Critiques & Controversies: July 2003 Archives

More on Private Revelations


More on Private Revelations

I find this strain of Catholicism detailed below disturbing.

The Seven Our Fathers
and Hail Marys

In a private revelation to Saint Bridget, Our Lord revealed a devotion to honour His Holy Wounds and Precious Blood. It was a daily recital of seven Our Fathers and seven Hail Marys for twelve years:

"Know that I will grant the following five graces to those who recite every day for twelve years (or until their death, should they die before):

1. They will avoid Purgatory.

2. They will be numbered amongst the martyrs, as though they had shed their blood for the faith.

3. I will maintain the souls of three of their children (or relatives) in a state of sanctifying grace.

4. The souls of their relatives, up to four generations, will avoid Hell.

5. They will know the date of their death one month in advance."

This revelation was confirmed by Pope Innocent X who added that a soul will be released from Purgatory on Good Fridays through this devotion.

There are so many disturbing things about this that I don't know where to begin. Let's start with, I miss a day in year seven--do I start all over again, is everything undone? Next, it sounds too much like sympathetic magic. Say these words under these conditions for so many days/months/years and these events will transpire. Would anyone know if they did not?

This is the kind of thing that sends our Protestant brethren shrieking out of the room, and I have to say rightfully so. It may be true, but why would the souls of my relatives be kept from Hell? Do I violate their free will by my recitation of these prayers? Let's just say that it makes no sense to me. I think the habit of saying seven Our Fathers and seven Hail Marys may be a very good thing indeed to cultivate, so long as they are said reverently and with attention to what one is doing. So, for those who are following this rubric, I'm not faulting the praying of these prayers, but I just have to wonder about some of these oddities that crop up.

On the same site is the following:

An efficacious means of obtaining favors from Heaven is to assist at Holy Mass and pray the Stations of the Cross for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, by Susan Tassone, daily for 33 consecutive days for the poor souls in honor of Our Lord's 33 years He spent on earth. What a marvelous Summer Devotion for the Holy Souls.

Now, I have nothing against the Stations of the Cross or praying them for thirty-three days. But what about reading scripture for at least one-half hour every day (under the usual conditions) with is the grant of a plenary indulgence. I understand the same holds true for the public recitation of the Rosary (under the usual conditions). There are a great many very efficacious prayers that don't involve some arcane set of repetitions or extravagant promises. I really don't know what to make of this strain of Catholic thinking. I guess it is a place where I have remained mostly resolutely protestant. I believe in purgatory and I believe int he efficacy of those prayers outlines in the Enchiridion of Ingulgences (1967--I think). And I try to observe these practices, most particularly for individuals who I know who have lost family members. I need to make a more universal practice of them as well, but . . .

Oh well, let's just say that this strain of thinking doesn't compute in my very faulty circuits. I'd love to hear from those who either are more attached to these devotions or who have a better understanding that I do of what all of this means.

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Private Revelations I found this


Private Revelations

I found this article at the revived TCR very helpful and food for much thought. Many have recently made much of the vision of Anne Catherine Emmerich and having read some of these myself, I don't quite know what to make of them. They strike me in turn as appalling, wonderful, hideous, and dangerous. There is much there to foster faith, but much also that could prove difficult to one whose faith is not mature. So as always, I urge caution when dipping into the works of even the very highest most recommended visionary, but utter abandon in imitating their deep devotion to Christ.

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The Blog Moves On, but Discussion Continues

The difficulty of a blog is that posts keep moving down the line, but sometimes discussion is not over. Forgiveness and its conditions continues to be a source of reflection and thought--at least in the comments box.

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Always Desiring to be of Service


Always Desiring to be of Service

to the less irenic among us, Timothy McVeigh:Where is He Now? is guarenteed to produce apoplexy in some. But it is quite thought-provoking, and the site itself seems quite worthwhile.

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On the Young Earth


On the Young Earth

This started as a response to a comment, but grew too long and too interesting to confine to the comment box. I thank Mr. Culbreath for bringing it up. At the end of a comment below Mr. Culbreath comments, "No one has even said that the Bible tells us the age of the earth. Saying that the biblical record -- that which is recorded as history and was understood as history by Our Lord and the Apostles and the Fathers until the Age of Darwin -- is a reliable guide to the approximate age of the earth is not to concoct scientific theories. It is to give science a necessary starting point, that is all. Sedimentation rates, the fossil record and the rest of it are in fact more comprehensible in a young earth scenario and are not obstacles."

I appreciate your point of view and respectfully demur. Simply the fluid dynamics of what you suggest would entail catastrophic floods--and by this I mean floods that would cover continents every single year to a depth of about 10 meters or more. Unless one posits that the Lord chose to create rocks with fossils in them already--which, while possible, is suggestive in ways that I don't care to contemplate.

Take one example--the Permian sequence of the Glass Mountains of Texas, is on the order of 2 km thick. If we postulate an age of about 6000 years for the Earth (young earth) and say a modest 1,000 years for full incorporation of the sediment into rock, we have 2000 meters of rock deposited in 5,000 years. This yields about .4 meters of sediment per year, or about a foot and a half a year. This Permian sequence resembles modern reef formations. Reefs do not even grow at this rate. Moreover, reefs generally grow in areas with little or no sedimentation--they contain photosynthetic algae that require sunlight to survive. So sedimentation rates along reefs are very low, generally consisting of the disintegration of calciferous algae into constituent components.

The principle of uniformitarianism (by the way developed in large part by Niels Stensen, also known as Steno, Bishop of Münster and presently beatified) suggests that the processes we observe on earth today are a good guide to how these same processes occurred on the Earth in the past--both in terms of rate and activity.

I honestly do not see how a "young Earth" solves any of the difficulties I point out. Further, I do not read the principle of Inerrancy as setting any agenda for science.

I know we disagree on this matter and we will continue to do so. I do not really hope to convince you, and I feel no need to. As you very rightly pointed out in your own location--it isn't a matter of doctrine. If the field you work in does not require resolution of the seeming discrepancies, there is no reason not to hold a young earth theory. Speaking practically, it is may be faith enhancing, but its implications are meaningless of the rest of one's life. That is, other than concurrence with the Bible, it little matters how old the Earth is as one goes about one's daily activities. However, having worked in Palaeontology for quite some time, I know the full nature and extent of the problem and must admit to some aggravation when a person tells me about how much simpler the young Earth theory makes everything.

All of this said, I may misunderstand what you mean by "young Earth." On your blog you state categorically, "Corollary B: The biblical genealogies refer to real people and real events." One must assume that these genealogies also refer to "real durations." (It is a corollary to the inferred working definition of inerrancy.) On that basis one can give a very good approximation of the age of the Earth and the Bishop Ussher chronologies of the seventeenth century did precisely that. Using precisely this data Bishop Ussher estimated the age of the Earth at about 6,000 years. Even multiplying this a thousand times gives rise to the same difficulties outlines above.

I do not believe that the Bible sets an agenda for the faithful scientist. I DO believe the Bible to be absolutely inerrant in all that it teaches. Both of these positions may be held simultaneously with no inherent problem.

I also believe that we both seek the truth in the matter--a truth that will not be revealed in its fullness until we have "Crossed the Bar." I welcome the diversity of opinion under the banner of Charity. Sometimes I have to chill myself from cross-eyed apoplexy before charity can rule. It is an important exercise of a Christian vocation. Thank you for reminding me of that duty.

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Inerrancy and Accuracy


Inerrancy and Accuracy

The better part of charity forbade me from responding on an individual blog, and particularly from responding before I had gathered the correct information. Having seen evidence for a young Earth cited at one place, I went on to look at other locations that supported a Catholic view of a young Earth. One of the principle supports for the view of a young earth was an understanding of Biblical inerrancy that I believe to be faulty. Just as understanding papal infallibility is facilitated by proper definition, I thought I would throw this open to all and sundry.

The explanation of inerrancy that I have read goes something like this: "The bible contains nothing that was known by the author at his time and in his place to be untrue (there are no deliberate untruths in it). However, there are things that appear to modern eyes and modern study as errors, they cannot be so adjudged because the authors at the time of the composition of the Bible did not have access to this information.

Here is one view of the matter from Fr. Matteo.

The Catholic Dictionary of Theology article on inerrancy says (vol. 3, p. 99): "Leo XIII, by citing the sentence of Augustine that the Holy Ghost did not intend to teach men the inner constitution of matter as it was in no way profitable to salvation, had marked out a line of solution which could be followed in questions of physical science. The inspired writers were not miraculously brought up to date with their science but spoke according to the knowledge available at the time."

In his encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, 42, Pius XII wrote: "In many cases in which the sacred authors are accused of some historical inaccuracy or of the inexact recording of some events ... a knowledge and careful appreciation of ancient modes of expression and literary forms and styles will provide a solution to many of the objections made against the truth and historical accuracy of Holy Scripture." In these words the Pope implied the necessity and validity of the work of textual criticism and the observance of literary genera.

In Letter 82:1, Augustine remarks: "If I come upon anything in the Scripture which seems contrary to the truth, I shall not hesitate to consider that it is no more than a faulty reading of the manuscript, or a failure of the translator to hit off what his text declared, or that I have not managed to understand the passage."

Pius XII (D.A.S., 47) is not afraid to suggest that some absurdities may remain forever. And Augustine (Letter 149:34) humorously remarks that God put these obscurities in the Bible to make the work of scholars meritorious!

Was there only one, or were there two cleansings of the Temple? There are weighty arguments on both sides--none of them can be called "crazy"--but a fairly sensible suggestion is made by W. Leonard: "(The cleansing of the Temple) did indeed occur ... where John places it. The reason why the synoptic gospels place it at the end may be that Mark and Luke in general follow the arrangement of Matthew which is logical rather than chronological, and which accordingly groups all incidents connected with Jerusalem under the last Jerusalem visit.

From Father Conway, 1929:


Do Catholics regard the Bible as absolutely inerrant? Is not the Bible incorrect on scientific matters? Ares there not many errors and contradictions to be found is the text of both the Old and New Testaments?

Yes, it is an article of faith that the Bible is inerrant, i. e. it contains no formal error. As God is the Author of the Bible it must needs be true. "Inspiration," says Pope Leo, "not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily, for it is impossible that God, thus Supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church" (Encyc. Providentissimus Deus).

1. We cannot restrict inspiration to certain parts only of this Bible, as Cardinal Newman held in his theory about the unimportance of "obiter dicta" (XIX Century, February, 1884).

2. We cannot restrict inspiration to faith and morals alone.

3. We do not look for precise scientific formulas in the Bible for it does not teach science ex professo. Nothing in its page: contradicts the teachings of natural science, because the same God is the author of natural and supernatural truth. But the sacred writers generally speak of scientific matters in more or less figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time they wrote.

4. May Catholics hold the theory of "implicit quotations," i. e., may they set aside a certain passage on the supposition that the sacred writer is merely copying what he finds in some historical record, without thereby guaranteeing its veracity? Yes says the Biblical Commission (February 13, 1905), if solid reasons exist for believing that there really is a quotation, and that the sacred writer does not really intend to commit himself to what he quotes.

5. We must remember that the Bible on its material side is a human document handed down to us in a human way. Therefore we naturally expect to find in each succeeding copy or version material variations, additions, omissions and other errors with which critical scholarship has to grapple. St. Augustine mentions this in a letter to St. Jerome: "When in the pages of Sacred Writ I come upon anything that is contrary to the truth, I judge that the text is faulty, that the translator did not strike the right meaning, or simply that I do not understand it" (Letter to St. Jerome, lxxxii., 3).

6. The poetic imagery and symbolism in both the Old and New Testament, in the Prophets, the Psalms, the Apocalypse, is to be understood figuratively. But "this exuberant symbolism must not be conceived as supplanting reality, but as supporting it, as bringing out its full reality, not so much to our prosaic selves, as to the Orientals for whom so much of it was primarily written" (The Bible, Its History, 159).

It seems clear from these quotes that we are not to regard Holy Scripture as an astrophysics textbook, nor are we to look for complete, concise scientific theories of much of anything within it. Nevertheless, the bible is completely free from all error--so then what is one to make of Adam and Eve and the young Earth? It seems as though certain pockets of Catholicism have become contaminated with an unseemly literalism that has never been the fullness of the understanding of the Church. There is a legitimate debate as to what comprises figurative language. And it seems reasonable to talk about the multiple possible interpretations of Genesis. But even at the time of Leo XIII, it seemed fairly evident that the Church was well aware of seeming contradictions between science and faith. And they are only seeming contradictions. When Scripture is interpreted absolutely literally, you are stuck with contradictions that cannot be resolved--even in simple rhetorical matters. Look at the book of proverbs--"These three things are abomibable to God, yeah these four things earn His wrath." Read it literally, and you're stuck with contradiction.

The choice to believe a literal interpretation of Genesis is up to the individual; however, the attempt to construct a science from it is a serious error of judgment. To attempt to build a young-earth science involves so many contradictions in the scientific record that it calls into doubt the credibility of the persons arguments in favor of the Faith that they have which is true. It also raises very troubling questions of rates of sedimentation, the plethora of fossils and why they would be there, etc.

No, one can believe in absolute inerrancy--which until I understood it correctly I rejected--and in modern scientific method. They are not contradictory, nor do they teach the same things. Gould referred to nonoverlapping magisteria--I don't know that I buy his full argument, but I do side with St. Robert Bellarmine, or at least the quote attribute to him, "The Bible does not tell us how the heavens go, but how to go to Heaven."

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Forgiveness and Repentence


Forgiveness and Repentence

Elsewhere I have been engaged in a discussion regarding the necessity of repentence for forgiveness. My correspondent has insisted that it is a necessary prerequisite of even human forgiveness. I wonder. I will readily acknowledge that repentence is, as it were, a "condition" of Divine forgiveness (though I happen to believe that God will do everything possible to encourage and foster that repentence--so I imagine does my correspondent.) My correspondent very rightly points out that there are those who will choose not to receive this grace. And unless I am a Calvinist I cannot posit irresistable grace (isn't that the I in T.U.L.I.P.?). As a practical point I wonder how many do resist it, but I will leave that for the moment so as to not try the patience of my correspondent.

My question is, "Does human forgiveness require that the recipient express repentence?" Or perhaps, "Under Christian obligation does human forgiveness require repentence?" Now, my correspondent, Mr. D'Hippolito asserts:

Forgiveness is provisional upon repentance. I rest my case upon Luke 17: 3-4: "Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day and returns to you seven times saying, 'I repent,' forgive him." (emphases mine)

And this is correct. And yet. . . I look to the rest of the "book" written by God--all of the subsequent history of His Saints, and we see there innumberable examples of Saints who have forgiven without the repentence of the sinner. St. Maria Goretti comes to mind, as do most of the Martyrs--St Thomas More, St. Edmund Campion. So it would seem that in practice it is possible to forgive without repentence--and in fact, this forgiveness is a supernatural grace presumably granted so that the offenders will realize their sin and seek unity with God. That is a lesser vessel speaks what God is offering in such a way as the recipient is moved to receive it.

So, perhaps in ordinary human relations the passage from Luke is the "normative" path of forgiveness. It certainly is in most of our ordinary practice. It takes an extraordinary person to overlook even a minor slight if the person giving it has not expressed regret. But the examples of the Saints may be the signs of greater grace working through a lesser vessel.

I am still thinking about these matters. However, there is something within that wrestles against the notion that I may only forgive those who repent. Perhaps it might be better to say that I have no standing to forgive those who have not harmed me directly. I cannot go to someone who murdered thousands and say to them that I forgive them, because while the damage is done to the whole, it is up to God to decide their fate. But, I must have some standing to forgive those who persecute me even if they don't repent. That is, if I am a vessel of the Holy Spirit, and it truly is God's will that none will be lost, then I must allow the spirit to work. If so, I might well forgive someone who has done wrong to me with no expression of contrition on their part.

There is much to consider here. And while I don't dislike "esoteric theology" nearly so much as Mr. d'Hippolito, those who know this place know that I have relatively little patience with abstruse doctrines and minute points of law. I rather like someone's notion--was it T.S. O'Rama who implied that perhaps we need both sides to have within the entire body a balance. That is a side that cries "Justice, justice," reminding us of the victims and those who have been harmed, and a side that cries "Mercy, mercy," reminding us that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Admittedly not is so great a way.) If I am to approach the Lord and my fate is determined by how I have wished others were treated, I know I would prefer mercy to justice. This is how I read Jesus's injunction to "Judge not lest ye be judged." On the other hand, there needs to be a voice that cries out to Heaven for the injustices done to the victims of such men. We need to be reminded that these are not trivialities--that such men may have deprived others of a chance of salvation through their depradation and torture. I respect the voice that refocuses attention. Still, for my own sake, and the sake of those I love, I will pray for Mercy, and trust God to do what is right and proper.

As Mr. D'Hippolito points out quoting a correspondent elsewhere--God does not send us to Hell, we go there ourselves, quite willingly. We embrace Hell with Satan, "Better to Reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven." God, in fact, provides sufficient and superabundant grace and Atonement to allow all to make it into heaven. We have no disagreement there whatsoever. And perhaps it is better to start at the point and work backwards to see where our disagreement lies. In such a way, all parties might come to a better image and understanding of God.

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Intriguing Questions


Intriguing Questions

John da Fiesole always brings up the most intriguing questions. Witness Praying for the Past.

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Discussion and Argumentation


Discussion and Argumentation

Sometimes I wonder what people think the purpose of discussion and argumentation is. Some seem to think that the sole purpose is to win someone to a point, or perhaps to make points by showing up someone's errors. If that is the case. such a person will love talking to me because I'm just a walking mass of errors ready to spill out for all to see. My thinking isn't so much sloppy as it isn't particularly linear. I've described it elsewhere as recursive--think the surf at the beach. One wave of thought rolls in, breaks on the shore, recedes. A subsequent wave of thought follows in, sometimes rising further up on the shore, sometimes not making it so far as the first. It isn't neat, but it gets the job done eventually. I think it is why I like blogdom so well--I have a chance to rethink and clarify all sorts of muddy, sediment-filled half-thoughts. And that is how I see argumentation or discussion. I'm not interested in "winning" an argument--there is no purpose to that if by winning I have failed to arrive at the truth.

As I see it, the purpose of any discussion is to come to the truth of the matter. This is why I find it admirable when people in public life can admit that they have changed their minds. (Unfortunately, too often, the change is away from the truth, persuaded by causes other than sheer argumentation.) But it would seem a natural progression that at some point someone's mind might change about matters. Thus when I hear the Strom Thurmond was a segregationist Dixiecrat (or whatever one calls them) and now he is not, I think that someone has considered the issues--possibly politically, but in such a case also possibly morally and arrived at a different conclusion because of the persuasiveness of reasoned argumentation. Sometimes I become too involved in argumentation or discussion and take offense at was not meant to give offense--I'll recover, and I'll probably apologize.

There is no point to continued discussion if, for whatever reason, one is not willing to change one's mind in the face of the evidence. There are a great many reasons why this may be so. Perhaps the value challenged performs a present "protective" service. Perhaps the notion has become a habit of thought and will require a great many years of reflection and slow microscopic change to finally arrive at the truth. Whatever the case, once one has reached a point at which it is clear the discussion has devolved to the sophisticated equivalent of "No it isn't"/"Yes it is"--it is time to desist.

All discussion should be directed to the truth so one shouldn't be shocked to read from me some idiotic opinion or reason-challenging assertion today, to discover that tomorrow it has been modified. It's what I count on the generous members of the blogworld for. In many ways I have been brought much closer to the truth by courageous members of blogdom who risk my wrath to challenge my assertions. Here are some examples of how blogdom has changed my opinions:

*I now have a better comprehension of the place of St. Thomas Aquinas (although I must say it will be a while before I feel any warm fuzzies for him--I'm not so suspicious of him as once I was)

*I have a more profound understanding for St. Francis of Assisi--though I'm still put off by SOME of his followers. (Don't worry--I love St. Thérèse and am put off by the vast majority of her admirers.)

*I have clarified notions about prayer and its purposes--and such notions have much improved my prayer life.

*I have a greater love for the diversity of opinion--even opinions that I consider suspect or countermanded by the magisterium.

*I have learned the value of not judging.

*I have learned that the rumor and scandal too often promulgated by the media and bandied about is not the fullness of the truth. A specific instance is that one brave blogger challenged directly my opinion of a certain Bishop based largely on ignorance and hearsay and informed me that while he may have had some notions contrary to my own, he served well as a pastoral leader.

*I've learned that Orthodoxy isn't necessarily everything I believe. By that I mean that I used to judge people's opinions by the standard of rigid orthodoxy I felt I maintained. Well, my "orthodoxy" was neither complete, nor probably completely orthodox. Talking with Catholic people has shown me the wideness of opinion possible among those who are striving to be faithful to the magisterium.

So, only a few things I have gained from listening to others. I have changed countless opinions, modified countless statements, in some cases completely contradicted myself. Like the sea and the shore my island of opinion and idea is constantly changing and reforming. I hold fast to the central truths of the faith--the skeleton and structure of the entire island--and the rest can wash where it will--it little matters and it provides a refreshing change of vista--a salubrious change of air.

So bring on the discussion, the argumentation, the notions, and the ideas--so long as you seek after the truth and don't merely wish to make points (come on--it's like shooting fish in a barrel) you are welcome. Even if you only wish to make points I may well benefit from the challenge.

Thank you all for all that you have done for me. God bless you.

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Too Interesting to Ignore


Too Interesting to Ignore

Minute Particulars says in a coherent, succinct way much that I would have liked to say on the abortion debate. How one does something is as important as what one chooses to do. When any means are used, the end, however good is sullied and diminished in the eyes of surrounding observers.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Critiques & Controversies category from July 2003.

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