb, an image of the wolf. Thus, the image that is internally pictured, as it were, is not of the animal itself but of something else. The emanation begins from without. Rational creatures on the other hand can think of their own thinking. Thus, the concept that emanates from mind can be of mind itself. Hence, the emanation here is more interior. Now, the concept produced by the act of thinking has the same kind of ‘being’ that the act of thinking has. If the act of thinking is an “accident” and not identical in being with the thinker, then the concept will have an “accidental” existence and not the very being of the thinker. I have thoughts but am not my thinking; thus, my concepts are not the same in being with me.

Now, rational creatures are of various kinds. Human beings require many different “image pictures” of things in order ever to get to an understanding of the essence or concept: I need to see many balls before I can have any faltering grasp of what “ball” is. And I need to understand many external things for a long time before I begin to be reflective about myself: Who am I, who do these things? Thus, even our concepts of ourselves begin from without. Angels, unlike us, have innate or better intuitive knowledge of themselves. They see themselves directly. Thus, their concepts of themselves begin from within and, since they are concepts, remain within. They are more interior. However, an angel has many concepts, not just one. An angel is not identical with his thinking. An angel has thoughts but is not his thinking. Thus, the angel’s concepts are not identical in being with the angel. Unlike the angels, God is his thinking. He does not have thoughts but is his one, simple thought.

Thus, the theological suggestion is this: IF God produces a word / concept when he thinks, this Word will have the following characteristics: (a) it will always exist, as God always thinks; (b) it will be one and not many, because God is not divided into many but is simple, and his act of understanding is perfect and simple, so that the concept that expresses this act would be one, not many; (c) it would remain within God, just as our concepts remain within us; (d) it would be identical with the divine being, just as God’s act of understanding is his very existence; (e) yet, just as our concepts are from our thinking, so too God’s one simple divine Word would be from God and therefore distinct from God-speaking-the-Word. In short, the Word would be identical with God in divinity and distinct from God-speaking.

This is none other than the Christian faith, for Christians hold that God indeed does produce a word.

The Trinity and Islamic & Jewish Questions (Part 6)

Consider merely material things. One acts on another. The action, or emanation, is entirely without: This ball hits that ball and conveys its momentum to it. This fire generates that fire. Etc. The “movement” or “emanation” is all without.

Consider a plant. Suddenly, we are at a new level of being. The plant is a whole and acts as a whole. It as it were “moves itself” to its act and is not just moved from without. Eventually, it produces seed. Thus, its movement is more interior.

Now consider an animal, with sense knowledge. Suddenly, there is an interior emanation. For in sensing other things, the dog has as it were within itself an image of the exterior reality. Through this image, it engages the exterior reality. Each of my eyes, in concert with my brain, produces an image that remains within me. Thus, there is an “emanation”, a “generation” of one from another – image from eye-brain – that remains within the agent itself.

Now enter your own mind. When you think conceptually about something, you are no longer merely in images. You rise above images, even though you use them at the same time. No man has seen a circle. Never! For a circle is defined by a “line”, and no line has any “breadth”. For a line is “breadthless length”. But you cannot see what has no breadth. You cannot see a point; you cannot see a line between points. BUT YOU CAN THINK IT! Yes, and you can deduce properties about it. You can very much think it, without ever getting its reality in your imagination. Therefore, we rational creatures rise above the merely imaginative sub-structure of the brain. Even though we need the brain as we do it. (The geometrician needs the imagined or sketched circle in order to conceive, beyond what he sees or imagines, the defined circle.)

The concepts that the mind produces are thus in-corporeal. They rise above the material, even what can be pictured by imagination. Hence, they are what we classically call “spiritual”. Not spiritual as in holy. Spiritual as in above the bodily. Products of mind, not merely of brain.

Now, the marvelous thing about the spiritual is that it can reflect on itself. The spiritual power can have itself as object. You can think your thinking.

Thus, in this way, the emanation can as it were “begin from within”. Not only does it end within (as does the imagined zebra, when I ‘picture it’ to myself). But it begins within, since the very object of the mind can be the very mind thinking.

But if this is the case, we have an instance of “emanation” in which what emanates, the concept, remains within the very source of its emanation, mind.

The Trinity and Islamic & Jewish Questions (Part 5)

We will consider one more objection from Taymiyyah. It is that if the Son is begotten, then he must “separate” off from the Father. For everything that is begotten separates off from its source. If it were to remain within the source, it could not be begotten. That is the objection.

The objection works for things material. For everything material involves place, and with regard to things material, distinction of thing entails distinction of place. The child leaves its mother. This is very simple.

However, the question at hand regards God. We should pose a question: If there were begetting in God, would it be material? The answer is obviously “no”. No argument can prove that there is begetting in God. That is, no theological argument on the topic. We could, however, make the case for Christianity as a whole. And if it as a whole bears the indicators of divinity that no other religion bears, then we reasonably give credence to it as a divine religion. And that is a remote argument for the Trinity, since Trinitarian doctrine is part of Christianity.

But we grant that no theological argument can prove that God begets. However, can we observe an order of “emanation” that becomes increasingly more refined, more intimate and interior, the higher we go in nature? Yes, we can. Stay tuned.

The Trinity and Islamic & Jewish Questions (Part 4)

Another objection will be familiar to students of Christian history. Taymiyyah contends that everything begotten is posterior in time to its begetter. Thus, if the Son is begotten, he must be posterior in time to the Father. But that would mean that the Son is not co-eternal with the Father. If he is not co-eternal, he could not be the same God, for the divine essence is eternal.

This objection was raised also by Arius in the 4th century. It does not avail.

The source of being need not be temporally anterior to what derives from it. Of course, in the world of animals, the parent always precedes the offspring. This is because we live in the world of matter, and matter takes time to be formed. You cannot be a parent on day 1. You must first come to maturity. Similarly, your offspring does not spring adult from the womb. (Thanks be to God.)

However, there are “sources” that are contemporary with their products. For example, in an argument, the premises are the “cause” of the conclusion. However, they are not necessarily temporally prior to the conclusion. Picture the sun and its rays. The sun is indeed the cause of its rays; however, these are practically contemporary with the sun. Of course, we now know that light does take time to travel. So that example is only an approximating example. Another would be gravitational attraction. If two bodies exist, they are necessarily gravitationally attracted to each other. Their attraction does not have a “time lag” but co-exists with them. Thus, being a principle of something is not necessarily to be prior to that something. There is no necessary proportion between causing and time. The only necessary relation is this: The cause cannot cause unless it exists.

Consider the divine, now. Many solid Muslim thinkers contended that Aristotle was correct: The world can go backward infinitely in time. (Aristotle thought it had to go back, for various reasons. These thinkers agreed that it could go backwards infinitely.) That is, the world could “always have been”. Yet, all these Muslims agreed that that world would depend on God for its existence. Thus, God would be a principle and yet what he produces would always obtain. I think there is nothing implausible in this. Aquinas argued the case compellingly in the middle ages.

The net result of all this: It is no objection to say that if the Son is begotten, he must be posterior to the Father. These need not be the case. Thus, the objection fails.

The Trinity and Islamic & Jewish Questions (Part 3)

Another criticism is that, Taymiyyah alleges, Christians confess that the Son is “equal in essence” with the Father. But equality is not identity; it is a relation between. Therefore, the Son’s essence must not be the Father’s essence. Therefore, there are two essences, “supposedly divine”. But since only one can be God (Deut 6), the Son cannot be God. Therefore, he cannot be equal in substance with the Father.

This objection is based on a misreading of our creed. We do not confess that the Father and Son are “equal in essence” as Taymiyyah thinks we do. That is, we confess that they are one in essence. They are not two divine things, as two men are two human things.

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Yet another objection Taymiyyah makes is as follows. It is a twofold objection. First, Christians call the Holy Spirit “Life” and they call the Son “Wisdom” or “Knowledge”. But Life is a divine attribute. And wisdom is a divine attribute. And divine attributes apply to whatever is divine. Thus, insofar as Christians distinguish the Holy Spirit from the Son, they allege that there is a divine one that is Life but is not Wisdom, and another that is Wisdom but not Life. As this is absurd, so is the doctrine of the Trinity.

This objection betrays a total misunderstanding of Christian theology. Christians observe that the Bible speaks in two ways of divine attributes. Sometimes, the term “Wisdom” stands for a divine attribute simply as such. And in this way, whoever is divine is Wise. Sometimes, the term “Wisdom” stands for a particular person, in distinction from another. That is, sometimes the term Wisdom, which is naturally a divine attribute, is employed to signify just the Son, not the Father. We call this “appropriation”. Note that in cases such as this, the Bible is not teaching, nor are Christians confessing, that Wisdom is not also Living and Almighty. Rather, the Bible is teaching, and Christians are confessing, that the attribute Wisdom is most especially befitting the Son of God, because he is eternally generated from the Father, in his image. Similarly, when I express my thoughts to myself in a soliloquy, they are an “image” of my mind. They embody my knowledge. They are my wisdom, as it were. Christians confess that the Son knows all and the Father knows all; they each know all. Yet, the Son especially bears the marks of “Wisdom”. Hence, the term is used by appropriation. Taymiyyah knows nothing of this standard Christian exegetical principle.