Category Archives: Theology

Peter and the Council of Jerusalem

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Last week, I posted an entry describing the doctrine of infallibility. The purpose of this blog post will be to demonstrate that the Church under the original apostles was granted this power, and exercised it in response to theological controversy in the context of a single council, lead by Peter, with authority over the whole Church. Continue reading


Infallibility, Defined

My good friend and author of the Platypus Manifesto is currently an inquirer in the RCIA at his local parish, the stage of the Rite in which one decides whether or not to convert to the Roman Catholic Church. Recently, he posted a blog entry which generated quite a few comments, mostly from Protestant friends. One of the main issues brought up was the doctrine of the infallibility of papal and conciliar pronouncements. It was clear that the exact details and corollaries of this doctrine, much less the evidence supporting it, are not well-known within Protestantism. Hopefully, this series of posts may alleviate some of that confusion and ignorance, and encourage productive discussions on exactly what promises and guarantees are made to the Church. Continue reading

The Reasonableness of the Immaculate Conception

Wednesday was the Feast of the Assumption, when we commemorate that the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ, reached the end of her earthly life and was assumed into Heaven. So why am I writing about the Immaculate Conception? Because the end of Mary’s time on earth does not seem to be nearly so controversial for Protestants as her conception and life. Continue reading

A Note on Criticisms of Chik-Fil-A Day

“The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.” – Pope Pius XII

“To love is to will the good of another” – St. Thomas Aquinas

The massive show of support for Chik-fil-A brought some criticism from Christians who felt that the event ultimately would do more harm than good to the Christian witness to the LGBT community. However, a major component of this criticism is that the gay community perceives such public shows of support for true marriage to be “hate” and thus those taking part in Chik-fil-A Appreciation Day were not following the command to “love your neighbor.” The charge is that Christians are too busy “hating the sin” to “love the sinner.” While this argument may make other good points, on this particular issue it is in error, because the author has a faulty understanding of love.

What is Love? As the above quote from the Angelic Doctor states, “to love is to will the good of another.” The highest end and greatest good of man is to be united to God in the Beatific Vision. Man is fallen, and cannot achieve this end on his own. Christ came, and died for us, that we might be saved. How can we be saved? “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.” Further, St. Paul tells us that no one who persists in sin (“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, …” 1 Corinthians 6:9) will be saved.

Homosexual acts (though not the orientation itself, that is merely disordered) are condemned as gravely sinful by the Bible. As long as the LGBT community maintains that such acts are not sinful or wrong, and any opposition to such acts is hate, their salvation is an unlikely prospect. To promote or fail to refute the proposition that Christianity condones homosexual acts will endanger the souls of many same-sex attracted individuals, and is thus gravely contrary to love. We can debate about the wisdom of the Huckabee-led Chik-fil-A Day. But if sinners take umbrage when we condemn their evil actions, we may not back down merely for the sake of their feelings. Immortal souls are at stake.

Is Free Enterprise Materialistic?

A common objection to the capitalist system is that free enterprise leads to or encourages materialismthe excessive desire to consume and accumulate material goods. This view is often accompanied by the idea that capitalism is based on the pursuit of profits, and thus elevates the accumulation of wealth to a kind of first-order good. However, when compared with its alternatives, the free enterprise system does not especially concern itself with the accumulation or distribution of material goods.

Free enterprise is a system whereby individuals, secured in their property rights by the rule of law, are free to exchange and produce goods in any manner that does not violate the rights of other individuals to life, liberty, and property. Goods acquired by production or exchange are owned by the individual, and cannot be taken or used without his leave. Whether a man chooses to consume his property, give it away, destroy it, or use it to produce more goods is not the concern of the overseeing State: in a system of free enterprise, the State’s role in the economy is to prevent theft and fraud. The focus is on human action: individual liberty to act, and individual responsibility for those actions.

Redistributionist alternatives are guided by whether or not the current distribution of economic goods meets some criteria – without regard to how that distribution came about. Socialist and communist endeavors taxed or confiscated the wealth of the very rich to make all men more equal in outcome, and class- and caste-based societies saw confiscatory taxation of the more successful members of the lower classes as a method of “keeping them in their proper place.” After all, it would not do for a peasant to have more wealth than a nobleman! In redistributionist systems, the State additionally tasks itself with transferring property and wealth between parties to achieve some desired wealth distribution. Here, the focus is on the outcomes of human action: did those endeavors lead to the “proper” distribution of goods and services?

The difference should be clear: free enterprise secures property rights to individuals and allows men the freedom to dispose of their goods and lands as they see fit, and the major alternative family of systems ignore, to some degree or another, the rights to liberty and property of some in order to secure a given distribution of material goods. Why then, is free enterprise maligned with the epithet “materialistic”?

The reason is simple: the system of free enterprise provides both the freedom and produces the wealth to allow people to act in materialistic ways. In some sense, capitalism civilizes materialism: the system produces so much excess wealth that it becomes possible for a man to horde goods without pillaging his neighbor. Nevertheless, the dual guiding lights of free enterprise are individual liberty and individual responsibility, and equality is equality of rights before the law. On the other hand, the more redistributionist systems view equality in different terms: the question is not whether men are equally free to act, but whether their actions lead to materially equal outcomes. The materialism of redistributionist regimes is embedded institutionally, whereas the materialism of free enterprise is not intrinsic to the system, but is engraved upon man’s Fallen and sinful nature.

The Catholic Educational Crisis

The Obama Administration’s “compromise” – an accounting trick to hide the payments for contraceptives – was soundly rejected by the US Catholic Bishops. And rightfully so – claiming that religious providers would not have to pay for contraceptives, but that all insurance providers would have to cover them is an insultingly thin smokescreen. Nothing has changed. The Catholic leadership clearly recognizes this and is rallying. Many conservative Catholics have happily and publicly opposed this latest overreach of the administration, and even some stalwart Catholic supporters of Obama have decided that this is too much – Chris Matthews among them. Protestants, too, have closed ranks with the Catholic Faithful in opposition to this grievous crime. Sadly enough, these Protestants show a greater grasp of the issue at hand than some of our own.

In defense of the contraception mandate in health care, a misguided young Catholic wrote this response. The author is a student at the Catholic University of America, was baptized and confirmed in the Church, and “attended weekly catechism classes and received a Jesuit education.” And yet she says “[n]ever once did the opinion of the church on a person’s use of contraceptives surface.” The only conclusion I can draw is that the weekly catechism classes never made it to CCC2360-2400, and that Jesuit education never even gave a summary of Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. My much-less-impressive education in Catholic teaching was no better – none of my confirmation classes touched on the subject, and the fundamentalist Protestant Christian school I attended certainly had no use for Paul VI or the rest of the Catholic magisterium. My mother was Catholic and my father Protestant, so the compromise on theology at home seemed to be “lay out basic Christianity, and let him figure out the rest” – which actually strikes me as the best possible under the circumstances. In fact, my years-long adventures in Protestantism (fundamentalist/pseudo-Catholic->confused->Calvinist) laid a better foundation for me than any previous teaching. It was more through the questions of close Protestant friends (and my ensuing research) than the teaching of Catholics that I came by my own scant knowledge of Catholic teaching, and eventually reverted to Catholicism.

Pia de Solenni has it exactly right: we have a failure of Catholic eduction. The author of the article shows deep ignorance of Catholic teaching – as well as the contraceptive mandate issue at hand – in nearly every sentence of the article. And I fear this sort of shortcoming is endemic. Political correctness should never keep the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church from teaching the full and authentic truth at any level, no matter how low. It doesn’t matter if the uncomfortable topic is Hell or sex: teachers, parents, and priests need to inculcate their charges with the full truth of Catholic teaching. It’s an evil and nasty world, a world at war, and we send in young Catholics (myself included) who don’t know which end of the Sword of the Spirit to hold (not the pointy end). Needlessly sending untrained men to battle is akin to murder; tossing untrained souls into spiritual war is far worse.

One Forgotten Doctrine, One Forgotten Threat

According to Thomas Peter’s list the number of American Bishops who have publicly stated their opposition to the HHS mandate is now at least ninety. The current administration has ordered that “non-religious” employers offer “free” (nothing is free, gentlemen) contraception with any health insurance plan. The Catholic leadership is calling the laity to political arms because the definition of the exempted religious employers is sufficiently narrow as to exclude Catholic schools, hospitals, and many other institutions – although monasteries manage to make the cut. Catholic doctrine teaches that contraception denies the procreative half of the unitive and procreative purpose of sex, and is thus wrong. In fact, since no circumstance can justify it (unlike killing in self-defense, you always have the moral option to just not have sex), contraception is consider evil by its object. Enabling or supporting such an act must also be impermissible, so many Catholic institutions find themselves in the unenviable but clear choice to obey God or to obey man. The law is directly opposed to religion.

But how did we get here? We rally to defend the line of religious freedom, of freedom of conscience, because religion and conscious are viewed as core, essential freedoms. The witness of the martyrs show them to be held even dearer than life, in some cases. But how did it come to this, with the battalions of Leviathan drawn up at the gates of our keep, demanding the submission of Church to State? Were there no other lines to defend?

We are forced to hold our line at the desperate ditch of religious liberty because we have abandoned the defense of liberty through subsidiarity, and with it, our fear of Leviathan. Though our written doctrine may accord this federalist idea a lofty seat, our historical behavior as a denomination relegated subsidiarity to the intellectual dungeons of practical Catholic political theory. The command of Christ was to care for the poor. He commanded us to do it, yet we delegated that role to the government. It is hard to give to charity, but easy to ask the government to force everyone to do so. Now, when the government controls funding for Catholic adoption agencies in Illinois, it wields that money like a cudgel to attempt to coerce the aforementioned agencies to place children with same-sex couples – an environment neither ordered nor evolved for child care. We granted the government power to collect funds to help adopted children, and now the government encroaches upon the practice of our charities. We grant the government increasing authority to regulate and direct economic activity, well outside it’s natural role to guarantee “individual freedom, private property, sound money, and efficient public services (CCC 2431),” and now we are faced with an economic mandate by the government to enable and cooperate in evil. The government has expanded time and time again, and always at the expense of the Church.

Should we prevail, and throw back the ever-usurping monster, we would do well to reclaim our old walls. Education is properly the responsibility of the parents and the Church. Charity is the responsibility of the Church – especially when the government claims to be secular and separate. Planning for one’s financial future is the domain of the individual, not the Senator or Treasury officer. Cage Leviathan in his proper domain of restraining the evil of man, and the next time he seeks conquest, the struggle need not be so desperate. We need to remember that while government has a good and proper domain, it cannot expand but by trampling on and usurping the proper spheres of Church and man alike.

In the mean time, we have a war to fight, and a line to defend. Please write your representatives, or sign this petition.

Rick Santorum : The Catholic Candidate?

Yesterday, CatholicVote announced its endorsement of Rick Santorum. His recent tie for first in Iowa has given him the appearance of electability, and he is popular among conservative Catholics. Thomas Peters calls him the “quite the Catholic candidate” and wrote a post entitled “Rick Santorum: Catholic Hero.” The man is a walking Catechism on abortion and supports the Church’s position on the defense of marriage wholeheartedly. However, two of Rick Santorum’s positions are decidedly un-Catholic, and gravely so.

Rick Santorum supports torture. He calls it “enhanced interrogation” – but it doesn’t make it “not torture.” There is no question that these techniques fit the dictionary definition of torture. Both Gaudium et Spes and Veritatis Splendor affirm that torture – whether physical or mental – is an intrinsically evil act, listed with abortion, homicide, and human trafficking. It may be argued that the Vatican definition of torture allows the possibility of an exception for information extraction. However, the documents refer to torture as evil per se, evil in its very object and by its very nature – an act no extenuating circumstances may justify.

While perhaps of a less theologically grave nature, Senator Santorum’s rejection of Just War Theory in favor of pre-emptive wars and first strikes has more immediate potential to kill people. He supported the pre-emptive 2003 invasion of Iraq, and has pledged airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities if Iran refuses to allow inspections of those facilities. Additionally, he stated that he would not negotiate with Iran, and that scientists working on Iran’s nuclear program would be treated as enemy combatants. Eschewing diplomatic approaches guarantees that “last resort” cannot be satisfied, and the requirement of “distinction” in conduct of a just war is likely violated by targeting civilian scientists as if they were soldiers.

I think these rather glaring flaws should exclude Rick Santorum from Catholic endorsement – we can’t expect saints, but we can expect a certain level of assent to Catholic teaching. There are other candidates to look at – and it’s totally OK for CatholicVote to decide to endorse a Baptist or a Mormon if his views are more in line with Catholic teaching than Rick Santorum’s views. And, at the end of the day, if no candidate fits some bare minimum of Catholic morality, no candidate should get the Catholic vote.


Recently, the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice released a note on the current financial crisis, which has caused quite a stir in the Catholic community. Father Reese, a Jesuit from Georgetown University states that the document (he says the Pope) supports strong global regulation of the economy and redistribution of wealth, while Tom Hoopes over at CatholicVote points to the documents strong emphasis on subsidiarity as evidence that the Church is actually being very careful to limit the possible power of the institution they are describing. Part of the reason for this confusion is doubtless the desire of Catholics of various political stripes to read their particular ideology into the document, but the document’s own internal confusion and contradiction contribute must also effect the wide spectrum of interpretation.

Before beginning any economic analysis of the Note on Financial Reform, a few words on the authority and significance of the note may be in order. As Kathryn Lopez points out, this is neither a papal encyclical nor the proceedings of an ecumenical council. This is a note emanating from the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice, which, according to the Pontifical Council for Internet Truth (or wikipedia, I can never remember which) concerns itself largely with studies, information gathering, and networking with other groups who also promote peace and justice. Doctrinal statements would be coming down from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, so it would be dishonest to claim that this is a teaching of the Church which requires the assent of all Catholics. That said, the mere fact that the Vatican felt the need to issue a note on the subject should probably indicate that this is no issue we can dismiss.

Possibly the most fascinating aspect of the document is that it begins with an understanding of the origins of the financial crisis that looks vaguely Austrian and proceeds to recommend solutions that feel rather Keynesian. The first section, on economic development and inequalities, places the blame for the financial collapse on “expansion of credit” that lead to an “inflationary spiral that inevitably encountered a limit in the risk that credit institutions could accept.” Later, in section four, the document again references “decrease in the quality of credit” as a culprit in the financial collapse. “Pockets of excess liquidity” are associated with speculative bubbles. This was a very promising start – but the PCJP didn’t delve deeply enough, and was thus lead to faulty conclusions.

What caused the expansions of credit? According to this Vatican whitepaper, “economic liberalism” is to blame for the cause of our woes. The authors explain that economic liberalism is the idea that markets can be largely left alone. I suppose it would be reasonable to blame ‘liberalist’ economic policies for our current malaise if we, you know, implemented them. Unfortunately, our economy is anything but free. We have a fiat monetary system – which means that the currency only has value because of government regulation – and a central bank. That central bank, the Federal Reserve System, has among its duties that of lender of last resort and regulation of monetary policy. In theory, an elastic currency means that the money supply can be expanded and contracted by the actions of the Federal Reserve. In practice, the only way to contract the money supply is to confiscate or purchase money, and then destroy it – something I don’t think has ever been tried. A far more common tactic is the expansion of the money supply by either lowering interest rates or buying financial assets with newly-created fiat money. The only-mildly-inebriated reader will at this point observe that the expansions to the supply of money are not the result of a free and unregulated market trading various goods, but the heavy hand of government regulation. Thus, the expansion of cheap credit – correctly identified by the white paper as the source of the problem – is not a result of too much economic liberalism, but of too little!

Having determined that unused economic policies are to blame for our mess, the curial note goes on to recommend the expansion of the current economic policies that are to blame for our mess. A “supranational Authority” is called for which will ” be favourable to the existence of efficient and effective monetary and financial systems; that is, free and stable markets overseen by a suitable legal framework.” Emphasis is placed on the requirement that such an authority not use coercion or force, which is an interesting and contradictory requirement. The document makes no mention of any move from fiat money back to commodity-backed currencies, so the establishment of a more centralized bank would be propagation of the current system of fiat money – which is by its very nature coercive.

Additionally, the document proposes further offences against morality- namely the proposal to tax financial transactions and use those funds to bail out economies affected by financial crises and to benefit banks which “behave virtuously.” This is not true charity – charity is when one gives what is one’s own to help another. The coercive extraction of funds from one party to benefit another party – however virtuous that second party is – is not charity but theft. When James exhorts us to help our brothers in need, he tells us to use our own private property to assist. Giving a man in need my coat is charity – confiscating your coat and giving it to him is theft.

The analysis of the Mises institute says it best – this Congregation has discovered disease, and has recommended more disease as the cure. While showing hints of economic enlightenment, the note’s recommendations are disastrous – even without elaborating on the assumption that the United Nations, a body including such offenders against human dignity and liberty as China and Saudi Arabia.

Perhaps we should pray that our German Pontiff gets some Austrian advice in economics matters.

Theology on Tap

On Monday night, I accompanied the other members of the St. James 20s and 30s group down to Dixon for Theology on Tap. The speaker was a clergyman by the name of John Lyons, and his topic was angels and demons.

Our little group from Davis was immediately greeted by one of the organizers. The St. Peters group has clearly been together much longer than the Davis group, and is far more outgoing. They could probably give the Roaring 20s group a run for their money in friendliness. The other interesting quality of this youth group was their obvious and enthusiastic theological conservatism. The extraordinary form of Mass was an immediate topic of discussion, and the people in attendance seemed really fired up about stopping the spread of abortion in the area.

Promptly ten minutes late, the talk started. Father John started with a Hail Mary – more on this later – and dove right in to his discussion of angels. He laid out the rather reasonable and not-at-all unfamiliar argument that the existence of angels is entailed by the truth of scripture, and that if one accepts the existence of loyal angels from the authority of scripture, then one must also accept the existence of the rebellious spirits. Lyons explained some of what Aquinas taught about the angels as spiritual beings. This lead to the interesting (and irrelevant) claim that angels don’t have wings – despite the passage describing certain kinds of angels as in fact having six wings. It does bother me that this passage was effectively dismissed without an in-depth defense of that dismissal. I don’t give a damn whether or not angels have wings, but if the teachings of a famous doctor of the Church are to be held above the face-value reading of a passage, there had bloody well better be a good defense.

In any case, the lecture continued on into the realm of spiritual warfare, starting with a derivation of the probability of guardian angels. Pious speculation posits that each individual has a guardian angel to help them on their path and fight with them against the powers of darkness. The priest also touched on various levels of demonic influence: temptation, obsessions (oppression, in Protestant circles), and possessions. One interesting point he made was that it might be advisable to pray to one’s guardian angel. My Protestant-influenced mind immediately rebelled at this – I get the feeling that the Protestant view of prayer strongly includes worship, while the Catholic understanding leans more toward a simple request for aid. Having the benefit of some twenty-four hours to think on it, I am more comfortable with the idea – if I have such a spiritual guardian always fighting alongside me, it might be advisable to drop him a line once in a while.

This line of thinking brings me back to a concern I referenced earlier – intercessory prayer. I think I am in accord with Catholic doctrine on prayer directed to Mary and the other saints, but I have practical concerns. I see the obvious logic of asking the saints to intercede for us – which of us Christians would not ask one of our living brothers and sisters to pray for us in time of need? – but I worry that in practice, many Catholics may go to Mary first, and push Christ aside. Scripture clearly teaches that through Christ we can directly approach the Father – in fact, this is exactly how Christ teaches his disciples to pray. I see nothing wrong with calling on the Communion of Saints to pray for us, but I think we should emphasize the centrality of Christ and the Father in our prayer lives as Catholics.

In conclusion, the talk was great. There was a period of time for questions afterwards, and some general discussion among the Catholics there. It was a really great experience, and I look forward to next Monday. I also bought a pair of books on Marian theology – hopefully reading them can clear up any of my concerns that may be rooting in faulty understanding of doctrine.

Oh, and the beer was terrible. Maybe we need to work a little harder at bringing the Lutherans back into communion with Rome, or something.