Sunday, 19 March 2017


Wendy Savage has given an interview to the Mail On Sunday that deserves some comment.
Professor Savage said: ‘Because of this sort of anxiety [ie that women may choose to abort female children] some places won’t tell the woman the sex of the foetus, which is outrageous. It’s her body and her foetus, so she should have that information... If a woman does not want to have a foetus who is one sex or the other, forcing her [to go through with the pregnancy] is not going to be good for the eventual child, and it’s not going to be good for [the mother’s] mental health.
There is a lot that is wrong here. Firstly, let's look at the use of the possessive pronoun, 'her.' Savage refers to 'her body' and 'her foetus' as though the word has the same meaning in both cases. But it clearly doesn't. Consider 'her body' and 'her daughter.' Clearly the implications are different: in the first case, 'her' signifies identity, agency and autonomy; in the second, a complex web of relationships and responsibilities. To say it is 'her foetus' is true in the second, not in the first, sense.

Secondly, she appears to be arguing that 'this sort of anxiety' is unfounded  and therefore the response 'is outrageous' and then immediately afterwards, arguing that women should be able to do precisely what she claims is unfounded. 

Thirdly, the use of the word 'forcing' is particularly loaded. What she opposes is not the use of force; rather it is the law preventing the use of force against the unborn child. To talk of allowing a natural process to proceed as 'forcing' is intellectually dishonest.

Fourthly, her claim that allowing the pregnancy to proceed to full term in such circumstances 'is not going to be good for the eventual child' is particularly problematic. 'Eventual' is another lie: the child is already present. And there is no evidence to suggest that if a woman who originally wanted a boy then has a girl, the girl suffers any adverse effect from that. Whereas abortion, of course, is certainly not going to be good for the child.

Fifthly, her claim re the mother's mental health is without any foundation whatsoever.
She has previously signed a letter claiming sex-selective abortion is ‘not gender discrimination’ as that term ‘applies only to living people’.
That is just silly. It is a classic 'No true Scotsman' fallacy. It is no argument at all to define terms in such a way that you do not have to address the substantial issues.
Speaking today in a personal capacity, Prof Savage also insisted a woman should have the legal right to demand an abortion at any stage of pregnancy, saying: ‘It is the woman’s right to decide.'  ‘It’s her body. She is the one taking the risks.'
Again, Savage departs from the truth. It is not the woman's body that is most germane here, but the body of her unborn child - a completely separate, even if completely dependent, human being.
The foetus is a potential human life at that stage [in the womb]; it is not an actual human life... I think you’ve got to concentrate on the [rights of the] woman.’
And this is simply untrue. It is demonstrably alive, and it is demonstrably human. We have arrived at the post-truth world where facts count for nothing at this stage in her argument.

Her problem, of course, is that she needs to justify abortion, as she has performed so many in her career; it would take huge courage and honesty to face the truth about that. And that problem is compounded by the fact that there is no sound justification for abortion on this scale (or on any scale, of course).

Pray for her.

An Inclusive Church?

One of the truths of modern life that seems completely unquestionable is that we should always be (or at the very least, strive to be) inclusive. Especially the Church.

I think this bears examining. 

And especially for the Church.

For nowhere in the Gospel do I hear Our Lord preaching that inclusion is a virtue. And indeed, time and again, we read of him selecting people, and thereby, of course, excluding others.

This struck me particularly as I was reflecting on the Transfiguration. Christ had chosen 72 (to the exclusion of many others, doubtless). He chose 12 men (excluding all women and many other men). And then He chose Peter, James and John to ascend the mountain and witness the Transfiguration.  What did the other apostles make of that? They were a querulous bunch, so I bet they had something to say about it...

And whenever He talks of His return in glory, He talks of separating out: sheep from goats, those who clothed, fed and visited Him from those who did not, and so on.

And yet this drive for inclusion seems to dictate so much that has changed in the Church: the removal of the altar rails, the opening up of the sanctuary to all and sundry, girl altar servers, blessings at the altar steps for those not receiving (when all are blessed at the end of Mass), the Sign of Peace ritual, lay people reading, the bidding prayers, the choir that anyone can join (whether they can hold a tune or not) and which therefore cannot attempt serious music, and now, the reception of communion by those living in a public state of sin.

I think much of this is misguided, though well-intentioned, because it is driven by a secular standard and not by the example or teaching of Our Lord or the traditions of the Church.

Traditionally, Catholics excluded others from their worship (even catechumens had to leave before the Canon of the Mass). We excluded women from the Sanctuary during worship (with the symbolic exception of the Nuptial Mass). And so on...

'But... but... you can't want to exclude people!'

My point is, inclusion and exclusion are a particular frame we put around certain social situations. 

In some cases it may be a relevant frame, but in others it may not be. 

But insofar as I would argue for the exclusion of (say) public sinners from Holy Communion, it is because a higher set of values comes into play: ones that are rooted in the Gospel - values such as charity, and truth.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Sola Fide in support of Sola Scriptura? I think not...

My friend who styles himself Presbyterian Prince has gone to the trouble to start a blog, in order to have more space than Twitter allows to refute what he sees as my errors. It may be found here.

The trouble is, of course, the more space we have, the more we write and the bigger the debate gets.

That is compounded as I am very busy at work, at present, and travelling a lot, so have little time to blog. So I shall not answer every point in detail (at least, not today).

Rather I shall focus on just a couple of issues.  The first is one of the biggest errors, as I see it, to which he has fallen victim.  He writes:

you have 3 items:  Scripture, Tradition, and Church.  But these 3 cannot be equal authorities.  What if the Church contradicts something taught in Scripture?  I can show you it does.  The Bible undeniably teaches Sola Fide. "whoever believes has eternal life" John 6:47.  Yet Rome teaches that justification is by faith + works.  Both cannot be true.  Someone is wrong.  Is it Scripture or the Church?
Needless to say, I do not accept that Scripture, Tradition and the Church are ever in conflict. To me, that is as absurd as saying that Truth and Love cannot be equal authorities: what if Truth contradict Love? 

He goes on, to offer as proof of such a conflict the claim that 'The Bible undeniably teaches Sola Fide.' That is clearly (to say the very least) a highly debatable proposition. Of course he can quote John 6:47 at me; and indeed other verses that can be interpreted in support of Sola Fide.

But on the other hand, Our Lord teaches that Baptism is necessary to enter the kingdom; that unless we eat His body and drink His blood, we cannot enter the kingdom.  He teaches that on the last day, we will be judged by what we have done. How do these 'works' fit with the idea of Sola Fide? 

St James is even more explicit:  You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. This is the only time we find the words 'Faith alone' together in the Bible. Indeed, Luther was moved to call St James' 'an Epistle of straw' because it ran counter to his doctrine of Sola Fide. When the man who invented Sola Scriptura is moved to denounce Scripture for disagreeing with his doctrines, which allegedly put Scripture as the supreme authority, I think we can see that we are in troubled waters...

I do not need, here, to prove that Sola Fide is wrong (though I believe it to be so); merely to prove that the Bible does not clearly teach it. We have to look at these verses (and the rest of the New Testament) and decide what they mean; it is far from self-evident. That very fact undermines Sola Scriptura: we need an interpretive authority, or each man will decide for himself what Scripture means - and that is what we see with the fragmentation of the reformed denominations.

The other really interesting point in PP's argument is this:

The reason why only 27 books made the NT Canon was because the Church recognized that these were the Books that were breathed out by the Holy Spirit. 
Here, it seems to me, he undercuts his whole argument: for he recognises the authority of the Church over Scripture: that it is indeed that Church that has decided what the Canon of Scripture is. The authority of Scripture Alone is not enough for us to know what we are to believe, because it cannot even tell us what books are Scriptural. 

No, we believe in Scripture on the authority of the Church, and we believe in the Church on the authority of Tradition, and Scripture ratifies both Church and Tradition; for each of these rests ultimately on the authority of Christ, who commended them all to us; who founded the apostolic Church to pass on, from generation to generation, whatever He taught, by inspired word and inspired teaching; who established the Sacraments as the works by which his saving work was made ever-present to succeeding generations, and who continues to pour out His Holy Spirit on the Church, as he promised to do, so that the gates of Hell may never prevail against her.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Continuing the discussion on Sola Scriptura

Further to this post, my protestant friend has raised a number of points for discussion.

My first assertion, that Sola Scriptura isn't scriptural, he answers thus:

I'm convinced that SS is taught in 2 Timothy 3:12 - 4:5. I commend to you a careful reading of this text. Scripture equips the man of God "for every good work." therefore, no other ultimate source is needed for religious truth. How does Scripture equip you to venerate departed saints?
He continues: Still on point 1, you asked: "But on whose authority is that interpretation? It is not scriptural."  He answers that thus:
Because Christ is the ultimate authority (thankfully we can agree on that), His Word is the infallible rule for our faith. So where is His Word? It is now written down in the Supreme Apostolic Tradition, Scripture. Can you give me an example of any other God-breathed revelation that's not in Scripture?
These all seem fair questions to me, so I shall address them as best I can, with the caveat, as ever, that I am merely a lay person, with no particular theological training, nor the grace of clerical state.

So, here goes...

1: 'I'm convinced that SS is taught in 2 Timothy 3:12 - 4:5. I commend to you a careful reading of this text.'

 12 Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.
It does not seem at all apparent to me that this teaches Sola Scriptura. If this is the strongest scriptural text for the SS hypothesis, it is lamentably weak. Indeed, 3:14 seems to speak directly to the oral tradition; and so do many other verses in scripture. St Paul admonishes us to hold to whatever he has taught by word of mouth or in writing, for example.

 Scripture equips the man of God "for every good work." therefore, no other ultimate source is needed for religious truth. 

The 'therefore' in this sentence actually hides a logical error. For example, a plumber might have a tool box that equipped him for every job he might encounter; but instructions on how to use the tools is also necessary. Scripture is indeed necessary and equips us (no Christian could deny that) but this verse does not teach that it is all that is necessary.  If this verse were teaching Sola Scriptura, I would expect to see that Sola represented (Luther had the same problem with Sola Fide: such was his respect for Scripture, of course, that he added in a Sola that he thought the Holy Spirit had somehow overlooked, in his translation...)

How does Scripture equip you to venerate departed saints?

There are two parts to this. The first is that I do not concede that Christians are bound by Scripture alone; that is, the Sacred Tradition of the Church, and the formal teaching of the Church, are also authoritative.

However, in this case, we have a clear Scriptural mandate. 'All generations shall call me blessed.' To refuse to venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary is to make a liar of her, in her proclamation that is clearly presented as inspired.

So where is His Word? It is now written down in the Supreme Apostolic Tradition, Scripture. Can you give me an example of any other God-breathed revelation that's not in Scripture?

This line of argument risks being slightly circular: I only accept what is in Scripture: can you give me an example of something I accept that is not in Scripture?.... But in practice, of course, we can. Firstly, we need to recognise that all truth is implicit in Scripture, but not all explicit. That is where interpretation is key. And that is why, Catholics believe, the Holy Spirit, as promised by Christ, protects the Church from errors of interpretation.

So, for example, I could cite the doctrine of the Trinity. It is implicit in Scripture, not least in the command to baptise all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But nowhere in Scripture is there explicit teaching that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are three persons in one Godhead. That is an interpretation: guaranteed, I would argue, by the promise of Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit - but an interpretation, nonetheless.

More fundamentally, as I have mentioned before, nowhere in Scripture is a list of the books that make up the Holy Scriptures. Indeed, the list has been subject to dispute. Yet, if we are to take Scripture alone as our infallible authority, surely Scripture needs to define what constitutes Scripture.  However, we all accept that the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are authoritative, and that the Gospel of Thomas, for example is not. And we do that on the infallible teaching of the Church - which Scripture teaches us is the pillar and foundation of the truth, and which our Lord promised the gates of Hell will never prevail against.

So, to answer the first part of the question, His Word is found both in Sacred Scripture and in the Authentic Apostolic Tradition, and in the formal and magisterial Teaching of the Church. And these three can never be set against each other: they are all consistent and self-consistent, and are all guaranteed by the Holy Spirit, whom Our Lord promised would be with us until the end of all ages.


Finally, I would note, that logic suggests I could be wrong about all of this. However, the fact that I, and millions of others for the past two millenia, could arrive at these beliefs in good faith, through prayerful reading of Scripture, whilst others, also in  good faith, through prayerful reading of Scripture, arrive at different conclusions... that fact alone shows that Scripture, without authoritative interpretation, does not, in fact, provide a single rule of faith and belief.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

My Problems with Sola Scriptura

So, chatting about Our Lady (see here) led us onto Sola Scriptura.

I have several problems with Sola Scriptura:

1 Sola Scriptura isn't in Scripture. That seems fairly fundamental. I asked my interlocutor about this, and he replied: Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16). B/c Scripture is the only God-breathed revelation possessed by the church, it forms the only infallible rule of faith for the church. But clearly what the quotation actually says is Scripture is God-breathed.  The rest, B/c Scripture is the only God-breathed revelation possessed by the church, it forms the only infallible rule of faith for the church' is an interpretation. But on whose authority is that interpretation? It is not scriptural.

Sola Scriptura fails because the Scriptures themselves do not contain a definite list of the Scriptural books. We know what those books are on the authority of the Church and Tradition. How else do we know that the Gospel of Thomas or the Shepherd of Hermas are not scriptural?

Sola Scriptura is against Scripture. For Scripture teaches that the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth; in Scripture we read of Christ conferring the office of teaching on Peter, in first place, and the apostles. We read that he who hears the apostles, hears Christ. We read of the authority of the first Council of the Church. We read that we should obey whatever the Apostles teach by word or in writing. We read of the Apostolic succession, with the replacement of Judas. And of course the early converts did not have the New Testament: it had not all been written - so did they have no 'infallible rule of faith?' And on and on...

Sola Scriptura is a modern invention: the idea was formulated by Luther to justify his rejection of the authority to which he had sworn obedience.

5 Sola Scriptura has never been held by the vast majority of Christians: the Orthodox and the Catholics.

Sola Scriptura does not work. Those who adhere to it cannot agree what Scripture teaches. Since Luther's rebellion, protestantism had fragmented and fragmented further.

6 Sola Scriptura is the subject of regular debate between Protestant and Catholic apologists: how could this be, if it were as self-evidently true as Luther (who could not even agree with Zwingli) proclaimed? The fact that it can be debated at length, with both sides quoting Scripture at length, and neither side convincing the other, demonstrates that Sola Scriptura cannot be the sole infallible rule of faith.

None of which, of course, in any way diminishes the truth of Scripture as the Word of God. But it is the book of the Church, and it is the Church that is the guarantor of its inerrancy, and the guardian of its correct interpretation.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

But in that case...

On the face of it, the best defence for the Holy Father's apparent desire to admit the divorced and 'remarried' to Holy Communion, is his view that many (or even most) marriages are in fact null, as the couple do not fully understand and believe in what they are undertaking.  If that is the case, if the first marriage was never in fact a marriage, then a second union may be entered into, and there is no question of adultery and thus no breaking of Our Lord's teaching.

But let's follow that train of thought a bit further. If we allow the hypothesis (and in fact, for many reasons, I do not) that most marriages are null, due to ignorance, lack of proper intent and so forth, then we should also address the fact that most people receiving Holy Communion do so in a similar state: they are equally poorly formed, and therefore quite probably not discerning the Body of the Lord - and we know what St Paul has to say about that. Further, do we conclude that most baptisms are probably invalid too, for similar reasons? In which case, people should certainly not be presenting for Holy Communion: I don't think even Kasper is advocating Communion for the unbaptised (or at least, not yet...)

But I think the problem lies in setting the bar of understanding too high. Just as a child can understand enough worthily to receive Holy Communion, without a full sacramental theology; so a couple - any couple who are capable of such understanding - can understand what the marriage vows mean.

The Church's immemorial practice, for reasons that are clearly wise, prudent and just, has always been to assert the validity of the marriage bond, unless there is clear and substantial reason in a specific case to prove that it was not valid. If the Holy Father intends to reverse that, we really are in trouble.

Friday, 6 January 2017

A Biblical Defence of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary

The other day on Twitter,  the Holy Father tweeted: Let us entrust the new year to Mary, Mother of God, so that peace and mercy may grow throughout the world.

In response to that, some (I assume) well-meaning but (certainly) ill-informed protestant tweeted:

The Roman Catholic practice of Mary worship is a violation of the 1st Commandment. RCs must repent of this idolatry for the glory of Christ.

I responded: Is it wrong to ask others to pray for us? Our repeated request to Mary is: 'pray for us sinners...'

He did not directly answer my question, but replied:

Hello Ben, we seek to engage in humility and kindness in a way that pleases the Lord. Can you show an Apostolic example of petitioning Mary?

I replied No, but you are making assumptions that I don't share. We are not called to follow the Apostles so much as Christ Himself. He, obeying the commandments, honoured His Mother. So do we.

Receiving no reply to this, I later tweeted him again: You are quite mistaken to think that we worship the Blessed Virgin. We offer the Sacrifice of the Mass to the triune God.

And there the matter rests.

But it does seem to me to illustrate a real problem, a great misunderstanding about Catholicism, held by many sincere protestants. I have blogged very briefly about the fundamental problem before, but in this post I want to take a more protestant-friendly approach, by making a Biblical case for praying to the Blessed Virgin.

The Annunciation:

The Angel Gabriel, sent by the Father, greeted her: Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with thee!

The Visitation:

Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Ghost to recognise her, greeted her: Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb!

These two direct quotations from the Bible form the first half of that most typical of all Marian prayers, the Hail, Mary.

Mary herself, in response to Elizabeth, prophesied that all generations will call me blessed, for He that is mighty has done great things for me.

The Finding in the Temple and the Hidden Life:

At the close of this account, we read that He was subject to them. For the next eighteen years, Our Lord lived subject to His mother and His foster father. The implications of that are many. One is that whatever they asked, He would do in obedience, humility and love. Another is that He honoured his Mother in accordance with the Commandments which the Father gave Moses on Sinai. From these, and because He is truth itself, we can conclude that she was worthy of His obedience and worthy of His honour. The depth of humility in the Incarnation never ceases to amaze; but I cannot imagine that it would include stooping to obey and honour somebody unworthy of either.

The Miracle at Cana:

Here we see clearly the power of His mother's intercession: although His hour is not yet come, Our Lord responds to her request, and sets out on the road to Calvary.

Then comes the line that should put the protestant unease to rest. Mary's command: Do whatever He tells you! Those of us who have sought her intercession, and meditated in her rosary, know that her will is united to His: and her answer is always the same: Do whatever He tells you! That is one reason why there is no spiritual danger in devotion to the Blessed Virgin (along with the fundamental reason, which is that we do not offer her the adoration due to God alone).

The Foot of the Cross:

When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he said to his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then he said to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her into his own home. There is the apostolic example which my interlocutor desired. The beloved disciple took the Blessed Virgin into his home; and so do we.

In summary, when we pray to Our Blessed Mother, we draw on the words of Scripture; we fulfill the prophesy that Scripture records; we follow Christ in loving and honouring His blessed Mother; we recognise the power of the Blessed Virgin's intercession, as demonstrated in Scripture; we find again and again that she points straight back to her Son; and we respond to Christ's command to the beloved disciple to take her into our homes.

What we do not do is adore her. She is worthy of the highest honour of any created being: indeed, we recognise in her the woman crowned with stars in the Apocalypse; but Catholicism always distinguishes between the honour it offers to Our Lady (and any of the saints) and the adoration of the Triune God, to whom alone the supreme sacrifice of the Mass is offered.