Monthly Archives: December 2015

Fundamentalism of the Sources: A Problem with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part I

Source Criticism is one of the three major “higher-critical” methods of reading scripture. The so-called “historical-critical” method is often used to refer to this or the other two major “higher-critical” methods, namely, redaction criticism and form criticism.

Here, we consider source criticism. The treatment is brief, while the tomes about the subject are immense and legion. But the treatment is also meant to go the heart of the matter in a suggestive, provocative way. It is the beginning of a question, an incisive interrogation.

Source criticism inquires whether the final product – say, the Gospel of Luke, or the Book of Genesis – was indeed always a single literary unit or rather a plurality of literary units put together. Source critics usually think in terms of written sources, although it is not alien to the method to think in terms of oral sources. If the final product is a construct of several, then these “sources” are primordial, anterior to the final product that we see.

There are numerous examinations one can undertake to ascertain answers to these questions. One of the most noteworthy examinations involves the question: Are there contradictions in the final account? In fact, this question analogically runs through every examination. Stated so baldly, it stands on its own. However, other interrogations presuppose this primary question. Such other interrogations include: Are there diverse names for God? Diverse conceptions of God? Diverse conceptions of man’s relation to God? Of the monarchy? Etc. Diversity presupposes the contradiction “this is not that.” Hence, the note of contradiction is primary.

Example. In reading Genesis, one can ask whether there are contradictory accounts of the flood. At first studied glance, it seems so. One set of texts reads “a pair” of animals while another set reads “seven pairs”. Since one is not seven, there seems to be a contradiction. But the same man cannot reasonably affirm a contradiction. We take it the man who wrote was reasonable. Ergo, there must have been more than one author.

more to come.

Luther vs. Horace

Luther wants, most of all, to escape punishment; only secondly does he want to escape being wicked (interior corruption). He would, that is, rather be in heaven with a heart of hell, than in hell with a heart of heaven. He writes,

“We would perhaps have disregarded corruption [the inward evil] and been pleased with our evil unless this other evil, which is wrath [the outward evil], had refused to indulge our foolishness and had resisted it with terror and the danger of hell and death, so that we have but little peace in our wickedness. Plainly wrath is a greater evil for us than corruption, for we hate punishment more than guilt” (LW 32:224).


“Just as wrath is a greater evil than the corruption of sin, so grace is a greater good than that health of righteousness which we have said comes from faith. Everyone would prefer—if that were possible—to be without the health of righteousness [gift] rather than the grace of God, for peace and the remission of sins are properly attributed to the grace of God, while healing from corruption is ascribed to faith.” (LW 32:227)

Sed Contra! Even the Pagan Horace rejects such an inversion of priorities:

“The wicked hate sinning because of fear of punishment, the virtuous hate sinning because of a love of virtue” (Epistles I, 16).

In an age in which mercy’s link to justice is insufficiently expressed, one wonders whether the mercy sought is indeed “freedom from punishment” rather than “freedom for truth, opportunity for repentance.”

St. Paul rejects the use of mercy to condone or tolerate sin (Rom 2:4ff). Moreover, mercy is not opposed to judgment, for the Gospel declares divine mercy, but St. Paul says that “according to my Gospel, God will judge the secrets of hearts” (end Rom 2).

Converting the World? What does Vatican II Say?

Vatican II declares: “All men are called to this catholic unity, which prefigures and promotes universal peace” (Lumen gentium, art. 13).

No exceptions. Everyone is called. Why? First, because of the means of salvation, all of which are available only in the Catholic Church (Unitatis redintegratio, art. 3). Second, because God wills all to be one and to come together in the one body of his one Church. This unity will foster true peace. (Of course, there are always members of the Church that are in fact dead to Christ and to his calling.) So that, Lumen gentium, art. 14, the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation.

The Church as a whole accepts these truths and works towards the accomplishment of this goal. Hence, there most certainly is an institutional commitment to the conversion of everyone to the Catholic Church: “The Church prays and likewise labors so that into the People of God, the Body of the Lord and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, may pass the fullness of the whole world….” LG, art. 17.

Or, as the Decree on Ecumenism declares: Jesus entrusted the Church to the College of Bishops “in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God” (UR, 3).

Evangelization must always be done in charity, for its aim is charity. Charity requires prudence, for which there is no set of laws that can suffice. Thus, we must put on the mind of Christ in order to discern what is the best way forward in this one, universal, and irrevocable missionary mandate of the entire Church to the entire world.

Lagrange on the Ultimate Sin

No, not the sin of despair. A prior sin of rebellion. Lagrange notes that Thomas teaches that the sin of the angels consisted in their perverse desire to imitate God. Perverse. So, a perverse imitation.

Whereas God is Infinite, Uncreated, and Pure Act, being moved by none and capable of his end by his own power, the angels, having been invited by him to an end exceeding their power, fell into two camps. One camp gladly submitted to the deifying hand of God, and thus were glorified. The other camp wanted to attain what they could, as God is what he is. They wanted to be solely from themselves, as God has no Cause.

This insight informs Lagrange’s reading of Modernist rebels, who make dogma a mere measure for action, who measure dogma by practice, who translate dogma solely into a principle of practical reason. Why do they do this, Lagrange asks? Because God’s end is too high. One cannot reach it without his supernatural assistance. But can’t we just live our lives? Do good within our measure? Why disturb us with such a high calling? In short, the rebels do not want us to reach so high.

Ah. We have here a reason for the social sin of the last times. The Catechism of JPII suggests that the end times will witness the sin of “humanism” or of an “earthly messianism.” A worship of man. A cult of man. Man-centrism. Not God-centrism. How is this in imitation of the Demons? Because they wanted only to reach that which was in their natural power. So, too, the humanists of today, those who focus spiritual energy on earthly goals, are in imitation of the Pride of Satan. Seeming humble, they are actual self-worshipers.

O God, reach into our lowliness, convert us to your Truth. Evangelize us with your Goodness. Invite us to your True Church on Earth, that in her, we may receive worthily the Substance of the True Lamb.

Continued Lesson from Gregory XVI

The good pope continues in his Probe nostis to praise the efforts of Catholics to Evangelize, to spread the Catholic faith, to win converts to the true religion. Why? Because Catholicism is a good. It is the gift of God to the world. And who loves the people in the world, that sit in darkness, will want to give this gift to the world. For Christ comes to his people through his Church, in the Gospels and in the Sacramental Action. And again, Christ calls his followers into unity, the unity of his One Body. Thus, both in terms of source of grace and truth and in terms of end, the Catholic Church is  necessary for salvation. Spreading its reach, winning converts, is love for the poor at its best. It goes without saying that all of this must not be done as means to a political end, to private goals and goods. No. It is for the good of the sinner, which each of us is. Hence, the method of winning converts must be a method of love, not force; of invitation not embarrassment; of gift not gavel.

Let us hear the Pope’s praise for all those who wish to accomplish this loving mission:

6. We are thankful for the success of apostolic missions in America, the Indies, and other faithless lands. The indefatigable zeal of many apostolic men has led them abroad into those places. Relying not on wealth nor on any army, they are protected by the shield of faith alone. They fearlessly fight the Lord’s battles against heresy and unbelief by private and public speech and writings. They are inspired with a burning love and undeterred by rough roads and heavy toil. They search out those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death to summon them to the light and life of the Catholic Religion. So, fearless in the face of every danger, they bravely enter the woods and caves of savages, gradually pacify them by Christian kindness, and prepare them for true faith and real virtue. At length they snatch them from the devil’s rule, by the bath of regeneration and promote them to the freedom of God’s adopted sons.

7. However, We are reduced to tears both of sorrow in Our detestation of cruel persecutors and executioners, and of consolation in beholding the heroic constancy of the confessors of the faith, as We recall here the glorious deeds of the new martyrs in the Far East. We have already praised them at length in an address to the consistory. Tonkin and Cochin are still wet with the blood of many bishops, priests, and faithful. They have repeated the achievement of the early Christian martyrs in facing a cruel death for Christ undismayed by torture. This is a major victory for the Church and for religion. It casts the persecutors into confusion when they see that even today the divine promises of unending protection and help are really fulfilled. This is the reason why, in the words of St. Leo: “the religion established by the sacrament of the Cross of Christ cannot be destroyed by any kind of cruelty.”[2]

8. These events bring consolation and glory to the Catholic religion. But there are other grounds of consolation for the Church. Pious organizations are developing for the good of religion and Christian society. Some of these assist the work of the holy apostolic missions. God, who ceaselessly protects His Church, raises up within it new societies as times, places, and circumstances require. Under the Church’s authority each society in its own ways devotes its full energy to works of charity, the instruction of the faithful, and the spread of the faith.

9. Likewise a source of joy to the Catholic world, and a wonder to nonCatholics, are the many widespread sodalities of pious women. Under the rule of St. Vincent de Paul or in association with other approved Institutes, they are remarkable in their practice of the Christian virtues. They devote themselves entirely either to saving women from the way of perdition, or to training girls in religion, solid piety and the tasks suited to their state in life, or to relieving the dire want of their neighbors with every assistance. No natural weakness of their sex or fear of any danger holds them back.

10. A similar cause of joy for Us and for all good men are those groups of the faithful who recently have begun to meet regularly in many cities, especially the larger ones. Their purpose is to combat bad books with good ones written by themselves or others, displaying purity of doctrine instead of foul forms of error and Christian gentleness and charity instead of insults and attacks.

11. Finally We must praise most highly the well known society which is constantly expanding, not alone in Catholic territories but even in the countries of non-Catholics and unbelievers. This society enables the faithful of every class to help the apostolic missions and to have a share themselves in the spiritual graces of these missions. We are referring, as you realize, to the famous Society for the Propagation of the Faith.


Lesson from Gregory XVI

The great pope laments the ravages suffered by the Church of God at the enmity of the ravening wolves dressed as sheep. He sets himself on the watchtower and calls the bishops to join him, ever vigilant, for the sake of the little ones whom the Devil, through his minions on earth, seeks to deceive, kill, and destroy.

Let us read the opening paragraphs of Probe nostis:

You are well aware, venerable brothers, of the many misfortunes which now afflict the Catholic Church. You know, too, that holy religion is being attacked by the pollution of errors of every kind and by the unbridled rashness of renegades. At the same time heretics and unbelievers attempt by cleverness and deceit to pervert the hearts and minds of the faithful You are aware, in shore, that practically no effort has been left untried in the attempt to overthrow the unshakeable building of the holy city. In particular, We are obliged, alas! to see the wicked enemies of truth spread everywhere unpunished. They harass religion with ridicule, the Church with insults, and Catholics with arrogance and calumny. They even enter cities and towns, establish schools of error and impiety, and publish their poisonous teachings which are adapted to secret deceit by misusing the natural sciences and recent discoveries. Furthermore they enter the hovels of the poor, traverse the countryside, and seek the acquaintance of the farmers and the lowest classes. They try every method of attracting the uneducated, especially the youth, to their sects, and of making them desert the Catholic faith, whether by means of Bibles inaccurately translated into the vernacular, pestilential newspapers and pamphlets of little weight, or by seductive speeches, pretended charity, and gifts of money.

2. We mention events which you yourselves witness. For despite your sorrow and your pastoral denunciations, you are obliged to tolerate in your dioceses these men spreading heresy and unbelief, these assertive preachers who ceaselessly waylay and ravage your flock by going around in sheep’s clothing while inwardly they are ravening wolves. What more can We add? There is hardly any uncivilized district left in the entire world to which headquarters of the main societies of heretics and unbelievers have not sent scouts and emissaries without counting the cost. These men, by waging secret or open war on the Catholic religion and its pastors and ministers, tear the faithful from the bosom of the Church and prevent unbelievers from entering it.

3. You can easily imagine the straits in which We live, since We are laden with the care of Christ’s flock and the churches, and must therefore render a detailed account to the divine Prince of Shepherds. For this reason We decided to recall in this letter the causes of the troubles which beset both Us and you. You can then reflect how important it is for all the bishops to redouble their efforts so as to break the assault of the enemies, to beat back their attacks, and to forewarn and protect the faithful from their clever appeals. We have been doing this, and We shall not stop. We know that you have likewise done so, and We are confident that you will continue.

Another Lesson from Lagrange

The great theologian of the 20th century – indeed, among the best, as a longer view of history will no doubt disclose, after the rubble of the modernist rabble has been swept away by the winds of healing time – continues (p. 271 of Le sens commun):

We must, then, as far as possible, study dogma in itself and not in function of present needs. If, moreover, these needs were to become the norm of our affirmations, what would remain of revealed Truth? The Church today is asked today to remove, in the Word of God, what is too intransigent in the tone with which she speaks, what is too sublime in the excess of love that she expresses (the needs of the modern soul don’t rise so high), what is too tragic in the justice that she proclaims. They wish her to render the Word accessible to a number of souls that are less in love with truth than with intellectual freedom, with supernatural perfection than with a human ideal, with the rights of God than with their own rights.

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.