Monday, December 30, 2013

Apologetics Online II

Please forgive my absence from posting more regularly. Some bloggers keep up with a better regimen and react to news more quickly. I'm beginning to feel as if I'm more in St. John's camp. At the end of his second letter he states that he wishes to speak with his brothers face to face. I'm perhaps the same way.

As I work on other pieces during my break I thought it would be nice to share with you some of my other encounters online doing apologetics. These are a few selections from a number of various topics selected. I give them to you all for your scrutiny and hope we can discuss similar questions together. If you have any additional questions, please ask away.

Much obliged.
As with last time, the person who asks me a question/makes a comment will be in italics. My responses will be in plain text.


 When someone slags off the church (IE calling them paedophiles) what do you say to them?

Well, it's upsetting because it's ignorant--not ignorant in that there are no pedophiles in the clergy (sad and regrettable)--but sometimes these people only want to be listened to.

The ones who say it as a joke or as slander don't want to be told anything. The best response is patience, really,

Others simply have been hurt by it and need to be heard. Other than that there are plenty of statistics to show that the rate among clergy, especially Catholic clergy, is lower and less frequent than nearly any other populations (e.g., fathers, teachers, etc.).

[2] Note: the wide area a simple question opens up to. It shows, I think, how ready we have to be to approach these subjects specifically and then see the larger picture. In this instance infallibility opens up to questions about truth, veracity, certainty, (Medieval) history, philosophy, and Church procedures. It goes on and on.

(I've done some editing and down-sizing)

Do you believe the pope's word is infallible spiritually or otherwise and how con someone who allegedly have a direct link to an omniscient being be wrong about one thing and not another?

First and foremost Papal Infallibility is limited to the Pope speaking authoritatively on matters of faith and morals to the whole Church, not just one part. His comments on local affairs or specific concerns in a field, while they carry weight by virtue of his authority, are not considered infallible.

The "direct link" to Omniscience is not like a phone call to God. The Holy Spirit works in the Church and ultimately Christ, rather, the Trinity, leads the Church. The Pope is the living authority of the Church who by virtue of His stature, is said to be incapable of error or deceit when it comes to the contents of faith.

This has been misinterpreted for centuries, even after clarification in the 19th century, and has been taken to mean that whatever he says is free from error. The pope has only invoked infallibility according to our definition about 30 times in our whole history. Likewise, as Scripture states "the one who is wise seeks council." Very rarely, if ever, has the pope just come out and said "I infallibly say..." In fact he never has. He consults with his fellow bishops on matters of faith that concern the peoples from all over the world and when conflict arises they discuss this conflict's subject matter and how it relates to the whole of the faith. It's a very long process and never done flippantly.

Again isn't he supposed to be god's mouthpiece on Earth; why would he need to do all that if he can contact the "all mighty" himself?

Well we would first have to examine any assumptions one would make about it. First, I don't recall us calling him "God's mouthpiece." It's not an official or even theological title.

It assumes how God speaks to men or through men. It assumes how men listen for God. I wish I could give you a formula for how it happens but it's not subject to human control (or invocation). The Pope is elected as leader of the Church by his fellow brothers because they see in him a spirit of governance. He is not perfect, he's human. By virtue of his position he is given great responsibility but also a great number of graces--should he choose to accept him.

Describing how the Holy Spirit works through men is not an easy task, nor is it one many Christians wish to reflect on or think through.

I know it might be hard for you to process but has it ever occurred to you that it's most likely all made up?
Of course, but then again how much effort have you dedicated to seeing if it's true?

Most of my adolescence and all of my early adulthood. There is a logical tool that is used to determine the veracity of a claim called Occam's Razor. I'm sure you heard of it.It is a line of reasoning that says the simplest answer is often correct. [someone else, atheist it seems, steps in to say, "Not quite. Occam's Razor is more like "the answer that makes the least amount of assumptions is often correct".]
I've also found that that's the extent of people's knowledge of Ockham.

Let use it in an example then!
Which is the simpler claim: that someone can truly be infallible or that it's a lie?

Asking if he's claiming that it's more probable to tell the truth than a lie he response, "No it is much more likely that someone is telling a lie; especially when making an extraordinary a claim as "selective infallibility". If we are to believe any claim we require evidence and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." [I also ask if he's read Ockham]

Can you give me the probabilities on that? If you call what I described as "selective" you might as well call any truth claim "selective truth claiming."

As for evidence in general, who requires it and why? What makes a claim extraordinary? Likewise, are claims of logic, philosophy, or similar branches subject to the same criteria as the physical sciences, or are their various forms of demonstration according to their proper field?

I also like the notion of "extraordinary claims." Extraordinary has a very emotional ring to it, doesn't it?

You see, Ockham's Razor is very popular except people seem to have forgotten that he did believe in God--did he not follow his own rule? That, and his use of the "Razor" was more concerned with the discussion of universals than every time someone wanted to talk about God.
[Here it gets a bit more complicated:]

[1] Truth as most commonly defined as that which is in accordance with fact or reality.
What you are claiming is that the pope isn't just selectively telling the truth but as I was getting at that the pope is allegedly capable of selectively dictating without error the word of an alleged all powerful being that created the universe.

[2] A claim that is mundane or a commonly observed or experienced occurrence (like: I walked my dog) is an easily determinable as either true or false there should be no reason to doubt me and if you do I could present to you evidence that I have a dog. Simply by presenting my dog. That would be considered ordinary.
Extraordinary (despite your attempt to call me on an appeal to emotion) is something that is as the word describes extra-ordinary. Which is defined as going beyond what is usual, regular, or customary.
Infallibility would fall under the category of an extraordinary claim.
[3] Because just like Sir Isaac Newton, Ockham's scientific contribution is irrelevant to his religious beliefs. 

Ockham believed that  "only faith gives us access to theological truths. The ways of God are not open to reason, for God has freely chosen to create a world and establish a way of salvation within it apart from any necessary laws that human logic or rationality can uncover." His theism was based solely on private revelation and faith and that god was an ontological necessity. Which given the century he lived in there was literally no alternative theory of how things came to exist. Essentially Ockham granted god special pleading because when you apply the Razor to the claim of god it really does a number on it.
[I quote what I'm responding to:]
Truth as most commonly defined as that which is in accordance with fact or reality.

Philosophy is often quite good at challenging even these claims as being self-evident, but I won't argue semantics here.

But regardless of our views about the value of fact or the precise definition of reality you seem to be adding complications to it by your evaluations of a given pope's actions, i.e., I don't understand  "selectively dictating without error the word of [x]." It leads me to believe that you take his action to be some sort of prophecy or divination which it isn't. I can't really argue against things I don't believe or the Church doesn't teach/proclaim.

It doesn't quite answer my question about your comment about the probability of truth.
Extraordinary (despite your attempt to call me on an appeal to emotion) is something that is as the word describes extra-ordinary. Which is defined as going beyond what is usual, regular, or customary.Infallibility would fall under the category of an extraordinary claim.

Then again, given your dog example, you could claim that you've spoken infallibly about your dog. I only say it's "emotional" in that there usually is some wonder in confronting something extraordinary. The vastness of the universe, stellar motions, and the like can provoke wonder. Sub atomic structures, the formation of organisms from single cells, mitosis, etc. may also be extraordinary in a certain sense. Then again even the act of walking our dog or observing the harmony of an animal's motions can be very captivating. Even something as "ordinary" as ourselves--we are with ourselves most of the time after all--is subject to a great deal of contingency and wonder.

Perhaps this serves as a small example of how easily ordinary and extraordinary can sometimes be confusing, even emotional insofar as they cause us to wonder.

Infallibility is not so extraordinary when one is certain. People seem to infallibly claim things all the time such as:

-the universe is infinite
-the universe is only material (and thus finite)
-any evaluation of the Middle Ages seems to be very extraordinary and many non-historians/Christians/etc. claim many fantastic, infallible things off of weak/unfounded/biased/unhistorical evidence

I use that last example of the ordinary way everyday people speak infallibly about things much larger and more complicated than themselves.

Whenever the Pope speaks infallibly, however, it is not apart from a careful examination of the faith of the people, the content of tradition, and the content of revelation--claims rarely made (as I said) flippantly.

Perhaps you're introducing more extraordinary things into the process.
Because just like Sir Isaac Newton, Ockham's scientific contribution is irrelevant to his religious beliefs.

The thing is that Ockham's claim with the "Razor" was not scientific, but philosophical--a bit of a difference. Likewise Newton's physics (Paschal's too) were motivated by both genuine curiosity, genius, and their faith. It was their belief that creation was orderly, not chaotic, that inspired them to find that order in creation (that's how they would see it--how you see it for them is beside the point).

His theism was based solely on private revelation and faith and that god was an ontological necessity. Which given the century he lived in there was literally no alternative theory of how things came to exist. Essentially Ockham granted god special pleading because when you apply the Razor to the claim of god it really does a number on it.

Are you saying that as a scholar of this particular period of theology and philosophy or just an educated opinion?

Given that he was a member of the Catholic Church he believed in some capacity of revelation throughout history and also through the Church, not just privately. A private faith apart from the Body, the Church did not share clearly or accurately with revelation because a private faith alone is not a part of the Body.

As for alternative theories have you read Anselm, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Scotus, Nicholas of Cusa, or Ockham on their own terms to see if your purported truth claim is, well, true?

I thought the same when I started philosophy, that the Middle ages just said "God" was the answer without any real thought behind it. As it turned out I had to be humbled by my peers and by actual reading to find that, all along, I (me personally) had been the arrogant one and I was wrong. There's a richness and variety that we deny these men by assuming what their arguments are all about.
 [This is the conversation thus far....]



Apologetics is a task where one has to get to the heart of what one is asking. In matters of making a defense the first claim is the gateway into a number of further disagreements. If we can be civil and honest about such disagreements we can go a long way. Likewise, we have to carefully see how the other uses his vocabulary--eek out certain assumptions and premises. Very often philosophy is misunderstood, let alone medieval philosophy.

Humility always plays a role in evangelization; we don't know everything. Some people want to argue with us and compete while others simply are interested in how we process the many things that happen. I'm learning to approach both these moments with gratitude. God speaks through our enemies and detractors just as He does our loved ones.

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Apologetics Online (Discussion)

Doing my best "Paul in the Greek Forum" routine, I went to a forum of a website I do apologetic work at and simply told people that if they'd like to inquire about my Catholic faith to ask away.

I'd like to share with you a few exchanges. Feel free to correct me if I've made a mistake, add your own thoughts, or  share any similar experiences.

Note: My responses are in normal text, their questions will be in italics.


I have several questions for you, as a Protestant Christian.

1. Why do you pray to the saints as opposed to praying directly to God? What makes the saints "special?"

Prayer to the saints is expressed in the form of seeking their intercession, such as "St. Maximilian, help me overcome my addiction to alcohol." While the syntax makes it seems like Benedict is doing the work, the meaning of the common phrase is "St. Maximilian Kolbe, patron of sufferers/addicts, pray to our Lord Jesus on my behalf that, through his grace, I may overcome this addiction and stay dedicated to the means necessary to fight it."

We faithful, even in life, look to examples of holy men and women not just to emulate them but to ask them to help us know God and grow closer to Him. Prayer to Jesus Christ, the High Priest, is always good. The problem is that we in our sinful state can't even see the depth and depravity of our sin and, as such, we fail to ask for what we really need. We rightly seek the help of others in our life. For example: we seek a doctor to diagnose our symptoms (e.g., fever, soreness in certain areas) are he finds that we have an infection, so he prescribes the proper medicine. A holy man or woman, learned in Scriptures and the soul, is able to find the root of our sin and ask Christ to send the appropriate cure.

Some may say, "But Christ knows what we need." He does know, but He also wants us to know and understand. How did he help His people know and understand His word that he preached? Through the prophets who proclaimed His word. Through judges, kings, and scribes who parsed out and educated others about the Law. Through the Apostles charged with preaching the Gospel. God, Jesus, used men as His messengers. The Apostles also would inform Jesus of the plight of His followers. Of course Jesus knew, but He encouraged and sought that His disciples had an awareness of this.

The saints in heaven were Jesus' faithful servants on earth. They, having received the fullness of His promise (life forever with Him) carry out His work with Him. The saints, in a sense, assist us as being both personal friend and spiritual icon by which we can more clearly see Christ and the conduit through which we can receive His grace more effectively. Scripture tells again and again the powers holy ones can achieve through their prayer. We sinners, though our prayers are true, may not be powerful. When we pray we seek, in some fashion, the power of God--this can come through consolation, correction, and many other ways. We are asking the saints, as followers asked John the Baptist, "who is the one who will save us?" We saw that John preached alongside Jesus for a short while, and he preformed powerful deeds. But all in service of pointing us to Christ, especially when we don't know how to do it ourselves.

Saints have been given a special power in the Spirit to guide others to Christ.

2. Is it true that you have to be baptized as an integral part of your salvation?

This is tough on a number of levels. If you believe in Christ, yes. Baptism in the foundation of eternal life, the waters by which we die to death and are born to eternal life. It's forming a covenant, one that cannot be undone but, like a covenant, can be broken.

3. Why are there extra books in the Catholic Bible as opposed to Protestant Bibles? (Like Maccabees.)

Many ways to go about this. One reason is to observe why those books were taken out of the Christian canon in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Many Protestants point to the Jewish Council (of Jerusalem? I think) where the Jews banned books like Maccabeus and Sirach because they were written in Greek.

Some other sources claim that those written after the cutoff, which is Ezra and Nehemiah (post-exilic), were too new to be accepted. The basis for this wasn't founded on any understanding of revelation and was, some argue, done simply for the purity of the language. Luther argued the same way for Sirach and Maccabeus, but we've found Hebrew manuscripts of Sirach and Maccabeus I. Is the late authorship a problem? Then then New testament poses a problem since it is a continuation of revelation in between which Sirach, Maccabeus, and the others were written.

Some claim, "Shouldn't the Jews decide what their canon is?" Yes, but we should also be scrupulous about how the canon came to be--which requires a lot of research.

There were actually numerous canons proposed by Jerusalem, Alexandria, and diaspora communities. The same goes for the New Testament.

The NT actually stopped the period Scripture could be added at about 115AD (I think), since John the Apostle died in 105/8 AD. Revelation ended with the Apostles, those directly taught by Christ, who is the Revealer and ultimate Revelation in one. Many of the "new Gospels" like Thomas, Peter, Judas were written after the death of the Apostles, often in the 140-180AD period, where the name of the Apostles were being invoked in order to grant legitimacy to their Scripture. This was debunked by a combination of cross-referencing Scripture with many Gnostic-infused claims in those new Gospels and an appeal (first) to the Tradition of the communities founded by the Apostles that didn't preach what these Gospels said. Historical they may be, but they were deemed to be not Inspired.

Maccabeus and Sirach, on the other hand, came from the community of the faithful and were recognized as such by many of the faithful. They were in line with what many believed. It should be noted that the Sadduces, I believe, established that canon that excluded those OT books. They also denied the resurrection, angels, and demons, all of which Christ affirmed.

Christ is also shown when he quotes various OT passages to prefer the Greek (Septuagint) and Scriptures of the Qumran tradition, their canon is what Christians adopted, which did in fact have the books that remain canonical in the Catholic Bible.

4. Why do we need the Pope as a head of authority?

The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, the diocese of the great Apostles and Martyrs Peter and Paul and a host of martyrs. The Pope's role is not one of "master" but of pastor, just as Jesus established the Apostles as shepherds alongside him. This is how the Apostles formed communities. They had the authority to teach and preach. All are charged to preach the good news, but is whatever they teach right and in accord with the whole of the faithful.

The pope is not there to be a dictator, but to govern the people, seek council from other pastors, and to speak with the spirit of authority handed down through Peter when matters of faith and morals are in a difficult dispute. He seeks council in these times but in the end there must be a voice that speaks, like Peter at Jerusalem, of a final say.

5. What is the point of purgatory and how does it fit into the scheme of eternity?

Purgatory, as its name implies, is a place of purgation and purification. Souls who are faithful to Christ in their life, yet remained mired by (venial) sins need to be cleansed of their sins. This "state of being" is a period by which a soul readies his heart to receive Christ. Since they could not do it through the blood of martyrdom or through an exemplary life of charity purgatory allows those souls who are all the same faithful to do a sort of penance to prepare themselves for heaven.

One more, from a different person.

How do you (personally) experience/sense God? I know the answer to that will be in multiple ways, but maybe the most striking one, or the most common one.

I personally experience God in prayer, doing penance before the Father, seeking the intercession of the Son, seeking inspiration by the Spirit. I experience Him physically in the reception of the Eucharist, praying as I process that God have mercy on me, a sinner, praying that "though the reception of your Body and Blood, fill up in me what is lacking in my own flesh and spirit."

I try to listen for God in whispers, not in loud clashes. In the quiet moments among friends, in the peace of walking outside, in bed while I was suffering when sick with nothing around me but darkness. I experience God after I sin because I know its our relationship I harmed and I experience Him in the joy and consolation people find in their children, spouses, and friends.

I experienced Him, although my experiences are limited, in the death of my grandparents--that He is loving and merciful and that a life lived according to His word is worthwhile and beautiful. Living with Him gives dignity even to the scandal of death.

I've experienced Him powerfully and personally only twice--and I mean in those earth-shattering ways. Other times I've found Him reaching for me when I've fallen low and I remind myself constantly to thank Him while things are well.
He answers my prayers. He gives and He takes away.


So, what are your thoughts? My answer on baptism was brief. It's one thing to parse out quotes and citations when organizing a text, but it's another thing trying to communicate one-on-one or in public. Do you find these answers to be effective, wrong, or a little of both?

I'd enjoy discussing it with you.