Category Archives: Theology

Thomas More Critiques Martin Luther

My article on Thomas More’s critique of Luther on justification is now available electronically, courtesy of the Thomas More Studies website.

You may link to it here.

In a nutshell, it investigates More’s treatment of Luther’s notion of justification by faith alone. Scholars for the past 80 years have contended that Catholic Reformers, such as More, misunderstood their opponents (Luther, Calvin, et alia). I examine More’s treatment and contend that More indeed correctly targets Luther. I make one chief correction of More’s analysis, but this correction only returns to another criticism of Luther, and this quite incisive and confirmatory of More.

A takeaway line from More, on the ultimate doctrine of Luther et alia:

[Their ultimate position is] that everything depends only upon destiny, and that the liberty of the human will serves absolutely no purpose, nor do people’s deeds, good or bad, make any difference before God, but in his chosen people nothing displeases him, be it no matter how bad, and in the other group nothing pleases him, be it no matter how good—the very worst and most harmful heresy that ever was thought up; and, on top of that, the most insane (§11, p. 453 – from More’s Dialogue Concerning Heresies; Scepter 2006).

Lesson from Garrigou-Lagrange

In his good work Le sens commun, still unavailable in English, the great theologian defends the foundational priority of dogma over pastoral care, of truth over subjective “apparent need”. He writes, on p. 267:

To understand dogma, it is not the present needs (besoins – we could say the connotation is actually ‘wants’) of souls that one must study; it is the dogma itself. Study of the dogma will allow us to discover and to arouse in the soul aspirations both profound and interesting, quite different than the present needs of which we are told….

He then cites the catechism as edifying in this regard:

The souls of today, as those of yesterday, are created and sent into the world to know and to love, more than themselves and above all things, this divine Truth which is the object of faith before being that of vision, to subordinate themselves to It and not to subordinate It to their needs, whether real or only apparent.

If the great Lagrange is maligned today, is it possible that Modernism lurks behind the criticism?

Henotheism in the Old Testament? A Red Herring

It is sometimes said that the Old Testament, at least in its earlier texts, teaches not monotheism but henotheism.

The terms:

Monotheism = belief in one Omnipotent God, Creator of all things, himself uncreated.

Henotheism = belief in one particular god, provident over one’s nation or region, while accepting the existence of other gods or rivals. the one god and the others are called gods univocally (with the same meaning). Hence, there is no one omnipotent God.

By necessity, henotheism and monotheism are contradictory. For if there is an omnipotent God, the henotheists are wrong. If the henotheists are right, there is no omnipotent God.

Now, we believe the Old Testament to be the Word of God, inspired and inerrant. We also believe that monotheism is the truth. Hence, henotheism is false. Therefore, the bible cannot teach henotheism. This one knows before even reading. (Before anyone read anything? No. But because one is raised in the True Faith and allows this proper, inspired revelation to inform one’s reading.)

So, what does the text mean when it refers to “other gods”? Very simply, it uses the term “god” analogically. There are other powerful spirits, those in rebellion against God and which answer to human incantations (not out of subservience, but out of a desire to deceive, kill and destroy).

Now, can we hold that God gradually awakens his people to the full truth? Yes; in fact, we do. But this does not mean that he reveals falsities along the way, accommodating his truth to our deceptions. When he called Abraham, did he not ask Abraham to number all the stars? Hence, did he not imply his sovereignty? Does not his whole comportment towards Israel display sovereignty? Indeed, the gods of the heathen are as naught.

Hence, the so-called “henotheism” of the Old Testament is a red herring. If the bible teaches one God, whose sovereignty cannot be rivaled, who has no defect, then it teaches monotheism and rejects henotheism.

Francis Schüssler Fiorenza

Francis Schüssler Fiorenza (husband of Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, author of In Memory of Her, ) describes the current state of theology in an essay about 25 years old. He has insights to offer, no doubt. That said, he is not a good place to start the business of theology; so, I would not recommend him to anyone. Data to follow.

Well, first, let’s follow up on his wife. Her work in In Memory of Her is indeed something that one who is equipped should study – a trained grad student, for instance. Certainly wouldn’t be the first trick I pulled out of my bag for untrained theologians. Let me relate one anecdote from this book. She is trying to “relate” feminist concerns with the traditional piety of Christians. Here’s her analogy: “It is usually assumed that spirituality has something to do with the life of the ‘soul’, prayer life and worship, meditation.” She goes on to describe ascesis, prayer, indwelling of Christ, etc. That’s all traditional. Now she’s going to try to “relate”: “In a similar fashion [buckle up] feminist spirituality can be occupied with meditation and incantations, spells and incense, womb chant and candle gazing….” (p. 344). Gosh darn. I didn’t know that Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament could be put on par with womb chant. Was “spells” a slip of the pen, or is something amiss? Can we baptize Wiccan if they use incense? What the…?

Alright, so much for the association. It is important to know history and its associations. This should not prejudge our reading of Francis F, but it might make us more attentive to the “signs of the times”.

On p. 2 of his essay, Francis S. Fiorenza writes, “In its relation to faith, theology shares the fragility of faith itself. It is much more a hope than a science. It is much more like a raft bobbing upon the waves of the sea than a pyramid based on solid ground,” Chap. 1 of Systematic Theology, ed. Galvin and Fiorenza.

An interesting image. What first comes to mind when I read this is James 1:3f, 6f:

“You know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord.”

James rebukes the image of the doubter. Fiorenza seems to promote it. Of course, their subjects are not identical. Fiorenza is speaking of theology; James of faith and revelation. Does the contradiction then ease? Somewhat, but not absolutely. In fact, let’s ask what the basis of theology is. What is it? Revelation and faith. The deposit. Question: Is this a solid base, or a flimsy up-for-grabs interpretation? Dogma answers: Solid base, absolutely irrevocable, utterly certain, firm, and wide. So, theology’s base is firm. And on this basis, theologians through the centuries have judged that certain truths can be argued out, that certainty can be achieved. (Not always, of course. There are plenty of “hypotheses” in theology. Plenty of suggested analogies. But not all is uncertain.) Now, when argument intervenes to get you certainty, the certainty is on the order of reason, not on the order of faith. Nor is the conclusion philosophical. It is neither of “natural reason” nor of divine faith. That is, the conclusion is theological, and my certainty in it is not divine but rather human; however, it is grounded in the faith. Does Fiorenza’s image allow this? Unlikely.

Things get worse quickly. Fiorenza acknowledges the Scriptures as a constant in theology, yet he quickly allows interpretation to get the upper hand, effectively: “Yet, the meaning of the Scriptures depends upon their interpretation.” P. 7.

Worse is how he thinks of the Scriptures. He observes that the Scriptures are evidence of rational reflection on the mysteries at hand, e.g., on Jesus. This is true, of course. But he takes that as pretext to downplay the authoritative, inerrant, inspired, and God-authored truth of the Scriptures. How? He notes that “all the writings are theological.” He stresses that the Gospels are written “for their particular pastoral situations.” He notes that the Scriptures “embody specific and differing theological visions” (8-9).

What are we supposed to do with this? First, note the silence on the Scriptures as the revealed Word, inerrant. A deafening silence. Second, note the absence of any recognition that the Scriptures present truth claims to be acknowledged across ages: ontologically dense truth claims, as JPII put it (Fides et ratio). Third, note the absence of any affirmation that all these interpretations are harmonious, not at odds with one another. He didn’t come outright and said that they contradict, as the 2 Sam entry in International Bible Commentary asserts, an assertion so utterly contradictory to Vatican I and Vatican II. On the other hand, Fiorenza doesn’t correct such a reading. That’s too bad. How did the Fathers deal with this kind of difference in Scripture? They showed how the difference was not a contradiction; we might say that was foremost in their mind. Why? Because our religion is not myth. It is not mere subjectivity transcending itself into something higher. It is objective. It has basis. It is true. The Fathers also highlighted how each witness contributes something unique. Not contradictory but unique. In this way, the truth is built up. But if you take the Scriptures as contradictory, then what? Well, you the author of your own decision, make the decision on what is true and false. YOU DECIDE. Sounds like Scriptures are Fox News. How absurd.

What follows in Fiorenza’s essay is a smorgasbord tour of theological “approaches.” This is a typical way of approaching theology, a kind of meta-theology. It is method gone wrong. How so? Once again, it lays out supposed “options” as to how one ought to go about “doing theology.” Reader take your pick and “go to it.”

Well, one of those options – or that of a few of them – is to start with dogma, with the Deposit, and base everything on that and/or work towards that.

Now, that this option is just “one” of the  many from which to choose allows the reader to start wherever he wishes and  “just go at it.” In short, dogma becomes optional. Oh, it hangs in there very remotely, watered down (and shriveled up), cowering in some corner somewhere. But this sicklied over dogma, ill and wheezing in the corner, wiping its nose of mucous, cannot compete with the legions of weapons brought to bear against it. What weapons? Well, you could start with “liberation” and make your own vision of liberation the determinant. Again, you could start with “modern science” and make its latest consensus your starting point. Again, you could start with a gut feeling as to what must be right and make it your starting point. Then, put the dialogue between your starting point and the dying dogma. Perhaps you learn something from dogma, but not without beating it some more.

The brief hotchpotch tour of theology ends with this summary statement: “The challenge [of theology] is to reconstruct the integrity of the church’s tradition in light of relevant background theories and warrants from contemporary experience” (p. 84). Wow. I didn’t realize the Deposit needed help. Apparently the deposit isn’t enough: “An adequate theological method embraces diverse sources and a plurality of criteria.” Hm. Well, so long as reason does not judge the Dogma of Tradition, this could be right. I mean, we are enlightened also by recta ratio (right reason). Is this what he means? No: “Theological method does not consist simply in correlating contemporary questions with traditional answers or symbols.” Wow. I didn’t think of genuine theology as a collation only. But oh well.

After that straw man is dismissed, we get the real beef: “Instead theological method consists of making judgments about what constitutes the integrity of the tradition and what is paradigmatic about the tradition.” (all ibid). Well, then, I suppose that the old dogma, with the “same sense and the same judgment” (Vatican I; Vatican II; Pope St. John XXIII) is that sick dog in the corner, which I can beat with a broom if I wish. Time to “sweep house”.  We are the teachers. The authority is we.

A. MacIntyre points out how awful it is when the Discipline of Tradition is lost. What we get is various attempts to wrest control of the discipline. These “meta-theories” have been the fashion for some time, probably since the 70’s. They don’t really allow one to gaze at the Truth, who sets us free.

Exegesis: On Not Imputing Error to Scripture

If Scripture is the Word of God, and every affirmation of the human author, the secondary and instrumental author, is affirmed by the primary author, God, who neither is deceived nor deceives and who knows all things, then there is not one error in Scripture. In short, as the First Vatican Council teaches, scripture is inspired in all its parts.

This teaching must be taken into account by every Catholic exegete, none of whom therefore may impute to Scripture error. But this does not mean there are no difficulties. Difficulties there are.

Case in point. In Mt 23:35 Jesus mentions the first and last recorded murders in the Hebrew Bible: Abel’s and Zechariah’s. Most Gk texts read “Zechariah, the son of Barachias.”

Now, if we inspect the OT, we see two contenders for the reference. At 2 Chron 24:21f, there is a murdered Zechariah, in fact, the last recorded murder of a righteous man. But the Zechariah called “son of Barachias” is the minor prophet, who is not described as murdered. Did Jesus make a mistake? Did Matthew make a mistake?

What are we to do with this text? Impute error to Jesus and/or Matthew? Not if we follow Catholic exegetical principles. Rather, we are to search for some reasonable explanation. If we find it, we suggest it. If we don’t, we at least withhold ourselves from impiously imputing error to Scripture. Such an impiety is an offense against Almighty God and a crime against the Church and a scandal to poor believers. We are to feed them with bread, not to stone them with impudent and errant academic arrogance.

Now, Aquinas has this wise injunction: Never bring up a difficulty to another’s mind without having ready to hand the tools whereby its resolution may be pursued. Thus, I would not have thrown down this peculiar difficulty without offering some possible resolutions.

I run to two major sources to resolve difficulties. First, I run to Cornelius a Lapide, the greatest Scriptural commentator – without question – in the past 400 years. He commented on nearly every book of the bible, at the Pope’s wise orders. He is a wealth of knowledge. He knows the manuscripts and the fathers and medieval doctors. He knows the languages. He has a systematic mind and not only a historical-textual mind. He cannot be outdone.

What does he say? He reports two opinions, judging one the more probable. The more probable opinion is that indeed the reference is to the murdered Zechariah in 2 Chron 24. Why is he called “son of Barachias”? Well, the term “Barachias” means “blessed of the Lord,” and that Zechariah’s father, Jehoiada, was a holy and kind man, indeed worthy to be called “blessed of the Lord.” So, Jerome suggests that perhaps this is the connection. Why do I slide into the opinion of Jerome? Because a Lapide learns from him! Jerome also notes that the Gospel of Matthew used by the Nazarenes does not have the phrase “son of Barachias” in it. Perhaps, then, some early scribe added this, and mistakenly. For although Scripture itself is inerrant, no manuscript is guaranteed to bear this property. Luke does not have the phrase either.

Thus it is that we offer a few ways of resolving the difficulty, none of which imputes error to Scripture, which towers above us and judges us, not we it.

Another place I run is to “A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture,” ed. Dom. Bernard Orchard et alia, of the year 1953 (Thomas Nelson & Sons). There was a later edition (called A New Catholic Commentary) that am not recommending, as I have not read it and as I have also heard mixed things about it. I recommend precisely the one noted here with all these bibliographical marks. I linked a used copy at Amazon above.

Why do I recommend this? Well, it is more recent than a Lapide and engages discussion of more recent issues. Yet, it remains firmly grounded – for the most part – in authentic Catholic outlook that does not impute error to Scripture. Further, the authors are well trained in systematic theology, though they are full-time biblical theologians. I do not recommend the NJBC because it departs in many ways from these important anchors. Thus, learning from texts such as this (NJBC) requires theological skill and erudition, by which one avoids drinking poison with learning. I say the same about the International Biblical Commentary, some of whose entries are excellent and some downright poisonous. The Ignatius Bible Commentary – perhaps still in progress – is also worthwhile.

Biblical Exegesis and Heresy

A reader had a set of incisive questions and comments on this post, so worthwhile, I thought, I wanted to re-post. I’ll get back to this issue of exegesis soon, I hope.

It is the common thesis of biblical scholars that (#1) Moses did not teach creatio ex nihilo. They gather their conclusion chiefly from study of the Biblical Text, related texts of the time, the Hebrew mindset, knowledge of history and literary forms, etc.

We could investigate this thesis further, asking the following questions. (a) What did the Fathers teach about this text? (b) What does the Magisterium teach about this text? (c) How do other Biblical texts read this text? (d) What do the theologians across the ages say about this text? We could pursue these questions, but we will do so on another occasion. I wish to pursue another line of inquiry here.

To the above thesis quite often will be added the following: (#2) Moses taught creation from pre-existing matter.

Now, #1 and #2 are not identical, and their distinction is crucial. Unless we pursue questions (a) – (d), we cannot (it seems to me) immediately contend that #1 is false. It might be true. I tend to think it is true, but I have not pursued questions (a) – (d) yet. And no Catholic scholar should think his reading remotely conclusive unless he has asked all those questions first. Why? Just for example: Vatican I teaches that no one is permitted to hold anything contrary to what the unanimous consensus of the fathers holds concerning a text. Again, Vatican I and II both teach that the Magisterium is the only authoritative interpreter, and no one may hold anything contrary to the definitive reading of texts proposed by the Magisterium. In short, the biblical scholar must know his faith before concluding. Indeed, as Pius XII taught, such faith must inform his reading.

But #2 is heresy. Well, see the comments for more nuance. Why? Because it is solemn universal doctrine that everything proposed by the human author is proposed by the divine author. And it is solemn dogma that the divine author does not lie and is not deceived, all things being laid open to his eyes: God knows all and is all truthful. Ergo, whatever God states is true and inerrant. So, whatever Moses proposes is true and inerrant. But #2 states that Moses proposes creation from something. But this is heresy. Ergo, to propose Moses proposed this is implicit heresy.

Let this examination of this one little – but crucial – text stand for a host of applications. Every conclusion of any biblical scholar contrary to faith is false. This requires no strikethrough.

Benedict XVI on Historical Criticism

Historical Criticism is one massive reality. It is manifold and variegated, and its parts are radically diverse one from the other. In fact, what the heck does the term mean?

That is a massive question itself.

I want to make one very simple note here and perhaps follow it up in days to come. Pope Benedict XVI was, as many who read him closely know, a very tricky guy. A very subtle writer and thinker. His own theology (from the Highlights of Vatican II to Introduction to sundry articles) is quite a mixed bag. More on the mixed character anon.

Let’s look at what he has to say about historical critical method on the Bible in his Jesus book. P. xv looks pretty positive: the method “is and remains an indispensable dimension of exegetical work.” The reason is this: The Bible narrates facts not just universal ideas. Christianity is a religion of God coming historically to the world in sundry ways. Ergo, we cannot read adequately if we are ignorant of history. But the HC method is ingredient to reading history well. Ergo….

Pretty positive, no doubt. (But remember, I asked that Beast of a question: What the heck is historical criticism? That is a massive question that needs exploring. Anon.) But anyone who has read his pre-papal writings knows also of his important call for a “criticism of historical criticism”. He sounded that call – read it here – in 1988. It is a worthy article.

Furthermore, in his post-synodal exhortation, he calls for us to re-member, in(to) our exegesis, the absolutely necessary elements of Tradition, Analogy of Faith, and Magisterium. We must, that is, read the patristics and medieval and post-renaissance commentaries. We must know our Denzinger and our history of dogma. We must know the Bible as One Canonical Whole. The commentators to which I have referred are very rich and profound. Their minds are much more “biblical” than are those of the vast majority of contemporary exegetes. Benedict contends that we must re-member such approaches. Re-member: Put back in place; put together towards constituting a whole. In short, the ancient methods must form an integral part of the biblical critic’s own methodology. We are not talking, that is, only the systematist or moralist. We are talking biblical exegesis proper. Benedict is, here, reiterating the Ever Wise Pius XII. More on him anon.

If for 50 years Catholic critics have done the “HC” thing, the vast majority have not integrated into their task these other, classical approaches. Yet 50 years ago, Dei Verbum stated that one must pay “No Less Attention” to these (art. 12). Hence, a major overhaul of the practice of exgesis is necessary.

Back to B16’s tricky ways. He sounds pretty darn positive on p. xv of his text. Now, let’s just turn the page and read p. xvii:

“We have to keep in mind the limit of all efforts to know the past: We can never go beyond the domain of hypothesis.”

BOOM. This is huge, just huge. The best any historical critic, qua such, can do is give us a hypothesis. A hypothesis about the facts that we believe.

And this is the point: Our faith is not about hypotheses. It regards facts: Ontological Facts, Moral Facts, and Historical Facts. Therefore, the historical critic can never be the source of faith for us, never the source of assurance. When Raymond Brown unfolds the dynamics of celebrations of a certain feast, he indeed brings to life many of the concrete colors and riches of a passage in John. This is – no doubt – helpful. Yet it does not supply the truth of faith. When he, on the other hand, plays fast and loose with the Dogmatic Facts of History and denies this or that Dogmatic Fact about Our Blessed Mother: Then he betrays the faith. His method is obviously flawed in such practices (perhaps others?) because he contradicts Truth Itself. See Pius X, Pascendi one of the most important encyclicals of the 20th century (fast becoming important in our day of great evil and confusion), as antidote to all such false historical thinking.

Our faith is truth, not hypothesis. And Truth is what Pope Benedict rightly tells us the biblical exegete ought ultimately to be after. For without faith, we cannot please God (Heb 11). Let’s keep reading.

Pope Benedict calls for a “Christological Hermeneutic” of the text. Such a hermeneutic

“presupposes a prior act of faith. It cannot be the conclusion of a purely historical method,” p. xix.

Now we come to the real arrow, the sword. The act of faith is not uncertain but absolutely certain. It is not fallible but infallible. Pope Benedict is hereby contextualizing the limits of the method he has just praised.

I have said “Pope Benedict”. A final word of caution is due. Nothing in his book “Jesus” is a papal word. It is all “words of a pope,” i.e. “words of a man who happens to be pope”. Look up the phrases “papal words” and “words of a pope” on my site, in the search box. You can read previous posts on the topic. In short, the words in the volumes on Jesus have no papal authority. Benedict’s post-synodal exhortation (above linked) does have authority. The Ratzinger piece has no authority.

While we’re on the topic, let us make haste to add: Neither do the words of the Pontifical Biblical Commission have any authority. Paul VI stripped them of authority in the mid 1960’s. 1964 and earlier, the PBC had authority. But not since.

I repeat my recommendation: Buy everything you can of Cornelius a Lapide, perhaps the most worthy commentator in the past 500 years. This edition is excellent.

Jesus a Sinner?

A very interesting thing to note. The Council of Constantinople III condemned Pope Honorius for dishonoring the Church because he failed to condemn a heresy and may even have taught heresy himself.

In an important letter to the Patriarch of Constantinople in 634, he wrote, “We confess one will of our Lord Jesus Christ also because surely our nature, not our guilt, was assumed by the Godhead, that certainly which was created before sin, not that which was vitiated after the transgression. For Christ … was conceived of the Holy Spirit without sin and was also born of the holy and immaculate Virgin Mother of God without sin, experiencing no contagion of our vitiated nature.”

Several Comments:

  1. Perhaps the claim “one will of our Lord” is heresy. Perhaps not. Pope John IV contended that it was not heresy, and gave it a pious interpretation, namely, that Pope Honorius only taught that Christ’s human will was entirely at one with his Father’s, so that there were not two moral wills, as there are when one sins (See DS 496f). On the other hand, Constantinople III condemned him as a heretic. Agatho reproved him. And, as it seems, popes after that great council condemned Honorius as a heretic. I’ll leave this to the historians. At the very least, Honorius was a bad theologian.
  2. At any rate, he still issued teaching. And some of that teaching is part of the ordinary Magisterium. I want to draw attention to one very important thing: THAT CHRIST DID NOT ASSUME OUR GUILT, OUR SIN (CULPA).
  3. Nor is Honorius alone here. John IV teaches “He contracted no defect from the transgression of the first man” (DS 497). There are others
    1. “Or if anyone says that He offered the oblation for Himself and not rather for us alone, for He who knew not sin would not have needed oblations, let him be anathema” (D 122 – Cyril’s Canon 10 [DS 261]).
    2. Lateran Synod of 649: “without sin” DS 505
    3. Toledo 675: DS 539 “Who became for us sin, that is, a sacrifice for our sin”.
    4. Clement VI, Unigenitus Dei Filius year 1343, “Who, innocent, immolated on the alter of the cross, did not shed just a drop of blood, which on account of the union with the Word would have sufficed for the redemption of all mankind, but copiously … velut quoddam profluvium noscitur effudisse ita….” Goes on to call his merits infinite.
    5. Jesus Christ, “Who was conceived without sin, was born, and died.” (Decree for the Jacobites, at Florence, D 711)
    6. Pius XII, Mediator Dei “A Victim unspotted unto God,” art. 1.
    7. Gaudium et Spes, 22: “As an innocent Lamb, freely shedding his blood, he merited life for us.”
  4. Thus, we must hold it to be utterly false to say that Jesus became a sinner.
  5. But what about 2 Cor 5:21, that Christ became sin? What about Galatians 3? As you can see from the above, in this case the word “sin” means “punishment for sin,” not the guilt of sin. It was the heretic Luther, the heretic Calvin, who taught that Jesus became sin itself, a great sinner, or even the greatest sinner. But what on earth could that mean? That my own sinful action becomes his action? That my own guilt becomes his? Does God call the innocent guilty? Really? No. As the above show, the consequences due to us, there is a correct reading of 2 Cor 5:21, and it is not that Christ became sin.

The Evel Knievel Logic of some Recent Theology

Imagine the great Jewish thinker Martin Buber hearing,

“The living God can therefore be thought of only as Father and Son, while a non-trinitarian, purely monotheistic God would in fact have to be declared dead.”

Now, imagine him discovering that these are words of a high-ranking Catholic prelate devoted to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, Walter Cardinal Kasper. Finally, imagine Buber unearthing the following thesis as the prelate’s founding premise:

“An I without a thou is unthinkable” (Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, 1992, pp. 188, 241 [GJC]).

If Buber’s light unveils all personal being, was he too timid to shine it through the vault of the firmament? Or was His Eminence mounting up as Icarus?

Walter Kasper of course would say that he never tried to proved the Trinity to be true. But let’s look at his actual words:

If God is not to be understood as a solitary narcissistic being who (to put it paradoxically) would be highly imperfect by reason of his very perfection and would inevitably suffer from his own completeness, then God can only be conceived as co-existent (GJC, 306).

Well, let’s see whether a conclusion could be drawn from the first premise if we suppose the conditional enunciates a correct inference. Well, let’s see, last I checked, God is probably not a narcissistic being. Voilà! Therefore, he must be The Holy Trinity.

This is what I call Evel Knievel logic. Only, instead of 24 automobiles, the Cardinal has rocketed beyond all finite being to the very essence of God… all by a simple premise!

Chances are, something went wrong in the logic. After all, the Holy Trinity is a mystery of faith. But Vatican I is clear about mysteries: Human reason can never demonstrate their truth. Not today, not back in Isaiah’s time, not in the future. Never. Hence, the appearance of a demonstration – which surfaces again and again in they systematic portions of Kasper’s God of Jesus Christ, is problematic. Whatever he might say in words against this is edifying, indeed, but contradicts the performance. Lonergan called such things “performative contradictions”.

Why pursue this matter? Because Kasper’s is no isolated thesis. Scores of Christians have been subjected to homiletic spinoffs of the core argument, such as the “God is Not a Bachelor” sermon. Terse is the logic however rhetorically embellished: “Since God is not a bachelor, he is the Holy Trinity.” What should one do in face of the iron wit of this inference? Laugh hysterically—laugh at the Evel Knievel logic, all the while bewailing the caricature of a premise. What actually happens? Faithful crowds howl in laughter at “mere monotheists” who reject the premise, somnolently nodding in awe of an argument that must be sound because its conclusion is true. The sermon succeeds by the preacher’s rhetorical mastery and the good will of the laughing stock.

But scientific theology does not proceed with Evel Knievel logic. It attempts to state clearly its first principles and to work from and (where possible) towards these. It sometimes leaves us hungering for more to be said. This is the invitation to prayer, not the invitation to invent theological fictions—as has often been done since the rebellious usurping of scientific theology by the poets—that escape condemnation perhaps only because they are poetical.

I cannot recommend this highly enough

Edward Feser presenting quite simply (a) the problem of contemporary theology (= emotivist, ungrounded in dogma and in philosophy, experientialist), (b) the contribution of new atheism (= criticizing that emotionalist thinking), (c) the need for scholastic metaphysics / philosophy and scholastic theology.


If you like this video, the following would constitute good followup reading:

  1. Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris.
  2. Pius X, Pascendi.
  3. Pius XI, Studiorum ducem.
  4. Pius XII, Humani generis.
  5. Benedict XVI, Regensburg Lecture
  6. Then, and precisely in light of this established tradition (1-4), in continuity with that tradition, John Paul II, Fides et ratio. This wise and penetrating, quite subtle, document is not to be read (as many do, seeking a break from this foundation in the manner of rebels) in a hermeneutic of discontinuity but in a hermeneutic of continuity, just as Pope Benedict XVI urged we read Vatican II not with a rebel’s discontinuous eye but with the eye of a faithful disciple who knows that Jesus Christ has ever been with his Church and that foundations once laid cannot be “razed” but must constitute just that, foundations for later refinement. (Not raw materials to be dispensed with at whim.)