The double-effect gauntlet has been thrown…

Eamonn Clark

John Finnis has published the first part of a two part series on capital punishment at the Public Discourse.

It is wrong.

I will wait for the second part to appear to launch a full critique, but note now the startling assertion that he makes: all intentional human killing, of any kind, is forbidden by the 5th commandment.

For those unfamiliar with Finnis, he and Grisez (and to a lesser extent, Boyle,) were the chief architects of what is widely now considered to be a failed normative ethical project called “New Natural Law.” Its arch-proponent, Dr. Grisez, was a long-time professor at my own undergraduate university. He died only a few months ago.

NNL has its rhetorical advantages, but it suffers serious theoretical problems. I won’t explore those any time soon… Except for one, which I just did my thesis on. It centers around NNL’s vision of the so-called “principle of double effect.”

Without getting into it too much – and hopefully without spoiling the possibility of publishing my thesis in some form in the future – suffice it to say that Finnis and friends face “unintended consequences” of their own when they take the line that “intention” reigns supreme in the way they suggest.

Note that NNL theorists, while typically opposing the death penalty, would also support the use of craniotomy. (Don’t google it. It’s essentially medical abortion necessary to save the life of the mother.) This debate extends back into the 19th century, when Cardinal Caverot of Lyon inquired of the Holy Office about the matter, and Archbishop Kenrick of Baltimore wrote against the procedure in his moral theology handbook. This sparked a round of debates which has swirled for more than a century. Eschbach, Pennachi, Waffelaert, Avanzini… and on and on until we have the three camps of today, one represented by NNL theorists, one represented by the teaching of the Holy Office and most Catholic moralists, and then finally one represented almost exclusively by Fr. Martin Rhonheimer.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Briefly, however, the paragraph in the Catechism about the 5th commandment and war which Finnis proof-texts (2307) is either simply poorly worded (although it does use “intentional destruction” rather than “intentional taking,” for what it’s worth), or it is just a lacuna.

lacuna1

More to come… Stay tuned and be sure to subscribe.

Clerical Celibacy: The Devil’s New Target

Eamonn Clark

If you haven’t heard it yet, there is a silver bullet which will cure all the ills of the Church’s clergy… it will increase vocations, it will root out the sexual deviants, it will enhance ministry to spouses… it is the end of mandatory celibacy for priests.

With the outbreak of the recent abuse/gay scandal, and the Pan-Amazon Synod around the corner, it seems that the Enemy has revealed the game plan. Let’s see if we can make a compelling argument for keeping celibacy around.

There are three classical categories of value of celibacy in itself. In increasing order of importance, they are:

  1. Economics
  2. Witness
  3. Union with God

Most are somewhat familiar with the economic problems with a married clergy. If not, here are a few of the issues.

  1. Parishes would have to support an entire family rather than one or two priests – room, board, insurance, education, health, etc.
  2. A lot of money would need to be invested in new seminaries to accommodate more seminarians (presumably, at least for a while,) and their families
  3. It is difficult to split time and energy appropriately between one’s family and the parish – it often causes serious strain and burnout

Depending on how broadly one makes the “economic,” it could also include the psychological toll on the wife, who can be subject to intense scrutiny and gossip in the parish.

The other two nodes are more important but less appreciated. The value of celibacy as a witness to the reality of the future coming of Christ helps to mark our priests as special in the eyes of the world. And how uncomfortable it makes the worldly… After all, one of the daughters of lust is a loss of desire for the goods of Heaven. To compromise here would be to lose that power. Hold that thought.

The last node is almost entirely unheard of these days, but it centers around the imitation of Our Lord and the life of Heaven to come, which will not contain marriage, as He said Himself. (Mt. 22: 30) The celibate state allows a person to focus his or her efforts entirely on pleasing the Lord, directly, as it were, rather than indirectly through pleasing one’s spouse. This is just what St. Paul said. (1 Cor. 7: 32-35) It makes more room for charity, and the continual foregoing of the great good of marriage for God’s sake, especially under a vow, is its own special form of worship.

We can see how simpler economics leads to better witness, and better witness leads to quicker union. By freeing oneself for ministry, a person is more able to preach, teach, govern, sanctify, etc., meanwhile extracting a minimal amount of resources from the faithful (a reality which St. Paul continually drew attention to on his own part). It is clear that this brute fact of more availability due to celibacy is at least in part the reason why the vast majority of the Church is Latin, and not part of an Eastern Rite which generally allows for married priests. The Latin discipline has rendered an astonishingly greater number of disciples – celibacy is, after all, traditionally seen as the “hundredfold fruit” of the good soil. (Mt. 13: 23) This greater spiritual reaping naturally leads one closer and closer to the goodness of God, which disposes one for greater union in this life. This in turn should actually inspire increasing poverty and obedience, which should increase the amount and quality of witness, which should increase union, and so on. It’s a beautiful cycle.

But the challenges which celibacy faces today have mostly to do with the topic of witness. Let me break them down by stating the claims which one will hear today in various corners of the Church (and beyond, for whatever that’s worth):

  1. Celibacy discourages vocations
  2. Celibacy leads to adverse sexual behavior/deviance
  3. Celibacy renders one less able to minister to couples as such

The first point is at issue in the upcoming Pan-Amazon Synod, which I have already written about at length here. The reality is that this short term gain will yield long term damage. The growth may indeed spring up at once, but over the years, the sun will dry out the plant, and the hundredfold fruit will disappear. The Amazon, and whatever other areas claim the same need for an exemption from universal law due to abysmal vocation numbers (viz., most of Western Europe), will likely have priests who, while more numerous, will be less interested in priestly work and less able to do it, meanwhile exacting a much higher tax on the faithful.

The second point is initially plausible. A great number of people can’t imagine living a life willfully without marriage without any pre-existing “condition” which renders one uninterested in the first place. Therefore, the people who do try to stick it out are left only with inappropriate vents for their pent up sexual urges. And so, most priests who aren’t already “off” become mentally ill and act out.

In response, we must consider a few things. First, the fact is that sex abusers almost universally are not “equals” with the ones they abuse. These people, if they wish to lead a public life, seek (or by nature have) positions of power over vulnerable potential victims. Coaches, teachers, older family members, etc. And of course there is the manipulation of the casting couch and other abuses of gate-keeping. The point is that the mental pathology is what creates these men’s desire for Holy Orders – it is an attempt to obtain power, prestige, and plausible deniability so that their twisted appetites can be satiated indefinitely. In other words, these men had “fauxcations.”

The other side of the coin is that the men with normal sex drives do not become monsters when those desires are suppressed. It is not a reasonable progression to go from a healthy sexual desire to homosexual and/or age-inappropriate desire. The natural progression would be to “normal” instances of acting out, such as flirtatious behavior, entertaining impure thoughts, etc. To suggest otherwise would be like saying that sustained dieting leads people to want to eat dirt or human excrement – yes, it will make the hunger go away, but it is repulsive to someone with a healthy appetite. There is simply no substantial evidence to suggest that there is a significant problem with good sexual desires turning toward homosexual or other abnormal perversion due to accepting celibacy as a state of life. These problems pre-exist in persons who have them, often due to having been abused themselves. The solution, therefore, is not to do away with celibacy, but to do away with those with these pathologies.

But suppose celibacy was indeed done away with as a requirement for priestly ordination in the Latin Rite. On top of the challenges already noted, given the current crisis of both homosexuality and abuse of minors, there is an obvious additional problem… Those few men who really do have the gift of celibacy and choose to use it (rather than just ignoring it) would each face an unwelcome public perception: “What’s wrong with you?” Because priests can marry, and these ones didn’t, they must be attracted to men or kids.

So much for that approach.

Finally, there is the strange suggestion that one without experience of marriage can’t very well minister to people approaching marriage or living it. I already addressed this kind of thinking here, but briefly, this thought bases itself at least on an insufficient understanding of the relationship between experience and wisdom. Of course experience can cause wisdom, but so can abstract learning. (Do you need to be a former Pro-Bowler to coach an NFL team to a Superbowl win? No.) A lot of that sort of knowledge can come through extended interaction with married people, especially in confession. Just as well, the healthy celibate has a privileged perspective on what marriage is, given that the desire remains and yet its fulfillment is foregone… When we fast from food, for example, we more easily understand its rightful place in relation to our lives here and hereafter – and the same can be said of marriage.

There is definitely a massive crisis in the clerical ranks surrounding the 6th Commandment. But lowering the bar is not the right approach… And if we do dispense with celibacy, either for specific regions like the Amazon or in universal law, it seems it would be nearly impossible to go back.

“Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors,” says Scripture. (Prov. 22: 28) Food for thought.

Some Dogmatic, Canonical, and Moral Questions to Ponder

Eamonn Clark

Given the past few years of theological disputes, several questions have proposed themselves as needing more serious attention, either in explanation of or exploration for the correct answers. Except to suggest the use of one particular theological tool, I don’t have any purpose here other than to say what some (but not all) of these questions are and to give them a definite shape in the hopes of helping them to be more effectively addressed. Here we go…

  1. How do we determine what is infallibly taught by the ordinary magisterium and what is fallibly taught by the ordinary magisterium?
  2. Even if something is certainly taught fallibly by the ordinary magisterium, how do we know if it is still binding through demanding “religious assent”?
  3. What is the moral significance of failing to adhere to various kinds of positions taught with varying degrees of frequency, strength, and recentness?
  4. To what degree, if any, are theologians exempt from such demands and their corresponding moral penalties?
  5. Who exactly belongs to this supposedly exempt category called “theologians”?
  6. When does it become morally acceptable for theologians to presume to correct a legitimate ordinary magisterial organ, in various degrees of publicity?
  7. What is the exact significance and character of the extraordinary magisterium if it can only teach what has already been taught by the ordinary magisterium?
  8. Can a practice of the Church or its encouragement of a practice establish a speculative doctrine to one degree or another, other than with regard to the liturgy and the sacraments?
  9. What is the authoritative character of prudential utterances of the Holy Father or his legitimate direct cooperators (such as the CDF) when the matter of the utterance actually belongs most properly to the discretion of a legitimate civil authority?
  10. Is there a good solution to so-called “conflict marriage” annulment cases in which the petitioner is unable to produce witnesses due to a legitimate obstacle (such as the witnesses being dead)?
  11. What level and kind of ignorance of the Church’s legal system and its legitimate demands upon oneself would suffice to remove some or all of the formal aspect of sin from one’s materially sinful union?
  12. If there is a possibility of a complete or partial excuse of moral culpability due to ignorance of canon law’s legitimate demands upon oneself with regard to marriage which can be privately ascertained by a sacred minister, how ought such persons be sacramentally ministered to, whether publicly or privately?
  13. Aside from the general application of c. 915, and independent of the question of culpability for cohabitation and bigamy themselves, under what circumstances, if any, is it possible that to leave a person in ignorance about the moral necessity of an annulment, for which he or she is privately judged to be at least partially culpable, constitutes a legitimate condescension to a perceived likelihood of being unwilling to cooperate and thus likely leading to even worse sin?
  14. What is the exact character and efficacy of a so-called “spiritual communion” for those who persist in mortal sin?

These aren’t “ivory tower debates.” Some of these questions, as I have implied in previous posts, could be helped by a more common use and further refinement of the Church’s system of “theological notes.”

Wake Up and Smell the Concupiscence

Eamonn Clark

Policies will fix the problem. Bishops will fix the problem. Lay people will fix the problem. Money will fix the problem. The Pope will fix the problem.

Yeah, right.

Among several things that really stuck with me from my old seminary’s Church history professor was him asking our class this question: “What is the value of studying Church history?” Were he to ask me today, without the slightest hesitation I could say that perspective on crises must be one of the most important benefits.

The most cursory glance at the annals of Catholic history, let alone the history of ancient Israel, takes one on a tour of practically every kind of human wickedness imaginable, often in its most extreme forms. While there are certain elements of our own day which are uniquely challenging, by and large we have of late been spoiled rotten with good popes and a healthy ecclesiastical environment. You don’t believe that? Come with me on a brief tour.

So we have a sexual scandal among clergy? We do. But recall Pope John XII, who died while in bed with another man’s wife when her husband came home, either from shock or from being murdered. This was no fluke but was rather the culmination of a wanton life of lust and hardened impiety. (He also was kind enough to give the people of the Diocese of Todi a 10-year-old whom he had consecrated personally to be their bishop.) There was also Alexander VI of the infamous Borgia family, and Julius II, and Paul III, to name just a few men who were rather fond of the ladies.

Ah, but it’s a homosexual problem, it may be replied… This too is hardly new, as a small litany of popes have had serious accusations of such behavior leveled at them, several of them as recently as the 16th century. One can begin to understand some of Martin Luther’s frustrations, no?

So there’s some financial corruption in the Vatican? Do you remember when Pope Benedict IX sold the papacy? And then when he ended up being pope again, and even after leaving a second time, returned for a third? (By the way, he also had an intense “appreciation” for women… and sometimes men. On the other hand, he may have been elevated to the Chair of St. Peter as young as the age of 11, and when he left the papacy for the third time he went off to do penance for the rest of his life, so let’s cut him some slack.)

We hear about how corrupt and inept and “legalistic” the Church’s courts can be. Well, who could forget the infamous Cadaver Synod of 897? That was when Pope Stephen VI exhumed the body of Pope Formosus and put him on trial – and found him guilty. This eventually led to a public uprising in Rome, Stephen being strangled in prison, and the excommunication of 7 cardinals. (The 9th and 10th centuries were particularly interesting times for the papal court, due in no small part to the enormous influence of the wicked Theophylacti family.)

It’s nearly impossible to go a day in the Catholic blogosphere without reading about how seriously ambiguous and possibly gravely erroneous some statements of the current pope are. Well, imagine if Popes Honorius I or John XXII had been on Twitter, or if the three different popes who attempted to give authority to some priests to confer Holy Orders could have quickly adjusted an online text of a universal catechism to reflect their fallacious opinions.

You think that there might be a possibility of a papal deposition, or that the Holy See might already be vacant, and that this is all unthinkable? Go read about the Western Schism, where there were not two but three men who had serious claims to the Chair of St. Peter. Many saints were divided on the issue, among them Catherine of Siena (who supported Urban) and Vincent Ferrer (who supported Clement).

And we’ve only been talking about popes. The investiture controversy, the Arian crisis, the laxism which brought on the Gregorian reform… And on, and on, and on.

Church history is one long series of crises, guided by God’s providence. The worst crisis has come and gone, by the way – that was the first Holy Thursday and Good Friday. It can never be overstated how important those two days are for understanding what role sin has in the Church’s hierarchy, and why it should not be cause for existential alarm. Christ wanted Judas in the Twelve for a reason… It seems it was partially to dissuade us from seeing the Church as the kind of worldly messianic kingdom that the Jews had been waiting for. Heaven has only half come to Earth.

It’s not that the various public reactions don’t contain good ideas to help rectify the roots of the McCarrick scandal, although I do wonder about some of the particulars. They are probably worth pursuing to various extents. But it is naive to think that with the right policies or people or pressure, sin – even grave sin – is going to somehow be expunged from the clergy. As long as we ordain sinners, we will have sinners for leaders. Do not let Judas scandalize you.

So there is, in fact, only one way to “solve the crisis” – it is for God to bring the world to an end.

Wake up and smell the concupiscence.

A Breakdown of Positions on the New Catechism Text

Eamonn Clark

Basically, there seem to me to be available 16 positions on the new text of the Catechism. They break down according to the following bifurcations: the text itself as an objective piece of magisterium vis-a-vis the author’s subjective intention behind the text, whether the putative development  is practical or speculative (viz. a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine or a principled definition of universal moral prescript), and whether that development is legitimate or illegitimate.

I consider the various readings of the text as having attempted sincerely to use the standard hermeneutic of magisterial documents, namely, to read them within the context of what has gone before, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and without otherwise relying on the subjective intent of the author except insofar as it is incontrovertibly expressed in the text. In other words, when in doubt, try to find the most sensible meaning which does not contradict established doctrine.

For my purposes here, a legitimate prudential judgment would be a correct judgment, even if it is not binding. I do not consider here the various positions on the binding character of either practical or speculative characters of the text (which would add even more positions), although it seems rather clear that it can only be the text itself in which such a binding character could be found (and not in the hidden recesses of the author’s mind), and it could only be binding if legitimate (viz., it does not contradict a past infallible teaching). It furthermore seems clear, if we are to take Ratzinger’s instruction on the matter seriously, that merely prudential applications of the Church’s teaching on capital punishment cannot be binding, even if they are uttered by the Holy Father. So that leaves us only with the possibility of a binding or non-binding legitimate speculative judgment.

Let’s see this drawn out in its combinations… I have marked commonplace positions in bold.

  1. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  2. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself illegitimate.
  3. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  4. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself illegitimate.
  5. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  6. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself illegitimate.
  7. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  8. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself illegitimate.
  9. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  10. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself illegitimate.
  11. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  12. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself illegitimate.
  13. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  14. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself illegitimate.
  15. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  16. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself illegitimate.

Personally, I find it possible to torture the text into being a merely prudential application, solely due to its partial reliance on “more effective systems of detention” as a criterion for calling the death penalty “inadmissible.” This application, in my opinion, is the result of a very bad judgment, not only because of the vast disparity among various countries’ justice systems, and the violence which can be caused directly or indirectly from within even a good prison, but also because it ignores some of the major arguments in favor of capital punishment, such as deterrence and an incentive to individual repentance.

Had there been no mention of systems of detention, my position would probably be different. While the last paragraph does say, “the Church teaches,” thus seemingly putting the text into the realm of speculative claims, the foregoing is enough in my view to render it “toothless.” It seems one can, and therefore should, read the text as meaning, “the Church teaches in the way that She can teach prudential applications of doctrine which properly belong to the legitimate civil authority,” which is to teach merely in a hortatory way, i.e., “Think hard about not killing!”

Given the other two reasons for the putative development (the clauses about the “increasing awareness” of dignity and the “new understanding” of penal law), it seems difficult to deny that the author’s intention was speculative. Because of the staggering litany of popes, saints, Fathers, and trustworthy theologians who have not merely tolerated capital punishment but have taken a positive stance in favor of it, if the teaching of the legitimacy in principle of capital punishment does not belong to the infallible body of ordinary magisterial teaching then one must wonder what does. One could very easily replace some words to form a “development” of the teaching on abortion, contraception, gay marriage, women’s ordination… All that needs to be done is to say that there is “an increasing awareness” of the dignity of the pregnant mother, or the financially burdened spouse, or the homosexual, or the woman, which would allow for a “development” on a connected issue which, while leading to a differing praxis would not be a “contradiction” because what has developed is the awareness or understanding of the dignity of the person or their desires which naturally leads to that new praxis, and even if there were a doctrinal contradiction, the doctrine was not directly defined by the extraordinary magisterium anyway. Watch:

The sacramental ordination of men alone was long considered an appropriate response to a male-dominant culture and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of avoiding scandal.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of women is equal to that of men. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of the Church’s conferral of ordination.

Lastly, more effective systems of ecclesiastical administration have been developed, which ensure the due protection of traditional mindsets with respect to the role of men in the Church but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive women of the possibility of sacramental ordination.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that restricting sacramental ordination to men alone is inadmissible because it is an attack on the talents and dignity of women, and the Church works with determination for the implementation of women’s ordination worldwide.

It’s that easy.

I don’t think that the intense exasperation and Sedevacantism which are now cropping up are warranted. We have seen such antics before with Honorius I (over Monothelitism) and with John XXII (over the Beatific Vision). These issues were resolved without a deposition, and without an antipope. Furthermore, it does not seem to me that we are in the kind of situation at issue in the increasingly relevant debate between St. Robert Bellarmine, Suarez, and Cajetan about manifestly heretical popes. (It is also unclear who is right, or if there might be some middle-path.) For what it’s worth, Bellarmine thought the situation of a manifest heretic (as opposed to a merely occult heretic) occupying the See of Peter was impossible, and surely he knew of Honorius and John. Bellarmine did, however, see capital punishment as an item over which there could be heresy.

At any rate, a troubled mind will not help to resolve anything. So let’s all calm down.

Much to ponder… More to come… Stay tuned.

 

Main image: screenshot of the Hydra from Disney’s Hercules

Brace yourselves…

Eamonn Clark

I have recently been reading Prof. Feser’s wonderful exploration of the Church’s perennial teaching on capital punishment. That teaching is, and it always will be, that it is at least in principle a good thing and must be used judiciously and equitably, having been commended in Scripture in many ways and places, taught by the Fathers, Doctors, and Popes of the Church repeatedly, and even used quite comfortably and frequently under Blessed Pope Pius IX.

Today, the news broke that the Holy Father has decided to alter the Catechism of the Catholic Church evidently to say that the thought that the death penalty is morally legitimate is not correct. I wrote about the rumblings of this development here. Whether there is some way to square the text of the new paragraph, and its accompanying explanation, with past teaching in such a way so as not to contradict it is not at all clear at this point. However, neither is it clear that the Holy Father intended this to be a teaching ex cathedra. (The Catechism is NOT an infallible document, by the way, and makes no claim to be; it is rather an attempt at a presentation of the Church’s teaching.) But no reasonable person, who understands the teaching of the Church, can be comfortable with this utterance.

Hold on to your hats, folks. I am afraid this is going to be ugly. But don’t jump off the boat.

True Myth, Part 2: A Hidden Lesson in Eden

Eamonn Clark

Surely, there is hardly any limit to the meaning of the imagery in the opening chapters of Genesis. The dichotomy of dark and light, the details of the order of creation, the numerology… But let’s just focus in on one little part of the story.

We find Adam and Eve happy in Eden, but – the serpent tells them of something that God is holding back from them. There is special, privileged knowledge that is available through disobedience. God doesn’t want them to have it because He is afraid, jealous, selfish… They would become too much like Him.

We know how the story goes – it doesn’t work out for Adam and Eve. What is glossed over is a lesson which sought to correct some misunderstandings about divinity pervasive in the Ancient Near East (ANE).

In ANE cosmologies, the world and the pantheon were very permeable, almost the same world entirely, one might say. The gods come and go as they please, a bit like God walking in Eden and coming in the Incarnation. The difference with the ANE gods is twofold: motive, and nature.

The motives for the pantheon’s involvement were the petty kinds of endeavors we are used to seeing in myth – fear, jealousy, selfishness, and other passions common to mere human beings. The nature of these gods is that, essentially, they were created out of a realm which lies above them. Both in motive and in nature, the God of Adam and Eve is completely different. He is only concerned for the authentic good of His creatures, driven by His own totally free choice, and He is utterly transcendent, uncreated, and quite radically unlike human beings.

The lesson about motive is clear enough – the “knowledge” they gained by disobedience was truly unhelpful for Adam and Eve. It did not make them happier, that is, more authentically “like” God. It was therefore out of selfless love that God restricted them from eating from that tree. The lesson about transcendence is less clear, although even in the lesson about motive it is inherent. Because God does not think like a human being, the way the ANE gods do, He must be higher than the ANE pantheon. But that’s not all…

In the ANE, magic was commonplace. We can see how it comes from their theology: the gods are finite, they don’t love perfectly, therefore they aren’t always going to help me get what I really need to be happy. So, the thinking went, an appeal can be made to this “realm above the gods,” the place from which the pantheon comes. Magic was done by channeling the powers of that realm through some natural element, like water, rocks, blood, plants… even perhaps a fruit.

Adam and Eve were the first magicians, according to Genesis. That’s my theory.

It seems that the choice of the sacred author to use natural imagery that evokes the ANE theory of magic is to teach a clear lesson about God’s transcendent nature: there is nothing above this God. He was not created like the ANE pantheon. There is no going around Him. And because His transcendence is also a guarantee of His goodness, as we saw, we can trust Him.

No more magic.

An Analogy for Teaching the Necessity of the Incarnation

Eamonn Clark

When I was in middle school, I wondered about many things. “Do I have a chance with this girl? (No.) Will I make the high school basketball team? (No.) What does it mean to say that Jesus died for our sins?” Though I didn’t get a satisfying answer to the third question until much later, thankfully it didn’t bother me too much. But for those of you who are looking for a way to teach kids – or even adults – the main idea of St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, here is a helpful analogy which can be elaborated or simplified according to time or audience. (Be careful not to ruin the central ideas though!)

A caveat – it is an analogy, so despite its strength it isn’t perfect. You’ve been advised.

Imagine a town with a strict but kind mayor. He lives in a large house near the local baseball field and, in his spare time, he makes incredibly ornate and unique stained glass windows, together with his son. One of his windows faces the field, and at night the light from his house shines on the field – just enough for the local little league team to practice for a while before night. The mayor knows the evening is the most fun time to play baseball… He knows all the kids on the team and wants the best for them.

One evening, the team captain steps up to the plate. He knows he is strong enough to hit it out of the park, and his friend, the pitcher, knows it too. They have been having so much fun that they have lost their good judgment… They conspire and decide to show off by going for a major home run. A friendly pitch, a hard swing, a big hit, and a crash – the ball went right through the mayor’s priceless window and shattered the whole thing. The light goes out, and the mayor comes out to yell at the players… He discovers it was really the fault of two – the pitcher and the batter both, and that the batter is in fact team captain. He is especially at fault as batter, and since he is team captain the whole thing is made even worse… Because of the town’s laws, people like team captains get to represent a whole group of people in public events, but they also get the whole group in trouble if they do something wrong publicly. To punish the team, the mayor tells them they are banned from playing on the field until the debt gets paid – they’ll have to settle for cheap imitations, like parking lots and back yards, which don’t even allow for a real game at all. The team now owes the mayor a debt of the worth of his window. It is a debt that they can’t repay and could never repay. To replace the window is a task that belongs only to the mayor and his son.

Due to his strictness, the mayor won’t simply forgive the debt to the team. It would be inconsistent and unfair. They don’t get special treatment. But because of his kindness, the mayor wants to find a way that he can let the kids play again, and so he needs to come up with a way to get the team to repay the debt.

The solution occurs to him: it is time for his son to start playing baseball. The mayor gets his son signed up for little league, and he insists that his son also become team captain. Now the mayor’s son, who can make the window again, represents the whole team.

In a short while, after some difficult work, the son has remade the window, paying the debt on behalf of the whole team. He made the window stronger this time, too, so if it gets hit again it will only break in one pane instead of shattering – easy to fix. The mayor is satisfied, and he is willing to let the team play baseball again, with their new captain, but not in the evenings anymore. Though it’s the most fun time to play, they will have to settle for the normal daylight. The light still comes through the window, but it can’t be seen clearly. The mayor says that one day, however, the team will be allowed to play in the evenings again, and the colorful, beautiful light will be brighter than ever before, and they can play as long as they like into the night.

The End.

In case it’s not obvious, the mayor is God the Father, his son is the Son, baseball is the life of virtue, the first captain is Adam, the pitcher is Eve, the evening is Eden and Heaven (with the better light), the light and the window are the operation of God’s love and grace, breaking the window and the debt incurred is original sin, the town rules are the natural and eternal law.

It has its limits, but I think it’s alright. The essential point is that the son has to join the team and become its new captain in order to pay the debt that the team couldn’t otherwise pay. What do you think? Have you used similar metaphors with any success?

True Myth, Part 1: The Fundamental Thesis

Eamonn Clark

While interest in religion and in myth are perennial, at this moment it is particularly appropriate to dive into a study of the relationship here between true religion and true myth. This is not only because of my own personal acute interest presently, but the broader culture at large seems abnormally interested as well. This is due in no small part, perhaps almost exclusively, to the success of Intellectual Dark Web numero uno, Dr. Jordan Peterson, whose meteoric rise into international superstardom has exposed many people for the first time to a serious way of thinking about religion, especially Christianity, in a way similar to the exploration which will be undertaken here. For all his ideological red-pilling, which has made him most well-known (and which I typically find incredibly satisfying  to watch), his most popular video to date is the first in his series on the Bible. With Jung for a guide, Peterson explores the Scriptures from a psychological and pragmatic point of view. (Maybe a few parts of this series will pick apart one of his lectures.) While this kind of work is useful to an extent, my own sojourn into this region of thought will emphasize not only the usefulness of religion and myth, but their usefulness specifically insofar as they are true in a realist sense. William James’s self-defeating paradigm has little to do with my project. Religions might be useful in a number of temporal ways, but clearly we want to find a “non-temporal usefulness” which is powerful in its own right, such that its object can save us from that state in which we are no longer able to act on our own. When we are dead, we are no longer pragmatists… we are helpless. So we are here investigating not merely the truly useful; we are concerned with the usefully true. We want a saving truth, as it were, which can operate on its own.

With that introduction, here is the fundamental thesis. God gave mankind in general many common desires and ideas about the universe. The myths of various profane civilizations reveal these desires and ideas in fragmented ways, and the stories of the sacred civilization of Israel reveal them more plainly. Through the Biblical narrative of salvation, God corrected, spiritualized, and completed the profane myths. This threefold action corresponds to the triple purpose of grace – to heal, to elevate, and to perfect – and also corresponds to the triple munera of Christ, the prophet, the priest, and the king. As prophet, God corrects, as priest, He spiritualizes, and as king he completes. The Biblical story is mankind’s true myth, the perfect expression of what God wants us  to believe about and to desire from ourselves, the rest of creation, and God Himself. There is no archetype left untouched, no emotion left unexplored, no space of the human mind left unsatisfied. In the Judeo-Christian narrative we will consistently find God’s threefold action on profane myth, and this action is exhaustive.

The first topic we dive into will be a little slice of the opening pages of Genesis – and the Ancient Near East mythical context which helps us make sense of some of the puzzling imagery. What is this “fruit” all about?

Being Critical of the Historical-Critical

Eamonn Clark

I am watching some lectures on Scripture which were put out by Yale’s divinity school – it is quite an interesting experience. After many years of formation in what might be called “catechetical Scripture studies,” from CCD, to a Catholic university, to seminary, to a Roman pontifical university, encountering at length the material presented at an Ivy League school is like being thrown into a tornado.

It’s not that the material is altogether new or revolutionary – although some of it is certainly quite new and interesting to me, even edifying – it is the attitude which undergirds it which strikes me as bizarre. I have known a long time that this approach is out there, especially in higher education, but it’s my first time really having meaningful exposure to it.

Without making accusations of the professors I am watching, (and I have not even come close to finishing the courses,) a few characteristics leap out at me of this way of teaching and studying Scripture. Each follows the other.

  1. It is dogmatic. The conclusions tend to guide the argument – the texts can’t be harmonized, the stories can’t be historical, the authors must be pseudonymous, etc., etc. It seems the grand conclusion which is protected by these kinds of conclusions is that God can’t really be entering into creation. Further, there is a dense wall of “scholarship” which protects these conclusions, and because this scholarship is the newest and most popular, it must be the best. It seems rather off-limits to use “traditional” sources in a serious way. In one word, it is Modernist, or at least has strong Modernist tendencies.
  2. It reverses the mysterious character of the Judeo-Christian story. By taking away the traditional positions on questions of historicity, authorship, dating, etc., a veil of mist is put over the text – “What does it mean? Who wrote it? When? Why? Where did they get their material from?” These questions occupy the student, while the mystery of the Living God presented by the text is basically ignored.
  3. It is purely didactic. There is not a further purpose to understanding the history of the Scriptures. They are merely items of curiosity – a bit like how Herod enjoyed John the Baptist, who is easily seen as the representative of the entire prophetic tradition… Interesting? Yes. Convicting enough to cause a personal conversion? No, not here. And when the call comes to sacrifice its integrity for the pleasure of the world, of the academy, or of one’s own personal life, there will perhaps be reluctance, but there will be obedience. The quest for the “historical Jesus” is no grander than the work of any historian; it is just more dangerous to discover and hold fast to the truth. Since historical-critical exegetes are, by and large, not in it for a real encounter with the God of Abraham, the danger isn’t really worth it. Not all that long ago, probably even at Yale, to enter a program of theological studies required faith. That is to say, if the school were Methodist, one had to be a Methodist in order to study theology there. Anyone else, so the thinking went, was wasting their time.

So why continue watching? Well, I enjoy knowing what the “others” are up to, so that when I meet them I know where they’re coming from. Second, there certainly are plenty of real insights presented. Third, it is better than watching cat videos.

We need to use the historical-critical method in the right way – as an aid to what might be called the “spiritual method.” For example, to know that there were other Flood narratives in the Ancient Near East (and well beyond, even into the Americas, might I add,) is probably helpful to understand the composition of the text of Genesis, but knowing the differences helps us to know something – really to know something – about how our God is different. In this case, one major difference is that Noah is saved because of his virtue rather than his cleverness or strength…

In the past few months, I have become especially interested in the world of myth and how it relates to salvation history. Therefore, I have decided to start a series on the topic, called “True Myth,” that title of Christ shared with C. S. Lewis by Tolkien. Stay tuned for more, and be sure to subscribe.