Thursday, July 19, 2007

Does the Vatican maintain a "standard" of Scripture

Does the Vatican maintain a complete set of documents, in the original languages, that is to be considered "scripture"? If so, where? And how are secondary standards made available? The analogy in physics would be a primary standard maintained by a national or international organization (NIST/ISO).

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sola Scriptura vs. Biblical Infallibility:

By What Means Does God Make Revelation to the Whole Church?

When friends and family asked why I converted to Catholicism after traipsing through the Baptist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran traditions, I struggled to give them a good answer. To be sure, I had plenty of reasons: Because for Naaman the Syrian, grace manifested itself as obedience prior to faith, and indeed, his faith was contingent upon his obedience (2 Kings 5:1-15). Because I wanted to go to confession and say out loud all the rotten things I had thought, said, and done. Because once I understood what the Catholic Church really taught, I found that I had nothing left to protest. All of these were true reasons, but what I really needed was a good one-liner. A dear friend of mine suggested the response, “It works for me.” This one makes me smile, but I’ll probably never use it, because such a response is really intended to cut off conversation, whereas I really intend to provoke it. So now I have settled on a response that should do the trick: Because I believe in the infallibility of the Bible.

Devout Protestants think that they believe in the infallibility of the Bible; the purpose of this article is to demonstrate that they do not, and cannot, so long as they remain Protestant.

Protestantism insists, in the doctrine of sola scriptura, that scripture is the only means by which God makes revelation to the whole church. Ironically, it is this very doctrine that renders the composition of the Bible both fallible and not fundamental to Christianity. This is clearly demonstrated if we treat Biblical infallibility and sola scriptura as logical presuppositions and follow each through to its necessary conclusions. Before proceeding, let us define our terms:

Scripture: Any document written by man by the inspiration of God, or any collection of such documents.

Canon: A list of all documents considered to be scripture.

Bible: A collection of all documents defined by a canon.

Infallible: Having no possibility for error.

Sola scriptura: The Protestant proposition that scripture is the only means by which God makes revelation to the whole church. Further, because scripture is the only means of revelation, it is formally sufficient. That is, all fundamental truths of Christianity are revealed in scripture, at least implicitly.

The distinction between “scripture” and “Bible” may come as a surprise, but Protestant theology requires it, as we shall see.

Let us begin with the presupposition that the Bible is infallible. (For the sake of argument, let us take “canon” to be the Protestant version, “scripture” to be those documents named by the canon, and the “Bible” to be the collection of all those documents.)

  1. By presupposition, the Bible is infallible.
  2. By definition, the Bible consists of the canon and all the documents defined by the canon.
  3. Because the Bible is infallible, the canon is infallible, and the individual documents named by the canon are infallible.
  4. Because the canon is infallible, it must have been revealed by God.
  5. The canon is nowhere revealed in scripture, either explicitly or implicitly.
  6. In revealing the canon, God has made revelation to the whole church by some means other than scripture.
  7. Scripture is not the only means by which God makes revelation to the whole church.
  8. Sola scriptura is false.
  9. Because the confession of Biblical infallibility leads to a denial of sola scriptura, the one who professes sola scriptura must deny Biblical infallibility, because he must deny the infallibility of the canon.
  10. Biblical infallibility and sola scriptura are mutually exclusive.

So there it is. If one starts with the presupposition that the Bible is infallible, one must conclude that sola scriptura is false. Because sola scriptura and Biblical infallibility are mutually exclusive, one must (logically) choose one or the other. Protestants who understand this dilemma and remain Protestant choose sola scriptura over Biblical infallibility. R.C. Sproul, a well-known reformed theologian, wrote that “the Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books” (Sola Scriptura!, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, Don Kistler, ed., 66). In making this statement, Sproul was quoting John Gerstner, another well-known reformed theologian. Martin H. Franzmann, a well respected Lutheran theologian, ends his book on the historical context of the New Testament with the comment, “the question of the limits of the canon may be theoretically open; but the history of the church indicates that it is for practical purposes closed” (The Word of the Lord Grows, Concordia Publishing House, 295). This line from Franzmann is cited on the website of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod as that denomination’s position on the canon ( Lest there be any doubt, let it be noted that “theoretically open” is code for “fallible”.

Protestants who consciously choose sola scriptura over Biblical infallibility justify the choice by asserting that they believe the canon to be inerrant without being infallible. In other words, they say that to admit that the canon is fallible is only to admit that there is a possibility for error, not that there is error. However, the conflict between sola scriptura and the Bible is more serious than they have understood. To show this, let us now presuppose that sola scriptura is right and see what that causes us to conclude about the Bible. (Again, for the sake of argument, we shall take “canon” to be the Protestant version, “scripture” to be those documents named by the canon, and the “Bible” to be the collection of all those documents.)

  1. By presupposition, sola scriptura is right.
  2. By the definition of sola scriptura, all fundamental truths of Christianity are revealed in scripture.
  3. Since all fundamental truths of Christianity are revealed in scripture, no belief can have all three of the following characteristics: not revealed in scripture, fundamental, and true. (In other words, if it isn’t revealed in scripture, then it can’t be a fundamental truth.)
  4. The definition of sola scriptura presents a dilemma for every belief that is not revealed in scripture. A belief that is not revealed in scripture must be either not fundamental or not true. Examples of beliefs that are not revealed in scripture include:
    “George Washington was the first President of the United States.”
    “After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to people living in North America, at which time he corrected erroneous beliefs propagated by the churches in Europe and Asia.”
    “Elvis Presley faked his own death and is living incognito in a retirement community in Florida.”
    The first belief is true, but not fundamental. The second belief is fundamental, but not true. The third belief is neither true nor fundamental.
  5. The following belief is nowhere revealed in scripture, either explicitly or implicitly: “The limits of scripture are accurately defined by the canon.”
  6. This belief, that the limits of scripture are accurately defined by the canon, is either not fundamental or not true.
    a. If this belief is fundamental, then it isn’t true.
    b. If this belief is true, then it isn’t fundamental.

And so we have two possible conclusions. The Protestant who believes that it is fundamental to Christianity that the limits of scripture are accurately defined by the canon can only conclude that the limits of scripture are not accurately defined by the canon. This conclusion is awful, but perfectly logical. The canon is not revealed in scripture. If scripture is the only means by which God makes revelation to the whole church, then the canon came to us apart from the revelation of God, which makes it a tradition of men. Of course, traditions of men can be good, even very good, but never when they bear on that which is fundamental (Matthew 15:2-3). That which is fundamental, God reveals, because we would somehow manage to screw it up. So if the canon is fundamental, but it is tradition rather than revelation, then there is simply no way that we got it right. Alternatively, the Protestant who believes that the limits of scripture are rightly defined by the canon is left only with option 6b. That is, he must not only concede that the canon is fallible, which many have seemed willing to do, but also that it isn’t fundamental to Christianity. The only way out of this terrible dilemma is to question the presupposition that brought us to it - that sola scriptura is right.

A comment on the word “fundamental” is warranted here. I have purposely left its definition vague for two reasons. First, it is a point of profound contention among Protestants, and second, the logic is valid regardless of the precise definition used. The Protestant who takes “fundamental” to mean “something upon which salvation may hinge” must concede that the canon is fallible and not something upon which salvation hinges. The Protestant who takes “fundamental” to mean “something on which the church cannot compromise for the sake of unity” must concede that the canon is fallible and something on which the church can compromise for the sake of unity. And so forth.

The best argument a Protestant can make for an infallible canon, and thus an infallible Bible, is this: each book of the Bible either 1) bears internal witness to its own infallibility or 2) derives its infallibility from the witness of another book, which in turn, bears the internal witness of its own infallibility. This is the theory of “self-authentication,” and typically John 10:4-5 is cited as support. It is a weak but plausible argument with respect to books that are presently included in the canon. (It must be remembered that many New Testament books, including Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation did not authenticate themselves to some of the earliest Christians, many of whom died for the faith.) However, self-authentication is an impossible argument with respect to books that might be missing. A “self-authenticated” canon cannot exclude the possibility that another document might turn up in the future that seems to bear witness to its own infallibility. After all, some thirteen million members of the Church of Latter Day Saints profess that they know in their hearts that the books given to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni are truly the word of God, and they also cite John 10:4-5 as justification. It may be argued that the final verses of Revelation prohibit canonicity for any book written later, but what if archeologists find a document that appears to have been written earlier, even by one of the Apostles? Frankly, this seems a rather obvious tactical move for our enemy as the end of time draws near. How will Protestantism respond?

It should be clear by now why Protestantism must distinguish between “scripture” and the “Bible”. It is because it must confess the infallibility of the former without confessing the infallibility of the latter. The senselessness of such a position is exemplified by the following statement from the website of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod:

"Luther's opinion regarding the canonicity of the Epistle of James, which in his 1522 preface to this book he called an "epistle of straw"--as well as his opinions regarding the book of Revelation--are well known. But his opinion on the canonicity of these books has no bearing on his conviction that the canonical scriptures are inspired and inerrant. Luther expressed various opinions regarding the canonicity of certain books of the New Testament, and this is of historical interest. But his commitment to the infallibility of the divine revelation given in the scriptures remained unwavering." (, paraphrasing R.C. Sproul, Sola Scriptura!, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, Don Kistler, ed., 65)

So Martin Luther, while questioning whether certain books were actually scripture, continued to affirm the infallibility of that which really is scripture. But such a defense of Martin Luther overlooks the fact that scripture is infallible by definition. To confess that “scripture is infallible” is to confess nothing more than “that which is written by the inspiration of the Creator of the universe is infallible.” Philosophically, who can disagree with such a statement? Nobody who believes in a Creator. Disagreement ensues only when we attempt to define what “scripture” is. Islam says that the books of the Koran are scripture. Protestantism says that the books of Protestant Bible are scripture. To the Protestant Bible, Mormonism adds The Book of Mormon, and Catholicism adds the deuterocanonical (apocryphal) books. Judaism says that nothing written after the birth of Christ is scripture. Some members of these religions take the liberty of defining only certain parts of traditionally accepted books as scripture – specifically, those parts which agree with their own ideas about who God is and who they are. But nobody denies that those things which are written by the inspiration of the Creator are infallible. So although Martin Luther did not waver in his commitment to the infallibility of the divine revelation given in the scriptures, such a commitment does not distinguish him from the Muslim or the Mormon.

Since scripture is infallible by definition, we can press on to more relevant questions regarding scripture. Do such documents exist? What are they? Will there be any more? Is the whole document inspired, or just some parts? Are there documents or parts that were inspired, but only contain revelation intended for people living in a certain time and place? Has the truth been corrupted by human transmission and translation? What does one do when one part of scripture seems to contradict another part? All of these questions pertain to the extent of scripture. What answers can Protestantism provide to such questions when it formally professes, in the doctrine of sola scriptura, that its very definition of what comprises scripture, the canon, is fallible and not even fundamental?

Only the Catholic Church confesses an infallible canon and an infallible Bible, and she does so emphatically. This point is graciously conceded by R.C. Sproul, again citing John Gerstner. (Sola Scriptura!, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, Don Kistler, ed., 66) The Catholic Church can logically confess an infallible canon, because she confesses other means for divine revelation to the whole church.

“So what?” says the devout Protestant. “So what if the Catholic Church formally confesses that the Bible is infallible? In practice, the Catholic Church has embraced all sorts of doctrines which overtly contradict the Bible!” I know the devout Protestant says this, because I used to say it myself.

I have three answers to this sincere question. First, many Protestants misunderstand what the Catholic Church actually teaches. The solution to this problem is as near as the closest copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). The CCC is well organized, well indexed, and explains the Catholic faith using terms that are easy to understand. Second, all the unique doctrinal positions of the Catholic Church really do have substantial Biblical support. For a thorough treatment of this subject, I highly recommend Dave Armstrong’s book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (Sophia Institute Press, 2003). Armstrong’s book is a great starting point, and it is well referenced to allow a deeper investigation into any particular topic. Finally, we live in the information age; theologians and laymen alike have unprecedented access to the writings of the earliest Christians: Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, and many others. Although their writings are by no means infallible, these men lived and died for the faith that we now enjoy. Their interpretations of scripture are of profound value to all Christians, and largely, they interpreted scripture in a way that Protestants today would deem too “Catholic”. But don’t take my word for it - read them for yourself. I highly recommend a particular CD-ROM collection: Early Church Fathers, available from, because this version comes with a nice search engine and exhaustive cross-referencing. There are two versions: Protestant and Catholic. The only difference between the two is that the Protestant version comes with additional commentary; there is no difference in the actual text of the early writings.

In conclusion, I wish to say that a reasonable degree of curiosity is in order here. Most Christians have a great respect for G. K. Chesterton. His book, Orthodoxy, which was published 14 years prior to his being received into the Catholic Church, stands as one of the greatest works of Christian apology ever written. All Christians should at least be curious as to what it was that drew this great Christian thinker to Catholicism. Furthermore, our God promises that if we seek truth, we shall find it. Surely this promise does not only apply when we seek in the right places, for how are we to know a priori which places are right? The promise must always apply, so long as we seek prayerfully, earnestly, and sincerely. Since we have this promise, what harm is there in giving a fair hearing to the one and only church that formally and emphatically confesses Biblical infallibility? Trust me - she’s worth a look.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Query letter to This Rock

This is a query letter to This Rock. A query letter is a 1-page pitch for an article. It's SOP for magazines.

Any comments on grammar, content, etc. would be much appreciated. (Should magesterial infallibility be capitalized? )

June 21, 2007

Tim Ryland
This Rock
2020 Gillespie Way
El Cajon, California 92020-0407

Dear Mr. Ryland,

Between 254A.D. and 257A.D., Pope Stephen defended orthodoxy with respect to both baptism and his own authority in a single decision that stands as the most underrated in Christian history.

Pope Stephen’s decision has been largely overlooked by Catholic apologists as a means for persuading mainline Protestants that sola scriptura is wrong and magisterial infallibility is right. Today, there is no disagreement among mainline Protestants and Catholics as to what constitutes a valid Christian baptism. Baptism is valid if it involves the application of water, and is performed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with the intention of doing what Jesus commanded. Cyprian and others took the unorthodox position that the baptism of heretics was invalid, simply because they were in schism. They defended this position by appealing to Scripture over the authority of the Roman episcopate. It was Stephen who preserved orthodoxy by asserting the validity of any Trinitarian baptism. And he defended his own authority to make this decision with an appeal to Matthew 16:18.

All of us, both Catholic and Protestant, place our hope for Christian unity in our common baptism. Where would we be today if Cyprian had prevailed? Mainline Protestantism requires one to believe that Stephen indeed made a very wise (and scripturally sound) decision on the issue of heretical baptism, but that he grossly misinterpreted Matthew 16:18 in defending his own authority to make that very same decision. This strains credibility. Is there any way that Stephen came to the right conclusion about baptism apart from the Wisdom of God? Would God have granted His Wisdom to a man who would, virtually in the same breath, attempt to seize for himself authority that rightly belonged to scripture alone?

Cyprian loved God and His Word. His stance on the issue of baptism was motivated not by moral rigidity but by compassion. He only wanted to give people an assurance of the forgiveness of their sins. Does this remind you of anyone else in Church history?

I have developed this idea more fully in an article entitled, “Sola Scriptura vs. Magisterial Infallibility: How Baptismal Unity Was Preserved in the Early Church.” I believe this article is well suited for the “Classic Apologetics” section of This Rock.

If such an article would be of interest to you, please send me the requirements for the column. I will tailor the material to meet your needs. Thank you for taking the time to consider my idea.

His servant and yours,

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I'm so proud of this quote that I'm sure it's a sin.

"Tradition may be the living faith of the dead and the dead faith of the living,, but the modern alternative to tradition is the faith of the living dead."

-Xavier Martel, 2007

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Reflections on SOV2

Things are always interesting on the SOV2 blog site ( Though they seldom delve deep the parodiers often need to incorporate elements of theology into their posts. The confused Che for example indirectly refers to Humanae Vitae by referring to Pope John Paul II as someone who was "all about" "STOP THAT."

A job I would hate to have is attempting to respond to the riled up dissenters in charity. Such is the case with a certain Winnipeg Catholic who certainly preaches a different gospel than JP2's Theology of the Body. Feeling somewhat bad that he was met largely with derision and scorn (deservedly?) I made a small attempt to mollify. Based on past experiences I have found this is almost invariably the wrong path to pursue! Such attempts - like standing between two determined combatants - surely results in abuse to oneself.

This minor case points out the inherent weakness in Satire as an effective means of evangelization. Within parody there is little method of expounding truth except through counter example. Che is not about to launch into a deep discussion of H.V. he can't even spell it correctly. He can lampoon the other side but it must be recognized that even this is a very feeble (and unkind) form of criticism. I have little doubt there are people as gullible and as easily misled as Che but they are not likely to see themselves in that light.

The more serious flaw in attempting to use Parody as Evangelism is that the bitter nature of this comedic form tends to drive opponents away rather than drawing them towards the truth. We wouldn't expect Winnipeg to walk away from SOV2 feeling more positive towards groups he labels Cathlofascists or what-not (I'm not conviced that Winnipeg is not himself a parody!)

That is not to say that satire does not have its uses. Msgr Ronald Knox employed Satire to devestating effect in his "Satirical Essays" as he blasted wide holes in the inner logic of modern biblical criticism. The result of this effort was unlikely to win a single soul to Christ, rather the positive effect was to perhaps strengthen and reassure the Christian faith by reducing the Goliath of opponents through ridicule down to a manageable size.

And for this reason parody should spare individuals as much as possible. We must bear in mind that all men are created in God's image. We must remind urselves over and over again that our calling does not lie in the downward in the direction of buffoonery, but rather upward and away from the squalor of our sins.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Following is an excerpt from the website of the Rationalists of East Tennessee:

"About Us

The Rationalists of East Tennessee focus on the real or natural universe.

The group exists so that we can benefit emotionally and intellectually through meeting together to expand our awareness and understanding through shared experience, knowledge, and ideas as well as enrich our lives and the lives of others. The Rationalists do not endorse or condemn members' thoughts or actions. Rather it hopefully encourages honest dialogue, analytic discussion, and responsible action based on reason, compassion, and factual accuracy"

Do any of y'all see anything incongruous in the statement above? Who would have thought that rationalists would be so... needy?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Did Jesus have favorites?

Did Jesus have favorites? My Lutheran pastor posed this question last Sunday. I have been reading a collection of essays by Thomas Merton (a Trappist monk) and last night I came across this:

"When all this has been said, the truth remains that our destiny is to love one another as Christ has loved us. Jesus had very few close friends when He was on earth, and yet He loved and loves all men and is, to every soul born into the world, that soul’s most intimate friend. The lives of all the men we meet and know are woven into our own destiny, together with the lives we shall never know on earth. But certain ones, very few, are our close friends. Because we have more in common with them, we are able to love them with a special selfless perfection, since we have more to share. They are inseparable from our own destiny, and therefore, our love for them is especially holy: it is a manifestation of God in our lives."

I thought about the few people in my life who I love terribly. I counted 11, including 4 people in my immediate family. I guess I always had a vague unease bordering on guilt that I did not love more people in this way, which had the effect of making me suppress my affections for these few. I never considered the idea that my love for these few might be a special gift from God, even holy. But when I stopped to consider each of these relationships one by one, I think it is true. They are not infatuations. Not one of these people have I known less than three years – I know them all well enough to know their flaws. Most are men, but not all. Most are wiser than me, but not all. What they all seem to have in common is that I see something of Christ in them that I do not see in myself - and one is not even a Christian! In another part, Merton has this to say:

"Love not only prefers the good of another to my own, but it does not even compare the two. It has only one good – that of the beloved, which is, at the same time, my own. Love shares the good with another, not by dividing it with him, but by identifying itself with him so that his goodness becomes my own. The same good is enjoyed in its wholeness by two in one spirit, not halved and shared by two souls."

I am amazed to find that these relationships really do fit this description, so I can only conclude that they are, indeed, manifestations of God. I firmly resolve to enjoy them more.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ratzinger Quote of the Day

Our attention was directed to the side of culture to do with humane studies. It would not be difficult to show that their helplessness in the face of the question of truth, which has in the meantime developed into a quite angry reaction to it, rests in the final analysis on the fact that these disciplines would like to use the same methodology, and to attain the same measure of certainty, as is available in the empirical spheres. The methodological restriction of natural science to what can be tested by experiment has become a real certificate of scholarly seriousness, indeed, of being rational at all.

-Truth & Tolerance, p193

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Parable of Terramundia

(Recycled from Sterquilinium)

I remember the first time I visited Terramundia. I was on my Master's business, of course, but that business didn't often take me far. I had heard quite a bit about Terramundia - it was impossible not to, for the place (or more properly, my Master's dealings with it) had made quite a stir amongst our little household.

And with all I had heard, it was quite natural that the first thing I should notice was that spire of rock jutting out on the prominatory. Back then, it was little more than a hastily constructed tower of stone blocks, surmounted by a rough platform. It was left to my imagination to see the winding stairs within, but stairs there must be, for I could see figures standing atop the tower, and they certainly didn't fly there. They surrounded a thinly smoking fire, banked in this, the day.

In my memories of Terramundia, that first sight of the tower is always at the forefront. I had approached the harbor from the sea, as I always would from then on. Beyond the tower, there was little more to see. The city was built in the fold of steep and barren hills, and the houses were crowded down to hectic docks and piers, where the little fishing boats huddled together, bobbing on the waves. Their colorful pennons waved to and fro, creating an almost panicked sense of movement.

I wish I could say more of that first visit, but I'm afraid I only remember a few scattered observations. I didn't know much about Terramundia, and what little I learned came through brief interviews or overheard snatches of conversation. From what I gathered, the tower was relatively new, and all (really most) of the citizens were somewhat in awe. The tower had been erected (some claimed) at the behest of Josepi Cruz (I knew the name, of course). Initial skepticism had already faded by the time of my visit. There were a few naysayers, making this or that claim against it, but most of the citizens had already seen the benefit. They knew that the light on the tower had saved more than one fisherman, returning to port and trying to navigate the deadly currents occasioned by the tides, winds, and myriad islands that marked the nearer sea.

Most of those residents had already joined in the Lighthouse Legion, a sort of academy that had formed at the base of the tower, to provide instruction to sailors. The Lighthouse keeper, Pietro, a grizzled hulk of a man, sought to explain to the Legionaires the intricacies of Josepi Cruz' charts of the harbor, and the use of the marvelous compass. These efforts (it seemed to me) were often in vain. I remember also that there was already beginning a sort of guild of pilots. Students of Pietro's, using the compasses and charts, would guide boats out to open water and back in again. The grateful fishermen would share their catch with the pilots, and this supported not only the pilots, but Pietro and the other keepers and teachers as well.

It was indeed heartwarming to see Terramundia in those days, when the memories of lost sailors were fresh in people's minds, and the novelty of the lighthouse, and it's benefices, prompted gratitude and goodwill among the citizens.


It was years later that I returned, on another errand, and my stay was brief. Coming in from the sea, I immediately saw the difference. The tower was unchanged, but the buildings at the base of it had been built upon in an ornate and extensive fashion. Ballistrudes and buttresses, collonade and battlement all surrounded the tower. The setting sun lit both the tower and the buildings at its base, and they glowed in response to the sun like a mirror.

But my eye was caught at once by what I did not expect, for further up the hill, there was another tower, this one encrusted with glittering jewels and ornate tapestries. Around the platform at the top were several glass plates with concentric ringed bullseyes. And at the base of this tower, too, there were magnificent buildings. The thin wisp of smoke rose from the center of the glass plates at the towertop, so I knew that this, too, was a lighthouse. It was roughly in line with the original tower, though further up the hill.

Entering into the town, which had grown even more crowded in my absence, I found explanations for the second tower all too quickly. It seemed that the old lighthouse keeper Pietro had died, and some squabbling arose among the keepers and navigators over the interpretation of the charts. Being unable to come to a conclusion, some of the keepers and navigators took a brand of the fire from the lighthouse and carried it up to a lookout post on the hill. There they constructed the second tower, and lit the fire at the top. There was a rivalry among the pilots from the Lighthouse Legion and the Navigator's Guild, as the adherants of the second tower were known. But the rivalry didn't affect the fishermen very much. They could steer their course into the harbor by either tower, although on odd occasions, the parallax between the two would lead to a wreck.

The one unification between the two camps came on foggy nights, when both groups would share the duties of ringing a large bell that had been mounted on a small islet in the harbor's mouth. A great, bronze bell with the legend "Mare Nostrum" cast upon its surface.

That brief, second visit is always suffused in my memory with the tolling of that great bell.


My third stay in Terramundia was the oddest from the start. As I arrived, I spied not only the two towers on the prominatory, but a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh tower, all spread along the coast. And besides the towers, there were various large buildings with no towers.

As I stepped onto the docks, I was affronted with the cacophony of the different camps, appealing to departing fishermen. Some cried out "Look to Pietro's Lighthouse! Don't go beyond the range of its light!" Others were yelling "Remember your compass! All you need is a compass!" Still others yelled "The compass and the charts! Remember them!"

While I had been away, many of the fishermen had revolted against the pilots from the Legion and the Navigators. Some said they required too great a share in the catch. Others said that they wouldn't share the charts, and other said that they made the charts too difficult to read. There had never been much success in the navigational schools by either Pietro's Legion or the Navigator's Guild, and many claimed that this was intentional. The Navigator's Guild had become jealous of their compasses, and this was held against them. And it seemed that each man who was affronted would either build his own lighthouse. And many would not build lighthouses at all, saying that the lighthouse was unnecessary if you had a compass and a chart. And yet another set claimed that even the chart was not necessary - all you needed was the compass and your own good sense. All manner of calumny was uttered against the charts. People claimed that they had been poorly copied, that Pietro's Legion had deliberately falsified them. Some of the newer groups altered the charts in ways they thought better.

And amidst all this confusion, it was not unmarked by me that on the one day I was there, two vessels went missing, with their crews presumed dead. I did not prolong my stay in Terramundia, for I was saddened.


It was long before I visited again. When I did, I found enormous changes. The Terramundians had found electricity and motors. Pietro's Lighthouse and the tower of the Navigator's Guild were still burning their old flames at the tower tops, and still calling out "Don't go beyond the sight of the lighthouse!" But some of the other towers now had electric beacons at their tops, revolving and casting their rays far out to sea.

Among the fishermen at the docks, I heard many who were very pleased with the longer reach of the electric lights. They could go farther out into deep water, and were finding new species of fish and new islands. They were filled with hope and excitement, and they scorned the two old towers.

But the newer towers with their electric lights were not on the prominatory, and were uncertain guides at night. Making your mark toward these brighter lights led not to the open mouth of the harbor, but to the rocky shores opposite these later edifices.

To compound the problem, the motor launches had taken over much of the fishing fleet, belching out black soot, they puttered about the harbor. The motors, along with the longer reach of the light, sent the fishermen farther and faster than before.

And with so much more ocean to fish, many more were taking to this life. Some couldn't be bothered with charts, and some wouldn't even take the compass. It seemed that quite a few of the fishermen trusted to their eyes and instincts alone. This added to the grinding noise at the docks, where beside the old Legionaires and Navigators, and the Chart & Compass, or Compass-only partisans, there was now a new crowd, encouraging the fishermen to ignore the whole lot. "No Pilot, No Compass, No Chart, No Light!" was their refrain, and they were very popular among the younger fishermen.

And it seemed amost un-noticed that each day of my visit, more boats went missing, and more wreckage washed ashore. Such lost men were reckoned "bad sailors," though some even blamed the lighthouses for "blinding" them, and were agitating to have the beacons shut off and the flames snuffed out.

I left in downcast spirits.


The interim of my absence was very short. When I returned, I found a bright electric light atop of Pietro's Lighthouse. I was a little taken aback. I was told that the latest keeper, a man named John Vingtetrois, had felt that the Legion was getting behind the times. He had moved the old burning flame to a safe place in one of the buildings at the base of the tower, and replaced it with the brightest beacon that could be made. This did not result in the hoped-for reliance on Pietro's Lighthouse. Rather, many snickered that old Pietro's was now just one of the bunch.

There was a new mood as well. There were no more sailboats in the harbor, and the popular mood ran strongly against the charts. They said that the charts were written for the deep keels of the sailboats, not the shallow drafts of the motor launches, and so areas on the charts that were dangerous for sailboats were perfectly safe for the new craft. These same people said that the Legion and Navigators were keeping men away from good fishing. Those that did not openly flaunt the charts clamored for new ones, asserting that the old charts were no good - that erosion had changed the coast, and that they were too complicated to use. A few shops opened in Terramundia selling revised charts, that showed fewer shoals, had less markings, and had new and innovative mappings of the coast.

I was startled, on the first night of my visit, to see yet another tower. This one was small, but built in a manner very similar to Pietro's tower. And rather than an electric light, it had an old fashioned flame, without the Navigator's glass panels. I found out that some of the keepers from the Legion had taken a torch from Pietro's flame and rekindled it on this new tower. But the new tower was not on the prominatory, and it proved a particular will-o-the-wisp to returning sailors, many of whom were wrecked on its account.

Most of the other, newer towers were failling into disrepair, their electric beacons flickering and often untended. A few adherants still gathered at the docks, but most of the fishermen had found their way into the "No Pilot, No Compass, No Chart, No Light!" set (although they looked for a lighthouse in a hurry when they found themselves in difficulty).

But there were some new lighthouses, with fantastic, pulsating beacons. Strangely enough these seemed to be receding back into the hills, further and further from the shore. One of them was visible from the coast only by the aurora of lights coming from the other side of a hill. Apparently these lighthouses were immensely popular among the citizens who didn't fish, and were sorts of social clubs where people hung jeweled gold compasses around their necks and memorized the latest version of the charts.

That was my last visit to Terramundia, and I could have almost walked out on the bloated backs of the drowned sailors in the harbor. I couldn't understand why the citizens didn't see their dead choking the very waters that had given them fish. I know now that I will never return there, for my errands are done. But I tremble when I think what Josepi will find when my Master sends him in from the sea.

Monday, April 23, 2007

John 21:1-14

Last Sunday's Gospel reading struck me in an unusual way. As a reminder (John 21:1-14):

"So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, have you caught anything to eat?" They answered him, "No." So He said to them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something." So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord."

For some reason, the image of Peter fishing and catching nothing, because the Lord was not there, immediately put me in mind of the modernization of the Church and the apparent decline of the Church in the wake of Vatican II. This was inevitable, considering the second part of the Gospel:

"When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs.""

Now, one interesting question is what Jesus meant by "these." Did he mean the other disciples, or did he mean the fish? For certainly, as "fishers of men," Peter is called to gather men, much as in the shepherd motif he is called to feed his sheep.

If Christ was referring to the fish, themselves representing the "flock" or the faithful, then it would be interesting that Jesus calls Peter to love him more than his flock. And yet, in loving Christ, he is to serve the flock, whom he loves less. It is a strange, elliptical scripture, if my exegesis is correct.

But getting back to the haul of fish, it seems clear to me that despite whatever lures, and whatever teeming waters the Church fishes in, it will catch nothing if Jesus is not with the Church. Like the tree known by the fruit it bears, one might tell the pastor by his congregation.

The cheapening of the Church to a dim community social club (in many places), the "flattening" of the liturgy to emphasize the horizontal in favor of the vertical, has not universally led to poor catches. In some American parishes, the parking lots are packed, and the pews overflowing, despite the lack of a discernable tabernacle or recognizable liturgy. Certainly Pentacostalism and the Evangelic movement have achieved apparent success with their megachurches and network marketing. Their nets seem to be full to capacity. It seems a win/win situation for the congregational pastor and his flock - the flock is entertained and their needs for community met, while the pastor achieves glory and wealth.

And this seems to be a great contrast with the "charismatic" or "progressive" Catholics, for while the congregation may bear great similarity in size, wealth, and happiness to the protestant Evangilicals, they bear no fruit. Vocations are dim if present at all.

So, back to the sheep and the fish. Christ's presence captures the fish, otherwise the nets are full. But Peter is called to love Christ more than the fish, and in loving Christ, to be obedient and feed His sheep. Is this just a case of mixed metaphors? Am I just missing something obvious? Help me out here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

When is it permissible?

"Cafeteria" Catholics are defined as thos catholics who pick and choose which aspects of their religion they will adhere too. Often the "Cafeteria" is specifically applied to the liberal or progressive branch of the church typified by people like Alec Baldwin and John Kerry (etc...). Yet lately, Sean Hannity, a noted conservative has been accused as being a Cafeteria Catholic because he seems to support artificial contraception as a means of preventing the spread of diseases and a method of preventing abortions and for his support of Guiliani who is less than an ideal pro-life candidate.

In political matters the church has often sided with "progressive" policies such as loosening imigration laws and socializing the healthcare system. Ecclesiastical authority within the Catholic Church has sometimes leaned very far left politically, though the beat back of liberation theology has quelled a Marxist-Catholic movement.

The political wisdom of the church is not something which I feel is binding upon individual consciences. Certainly we have a duty to listen to and respect the opinion of church leaders, the true separation of church from state permits more dissent here than elsewhere.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the subject of Nuclear Weapons, the church, in the Catechism, has issued strong statements on the Morality of these weapons. I.e. a gun may or may not be evil depending on its use, but a nuclear weapon which can only kill indiscriminately is an evil weapon and its use is an evil act.

Is this a morally binding position?

2314 "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation." A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons - to commit such crimes.

2315 The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace among nations. This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. The arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. Spending enormous sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations; it thwarts the development of peoples. Over-armament multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation.

Brief Thoughts on Truth & Tolerance

In 2004, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger published "Truth and Tolerance," a systematic review of the state of intereligious dialog and an overview of the challenges facing orthodox religion. One might say that his work in this volume was an attempt to discern order in the postmodern vacuum.

There are many tantalizing arguments in the book, but right now I would like to focus on some aspects of Chapter 2 of Part 2, "The Truth of Christianity."

Ratzinger opens with an account of a conversation between Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Paul Dirac, and others. The group was informally addressing Einstein and Planck's insistence that there was no incompatibility between God and science. Heisenberg proposed that such a view was tenable if one considered science and religion as operating in two different spheres. Pauli seconded this notion but predicted a future breakdown of society due to an increasing incredulity in the tenets of religion.

In developing his argument from this opening citation, Ratzinger addresses the particularity of the "scientism" in relation to faith, as maintained in the Church. One of his early statements, in combination with the views of Heisenberg and Pauli, causes me to take issue with what I see as an underlying assumption in both Ratzinger and the scientists' views.

Ratzinger makes the statement "[religion] should not claim to be able to solve problems in areas that work by their own laws." One can certainly understand this view. After all, the Church is still trying to live down an overagressive reliance on ancient sources that affected primarily the medievals, but also the Church Fathers (witness Augustine's citation of the properties of the salamander and various notorious extrapolations by the neo-scholastics). Ratzinger later cites a "dialectic between subjective and objective reality," again tacitly accepting a dualism whose analog has been profoundly rejected in the body and soul of man.

While Cardinal Ratzinger's non-agressive approach to science is understandable, it is almost inexcusable among the scientists to establish a faith/reason dualism. Heisenberg, Pauli, et al, should have been the most likely of men to recognize that in overturning the Newtonian world, Quantum Mechanics was not setting itself up as either an alternative or a dialectic force. Rather, the hard scientific truths of quantum mechanics did not invalidate Newtonian physics, but transcended and permeated that science. Newtonian physics remained (and remains) in regular use, and for very good reasons. But that use has limitations, and it is beyond those limitations that quantum physics becomes sole possessor of scientific truth.

In exactly the same way, faith transcends but contains science. It is not, as Cardinal Ratzinger suggests, that faith should remain "hands-off" when it comes to mundane mechanics. Rather, it is that applying faith to such problems is like mowing the lawn with scissors. Faith, in its fullness, addresses all reality - whether that reality be phenomenon or nouomenon, ethic or moral, corporeal or spiritual. This does not invalidate science; rather, it supports and undergirds reason.

Just as man risks what Walker Percy called the "angelism/bestialism" rupture when he believes dualistically, so society risks culture war and an inevitable decline into chaos when faith is divorced from reason. As Ratzinger states in Part 1 of Truth and Tolerance, "Without faith, philosophy cannot be whole, but faith without reason cannot be human." Our difficulty in substituting the term "science" for "philosophy" in the above statement is that we do not consider philosophy (or reason/logic) to be "hard" in the same sense as the physical sciences. We divide science into those categories of hard and soft, and we apportion our respect (and obedience) to the former rather than the latter. But is this a justifiable distinction?

It is my argument that it is not. The "scientific method", so praised among our secular cousins, is equally applicable to both hard and soft sciences. The real distinction comes with the ability for physical control in experimentation. Hard scientific experiments, within a certain realm, are more readily quantified, and thus more readily validate hard scientific theories. But as all but the most dogmatic of scientists will admit, even with good data and impeccable controls, theory does not become law. Even Law is defined by observation, albeit overwhelming observation, and thus is susceptible to contradiction by subsequent evidence. In this sense, physical science is softer than philosophy, for philosophy operates (or should operate) in the abstract, in which absolutes are permissible.

But regardless of where one resides in the spectrum of hard/soft, reason/faith, it seems clear that there is no dialectic. For a dialectic consists in the opposition of objects. Historical determinism (strangely enough, the progenitor of relativism) saw that dialectic as progressing from equivocality to univocality, an explicit objectivism. But the dialectic cannot exist if there is a contemporary gradient, as there is in the case of hard science, soft science, and faith. To say that there are "things of the flesh" and "things of the spirit", to grant independent authority to the King and to God, or to say that it is possible to follow divergent praxis whether one is particularly subject to the City of Man or the City of God, is to ignore both the Pauline and Petrine assertions about the primacy of the spirit.

The mind of man, as wonderous as it is, strains to see the relation between the dictates of faith and the exigency of material conditions. And yet, from experience, we see that often the "revealed" character of faith provides valid answers that are only later (if at all) validated by science. The dietary restrictions of the semitic people are an excellent example of this.

But rather than recognizing the subtle way in which faith informs not only the "ought" but provides the noncategorical imperitive, we have had a tendency to focus on scriptural literalism, or post-scriptural dictates. We argue that the mustard seed is not, in fact, the smallest of seeds, and use that as a justification for claiming that Christ was no scientist. We mistake the Augustinian insistence on the literalism of genesis for a canonical statement. Historically, the supposed breach between science and faith just does not exist outside of the propaganda of the Enlightenment. The schism is a late development, and one imposed rather than natural.

We are living in a wondrous time, one in which many things are coming to fruition. The compatibility between faith and phenomenon has never been clearer. Yet it is just at this time that the insistence on dualism has become loudest. Science, like the flesh, is in a fallen state, infused with a diabolic (and very unscientific) dogma. Science, like the flesh, wars against faith. And faith, like the spirit, must embrace, contain, and subdue science. Separation is not feasible, for, to paraphrase Cardinal Ratzinger, without faith, science cannot be whole, but faith without science cannot be human.


Welcome to the Blog for the Knoxville Theological Society, located in Knoxville, Tennessee. This invitation-only society is comprised of amateur theologians. Residence in, or around, Knoxville is not required for membership. It is the hope of the junta that runs the KTS that this blog will serve as a sounding board for theological conundrums, a place for first review of potential articles and/or publications, and general entertainment.

Vitriol is not acceptable at the KTS. This is neither a comparitive theology site nor an apologetics debate-room. Some contributors may be scholarly, while others may engage in heretical flights of fancy. Criticism should remain impersonal. Sarcasm may be freely directed at the following religions: Secularism, paganism, manicheism, mormonism, rationalism, atheism, hinduism, buddhism, taoism, shintoism, unitarianism, and all other "impersonal" theisms. Jehovah's Witnesses are permitted, but only if they are referred by at least one Albigensian and one Waldensian.

Welcome, and enjoy!