Friday, July 30, 2004

The Church & the birth of modern science

As it turns out, the birth of modern science depended heavily on the discoveries of Catholic scientists, as Thomas Woods points out in his article, "The Church and the Birth of Modern Science," in Latin Mass magazine (Spring 2004). Writes Wood:
"The Catholic Church has been unjustly attacked over the years on more grounds than many of us care to recall, but her alleged hostility toward science may be her greatest debit in the popular mind. The caricatured and cartoonish version of the Galileo affair with which most people are familiar is very largely to blame for the widespread belief that the Church has obstructed the advance of scientific inquiry. But even if the Galileo incident had been every bit as bad as people think it was, Cardinal Newman found it revealing that this is the only example that ever comes to anyone's mind.

"Now it is certainly useful to point out, against those who criticize the Church for its alleged opposition to science, that certain important scientists were them-selves Catholic. But it is still more revealing that so many priests were accomplished scien-tists. It would doubtless come as a surprise to most people to learn that the man often identi-fied as the father of geology was Father Nicholas Steno (pictured right), a Lutheran convert who became a Catholic priest. Father Athanasius Kircher (pictured below), one of the last true polymaths of European intellectual history, has been called the father of Egyptology. The fist person to measure the rate of accele-ration of a freely falling body was yet another priest, Father Giambattista Ricciolli. Father Rober Boscovich has often been cited as the father of modern atomic theory. In the twentieth century, the study of earth-quakes, or seismology, was so dominated by Jesuits that it became known as "the Jesuit science."

"And that is far from all. Some thirty-five craters on the moon are named for Jesuit scientists and mathemati-cisans. Indeed the Church's contributions to astronomy are all but unknown despite the fact that, as Professor J.L. Heilbron of the University of California at Berkeley points out, 'the Roman Catholic Church gave more financial aid and social support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enligh-tenment, than any other, and, probably, all other, institutions.' The Church's true role in the development of modern science remains one of the best-kept secrets of modern history."
It was not coincidental, Wood notes, that the birth of science as a self-perpetuating field of intellectual endeavor should have occurred within a Catholic cultural milieu. Certain fundamental Christian ideas have been indispensable in making possible the emergence of scientific thought. (Read the rest of this article in Latin Mass magazine [Spring 2004], pp. 66-71. Unfortunately this article is not yet available online.)

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Meyendorff on the Primacy of Peter

One of my students, Sean Fagan, is working on two related independent studies this summer, one with me on Cardinal Newman's theory of the development of Christian doctrine, another with Prof. Andrew Weisner on the conception of Petrine Primacy in Eastern Orthodoxy. Fagan recently presented me with a summary of the principal Eastern Orthodox arguments from John Meyendorff's chapter in The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church. Meyendorff's chapter, entitled "St. Peter in Byzantine Theology," is one of the more balanced essays in the volume, as Fagan notes. Meyendorff divides the Byzantine tradition of reflection on Petrine primacy into three periods:
  1. The exegetical teachings (mostly of Origen, but a few others) of the Patristics/Byzanines
  2. The polemics of the 12th and 13th centuries
  3. "Theologians" of the 14th and 15th centuries.
What follows is a series of Eastern Orthodox arguments from each of these periods, summarized by Fagan, along with my replies:

I. The exegetical teachings:
A. Peter's confession in Matthew is the basis on which Christ makes his "Rock" statement. In this sense, all Christians are Peter because we confess the Faith of Christ.


First, this is exegetically unsound, for the "Rock" can only refer to Peter without doing violence to it. In Aramaic, "Rock" is "Kepha." Jesus would have said to Peter, "You are Kepha and on this Kepha I will build my Church."

Second, the statement that all Christians are Peter because all confess faith in Christ is a little like the common Protestant argument that the priesthood of all believers rules out the need or possibility of a unique priesthood of ordained clergy. But the fact that every believer is a priest in some sense doesn't mean that licitly ordained clergy are not priests in a uniquely proper sense. Likewise, the fact that all Christians believe and confess what Peter believed and confessed hardly means that we share in his ecclesiastical primacy or in that of his successors.

B. All Bishops share in Peter's Confession because it was at that moment that Christ conferred the Keys; the bishops share in the "Cathedra Petri" (St. Cyprian) because of Peter's Confession.


First, while it may be true that bishops share in the power of binding and loosing that is symbolized by the Keys in Matthew, this no more removes the distinction between bishops and the Pope than the fact that priests have the power to grant absolution removes the distinction between priests and bishops.

Second, this assertion shares in the common exegetical confusion/conflation implicit in the Evangelical Protestant interpretation of "presbyteros" and "episkopos." Presbyterians, for example, reduces each to an "elder," even though they may distinguish between "teaching" and "ruling" elders. But while an "episkopos" (literally "overseer," in Catholic tradition, "bishop") is ALSO a "presbyteros" (from which etymologically derives the early English "prester" and the later contraction, "priest"), not all priests are bishops, any more than all bishops are Popes.

Third, while it may be true that the bishops share in the common Faith professed by Peter and in the apostolic authority of his episcopal office, this hardly means that every bishop is a successor to Peter in the sense of sharing in his primacy. What dies it mean to have "primacy" if everybody has it? Just try imagining all those Eastern Orthodox bishops trying to squeeze their butts into the "Cathedra Petri" alongside the Pope! What insanity!

C. Peter is most definitely the "Coryphaeus" and he is the head of the Apostles in this regard, as at least being the head of the Apostles.

Reply: This, of course, goes without saying.
II. 12th and 13th century polemic arguments:
A. Canon 28 of Chalcedon conferred secondary primacy to Constantinople; because "old Rome" is no longer the imperial capital, it has lost its primacy and it has been transferred to "New Rome."


"Secondary primacy" doesn't mean "primary primacy." What else needs be said?! Furthermore, the de facto primacy attaches not to the city in which the Holy See is located but to the office of the Pontiff. Thus when the Papacy was moved to Avignon during the "Babylonian Captivity," so was the primacy, in the person of the Pope. In principle, Constantinople has no more primacy than, say, Alexandria or Jerusalem, even if it had a secondary importance during the transfer of the IMPERIAL capital in the Eastern Empire.

B. The powers given to Peter were also give to the other Apostles; Meyendorff sasys that this argument is both weak, and runs counter to the fairly uniform patristic tradition of the headship of Peter.


Amen to Meyendorff's remark. Again, that the "powers" given to Peter (like priestly or even episcopal ordination) were given to the other Apostles, doesn't mean that the primacy of Peter was given to them as well.

Just in terms of circumstantial evidence, it's interesting that the second most frequently cited Apostle in the NT is St. John, whose name appears 30 times (in the Gospels and in Acts), whereas Peter's name appears a total of 179 times! Furthermore, in every NT listing of the apostles' names (whether small or large), Peter's name always heads the list! (scroll down at same link)

C. In what Meyendorff says is a broader argument that anticipates future ecclesiological issues is that the succession of Peter does not belong to Rome alone; the primacies of Rome and Constantinople is of imperial origin, and they are conditioned upon confession of the true faith. (Meyendorff mentions that the filioque addition dissolved Rome's primacy, in view of the Byzantine polemicists.)


This, of course, is nonsense. Even if Papal succession is a species of apostolic succession, it does not follow that apostolic succession is a species of Papal succession. Neither does the fact that the imperial governments of Rome and Constantinople, respectively, had a hand in the episcopal activities of each city (e.g., Constantine's calling of the Council of Nicea) mean that the episcopal or Papal offices are imperially constituted. They were constituted by Christ while upon earth when he called the Apostles as the first bishops of the Church and made Peter the first head (or 'papa' or Pope) of the other bishops. Nor does the fact that the confession of the true Faith is essential to the episcopate mean that the Faith can serve to determine who the true bishops are. Theoretically one could have a bishop who believes every article of the Catholic Faith yet be out of communion with the Church, like Archbishop Lefebvre, for example. Furthermore, one has to address the principle of authority by which the true Faith is determined, and that is something that can't be divorced from the apostolic succession and the Papacy.

As for the filioque, I find it irrelevant. If one uses THAT as an excuse to reject the Pope's authority, then he's thrown back on his own resources to define what the criterion for authority is going to be, which pretty much leaves him as much adrift at sea as the Protestant who says "the Bible" is his only standard. Um ... yeah. Sure.

Parenthetically, Nicholas Mesarites, a Byzantine theologian of the time, mentions that there is an old tradition of the Roman Pramacy before the 4th century, but this primacy was only given that the Bishop of Rome may defend the Church against Pagan Emperors; in short, Meyendorff says that Mesarites' idea is that the Primacy of Rome, though practical and useful, depends on its adherence to the Faith.


Again, this is a way of trying to avoid the proper authority of the Roman Pontiff. If the Pope's authority can be made subservient to the goal of combating Pagan Emperors, then it can be avoided in venues where there are no Pagan Emperors, as in Byzantium, where the emperors were Christian or after 1543 when there were no more emperors at all. And making the primacy of Rome dependent upon adherence to the Faith again ties the authority of the Papacy to a body of beliefs whose content it is his prerogative to judge as to its orthodoxy. But it's rubbish to think you can define the orthodoxy of content apart from the Prophetic Office which furnishes the standard of orthodoxy.
III. The Theologians of the 14th/15th centuries:
A. Many of these theologians teach that the function of primacy is this: pramacy exists within the episcopal college as it existed within the apostolic college, but it implies the unity of faith in the truth.


This is something like saying that a monarchy is really a parliamentary democracy, and then doing away even with the parliament. "The primacy exists within the episcopal college": that means -- using the analogy -- that there is no real monarch; ultimate authority exists within the parliamentary representatives of the people. "... but it implies the unity of faith in the truth": that means that the ultimate criterion is not even the elected representatives but the people electing them. How otherwise does one determine what is true? You're not willing to listen to the Pope. So, then whom? The bishops? But bishops can fall from the Faith. So, then where do you turn? The Faith? But who knows that? The consensus of the faithful? But the majority can be wrong too, after all.

B. Only the Church is infallible, not Peter.

Reply: How does one define "Church" without "Peter"? No Peter, no Church. Do those Eastern Orthodox who teach the permissibility of contraception participate in the Church's infallibility? Of course not.

In summation, the fault of Rome is to distort the analogy between the apostolic college and the episcopal college; the ecclesiastical order is detemined by both Councils and secular rulers, not the succession of the Bishop of Rome.


What distortion? The ecclesiastical order is and was determined by Christ who founded the Church upon Peter and his successors. All distinctions between the apostolic college and episcopal college that found themselves upon criteria such as the fact that the apostles were "eyewitnesses of the resurrection" while later bishops were not, are grasping at straws. For Peter himself supervised the selection of a successor to Judas, beginning the process of episcopal
succession, which would continue down to our own day. The process is seamless from Christ to Peter to Bishop Peter Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte, NC.

What do they mean, "the ecclesiastical order is determined by both Councils and secular rulers"? This is tanamout to Erastianism. The fact that Constantine had a major hand in convening the Council of Nicea doesn't make him an authoritative successor of the apostles any more than you or I. His interest at Nicea was primary political, not theological; it was the bishops' business to settle the theological controversy under the aegis of the Pope who ratified their decision with the seal of ecclesiastical authority.

Friday, July 23, 2004

How do we know the meaning of biblical texts?

Edgar Foster, a Jehovah's Witness (JW) wrote to me today, saying that another JW friend of his asked how one can possibly know what the sentence, "I never said you stole money" means. The intent of his question, he said, was to show that just as this sentence is somewhat ambiguous, so the Bible is ambiguous in certain places. How do we arrive at an understanding of what Paul, John or Luke wrote? What follows is Foster's reply to his JW friend (in blue), and my comments (in black):

Foster: One distinctive and prominent characteristic of human language is ambiguity. For example, what if we're sitting down for a meal, and I ask you: "Can you please pass the salt?" How would you interpret the utterance, whether you were right or wrong in how you interpreted it?

Most persons would probably think I was requesting that the salt be passed to me in order that I might season my food. But I could "mean" something totally different by the question. Maybe I meant, "Do you have the power or ability to pick up the salt and give it to me?" However, most will probably not interpret my question as a query about your ability to pick up and pass a salt shaker. The context or situation no doubt helps you to figure out my intent. I think understanding the Bible is similar. Besides God's holy spirit, we can also use "ordinary methods" to discern what Scripture means, including taking the context of ambiguous passages into consideration.

Blosser: I agree that context is utterly crucial to determining meaning, which is inseparably identified with authorial intent. Any number of hypothetical possibilities is possible, as your illustration suggests. The speaker could be insane, or even just trying to confuse you, or even speaking metaphorically, or otherwise cryptically, etc. If the author weren't present, but his words were just being reported to you, it would also be helpful to know somebody you trust who said they knew what the author's intention was.

Foster: The Roman Catholic Church says that the only way we can understand Scripture is by means of ascertaining the authorial intention of the Bible. The only way that we can know what the author of the Bible intended, they say, is by listening to the infallible Magisterium of the Church. However, besides other difficulties that attend this view, I wonder how the Magisterium is able to cut the Gordian knot of ambiguity. Furthermore, as I've asked Catholics before, how can I ever be certain that the Magisterium is infallible or that it is a continuation of the Primitive EKKLHSIA? In other words, how can I ever come to know beyond a peradventure of a doubt that the Church knows what John, Paul or Luke meant when they wrote thus-and-so?

Blosser: Well, here I would say that not only is the context important (which would here include all of history and lower-case "tradition"), but, a fortiori, trust. Because the context doesn't furnish enough information of itself to quite determine the meaning, as conflicting denominational readings demonstrate. Thus having an interpreter whose authority one can trust becomes all-important. Of course one can put this interpreter to the test to a certain extent. But ultimately that testing will run up against limitations, especially where the data furnished by the context is itself contradictory. The case of the underground resistance fighter (Anthony Flew?) is a case in point, because the data of the context seems to contradict his words at times, when he seems a collaborator with the enemy. Or take C.S. Lewis's examples:
"There are times when we can do all that a fellow creature needs if only he will trust us. In getting a dog out of a trap, in extracting a thorn from a child's finger, in teaching a boy to swim or rescuing one who can't, in getting a frightened beginner over a nasty place on a mountain, the one fatal obstacle may be their distrust. We are asking them to trust us in the teeth of their senses, their imagination, and their intelligence.... Wee ask them to accept apparent impossibilities: that moving the paw farther back into the trap is the way to get it out -- that hurting the finger very much more will stop the finger hurting -- that water which is obviously permeable will resist and support the body -- that holding onto the only support within reach is not the way to avoid sinking -- that to go higher and onto a more exposed ledge is the way not to fall." (C.S. Lewis, "The Obstinacy of Belief," The World's Last Night, and other essays, p. 23)
So why do I trust the Catholic Church, especially when there is all this seemingly contrary evidence of corrupt popes, sexually predatory priests, the crusades, the inquisition, the "Donation of Constantine" forgery, thousands of faithless Catholics who apparently don't know the first thing about Christianity? Did I begin by trusting her blindly? No, of course not. I began by discovering several, and then many more, reasons for finding her trustworthy. Answers to the troubling questions became apparent. Many things, even if not everything, began falling into place. The more I "tested" her, digging into Scripture and history, the more answers to such questions became apparent. Is my understanding now complete? Far from it. But I've found for myself sufficient reasons for trusting her, and this conviction is reinforced by the evidence of holiness in the lives of numerous Catholic saints
whose lives are open books, as well as inward truths and movements of God in my own life, which I take to be not only compatible with this trust, but take by faith to be supportive of it. I have no apodictic certitude of the sort Descartes sought. But I have surely as much certitude as I do in my wife's fidelity, or, at times, my own conviction that I am awake and perceive the real world around me.

Foster: Yet, John tells us: "And YOU have an anointing from the holy one; all of YOU have knowledge" (1 Jn 2:20). See also 1 Cor 2:10-12 and 1 Jn 2:26-27; 3:24.

Blosser: Here I would again caution against a reading of New Testament epistles that presupposes the immediatistic, atomistic outlook of contemporary Western individualism found in Protestantism, particularly in Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism. I would caution, in particular, against the assumption that the capitalized "YOU" in the verse you quote above is directed at the contemporary individual reading St. John's letter as part of what we today call "the Bible." In fact, the assumption is easily refutable based on the fact that we know of individuals who have read that passage who would be hard to judge as being among the "anointed" or "holy," or possessed of spiritual "knowledge," such as Joseph Stalin, who is said to have memorized the entire New Testament in his early life.

But as soon as we see this, we note a degree of ambiguity that exists in the question of whom St. John had in mind when he made this declaration. We may say it is those who love God, or those whose lives are "regenerated" by God's Spirit, or the like. But then, how do we know that what we mean by such statements corresponds with what John meant? Certainly not every person who is godly or spiritually wise in his own eyes, or even that of others, can be said to "have knowledge," if is believed by many such individuals contradicts one another.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Is gender language a matter of indifference? (Part 2)

[This is a continuation of a discussion whose last entry is posted in Philosophia Perennis.] Edgar Foster's words are in blue, mine in black:

Foster: We're discussing, at least I thought we were discussing, the use of generic pronouns. Therefore, my contention is that (depending on what one means by "natural") the generic pronoun "he" is no more "natural" than the generic "one." My contention was not that we should neuter common or proper *nouns* in a quest for political correctness or some such agenda. Rather, my argument is that I see no overarching reason why an author should not use "he," "one," or "she" generically as well as "he/she." I certainly am not suggesting that we should make the signifier "God" in Jn 3:16 "One," KAI TO LOIPON.

Blosser: My example ["For One so loved the world that One gave One's only Son that whosoever should believe in One ..."] may not have been a good one. But don't you think that you're trying to duck the issue here? Look: I don't care whether it's "she" or "it" or "one" or "h'or'sh'it" [as a contraction of "he-or-she-or-it"] -- if you try to use ANY of those terms generically and repeat it often enough in a sentence or paragraph, like Putnam did, it's going to just sound loopy. Wouldn't you agree? Perhaps we could, empirically speaking, condition ourselves psychologically to get accustomed to using "she" generically. Perhaps so. But culturally it's not been understood as a generic term, and that's why it's going to sound goofy. Beyond that, of course, is my contention that we SHOULDN'T use it thus. We have a perfectly appropriate term that has functioned in that capacity without any misunderstanding for nearly two millennia. If it's grammatically correct and not semiotically broken, don't try to "fix" it, I say.

Foster: For the record, I prefer to use the generic pronominals "he/she" rather than Putnam's "one," though I'm not averse to employing that generic term either.

Blosser: "One" should do so only if "he" doesn't go ape (and grammatically silly) by (1) repeating the term "one" (it's supposed to stand only in the original subject space, or (2) confusing the generic "he" with the generic "she" (which doesn't work without callingattention to oneself as a "PC" ass [not in Balaam's sense either]!).

Foster: Why do I take this approach when it comes to employing generic pronominals? First, because that is the way that "the Academy" taught me how to write college essays.

Blosser: The orthodox Christian academy has taught you, my Jehovah's Witness friend, that God is not only One but also Triune.  So do you accept that?  Q.E.D.

Foster: Second, the apostle Paul wrote that he made himself a "slave" to all persons, so that he could "gain the most persons" (NWT) in his ministry (1 Cor 9:19-23). I feel the same way. If the utilization of the generic "he" offends a significant segment of the population, why use it? To eschew the singular use of "he" (when it is possible) certainly does not seem unbiblical or unChristian to me. Maybe you have reason to feel differently.

Blosser: You may have a point here. But the message you're going to give people (and certainly the one a Catholic is going to give people -- the scandal of Christ's sacrificial crucifixion) is going to offend anyway, and there's no way around that.

The bigger issue, as far as I'm concerned, is that we are involved in a culture war whose lines are rapidly becoming quite clear. And as far as I can see, the gender issues involved in our society -- from grammar to same-sex partnerships -- are close to the heart of things, like sex generally. (Sex and Holy Communion are two of the most intimately related analogical covenants in Catholic tradition.)

Foster: Finally, since generic pronouns refer to both men and women anyway, what is wrong with making what is implicit more explicit?

Blosser: What's wrong with "making it explicit," as you put it, is that it alters the meaning of the male terms. If I say only "man and woman" or "he and she," then "man" and "he" are no longer signed as generic: and this, in my view, is to take a metaphysical and anthropological position vis-a-vis contemporary feminist/postmodernist ideology.

Foster: I could really care less what the PC movement thinks.

Blosser: Baloney. It seems to me that that is the ONLY reason you'd want to bend with the prevailing winds.  But why should anyone want to do that? 

Foster: My reasons for conscripting "he/she" generica have to do with the Gospel and my view of God's wondrous creature, woman (ISH-SHAH).

Blosser: Oh, c'mon, Edgar! Now you're sounding like Karlstadt in the 16th century, who, in his discourses attendant to his breaking his Catholic vows to marry a Catholic nun who had broken her vows (along with Luther and others), made it sound as thought Protestantism had discovered for the first time the joys of matrimony and sex!  But that's beastly, when we can see that of all the religious traditions it is only the most ancient (the Catholic) that elevated married sex to the level of a Sacrament!

Foster: Does "inclusive language" make women feel more included? It depends on the women in question and their background, both religiously and socially. I certainly know not a few non-JW women who appreciate the generica that I often--but not always-- see fit to employ.

Blosser: Well, I suppose even JW women are influenced by the prevailing "pc" culture, like everyone else. Perhaps that can't be helped. But why one should indulge those prejudices rather than seek to correct them, I can't quite understand. (I suppose that would require you to come to the conviction -- which alone has the power to animate the will -- that the current "pc" usage is inimical to the Christian Faith and Sacramental worldview.)

Foster: This is not about what JWs believe or whether one is culturally dependent or independent, IMO.

Blosser: It's not about the former; it is about the latter, in my opinion.

Foster: The motivating factor for using generica in this case is my desire to avoid perpetuating tempests in teapots. Ergo, the Weltanschauung of yours truly is "be flexible where possible, rigid where necessary." Alternatively, a good Catholic might say: DE GUSTIBUS NON DISPUTANDUM (EST).

Blosser: Yes, I understand; and I agree in principle. However, I've moved to the position in the last year that this is a place where I need to be lex flexible.

Imagine that our language was influenced by contemporary culture to move in the direction of using the term "marriage" for genital-homosexually active partnerships. Imagine that! Would you bow to the trend and call homosexually "married" couples "married"? That's the way we're headed, aren't we. The pressure is already on. I will do my best to resist it, as I will also endeavor to resist the obliteration of the generic use of masuline pronouns, which in my view offers the only accurate reflection of the "nature of things" (the order of Creation, which, as Yoder would say, makes this a "First Article" issue, meaning the first article of the Creed, which pertains to God's creation of all things, not to the second article of Fall/Redemption).

Foster: Sorry if I do not share your concern for what inclusive language might bring in the future. Is there a necessary connection between the literary or lingustic use of "he/she" or "one" and Derridean "absence of presence," or same-sex marriage, etc. At this point in time, I certainly unaware of any evidence supporting a necessary connection (i.e. entailment) between the respecting phenomena hitherto mentioned. This is not to say that a necessary connection might not be discovered one day. But, for JWs, the world has long been in a state of devolution (i.e. going downhill because of perverse practices and heinous ungodliness). Therefore, the call for same-sex marriages or the advocation of anti-foundationalism is only the "latest" form of rebellion against the Creator. As the apostle foretold in the power of the Spirit: "wicked men and impostors will advance from bad to worse, misleading and being misled" (2 Tim 3:13 NWT).

Blosser: I won't call the day or the hour of the Lord's return, since it's not mine to know; and there have been many periods of judgment and revival throughout the history of Israel and the Church, as we know. But it may well be that we are approaching That Day. If that were the case, isn't it even more important that we be circumspect about our following worldly trends, whether they are linguistic or social? The phenomenon of "d-a-t-i-n-g," for example, is something of an abomination, in my view, verging towards a consistent pattern of recreational sex. Whatever became of courtship? It's practically as dead as Nietzsche's God, as far as culture is concerned. Derridian presence/absence is only indirectly related to the issue, though there's a relation: the deconstruction of any metaphysical presence of gender. This is a long quote, but Judith Butler attempts to deconstruct gender thus:

["Here is something like a confession which is meant merely to thematize the impossibility of confession: as a young person, I suffered for a long time, and I suspect many people have, from being told, explicitly or implicitly, that what I "am" is a copy, an imitation, a derivative example, a shadow of the real. Compulsory heterosexuality sets itself up as the original, the true, the authentic; the norm that determines the real implies that "being" a lesbian is always a kind of miming, a vain effort to participate in the phantasmatic plenitude of naturalized heterosexuality which will always and only fail. And yet, I remember quite distinctly when I first read in Esther Newton's Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America that drag is not an imitation or copy of some prior and true gender; according to Newton, drag enacts the very structure of impersonation by which any gender is assumed. Drag is not the putting on of a gender that belongs properly to some other group, i.e. an act of expropriation or appropriation that assumes that gender is the rightful property of sex, that "masculine" belongs to "male" and "feminine" belongs to "female." There is no "proper" gender, a gender proper to one sex rather than another, which is in some sense that sex's cultural property. Where that notion of the "proper" operates, it is always and only improperly installed as the effect of a compulsory system. Drag constitutes the mundane way in which genders are appropriated, theatricalized, worn, and done; it implies that all gendering is a kind of impersonation and approximation. If this is true, it seems, there is no original or primary gender that drag imitates, but gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original; in fact, it is a kind of imitation that produces the very notion of the original as an effect and consequence of the imitation itself. In other words, the naturalistic effects of heterosexualized genders are produced through imitative strategies; what they imitate is a phantasmatic ideal of heterosexual identity, one that is produced by the imitation as its effect. In this sense, the "reality" of heterosexual identities is performatively constituted through an imitation that sets itself up as the origin and ground of all imitations. In other words, heterosexuality is always in the process of imitating and approximating its own phantasmatic idealization of itself—and failing. Precisely because it is bound to fail, and yet endeavors to succeed, the project of heterosexuality is propelled into an endless repetition of itself. Indeed, in its efforts to naturalize itself as the original, heterosexuality must be understood as a compulsive and compulsory repetition that can only produce the effect of its own originality; in other words, compulsory heterosexual identities, those ontologically consolidated phantasms of "man" and "woman," are theatrically produced effects that posture as grounds, origins, the normative measure of the real. (Judith Butler, "Imitation and Gender Insubordination," in David H. Richter, ed., The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, 2nd ed. (Boston: Bedford, 1998): 1519-20)."]

This is the kind of self-indulgent hooey that contemporary academe not only lets people get away with, but for which it elevates them to positions of FAME and HONOR! I'm not making the further connections that your questioning calls for at this point, but I assure you of my confidence that they can be made. In a nutshell, what we have here is an extreme expression of atomistic autonomianism (not antinomianism, though related), in open defiance against the thought that God should have made us according to some definite (in this case gendered) nature.

Foster: (1) I believe the ancients were generally mistaken in their views of human nature, especially with respect to their emphasis on the exalted state of males ...

Blosser: I believe the ancients shame us by their overwhelming insight into the fact that, first of all, we actually do have such a thing as a nature. Secondly, whatever their errors (like that of Aristotle) in viewing slaves and women as 'inferior' to free men, I believe their view errs more closely in the direction of the metaphysical-anthropological truths attested to in Scripture than in the direction of our contemporary anti-essentialist atomism.

Foster: (2) I do not believe that the Bible commits us to any particular linguistic convention when it comes to the use of generic pronouns for men and women. That is to say that while God should be called "He" or "Father" and Christ should be accorded the NOMEN "Son," the "biblical worldview" does not seem to commit us to always using "he" generically or "brothers" when we mean "he/she" or "brothers/sisters."

Blosser: First, as you recognize, we both believe that he Bible (I would say "Sacred Tradition," since I don't think the "Bible" "teaches" anything of itself) commits us to a linguistic convention when it comes to referring to God and Jesus Christ.

Second, whether we commit to accepting it, the Bible does in fact employ a traditional pattern of masculine language throughout nearly all of its books. Thus, Paul uses the term "bre-thren," even where today we may wish he had said "brothers and sisters."

Third, the reason why Paul (and others) used the term "brethren" (etc.) is that he simply assumed the traditional view that this generically included any women addressed as well. And I believe this assumption is grounded in a truth that connects #1 and #2 above, even if I can't quite spell that out for you at the moment.

Fourth, while I admit that "brothers and sisters" works just about as well in communicating the messages of Paul's letters, etc., I think that bowing to the cultural pressures in that direction are not necessarily a good or healthy thing, for reasons I've suggested already.

Foster: Granted, God is never called "she" by the Hebrews and I'd never talk about Him with feminine generic pronouns either. Nevertheless, the Bible writers do avail themselves of feminine imagery to describe the Most High God. This indicates that they were aware of the highly metaphorical or imagistic nature of masculine nomenclature for God.

Blosser: Here I would want you to be very cautious in avoiding a Tillichian-type of usage where you refer to "imagery" and "metaphor." For Tillich, if I recall him correctly, "symbols" don't have ontologically real referents. Here Tillich falls within the large nominalistic tradition stemming from the time of Berengar of Tours (ca. 1000) but surfacing decisively in the time William of Ockham (14th century). By contrast, within Catholic tradition symbols and metaphors refer to a reality beyond themselves, even if, as St. Thomas argues, the signification grasped is analogical. (Here, by the way, I'd love it if you had a copy of a book I'm reviewing by Gregory P. Rocca, O.P. (=Dominican), Speaking the Incomprehensible God (The Catholic University of America Press, 2004) because he offers one of the clearest and most sustained arguments against the typical nominalistic misunder-standings by Scotus, Suarez, Cajetan, etc., and nominalistic objections offered by Barth, Pannenberg, William L. Craig, William Alston (the latter two argue that analogical predication can't occur without an element of univocity; whereas Rocca, in my view, soundly trounces their objections).

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Is the Trinitarian tradition "pro-slavery"? (Part II)

Catholicism, let it be clear, condemned the enslavement of Africans from the inception of the practice in the 1400s. Yet there is a continuing discussion of slavery of various kinds, including slavery in ancient and Biblical times, which continues unabated. Responding to communication received from Edgar Foster along these lines (continued from an earlier discussion), the following dialogue ensued:

Foster: "I do not view all forms of slavery as "inherently sinful," though [Kevin] Giles seems to lean in that direction; in fact, he makes some pretty explicit statements that indicate his avowed opposition to enslaving human persons in any way whatsoever. However, his words must also be interpreted in their proper context."

Blosser: Discussions of this type I find exceedingly troublesome, not only because of the disturbing nature of many kinds of slavery and because of the inflammatory connotations that arise in such discussions, but because of the frequent lack -- as in Giles' case, apparently -- of defining "slavery" before discussing it.

[Blosser's earlier statement to which Foster responds below]
In that sense, I think the issue of slavery is much like three other classic issues in terms of their relationship to the Bible: (1) monagomous marriage, (2) the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, (3) the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. My hunch is that it would be very difficult to make a conclusive case for any of these from Scripture alone.
Foster: "I take exception with you concerning (1) and (2). The Bible seems to present a pretty coherent and compelling story when it comes to monogamy and the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. What makes you tend to doubt that a "conclusive case" can be made for (1) or (2) by means of Scripture alone? Would this not depend on the presuppositions,temperament as well as the volitive and cognitive functional abilities of one's interlocutor."

Blosser: I felt pretty sure you might take exception to ## 1 & 2, the reason being that you BELIEVE them and assume that your religious beliefs are derived straightforwardly from Scripture. What makes me doubt that a "conclusive case" could be made from Scripture alone? Try it. I don't think it can be done, any more than a conclusive case can be made for for exclusive adult baptism or for infant baptism from the Bible alone. If you want to really test yourself, I would again encourage you to read Mark Shea's By What Authority? which makes a strong case, in my opinion, for the claim that such beliefs can't be conclusively devended by Scripture alone, and, furthermore, mounts a case for the hypothesis that those who adhere to such beliefs are always ALREADY presupposing Catholic "Tradition" or something like it.

Foster: "Giles is a trinitarian. He is the theologian trying to make a connection -- not necessarily essential -- between slavery and the Trinity doctrine. Giles argues that Evangelicals have altered their view of the Trinity based on certain cultural presuppositions. In other words, he contends that a Christian's reading of the Bible or a Christian's formulation of doctrine is always historically conditioned. Thus, Giles maintains, orthodox Christians once thought that the three Persons of the Godhead were all ontologically and functionally equal (i.e. not subordinate with respect to the AD INTRA works of the Trinity). However, after the suffrage movement or the advent of the birth control (INTER ALIA), evangelicals began to insist that the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father, yet equal to Him as respects the one nature that they either share with the Father or are with Him. The analogy used to support such thinking, Giles points out, was the husband and wife relationship, which Giles believes is theologically innovative and not rooted in historical Trinitarian orthodoxy. The upshot of his analysis is that Christians tend to read the Bible or formulate doctrine through certain cultural lenses. Just as they changed their views on the social, familial or ecclesiastical role of women, so Christians (whether evangelicals or Catholics) have altered their beliefs or views on slavery and, by implication, the Trinity doctrine.

Blosser: Granted, the connections are being made in the first place by Giles (and that the uses to which you might put such connections are secondary); but that makes the connections no less far fetched, in my opinion. It's a truism that "cultural lenses" affect our interpretations of things. But isn't it preposterous to suggest that modern Evangelicals are behind the advent of inter-Trinitarian subordination of Persons when subordinationist battles were fought among the Patristics? Granted, it may be the case that Evangelicals have come up with new metaphors for illustrating the matter -- though I'm not at all certain of that either (nuptial imagery has a long Catholic tradition) -- but I would find any notion absurd that suggested, say, that a conception of the Trinity was responsible for slavery in America, or vice versa.

Foster: "Granted, we should avoid conflating the variegated senses of "slavery." Nevertheless, regardless of what Murray meant by "slavery," it seems clear that he lumped "black slavery" in with his comemnts about servitude being a "divine institution." And it also seems quite evident that he believed "slavery" was a result of the divine curse on Ham (See John Murray. Principles of Conduct. London: InterVarsity Press, 1957. Page 96. I am willing to revise my views of Murray, however, in the light of evidence to the contrary."

Blosser: In fairness to Murray, it would probably be charitable to clarify what is meant by "divine institution," since that expression is often used in Protestant circles for things that are often called "sacraments" by Catholics and "creation ordinances" by Calvinists. Murray clearly does not have that in mind, since he sees slavery as
an institution emanating from the fall. Like all human government, he seems to be saying, slavery is something capable of abuse, but not intrinsically wrong. That is, just as there can be just governments, there can be just and charitable slave owners -- a claim which, you will agree, is empirically testable through historical research.

Floster: "Giles particularly has in mind Greco-Roman and "black" slavery that involved no "dollars under the table" but a determination to "break" the slave by any means necessary."

Blosser: "Breaking" also needs definition. The mother of John and Charles Wesley, as a philosophy of child rearing, recommended "breaking" a child's will early in his life, without "destroying" his will, so as to
make him docile, teachable, and capable of being trained in virtue. Clearly (I hope), that's not what Giles has in mind. Perhaps something closer to "breaking a horse."

Foster: "Giles does take issue with Murray here, writing:
'Murray accepts that Scripture endorses slavery, but to safeguard himself he takes up the argument popularized by Thornwell that slavery is only the property of one man in the labor of another, not the property of man in man. This is special pleading. Slavery by definition involves owning the person and his labor.' (Giles, 221)
"That is, Giles defines slavery in terms of legal ownership; it is not simply being a nannie or servant for nobility."

Blosser: Then I think what requires further definition is "person" and "owenership." For even if one purchases a slave at the slavemarket for benifit of his work, there is a profound sense in which no man can "own" (possess, purchase, have as property) another "person" (rational soul), for a person is not a thing. That would seem to be tacitly conceded in contexts where slave owners concerned themselves with evangelizing their slaves (at least in some cases).

None of this, be it noted, makes such slavery acceptable from my point of view as a Catholic. I would even have difficulty with the idea of a servant, I'm afraid.

Foster: "Thanks for the links. I admittedly need to do more work in terms of examining the Catholic perspective on slavery, though Giles says that it too changed during the post-Enlightenment era."

Blosser: Giles may say one thing. History may say another. Centuries before the Enlightenment, the Catholic Church condemned "black slavery" as soon as it began. In 1435, six decades before Columbus sailed, Pope Eugene IV condemned the enslavement of the black natives of the Canary Islands, and ordered their European masters to manumit the enslaved within 15 days, under pain of excommunication. In 1537, Pope Paul III condemned the enslavement of West Indian and South American natives, and explicitly attributed that evil, "unheard of before now," to "the enemy of the human race," Satan. The commencement of the Enlightenment is often placed in the mid-17th century with the publication of Sir Isaac Newton's Principia.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Foster's Christology & the Trinity: Chapter 1

The first chapter of Foster's volume (the chapters are not enumerated) is entitled "Christology and the Trinity: An Exploration," like the volume itself. After reading this first chapter, I had several thoughts. First, there is no question this is a Jehovah's Witness (JW) interpretation. Particular words and passages from Scripture are invested with a significance they don't have for the mainstream of orthodox Christianity. For instance, the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is called God's "only-begotten (monogenes) Son" (Jn 1:18; 20:28-31) is tacitly assumed to support his subordinate, non-divine status and nature. The typical Nicene distinction ("begotten, not created") is not recognized.

Second, the seemingly random and gratuitous use of Latin and Greek terms and phrases, often left un-translated, not only makes for a choppy, unwieldy effect, but may leave the reader wondering what the author means and why he does this. There are places where the original Greek or Latin term can bring clarity, as when one is stating that the Persons of the Trinity have one nature (ousia). Sometimes the term is translated variously in different versions of the Nicene Creed -- as "being" or "substance" or "nature," and so forth -- and it is helpful to have the Greek original in this case. But this usage of foreign language appears to be the exception rather than the rule here. What one gets instead are un-translated references to "the divine aion prothesis" and the "Creator of ta panta," where the language, rather than illuminating, either clouds the meaning for the reader, or, if he knows Greek (in this case), adds nothing that would not have been apparent in plain English. When Foster tells us that "a Christological renovation (instauratio) is needed," it is not clear what he expects the reader to derive from the parenthetically inserted "instauration" that isn't already evident in the English "renovation." But these details are, perhaps, beside the point.

And what is the point? Well, I suppose it is Christology. And there are plenty of bones to pick with Foster as to his Christology. But it is always difficult to know how much energy to invest in picking at every little cavil about particular interpretations of Bible verses, since the difference between a JW interpretation and an orthodox Trinitarian interpretation isn't, in the final analysis, about the Bible verses themselves, but about whose tradition of interpretation one trusts and accepts. Surely there are external checks on an interpretation provided by the objective text. A legitimate interpretation cannot do violence to a text. But just as surely, the framework of interpretation that guides one's reading of Holy Scripture determines how one reads it. In the Catholic tradition, Holy Scripture is primarily received by way of hearing when it is proclaimed in and by the Church, its guardian and authoritative interpreter. It is not primarily a text book from which the reader is to deduce whatever he thinks God's requires of him by means of his own private study. The proliferation of quasi-Christian sects in the late 19th century in New England, all of which claimed in one way or another to be Christian, is itself ample testimony that Scripture, when taken out of the Church's custody, easily becomes something of a Rorschach blot that a subject may interpret nearly any way he pleases. Having said that, I suppose it is still necessary to say something -- if not everything one would like -- about various particular points, all the while keeping in mind that the issue will not be settled here.

Just a few points, then. First, in note 10 on page 8, Foster refers to the "preexistent Son of God, who was the first creation of YHWH." Thereby he asserts his JW conviction that the Son (1) is not God (i.e., "YHWH," the transliterated consonants for the Name of God, from which the Christian term "Jehovah" arose as a false reading of the name as it is written in the current Hebrew text); (2) preexisted in some form before His earthly incarnation as Jesus, and (3) is a creature. He then calls the words of Christ in Rev. 3:14 to witness, the "words ofthe Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation." These, of course, are the words the Apostle John attributes to Jesus Christ, who is called "the faithful witness" in Rev. 1:5, and JWs take Christ's reference to Himself as "the beginning of God's creation" in the verse above to indicate that Christ was created, that He is not the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, as Catholic Tradition insists, but the first creature of God.

For the sake of the argument, let us try to give this reading the benefit of a doubt. Let us try to imagine how such a reading might be devised. If found ourselves in the JW tradition in which we assumed that Christ is not divine, and if we came to this passage with this mind-set, it is not hard to see how it could be interpreted, even if perhaps out of context, as supporting the view that Christ is no more than a creature. After all, the verse has Christ referring to Himself as "the beginning of God's creation." That seems to be the literal meaning, does it not? Now the essential problem with this approach to the text is not simply that it prescinds from the greater grammatical-semiological context of the Book of Revelation, but that it occurs within a JW tradition that prescinds from the greater hermeneutical context of the authoritive interpretive tradition of the Church. The problem is not necessarily the literalism of the JW reading; although one could well ask by what standard JWs take a literal view one place and not another (for example, John 6: 53-58, where Jesus solemnly assures us that if we do not "eat the flesh of the Son of man, we have no life" in us). Rather, the immediate problem is that without the anchor of the apostolic tradition preserved by the Church, a verse (like the whole of the Bible itself) may be interpreted with apparent coherence in utterly divergent and contradictory ways. So how should Jesus' reference to Himself as "the beginning of God's creation" in Rev. 3:14 be interpreted in keeping with apostolic tradition? In what sense is Christ "the beginning"?

Certainly in one sense, Christ was the beginning of all creation in the sense the He is the principle and source of all creation. Not only was He who was in the beginning with God also Himself God, in the opening verses of the Gospel of John so hotly contested by the modern stepchildren of Arius, but the Apostle declares (in John 1:3) that "all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made." Moreover, another dimension of the reference's significance is found in Rev. 1:5, where Jesus is described as "the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead," a description reiterated in Col. 1:18, where He is also called "the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent." In this sense, Christ can be called the "beginning of God's creation" in conformity with His assertion that He "makes all things new," that is, the first-born of God's new creation. In this sense, Paul describes Christ as "the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation . . . the head of the body, the Church . . . the first-born from the dead" (Colossians 1:15, 18). As the first-born from the dead, of course, Christ is the "beginning" of God's new creation, the "first-born of all creation," as the New Adam, "the Alpha and the Omega," as Christ describes Himself in two places in the Book of Revelation itself (Rev. 1:8 and 21:6), echoing the terms used by YHWH in reference to Himself in Isaiah 44:6-- "Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no God'" (cf. Rev. 2:8).

The think I find most interesting in Foster's first chapter is the following speculation (p. 9):
"... it seems that during the post-apostolic period, several Christian believers started to speculate vis-a-vis the divine being (ontos) of Christ Jesus: 'Could Jesus be Almighty God,' they penetratingly asked with sincere wonderment. The answers that these professed followers of Christ Jesus proposed to such questions radically shaped the Christian view of our Lord for centuries to come."
Foster, of course, assumes that this is the point from which the Church's tradition diverged from the original truth of the Christian message as understood by Jehovah's Witnesses. Yet he touches upon a significant point, which is the fact that Christ's identity remained an enigma even to many of those closest to Him throughout most of the years of His earthly ministry. The post-resurrection story of the two disciples who failed to recognize Him on the road to Emmaeus is well known (Luke 24:13-32; Mk 16:12-13). But if His disciples had trouble recognizing that the resurrected Christ was the same Jesus who had walked and talked with them before His death, it likely took some time longer for the full significance of His identity as God's Son to begin to penetrate their consciousness. How and at what point it dawned upon them that Jesus, the Son of God, was an incarnation of God Himself I do not know. But it is an empirically observable fact that the full implications of an event, an idea, or a doctrine, are not immediately grasped but only apprehended gradually and over time as implications unfold. So it may have been true indeed, as Foster suggests, that at one point the Apostles may have looked at one another and asked, in astonishment, "Could Jesus be Almighty God?!!"

In the remainder of his first chapter, Foster falls into the common JW pattern of selectively singling out the NT texts in which Jesus is portrayed as subordinate to the Father (the "subordination texts"), and citing them in support of the JW contention that Jesus is not merely to be distinguished from the Father, but to be distinguished from the Father's divinity--viz., that Jesus is not God. But in doing so, Foster also follows the JW pattern of disregarding (and elsewhere explaining away) those passages that portray Jesus as equal to the Father, not as to His Person but as to His divinity (the "equality texts"). The traditional Catholic understanding of these texts, of course, is that the "subordination texts" speak to Jesus' Sonship vis-a-vis His heavenly Father, while the "equality texts" speak to His identity to His Father with respect to His divine nature.

Hence, Foster follows the traditional JW line of reasoning when he writes (p. 10):
"According to the Bible, however, Jesus is apparently not Almighty God: He is the only-begotten Son of God who is qualitatively (i.e. essentially) distinct from the Father (Mt 16:14-17; Jn 3:16; 17:3; 1 Cor 11:3; 15:24-28; Rev 21:23).
Furthermore, he goes on to single out the Gospel of John as "one Bible book that appears to contain pronouncements manifestly at odds with the Trinity doctrine." He writes (p. 10):
"For instance, the apostle John specifically indicates that the Son of God is subordinate to the Father and in fact calls Him 'My God.' More importantly, Jesus starkly addresses his Father in prayer as 'the only true God' (Jn 14:28; 17:3; 20:17).
What Foster does not address at this point is the fact that the Gospel of John has traditionally been regarded by Catholic tradition as containing among the most theologically profound attestations to the divinity of Christ found in the New Testament. Notwithstanding the fact that JWs have by now a substantial tradition of attempting to explain away these passages in the Gospel of John, often by means of the most convoluted arguments, it may be worth simply enumerating the key Johannine texts at the conclusion of this post for the convenience of future reference:
  • John 1:1 -- In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

  • John 5:18 -- This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God.

  • John 8:58-59 -- Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.

  • John 10:30 -- [Jesus said] "I and the Father are one." The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?" The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God." Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, you are gods'? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'"?

  • John 14:9 -- Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?"

  • John 20:28 -- Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"

Is Trinitarian theology essentially linked to the "pro-slavery tradition"?

My good Jehovah's Witness friend, Edgar Foster, who continues to run his arguments against Trinitarian theology by me from time-to-time, recently sent me an email containing the tacit suggestion of an argument derived from a book by Kevin Giles, The Trinity and Subordinationism (InterVarsity, 2002). Apparently, Giles suggests that the "proslavery tradition" of theological interpretation is a historical consequence of the subordinationism implicit in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Giles points out that both the Old and New Testaments accept slavery, along with the subordination of women as facts of life without direct criticism. St. Paul's discussion in the Epistle of Philemon is well known on the issue. Further, Giles notes that similar attitudes of seeming indifference to slavery can be found in the history of Christianity. Of particular interest seems to be the statements of certain evangelical Protestants during and after the period of widespread acceptance of slavery in the history of our own Republic. The following is what I said by way of reply to Foster:

First, I think you'll agree with me that a case against slavery would be very difficult to make from the Bible. This may be troubling to
those of us living in the contemporary West (I think it is), but that hardly changes things. Most of the visceral reaction we feel against slavery today comes, I think, not from our reading of the Bible, but from our own culturally-informed reading of history. I think you would agree, would you not?

In that sense, I think the issue of slavery is much like three other classic issues in terms of their relationship to the Bible: (1) monogamous marriage, (2) the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, (3) the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. (See, for example, Mark P. Shea's argument in By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition.) My hunch is that it would be very difficult to make a conclusive case for any of these from Scripture alone.

Second, I think that if you are looking for some sort of essential link between the acceptance of slavery and the belief in the doctrine of the Trinity in hopes of thereby scoring points against Trinitarians, that (1) your efforts may be successful, (2) ill-advised. First, your efforts may be successful in the way that any ad hominem attack may garner certain desired effects in an environment well-disposed to applaud your loathing of slavery (much as Michael Moore's piece of muck-raking Bush-bashing in Farenheit 911 elicited hysterical cheers from the Kerry-Edwards grandstands). But I think the approach ill-
advised precisely because it fails to rise above the level of a
circumstantial ad hominem, which means it doesn't rise to the level of an actual argument.

Third, my own opinion about slavery is that it lies somewhere in a vicinity similar to that of the death penalty. There are good reasons for opposing it, even if, strictly speaking, one finds no categorial contemnation of it (and even sometimes an apparent indifference to it, if not support for it) in Scripture. I've read the analyses of the issue by the conservative Presbyterian, John Murray, and other like him; and the primary thing I would say here is that one must be extremely careful on this subject not to assume that we know what is meant by "slavery" in the context of every author who addresses it-- any more than, say, Lutherans ought to commonly assume that they know what an "indulgence" is when they popularly make jokes about indulgences. "Slavery" covers a wide spectrum of practices from the cruelest and most morally repugnant treatment of human beings to mild forms of servitude that are still common practice, not only in homes of British nobility who still typically have servants, but among Beverly Hills Democrats who hire illegal immigrants to serve as their children's "nannies" in exchange for some dollars under the table. Not all of Giles' "especial characteristics that define slavery" define ALL slavery. For example, Giles says that "slaves are considered to be the property of other humans" and that a "slave is the 'commodity' of
another human being." John Murray, on the other hand, writes: "It is not to be concluded ... that slavery involves the property of man in man.... The fact appears to be, rather, that slavery is the property of man in the LABOUR of another." (Principles of Conduct, p. 97).

Fourth, although the Catholic Church has a record of staunch opposition to the institution of chattel slavery, again, I doubt whether the case against this form of slavery can be made readily from Scripture alone. Rather, a solid case can be made only on the basis of Sacred Tradition and natural law (though some Catholics have also tried to supplement their arguments from Scripture). Excellent discussions of the issue can be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia articles on "Slavery and Christianity" (excellent historical overview) and "Ethical aspect of slavery" (a moral/theological analysis).

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The doctrine of Christ's divinity challenged

My good friend, Edgar Foster, the author of Christology and the Trinity (see the previous post, below, from June 3, 2004), has been corresponding with me about the subject of his book. As a Jehovah's Witness (JW), he questions the traditional Catholic teaching on the divinity of Christ, as did the ancient Arians of the 4th and 5th centuries. Foster (whose remarks I will render in blue) begins by summing up our recent discussion as follows:

Foster: I know that the original point of an argument can sometimes be lost after a number of emails, so I'm going to take the time to refresh your memory, in order that it will be clear why I answered you as I did. First, you argued that only God has the prerogative to forgive the sins that humans commit against other humans or against God. Second, you said that Scripture contains multiple "attestations" to Jesus' divinity, even if it does not explicitly call him "God," though I am aware that you believe there are explicit references to Christ's divinity in Holy Writ. But my point was that Matthew does not indicate that one should infer Jesus is Almighty God (the second Person of the Trinity) because he healed the paralytic and pardoned his sins (as qualified above). Rather, the Matthean narrative suggests that Christ was a man (Acts 2:22) invested with great authority by God, rather than being God himself. Other texts, such as Jn 5:26-27, indicate that Christ can and could forgive sins because he is/was the God-appointed Son of Man (somewhat akin to the exalted figure in 1 Enoch), not God Himself. Whatever "attestations" one may see in Scripture with respect to the divinity of Christ, Mt 9:7-8 certainly does not appear to be one of such "attestations."

Blosser: I don't recall having tried to build a case for the divinity of Christ from any of these aforementioned texts. Your earlier summary of the points I was making about the multiple attestations of His divinity through the divine prerogative of forgiving sins, and so forth, are accurate, as far as I can see. Not only do I think that a case cannot be made for Christ's divinity from these verses you cite, but I can well imagine that not even those in the crowds present at the healing in Matt. 9:7-8 may have all inferred His divinity from His miracles. Their awe at God's mercy was probably evident; but I don't think they necessarily all inferred that this man, Jesus, was also Himself God. That was a discovery that probably didn't dawn on many of them for some time, and then only as a gradual process, as you suppose (though you would certainly not call it a "discovery," but rather some sort of "construction").

Foster: There are a couple of problemata that I discern with your divinity-humanity denial argument. First, if I remember correctly, the Gnostics (as a social movement) may or may not have been around in the first century. Thus, while it is often thought that John was doing spiritual battle with the Gnostics in his Epistles, the Johannine text does not explicitly say who John's opponents were. Second, if John was opposing the Gnostics as you say (which I don't necessarily disagree with), I think it is somewhat misleading to contend that the Gnostics did not deny his "divinity." The fact is that the Gnostics did not believe that Christ was "divine" in the strongest sense of the term (Professor Dale Tuggy makes a helpful distinction between being "divine" in a strong or weaker sense in his online papers on the Trinity). That is, they (i.e. the Gnostics) did not think that Christ was God (with a capital 'G'). As you noted, the Gnostics thought that the Creator/creature chasm could not be bridged. Therefore, Godself [...]

Blosser: O HEAVEN HELP US!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NOT THAT

Foster: [...] could not literally reside among men and women. Instead, the Gnostics contended that God sent a salvific agent to redeem all of the "elect" who are capable of knowing the divine through self-knowledge. And even this agent only appeared to be human.

Blosser: Fair enough. The Gnostics are a mixed bag. For the most part they were dualists, and so would have recognized two co-eternal divine principles or beings. So the notion of THE God of monotheism would be excluded anyhow. My main point was that earliest heretics had trouble with the notion of Christ's humanity, rather than His divinity, and therefore the earliest of the Catholic Church's creeds, the Apostle's Creed, emphasizes His HUMANITY (as does the Apostle John (both in his Gospel and First Epistle), rather than His divinity, which would later surface as a locus of concern.

Foster: You're right; the Israelites did not know that Christ was a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. But my statements here constituted a reply to your argument that only God has the prerogative to forgive sins (commited against other humans and presumably against God). I was trying to show, as EP Sanders states, why Jesus did not have to be God in the flesh in order to pardon errors. He forgave sins in his capacity as High-Priest. I.e., he was God's priest-designate while he subsisted in the flesh.

Blosser: That's a very good argument, but I'm not sure that it works. It's true that a high priest can forgive sins. For that matter any priest can forgive sins. My priest absolves me of my sins when I go to confession. So it's true that one doesn't have to be God to forgive sins committed against third parties. So you score on that point. Yet it ordinarily makes not sense for one human being to forgive another of sins he's committed against a third party. To do so he needs divinely-conferred authority of the sort exercised by those upon whom Jesus
conferred (after breathing or sending the Holy Spirit upon them) the power of "binding and loosing." This authority isn't something just anyone possesses, but only those upon whom the authority has been gifted. Furthermore, this authority is exercised only within the context of a formal sacramental rite--a covenantal transaction involving confession, sacrifice, absolution and penance. This follows in the OT tradition of forgiveness being tied to a "sin offering." Without the shedding of blood, "there is no remission"; etc. In the OT, the blood was that of animals. But as the writer of the Book of Hebrews makes clear, there is no value in the blood of animals, as such. The value of these OT sacrifices was by way of sacramental participation in the Precious Blood of Christ, which alone possesses the infinite value necessary to atone for man's sins against the infinitely Holy God. But on the basis of what sacramental (covenantal) transaction did Jesus go about forgiving the sins of third parties if he was only a human "High Priest"? Did he offer any animal sacrifices? One could speak of His own sacrifice (ancicipatorily), but His own Blood that hadn't been shed yet. How would it have made any sense for Him to forgive the sins of third parties on the basis of His own anticipated sacrifice then? Further, if he was anything less than the divine Son of God, how would His own sacrifice have paid for the transgressions of mankind against the infinitely Holy God? (Can one help but think here of St. Anselm's Cur Deus Homo?)

Foster: (1) The NT does not support the notion of a "ministerial priesthood." We've been through this before, though I'm now reading Sullivan's From Apostles to Bishops and I'm even more convinced now that there were no "priests" or parishes in the first century ecclesia.

Blosser: The NT does indeed support the fact of a ministerial priesthood, even if contemporary theologians, Protestant or papist, buy into the post-Kantian historical-critical categories of historical skepticism that lead them to suggest that virtually nothing of the Christian Faith as we know it can be reconstructed from the "historical data" of the NT. I'm dismayed that even Catholic theo-imbecil-ogians have bought into that phenomenal-noumenal, fact-value bi-frick-cation that leaves them skeptical about anything pertaining to empirical-historical facts. But Kant is dead, and his philosophical constructions are refutable, and the biblical data are rife with plenty of examples of priests (presbyteroi). Ignatius attests to it. Didache attests to it. It's nutty to question it.

Foster: (2) I'll do some research and get back to you today or tomorrow, but I'm fairly certain that Israel did not have a clergy/laity distinction, even though they had priests. One can't retroject Catholic concepts into the OT either. :-)

Blosser: Give me a break, my friend. If they had priests, they had non-priests. That's a distinction. Priesthood and people: that's clergy and laity.

Foster: (3) I think I earlier pointed out that the entire nation of Israel constituted a "potential" priesthood to and for God. This proposition is supported by verses found in Exodus and Isaiah (Exod 19:5-6; Isa 61:5-6).

Blosser: I never disputed that, nor would I. Just as I wouldn't dispute that the whole Ecclesia that constitutes New Israel is a "potential" priesthood to and for God. That doesn't eliminate the ministerial priesthood. Isn't that called the logical fallacy of division?

Foster: I believe that your explanation violates Ockham's principle of parsimony. Christ could have forgiven sins without being God in an ontological sense. The only thing required for him to pardon error was the divine investment of authority as the Shaliach of YHWH since one ancient Jewish principle was, "The one sent is as the one sending him." In other words, the envoy *legally* represents the one sending him forth. Therefore Christ (as the Shaliach of YHWH) could absolve human sins based on his position as God's High Priest and eschatological Judge. The Matthean narrative of the paralytic shows that God gave a man (not a God-man) the authority on earth to forgive sins.

Blosser: Yes, but the "one sent" in the Bible is always in possession of certifying credentials. One can't just appoint himself "one sent" and expect to speak for God. The rebellion of Korah (Number 16) makes that clear. In each instance, God's representative must await lawful ordination before God blesses his efforts and the latter is entitled to speak for God. (To do justice to this notion of lawful appointment-- either directly by God or by a lawfully delegated human representative-- I would need to go into far more detail than I have time for here, so I am counting on your indulgence of this point: if it is contested, I will simply have to go gather my sources and give you the
further data you need.)

Let me try to simplify: under the Mosaic covenant, God gave Israel the Levitic priesthood for the ongoing administration of His people. It was through these delegates that the means were prescribed for the Israelites to live and worship in a manner prescribed by God and therefore pleasing to God; and it was through these delegated priests that God prescribed for the Israelites the manner in which their sins were to be forgiven by God. This required various rites, including a sin offering, washing, purification, sorrow and penance, etc. (One thinks of Yom Kippur.) These prescribed patterns were in force down to
the time of Christ. Jesus and His parents are recounted as having went up to Jerusalem to fulfill various prescribed rites of the Old Covenant. Jesus Himself was subject, or subjected Himself, to these requirements, "that all might be fulfilled." A priest could forgive the sins of an Israelite against a third party because he was delegated by God and God's lawful delegates to excercise this authority in God's name.

The question concerns Jesus' authority. Now a traditional Catholic such as myself recognizes (probably even more than a JW, in this case) that Jesus has authority because he sees that authority as DIVINE. But we're talking about a case in which, as a JW would insist, Christ's authority is not divine. You're wanting to argue that Christ could forgive by virtue of delegated authority from Jehovah God. To argue that case, you have to establish two other things: (1) that Christ's authority was not itself divine as proper to His own divine nature, but a DELEGATED authority from God understood as other than Christ; and (2) that Christ had the authority to exercise that delegated authority independently of the lawfully instituded forms of religious authority in existence in His own day.

But I don't think you can make either case. First, could Jesus have claimed no more than DELEGATED authority from God? This may seem plausible, inview of His frequent deference to the Father (often designated, as JWs like to point out, as simply "God"). But the JW answer may not be as easily supportible as first supposed. For one thing, Jesus not only claimed to be "Lord of the Sabbath" (Mk 12:8; Lk 6:5; Mk 2:28), but authority over the Torah (Mt 5: 22, 27, 32, 34, 39). Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus: God and Man, tr. L. Wilkins and D. Priebe (2nd ed., Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977) writes:
"Jesus set his EGO against and above the authority of Moses himself, without any kind of justification. However, the authority above Moses himself, which Jesus here claims forhimself, can be none other than the authority of God. Thus ... Jesus makes himself the spokesman for God himself." (p. 56, cf. p. 251)
Could Jesus have claimed to have this divine authority not because of being God, but merely as a delegate, as a JW may suggest here? William G. Most, in his volume, The Consciousness of Christ (Front Royal, VA: Christendom Publications, 1980), notes that the Jewish cultural horizon of the times (the SITZ-IM-LEBEN, if you will) "did not envision any delegated authority that could change the Torah, as is evident from Mk 2:7 (a claim to forgiveness of sins apart from Torah procedures was considered a claim to divinity by the scribesand Pharisees). Hence this claim of Jesus must have expressed a conscious claim to divinity." (p. 82)

William Most continues:
"Further, if His human mind registered only a belief that He had delegated authority, where would it get such a notion? If it was by revelation, why would God have made a special revelation that wa so incomplete? If the notion came from a vague self-perception, how substantive was it? To be a prophet, even to be a Moses, would not give rational grounds for the power of modifying the Sabbath. It was strictly unheard of. Really, there could be no earthly justificatin. The human intellect of Jesus would have been deluded in formalizing so unheard of a revolution with no authorization. We conclude: His human intellect operated in harmony with His divinity." (pp. 82-83)
Moreover, as I have noted, Jesus claimed authority to forgive sins; and there is something quite extraordinary about this. E.g., seeing a paralytic let down through the roof before Him, Jesus said (Mk 2:1-12; Lk 5:17-26; Mt 9:2-8): "My son, your sins are forgiven." His miracle of healing, here as oftentimes, was administered with an absolution of sins. The extraordinary nature of His declaration of absolution can be seen from the reaction of those present: the scribes and Pharisees murmured in their hearts: "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Then, knowing their thoughts, Jesus responds: "Why question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk.'"

William Most comments:
"It is as if Jesus had said: 'If I say, your sins are forgiven,' no one can check that. But if I say, 'Get up and walk, anyone can verify it.' So Jesus cured the man. All three Synoptics add ... 'But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, he said to the paralytic ....'

"... The presence of this connection is of prime importance. If they were genuine miracles, the power came from God. For various reasons God might do such for a good pagan. But he could not provide miraculous power if it were used to prove a lie. The scribes consider that claim a claim to divinity. We grant that sins could be forgiven by a delegated power. But the scribes did not see that possibility (see verse 7). Hence, in that concrete situation, the miracle was used to prove a claim understood as a claim to divinity. God could not have supported such a claim by confirming it with a miracle if it were false. Jesus, therefore, did show an understanding of His own divinity on this occasion." (p. 83)
Foster: I am not saying that just anyone could become a priest. My point is that the priests in ancient Israel did not constitute a clergy class in the minds of the people who benefited from their expiatory or propitiatory services at the temple since they did not make use of such conceptual categories.

Blosser: I think you may be begging the question here. Not only is the case proved by Korah's rebellion (Numbers 16), where Korah and his supporters tried to usurp the prerogatives of the Lord's anointed (Moses and Aaron), overstepping their assigned places in the economy of the divine administration allotted to Israel at that time. It is demonstrated also by the divine formation of the Levitical priesthood and the numerous qualifications that had to be met (even if one was a Levite) to serve as a priest. How could it be said that there was no distinction between priests and non-priests in the mind of Israelites?

Foster: At the risk of sounding cocky or a wee bit "cheeky," I want to go on record as saying that God's name is almost certainly NOT represented in the OT as being "I Am" or "I Am That I Am." The NWT renders Exod 3:14, "I SHALL PROVE TO BE WHAT I SHALL PROVE TO BE" or "I SHALL PROVE TO BE" (Capital letters are used in the original). I also do not think that the relevant passages in deutero-Isaiah use the EGW EIMI formula as a form of the divine name either; nor is this formula employed as a divine circumlocution or periphrasis in Isaiah.

Blosser: Here it appears that JW scholarship follows the best scholarly traditions of Protestant historical critics. Granted, these folks have done some laudible work-- even Kittel, despite his having been one of the two leading Nazi theologians, produced an enduring legacy in his NT dictionary. Having said that, the fact remains that nearly all of its conclusions--including is so-called "historical," as opposed to "metaphysical," interpretation of YHWH-- is debatable and continues to be contested. The same is true of the several JW claims enumerated above. For that reason, I'm glad that your "cheekiness" is tempered by the caution of your qualifications ("... almost certainly ..."; etc.).

You state that God's name is represented in the OT as being "I Am" or "I Am That I Am." In its article on "Jehovah," the Catholic Encyclopedia offers a detailed analysis of the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) in Part II ("Meaning of the Divine Name"). The scholarship goes far beyond what I am competent to assess, drawing on Targums and various ancient and modern sources. The analysis offered of Ex., iii, 6-16 is particularly interesting, showing how God returns three times to the determination of His name. I can't go into this beyond noting that in the second instance, the Septuagint's translation of the passage in which God answers Moses' question as to what to tell Pharaoh if he asks who sent him, and the Septuagint translators render God's answer and tell Moses to say to Pharaoh that "HO ON sent me to you." Of course, this is a mere detail and there is much more.

Again, you state that the JW translation renders Exod 3:14, "I shall prove to be what I shall prove to be" or "I shall prove to be" (Capital letters are used in the original). The Catholic Encyclopedia article considers a variation of that in conjunction with the question whether YHWH is the imperfect HIPHIL or the imperfect QAL, which might lead it to be rendered something like "He Who brings into existence," "He Who causes to arrive," or "He who realizes His promises." However, this interpretation is rejected preciely in the case of Ex. 3:14, and the authors insist that there is no trace in Hebrew of a HIPHIL form of the verb "to be." As yet uncontaminated by historical-critical currents of Liberal Protestantism, these authors conclude their lengthy analysis in Part II thus:
"Since then the Hebrew imperfect is admittedly not to be considered as a future, and since the nature of the language does not force us to see in it the expression of transition or of becoming, and since, moreover, early tradition is quite fixed and the absolute character of the verb hayah has induced even the most ardent patrons of its historical sense to admit in the texts a description of God's nature, the rules of hermeneutics urge us to take the expressions in Ex., iii, 13-15, for what they are worth. Jahveh is He Who Is, i.e., His nature is best characterized by Being, if indeed it must be designated by a personal proper name distinct from the term God (Revue biblique, 1893, p. 338). The scholastic theories as to the depth of meaning latent in Yahveh (Yahweh) rest, therefore, on a solid foundation. Finite beings are defined by their essence: God can be defined only be being, pure and simple, nothing less and nothing more; not be abstract being common to everything, and characteristic of nothing in particular, but by concrete being, absolute being, the ocean of all substantial being, independent of any cause, incapable of change, exceeding all duration, because He is infinite: "Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, . . . who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty" (Apoc., i, 8)."
Foster: [Quoting H.O.J. Brown:] "In pre-Christian Judaism, the expression 'Son of God,' like 'Messiah' or 'Christ,' did not imply deity. A man's son is human like his father, but a 'Son of God,' in Jewish usage, is simply a man or an angel who fully does the will of God."

Blosser: Of course all men (generic) are "Sons of God," upon whom the Father sends rain and sunshine indiscriminately. We're also all "Sons of Adam" and "Daughters of Eve," etc. But there are also unique senses in which the term can be used: otherwise the centurion's words would have had no particular significance when he declared "Truly this was the Son of God," because if you had been standing at the foot of the cross, he might well have been saying it about you, or John, or the repentant theif, even. We've been through this before as well, and I have no desire to rehearse the entirety of it here.

Foster: Do you actually think that the Roman centurion recognized Jesus as "the Son of God," just like that?

Blosser: That would depend on what you thought he meant by "Son of God," of course.

Foster: Did he abandon his polytheistic worldview and express faith in the one God of Israel and His only-begotten Son?

Blosser: What makes you suppose he had to be a polytheist? There were quite a number of Roman soldiers among the occupying forces in Palestine who accepted the monotheistic
religion of their Jewish subjects. Either way, the point is moot. The significant point is that he obviously took Jesus to be someone extraordinary, not simply a "son of God" in the same sense that all men are "sons of God"; for he was emphatic. Whereas his statement wouldn't have elicited the slightest attention in polytheistic and pantheistic India, it did within the Palestinian context. That's significant.

Foster: I tend to doubt that the centurion's words should be understood this way, though I do not want to conflate the various senses of hUIOS either. But, syntactically, there is a good chance that the centurion did not declare that Christ was "the Son of God." Rather, Matthew records him saying, "LEGONTES ALHQWS QEOU hUIOS HN hOUTOS."

The [Jehovah's Witnesses'] NWT [New World Translation] renders this portion of Matthew 27:54: "Certainly this was God's Son." IMO, we could also translate this verse as follows: "Certainly this was *a* son of God."

Blosser: I agree that this would be a possible translation. I agree that it's even possible the centurion was a Roman polytheist. In this case, he may have been asserting no more than that he perceived Jesus to be an extraordinary holy man or some such thing. It's no less possible gramatically to translate the Greek as "THE Son of God," and to suppose the centurion in some way recognized Christ's divinity. The case can't be settled by reference to a text in isolation from the whole of Tradition (including the rest of Scripture).

Foster: [Quoting H.O.J. Brown again:] "A 'Son of God' is, of course, distinct from God, and the word 'Son' suggests both a later origin and a lesser dignity.

Blosser: Unless that Son happens to share the divinity and divine nature of His Father; in which case his "Sonship" and "subordination" in the economy of the Holy Trinity can hardly be adduced as evidence against His equality in nature with the Father (Nicea: ". . . begotten, not created . . .").

Foster: Sharing the "divine nature" of the Father does not entail that a Son of God possesses all divine properties in common with the Father (cf. 2 Pet 1:4). Additionally, if the subordination of the Son is ontological or immanent (AD INTRA) rather than economic or AD EXTRA, then the supposed equality of the Son with the Father is severely compromised. Some Trinitarians even argue that any form of Trinitarian subordination, with the exeception of incarnational subordination, dangerously implies that the Son is inferior to the Father. Both Millard Erickson and Kevin Giles proffer this argument. Indeed, it does seem very difficult to understand how the Son--per his putative divine OUSIA--can be subordinate to God as Son.

Blosser: First, of course it is true that Christians share in the "divine nature" of the Father as specified by 2 Pet 1:4 without themselves becoming God; just as, according to St. Athanasius, God became man in Christ without ceasing to be God. The manner in which Christ shares the Father's divine nature, accordingly, is rather different from the manner in which a Christian shares in it. Nor do I see how the subordination of the Son to the Father in any way compromises His equal divinity. Why think that? Why can't one be subordinate to another in one sense while being equal in another?