Why So Santo Subito?

I am the child of two history teachers, so I grew up knowing that it was not done to study the recent past.  We need some time and distance to be able to make sense of the present and near past.  The full implications of a movement may take time to emerge, or some perspectives may take time to be heard.  In the short run, a historian focuses on preserving information (through oral histories, saving primary sources, etc) and waits to start analysis.

I liked to picture a line of division sweeping through the timeline at a rate of one second per second, bisecting it into “CLEARED FOR STUDY” and “TOO SOON!”  I imagined elaborate parties and ribbon cutting ceremonies when the line ticked over into a new decade.  Hopefully, the historians would have costume parties to celebrate a new swath of time to plunge into.  I pictured tv news covering the parties the way we cover New Year’s or election night, “Janet, what are we hearing on the ground?”  “It’s a little early to tell, but reports are coming back from multiple universities that Watergate was indeed a disgrace that left a lasting mark on the national character.”

This is all a rather long way of saying that I’m a bit uncomfortable with the choice to canonize Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII.  I don’t have any particular knowledge of their moral character or qualifying miracles.  I’ve just got a calendar and a bit of a sinking feeling.

I should pause to correct a common misconception about sainthood: the Vatican does not cause anyone to be a saint (which simply means a soul who is in Heaven).  Canonizations are meant as a public recognition that someone is a saint.  There are plenty of saints who are not known to be saints, but public acknowledgement is meant to be a special grace for the living, so we have a diverse set of people to pattern our lives on and seek out for solace.  The popes are or are not saints, regardless of where the canonization process on earth is.

Canonizing saints so quickly (especially former popes, whose causes are overseen by their successors, who may have known them) can make it hard to render appropriate judgement, just as the emotional immediacy of the near past can prevent historians from spotting patterns and shifts.  Speeding up the process makes the absense of a canonization more glaring and slightly insulting, when, in fact, many possible saints are beloved without being beatified.  The very urgency of the cries of “Santo subito” (Sainthood now!) upon the deaths of popes makes me a little uneasy.  The public recognition of holy men and women is a gift, not some kind of catharsis to which we are entitled.

We know these men, and may already be moved and inspired by them.  Slower sainthood allows future generations to rediscover them as their cause advances and they return as a new gift for a new age.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    I’m not uncomfortable with it either, but I’ve also wondered what’s the big deal in waiting the appropriate course of time. Breaking rules can sometimes have a sense of injustice. Is one saint more of a saint than another? Breaking rules also undermines authority. If we’re going to break this rule, why not break the rule on allowing woman priests? I know the answer to that, but still the general population might not.

  • David Egan

    This is yet another example of catholic absurdity which makes me wonder how you, a seemingly rational person, can be part of this organization. I just don’t get it.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Perhaps if you would be a bit more skeptical about your own sense of absurdity, you would get it.

      Having said that, I tend to agree with Leah, 8 years is too soon. Even Pope St. Pius X took 40 years!

      • Agni Ashwin

        St. Francis of Assisi took 2.

    • ACN

      Verily.

      It sure is a good thing that God suspends the laws of nature so that his most glorious church on earth can get a signal that a leader who helped cover up a child-rape scandal can get canonized.

  • Sherry

    Perhaps the immediate need for sanctification comes from the needs and stresses and pains of the time, of now, and the people of this world, craving, begging, starving for holiness and for examples of holiness that they can have seen, touched and heard.

  • EMMilco

    In times of queasiness, return to basic questions. What is canonization? Why does it exist?

    • Randy Gritter

      It is actually a way of defining the faith. What does a saint look like? We have scholarly and the simple. We have the powerful and the slaves. The sick and the martyrs. We have saints from all nations and all social classes. What do they have in common? They love God first but loved their neighbors dearly. They had great strength and great humility. They were products of their time but they transcend their cultures. They show us what we are meant to be.

  • Randy Gritter

    I actually think it is a be redundant to canonize someone so well known. You can do it, but why? John Paul II is seen as a hero of the Catholic faith. Same with Mother Teresa. Canonization servers to raise up holy men and women we might otherwise miss. To remind us of those we may have forgotten about. John XXIII is a good example. In the 1960′s he was revered without being canonized. Today many may have forgotten about him. So the church can remind us. But John Paul II? Our priest said if you want to pray at his tomb you need to be prepared to wait a few hours because the lines are long.

    There is a strange notion of comparing how long it took to canonize people. You see it in saints books all the time. That is really missing the point. We don’t need to keep score. Heaven is heaven.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      John XXIII would be well within historical time to investigate the cause of- I just looked up Pope St. Pius X, his canonization came in 1954, forty years after his death.

      JPII? Or as I’ve been calling him since *before* his death, John Paul The Great? yeah, very redundant.

  • Thinkling

    I tend to agree for the most part, mainly to avoid appearances of idolatry etc from those lukewarm to the Church. I trust the Holy Spirit, but point out He has His own time.

    That said, I got in a good internet discussion about a year ago that enlightened me into one really, really good reason why his *cause* for sainthood should be pushed hard. One of the people who knew him the best, and in ways not attestable by anyone else, was Cardinal Ratzinger. The thought was, he will not be around forever (prescient given what happened last February, and the subsequent validation of his fitness), so it would be wise to push the cause while he was still accessible.

    That is not to say the canonization had to be quick. But I now feel reasonably comfortable with the cause proceeding rapidly.

  • echarles1

    As I roll out the cliche, the Church thinks in centuries, I think it also nice when the Church acts in a mere handful of years. .

    • grok87

      nicely put

  • http://cowpi.com/ Mark Woodward

    St. Francis of Assisi was canonized within two years of his death! I’m not saying JPII is another St. Francis.

    How much do you trust the Holy Spirit? (Is this the Holy Spirit moving the Church? is valid question for discernment.) Despite 2000 years of us trying to really mess things up, the Holy Spirit has managed to keep the Church true to its mission. I forget who said it (probably Bp Fulton Sheen), every age produces saints that will be needed in the future. Maybe another question is to ask, what is just around the corner where the world will need a saint like JPII?

  • FrA

    I can see the point of this post, but I think that the speed of canonization is not really an issue. I would be more concerned if JPII was declared a doctor of the church before his teachings had time to marinate and effect her theology for centuries. But here are some reasons why i don’t think a speedy canonization process is problematic in cases like JPII’s

    (1) popular acclaim has been a sign since the early days of the Church that an individual is a saint. This acclaim is often the impetus needed to actually get a person’s cause through the process. I know of a religious order that has many blesseds and much fewer saints because their cause petered out due to lack of fervor among the people, rather than lack of evidence of their sanctity or lack of miracles.

    (2) having people alive who knew the individual is a bonus to the authenticity of the process. It allows for eye-witness evidence to be given, and a chance for the enemies of the person to speak (and these individuals have been known to derail a cause before). And as to the bias of the Pope for some of his predecessors, and prescinding for a moment from the very real and importance guidance of the Holy Spirit, the work of building a case for canonization is done by others who are generally picked to do these jobs because they have a healthy skepticism. (I have met a few and can attest to this reality).

    (3) Time does not always help with the veracity of an account of a person’s life. Sainthood is judged by how a man or woman lived, not only by what others say of him or her. Time can allow for certain periods of a person’s life to be glossed over and subsequently made unavailable to the investigators, so letting a cause linger is not necessarily a good thing.

    So, while these points don’t give a strict proof one way or the other, I hope that they can alleviate some of your concerns. A saint need not be a person whose life has had a profound effect, but simply is a holy person whose heroic virtue was evident to all and witnessed to by God. But as pointed out above, the guidance of the Holy Spirit is always at the center of a canonization process and He should be trusted.

  • Jake

    If “Saint” really just means a soul that is in heaven, Is it even in principle possible for a Pope not to be a saint? Given the Pope’s special status with the ability to a) declare doctrine infallible and b) be entrusted with proper interpretation of scripture and tradition [Citation needed- I haven't read the Catechism], I would have assumed that the conferral of Popehood would be sufficient to indicate a soul’s eternal status?

    Perhaps more directly: are there any Popes that are generally regarded to likely not be saints? And if so, why don’t Catholics consider this a blow against the status of the clergy as authoritative enough to make sweeping declarations on contentious moral issues? (e.g. if Popes and Cardinals might not actually be real Catholics, why would you trust them on hard moral questions?)

    • Randy Gritter

      The church REALLY discourages anyone from speculating on who is in heaven or hell. It is part of the not judging thing. We don’t see anyone’s soul. Still the answer is Yes. There are popes who were scoundrels. We are anything but certain they are in heaven. We are sure their status as pope does not help them in that regard. If anything it hurts them. The bible says teachers of the faith are judged by a higher standard.

      Why does this not cause us to question the papacy? There is a distinction between infallibility and impeccability. Infallibility is something the Holy Spirit guarantees. It is a grace attached to the office and not to the person.

      Impeccability is something very few people have. Jesus and Mary do. The church has not claimed it for anyone else. Certainly not Peter, the first pope. He denied Jesus 3 times. He committed other sins recorded in scripture too.

      The classic analogy is that a doctor can give effective medicine even when he is sick. He might not even take the medicine himself. That does not mean it is ineffective for you. If you take it it will work based on who made the medicine and not based on who told you to take it.

      Popes are called to lead the church. Most have done a fine job. A few have not. But God does not let them wreck the church. He does not let them solemnly teach falsehood. He does not make their sacraments ineffective.

      • Jake

        He does not let them solemnly teach falsehood.

        This sounds like a claim that in the case of a non-saint Pope, God will actively override the will of the Pope such that he cannot teach falsehood. Is this the claim being made? (I’m going to assume it is for the duration)

        This strikes me as a problem for certain forms of Catholicism- namely, any that would posit the free will defense as their solution to the problem of evil. If God is willing to muck with the free will of one man for the sake of defeating a greater evil, why stop there?

        The only answer I can come up with is some form of Utilitarian calculus God must be doing. The evil of overriding one man’s free will is outweighed by the evil of allowing the entire church to be mislead. Now, I’m totally on board with Utilitarian calculus- I think that’s the way the world actually works. But I’ve gotten pretty strong objections to this view from Catholic commentors here in the past- to the best of my knowledge, this is not a belief that plays well with Catholic ethical theory.

        • Randy Gritter

          God does respect the free will of popes. He also prevents them from teaching error. Many of the truly bad popes were so immersed in scandal they didn’t have time to teach.

          I can’t really explain fully how God works His will in people’s consciences and respects their freedom. The way the bible explains this is that what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven(Mt 16:19, Mt 18:18). So it actually seems like the pope can control what is good and evil. But God remains God. He does not let any pope bind good things or loose evil things in His heaven. Yet He lets them bind what they bind and loose what they loose in Heaven.

          Our freedom is not absolute. We have the ability to choose sin or to choose obedience. But not in every area on every occasion. God does protect us from ourselves. He protects others as well. Not all the time. We need to know we are capable of great evil and such evil inflicts great harm to ourselves and others. Still grace comes into people’s lives and not really in a consistent predictable manner. One man dies in his sin and another is given the chance to reflect on his friends death and maybe repent.

          The truth is we all deserve death and hell. It is part of the nature of evil that the consequences are uneven. We all suffer and die but we don’t know how and when. Not knowing and not seeing the sense in it is part of the suffering.

          • Jake

            God does respect the free will of popes. He also prevents them from teaching error…. I can’t really explain fully how God works His will in people’s consciences and respects their freedom.

            Then you have introduced a logical contradiction. If you are comfortable as such, so be it, but this doesn’t fit very well with Catholicism’s self-image as a logically coherent and well-structured world view.

            The truth is we all deserve death and hell

            I suspect we shall forever disagree on this point. I think the truth is that nobody could possibly even conceivably deserve eternal torment in hell, no matter what they did in their finite life on earth.

          • Randy Gritter

            It isn’t a logical contradiction. God doesn’t refuse to influence events. He does so but just enough to keep the church from losing the gospel. He works by us cooperating with His grace. Sometimes He takes choices away from us. Like the heart attack scenario.

            You seem to have a strange view of God’s will and human freedom. It is not something we invented to get rid of the problem of evil. It is really central to Christian thinking. It is called grace. God enables us to do good works. When we don’t cooperate with such works He can just do them anyway without us but typically does not. Mostly He lets the consequences of our actions or inactions stand. Yes, even if those consequences are as bad as rape.

            Protecting the church is protecting salvation. If you are in a fire it is more important to protect the fire escape then it is to protect a helpless child. Everyone can be saved through the church, including the rape victim and the rapist. Without the church nobody can be saved. So, yes, God will keep His church pure and let the child be violated.

            Hell is just the logical consequence of being separated from God. People deserve hell if they don’t desire God. Now they can desire God without knowing it is Him they are seeking. Still, if a person really does not want to be close to God then hell is the only place for him. It is a place of torment but only because we are made for God. We cannot be happy without Him. If someone really does not want God they will choose hell because it will be superficially appealing.

          • Jake

            There are two issues at stake here: First, whether or not there is a contradiction between forcing an individual into certain thoughts/actions and maintaining free will, and second whether or not the Catholic explanation of why God doesn’t intervene more often or more obviously is coherent.

            For the first issue, I claim that there is an obvious contradiction between forcing thoughts/actions and any reasonable definition of free will. That leads to the clear logical contradiction:

            1. God does respect the free will of Popes.
            2. God prevents Popes from teaching error.
            3. Preventing Popes from teaching error constitutes forcing thoughts/actions.
            4. Forcing thoughts/actions constitutes infringing on free will
            5. God infringes on the free will of Popes

            1 and 5 are clearly a contradiction. You must pick one or the other, or provide a definition of free will that survives forcing thoughts/actions onto an unwilling subject.
            The second question is not one I’ve endeavored to answer so far in this thread. I have simply pointed out that the typical response to the problem of evil (free will) does not seem quite so large a barrier as we have been led to believe. God is perfectly willing to override free will, if the circumstance (read: Utilitarian calculus) calls for it. The Catholic claim, then, is not that free will is sacrosanct, but rather that the free will of the rapist is of greater value than the negative consequences of rape.

          • Irenist

            If God forces my new stock figure, Cardinal Hereticus, to think orthodox thoughts, that’s an infringement on free will. If God causes Hereticus to get hit by a bus, there’s no free will issue involved. Hereticus gets to respond to everything in his environment however he likes. Some of his responses (like not running away from the bus fast enough) might not turn out how he likes, but no one is making him think or do anything. If you’re wondering about the bus driver’s free will, just substitute Hereticus getting hit by lightning.

          • Jake

            We keep iterating between the two options: either God is infringing on free will, or God is instantiating a physical effect on the world to cause something to happen.

            In both cases, God is meddling to produce a specific outcome with 100% probability. This is exactly what we would like him to do in the case of rape, and yet he chooses not too. Either God has the ability to do so without infringing upon free will (in which case the free will defense for the existence of evil is null and void), or he does not (in which case Cardinal Hereticus’ free will is being infringed upon).

          • Anonymous

            FWIW, I’m non-Catholic and only lean Christian, but I agree with Jake here. Providing free will means there absolutely is a chance that humans will fail in the project. Tomorrow, every ranking Catholic could choose to deny everything they currently believe about doctrine. This trivially follows from free will. I highly doubt that god would give them all immediate heart attacks and then let the Papacy be rebuilt by others.

            Regardless, the chances of such an event occurring is clearly vanishingly small. On the other hand, the chances of such choices creeping in are much higher. I’d be sympathetic to an argument along the lines that god is a pretty good gambler with access to pretty good information. He could shape some of the background environment to provide a pretty high chance of success without infringing upon free will (think about the people who shaped their purchases of Massachusetts
            lotto tickets to insure a much-higher-than-normal likelihood of winning
            money). 100%? Nope.

            Now, how do you measure “success”? That ties into the other discussion about utilitarianism v sinfulness and even further discussions about whether the Catholic structure would be the vehicle for accomplishing whatever you end up with thinking “success” is…. and many more….

          • Irenist

            “We keep iterating between the two options: either God is infringing on free will,”

            It’s never that one. Even the “God hardened Pharoah’s heart” verse in Exodus tends not to be interpreted that way, but rather, as a metaphorical expression of God’s primary causality for everything.

            “ or God is instantiating a physical effect on the world to cause something to happen.”

            Sure. All the miracles in the Gospel are physical effects in the world. Christianity is committed to that claim, regardless of any theologian’s position on free will. Indeed, via secondary causality, God is upholding every quark’s existence right this very moment anyway. He’s always intervening to stop us from falling into nonexistence. He’s just rarely intervening in a way that abrogates the usual scientific laws by which he ordinarily governs the cosmos.

            “In both cases, God is meddling to produce a specific outcome with 100% probability.”

            He is omnipotent and omniscient, so yeah.

            “This is exactly what we would like him to do in the case of rape, and yet he chooses not too. Either God has the ability to do so without infringing upon free will….”

            In any specific case, an omnipotent God of course has this ability. In addition to striking Hereticus with lightning, He could have struck down Hitler, too. Problem of Evil. Indeed, God could intervene in EVERY case, and instead of humans living in a mathematically comprehensible natural world governed by orderly laws, humans would just be conscious puppets watching their strings get pulled. If God values human freedom, He’ll stop well short of the latter: instead, He’ll provide us, at almost every moment, with an orderly cosmos in which to enact our drama of human freedom.

            The Catholic version of a free will theodicy, in which God intervened to gather together a single obscure mideastern nation capable of producing a monotheistic people who could grok His revelation, incarnated exactly once to definitively conquer sin and death, and then left behind a mere handful of fishermen and tentmakers and whatnot from said nation who had grokked His revelation, with only a guarantee that His immaterial Holy Spirit would save them from heresy and give them the power to effect sacraments and the odd miracle here and there as they set out to preserve and promulgate His revelation, seems as close to God’s having a minimalist philosophy of intervention as can be made consistent with Catholic theology of how the Cross, the Eucharist, and faith effect salvation. It’s entirely consistent with a freewill theodicy that God would intervene just enough to keep orthodox Christianity a live option in the world, and little more than that.

        • EMMilco

          Jake, if you’re actually interested in this question, I recommend taking a look at Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s book on Grace. Lucky for you, it’s online.

          http://www.romancatholicism.org/GLGrace.pdf

          • Jake

            Thanks for the pointer EMMilco. I am interested in the answer, but probably not enough to read a 500 page commentary on a book that is still sitting on my “to read” shelf.

          • EMMilco

            Haha, and it’s a 500 page commentary on 4 questions (out of several hundred) in that book. But I should advise you that it’s not primarily a commentary. It also functions as a historical survey and addresses various more recent theological disputes on the topic. The introduction to the book is a good primer on grace, though, and that’s quite short. I recommend it, even if you haven’t read Aquinas and never read the rest of the book.

        • Irenist

          Most of the truly wicked popes just haven’t been that interested in theology. What writings they’ve signed have usually been written for them by aides. And not every writing signed by a pope is infallible: most aren’t.

          Further, even a truly awful person can have entirely orthodox theological views. My own views are as orthodox as any you’ll encounter, but I’m far from the saint I wish I was.

          It seems unlikely that God would allow a theologically zealous heretic to be elected to the Papacy. He might subtly encourage the other cardinals in the conclave to find the heretic insufferably overbearing and smelly, or whatever.

          If He did allow the conclave to vote in a heretic, presumably He could as easily arrange a heart attack or something before the heretic got around to promulgating anything ex cathedra. No meddling with free will required.

          • Randy Gritter

            We do have Pope Honorius who was anathematized after his death. He wrote a letter to Sergius that created the impression he supported monothelitism, which is a heresy. However his letter hardly qualifies as authoritative teaching and his support for said teaching is not even all that clear from the text of the letter. Still technically we do have one pope who was a heretic.

            http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=3301

          • Irenist

            That’s a great point, Randy. The possibly monothelite Pope Honorius is a good reminder that something north of 99% of what popes write isn’t infallible anyway.

          • Jake

            It seems unlikely that God would allow a theologically zealous heretic to be elected to the Papacy. He might subtly encourage the other cardinals in the conclave to find the heretic insufferably overbearing and smelly, or whatever

            If God doesn’t allow a zealous heretic to be elected to the Papacy, then God is actively infringing on the free will of voters. Moreover, if God is willing to insert himself in human endeavors this way, might he not have extended the same courtesy to Adam?

            If He did allow the conclave to vote in a heretic, presumably He could as easily arrange a heart attack or something before the heretic got around to promulgating anything ex cathedra. No meddling with free will required.

            Ha- I’m not saying you have to pay me money or nuthin’, but if you don’t, maybe we don’t protect you’s from the “bad elements” around here.

            Coercion isn’t really a way around the problem either- you’re still stuck with God taking actions that force people to do certain things (not elect a bad Pope). If he’s willing to do this, then you have no answer to the question of why God allows child rape (particularly within the church) other than that good old utilitarian calculus of “Bad Pope is a big enough deal for God to intervene, but child rape isn’t.” That doesn’t seem like a particularly comfortable philosophical position to hold.

          • Irenist

            Jake,

            If God doesn’t allow a zealous heretic to be elected to the Papacy, then God is actively infringing on the free will of voters.

            Not necessarily. If I get cancer, I don’t want to die, but the fact that reality isn’t going the way I want isn’t an infringement of my “free will,” as such. I’m not being forced to *want* cancer, just to *have* it. Same idea if God causes Cardinal Harry Hereticus to get hit by a bus on his way to the conclave. Sucks for Cardinal Hereticus, but “free will,” as such, is not at all implicated.

            Moreover, if God is willing to insert himself in human endeavors this way, might he not have extended the same courtesy to Adam?

            Well, Adam’s free will was precisely what God didn’t limit. A “hit by a bus”-type solution, like a magic fence around the Tree of Knowledge, doesn’t work, either, since the sin is precisely in willing the disobedience, not in any actual scrumping.

            Ha- I’m not saying you have to pay me money or nuthin’, but if you don’t, maybe we don’t protect you’s from the “bad elements” around here.

            A heretical cardinal would be like a treasonous U.S. Senator. Not a job to take if you’re not going to respect it. Spit on a sacred trust like that, and I have to think that you deserve whatever you get.

            Coercion isn’t really a way around the problem either- you’re still stuck with God taking actions that force people to do certain things (not elect a bad Pope). If he’s willing to do this, then you have no answer to the question of why God allows child rape (particularly within the church) other than that good old utilitarian calculus of “Bad Pope is a big enough deal for God to intervene, but child rape isn’t.” That doesn’t seem like a particularly comfortable philosophical position to hold.

            That depends. If the worst thing that can happen is torture, abuse, or death, then sure. But if the worst thing that can happen is to reject God and spend eternity accordingly, then even a utilitarian might expect God’s interventions to be targeted primarily at sin: Christ’s salvific death and resurrection, and the preservation by the Holy Spirit through the Church of the revelation about Christ through Whom salvation from sin comes.

            To be sure, clerical child abuse, like much of the other awfulness of the world, does indeed cause many to lose their faith and reject God. But now we’re just back to your basic problem of evil. Assuming God isn’t to intervene in *everything*, safeguarding the doctrinal integrity of the Church is precisely one of the few things I would expect Him to directly intervene in, if slavery to sin is the worst thing possible. Indeed, one of the reasons Protestantism isn’t a “live option” for me in the William James sense is that the idea that Christ would take the trouble to physically come to Earth and reveal moral and theological truths to us, and then *not* provide for their reliable transmission and preservation beyond vague stirrings in each believer’s conscience, doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

          • Jake

            But if the worst thing that can happen is to reject God and spend eternity accordingly, then even a utilitarian might expect God’s interventions to be targeted primarily at sin: Christ’s salvific death and resurrection, and the preservation by the Holy Spirit through the Church of the revelation about Christ through Whom salvation from sin comes.

            So are you copping to God (and Catholic ethics) ultimately being utilitarian?

            This seems like the only way out of the conundrum to me, but I would surprised to find Catholicism embracing such a conclusion.

          • Anonymous

            I read, “…even a utilitarian…” to mean that you don’t have to be a virtue ethicist to agree, not that God (or Catholic ethics) is ultimately utilitarian. Your parsing may vary.

          • Irenist

            That’s how I meant it, Anonymous.

          • Irenist

            Jake,
            Catholicism doesn’t have an official meta-ethical stance (that’s one of those areas of robust theological debate in the absence of definitive dogma), although virtue ethics is probably the closest thing, due to the reverence for Aquinas. Although I tried to make my explanation palatable to “even a utilitarian,” a virtue ethics account (sinful character is the worst outcome because it molds us for Hell, thus the Church’s teaching is vital) could be sketched out if I weren’t about to leave my computer for the night. Just sub in “abiding in faith” for “faith,” “saintly character” for “moral,” and so forth. The upshot is still the same: sinfulness, not suffering, is the worst possible outcome. I’m not really competent to do more than sketch it out like that, anyway, though. I know just enough to be confident that a real philosopher could translate from utilitarianese to virtuish without losing the main idea. Anyway–good night!

          • Jake

            Ok, so not copping to Utilitarian ethics :)

            In that case, I think this problem resolves to the same problem virtue ethics always resolves to: choosing between competing evils. If sinfulness is really the worst outcome, then why is God willing to violate free will to stop sinfulness in some cases, but not in others?

            Once again, the only reasonable answer I can come up with is “violating the Pope’s free will would stop a lot more sinfulness”…. which I’m pretty sure is still utilitarianism, just with a bit more exotic utility function.

          • Anonymous

            I think the virtue ethics/utilitarianism debate is especially dangerous to the utilitarian. I’m not really committed to a theory, but I’ve definitely defended utilitarian ideas more than once. It’s shockingly easy to simply take a different theory (say, virtue ethics), follow it with, “Oh, so you’re saying that that would be the best outcome. In that case we just draw a (possibly exotic) utility function around it and…” Voilà! Virtue ethics is utilitarianism! I have to remind myself that really smart people who have spent a lot more time than me thinking about it are generally convinced of at least the claim that they’re actually different.

            Of course, I’m still tempted to jump on the horse along with you and give a war cry, “YEAH! I can construct a utility function for virtue ethics!” However, I do think there’s a decent chance I would be wrong (though I’m not sure I’m yet able to vocalize specific reasons why, including test cases, etc… I’m still looking for that random publication that very clearly and completely distinguishes them once and for all.)

          • Jake

            I hear you, and perhaps I ought to temper my opinions with a bit of historical perspective. Unfortunately, if “really smart people who have spent a lot more time than me thinking about it are in disagreement with me” is the standard, then I’m not really allowed to believe anything, since most viewpoints prolific enough for me to have heard of them have the backing of several people smarter than I.

            That’s not an easy problem to solve. So far as I can see, this is good evidence that humans in general are bad at reasoning, but not great evidence for or against any of these claims. The best any of us can do is judge for ourselves.

            The fact that a) the most compelling, consistent, reasonable, and intelligent arguments I’ve heard all land on the same side of debate X and b) lots of the really smart people who advocated for the other side had wildly incorrect beliefs on which they based their theories (e.g. Aristotelian physics -> Aristotelian metaphysics -> Aristotelian Forms -> Virtue Ethics) is pretty much the strongest evidence I could hope to find on anything that is not directly empirically testable. I find exactly this evidence in Utilitarianism vs. Virtue Ethics, Platonic Forms vs. Reductionism, Catholicism vs. Atheism, etc. But that is, perhaps, beyond the scope of this thread.

          • Anonymous

            I hear you, too. I understand your concern. You think the people who actually believe virtue ethics are actually not smart people and are going about it all wrong. However, as I tried to point out (and probably failed), I’m not making an argument that virtue ethics is right. I’m saying that virtue ethics is most likely different from utilitarianism. I think that a larger portion of philosophers hold to this. I think (but am not sure) that many professional ethicists who are utilitarians would agree that virtue ethics is different. I was only worried that your post really closely approximated some of the “other ethics are utilitarianism” traps that I’ve fallen into (in the past and not-so-past).

            Look, this can apply to deontology, too. It’s really tempting to just say, “Hey, I can draw a (possibly exotic) utility function around your rules and…” The ethicists who argue for deontology don’t generally come from your Aristotelian fault line. You’d probably agree with everyone involved that utilitarianism and deontology are different, yet it’s still damn tempting to just posit exotic looking utility functions that wrap everything into a neat bow.

          • Jake

            Ah. I’m still undecided on whether or not I agree with you. I also don’t have the background knowledge to say whether most utilitarian philosophers consider V.E. and Deontology something other than special-cased Utilitarianism.

            To clarify the point I was trying to make: in this specific case, it appears the Catholic has resorted to math to answer questions of competing goods or competing evils.

            Whether or not this is properly labeled utilitarianism, I admit that I don’t have the philosophical chops to say one way or the other. It is specifically the use of math to decide ethical questions that has gotten pushback from Catholics in the past- e.g whether or not DALYs are a morally heinous way of distributing charity funds.

            If I have caused confusion by labeling use-of-math-in-ethics as utilitarianism when in fact virtue ethics and deontology are allowed to use math as well, then apologies; I was under the impression that once you started using math, you were no longer strictly adhering to either virtue ethics or deontology. I still believe this to be the case, but I am open to the possibility of correction, and I’m not overly committed to calling it Utilitarianism. I would be satiated if Catholics would collectively bite the bullet and say “Yes, God is in principle willing to infringe on free will if the price is right,” and the corollary “God is willing to infringe on Papal free will because the consequences of a bad Pope >> the consequences of child rape.”

            Note: edited several times in the first 10 minutes because I was unhappy with my arguments.

          • Anonymous

            No worries; I’m not sure I agree with myself. I would like to share a couple thought experiments, because you might be able to help me organize my thoughts.

            First, I don’t think “can be modeled by math” implies that something is utilitarian (or even really performs a cost-benefit analysis at all). Consider a deontological system where there is one rule. You can mostly do whatever the hell you want, but don’t even think about talking about Normative Ethics Club. Sure, we can model this with math (the one rule has infinite value, everything else is zero), but this type of exotic utility function just seems to break what I think I mean when I use the word ‘utilitarianism’. This is probably my least interesting thought experiment… but meh. It kinda leads into my next one.

            Second, consider something like the Kaldor-Hicks criteria. It basically says that we should adopt something if the beneficiaries could in theory compensate those who would lose. There’s no reason why they have to in fact be compensated, i.e., there’s no reason why we actually have to achieve a higher overall utility. Now, could we mangle utilitarianism again to say something like, “Well, we didn’t mean that other utility function. We now are drawing our RealUtility function around K-H, which only exploits this other FakeUtility function.” Well, then we are going back to the first thought experiment. Satisfying K-H has infinite RealUtility, and everything else has zero RealUtility. Well, is that really utilitarianism? It sure doesn’t seem to cash out in any way that resembles what I think I mean when I say utilitarianism. It’s really just a label that pushes the problem down a level to be handled by the real machinery. Sure, we can probably give it the label… but it might be kinda dumb to do so.

            Third, and in a different vein, I don’t think that “being able to model with math from some perspectives” means that we can accomplish something that looks like a utility function… or even a mangled utility function. In an economics class in undergrad, I remember reading a paper about intransitive preferences in rats. There was some repeatable intransitive cycle of preferences between food, sex, and pain avoidance (I don’t remember the direction of the cycle). At some level (pairwise comparisons), I can use math really easily to chunk out an answer. However, I’ve imagined that there could exist a proof that one cannot, even in principle, define a utility function (with the standard features of economic utility functions) that can reproduce such intransitivity (clearly, my disclaimers illustrate that I haven’t had time to really dive in and try to develop such a proof).

            I think my point is the use-of-math is probably not the best criteria. We probably have to drag some specific mathematical properties of utility functions (and various mathematical operations) with us. We might be able to derive other mathematical systems on posets (or unimaginatively worse sets for intransitivity) that ‘look like standard math’ in some ways but don’t allow for any of the standard utility-type theory. I think what I’m worried about when I say, “I could draw a (possibly exotic) utility function around that,” is the ‘possibly exotic’ portion. How exotic is it? If it still uses ‘math’, does it use a brand of math on absurdly weird sets that really doesn’t port over to utility theory? Is the underlying structure of my theory, as applied to the agents, merely impossible to model in a way that I would call ‘math’? …am I really just relabeling things, even though all the machinery is something different from utility theory? I don’t know.

          • alexander stanislaw

            Well, Adam’s free will was precisely what God didn’t limit. A “hit by a bus”-type solution, like a magic fence around the Tree of Knowledge, doesn’t work, either, since the sin is precisely in willing the disobedience, not in any actual scrumping.

            In what way is suppressing the Pope’s ability to teach falsehoods a “hit by the bus”/”magic fence” approach? It seems to me that if God can prevent the Pope from teaching false dogma then God could likewise have prevented Adam from rebelling (or better yet created Steve, who unlike Adam would not have rebelled in the first place).

          • Irenist

            The distinction being drawn here is between turning Adam or a pope into some sort of robotic Stepford Wife with no free will as a way to solving the problem, vs. using the external environment to thwart that will. You can protect the Church as a whole using only the external environment, but since Adam’s sin was precisely an act of will, you’d have to turn him into an automaton to stop it from happening.

          • alexander stanislaw

            Hmm, so if the Pope were to try to teach something false, you think that God would perform some external action that would prevent him from doing so? For example making his ink dry up, or in the extreme case making him get hit by a bus?

            That’s very strange to me, but it does remove the problem, thanks.

            I take issue though with your dichotomy between either Adam rebelling or being an automaton. In order for that dichotomy to hold it needs to be logically contradictory that Adam could simultaneously be free and not rebel, (otherwise God could actualize a being with free will who wouldn’t rebel). Proving that would be rather difficult, since you would have to show that every logically possible person would either sin or be not free.

          • Irenist

            >>so if the Pope were to try to teach something false, you think that God would perform some external action that would prevent him from doing so? For example making his ink dry up, or in the extreme case making him get hit by a bus?<>God could actualize a being with free will who wouldn’t rebel<<

            Sure. Catholics take the Virgin Mary and the angels who didn't join Lucifer's rebellion as precisely such beings: free beings, created without original sin, who freely chose perfect obedience rather than even the slightest sin.

            My claim is a lesser one. The specific beings Adam, Eve, and Lucifer were such that they in particular could not have existed except either as the free beings that chose, in their circumstances, to rebel, or as automatons. If it had been Mary rather than Eve in the Garden, presumably things would've gone differently. But then, who are any of us (Eve, Mary, you, me) without our life experiences? Perhaps anyone at the beginning of human history, not knowing the consequences of sin, would have chosen the way Adam and Eve did. Mary faced the same choice as Eve, but in a life shaped by centuries of Jewish piety and wisdom.

            It's an interesting variant on the problem of evil (why create Adam and Eve at the beginning of time specifically, rather, than e.g., Mary?) that you've raised, though.

            A sketch of a solution: Perhaps Adam and Eve (or anyone else) would've been fine if not tempted by Satan. In which case, this variant of the problem of evil reduces to the question of why Lucifer was created.

            There, I'd be inclined to think about Aquinas' teaching that since each angel is a species unto himself (since there is no material body to distinguish multiple partakers in one specific essence into more than one individual, as there is with, e.g., individual homo sapiens) in a hierarchical ordering. Lucifer, IIRC, was the most perfect of the angels in that hierarchy.

            Thus, not to have created him would've left the hierarchy quite far from being a plenitude. But to create a being who is the highest conceivable creature is to set up such a creature to be a jealous Salieri relative to the Creator's Mozart: to be seemingly so close to the very top might induce extra envy.

            So perhaps God's perfect goodness naturally overflowed into creating every logically possible angelic intellect from greatest to least. Then Lucifer had his Salieri problem and rebelled.

            Then, Lucifer/Satan went on to tempt Adam and Eve in a way that any free being might've struggled with.

            There are deep waters here: this reflection is entirely off the cuff, and involves both trying to psychoanalyze the Devil and contemplating the possibility of Marian sin–both of which are within at least shouting distance of blasphemy. So I'll leave it, inchoately, there.

          • alexander stanislaw

            Thank you for a well thought out and engaging response! I do look forward to reading your comments which are often filled with clear and concise points.

            I should probably mention that I take no credit for this version of the problem of evil: I got it from Ray Bradley:

            http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-bradley0.html

          • Irenist

            Well, I got that version of the problem of evil from you, and I’m very grateful, because it’s quite thought-provoking. Thanks!

    • TheodoreSeeber

      While the church discourages speculation, I would find it hard not to believe that certain Popes failed to spend several thousand subjective years in purgatory at least.

      Dante put several Popes directly into hell.

    • Irenist

      Pope Alexander VI, (father of Cesare Borgia), would be one of many, many examples of a far from saintly pope. The Cadaver Synod featured some pretty unsaintly behavior, too, to put it mildly.

      However, Papal Infallibility only covers the divine guarantee that a Pope will not promulgate error when speaking ex cathedra regarding a dogma of faith or morals (as opposed to, e.g., politics or science). It has nothing at all to do with “Papal impeccability,” which seems to be the popular misunderstanding: all popes, like the rest of us, have been sinners, starting with St. Peter who thrice denied Christ. The very limited guarantee of infallibility attaches to the Papacy as an office, not the Pope as a mere fellow sinner like the rest of us. Popes are people, and like any group of people, some of them have been schmucks. Schmucks divinely safeguarded from solemnly promulgating doctrinal error–but still schmucks.

      If a secular analogy helps, the distinction between the doctrinally infallible throne of Peter (usually known as the See of Peter or the Holy See) and the person of the Pope is rather like that which once obtained in European law regarding “the King’s Two Bodies”: i.e., between the sovereign Crown and the mere person of whatever inbred hemophiliac moron happened to be wearing a crown at the moment. An eighteenth century Englishman could loyally toast the King without doubting that George III happened, personally, to be a madman. Catholics’ relationship to the Papacy is broadly analogous. If a pope is personally saintly, that’s a bonus. But it’s not to be assumed, however much the modern run of good-to-great popes has led us to complacently expect it.

      • Jake

        Irenist-
        3 comments in one day?? Don’t tell me the baby has left for college already ;)

        However, Papal Infallibility only covers the divine guarantee that a Pope will not promulgate error when speaking ex cathedra regarding a dogma of faith or morals (as opposed to, e.g., politics or science)

        Perhaps you can clarify for me: I was under the impression that ex cathedra was the phrase used for when the Pope essentially says “I’m defining the Catholic faith now- what I’m about to say is infallible,” followed by some decree about the divinity of Jesus, anti-Gnosticism, etc. I was under the impression that this has only been used a handful of times throughout church history (like single, maybe double digits), and does not include things like opening the priesthood to women, allowing marriage in the priesthood, homosexual marriage, etc. Is my understanding so far correct?

        The real question I’m driving at here is why people seem to take both the Pope and the church hierarchy so seriously about everything they say. I’m thinking in particular of an NPR piece I heard last year on the order of nuns who were condemned by lots of Catholics for disagreeing/disobeying with the church hierarchy on homosexuality.

        If the Pope and the church are not infallible when speaking on such a topic, and if we’re not even positive the Pope is a saint (in the technical definition Leah gave), then why aren’t the nuns being given a fair hearing in the public’s mind? Why isn’t this a debate within the church, instead of a declaration handed down from on high?

        There seems to be a discrepancy to the amount of authority Catholics attribute to the Pope and the church, and the amount of authority Catholics claim to attribute to the Pope and the church. Catholics in practice seem to treat everything coming out of the Vatican as infallible, even while philosophically differentiating impeccability from infallibility and office from person.

        • Irenist

          Jake,

          She’s not in college yet, but a little more time for chatting online has been made lately. She is doing well in her “infants under 6 months swim class” though, which is sorta like college except okay, not really.

          Is my understanding so far correct?

          Impressively so, yes.

          The real question I’m driving at here is why people seem to take both the Pope and the church hierarchy so seriously about everything they say.

          There’s a technical answer about infallibility and the ordinary Magisterium, but I think the best short answer is just: deference. As a Catholic, I ought to default to presuming that when the Pope or any of the other bishops publicly speak about something, they’re probably right.

          I’m thinking in particular of an NPR piece I heard last year on the order of nuns who were condemned by lots of Catholics for disagreeing/disobeying with the church hierarchy on homosexuality.

          AFAIK, there has never been an infallible papal teaching on homosexuality, so *papal* infallibility isn’t implicated. But papal pronouncements aren’t the only source of binding Catholic dogma: frankly they’re kind of a minor one. The two pillars of Catholic teaching are Scripture and Tradition. Papal pronouncements mostly serve to umpire different takes on those two pillars, e.g., by validating those who argued that the Immaculate Conception is a necessary implication of the witness of the New Testament and ancient Marian piety, as against those (like Aquinas) who thought otherwise.

          W/r/t homosexuality, the doctrine on the immorality of sex that isn’t procreative in kind has been consistent from the tales of Sodom and Gomorrah and of Onan (not about homosexuality, but certainly about the non-procreative) in Genesis, through Deuteronomy, through (by implication) the “hard sayings” of Christ on lust and (plainly) the epistles of St. Paul, through the Didache and other Patristic-era writings of the earliest Christians, through the Middle Ages and into the modern period. The doctrine is Biblical, and also passes Cardinal Newman’s “Vincentian Test” of authentically orthodox Tradition as having been taught “always, everywhere, and by everyone [orthodox].” (There’s a certain obvious circularity in the Vincentian Test as I’ve described it, but I think the gist is clear.)

          IOW, the teaching on homosexuality and other forms of extra-marital sexuality is non-negotiably set in stone, not because of Papal infallibility, but rather because Scripture and Tradition both consistently testify to it. Those who dissent from it aren’t resisting papal infallibility, but they are setting aside Scripture and Tradition and thereby acting as cafeteria Catholics, i.e., heretics. The nuns seem like charitable, wonderful folks, but heresy in the religious orders is something the Curia is charged with policing, and has to be if the Church is to avoid collapsing into something amorphous like Unitarian Universalism, in very loosely the way that somebody would have to tell a misguided student that, no, a PhD. in astronomy isn’t going to be awarded for a book of horoscopes you wrote. You can write horoscopes if you want, but you don’t get to be an astronomer that way. You can dissent from the Church on fixed dogma if you want, but it’s inaccurate to think of yourself as an orthodox Catholic if you do.

          If the Pope and the church are not infallible when speaking on such a topic, and if we’re not even positive the Pope is a saint (in the technical definition Leah gave), then why aren’t the nuns being given a fair hearing in the public’s mind?

          General answer: *nobody* gets a fair hearing in the public’s mind, because everyone just decides whether the cause in question is basically Republican or basically Democratic, and viciously roots against the other team accordingly. The same conservative/liberal culture war has metastasized horribly into the American church, and lay reaction largely tracks it.

          Specific answer: I don’t recall the issue with the nuns being homosexuality. I thought it was guest speakers who advocated Goddess worship, or something. I could google it, but the whole topic is depressing. I do recall that when Pope Francis responded to it, his take seemed to be that they should just get on with their charitable good works and not worry about any doctrinal review they were undergoing, which sounds supportive and about right.

          My personal take: If the nuns are advocating the un-Biblical or the un-Traditional, they are just objectively not orthodox. Still, they seem like they do a ton of good work with the poor. So God bless them for the work they do, and here’s hoping they can learn to think with the mind of the Church on the doctrinal stuff.

          Why isn’t this a debate within the church, instead of a declaration handed down from on high?

          The Church is a teacher, not a democracy. When the grade school teacher says that WWII was in the twentieth century, or that the Earth orbits the Sun, he or she is passing on a fact learned before you were born, not inviting debate. When the Church transmits Biblical Revelation, it is similarly just transmitting it, not inviting us to take a vote on what God should have said, or what we would have said if we were God. Congregational Protestant ecclesiology is more like the model you’re talking about. The teaching role of the Church, and of the Pope within the Church, is to make sure that where there is in fact a known, definitive answer to a doctrinal question, that such an answer is preserved, protected, promulgated, and promoted. History demonstrates that denominations without such teaching authority devolve rather quickly into not believing in anything in particular. Given that the doctrinal beliefs in question are thought by us to be the revealed will of God, holding fast to them seems like a worthy goal.

          To be sure, there is robust theological debate on many topics on which Scripture and/or Tradition are not clearly definitive. It’s just that homosexual sex isn’t one of those topics.

          There seems to be a discrepancy to the amount of authority Catholics attribute to the Pope and the church, and the amount of authority Catholics claim to attribute to the Pope and the church.
          Catholics in practice seem to treat everything coming out of the Vatican as infallible, even while philosophically differentiating impeccability from infallibility and office from person.

          Well, the Pope (very rarely, as you know) speaks infallibly, despite not being at all impeccable. However, the moral and theological witness of Scripture and Tradition (about the Trinity, the Resurrection, the immorality of fornication or of murder) are also infallible. The hard part there is figuring out what Scripture and Tradition teach–if anything–on any given topic.

          Catholic apologists like to dwell on the limits of Papal infallibility because the misconceptions about it (“If the Pope wants the Argentines to win the World Cup, do you have to root for them, too?”) are so depressingly ubiquitous. Among Catholic laity in the U.S., I’d say a cafeteria Catholicism that puts liberal or conservative political inclinations before the teachings of the Church is at least as common as deference to the Magisterium, if not much, much more so. Among the subset of people who geek out about theology enough to comment on this blog (i.e., a subsample equivalent in trying to understand most Catholic laypeople to trying to grok human psychology from tests on WEIRD undergrads, or more analogously, the mind of swing voters from the musings of hardcore policy wonks), I think you’re just seeing Catholics who know well enough that the Pope rarely speaks infallibly, but also know that the record of the Bible, of the ecumenical councils, and of the doctors of the Church and other saintly thinkers, is far more consistent on many issues than cafeteria Catholics might like it to be.

          • Irenist

            Wow. Diqus fonts do NOT play well with blockquoting….

          • Randy Gritter

            Try editing the comment after the save. A lot of features that fail on the initial comment entry work when you hit Edit. Really crappy coding given they have had months to fix basic functionality and it still does not work.

          • Jake

            Irenist-

            Thanks for the detailed analysis. Just one question: is the Catholic claim that the Church has never reversed course on major doctrinal, social, or moral issues in the past?

            That claim seems implicit in a lot of your statements (“the doctrine on the immorality of sex that isn’t procreative in kind has been consistent…”, “the teaching on homosexuality and other forms of extra-marital sexuality is non-negotiably set in stone”, “setting aside Scripture and Tradition and thereby acting as cafeteria Catholics, i.e., heretics”, “If the nuns are advocating the un-Biblical or the un-Traditional, they are just objectively not orthodox”, “The Church is a teacher, not a democracy”, “Given that the doctrinal beliefs in question are thought by us to be the revealed will of God…”), but I’m wondering if that’s a claim you’d be comfortable making explicit?

            In other words: Would a clear example of the church overturning a position that was at one time considered to have the same strength as you now consider the Catholic positions on homosexuality, contraception, et. al, be a blow to your belief system?

          • Irenist

            “Would a clear example of the church overturning a position that was at
            one time considered to have the same strength as you now consider the
            Catholic positions on homosexuality, contraception, et. al, be a blow to
            your belief system?”

            Yes. Slavery is probably the best example if you’re looking for one. It doesn’t ultimately convince me (was slavery endorsed, e.g., or merely tolerated?), but I think it’s probably the best one for your argument.

          • Jake

            My expectation is that the church is (to paraphrase Dawkins, I think?) one of the most successful memetic organizations of all time, and lots of doctrines would have changed as such.

            Slavery is the easy one, but in terms of doctrinal importance, I’d be much more likely to pitch the reversal of the teaching that only practicing members of the Catholic Church (including taking of the sacraments) may be saved, or the assimilation of enlightenment ideals in direct contradiction to previously held dogmas.

            [I realize I linked to some pretty sketchy sources. I picked those because they pulled out lots of good quotes and I'm lazy.]

          • Randy Gritter
          • Irenist

            Those *are* some pretty sketchy sources. It is forever correct that “outside the Church there is no salvation,” but it is also not at all new teaching that all baptised Christians are in a communion, however imperfect, with the Church, and that those who lack *explicit* faith in Christ may still be saved by their *implicit faith* in St. Paul’s “unknown God” and the still more imperfect union with the Church implied by that.

            Here’s a very copious index of blog posts on the topic:

            http://outsidethechurchnosalvation.blogspot.com/search/label/Implicit%20Faith

            I haven’t read them all, but a quick skim seems to indicate that the author is on the right track and isn’t some kind of Feeneyite or something.

            The most authoritative recent statement is Dominus Iesus:

            http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html

          • Jake

            Seems like my reply was eaten by the intertubes.
            The gist of it was that it seems awfully convenient that every time we have what looks like a major doctrinal shift (like Vatican II), it turns out that the church had known it all along (but never bothered to write it down).

            The quotes offered in my previous links (which I will assume for the moment are accurate, despite the questionable content surrounding them), appear to me clear and unequivocal in their condemnation of both the idea that non-Catholics can be saved, and of the moral imperative of freedom of thought and speech.

            If it is really the case that the church has always upheld these tenets (doctrinally, if not in quote-mining form), then can you point me towards a single source of official church dogma before 1600 that clearly and unequivocally states that non-Catholics can be saved? (The Pauline accounts that I am aware of are far from clear and unequivocal)

          • Randy Gritter

            You original comment said 1900. You are getting tougher! My first thought was the Council of Trent and the baptism of desire. Baptism is the way people become Catholic so talking about salvation of those not sacramentally baptized is talking about non-Catholics being saved. The concept actually goes back as far as Augustine. The baptism of blood is also talked about when a person dies before their baptism so the baptism of desire likely means something other than death preventing them from fulfilling the desire.

          • Irenist

            Jake,

            My last comment got eaten by the intertubes, too, b/c it was a reply to yours. I compose my comments offline, though, so I’m reposting it here. And Randy’s right–it said 1900 before! :)

            Happily, some of your old comment is preserved in my quotes from it. Anyway, here we go:

            * * *

            “If I’m supposed to be surprised that the church tries to twist its way out of clear doctrinal contradictions, I’m afraid I must disappoint.”

            No, of course. Adaptive memetic replicator and all that.

            “The quotes speak for themselves.”

            I disagree. They speak only in context.

            “Rebranding new teachings as “development of doctrine” does not change the fact that they are a departure from core principles demonstrably held throughout the Church’s history- including inventing distinctions like being saved through “implicit faith,” which to the best of my knowledge can’t be found explicitly claimed before the church, you know…. switched positions.”

            I wasn’t impressed by the Steinfels article, although I haven’t read the Noonan book and it might be very good.

            “Curious how, after every apparent major shift, it turns out we’d known it all along (just hadn’t bothered to write it down).”

            No, I wouldn’t go that far. If we’d “known it all along” that wouldn’t be development. It’s just that the development is never a flat contradiction of what we knew before.

            “Challenge: give me a source of official church doctrine from pre-1900 that explicitly, directly, and unequivocally says that non-Catholics can be saved.”

            These articles cite a few good pre-1900 Catholic sources, although I don’t know that I’d call them “official”:

            http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=963

            http://catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0155.html

            “I can fall back to no position but this: the original sources speak for themselves. Reading the words of official church doctrine (or at least what is to my understanding official doctrine) leaves no doubt as to their intention.”

            Understandable. Here’s a question. What does it mean to “belong to the Church”? That seems to be the crux of the question. Here’s St. Justin Martyr in A.D. 150 offering an answer:

            “Christ is the Logos of whom the whole race of men partake. Those who lived according to Logos are Christians, even if they were considered atheists, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates, and Heraclitus.”

            This interpretation of being “intra ecclesiam” is not a post-1900 innovation we’re talking about. To be fair to your side, neither is the interpretation you’re giving. Both theological strands developed side by side until Vatican II pronounced definitively on the matter. That’s not flat contradiction, but it is doctrinal development.

            Note, too, that because the winner of that theological debate (the Vatican II position on religious freedom) was not authoritatively pronounced until Vatican II, all there is on either side is “quote mining,” rather than “official” sources. Before the infallible definition of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, you probably won’t find any very “official” source for that either, since the whole point of Ineffabilis Deus in 1854 was finally to give an “official” answer on that question.

            There are no ecumenical councils against Arianism before Arius. The situation that prompted Vatican II was modern secularism, which is also pretty new.

            “From which totally false idea of social government they do not fear to foster that erroneous opinion, most fatal in its effects on the Catholic Church and the salvation of souls, called by Our Predecessor, Gregory XVI, an “insanity,” that “liberty of conscience and worship is each man’s personal right, which ought to be legally proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society; and that a right resides in the citizens to an absolute liberty, which should be restrained by no authority whether ecclesiastical or civil, whereby they may be able openly and publicly to manifest and declare any of their ideas whatever, either by word of mouth, by the press, or in any other way.”

            There are two judgments in this quote–one moral, one prudential.

            The moral judgment is that no one has an inherent right to deny God the worship which He is due. Whatever the infallibility of the encyclical from which you’re quoting (which I’m not troubling to google to find out), I don’t disagree with that. An atheist or pagan, insofar as he or she is an atheist or pagan, thereby sins. Depending on how culpably obstinate their ignorance about God, the sin might be very venial indeed. And the non-Catholic might be a far better person than, e.g., me in every other way (just like someone who fornicates heterosexually or homosexually might be a better person than me in every other way), but insofar as we are discussing that specific thing, then we are indeed discussing sin. E.g., the poor are entitled to charity, our families to our love and care, just laws to our obedience, and God to worship. Not meeting any such responsibility is an injustice, i.e., a failure of the virtue of justice, and a sin.

            The fallible prudential judgment is that the vice of not worshipping God properly ought to be punished by the State. Modern Catholics have learned that this course is worse than counterproductive. Further, Vatican II teaches that condign punishment for those vices can
            rightly be seen to offend intrinsic human dignity–and that thus the Church hierarchy’s previous entirely fallible support for the burning of heretics was, by clear implication, sinful.

            IOW: It remains true that “error has no rights,” but it also true that those who err are bearers of intrinsic human dignity.

            “For the record, I fully expect this to happen with homosexual marriage in my lifetime. Over the next 100 years, the Catholic church will transition from “Gay marriage is an abomination” -> “Gay marriage is bad for society” -> “Gay marriage is morally wrong for Catholics, but not enforceable on non-Catholics”-> “Gay marriage is a contentious issue, and you have freedom of conscious as a Catholic” -> “Of course the church has always supported the rights of homosexuals to marry!””

            Well, I’ve been at “Gay marriage is morally wrong for Catholics, but not enforceable on non-Catholics” since I entered the Church, so I’m a bad sample. I would be shocked if the latter two steps were to happen. Pleased (since the doctrine troubles me a great deal but seems as solidly established as almost anything) but still shocked–I just can’t see how it could be squared with Tradition.

            Still, I can imagine what an apologist afterward would say (e.g., “The old papal pronouncements against it weren’t infallible. The Biblical pronouncements were about the exploitive pederasty of classical antiquity, not modern gay marriages. Just as science taught us that life begins at conception and not at quickening (which affected the natural law case against early abortion) so learning about the genetic basis of homosexuality has taught moderns to think differently about natural law. Etc.”) I can imagine it.

            And so can you, I’m sure. Which must be annoying.

            But I still can’t see it happening, much as I might like it to when I bridle at the bit of that doctrine.

          • Randy Gritter

            Just as science taught us that life begins at conception and not at quickening (which affected the natural law case against early abortion)

            You need to understand that the “quickening” thing only effected whether an act was contraception or abortion. Both are serious sins. That does effect the moral gravity of the act because abortion is a sin against life and contraception is a sin against chastity. Sins against life are more serious. It is worse to kill you wife than to cheat on her.

            The point is the act in question did not go from being moral to immoral. It went from being immoral to being more seriously immoral. That is a huge difference in terms of development of doctrine. Rather than a flat contradiction it is a deepening of our understanding of why we can’t do this. So the parallel breaks down.

          • Irenist

            Oh, I agree entirely about why the parallel is wrong, Randy. I was just trying to hypothetically imagine what such an apologetic would look like, despite the fact that, as a Catholic, I believe it will never, ever happen.

          • Ray

            Another issue to look at might be the death penalty. While from what I can tell, modern popes like John Paul II have taken great pains to only go so far in their opposition to the death penalty as they can without calling pretty much every high-to-late-medieval pope and theologian a heretic, it does seem like a lot of early Church Fathers felt the Christian Faith unequivocally opposed any application of the death penalty by any Christian, lay or clergy. And few if any argued the contrary position before the middle of the third century. http://www.christianethicstoday.com/cetart/index.cfm?fuseaction=Articles.main&ArtID=980

            Also, my impression is that part of the modern Church’s effort to avoid the appearance of inconsistency, is to avoid making any statements to the effect of “while the death penalty may be OK for things like murder, it is inappropriate for heresy.” I personally find the application of the death penalty to thoughtcrimes like heresy so odious that I am loathe to give the Church points for consistency, if this is the price they pay for it.

          • Ray

            Irenist

            I have some questions about this Vincentian Test:

            1) How would someone in the 16th century argue that the Geocentric cosmology was not taught “always, everywhere, and by everyone [orthodox].”

            2) How would someone in the 18th century argue against the idea that humanity originated no earlier than 6000bc, without also putting himself at odds with the Vincentian Test.

            It seems these things were taught, always, everywhere, and by everyone, until they weren’t. One obvious answer is that the Vincentian Test, as such, didn’t exist back then. Which leads to another question:

            3) Was Cardinal Newman infallible when he endorsed the Vincentian Test. Was such a thing explicitly taught “always,everywhere, and by everyone” before him? If so why do you attribute its authoritative version to a guy who lived in the 19th century? Is not the Vincentian Test then self-undermining? More broadly how can there ever be a non-circular justification for the infallibility of the body making the infallibility rules? (Edited to reflect the fact that Newman took his statement from a 5th century author — arguing against Augustine of all people.)

          • Irenist

            1&2: Neither claim involves faith or morals. The Church is never infallible about, e.g., science. Not its bailiwick.
            3: The Vincentian Test is just a rule of thumb for theological thinking. Cardinal Newman was never infallible.

          • Ray

            I’m not sure I buy your response to 1&2. I think it can be plausibly argued that both involve faith. If 1 does not involve faith, what are clear references to it doing in the Tridentine Catechism? And if the timeframe of the first Adam is so unimportant to faith, why did the authors of the Nicene Creed go to the trouble of fixing the timeframe of the second Adam to the governorship of Pontius Pilate? Also, if Aquinas believed the fact of the world’s beginning was known by revelation rather than reason, why not the timeframe?

            Also, the inclusion of morals (which natural law theolgy alleges are known by reason, not by revelation) in the Church’s magisterium seems a bit odd. What is the need for Church authority, if the natural moral law can be discovered in the same way as natural physical law?

          • Irenist

            Hi, Ray.

            “If 1 does not involve faith, what are clear references to it doing in the Tridentine Catechism?”

            The Tridentine Catechism isn’t infallible. Quoth the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia on “Infallibility”:

            “[N]ot everything in a conciliar or papal pronouncement, in which some doctrine is defined, is to be treated as definitive and infallible. For example, in the lengthy Bull of Pius IX defining the Immaculate Conception the strictly definitive and infallible portion is comprised in a sentence or two; and the same is true in many cases in regard to conciliar decisions.”

            Thus for conciliar decrees. As for the Roman Catechism issued after Trent, it dealt with topics, e.g., Limbo, not even discussed at that Council. It is not, strictly speaking, even a conciliar decree. Just a project the Council set in motion. So I wouldn’t expect everything in there to be infallibly defined. In the areas where the current Catechism speaks, I should defer to it and assume it is correct. But it’s not infallible, and doctrine may develop in some of the not-definitively-defined areas it discusses.

            “And if the timeframe of the first Adam is so unimportant to faith, why did the authors of the Nicene Creed go to the trouble of fixing the timeframe of the second Adam to the governorship of Pontius Pilate?”

            Because the truth that God took flesh as a specific man in a specific time is, if you’ll pardon the pun, the Crux of the faith. Like the conciliar definition at Ephesus (IIRC) of Mary as Mother of God, the credo that the Christ of God is a specific Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified during the Pilate administration insists against Gnosticism that God was a specific human man, born of a specific human woman, who lived a specific human life; He’s not just some timeless, amorphous New Age force field, the sort of thing Bishop Spong blathers about.

            In contrast to the need to insist upon the historical humanity of Jesus Christ, all that matters about Adam is that he existed, he sinned, and all of us are descended from him (along with, presumably, lots of his contemporaries). When and where Adam lived are theologically irrelevant.

            “Also, if Aquinas believed the fact of the world’s beginning was known by revelation rather than reason, why not the timeframe?”

            Maybe Aquinas did believe that. If so, then he was wrong. In the absence of modern science, there was no reason for Aquinas (or Augustine) not to defer to Genesis where it didn’t contradict ancient proto-science. But that was just their (entirely understandable) private judgment. Logically, the world could be eternal or have a beginning. God has revealed himself as Creator, and the world as having a beginning. The Book of Genesis is not a science textbook, though. Augustine, e.g., inveighed repeatedly against setting Genesis against the cutting-edge Ptolemaism of his day where they might seem to differ. It was only where Ptolemaism or credible historical records seemed didn’t contradict it that Augustine deferred to Genesis on non-faith&morals stuff. (YMMV on how much credit he gave to Pharaonic historical records, e.g., but nothing infallible is at stake, just his private judgment.)

            “Also, the inclusion of morals (which natural law theolgy alleges are known by reason, not by revelation) in the Church’s magisterium seems a bit odd. What is the need for Church authority, if the natural moral law can be discovered in the same way as natural physical law?”

            Some truths of faith (there is a God) and of morals (don’t murder) can be known by unaided natural reason. Others truths of faith (the Trinity) and of morals (honor the Sabbath) cannot. Science and history, in contrast, are in principle entirely knowable given natural reason and enough access to empirical data. So the distinction is between those fields that are partly knowable absent revelation (faith and morals) and those entirely knowable absent revelation (e.g., science). There is no “entirely unknowable absent revelation” field of knowledge that the Church ought to confine itself to. (Even those studies that are just implications of the entirely revealed–e.g., Christology–are a subset of faith in the expression “faith and morals”, not a separate kind of knowledge apart from them.)

          • Ray

            Irenist

            Regarding the Tridentine Catechism. The issue isn’t whether said Catechism was infallible. The issue is whether the contents thereof concern matters of faith and morals (and therefore can be judged orthodox or not based on the Vincentian Test.)

            “In contrast to the need to insist upon the historical humanity of Jesus Christ, all that matters about Adam is that he existed, he sinned, and all of us are descended from him (along with, presumably, lots of his
            contemporaries). When and where Adam lived are theologically irrelevant.”

            I can’t help but suspect you only find this argument convincing because secular history and science force it upon you. It seems awfully convenient that those things you hold to have the greatest theological importance are precisely those things one would expect to be least vulnerable to disproof, even if false.

            “Science and history, in contrast, are in principle entirely knowable given natural reason and enough access to empirical data. So the distinction is between those fields that are partly knowable absent revelation (faith and morals) and those entirely knowable absent revelation (e.g., science).”

            Aren’t The ultimate fate of Jesus’s body and Mary’s sex life (or lack thereof) questions of history? Are these sorts of claims not knowable in principle given enough empirical data? I don’t see how you are making this distinction. Also, how is it relevant that some moral claims are only knowable by revelation, when the usual claim by the Church is that its teachings regarding homosexuality do not depend upon revelation.

          • Irenist

            Ray,

            “Regarding the Tridentine Catechism. The issue isn’t whether said Catechism was infallible. The issue is whether the contents thereof concern matters of faith and morals (and therefore can be judged orthodox or not based on the Vincentian Test.)”

            Ah. Well, I contend that neither astronomy nor paleontology is a matter of faith or morals. There might be an exception if, e.g., paleontology were to indicate that modern humans shared no common human ancestor (hence the papal pronouncement against the licitness of holding to polygenism where polygenism is defined that way), but most of that stuff just isn’t any concern of the Church.

            “I can’t help but suspect you only find this argument convincing because secular history and science force it upon you.”

            Sure. If I lived before Darwin, I wouldn’t worry about whether my beliefs about Adam conformed to Darwinism. But I live now, so I have to take Darwinism into account if I’m to think with any integrity.

            “It seems awfully convenient that those things you hold to have the greatest theological importance are precisely those things one would expect to be least vulnerable to disproof, even if false.”

            For me personally, metaphysics is more persuasive than miracles. So while my beliefs are relatively invulnerable to laboratory experiment, they can be challenged by deductive argument. Assuming you’re the same Ray, I found the Dennett arguments you introduced me to in another thread far more salient than any discussion of whether there is any evidence for miracles.

            “Aren’t The ultimate fate of Jesus’s body and Mary’s sex life (or lack thereof) questions of history? Are these sorts of claims not knowable in principle given enough empirical data?”

            Sure. I’ll concede that.

            “I don’t see how you are making this distinction.”

            In an admittedly fuzzy way. But claims about Jesus and Mary are very much in the faith and morals area, and claims about, e.g., the sciences, or most of secular history are very much not. Other areas (the historicity of some Old Testament event, e.g.) are presumably more case-by-case.

            “Also, how is it relevant that some moral claims are only knowable by revelation, when the usual claim by the Church is that its teachings regarding homosexuality do not depend upon revelation.”

            Well, it’s relevant in the sense that you said that it was “odd” that the Church teaches morals as well as faith, and I was trying to illustrate why that doesn’t seem odd to me, because morality is at least partly comprised of revealed truths. Other than that, I think I might just be missing what you’re getting at.

          • Ray

            I guess the two takeaways I’m going for are

            1)To the extent you’re trying to use the claim “The Church hasn’t contradicted itself in 2000 years” or similar as a proof that Catholicism is right, that claim becomes far less impressive when you realize that the rules by which the Church might in theory be judged to have contradicted itself are extremely restrictive, and weren’t settled upon until the 19th century or thereabouts.

            2)To the extent you’re trying to call someone a hypocrite for accepting church teaching on apostolic creeds and the like, but not homosexuality, you should keep in mind that you’ve already split a lot of hairs to save the notion that the Church doesn’t contradict itself, and it’s not even clear that those who reject church teaching with respect to state recognition of same-sex marriage are splitting more hairs than you are. It seems a perfectly principled position to say that moral opinions which claim to come from revelation can be validly settled by way of Church authority, but those which claim to be independent of revelation should stand or fall on their own. Or rather, it seems at least as principled as “if a whole lot of the people in the early church shared an opinion, and I’m comfortable calling any contemporaries who disagreed with them heretics, and the opinion is not a matter of history or science, except for those areas of history which are REALLY REALLY important to the faith, but not obviously wrong, then I am obliged to agree.”

          • Irenist

            “To the extent you’re trying to use the claim “The Church hasn’t
            contradicted itself in 2000 years” or similar as a proof that
            Catholicism is right.”

            I dislike that apologetic for the reasons you’ve outlined. The apologetical stakes for me are purely defensive: establishing that the Church never infallibly taught error.

            “it’s not even clear that those who reject church teaching with respect to state recognition of same-sex marriage.”

            I’m actually inclined toward the “yes civil SSM” but “no sacramental SSM” prudential judgment myself. I strive to defer to the bishops on the question, but civil SSM seems to me like the prudent way forward.

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      (1) ” Is it even in principle possible for a Pope not to be a saint?”

      Yes. Dante in the “Inferno” of his “Divine Comedy” has a circle of hell literally stuffed with popes; there’s only one that we meet in the “Purgatorio” and in the “Paradiso”, only St. Peter is seen and he’s the nearest to a named pope we get there.

      (2) “Given the Pope’s special status with the ability to a) declare doctrine infallible and b) be entrusted with proper interpretation of scripture and tradition…I would have assumed that the conferral of Popehood would be sufficient to indicate a soul’s eternal status?”

      No. Infallibility is not impeccability; that is, infallibility refers to the teaching office and is strictly limited to “heresy will not be taught”. Impeccability is freedom from sin, and nobody (except Our Lady by virtue of her Immaculate Conception) received that grace. Popes are just as liable to temptation and to fall as the rest of us.

      (3) “why don’t Catholics consider this a blow against the status of the clergy as authoritative enough to make sweeping declarations on contentious moral issues?”

      Why don’t Americans consider that presidents having been impeached, or being liable to impeachment, is a blow against the status of the presidency? Why don’t subjects of monarchies which have had bad monarchs consider this a reason to do away with the surviving European and other monarchies? Why do we accept that bad cops, bad doctors, bad lawyers, bad judges, etc. etc. etc. do not undermine the status of others in that profession to make declarations on issues?

      Like they say in the Army, you salute the uniform, not the man. The faults of any particular member of the clergy do not affect the rights, duties and privileges of the office.

      (4) “if Popes and Cardinals might not actually be real Catholics, why would you trust them on hard moral questions?”

      If they weren’t, you wouldn’t (that’s why we have the concept of anti-popes, after all!) But being a sinner doesn’t mean you’re not a Catholic, it means you’re a sinner – unless you remain so obstinate in your sin that you declare you are not sinning and are still a Catholic. I’m not going to throw politician names about on contentious issues here, but let’s say I said that I personally do not consider there is such an offence as “theft” and that if I take something that technically did not beforehand belong to me, I am not breaking the Seventh (in Catholic numbering) Commandment “Thou shalt not steal” because, um, God didn’t mean it that way, Moses took it down wrong, who knows what scribal and transcription errors have altered the text over the centuries, we nowadays have a more mature and fuller understanding of the psychological and genetic factors governing development, that commandment only applies to kleptomaniacs/professional thieves and robbers in the Mafia, and who can accept Bronze Age thought seriously anymore, anyway?
      Let’s say I say all that, and I still claim to be a Catholic. Well, I could be – by virtue of my baptism, and if I haven’t formally defected – but I don’t think most reasonable people would extrapolate from that “So all Catholics think stealing is okay”.

  • grok87

    “I liked to picture a line of division sweeping through the timeline at a rate of one second per second, bisecting it into “CLEARED FOR STUDY” and “TOO SOON!”

    The baseball hall of fame has a 5 year waiting period (after the player retires that is).

    http://baseballhall.org/hall-famers/rules-election/bbwaa

  • grok87

    “There are plenty of saints who are not known to be saints, but public acknowledgement is meant to be a special grace for the living, so we have a diverse set of people to pattern our lives on and seek out for solace.”

    Well put. Speaking of the interaction between heaven and earth, Today’s OT reading is Jacob’s Ladder (stairway?)

    http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/070813.cfm
    “Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground,with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s messengers were going up and down on it.”

    It’s important to remember the context of Jacob’s vision. He is a fugitive, fleeing the wrath of his brother Esau. And then he has this vision of the commerce between Earth and Heaven, of the messenger of God. For Jacob they were angels. But for us they could be thought of as Saints as well…

  • keddaw

    Leah, from your time as a non-believer, you know there are no such things as miracles. I also think it would serve the Church’s long term interests better to hold off from canonizing a pope who may, after a few years, turn out to have been deeply involved in the cover up of child abuse and the moving of abusive priests around parishes.

    • Anonymous

      …consider a person who moved from belief to non-belief. Does that person, from their time as a believer, know that there are such things as miracles?

      • keddaw

        Not all religious belief systems have miracles (Christian privilege strikes again).

        I would imagine such a person would recognise that they had granted their former religion exemption from the sceptical view of any other religion’s miracle claims. From this they would then see that giving one person’s extraordinary claims special treatment over someone else’s on the basis of their denomination is rather bigoted, and ignoring the fact that every miracle ever investigated has been shown to at least have one possible non-supernatural explanation is rather blinkered.

        Going from having a scientific worldview to believing in magic is not an improvement in any meaningful sense. But hey, show me one example of any god suspending the natural laws and call me a deist at least. Or show me prayer working. Or Lourdes having more than a placebo effect. Or Marian apparitions. Or believers breaking fewer laws. Or some predictions coming true above the expected statistical norm. Or a double blind where people taking the ‘real’ Eucharist have some noticeable difference from people taking the blank wafer. Or evidence of demonic possession, or, failing that, evidence that exorcism has any (positive?) effect. Or that holy relics are magic. Or – well, you get the picture.

        • Anonymous

          Re: Christian privilege

          We’re speaking in the context of a Catholic blog. I am also not a Catholic, and if there is a qualifier needed to distinguish a statement from Catholicism, then I make effort to include it. Otherwise, the context is well-understood to everyone else, and using a veiled insult does not help your argument.

          Re: The remaining word soup

          This is a straightforward, “They would agree with me because my views are better.” This simply does not address the fallacy that I pointed out – that your statement was highly directional. In fact, it exhibits (and celebrates further) this exact same fallacy yet again. The argument you meant to make the first time was, “My views are better.” You didn’t make that argument. You made the argument, “Since you used to agree with my views, you know they’re true.” This is immediately false, given that the person now believes otherwise. Of course, I could lob the veiled insult right back at you and point out that your failure to see how such an argument is actually bi-directional is due to your glaring atheist privilege striking again.

          • keddaw

            Here was me thinking we shared a reality and differed only in beliefs, hence the lack of evidence for miracles – incidentally, taking a slight break here, does your, or Leah’s, god only do miracles for the faithful, or for other denominations as well? Because I’m fairly certain other religions have miracle claims at least as great and many and evidenced as the Christian ones. – would still hold true even if her belief changed and she thinks truth or morality is objective and truth/morality loves her and so Jesus was God and died for our sins, or whatever her route to Catholicism was.

            The idea that in the 21st century, if there was an unambiguous event when the laws of nature were suspended that scientists would ignore it is laughable.Besides, as far as I know Leah hasn’t made her position on miracles clear, so I was trying to tease that out of her. And engage her rational brain when it comes to sainthood and all the other nonsense Catholics are supposed to believe (the devil, demons, exorcisms).

          • KG

            Indeed, it would be nice to get Leah’s post-conversion position on miracles. It’s been over a year since her conversion, and despite the many attempts to “pick a fight in good faith” on this topic on her blog devoted to exactly that, the miracle question has been deliberately ignored.

            And it’s all the more puzzling that this topic has been ignored given that the center for applied rationality, where Leah works, exists to help clarify one’s thoughts on evaluating unusual claims.

          • Anonymous

            Look, I’m with you on being interested in Leah’s thoughts on miracles, but I won’t continue this discussion. You’ve yet again said, “Hey, my views are better!” That was simply not what I have addressed… and it’s not what I will address (partly because I am not personally very committed to a position on miracles, partly because it irks me to no end that you can’t seem to parse a simple statement of a restricted claim wrt a specific argument).

          • keddaw

            Here’s the point: Leah once disbelieved in miracle claims from all religions equally due to a standard of evidence required for her personally. She has taken on Catholicism, does she now require a lower standard of proof for only Catholic miracle claims, does she accept a lower standard for all religious miracle claims, or has she remained constant in her standards? If she has remained consistent then she would know, for a given value of know, that the miracle claims required to make someone a saint are dubious at best and fraudulent at worst. (At least in modern times.)

            It’s not that my views are better (better for what?) simply that they are applied relatively consistently against all irregular claims, from Catholic miracles to faith healers to ESP to quantum mechanics.

          • Anonymous

            Someone once believed in miracle claims from Catholicism due to a standard of evidence required for her personally. She has rebuked Catholicism; does she now require a higher standard of proof for only Catholic miracle claims, does she accept a higher standard for all religious miracle claims, or has she remained constant in her standards?

            I could believe any of the above. In fact, the final option demonstrates that one could retain exactly the same standards of evidence, yet change their understanding of the evidence. One day, a Catholic could just say, “Ya know, I looked at the evidence again. Before, I thought it met my standard. Now? I understand it differently, and I don’t think it does. But I held my standard constant.”

            Regardless, even this is a red herring from my point. Changing judgements makes statements like, “You know your new judgement is wrong and your old judgement was right,” trivially false. You might think Leah is erring in her choice of standards or her understanding of the evidence, but that is still a matter of, “My views are better!” (…for the ‘you should be persuaded by them’ rigamarole.)

          • keddaw

            I don’t know if it is her new judgement, and that’s the point. I want to know if she’s shifted her burden of proof for Catholic miracle claims, or miracle claims in general, since her conversion. As someone who was always fairly thoughtful and respectful of believers but quite grounded in reality I am interested in the answer to this since she hasn’t lumped in with all the Church’s teachings (gay lifestyles) I was wondering if she’d gone for this one. Hence challenging and very light teasing can quite often evince the answer where one is otherwise not forthcoming.

            Plus, if she has, it’s important to know what things people throw away when they join a religion since all we hear is what atheists lose when they abandon religion (faith, humanity, sense of wonder, morality etc. etc.)

          • Anonymous

            Yay for asking for more information! I like this and am on board! (…especially since we’ve now finally rid ourselves of the previous fallacy.)

          • KG

            Couldn’t agree more with this. Maybe now that there are are handful of commenters all asking the same question, we’ll get a response?

          • Randy Gritter

            In fairness to her the questions of miracles do take a lot of time to dig into. They are not part of the core faith so most converts don’t bother with them much early on. I know I didn’t really reprocess all the evidence from my new perspective until about 3 or 4 years after my conversion.

          • KG

            Wait, how they are not part of the core faith? Aren’t the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection miracles, too? And the earnest acceptance of these miracles is required every time one says the creeds, which I understand to be every week.

    • Randy Gritter

      How does anyone know there are no such things as miracles? Only by faith. You can’t possibly know by observation. By observation you can only know you have not seen one. Sister Marie Simon-Pierre can know there are miracles because she says she experienced one. We can choose to believe her or disbelieve her. But if what she says is true then she knows.

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/pope-john-paul-ii-cured-nun-from-beyond-the-grave-2187964.html

      • KG

        “How does anyone know there are no such things as miracles? Only by faith. ”

        You can call that faith if you want. But then your definition of faith is essentially “any decision that is based on incomplete knowledge.” The reality is that nearly every decision we make is based on incomplete knowledge, and so I claim that you’ve weakened the meaning of the word to such a point that it becomes useless.

        To evaluate a claim about a miracle that we did not directly witness or study, we must use inductive reasoning. A nonbeliever will say that based on controlled medical studies and our current understanding of how the human body behaves physically, we can infer that miracles such as the one you reference above are *highly unlikely.* We can’t entirely rule out the possibility that they occur, but we’ll need a much stronger level of evidence demonstrated before we accept them.

        Again, if you’d like to call that faith, then I can’t stop you. However, I would prefer to use the word faith to describe the reason for why someone would *distrust* the evidence accrued from controlled medical studies and our knowledge of the human body as a physical system, and instead give more credence to individual anecdotes. This is especially true for those anecdotes that make such a specific claim about the nature of the cure (i.e. it was the dead pope’s spirit that was responsible for the cessation of symptoms).

        • Randy Gritter

          I appreciate you calling it faith. Digging into that nun’s medical records would be called evidence. That is what Catholics do. We don’t just accept a story like that.

          You say you use inductive reasoning. Faith is often based on reason. We have faith that an airline can fly people safely to another city. It is based on reasoning from empirical evidence that such planes do arrive. But do we have so much faith as to dismiss evidence of a plane crash? We can believe the rule and the exception. It is not either/or.

          So i would not say we distrust medical evidence. They accurately studied normal biological processes. In fact, knowing Parkinson’s through science is the only way we know there was a miracle here. Otherwise they would just be weird symptoms that went away.

          What you trust to say a miracle didn’t happen is not the science itself but a metaphysical belief you have that miracles do not happen. It is part of your creed and not part of science. Therefore using the word faith is entirely appropriate and does not stretch the meaning at all.

          • KG

            “I appreciate you calling it faith. Digging into that nun’s medical records would be called evidence. That is what Catholics do. We don’t just accept a story like that.”

            How does digging into the medical records indicate that the dead pope’s spirit healed her?

          • Randy Gritter

            It does not do so directly. Just seeing that the healing took place in close proximity to her asking for the dead pope’s intercession is the best we can do. That gets into questions of just how proximate is close enough. If God wants someone canonized He needs to make things clear.

          • Jake

            “If God wants _____ He needs to make things clear.”

            Careful Randy… you’re starting to sound like a skeptic! ;)

      • keddaw

        All claims of miracles ever investigated have been found to be fraud, wishful thinking or to have a non-supernatural explanation. Perhaps some of these have been genuine miracles, but since the Catholic Church engages in behaviors such as this:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanal_Edamaruku#Blasphemy_Case

        then I think we can safely assume that miracle claims by the Church are highly suspect.

        Edit: As per Randy’s observation below this should have read “to have a plausible or at least possible non-supernatural explanation”. The actual explanation is often virtually impossible to determine with any level of confidence (as with ghost appearances, UFOs etc.)

        • Randy Gritter

          All claims of miracles ever investigated have been found to be fraud, wishful thinking or to have a non-supernatural explanation.

          This is just false. There have actually been many people who have become Christian based on a miracle. Either a miracle they witnessed or a miracle they investigated. Some miracles have been shown to be false. This is good. It means people are skeptical. We all should be.

          As for miracles that have not been shown to be false. The examples run into the millions. Try here:

          http://www.strangenotions.com/wright-question/

          I am not sure why some legal proceeding the Catholic church engaged in in India is relevant here. I would have to have more facts to comment.

          I think we can safely assume that miracle claims by the Church are highly suspect.

          It would indeed be a safe assumption for your creed. The truth is the church’s miracle investigators are the most skeptical out there. They don’t just want evidence of a miracle. They want documented proof. Not saying the less documented miracles did not happen but just saying the evidence is not firm enough to give it a stamp of approval.

          • keddaw

            “There have actually been many people who have become Christian based on a miracle.”

            Perhaps, but the ‘miracle’ was not investigated by rational, sceptical people. Name a single miracle which has had some decent investigation and has not been shown to be fraud or have a non-supernatural alternative explanation.

            I’m afraid some guy claiming to have been saved by faith healing, who was visited(!?!) by Mary, ghosts etc. does not count. In fact, his claim that he had ‘a couple of dozen prayers miraculously answered’ screams out for evidence of even one.

            “I am not sure why some legal proceeding the Catholic church engaged in in India is relevant here.”

            Because if the Church attacks someone who debunks miracles (for debunking one of theirs) then it would appear that they are more concerned with the appearance of miracles than the reality of them. Hence sending people to verify that some disease clearing up (as it does naturally some cases), or a disease being healed when there is no actual evidence of the woman ever having said disease, counts as a miracle aided by somebody the Church is trying to make a saint strongly suggests there may be something beyond confirmation bias at play. The Church lies, usually for its own purposes, but sometimes for what it perceives as the greater good.

            “They don’t just want evidence of a miracle. They want documented proof.”

            Funny how that ‘documented proof’ never makes it out to the sceptical world and would never hold up to scrutiny if it did. In fact, if I was to hazard a guess, I’d say the investigation was into whether the person was a devout believer or a hoaxer who may embarrass the Church rather than into whether the claimed event happened the way it was claimed to. But I’m a cynic.

          • Randy Gritter

            Name a single miracle which has had some decent investigation and has not been shown to be fraud or have a non-supernatural alternative explanation.

            You have the classic catch 22. Anyone who says they witnessed a miracle is obviously crazy. Why? Because miracles don’t happen. How do we now they don’t happen? Because they are only witnessed by crazy people. Except they are not. There is evidence if you look. Try Fatima, Guadeloupe, the Shroud of Turin, etc. As for the crazy witnesses? There are a lot of them and they seem pretty reasonable outside of their miracle talk.

            Funny how that ‘documented proof’ never makes it out to the sceptical world and would never hold up to scrutiny if it did.

            It is there. It is funny how skeptics can’t seem to find it no matter how often you point them to it. Skeptics that are actually open minded enough to look at the data often stop being skeptics in the sense of denying miracles. They remain skeptical of any new miracle claim.

          • keddaw

            “the Shroud of Turin”

            Carbon dated to the Medieval period…

            “Fatima”

            Why should I give this more credence than people who claim they met aliens who gave them insights into their home planet or cryptic predictions that accorded with some later event? (Nostradamus?)

            “Guadeloupe”

            What is the miracle here? Something someone claimed from 1531? Or the fabric, which hasn’t been subject to decent analysis?

            Seriously, where these not Catholic, or at least Christian, claims of the supernatural, would you give them the time of day? Is this really the best the creator of the universe who wants to save our souls can do? He appeared to Thomas, why not us? The claims from the OT are fairly small scale, but at least they were of a deity at work (stopping the sun in the sky to help out in a battle, drowning all (non-water compatible) life apart from a family on a floating zoo etc. Jesus did some stuff too that appeared to impress the locals, but what do we have 20 centuries later? Children having visions, miraculous cures to things that often go into remission on their own, relics that aren’t what they were claimed etc.

            You give these outrageous claims credence because you want them to be true because they bolster your world view, they are for your team. There is a name for this: confirmation bias.

          • Randy Gritter

            This is precisely what I mean. Your investigation amounts to going to a skeptic website where someone dismisses the evidence based on nothing. Could the evidence be greater? Sure. God chooses to ask us to believe on faith. Still it is faith based on reason. If we wanted to know we could. If we don’t want to know we can choose that too.

          • keddaw

            “As for miracles that have not been shown to be false.”
            You have it the wrong way round. No-one is saying there aren’t events that people claim are miracles but haven’t been disproved, all I am saying is that any one of these claimed miracles which has had any scrutiny at all has had at least one possible non-supernatural alternative explanation.
            Your version is like saying ‘not all alien abductions have been shown to be false’ and then linking to some idiot who thinks he was anally probed by E.T.

          • Randy Gritter

            Actually you did say that. The point is people assume atheists have actually checked the data. They have not. Those that have either stop being atheists or run away when they see some stuff that makes them uncomfortable.

          • keddaw

            Edited the original comment to reflect this – but left the original text as it was. Apologies for the confusion.

          • Jake

            I’m just gonna leave this here…
            http://xkcd.com/1235/

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    Blessed John Paul II is very much an example of the older way of making saints, that by public acclamation (at least three-quarters of Irish saints and I would say about the same ratio of the older feasts in the calendar derive from that).

    Blessed John XXIII is similar but different; there is also an element of popular acclamation there, but I think a lot of the impetus arises out of Vatican II. And I think that council has been vastly misunderstood, so that the dreaded ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ hovers over everything (myself, I cannot forgive the hacking about of parish churches that occurred with abandon in the 1970s, all in the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ where there was no such direction to do away with altar rails, popular devotions and the like).

    I think, because Pope John XXIII died early before the completion of the council, he has become a figurehead/bogey man for both those who say “If only he had lived, we would have (insert pet hobbyhorse here)” and those who say “It’s all his fault for wrecking the Church!”

    I speak as someone for whom Paul VI was my pope and I do genuinely feel he is misunderstood and overshadowed by his predecessor, who was seen as homely and popular in much the same way as Francis is now, and his successor who was charismatic and larger-than-life.

    Well, we’ll see. Fifty years may be too soon to reflect on all that happened with John XXIII’s reign and the fallout of the Second Vatican Council. It might be no harm if we went back to the example of taking over six hundred years to canonise the likes of St. Albert the Great :-)

  • grok87

    Thanks- I didn’t know about Sister Pauline- very interesting.

  • keddaw

    Hi Mike, we know there are no miracles the same way we know homeopathy doesn’t work, or dowsing, or ESP, or telekinesis. No reputable (or repeatable) study has ever shown it working and there is no reasonable way for one to think it could work (absent evidence).

    So knowledge, as with all scientific knowledge, is simply our best understanding of how things work with a high level of confidence due to experience, experiments and how it fits in with everything else we think we know about the world. It doesn’t mean miracles definitely don’t happen, it doesn’t mean they can’t, but it does mean experience and evidence has shown us that the most sensible course of action is to live as if they don’t happen.

    • Irenist

      Science is the study of the observed regularities of nature. It is an observed regularity that ESP/dowsing/etc. don’t work. But science–as opposed to scientism–cannot rule out irregularities a priori. Some claimed they witnessed irregularities in ancient Judea. There’s no a priori way to reject that claim. You might find the evidence insufficient to warrant belief, but you can’t reject it a priori.

      • keddaw

        “you can’t reject [miracle claims] a priori”

        I thought I covered this: “It doesn’t mean miracles definitely don’t happen, it doesn’t mean they can’t, but it does mean experience and evidence has shown us that the most sensible course of action is to live as if they don’t happen.”

        Incidentally, from your statement you also can’t reject each dowser or ESPer a priori. If you want to spend your time investigating each and every crazy claim a human can make go ahead, but I’ll require the person making the claim to show evidence first if it’s all the same to you.

        • Irenist

          You’re right, keddaw. Your quoted statement *had* covered that. I lazily misread you and proceeded to strawman you. I apologize.

        • Randy Gritter

          Catholics do live as if miracles don’t happen in most of their lives. We don’t expect them. Do we chase down every claim? No. But when you start to see solid evidence behind a claim then you start to take it seriously. You learn who you can trust.

          For example, on the shroud of Turin. My initial reaction was skepticism. As a protestant I was raised to believe all relics were frauds. Then I got a CD on the shroud that presented a lot of interesting science (including explaining why the carbon dating result you referenced was quite dubious). I was still not convinced but getting close. What kind of pushed me over the top is noticing guys like Mark Shea were assuming it was valid. He is a pretty skeptical guy who has written against some pretty widely accepted apparitions. If guys like that are on board then it is likely as solid as it sounds.

          So you don’t spend all your time chasing wild phenomenon. You don’t expect miracles to happen every day. Still you let them be another reason to believe that some might find important. Certainly they are evidence against a purely material world. Almost by definition they are that.

          • keddaw

            So what counts as solid evidence? (And what the heck is special about the shroud anyway – it appears to depict someone with wounds similar to those attributed to Jesus, so what?)

            Anyway, should we grant the claims of these people credence?

            http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/sex-and-death-on-the-road-to-nirvana-20130606#ixzz2YhKMChn6

            They claim: “They speak of a man who can walk through walls, see into the future and, some believe, cast powerful spells against those who cross him.”

            Seems to me this guy has at least as much evidence for these ‘miracles’ as anything attributed to the recently canonized saints. But maybe your standard of evidence is different for different religions. That seems an unusual position, but I dare say it’s a common one. Wonder if Leah has gone there…

          • Irenist

            keddaw,

            “But maybe your standard of evidence is different for different religions.”

            Not really. I do trust the miracle accounts in the New Testament and I believe in the miracle of transubstantiation at every Mass. On matters like the Shroud of Turin, the miracles leading up to canonizations (as opposed to the canonizations themselves, which are infallible, IIRC), or various Marian apparations, AFAIK there is no infallible definition, and most of that sort of thing leaves me cold.

            That said, I think a frank, non-dishwater embrace of Christianity involves one in acknowledging with Augustine, C.S. Lewis, and Pope Francis, that the Devil is real. The ancient Christian belief that the pagan gods might be devils, as opposed to the modern theological fashion for thinking them mere figments, is thus not impossible. So if I were to bother to investigate a pagan miracle claim in Livy or from a modern Hindu, my faith wouldn’t require me to rule it out if the evidence seemed decent.

            But in much the same way that most people are going to get more real joy out of really mastering high school chemistry than they are out of the pretended mastery of cutting edge stuff they’ll get from a pop-sci book, I prefer to focus on trying to follow Christ and not being a schmuck. Maybe lots of miracles happen. Maybe string theory is true. But I have enough to do figuring out high school chemistry and attaining to even minimally adequate Christian discipleship, so I’ll stick with those.

            Too many apologists make Luke Skywalker’s mistake: “Never his mind on where he is, on what he is doing.” Wacky pagan miracles, like distant space battles elsewhere in our Milky Way galaxy, might be happening in the Himalayas right now. But they’re irrelevant to my life, and not what I should be focusing on.

  • Anonymous

    Mike, it’s the same reason we know that I am unable to give money to beggars on the street. No reputable (or repeatable) study has ever shown me consistently giving them money.

  • Randy Gritter

    If the pope said it was genuine it was certainly not an infallible statement. The claim is laughable. But the evidence seems to be there. Would a 13th century forger know to put pollen on there from plants that grow in Palestine? I don’t remember all the details but there were a bunch of other test results that make the forgery theory quite problematic.

    Even the fact that most secular scientists who study it have become Christian. These are guys who are actually willing to believe if they have proof. So much so they actually spend a lot of time doing research. Most just say they are willing to believe but spend zero time doing research.

  • Randy Gritter

    It was not my plan to defend one particular miracle. Just to challenge the sweeping statement that miracles have been shown to be false. They have not. They have been assumed to be false. I don’t really want to get into a lot of details unless someone is actually open minded. It just takes a ton of time to do it carefully. If such a person exists they have many miracles to choose from. If they like lots of eye witnesses look at Fatima. The shroud and the tilma from Guadeloupe have a lot of interesting image analysis. They you have healings. Lourdes has a ton. People talking to apparitions and being told things they don’t know. It goes on and on.

  • keddaw

    Yeah, but it’s not actually about miracles, is it? It’s about believing the incredible claims of someone because they’re in your special club and not believing the incredible claims of others.

    P(crazy stuff made up by a Catholic) > P(crazy stuff made up by a non-Catholic)

    P(crazy stuff) > 0, but not by much…


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X