Monday, November 23, 2009

Dom Botte on Tradition

Tradition is not an abstract theory circulating by word of mouth. It is lived before being formulated, and it is formulated before it is rationally explained. The Mass was lived as a sacrifice before anyone could dream of expressing it clearly, and its sacrificial character was defined before an explanation of it had been given; - Dom Botte

Friday, November 20, 2009

Modern Distortion of Grace

The modern Christian has a tendency to distort grace by simply interiorising its effects and to confer 'exteriority' on ritual and liturgical functions. The ancients regarded the charismata associated with grace as inseparably bound both to the interior disposition of the soul and to the bodily worship of the divine liturgy.

Monday, November 09, 2009

On Skepticism and Humility

The proud man, says C.S. Lewis, cannot see God because he is always looking down his nose at things and people, and so long as you are looking down, you cannot see what is above you. We can never let ourselves forget that in this on-going search for truth, the truth will always remain above us. We must approach the truth as children ready to be transformed by and conformed to something greater than ourselves and not as aggressors. We do not conquer the truth; if we seek it rightly, it will conquer us.

Catholic Christianity is something far too big for us to grasp, much less command. I believe it was Chesterton who said that Paganism was the biggest thing the world had ever seen; Christianity was bigger, and everything since has been comparatively small. One crucial step in developing humility must be a continual awareness that the Truth is something too big to fit into our finite heads.

Even St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest doctor of the Church, when granted a vision, said that his writings were but “straw” and could not complete his masterpiece, the Summa Theologica. Students of Thomism, like myself, might wish that we possessed that final part, but in leaving the work unfinished, he left us something greater: a powerful exhortation to humility.

But none of this means that we can’t know truth nor that we should too readily profess agnosticism. Arrogance is a danger but skepticism is also dangerous and is not true humility. Recently, there has been some lively discussion in response to Bryan and Neal’s article on sola vs solo scriptura. Some have agreed that there is no principled distinction; others are unwilling to grant the distinction, but the sole objection seems to be this: that the Catholic position is no better. Bryan, myself, and others have given reasons in the combox why we do not believe this to be the case, but I am particularly interested in drawing out a one-liner, not well received and perhaps for good reason, that I left on Chris Donato’s blog. I claimed that “there is a difference between humility and skepticism.”

Modern philosophy has progressed, if you prefer to call it progression, down a path forged by Descartes. It has given us existentialism, rationalism, scientism, naturalism, and several other isms but most notably, and I think they all have this in common one way or another, skepticism. But from a classical point of view, things can be known and some things can be known with certainty. Following Aquinas, I am an empiricist. But that doesn’t mean I deny that some things can be known more certainly than others or that I think I can be absolutely certain of everything I believe.

I lack the philosophical training to draw out exactly why I insist on this distinction (between humility and skepticism), but personally I find it intuitively true. It doesn’t seem that I can know, with a mathematical certainty, that the Catholic Church is the true Church, or that Jesus rose from the dead for that matter. But I believe both of these things with a confidence that does not feel threatened by skeptical approaches to Church history, for example, or with various theories about what might have historically happened at the putative Resurrection.

I find most counter arguments to be based in skepticism, in fact, and I don’t find that to be a humble approach to history or to truth seeking. E.g. How can we be certain that there is an unbroken line of Apostolic Succession from the Apostles until now? We can’t know who is rightfully pope because sometimes there were multiple claims to the See of Peter. Many of the popes said and did bad things, etc. Now all of these objections deserve answers in due course; I wouldn’t deny it, but I believe that skepticism is a hindrance to one who is honestly seeking the truth in humility. In short, I find skepticism to be a counterfeit humility. True humility consists not in denying knowledge nor in saying that truth is unattainable, but in admitting that one’s knowledge is imperfect and that the truth we do see, is only through a glass darkly.

Speaking for myself, my style has a tendency to come across as overly confident, and to the extant which I have failed to exhibit a humble spirit in dialogues here and elsewhere, I offer my apologies. There is a constant need for the Christian to be reminded of his place. Some of us need reminding more often than others.

It is only when we come to appreciate that Catholic Christianity is larger than the Latin Church, larger than Byzantine Christianity, and again larger than the revivals from within Protestantism, that we begin to understand just how small we are in comparison.

It should go without saying that this post isn’t intended to prove anything; it is merely a prayer for myself and others that we would seek the Truth in humility. I hope you will pray it with me.

Originally posted at Called to Communion.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Why There is no Principled Difference Between Solo and Sola Scriptura

Bryan Cross and Neal Judisch team up to deliver this devastating critique of Keith Mathison's now famous 'solo' and 'sola' distinction in the sola scriptura controversy. The article is long, but it's an easy read and well worth the time.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Was the Fall Under God's Providence?

God is said to will a thing in one of two ways: absolutely or contingently. If God wills a thing absolutely, then it necessarily happens. So a thing which does not happen cannot be said to have been God’s absolute will. But we know per divine revelation that God wills some things to happen that do not, in fact, happen. Namely, God is not willing that any should perish,1 but some men perish.2 This is not a contradiction because God’s will is contingent in this case.

It is false to say that God absolutely wills all men to be saved; rather, He contingently wills all men to be saved. His will in this case is contingent upon men freely responding to His grace, which is, per His absolute will, a necessary condition for eternal life.

Now there is no force which is outside of God so we know that all things Fall under God’s providence. If God puts a thing into motion, it would seem that it cannot be stopped whatsoever because since no force outside of God exists, no other force is present to stop what God has put into motion. But things which were set in motion do stop; they are stopped by God Himself. This happens because one thing He wills contingently is stopped by another thing which He wills absolutely.

When God wills that an apple should Fall to the ground per His natural law, He wills it contingently. He wills it contingent upon whether or not He wills another thing to intervene. A branch below the apple may catch it and prevent it from Falling, but that branch prevents the apple from hitting the ground because God wills that a branch should have the power of stopping an apple – not that the branch has its own power outside of God. God’s contingent will is only hindered by other things which He wills. God’s motion is only stopped by His own power.

But there are agents with their own will. Do they upset the order of God’s providence? Certainly not. God may will that man shall not eat the apple that fell, but He wills it contingent upon whether or not man should will to eat it. But whatever caused man to will to eat it, and remember that man is not his own final cause, is also under God’s providence.

Did God will evil then? Far be it from us to suggest such a thing; it is impossible. At this point we need to look at the broader picture and see that God did not absolutely will that man should not Fall. Whatever God absolutely wills is true by necessity. God wills absolutely that squares should not be circles and that such a thing should not be possible. Whatever God wills contingently also happens unless something else which He wills absolutely causes it to not happen.

In this way, all things are under God’s providence. So we can know for certain that it was not in God’s absolute will that man should avoid the Fall. God willed contingently that man should not Fall, but in His wisdom, He willed absolutely that creation should be precisely as good as it is, and to achieve that, it was necessary per His absolute will, that the Fall should take place to bring about the greater good which resulted. We would not know the good of perseverance, for example, without the Fall. But God absolutely willed that the good of perseverance, again for example, should exist and be manifest, and so His contingent will of avoiding the Fall was stopped by His absolute will for a greater good. We must conclude that even the Fall of man was under God’s providence.

Originally posted at Called to Communion.