The Fear of God in Me

Yesterday, when I was attending Daily Mass, I was one of only four people present.  I sat up in front, and, after the priest had administered the Eucharist to himself, he motioned me up to assist as an extraordinary minister of holy communion, to distribute the Blood to the remaining parishioners after they received the Body from him.

I was quite nervous walking up and receiving the chalice, and hoped that terror-as-reverence was about the right disposition, as long as I wasn’t paralyzed by it.

It was all over quickly; there were only three communicants not counting me, and when I walked back to my seat I was profoundly grateful.  First, because I hadn’t mishandled the Sacrament.  And then, after a bit, because I had had moments when I was particularly moved at Mass or touched by the Eucharist, and I was glad to have possibly facilitated that for someone else.  And mostly I felt relieved that the unexpectedly highest-stakes part of my day was over.

But if it was natural to be frightened when I was suddenly responsible for carrying the Blood of Christ, why should it be natural to feel casual when I was carrying the Body and the Blood within myself out into the world.  The Mass ends with the word Ite, missa est; a dismissal with an imperative form of Go out!

It’s a bit easier to remember reverence when I’m surrounded by the ‘smells and bells’ and when the chalice is a literal weight in my hand.  But my responsibility did not end when I handed the chalice back to the priest.  I am always in the position of either offering Mary’s fiat or interfering with God’s love passing through me to others.  Long before I thought of converting, this struck me as more than a bit terrifying.

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 She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Randy Gritter

    Fear of God is an interesting thing. Proverbs calls it the beginning of wisdom. Yet it has somehow gone out of fashion in many circles in the church. The fear of God should, as we progress, become less as we trust God’s mercy. I think of this Sunday’s reading. The prodigal son was afraid of the father. He wanted to be a slave and not a son. The father would have none of it. But the older son was afraid too. He served his father “like a slave.”

    If we don’t experience fear of God it is likely we don’t grasp the seriousness of our sin and the holiness of God. If we don’t get past that fear it is likely we don’t grasp God’s love and mercy. Jesus says in Luke 12:4,5:

    I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him!

    So He does not say never be afraid. He says be afraid of the right things. Ask if this can cost you your soul. If it can’t then walk in God’s mercy. If it can then run back to Him.

  • Christine~Soccer Mom

    I am a reluctant EMHC at our parish, and the first 2-3 times I served, I went back to my pew at the end of Communion and sobbed. Quite overwhelming.

  • Dan

    Have you been an Eucharist Minster before? Just wondering because if a priest asked me to be one, I’d be rather nervous. I was an altar server when I was a kid, and I’ve read during school Masses when I was a kid, but those roles are different.

    Is it usual to have communion under both species at your parish for daily Mass? In my experience, only the Body is distributed for daily Mass and some smaller Sunday Masses (only a little Blood is consecrated, and the priest is the only one who receives it).

    Anyway, I’m happy you had such a great experience.

    • LeahLibresco

      No, never! That accounted for a good bit of my nervousness. I’ve lectored before, but for that, I got an hour of training.

      Whether communion is done under both species has varied a lot at different Daily Masses I’ve attended. But at every Daily Mass I’ve attended where the Blood is distributed without a deacon, the priest has used an Extraordinary Minister.

  • Robin Lionheart

    No need to be so frightened. If you spill any, blood of Christ runs only about $4.79 a bottle.

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      Accidents happen, that’s why there is a procedure in place:

      This subject is addressed in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 280: “If a host or any particle should fall, it is to be picked up reverently. If any of the Precious Blood is spilled, the area where the spill occurred should be washed with water, and this water should then be poured into the sacrarium in the sacristy.”

      …The water may be poured directly upon the earth or down the sacrarium — the special sacristy sink that leads to the earth, not to a drain.

      Technically, the sink is known as a “piscina” and the drain into the earth is the “sacrarium”. The idea of pouring the water onto the earth is so that the particles of the Host or the Blood do not end up in common sewers.

      • Robin Lionheart

        Wow, they have a special sink for that? Interesting. Though surely particles of the Host and Blood end will up in common sewers anyway, via your parishioners’ toilets.

        Hey, you just helped give me a new perspective on Andres Serrano’s famous photo.

        • Martel

          Hi Robin,
          We get it. You don’t believe in the sacraments. To you, the sacramental elements never change their nature and so can be purchased (for $4.79) or excreted.
          Neither observation strikes us as epiphany-inducing or even mildly profound.

          • Robin Lionheart

            You just implied that particles of Blood mixed with water are still sacred, and must be carefully disposed of. When exactly does the Blood “change its nature” back to its physical components then? Would an earthworm in the soil beneath the sacrarium gain eternal life?

        • Irenist

          To answer your first question, Robin, the Real Presence persists so long as the accidents of the Bread and Wine. Once the vinous accidents of the Blood undergo digestion, whether by a communicant, or by soil bacteria or earthworms beneath the sacrarium, the Real Presence is absent. As for your other question, since earthworms have irrational souls, they are incapable of obtaining “eternal life,” with or without exposure to the sacraments.

          • Robin Lionheart

            Okay, so “Real Presence” persists in water, but not in hydrochloric stomach acid nor in lactic acid from soil bacteria? Might it all simply come down to pH?

            Suppose a minister dissolved spilled communion wine in concentrated hydrochloric acid, then diluted it enough to safely dispose of by pouring down a common sewer drain. Would that be satisfactory?

            So you say worms have souls, but theirs are “irrational souls”. Is that a theological term? Because I suspect you may not mean the same thing by “irrational” that I do.

            (No, my question’s not deleted, you just replied to my previous comment one level back. So on my screen, our replies appear out of sequence.)

          • Irenist

            1. Whatever it takes to get rid of the accidents: beaker of acid, digestion, burning, whatever. The term “accidents” has a specific meaning in the metaphysical context, btw.

            2. Whether it would be “satisfactory” is akin to asking whether flushing one’s national flag into a sewer would be “satisfactory.” The concern is to treat the Host, or the flag, with dignity. The mechanics of transubstantiation are a separate issue.

            3. The distinction between vegetative, appetitive, and rational souls, of which an earthworm possesses only the first two, comes to Thomism via Aristotelianism. Any online encyclopedia can fill you in on the meanings of the three terms as used in Aristotelian psychology and metaphysics.

          • Robin Lionheart

            I figured a pastor would carry on with the ceremony while another minister, like perhaps a doorkeeper or an offering plate handler, cleaned up the mess. But perhaps I misunderstood how Catholics use the term. [Ed. This paragraph responds to a now-deleted comment about not knowing what Protestant "ministers" do.]

            So far my cursory readings inform me that Aristotle regarded souls as Aristotelean ‘forms’ endowed with five faculties: vegetative (growth), appetitive, sensitive, locomotive, and rational. I take it, then, that plant forms/souls have only 1 out of 5 capabilities, worm forms/souls have 4 out of 5, and human forms/souls 5 out of 5?

          • Irenist

            That’s right, Robin. The middle three faculties (appetitive, sensitive, and locomotive) tend to get grouped together, since animals tend to have all of them, and plants none of them (I say “*tend* to have” because we could be here all day talking about coral or Venus flytraps). So we speak of five faculties, but three “souls.”

            In Aristotelian terms, a “soul” isn’t a ghostly thing, but a formal cause, akin to “sphericity” being the formal cause of a basketball, and rubber (or whatever) being its material cause.

            A substance/substantial form is “informed” matter. In the normal course of things, something with the form and matter of a first century Galilean ought to look like a man, not bread. For the form and matter to change from those of bread to those of that Galilean, but without the “accidental” appearances changing, is impossible absent a miracle. The term “transubstantiation” attempts to describe what *sort* of miracle it is (i.e., one without empirically detectable effect, either to the naked eye or the electron microscope) but hazards no theory as to *how* something so bizarre can be possible, other than the power of God. I.e., “transubstantiation” is a description, but not an explanation; it’s as baffling to the Thomist as to anyone else how God does it.

            Oh, about that earthworm. Here’s roughly the chain of thought (not a defensible argument, just a sketch):

            The form of a basketball is its sphericity. Melt the rubber, and the form is gone. Thus, that form is necessarily perishable.

            The form of a plant is its organization of matter such that its cells perform nutrition, growth, reproduction, etc. Burn the plant, and that formal organization perishes.

            The form of an earthworm is that of the plant, plus additional faculties for locomotion and sensation. These faculties depend upon the body and brain of the earthworm, and perish with them.

            Similarly, human imagination produces images (“phantasms”) that are dependent upon sensory data and brain states, and the material interaction of the brain with the world. Eyes and brains are perishable, so the human sensorium is not eternal.

            By contrast, abstract intellection about concepts like “triangularity” is not an operation upon perishable sense impressions, but upon numbers and similar ideas–n.b., that we’re talking about the concept of triangularity here, not the actual sphericity, say, of a basketball. These concepts are immaterial and therefore imperishable. Thus, the abstract intellect (a.k.a., the rational soul) is eternal in a way that the vegetative and appetitive souls are not. Lacking a rational soul, none of the formal organizing principles of the earthworm are such as to be imperishable: they perish with the matter they inform.

          • Robin Lionheart

            A curious person would try to solve that mystery. All curiosity strives to annihilate itself.

            “Form” and matter also change in nature: pressure and heat transmute the “form” of vegetable plants into the “form” of mineral coal, for example. Is divine intervention necessary to produce coal and oil?

          • Irenist

            Sure, if transubstantiation is explicable, that’d be great–I’m no fan of mystery for its own sake. But I wouldn’t want to deny it just to live in a universe free of mystery, either.

            God works directly through primary causation (upholding everything in being as opposed to nonexistence) and indirectly through secondary causation (the orderly flow of physical law, human action, etc.). Normal secondary causation via ordinary physical law is sufficient to turn dead organics into coal, because there’s nothing miraculous going on.

            The difference with transubstantiation is that it violates the laws of nature–it’s miraculous. Hence the need for divine intervention.

            The other frequently recurring direct divine intervention is human (rational) ensoulment at conception. The matter and form of the gametes is sufficient to provide the zygote with vegetative and animal faculties, but the wholly immaterial rational soul can’t be caused by the matter of sperm and egg–divine intervention is needed.

            Other than the human soul and the Eucharist, though, the Catholic Church generally tends to assume that God lets scientific law govern the universe in an orderly, predictable, not-at-all flashy way, barring the odd miraculous hearing or Marian apparition now and again.

          • Robin Lionheart

            Can the wholly immaterial vegetable soul be caused by the matter of stamen and pistil, or is divine intervention needed there too?

          • Irenist

            Good catch!

            I’m not speaking precisely. My bad.

            The Thomist principle is that an effect should somehow be latent in its cause as a potential. Various configurations of matter and form were latent in the primordial ooze of evolutionary prehistory. But *rationality* in particular, in the Thomist sense, isn’t latent in any matter or informed matter. It’s its own thing.

            Say you’re watching evolution bop along for eons, and eventually you’re looking at some African savannah a few hundred thousand years ago. The pre-human hominids (hominins, whatever) there, with their nutritive capacity, and imaginations full of phantasms derived from sense data, are there with no miracles required: everything they are was a potential latent in the formal/material organization of the first RNA replicators. But for a pair of hominids to be born with rational souls isn’t going to happen by just juggling their brain matter into new formal organizations.

            As the modern “problem of intentionality” gets at, there’s no inherent semantic content to hunks of brain. Any proto-linguistic proto-concept (i.e., a predator warning call or whatever) the hominids come up with is going to be indeterminate in the Quinean sense, not really a fixed abstract concept like “triangularity.”

            But rationality is all about fixed abstract concepts. So since there’s no fixed abstract semantic content potentially latent in the “animal souls” of the pre-humans, it’s an unbridgeable gap between them and Adam & Eve, absent divine intervention. There’s no way to leap the gap through the mere orderly secondary causality of physical law doing its thing. (Not that Adam and Eve couldn’t be the children of pre-human parents, just that their rational souls specifically aren’t going to be a mere byproduct of evolution, like their bodies and the rest of their minds.)

          • Robin Lionheart

            So, worms with vegetable/appetitive/sensitive/locomotive souls have a sixth faculty, a procreative capacity to produce another soul with its same form. But rational souls lack that capacity?

            Gorillas can use sign language and dolphins can do math. Do they have rational souls, requiring divine intervention, too?

          • Irenist

            Nah. Procreation falls under the vegetative faculty. Each kind of soul (rational, appetitive, vegetative) includes the other lower kinds as a unity. Thus, a “rational soul” has the other faculties, but is called “rational” because the possession of that faculty is what distinguishes it. Similarly, the appetitive soul of the irrational animal, in addition to appetitive, locomotive, sensitive faculties, has a vegetative faculty.

            Honestly, the whole “faculties” thing isn’t really something I’ve read much about. I’m more interested in the distinction between the three kinds of souls, which seem to map pretty well onto the following scheme:
            1. Vegetative: Merely alive.
            2. Appetitive: Alive with qualia.
            3. Rational: Alive with qualia and intentionality.

          • Robin Lionheart

            I’m talking about procreation of souls, not material bodies. If I understand you correctly, no miracles are required for vegetative souls to produce more vegetative souls via natural processes, but rational souls cannot produce more rational souls without divine intervention. Is that right?

            If so, vegetative souls have a reproductive capacity that rational souls lack. One could even say vegetative souls have more characteristics of being “alive” than rational souls.

            And since dolphins can do abstract math, does that mean they have rational souls?

            [Ed.: I see that after my response, you replaced “abstract intellection” with “intentionality”. That sets the bar for a rational soul much lower. Frex, all sorts of animals have intentions to feed their young, salmon have intentions to swim upstream to their spawning ground, and so forth.]

          • Irenist

            Ah. I mean “intentionality” in the semiotic sense (i.e., referential “aboutness” with the distinctness [i.e., absence of Quinean indeterminacy] that materialist theories of mind fail to account for), not in the volitional. All appetitive souls will and desire.

            Indeed, if I were going to mount an attack on Aristotelian psychology, I think it’s the distinction between vegetative and appetitive souls that appears most in need of revision in light of modern evidence of, e.g., chemotaxis in even the lowest unicellular organisms, sped-up videos of plants growing toward the light that look like arms reaching for food, etc. It’s not an area I’ve looked into, just a hunch I have that all “vegetative” organisms may in practice be appetitive, too.

            Turning from Thomist psychology’s possible weaknesses w/r/t categorizing lower life forms to its possible weaknesses categorizing higher, my understanding of dolphin math is that it’s pretty non-abstract: it’s “two red balls plus one yellow ball is three balls” kind of stuff (all of which concrete deliberation is within the capabilities of the phantasmal imagination of the merely appetitive-souled consciousness), rather than an acquaintance with a concept like “duality” or “two-ness” in the abstract–such entirely non-figural abstractions being the key distinction between abstract “rational-souled” intellection and appetitive deliberation. But I could be wrong; not my area.

            That said, I’ll note in passing that it’s not defined Church dogma or anything that dolphins and other clever beasts lack rational souls–it’s just what the medievals thought, and what just about all current Thomist theologians and philosophers happen to think best fits the ethological data we now have. However, if they’re wrong, it’s not a showstopper:

            Consider that the Church has already stated that the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence (i.e., rationally souled people from other stars) wouldn’t present any insoluble theological issues. A rational dolphin or gorilla is sort of like an extraterrestrial. Also consider that sixteenth century theologians were pretty shocked at the thought that pre-Columbian Native Americans had spent millennia without any hope of exposure to the Gospel, but those theologians eventually found ways to integrate that into their sense of the workings of Providence.

            If dolphins (et alia) are rational, then they’re fellow non-evangelized Earthlings like pre-Columbian Native Americans, but radically different from the rest of us, like extra-terrestrials. They’d be squarely in the middle then, of two cases for which the Church has already made theological provision.

            As to the specifics, if rational dolphins existed in pre-lapsarian bliss like the Edenic “Malacandran” Martians of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, then they’d have no need for the Gospel. But since all earthly animals die and do awful things to each other (dolphins are pretty violent sometimes, e.g.), they would appear to be “subject to sin and death,” and so in need of the Gospel if they are indeed rational. Figuring out how to communicate it to them (or whether they have their own “virtuous pagan” path to salvation) would be quite the theological and ethological mess, but it’s not incompatible in principle with Catholicism.

            For now, though, academic Thomists seem not to think any of the animals we know of are “rational” in the sense of Aristotelian psychology. But if they’re wrong, someone will presumably figure it out eventually. Given the conservative temperament that probably accompanies the choice for Thomism as opposed to, e.g., materialist utilitarianism, in the philosophical profession at the moment, it might take a while. But there’s no rush. It took the Church 400+ years to give due consideration to the positive aspects of Luther’s whole “vernacular liturgy” idea. The “Ents of the Vatican” are not in a hurry.

          • Ray


            It seems to me that “aboutness” is also too low a bar. For example, it’s hard not to construe a bee waggle dance as being about the locations of various resources the bee has discovered. As for Quinean indeterminacy, this may be too high a bar, at least if you want a fully general solution rather than a kludgy set of heuristics, which avoids ambiguity only in the most common and practically relevant situations — in any event bees seem much better at not misunderstanding one another than, for example, philosophers, so this qualification may end up splitting the hair the wrong way.

            That said, I am somewhat sympathetic to the notion that there is a qualitative difference between the cognition of healthy adult humans and all other terrestrial animals. However, there are bigger problems with the category of “rational animal” as the Church construes it. For example, Catholics, yourself included, I presume, seem committed to the notion that blastulas and anencephalic fetuses are also in possession of this elusive “rational soul.” Now these organisms manifestly lack the physical structures and the behaviors we generally associate with rational thought, and in the latter case, even the potential to develop rational thought in the future. It seems the only thing linking these examples to the healthy adult human is genetic similarity, and often imperfect genetic similarity at that. But, an equal degree of similarity would also be shared by the supposedly rational first Adam of Catholic theology, and his supposedly a-rational parents. So, I don’t see how you can sustain the Catholic answers regarding who does and doesn’t have a rational soul, without undercutting all the reasons you had for believing humans were different from the animals in the first place.

          • Irenist

            Great points about intentionality, Ray. You remain a more precise thinker than me, as always. Since I’m a mere amateur Feser fanboy (and I think some professionals consider Feser a crank, which would make me a mere fanboy of a crank) rather than a real philosophical thinker, I will continue muddling things, and I trust you will continue noting it. You’re an education, Ray. (I do wish someone better educated than I could uphold the Catholic end in this combox, but I’ll keep at it if my betters continue their absence.)

            As for the moral status of fetuses and the brain-damaged, each human from the moment of conception is a member of the species homo sapiens. Of course, that’s a genetic matter. But it’s not the genetics that determine the moral status, it’s the soul.

            The homo sapiens *kind*, in the Aristotelian sense (as in a Porphyrean tree) has as its specific difference that it is a rational animal. (Or perhaps a rational primate, or a rational hominin, or whatever qualification would be needed if dolphins and gorillas are rational.) The healthy adult specimen of homo sapiens exhibits rationality.

            However, a sleeping adult human is not exhibiting rationality at that moment. The human still has a rational soul, but the rational soul is unable to “express itself” through a sleeping body. Similarly, a fetus or a brain-damaged adult, as a human, necessarily has a rational soul, but is unable to “express” its rationality due to not yet (or ever, if anencephalic) having a brain that allows it.
            (I put “express” in scare quotes to flag that I’m not endorsing the homuncular associatons the word may call to mind.)

            Adam and Eve are a limit case. They were members of a species presumably characterized by the highest deliberative capacities of the appetitive soul, but not “rational” in the specialized Aristotelian sense. Then, without any *genetic* modification to these early homo sapiens, two were conceived (Adam and Eve) whom God intervened to provide with rational souls. And He has done the same for their descendants. Over time, their lineage has spread such that all remaining homo sapiens are their descendants, and are rationally souled, with each new conception being accompanied by a direct divine intervention.

            But given that rational intellection, unlike appetitive deliberation, is wholly immaterial, there needn’t have been any *genetic* difference between Adam and his parents. All intellection and deliberation will have neural *correlates*, but unlike the manipulation of phantasms in the imagination that characterizes appetitive deliberation, rational intellection doesn’t have a neural *substrate*: it’s not even partially susceptible to materialistic reduction. Appetitive deliberation has qualia that are best understood through formal causality, contra that delightful, intriguing Dennett reading you turned me on to (and I’m afraid I’m still rather slowly working through as my time allows), but it’s still entirely this-worldly, and no more formally caused than any other formal organization of matter. Whereas rationality is wholly formal.

          • Ray

            Thanks for your reply Irenist. And thanks for the compliment. For what it’s worth, while your philosophical views lead to moral conclusions I cannot accept in good conscience and conclusions about the detailed history of the physical universe I deem highly implausible (whatever its metaphysical foundations, an empty tomb is physically different from the unmarked mass grave where I generally assume the body of Jesus underwent the natural process of decay.), you are an able proponent of those views as far as I can tell. If your exposition suffers in comparison to Feser’s in terms of clarity, you more than make up for these deficiencies in patience, politeness and charity, and I thank you for that.

            As for the substance of your post, I am aware that Thomists regard the difference between rational and a-rational animals to be one of species. I contemplated mentioning something similar in my previous post, but it seemed to me that the only good reasons for believing an anencephalic fetus to be the same species as its parents were reasons of biology, such as genetic similarity, so I decided to cut out the middleman so to speak. If you insist on pressing the point though, is there any reason, apart from a supposed divine revelation, for thinking an anencephalic fetus is the same species as its parents, which does not also apply to Adam and his parents?

            Of course, there is a further difficulty in expounding our disagreement here, which is that you can simply define the category of rational animals to refer to all lineal descendents of a single individual, pair or group of organisms. This categorization is not strictly speaking incorrect, nor does it even violate the assumption of supervenience physicalism. The presence or absence in ones distant family history of a single ancestor, or indeed the presence or absence of a chanting priest in the vicinity of an alcoholic beverage, is as much a physical distinction as , the proverbial lone ammonium molecule in the rings of Saturn. The flaws in this way of thinking are more subtle: Such categories are not useful in inductive reasoning, and regarding such categories as morally significant leads to seemingly dangerous conclusions.

            To illustrate the role of categories in inductive reasoning: Generally the attribution of rationality to a being leaves a person with expectations regarding how they will respond to persuasion, negotiation, inquiry etc. Even the sleeping man isn’t so hard to wake up, and will behave quite similarly to the others thereafter. Thus we can apply what we learn about one member of the group to the rest of the group in a wide variety of circumstances. On the contrary, the same cannot be said for a consecrated wafer or a blastula.

            And in morality: Suppose we could conclude with high certainty that there had been no admixture between Tasmanian aborigines and the rest of humanity within the past 8000 years, and further suppose we could identify a middle eastern couple from 6000 years ago as the original Adam and Eve. Would that mean that those British settlers who exterminated all the aborigines they saw were no more guilty than modern game hunters, and those British settlers who intermarried with the aborigines were depraved zoophiles? It all seems self consistent, but does it seem morally acceptable? Would you continue to value morality if this turned out to be its true nature?

          • Irenist


            Thank you for your generous words.

            “is there any reason, apart from a supposed divine revelation, for thinking an anencephalic fetus is the same species as its parents,”

            The standard naturalistic ones–genetics, etc.

            “which does not also apply to Adam and his parents?”

            No. You have me there. Because humans exhibit rationality and at least some species ancestral to us presumably did not, somewhere between that a-rational species and us there were the first rational people.

            Because Thomists take rationalism to be immaterial, it doesn’t happen to be genetically testable. That all healthy modern adults are rational may be tested by a psychologist. That someone must’ve been first to be rational is simple deduction. Calling him Adam is mere convention.

            “Such categories are not useful in inductive reasoning,”

            Sure. Aristotelian metaphysics and psychology aren’t a scientific research program, but a way of thinking deductively about things we already know about the world, such as that things exist, and that people occasionally have abstract thoughts about triangles and numbers and whatnot. Aristotle had a scientific research program (his physics, e.g.), but it’s no great prize.

            “Generally the attribution of rationality to a being leaves a person with expectations regarding how they will respond to persuasion, negotiation, inquiry etc.”

            Not all human beings are capable of exhibiting rationality. But it doesn’t take any fancy metaphysics to figure out that a healthy adult human can be rational. Aristotelianism isn’t there to provide that information. Common sense is.

            “Thus we can apply what we learn about one member of the group to the rest of the group in a wide variety of circumstances. On the contrary, the same cannot be said for a consecrated wafer or a blastula.”

            Thomism isn’t making predictions about what things do, that’s correct. It is making deductions about what things are. That may factor into your moral reasoning (if you find the deductions persuasive), but it’s science’s job to make predictions, not philosophy’s.

            “Suppose we could conclude with high certainty that there had been no admixture between Tasmanian aborigines and the rest of humanity within the past 8000 years, and further suppose we could identify a middle eastern couple from 6000 years ago as the original Adam and Eve.”

            Adam and Eve can only be “identified” by being (among) the ancestors of all living humans. If 6,000 years ago isn’t enough for the candidate couple to do that, it’s the wrong couple. Relatedly, the Church is doctrinally committed to monogenism, rather than polygenism. (Which, come to think of it, happens to have been a falsifiable anthropological claim, and one which we’re doing quite well on–no living human beings unrelated to the others have ever been discovered.)

            “Would that mean that those British settlers who exterminated all the aborigines they saw were no more guilty than modern game hunters, and those British settlers who intermarried with the aborigines were depraved zoophiles?”

            If, arguendo, there were an alternate universe Church (maybe in the same alternate universe where Saturn’s rings have an extra ammonium ion) that could countenance the belief that native Tasmanians weren’t homo sapiens, their moral status would be that of angels, Lewis’ Malacandrans, or the intelligent dolphins discussed upthread: the theologically relevant definition of human is “rational animal”: any rational creature deserves “human” dignity and rights.

            “Would you continue to value morality if this turned out to be its true nature?”


          • Ray

            I’m a bit confused as to what you’re claiming is the content of the doctrine of monogenism. There’s pretty strong statistical evidence that the effective population size of the human line never dropped below about 10,000 in all the years since the split with Chimpanzees, and in any event, it’s fairly biologically implausible that any chordate population (i.e. any human ancestor in the past half billion years) could drop to 2 representatives and remain viable. So, if you’re going to take biology at all seriously, Adam and Eve must have been members of a species (in the biological species concept sense) including members who were not their direct descendents. The same situation must also have followed for some years after their deaths. How long can a biological species consisting both of descendents and non-descendents of Adam and Eve have persisted before it becomes a problem for monogenism?

          • ACN

            If I read Irenist correctly, I think his reply would be that there was nothing biologically different about his “Adam” and “Eve”, allowing him to skirt the obvious problems with having a population of two, but rather, that two members of homo sapiens were “ensouled” in such a way that this was passed onto their descendants.

            He seems to be positing that the soul-stuff behaves genetically (is passed onto the descendants of “Adam” and “Eve”) but is not in actual fact genetic in the DNA-sense. The act of ensoulment is thus cleverly placed beyond any possible physical investigation.

          • Randy Gritter

            Actually one parent having a rational soul is enough. So you could have many generations where the two species could co-exist while the ensoulment took over the whole population. In fact, some read the first few verses of Gen 6 as a reference to this. You might further speculate that the flood might have eliminated the remaining homo-sapiens that lacked a soul.

            Most of this is not dogma. You need to idea of original sin being passed down. How you reconcile that with what science comes out with is pretty much up to you.

          • ACN

            I don’t know if the “soul as dominant vs. recessive trait” theory you present is Irenist’s view. It might be, but it isn’t clear from the rest of what I read.

            Anyway, since there was no global flood, I find any speculation on it eliminating non-soul’d humans to be ridiculous.

          • Irenist

            I should avoid these threads for a few days more often–ACN, you read my mind effectively, and you write more concisely than I do!

            Ray, Pius XII promulgated the encyclical “Humani generis” in 1950. The rather 19th c. idea of polygenism he was condemning was the old theory that the separate “races” had evolved separately from apes, rather than sharing Adam as a common ancestor. Pius condemns the idea that “true men” could have lived after Adam without being descended from him. Importantly, he doesn’t decide the question of whether irrational (i.e., “false” men) could have lived after Adam, though. Given that we now know that the smallest ever H. sapiens population bottleneck was a few thousand individuals (for example at the supposed Toba supervolcano catastrophe bottleneck c. 70,000 years before present (70ka bp)), the only way I can see to reconcile Pius with science AT ALL is if “false” men were around until all surviving H. sapiens were descended from Adam.

            (ACN, since Pius never mentions Eve in the encyclical, I’ll say that God infuses the rational soul in such a way that it probably does act like a “dominant gene” even though it’s not determined by material molecules like genes: only one rational parent would be necessary.)

            If we assume, as we must to stay reconciled with Pius, that Adam lived before the earliest human migration out of Africa, then we’re looking at an individual from at least 120ka b.p. or so, IIRC. If we go back to Y-chromosomal Adam, la Wik tells me that puts him at 338ka b.p.

            Since Neanderthals look to be ancestral to H. sapiens, maybe Adam was a member of the H. antecessor species ancestral to both Neanderthals and us. Was H. antecessor rational? No idea. Now we’re headed back millions of years. And I seem to recall reading something about Asian folks and Denisovan ancestry? That might push it further. I’m not an anthro guy, and don’t feel like looking up the relevant dates.

            At any rate, any doctrinally suitable Adam candidate is going to have to have lived long enough ago that he was the ancestor of everyone alive before Paul starts talking about all of us having died in Adam. How late could a common ancestor of all humans alive in the first century CE have lived? No idea.

            My instinct is to assume that Adam lived VERY long ago indeed, but it’s just a hunch.

            Anyway, during the time it took Adam’s genes to diffuse throughout the population, there would’ve been genetically indistinguishable rational and irrational hominids living side by side. And yeah, the moral implications are unpleasant. Personally, I tend to be broadly sympathetic to anything that leads to better treatment of presumably irrational but still clever beings like cetaceans, primates, and elephants. But I can certainly imagine an absolutely GHASTLY apologetic for, e.g., the Amalekite genocide stuff in the O.T. flowing from some baloney about the Amalekites not having been descended from Adam, were it not for the fact that Amalek’s genealogy from Adam is actually described in Genesis. (Not that I endorse those Genesis genealogies as history, just that as a theological matter they’d seem to block the Amalek != rational men apologetic, thankfully).

            As for those 19th century racist quack psychologists–yeah, I elided them in my reference to common sense telling us the Tasmanians were rational.

            Here’s the thing: I don’t think the “rational soul” concept should EVER be invoked to DENY people’s humanity. It’s not a diagnostic tool. It’s not an inductive heuristic. It’s just a bit of deductive reasoning intended to answer the question, in an Aristotelian hylomorphic context, “What must the universe be like, given the self evident fact that we sometimes think about numbers and stuff? What would be the best description of the formal cause of something like that?”

            Now, where the rational soul concept DOES have practical implications is in EXPANDING the circle of humanity to include the unborn and the brain damaged, on the logic that modern H. sapiens is a definite kind characterized by a rational soul, so even a human without a body capable of “expressing” that rational nature still deserves dignity and respect. And that is obviously controversial.

            Worse, from a Catholic perspective, is that although the idea that, e.g,, the unborn are rational is metaphysical rather than strictly religious (i.e., a non-Catholic Aristotelian could hold it), as a practical matter, non-nominalist, non-physicalist metaphysics are just ridiculously unpopular right now, so no matter how much we Catholics protest that our views need not be considered denominational for Church/state purposes, the fact that only Christians bother with this metaphysics anymore means that, yeah, they kind of are denominational–even if in principle they need not have been in some alternate history America full of Deist Aristotelians or something. That’s a weakness in Catholic argumentation that I fully expect Ray, ACN, and the other sharp atheists around here to be well aware of, and that I consider them entitled to mention.

          • Ray

            Hm. On some level I feel like this is a good place to end the conversation, but I can’t resist the urge to nitpick a few things.

            1) When you say rationality is carried like a dominant trait, I’m pretty sure you don’t mean it. Two heterozygote parents showing a dominant trait can produce an offspring lacking it, and I think you want to deny this possibility for rational souls.

            2) I don’t really see why Paul says anything that commits him to deny the existence of false men contemporary to him (at least if you’re not going to interpret him as denying the existence of false men altogether.) Paul never says who “all of us” includes. It presumably does not include all animal life on earth contemporary with Paul, so he makes some exclusions, and he never mentions interfertility as a criterion for inclusion.

            3)I would say the same thing for Pius, except presumably there had already been members of all the conjecturally non-Adamic races baptized into the Catholic Church. I suppose this commits Pius to consider those persons as rational beings, or to admit Church officials erred in offering baptism to them. (Not sure how harmful the latter really would be to Church credibility, aside from the obvious dickishness. I mean, would you jump ship if you found out that some Church official somewhere had baptised a dog? Or would you see it as a fallible human exhibiting human error?) In any event, Darwin was already arguing against Polygenism in Descent of Man, published in 1871, so I’m not all that impressed that The Catholic Church came around to denouncing it 80 years later. Actually it’s worse than that: Pius’s position is entirely compatible with Polygenism as it was generally believed by its scientific proponents — unlike a genetic trait which has only a 50/50 shot of being passed to any given offspring, Adamic ancestry, which is always passed on, is pretty much guaranteed to spread itself accross all races interfertile with man if there’s any mixing at all (1 miscegenation event per 1000 years would be plenty given the 100000+ year history of humanity.)

            4) I don’t think hylomorphism, as such, requires that rationality is always passed on to the offspring of a rational parent, or that miraculous intervention is required for matter to embody the form of rationality, or that matter cannot change from a nonrational form to a rational one at a moment other than conception. These are all additional assumptions, which are rightly considered sectarian. (As a side note I’m vaguely ambivalent about separation of Church and state. I don’t see it as a universal governing principle, like say freedom of speech, but rather a solution to problems specific to our own cultural milieu. In a culture where appointed or elected government representatives could be trusted to only endorse accurate religious views, there would be no need for it, any more than there is a need for separation of the CBO from the state.)

            5) I find it interesting that you don’t have the courage of your convictions to DENY humanity to an entity based on your chosen metaphysics. I mean the cautionary principle is admirable, and I feel like your heart is in the right place, as it were. Nonetheless, we do have to deny the humanity of some things in order to get anything done. Imagine the chaos that would have ensued if someone had taken seriously the possibility that smallpox viruses had rational souls (actually I don’t think your chosen metaphysics even helps you here. Catholic Theology has never to my knowledge denied this possibility, and it’s not any more contrary to common sense than transubstantiation, so there’s no general principle you can use to rule it out.) In any event, I hope you agree that it’s safe to assume smallpox viruses lack rational souls. So you can deny humanity on some basis. The question then becomes, when you fail to weep for the genocide wrought by Edward Jenner and his followers, is it because no Church father ever believed in the inviolability of the souls of these viruses? or is it because you see the physical description science has given us of this pathogen, and there doesn’t appear to be any room for physical degrees of freedom that can plausibly be identified with thoughts, preferences and feelings?

          • Irenist

            Yeah, I think we’ve hit diminishing returns on this sub-thread. I’ll try to respond to your points in a non-further-nitpick-inducing way.

            1) Sure. I just meant one Adamic parent is enough. I wasn’t thinking of Punnett squares or anything.

            2) Well, that was my off-the-cuff interpretation of Paul. YMMV.

            3) a. IIRC, medieval French peasant folk belief included at least one dog who was considered a saint. Like you said, (charming) human error.
            b. Yeah, Pius’ anti-polygenism is neither impressive (given its late date) nor especially non-trivial, given the interfertility you mentioned.

            4) a. Sure. Non-Thomist Aristotelians are going to understand the implications of hylomorphism differently. Nothing like an assertion of special divine creation of each human soul anywhere in Aristotle AFAIK, e.g.–that’s a Thomist elaboration, and may rightly be considered sectarian.
            b. Deciding which religious views are the “accurate” ones seems to lead to social unrest. As for me, I think Catholicism is the “accurate” choice, but I’m relieved the albatross of Constantinian power no longer drags us down as much as it used to. Secular power is a business venture best “spun off” from religion, and vice versa. Again, YMMV. (And let’s not get started on the econometric assumptions baked into CBO analyses–that’s another thread!)
            5) It’s just caution plus ethology for me for the most part. The cleverer the organism, the more squeamish I am about harming it. I leave it to science to tell me which organisms are clever.

            What the sectarian Catholic dogmas about rational souls “informing” the body from conception to bodily death add is an additional caution and squeamishness about the unborn, the brain damaged, and other H. sapiens whom science alone would not diagnose as clever enough to pass some Singerian “capabilities test” of personhood and its consequent dignity and moral worth.

            So other than the dogmatic belief that all of our contemporary H. sapiens should be treated as persons from conception to death, the Thomism isn’t adding any data to my worldview. When considering whether viruses or plants or ants or dogs or primates or cetaceans are persons, I’m probably just as likely to turn to the capabilities test of personhood as Peter Singer, since I don’t have any method of learning about the world inductively other than scientific reasoning, just like him.

            An analogy: Singer believes in the scientific world picture and the secular historical picture. I believe in the same stuff, and also in the Resurrection as an added element to my view of ancient history. But my belief in the Resurrection isn’t a *methodology* that I can use to figure out if a given patient is deceased, comatose, or asleep. It’s just a single isolated fact. Similarly, my dogmatic belief that all H. sapiens, unborn, brain damaged, or healthy, are persons, isn’t a methodology that allows me to learn data. It’s just a datum sitting atop an otherwise boringly scientific view of animal intellect or its lack.

            IOW, I sense that a lot of your misgivings about Tasmanians or whomever are of the form “But your belief doesn’t allow you to answer this question about the nature of the world” and the gist of my response is generally to say that outside of metaphysical speculation about immortality of the form

            “(rational soul = immaterial)
            & (immaterial = imperishable)
            => (rational soul = immortal)”

            the concept of the rational soul *isn’t really doing much work* in my Thomist worldview. I answer questions about Tasmanians and viruses with the same tools you do. But when I get into a discussion about immortality, I may pull out an argument of the Feserian form “Humans reason about wholly imperishable immaterialities like triangularity and the number two, therefore some part of the human mind must be wholly immaterial and thus imperishable given the Aristotelian/Thomist principle that a cause must be proportional to its effect, therefore afterlife.” Now, I don’t want to bog down Leah’s comboxes by debating THAT argument in this thread (I’m sure another thread will present an occasion sooner or later if you’d like to debate it), but that and the pro-life stuff (which again, I’d prefer to debate another time in some other thread now that I’ve conceded the sectarian roots of my metaphysical premises there) are really all the work the concept is doing. Other than that, my response is just a shrug and “Yeah, we don’t use this tool for that. It’s not really good for much. Sorry.”

            TL;DR: The dogma that all contemporary H. sapiens possess a rational soul gets trotted out in pro-life arguments and arguments for an afterlife, but otherwise isn’t a belief that’s paying any dues in terms of providing a way to inductively learn about the world.

          • Ray

            You can’t really expect to bring up a whole new topic (immortality) and expect me to say nothing about it? :)

            Ok. I’ll limit my response to a few teasers.

            1) I seem to recall having a discussion with you on pretty much this topic a while back. IIRC it focused on the distinctions between future eternity (presence at all moments after a certain time,) past eternity (presence at all moments before a certain time,) and timelessness (not being associated with a time axis at all.) It remains questionable to me whether you can reason, from the fact that (the contemplation of) timeless mathematical objects may be a final cause of a human soul to the conclusion that human experience is future eternal (but not past eternal.) — I’m pretty sure the General resurrection in imperishable bodies, referred to in Paul’s epistles, commits you to wanting this conclusion.

            BTW, have you read Al Ghazali’s “Incoherence of the Philosophers”? It uses similar arguments to mine to argue against the Aristotelian assertion that a timeless God cannot be the cause of a universe which is not past eternal. (Since Aquinas believed in a finite past, it would seem he agreed with the conclusion, if not necessarily the reasoning behind it.)

            2)I think you need to be very careful about applying what Feser calls “the principle of proportionate causality.” “Proportionate” can mean a lot of different things, most of which result in an incorrect principle. For example, Scholastic physics argued, incorrectly, that a finite push could not cause an object to travel an infinite distance. (See Voyager 1 for a counterexample to that conclusion.)

          • Irenist

            1) “It remains questionable to me whether you can reason, from the fact that (the contemplation of) timeless mathematical objects may be a final cause of a human soul to the conclusion that human experience is future eternal (but not past eternal.)”

            Aquinas discusses this in his Summa Contra Gentiles, Book II, chapters lxxxiii-lxxxiv. If you’ll pardon the courtier’s reply, I’ll just leave it at that rather than lengthen the thread. Obviously, YMMV as to how successful Aquinas’ answers are.

            “BTW, have you read Al Ghazali’s “Incoherence of the Philosophers”?”

            I’ve paged around in it, but haven’t properly read it all. His arguments, stemming from similar sources, seem to me to have the same wry calm I enjoy in the Carneadean skeptics and in Hume. (Of course, Humean skepticism has long led to a fideistic reaction among Western Protestants that’s not altogether different from the allegedly anti-rational implications of Algazelic philosophical skepticism generally, and his Ashari occasionalism specifically, that Benedict XVI seems to have been complaining about in his inadvertently inflammatory Regensburg lecture: if told that reason and faith are incompatible, lots of folks are going to unapologetically choose irrational faith—scriptural literalism and all. The Thomist attempt to blend reason and faith seems preferable.)

            “It uses similar arguments to mine to argue against the Aristotelian assertion that a timeless God cannot be the cause of a universe which is not past eternal. (Since Aquinas believed in a finite past, it would seem he agreed with the conclusion, if not necessarily the reasoning behind it.)”

            Yeah, al Ghazali scores some telling points against the Avicennan/Averroist view w/r/t the eternity of the world. Since Aquinas thought that the eternity of the world was plausible absent Revelation, Aquinas seems to have thought Averroes’ “Incoherence of the Incoherence” bested al Ghazali. I haven’t read the arguments closely enough to be entitled to an opinion either way. But since, as you say, Aquinas agreed with al Ghazali’s conclusion if not his reasoning, the stakes are low for Thomists.

            Perhaps of more immediate interest is that al Ghazali attacks a view of the soul akin to mine here, in the eighteenth and nineteenth problems of the “Incoherence.” Where al Ghazali gets closest to endangering the Thomist view, IMHO, is in his objection to the tenth argument in the eighteenth problem, where he counters the realism about universals (on which the Thomist immortalist argument rests just as much as the Avicennan and the Averroist monopsychist versions) with (what looks to me like) nominalism, drawn from something akin to Lockean empiricism. Since even Aquinas allows that universals are only understood via sensory-derived imaginative phantasms (so long as the soul is embodied, anyway), that makes it difficult for interior reflection to disprove al Ghazali’s empiricist nominalism and similar arguments in other philosophers, which in turn makes it harder (not impossible IMHO, obviously, but concededly harder) for the rest of the immortalist argument I’ve mentioned in this thread to get off the ground. But again, “(anti-)realism about universals” is kind of another thread….

            2) “I think you need to be very careful about applying what Feser calls “the principle of proportionate causality.””

            Granted. Great point. It’s not as bad as the all too common “Obviously, X is self-evidently nobler than Y, and God/nature always acts for the noblest, therefore Z” type arguments that make so much of pre-modern Western philosophy (very much including Aristotle and Aquinas) so frequently frustratingly groan-inducing, but yeah. Handle with care.

          • Ray

            Well, I’m comfortable wrapping this exchange up if you are. I hope I didn’t overstay my welcome too much. Thank you for the link (Courtier’s replies are always far more forgivable when the cited material is available for free on the internet.) It was a pleasure as always.

            I continue to be amazed at how much we agree on, while still disagreeing on the key issues. Hopefully we will have occasion to get into an argument again sometime soon.

          • Ray

            ACN: Yes. That is my understanding as well (although I really should let Irenist speak for himself.) My concern is that he is claiming monogenism as an argument that Tasmanian aborigines must have been descendents of Adam, and if his view is what you describe above, it admits, and in fact requires, something very much like the hypothetical non-Adamic aborigines of my moral hypothetical.

            To restate the problem: Irenist needs some independent way of knowing the Tasmanian Aborigines have rational souls, in order to get the conclusion he wants regarding their ancestry. It can’t be biological species concept (because this would also give souls to Adam’s contemporaries.) He does suggest above that a psychologist can reliably identify “rationality” and would instantly recognize Adam’s contemporaries as lacking it. I see this as problematic for several reasons:

            1) It smacks of the sort of crude behaviorism Irenist is trying to avoid

            2) Historically, the 19th century was positively crawling with psychologists who would have claimed that aborigines were an inherently inferior race, lacking civilization, and possessing only a subhuman intelligence. So if we are indeed committed to judging rationality by asking a psychologist, the question arises, which one?

            3) If we instead go by the practice of modern psychology, it is worth noting that the things psychologists report as fact rather than opinion/ professional judgement are not such generic notions as “rationality” but rather operationalizations thereof. It’s hard to imagine that the notion of a first Adam can do the work Irenist wants it to do, if every plausible operationalization of rationality identifies a different hominin as “Adam.”

          • Ray

            At the risk of asking the same question twice: Can you elaborate on the following passage.

            “Adam and Eve can only be ‘identified’ by being (among) the ancestors of all living humans. If 6,000 years ago isn’t enough for the candidate couple to do that, it’s the wrong couple.”

            Apart from the minor quibble that there haven’t been un-admixed Tasmanian aborigines among the living for well over 100 years, what makes you so sure they were human in the sense of “rational animal.” Surely you have no first person access to their souls, so it seems that the best you can say is that their behavior was of the sort necessary to pass a Turing test, but isn’t this exactly the sort of inductively useful categorization you seemed to reject above?

          • Irenist

            It would please me if they did have rational souls, but those who know Thomism better than me have argued that the deliberative practical rationality exhibited by signing gorillas and adding dolphins (and chatty parrots) is distinct from the abstract intellection that distinguishes the rationality of the “rational” soul. To be flip, the rational soul is more “meta”: able to conceive not just “triangles” but “triangularity” and not just signs, but signs about signs, and so on. This is about as deep into the pool as I can go without drowning in my own ignorance, but that’s my non-theologian’s sense of the state of the question.

            Y’know, Robin, for someone who started out with some rather snarky-sounding questions, you’ve turned out to be an incisive interlocutor. I hope you stick around.

          • Robin Lionheart

            Thanks, Irenist. I enjoyed our conversation too.

            I respect you too much to handle your beliefs with kid gloves, and hope you’ll understand my irreverence in that light.

          • Irenist

            I’m delighted you enjoyed our conversation, Robin.

            I appreciate your unwillingness to condescend to me by pulling argumentative punches, but I do want to offer a friendly caution that most theists are a lot less tolerant of irreverence than I am, so if you can find a way to be a ruthless *arguer* without saying things the religious will take as *vulgar*, you’ll still not be pulling any *logical* punches, but you’ll have the added benefit of not driving away more squeemish theists whom you might enjoy conversing with as much or more than me. Whatever works for you, though. Be well.

  • J.R. Baldwin

    Great post Leah! I accidentally tipped the hosts into a priest once while he was switching out with another priest (it was at the huge March for Life mass at the Verizon Center in D.C.); and while none spilled, I was mortified. Oh well, no harm, no foul. :D

  • Entrega Corisco

    Interesting experience. Violating the General Instruction of the Roman Missal though.

    IGMR: 160 “The faithful are not permitted to take the consecrated bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them from one to another.”

    IGMR: 162. “The priest may be assisted in the distribution of Communion by other priests who happen to be present. If such priests are not present and there is a very large number of communicants, the priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, i.e., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for this purpose.[97] In case of necessity, the priest may depute suitable faithful for this single occasion.[98]“

    • Brandon B

      I’m not a canon lawyer, but it sounds like the last line of IGMR 162 authorizes what the priest did in asking Leah to help. Unless there is more guidance elsewhere, I imagine that “necessity” and “suitable” are more or less left up to the priest’s judgment.

      • Sigroli

        On what planet do four people constitute a necessity?

        • Entrega Corisco

          @Sigroli:disqus is right unless the priest had his arm broken four people is not a necessity. What he did was plain and simple unlawful.

          Moreover, the picture in the post is a violation of the IGMR 160 above mentioned.

          • Sigroli

            Not necessarily. That might be a stock photo with a properly authorized EM.

          • Entrega Corisco

            Not at all. There’s no authorization to handing over the chalice.

            “The faithful are not permitted to take the consecrated bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them from one to another.”

  • Cam

    “But if it was natural to be frightened when I was suddenly responsible for carrying the Blood of Christ, why should it be natural to feel casual when I was carrying the Body and the Blood within myself out into the world.”

    When you’re performing the ritual with the cup of wine, there is a clear action to take, and a clear consequence for failure. Pour the magic alcohol, don’t spill the magic alcohol.

    In contrast, there are absolutely no external consequences to failing to be a good Catholic out in the world, and this is by design. There is no prayer that must be completed so that the sun will rise in the morning- it will rise no matter what spells you say or fail to say. Your religion still makes claims about the consequences of following its beliefs of course, but these claims will ALL, without fail, be unfalsifiable. The reason for this is that a religion which does not reflect reality must take at least an accommodationist position to reality. A religion which says ‘pray so the sun will rise’ has an obvious disadvantage to a religion which says ‘pray so that you become blessed’.

    So there’s a deliberate lack of causal connection. This is probably why it feels natural to be casual out in the real world.

  • Dan Leckman

    You absolutely made my day. Already, I was feeling good about our Universal Church, hearing stories from Europe where even though the Church is on decline, it’s still very strong in most countries, and is on the rise in places like Sweden (the most secular country in Europe!!!). But this reflection really brought it home for me…we all should be thinking about the ‘what next’ part of our faith. We must be set out into the world with peace, but also with great zeal and passion for Jesus. That passion isn’t always there…maybe THAT’s something we should be afraid of! That our reaction to the sacrament falls a little short of what it should be.

    Regardless..I loved how you experienced reverence today. It reminds me of my own need for a renewal!! I’m praying for you! As Pope Francis would say…please pray for me!!

  • keddaw

    If someone was to switch the chalice for one with simple watered down wine in it would you be able to tell? Would the feelings people get from taking the blood of Christ be noticeably different? Would their behavior? Would scientific tests be able to tell the difference between the two samples? Is there any possible way that humans could know which is which either through analysis of the substance of through the effects it had on those who consumed it?

    Given that the answers to all the questions above are “no” there can only be two possibilities: 1. God miraculously changes the non-consecrated into consecrated for the benefit of his followers even without the priest magically channeling the power of the holy spirit, or 2. there is no difference and your fear was misplaced.

    • Brandon B

      I am curious why you don’t consider it to be possible for consecration to happen only through the priest. I don’t see how you derive these particular possibilities, and no others, from answering “no” to the questions in your first paragraph.

      • keddaw

        Firstly, thanks to KG for actually understanding what I was getting at.

        Brandon, I make it rather explicit that god could decide to do what it wants and consecrate the unconsecrated wine and hence mess up any study.

        But the point, if I have one, is that if there are no discernible effects of consecrated vs. unconsecrated wine then there is NO DIFFERENCE and people should shut up about the terrible effects of spilling it or desecrating the bread (host) or any of that crap because if there is no physical difference and no spiritual (*cough*) difference then there is NO DIFFERENCE.

        So sure, maybe god’s being a nice benevolent creator and not diminishing the spiritual well being of its flock by denying them the spiritual benefits of consecrated host or wine because I, evil scientist that I am, am messing with the good intentions of the congregation, but even then, could we not take a group of non-Christians and have a double blind on them, would those receiving the ‘real’ body and blood of Christ not have, in some way, a noticeable different aspect to their lives? If not then what’s the point? It’s all theatre for believers and as much as their sensibilities get upset by desecration of the host, there’s NO DIFFERENCE and they should shut up about it. Unless of course there is a difference, in which case I welcome any evidence that there is.

        Side Note: Aren’t reasonable Catholics horribly embarrassed by claims that a host develops into muscle and all those frauds? Yet they (EDIT: should have said many) seem to jump on it like it’s proof that their irrational and unreasonable beliefs are true and the rest of us were wrong.

        • Brandon B

          Keddaw, I wasn’t asking my question in order to argue about transubstantiation. Most of the time I’m perfectly willing to do so, but I figured (correctly, as it turned out) that others would take up that question.

          Instead, I just wanted to highlight the logical error I thought that I spotted in what you had written. I think that better logic will lead to better argumentation, so these discussions can be more enlightening for everyone.

          Thank you for contributing to these discussions. They would be diminished without you.

        • Randy Gritter

          Side Note: Aren’t reasonable Catholics horribly embarrassed by claims that a host develops into muscle and all those frauds? Yet they (EDIT: should have said many) seem to jump on it like it’s proof that their irrational and unreasonable beliefs are true and the rest of us were wrong.

          What is a reasonable Catholic? I was at one point a bit uncomfortable talking about miracles. I thought people who did so were kooks and I didn’t want to be a kook.

          Then I became more reasonable. I asked why. The truth was I had subconsciously embraced materialist thinking even though I denied materialism in my creed. I was a child of my time and thinking like one.

          So now I consciously put aside the discomfort. I say God can work miracles so if I see evidence of a miracle I will approach it with an open mind. If you do then there are many miracles that seem quite likely to be true.

          If God does the miracles why should I have a problem talking about them? In fact, Jesus at one point invites people to believe and says if you can’t believe based on the content of what I am teaching them believe based on the miracles. So refusing to talk about miracles will mean less people believe. That would be tragic if I was responsible for that.

          • keddaw

            “What is a reasonable Catholic?”

            One who doesn’t live out the bad bits, who doesn’t believe in the nuttier bits*, who only pays attention to the ramblings of the pontif when their conscience and logic agrees with him.

            *Ghosts, demonic possession, miracles, a devil at play in the world, a devil period, a divine plan, angels (guardian or not), transubstantiation, Marian apparitions, virgin births, sorcerers, witchcraft, magic healing, holy relics with magic powers, the sinful nature of sex outside of marriage, the importance of the Sabbath that good people not saved by Jesus go to hell, hell, heaven, life after death, resurrections, the power of the Holy Spirit, the Ascension, stigmata, papal infallibility, indulgences etc.

          • Randy Gritter

            If being Catholic is reasonable then there should be no “bad bits.” That is things that are truly bad and truly part of the faith.

            The second bit about only paying attention to the pope when you agree. That would be my definition of an unreasonable Catholic. A Catholic that thinks God provides us with leaders that only lead us when we are already pretty much right. That when God’s leaders say things that don’t feel right to us we can safely ignore them. That seems to me to be an entirely unreasonable position.

            If God went through all the trouble to give Peter the keys of the kingdom and preserve the office of pope for 2000 years then what God says through that office needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness especially when it is counter to what we would think on our own. You could reasonably say the pope’s opinion is just one opinion among many but that would make you protestant. If you say the papacy is more than that. If you say there is a special grace there then you can’t flinch when the content of that grace becomes hard. It is still from God. Remember there are no bad bits. It cannot be truly from God and truly bad. You need to pick one.

          • Neko

            Please read a Church history not written by a Catholic apologist. Seriously.

          • Randy Gritter

            I am guessing you are misunderstanding me. I am not declaring that nothing bad has ever happened in church history. Just that nothing bad has ever been definitively taught by the pope and made part of the faith. If you think you have an example of such a thing I would like to hear about it.

          • Neko

            You believe Matthew 16:17-19. I do not. In fact the first “bad thing” that came to mind, the doctrine of papal infallibility itself, is dependent on Petrine supremacy.

            So we would argue in vain.

          • Christian Stillings

            Why do you qualify the doctrine of papal infallibility as a “bad thing”? In any event, Petrine primacy is a widespread phenomenon in the NT texts, from the Gospels to Acts to St. Paul in 1 Corinthians. It’s nowhere more explicit than in Matthew 16, but there’s certainly other evidence that Peter held a special place in the early Church’s leadership.

            Plus, I think that (as a matter of historical inquiry) the historicity of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16 is pretty strong. There’s plenty of reason to believe that Simon Peter was once known simply as “Simon” and that the name Peter was a later feature. We know that Peter means “rock,” and we can almost certainly know that his name was originally changed to “Simon Cephas” because the word “Cephas” is used for him elsewhere in the NT.

            Simon’s name was changed to “Simon Rock” for some reason, and I think the reason proffered by Matthew (“Jesus changed it”) makes at least as much sense as any. Since this reason is explicitly given by Matthew, why not just accept it as historical?

          • Neko

            Well, the doctrine of papal infallibility is a travesty perpetrated by Pius IX at the farce that was Vatican I. Pius privately announced to the archbishop of Bologna that “I am tradition, I am the church!” As a Catholic, do you perceive the guidance of the Holy Spirit expressed in the pope’s megalomania and repressive political tactics? His contemporaries were scandalized. Not sure if the authority has been used other than to sanctify the Marian cult, but the doctrine itself was considered indefensible by the best theologians of the day.

            “Why not just accept it as historical?” Why not accept any dubious and tendentious text as historical? It may be that Jesus called Peter “Cephas,” but it doesn’t follow that by doing so Jesus, a Torah-observant Jew who warned his followers to “be watchful” for the end of the world, intended to found the Catholic Church with Peter as its first pope. Matthew 16:17-19 is disputed as an interpolation, and Acts is a piece of theological fiction designed in part to promote a vision of harmony between the Jerusalem and Pauline churches that is refuted by Paul’s own letters. So, no, I do not think it probable that Matthew 16:17-19 was actually uttered by the historical Jesus.

          • Randy Gritter

            The doctrine of infallibility goes back to St Vincent of Lérins. It was defined it its current form in Vatican I but is hardly original to Pope Pius IX. In fact, Mat 18:17 says, “and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” In 1 Tim 3:15, St Paul calls the church “the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

          • Neko

            Please point me to where St. Vincent of Lérins discusses not heresy v. orthodoxy, but papal infallibility.

            Matthew 18:17 — the 1st century “ecclesia” did not mean “church” as we understand it today; it referred to a gathering or congregation, not to any institutional Church.

            1 Timothy was a defensive tract against heresy that was almost certainly not written by St. Paul.

          • Randy Gritter

            Heresy vs orthodoxy is exactly what infallibility is about. How do we know for sure that something is orthodox and denial of it is heresy?

            Of course understanding has increased since the first century. But Jesus understood exactly what “church” would mean. It didn’t mean that yet because it was still before Pentecost but this church thing was something that Christians were expected to obey.

            1 Tim was a defensive tract against heresy? So what? Lots of major church documents were that. Did Paul write it? I have seen the evidence that people suggest shows he did not. It is quite unconvincing. Still, even if Paul didn’t write it, it is what it is. Certainly an old and authoritative church document.

          • Neko

            “Heresy vs orthodoxy is exactly what infallibility is about.”

            We were discussing papal, not church, infallibility. (You are roaming a bit by bringing up St. Vincent of Lérins.) And there is a distinction between orthodoxy, a concern with right belief, and infallibility, a conviction that the Holy Spirit will shield the Church from error in its belief or teaching.

            I see you are playing the “Jesus knew” angle. But no one can say what the historical Jesus knew. This “church thing” that “Christians were expected to obey” makes no sense whatsoever. There were no Christians while Jesus was alive. Jesus wasn’t a Christian. He was a Jewish prophet who exhorted fellow Jews to become better Jews to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom. In that very passage you quote Jesus says, “if he refuses to listen even to the congregation, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Here Jesus seems quite unconcerned with the salvation of Gentiles or the future Gentile Church.

            “So what?” Well, the point is that already by the late 1st century when 1 Timothy was forged in Paul’s name the battles over orthodoxy were under way.

            An old and authoritative church document is certainly an interesting and important artifact. But your contention was: “In 1 Tim 3:15, St Paul calls the church ‘the pillar and bulwark of the truth.’” Again, 1 Timothy was not written by Paul. (You may be unconvinced by the evidence, but there is a pretty solid consensus on this.) Further, there were many Christian sects that claimed access to truth. 1 Timothy is concerned with the proper structure and conduct of the emerging proto-orthodox church in response to “false teachers” and disarray, so it does offer significant insight into the beginnings of orthodox Christianity. I’ll grant you that.

          • keddaw

            Just a couple off the top of my head:

            That blasphemy is a bad thing and should be illegal;
            That contraception is a bad thing even for married couples;
            That sex outside of marriage is dirty and shameful;
            That masturbation is wrong;
            That the Sabbath should be kept special;
            That embryos deserve the same rights as a child;
            That IVF is wrong because it is wasteful of embryos;

            But you probably think these are bad because the Church teaches that they are bad, and how could the Church be wrong, it is a direct line from Jesus himself…

          • Randy Gritter

            I do think these things are bad because they are bad. Some of the teachings have been refined, like blasphemy being illegal, but what was bad continues to be bad. I would say on all these questions the church has been shown to be right at least by my experience. In fact, before I became Catholic I was already convinced on most of them. So I can honestly say the Catholic position makes more sense and therefore I don’t believe them JUST because the church teaches them.

        • Neko

          “Aren’t reasonable Catholics…”

          I’ve been out of the RCC a good long while, but my bet is that a significant number of Catholics would be astonished to learn that the Church regards the host and the wine not as the symbolic but the actual body and blood of Jesus. (“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”) Few, I imagine, are as fluent in the abstruse theology of transubstantiation as Irenist. I certainly don’t understand it.

          But…so what? The phenom of Catholics all over the world communing with their Lord and with each other through this ritual is a marvelous thing.

          • keddaw

            Yeah, “accident” cannibalism for the few, symbolic cannibalism for the many, is one of my favorite parts of Catholicism, right after the idolization of the gratuitous and graphic torture of a human being.

          • Neko

            It is one of the amazing things about orthodox Christianity that at its core is a man who had to suffer an agonizing execution as a gesture of his divine father’s love for the world. A mystery, indeed.

      • Marc

        As God wills to share his life with anyone it would not be proper claim that his power is limited in such a way that only hosts consecrated by a priest can be the medium of his Grace. Because God wants to save us, we can affirm that he is present in the consecrated host, but we cannot negate his presence and grace in other places.

        The situation is akin to that of salvation. Catholics can claim that joining the Catholic Church and persevering in charity is a sure means of salvation, but we cannot affirm that God cannot save non-Catholic people by means that we don’t know of. Depending on your soteriology not joining the Catholic church by the visible means of public baptism may be less or more risky but God can do whatever he wants.

        All in all, God works in our favour, that is why I would say “God might just give the people who consumed the unconsecrated wine the same grace just because He can.” is a perfectly good statement from Catholic perspective.

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      “Would scientific tests be able to tell the difference between the two samples?”

      keddaw, I’m pretty sure you’ve asked this before and I’m pretty sure it’s been answered before, but as ever, the answer is – no, there is no scientific test to differentiate between a consecrated and an unconsecrated host, or between consecrated and unconsecrated wine.

      This is not, as you seem to fondly imagine, a knock-down argument against transubstantiation for those of us who believe in it.

      • avalpert

        “This is not, as you seem to fondly imagine, a knock-down argument against transubstantiation for those of us who believe in it.”

        Of course it isn’t, what would be? The belief itself is outside the bounds of rationality so of course no rational means of investigating it impacts those who believe – just as it doesn’t for scientologists, mormons, or any other sects strongly held beliefs.

        • Irenist

          Avalpert, I think Cam has a better non-Catholic descriptor here than you do. That transubstantiation is non-falsifiable doesn’t make it irrational. Unscientific, yes. Irrational, no. This isn’t an argument that it’s true, just a terminological quibble. Something can be rational and still be wrong. E.g., I take solipsism, Platonism, Spinozism, and the Buddhist metaphysics of dependent origination to be wrong, but they’re not “irrational” positions.

          • stanz2reason

            Irenist, While I agree that something non-falsifiable might not necessarily be irrational, I disagree with your conclusion that belief in transubstantiation isn’t irrational. You’ve noted how thought systems could be both flawed and rational, but I don’t think that’s what’s at question here. With transubstantiation we’re referring to a very specific thing, which is far easier to label rational/irrational than thought systems that might only be rational/irrational in parts.

            Transubstantiation is similar to the invisible dragon in the garage. Personally, upon weighting the evidence for the existence of the dragon against the possibility of it not being real, I’d consider it irrational to believe in the dragon, regardless of the truth of it. I’d consider someone who is convinced they’ll win the mega-millions to be irrational given the overwhelming odds against, regardless of whether or not they actually win which while unlikely, isn’t impossible.

            There is a gray area as to what point we constitute a thought process to be rational/irrational, and it doesn’t always coincide which which is ultimately correct. Given that there is currently an equivalent amount of demonstrable evidence for both transubstantiation & the invisible dragon, to label the belief in one irrational would require the labeling of the other as well. And to be clear I feel they’re both irrational. What say you?

            Side Question: Is this Irenist that used to post here often prior to going to Disqus?

          • Irenist


            Yep. Same Irenist. Did I know you under another name back before your snazzy FSM Disqus icon (very nice, btw)?

            I think transubstantiation is less like the garage dragon and more like the Buddhist belief in reincarnation or the Plantonist belief in ideal forms–it’s not an isolated belief, but part of a coherent web of beliefs. Given the Agrippan trilemma, no one’s beliefs will be perfectly grounded. But they can be more or less well-motivated. An otherwise conventional atheist materialist who also believed in Sagan’s dragon or Russell’s teapot would have an unmotivated belief that doesn’t mesh with the rest of his/her web of beliefs very well. In that context, the dragon or the teapot is the classic “extraordinary claim.”

            But in a Catholic context, transubstantiation, although miraculous, coheres with the believer’s prior acceptance of the authority of Scripture and Tradition–and the belief presumably stands or falls with belief in those. It wouldn’t make sense to start with a belief in transubstantiation and reason back from there to Christianity: the “I’m an atheist who believes in transubstantiation” belief set is incoherent.

            It makes more sense to start with the basic claims (e.g., theism). If an omnipotent deity is credible, transubstantiation obviously isn’t impossible for Him. If He’s incredible, the problem is more theologically fundamental than Eucharistic doctrine. Either way, transubstantiation quibbles end up being kind of a tangential sideshow at best. Of course, YMMV.

          • stanz2reason

            I always thought FSM was a clever creation and a better symbol for secularism than atheism, as I’m personally a more adamant former than the latter. I was Steve… actually I continue to be Steve, but that was what I was posting under prior to Disqus. Lot of Steves on the internet, but we’ve spoken here before and I’d found our conversations rewarding. Won’t be heartbroken if you don’t recall… OK maybe a little.

            It seems you’re making a argument for transubstantiation to be rational only with the framework of a Catholic context, which makes sense, but kind of blurs the line on how we might label some things rational, and others not. We might argue the rationality of any claim within a specific context, but I feel claims for the irrationality of transubstantiation were to be judged in a more general context. There are countless similar claims we could switch out here. What is interesting is that transubstantiation is so specific in bridging the physical world with the non-physical world… only done so without any evidence actually in the physical world, which might make one question what the difference would be between it being real or not.

            I had to google YMMV… I guess I’m not hip anymore.

          • Irenist

            No worries: You’ll always be hip, Steve! Glad to re-meet you.

            I honestly don’t know how one would a-contextually evaluate transubstantiation claims. One hears about the occasional Eucharistic miracle in which the Host bleeds or whatever, but I tend to be relatively unmoved by such things, and haven’t the foggiest whether they’d bear the slightest critical investigation.

            Instead, consider this sketchy chain of thought (which is not intended to be a defensible argument, just a sketch):
            1. Aristotelian metaphysics is broadly true.
            2. There is therefore a God with the standard omni-predicates.
            3. The Christian God seems to me to be this God.
            4. The Catholic Church seems to be His preferred Christianity.
            5. He intends us, per Catholic Scripture and Tradition, to eat His Body as bread.
            6. Yet, obviously, the Eucharist looks like bread, not a hunk of flesh.

            That’s broadly Aquinas’ logical predicament, except I think he probably started with item 4 as a personal matter. So he tries to figure out what the least crazy way is to reconcile 5 & 6, and given his Aristotelianism, the idea that the substance miraculously changes while the accidents don’t is the best he (or anyone else) can come up with. But absent beliefs 1-5, why the heck would anyone want to engage in such a project? You’d just take 6 at face value and assume the whole thing is an empty ritual. It’s only if prior commitment to 1-5 *compels* you to try to square them with the obvious truth of 6 that transubstantiation even becomes worth thinking about. So trying to “get at” the correctness of Catholicism from this angle ends up looking like this:

            Atheist: It just looks like bread and wine!
            Catholic: Yep.
            Atheist: But how can you believe it’s something else?
            Catholic: I just do.
            Atheist: But why?
            Catholic: Because I’m Catholic.
            Atheist: Aaargh!

            It’s just not a productive entree into apologetics, I fear, for either party. As for “bridging the physical and non-physical,” the idea of transubstantiation requires a very Aristotelian conception of what a “substance” is. Outside of that very specific Aristotelian context, I don’t know that it even makes sense as a description of the Real Presence. So not only is the Real Presence not decontextualizable from Catholic Christianity, but the specific transubstantial description of how the Real Presence can be there but be undetectable only makes sense if you’re not only Catholic, but Aristotelian. It’s not like I could give you an account of transubstantiation in terms of, say, contemporary physics or something. Not that it’s incompatible with contemporary physics, just completely orthogonal to its vocabulary and concerns.

          • stanz2reason

            I’m following your train of thought and again I agree that IF I bought #1 and IF i bought #2 & IF I bought #3 etc… that accepting a reasonable likelihood of the truth of transubstantiation (doesn’t have to be like a 50:50 likelihood) is a rational course of action. In the context of a framework made of Catholic assumptions, it seems reasonable. But for those making claims outside the Catholic faith, not just atheists but everyone else, it seems this and other claims don’t stand up to the type of scrutiny we’d hold other claims to when judging whether or not we’d consider them rational.

          • Irenist

            Sure, Steve. I don’t think transubstantiation or the Real Presence are defensible at all outside a Catholic/Christian context. And if you find me an atheist who believes in either, I’ll readily agree that said atheist’s combination of beliefs is irrational.

            Further, I don’t think it makes sense for a Catholic to attempt to convert an atheist by pointing to Eucharistic miracles as evidence, since they really only make sense (unless some are very well attested–I wouldn’t know but assume not) within a Catholic/Christian framework.

          • avalpert

            The problem I have with this use of rational is that it leads to the conclusion that if you believe Jim Jones is a true prophet of god than it is rational to drink the kool aid. And if that act is in fact rational I don’t see any particular value in the distinction between rational/irrational.

          • Irenist

            Hmm. But it’s not rational to believe that Jim Jones is a true prophet of God. The error is farther back in the thought process. To me, rationality is more about logical validity than factual soundness. And valid/invalid is still a distinction worth having.

          • avalpert

            But what makes that not rational in a way that doesn’t make at least your numbers 3 and 4 not rational save for special pleading?

          • Irenist


            Great question!

            Well, the path from 3 > 4 relies on specifically Christian sources like the Bible and the works of the early Church Fathers. I don’t really think Jones’ cult is a form of Christianity, so intra-Christian debate is argumentatively irrelevant w/r/t it.

            As for Christianity vs. Jones’ cult, it depends on how one gets to Christianity. For me, 2, theism, comes from persuasion that the existence of Being is necessarily as a personal “actus purus” who is perfect in every way (which in turn comes from 1, persuasion that Aristotelian metaphysics is correct). I think 3, Christianity, does a better job of reconciling my version of 2, theism, with the Problem of Evil through the solidarity of Christ on the cross with suffering and pain.

            There’s nothing I can see in Jones’ claims that he is an atheist/agnostic, that the Bible is bunk, and that he personally was the reincarnation of Buddha, Jesus, Lenin, and Gandhi, inter alia, that comports with 2, theism (since Jones claimed to be an atheist), nor does his claim to be a reincarnation of those figures address the problem of evil in a compelling way.

            Since my acceptance of theism is argumentatively upstream of my acceptance of Christianity, and since Jones claimed atheism/agnosticism, I don’t think it’s special pleading to reject Jones’ cult even before arriving at 3, Christianity, much less 4, Catholicism.

            In general, I think this is an issue with atheist apologists who ask questions like, “Isn’t it special pleading to accept your religion rather than belief in Zeus or something?” The issue is that the leap from atheism directly to ANY religion would indeed involve special pleading. But a leap from atheism to theism FOLLOWED by a leap to Christianity or Islam, or a leap from atheism to conception of the ground of being as Atman FOLLOWED by a leap to Hinduism as best reflecting that understanding of being, needn’t require any special pleading at all. The popular “special pleading” apologetic ignores that religious belief is in principle the fruit of *multiple* inferential steps, not just one.

            Sorry if that’s a bit muddled. I hope it’s responsive.

          • avalpert

            That transubstantiation is non-falsifiable alone does not make it irrational, that it is non-verifiable either, that it makes no impact (directly or indirectly) detectable through any of our senses fits the definition of irrational that I am most familiar with. I would be interested to hear what definition of rational you are using here.

            And to be clear, I don’t think something being irrational is inherently bad – all humans are motivated by various irrationality and accepting that is key to understanding human behavior (I am an economist by training and trade and if not for development in behavioral economics the profession would even more maligned that it is).

            Where I find people get themselves in the most trouble is when they jump through hoops to try to rationalize the irrational for themselves – they would be better off just acknowledging that certain decisions/beliefs/conversions were born out of irrational needs of theirs. An example of the danger would be people providing post-hoc explanations for dietary traditions that imply a health benefit – invariably those explanations are shown to be untrue, the supposed health benefit disappears and now that you have tried to rationalize it and the rationale is gone the cognitive dissonance becomes harder to maintain.

          • Randy Gritter

            Why does something need to be detectable through the senses? The invisible dragon analogy does not work because the nature of dragons is such that it should be detectible to our senses. Believing in something despite the expected data being absent is irrational. But what is the expected data for transubstantiation? It is not that the bread and wine start to taste different or look different. It is that they become spiritually different. We don’t look to our physical senses or to science to determine that. That would be irrational. We discern spiritual truth in spiritual ways. We look to the word of God. We look to the church and to the saints.

          • stanz2reason

            The ‘nature of dragons’? Did you seriously just type that?

          • Irenist


            I think Randy was just saying that Sagan’s dragon, like Russell’s teapot, is the sort of thing that one would expect to be detectable if it existed at all. Whereas, e.g., the Platonic form of justice, or the Eucharistic substance of Christ isn’t. (It’s not a perfect analogy, since even on the Thomist account, transubstantiation is miraculous, uncanny, and weird, whereas there’s nothing miraculous from within Platonism about ideal forms not being detectable by lab equipment.)

          • stanz2reason

            We could replace ‘dragon’ with disembodied spirit and the comparison would still stand. Dragon is incidental to this particular point.

          • Irenist

            I’m not sure which particular point you’re making, so I’m not sure why the comparison still stands. But okay. If the point is “You have no good reason to believe in transubstantiation,” then the problem is that the believer’s belief is rooted in the whole context of Catholicism, it’s not just a random belief in this particular miracle. I.e., no mainstream Catholic I know of is claiming that transubstantiation is at all demonstrable to the skeptic, or that his or her faith is specifically rooted in transubstantiation as axiomatic.

          • stanz2reason

            The point is an equivalency between a specific claim and the absence of physical evidence supporting it. That it is a dragon in the comparison is a place holder for anything you can think of.

            You objected to avalpert refering to transubstantiation as irrational essentially using the argument that it’s rational within a Catholic context. Judging a claims rationality (again, there is a gray area here as to what might constitute that) can not really be done simply within the context from which the claim originated.

          • Irenist

            “Judging a claims rationality (again, there is a gray area here as to what might constitute that) can not really be done simply within the context from which the claim originated.”

            I think we’re dealing with different associations around “rationality” here. To me, to say something is “irrational” means that I can say to a believer in it, “Hey, you’re being unreasonable here.”

            So take Ptolemaic geocentrism. Given the observational data available to Ptolemy, he wasn’t unreasonable at all to believe in Ptolemaism. He was just wrong. But not irrational, given his context: it would be unfair of me to travel back in time and tell him he was “being unreasonable.”

            If there are prior good reasons to believe that Hinduism or Buddhism is true, than a belief in reincarnation, even absent specific evidence for that specific belief, would seem to me to be reasonable. Without those prior good reasons, probably not.

            But, again, it’s the prior grounds for belief that are upholding the challenged belief. The challenged belief isn’t standing alone outside its context.

          • stanz2reason

            Agree with point about Ptolemaic geocentrism. Incorrect, but not irrational. I touched on the same point below in passing though I’m not sure how relevant it is to this discussion. This isn’t a point of contention.

            Availability of information to make a claim (which Ptolemy didn’t have) is precisely what I’m talking about in terms of judging something as rational/irrational. Currently you don’t have any. That the church has offered you reason to believe other claims (some I’d imagine not unique to catholicism and others irrational in their own right), isn’t really convincing here as support for your contention that belief in transubstantiation is rational.

          • Irenist

            Ah. That makes sense. I think we’re pretty much in agreement, then, that the underlying issue is whether what I’ve described below as claims 1-5 are rationally credible. If they are rationally credible, I need to find some theory by which to square belief in the Real Presence with belief in the obvious sense datum that the consecrated hosts still just look like bread, and transubstantiation is a candidate. OTOH, if Catholicism is just bunk anyway, then why worry about transubstantiation in particular?

          • keddaw

            No, no and no. You may have decent reasons to believe in weird metaphysics, a deity and even some strange Christ-like embodiment of that deity (you don’t, but hey-ho) but what you totally don’t have, absent unthinking belief in the teachings of the Catholic Church*, is any reason to think that priests have (the ability to channel) magical powers to change the non-measurable contents of bread and wine.

            “OTOH, if Catholicism is just bunk anyway, then why worry about transubstantiation in particular?”

            Because Catholics have this strange notion that they have acquired special knowledge about how the humans of this world should operate and make efforts to convince politicians to use the power of the state to put into place laws that the rest of us have to abide by or men with guns come and lock us up. So any little bit of the idiocy that is Catholicism that can be chipped away at to give people slightly less certitude that the moral teachings of the Catholic Church are true is a good and worthwhile exercise.

            * NB. unthinking…

          • Irenist


            “unthinking belief . . . . idiocy that is Catholicism . . . . N.B. unthinking . . . .”

            You have opinions. Noted.

            “make efforts to convince politicians to use the power of the state to put into place laws”

            Catholics are not silent in the public square. We even have the impertinence to lobby for laws we favor. This bothers you, and motivates you to troll Catholic blogs. Noted.

            “that the rest of us have to abide by or men with guns come and lock us up.”

            You are familiar with the standard anarchist / minarchist / libertarian imagery in which “laws = government = coercion = oppression = men with guns”, and like so many people on the Internet, you find this imagery appealing. Noted.

            I continue to like your Scooby-Doo icon. It’s smile-inducingly whimsical. Have a pleasant day, keddaw.

          • keddaw

            No, I was a reader of Leah’s blog before her conversion. I found it an interesting place where she was critical of unthinking beliefs and was very respectful of both those beliefs and the people who held those beliefs. That she went and ultimately held those beliefs herself was surprising but not entirely unexpected. Her path there is interesting because if I am wrong, I am VERY wrong, and the outcome for me is apparently eternal torture. Which seems harsh.

            “Men with guns” was indeed an indicator of an individualist ideology I have, but doesn’t change the fact that Catholics vote in favor of anti-abortion, anti-divorce, anti-money lending, anti-bible-says-it’s-bad nonsense whenever there is an opportunity to do so. And are more than willing to allow the state to come in heavy handed to enforce Catholic ideology.

          • Randy Gritter

            Her path there is interesting because if I am wrong, I am VERY wrong, and the outcome for me is apparently eternal torture. Which seems harsh.

            Just be bold and follow what is true and good and beautiful where ever it leads. Leah has shown the way. Just honestly desire to know what really is even if that means God and even if that means Catholicism. Then you won’t end up in hell. If God calls you to Himself and you run for whatever reason then you might end up there.

            That is the key. You mention politics. There is the respect of peers. There is the pleasure of our favorite sin. We need to understand that these are all small matters next to the importance of getting our mind right and our heart right and our soul right.

          • Irenist

            Thanks for the clarification, keddaw. Try your best to be a virtuous person after your own conscience, and you’ll be on the right road. God isn’t eager to see you choose hell, and will work with you even if you’re an atheist and don’t know it.

            You are indeed correct that Catholics of many stripes have historically been too quick to support regimes in which Church is entangled with state. It’s a fair complaint.

          • avalpert

            “So take Ptolemaic geocentrism. Given the observational data available to Ptolemy, he wasn’t unreasonable at all to believe in Ptolemaism. He was just wrong. But not irrational, given his context: it would be unfair of me to travel back in time and tell him he was “being unreasonable.””

            Correct, but Ptolemaic geocentrism offered verifiable predictions and also falsifiable conditions. While in a certain time some prediction seemed to verify it and it had not yet been falsified, once our breadth of knowledge was such that it was falsified it would be irrational to still believe it.

            Transubstantiation, at least as far as I can tell, does not offer the same capability to test it so it is not rational in the first instance to believe in it, it is simply an act of faith. There is no reasonable test being offered to affirm of refute its existence.

          • Irenist


            Verifiable predictions and falsifiable conditions are not the only possible source of warrant.

          • avalpert

            Because the method you use for discerning spiritual truths requires special pleading it is hard to call it rational.

            But this is a good example of the attempt to rationalize the irrational painting you into a corner.

          • Irenist

            Avalpert: I’m a big fan of behavioral economics, so I hope you and your colleagues keep up the good work!

            I’m not using a specific definition of reason, but I suppose the second sense from an online Oxford will do: “the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic.”

            I think what you’re doing is conflating the *empirical* with the *rational.* That’s an understandable thing for someone from our time period to do, but not every rationalist has been an empiricist, nor is all rigorous reasoning grounded in sense data or the data of the lab tech’s extended sensorium. E.g., in the 17th and 18th centuries “rationalism” and “empiricism” were names of competing philosophical tendencies. So reason != empiricism, or at least, it need not.

            You’re right that people often “rationalize” quack science and the like, and perhaps religion just looks like another example of that to you. But consider something like the question of whether we “discover” or “invent” mathematics. AFAIK, that question “makes no impact (directly or indirectly) detectable through any of our senses,” but the various positions in that complicated debate are not “irrational.”

            Most scholarly endeavors are not about the quantitative prediction and control of material objects. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily “irrational.” Consider Habermas’ distinction between (1) cognitive-instrumental reason; (2) moral-practical reason; and (3) aesthetic-expressive reason. Ethicists and literary critics can reason very carefully indeed without ever departing from the latter two kinds of reason. Reducing reason to “verifiability” or some other scientific practice reduces Habermas’ threefold definition to one.

            Reason is broader than science.

          • avalpert

            I don’t disagree that reason is broader than science and that the limits of rationality are not merely physical (in fact, mathematics was the example I was going to use). But, rational mathematics are verifiable in a way that no one has yet suggested transubstantiation is.

          • Irenist

            Sure. And ethical and aesthetic judgment isn’t usually “verifiable” at all. But still rational. Mind you, none of this is to argue that transubstantiation is true. (Though I do think that.) Just that some term like “unverifiable” might be better applied to it than “irrational.” Any honest Catholic ought to agree to the former term.

          • Randy Gritter

            Verifiable could be seen as not requiring faith. Rational has nothing to do with faith. Some religions talk about faith and reason as opposites. Catholicism say faith and reason are complimentary. Faith can lead us to some truths and reason to others but true faith and true reason should never oppose each other. Therefore faith can purify reason and reason can purify faith.

          • avalpert

            Its a fair point, I’m not sure whether I would consider any particular aesthetic judgment rational (ethics is a bit messier, one could come up with perfectly rational reasons for much of what is wrapped into ethics such as not heft or murder so I’ll leave it alone for now). I’ve always been more concerned with whether you act rationally given the judgment (do you maintain consistent value of X object of art for example, a key question in economics) then the rationality of the judgment itself. I’ll have to think about that.

      • KG

        I have a follow-up about this, to make sure I understand Catholic views of communion accurately. I know it’s been acknowledged many times that the physical properties of the wine are unaltered in any measurable way by consecration. It’s the essences that are supposed to transform, not the accidents, if I understood the terminology correctly from Leah’s explanations.

        But is it also agreed that, given an experiment similar to what Keddaw describes, the *effects* of a consecrated versus unconsecrated host on the person receiving communion, be they psychological or otherwise health-related, might be undetectable in any physically measurable sense?

        I suppose if that were true, Catholics could still deem the effects of the consecration to be real, but they would be entirely spiritual. That is to say, receiving consecrated versus unconsecrated wine might have no effect on the health, psychological or otherwise, of the recipient of the communion, but the consecration would still matter in an eschatological sense.

        I guess it’s also possible to claim that an experiment such as Keddaw describes could never be executed, because any attempt to make the communion experience “blind” would interfere with the way the ritual is conducted in such a way as to prevent the consecration from occurring. Is that a more accurate point of view?

        I welcome clarifications.

        • Randy Gritter

          Catholics believe in cooperating with grace. There is a component of the Eucharistic effect that is purely spiritual and thus not measurable by science, even psychology. There is also a component we choose to make active in our lives. We allow the fact of Jesus’ presence in us to make us holy. This is what Leah is refering to when she says:

          when I handed the chalice back to the priest. I am always in the position of either offering Mary’s fiat or interfering with God’s love passing through me to others.

          These effects can and should be measurable.

          • KG

            Thanks Randy.

            I’m still a little confused, though. Are the measurable effects purely a result of a person’s emotion of cooperation, or is there a spiritual property of the consecrated wine that is re-expressing itself physically?

            In other words, going back to Keddaw’s original experiment, would wine that is not consecrated, but that the communion recipient believes is consecrated, allow for the same feelings of cooperation?

          • Randy Gritter

            It will always be possible that someone might have done the same thing for reasons that can be explained in physical or psychological terms. If it was not possible we would call that a miracle. So maybe not always. With the rare exception of miracles you can always explain the effects of religion in terms of science.

          • KG


            I think I agree with you here, and I am trying to determine whether it is possible in principle test the validity of a certain class of miracles, i.e. transubstantiation, via its secondary physical effects on those who receive communion.

            In this hypothetical (and admittedly somewhat far-fetched) experiment, the “signal” we would seek would not be explainable in terms of a physical mechanism. This is because, as we all agree, there is no physical difference whatsoever between consecrated and unconsecrated wine, at least before it is ingested.

            If we saw such a signal, we’d have some evidence for these events as miracles.

            Added: Now consider what would happen if we didn’t see such a signal (assuming, perhaps unrealistically, that the experiment was carried out sufficiently carefully). Then the indication would be that the effects of receiving properly consecrated versus unconsecrated wine would not be apparent in the physical world at all. Such effects would only become apparent for those who believe they join the spiritual world after death. Does that seem like a fair analysis to you? What would you predict would happen?

          • Randy Gritter

            I am not sure what God would do. They tried to test Jesus over and over and He kept throwing curve-balls. God might just give the people who consumed the unconsecrated wine the same grace just because He can. He might make the difference obvious. He might give you an encounter with grace in a way that has nothing to do with your experiment. In carefully controlled laboratory conditions God does whatever He pleases. Give it a try! It is awesome.

          • Irenist


            Much of the psychological benefit of communion is probably going to be replicable through auto-suggestion and placebo, as you’re suggesting here.

            As for the lifetime (and afterlife) benefits of a close relationship with Christ versus not having one . . . well, that’s going to be hard to test in a double-blind study.

          • KG

            Hi Irenist,

            Thanks. Perhaps I am beating a dead horse, and if so feel free to ignore the further questioning, but I still feel that the responses I’m getting are too vague.

            When you say “the lifetime … benefits of a close relationship with Christ,” are you specifically referring to a property of the consecrated wine that makes a transition back form the purely spiritual realm, which we cannot test, and into the physical realm (in terms of the health and/or disposition of the believer), which we can test?

            I am focusing on this because, if your answer to the above question is “yes”, then this opens up the possibility that the effects of consecration could be empirically testable. I mean testable *in principle*, even if exceedingly difficult in practice. That would, it seems to me, be a huge shift away from the usual story that the consecration of the wine is not a falsifiable phenomenon in any manner whatsoever.

          • Irenist

            Hi KG,

            I’m primarily thinking of the salvific grace of Christ, the effects should include (hopefully) eternal life after death, and an increase in the charity of the communicant. The latter–increase in charity and other spiritual virtues–would probably be the “testable *in principle*, even if exceedingly difficult in practice” effect you’re looking for. No effects on physical health are expected as a matter of course from the reception of communion, although I imagine pious folk beliefs about such must have been pretty common in various Catholic cultures. For more on the dispositional effects of reception of the Eucharist, you might want to check out §§ 1391-98 of the Catechism on “the fruits of the Eucharist.” E.g., § 1394 discusses the enkindling of charity in the communicant, and § 1395 discusses the sacrament’s effect in bringing us closer to Christ, and so farther from mortal sin–which is certainly a dispositional effect. Much of the rest of the discussion is on matters like ecclesial unity, which is dispositional rather indirectly.

            To save you a step: If you next ask, “But aren’t Catholic and Orthodox recipients of communion, considered en masse compared to societies without widespread sacramental Christianity, just as big a bunch of jerks as the rest of us?” the answers you’ll get will be things like “Only a certain percentage of people are disposed to fully benefit from an aid toward saintliness, and those sorts of people are probably pretty great even in non-Christian societies, so the effect isn’t statistically noticeable” or “Most of the benefit shows up after death” or “We’d all be even BIGGER jerks without it, so be grateful.”

            But, yeah, *in principle* I suppose some sort of dispositional effect might be discernible. Hope that helps.

  • grok87

    “I suppose the most lasting impression the song left me with was how profoundly upsetting atheism must be for Christians. To a Christian, I am a person who, having heard God’s plea “Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?” answered and continues to answer no. To them, my entire existence must look like a willful rejection of the opportunity to do good and be good.”

    Thanks Leah for your post and for the link to your post of 3 years ago. I think perhaps, reading the above passage, that you were already well along on your faith journey towards conversion 3 years ago when you wrote the above.
    As Randy points out, Proverbs 9 (and Psalm 111) both say “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom”. It strikes me that when you wrote the above 3 years ago you were already beginning to experience the “Fear of the Lord” and consequently also the “beginning of Wisdom”.

  • Y. A. Warren

    I would love to see the word “awe” replace that of “fear” when speaking about The Sacred Spirit. They both take our breath away, but fear is paralyzing and awe is empowering.

    • Irenist

      I think the differences in preferred language probably reflect deeper theological differences between Catholicism and your own tradition, Y.A. Warren.

      • Y. A. Warren

        I am a cradle Roman Catholic with 12 years of RC school education. My husband is the same, with 16 years of RC education. Neither of us feel that fear is a Jesus-inspired motivator. We are each in awe of the ability to overcome the challenges of earthly life with the unearthly actions of Jesus’ examples of responsible compassion.

        • Irenist

          I stand corrected. My apologies for mischaracterizing you.

          • Y. A. Warren

            Thank you, Irene.

        • Randy Gritter

          Jesus didn’t use fear as a motivator? He actually refers to hell way more often than anyone else.

          • Y. A. Warren

            I don’t believe he was attempting to inspire fear; i believe he was simply stating the states of the lives of those who live without responsible compassion for others on earth.

          • Randy Gritter

            This seems like a distinction without a difference. He is stating facts but the facts should inspire a fear of hell and a motivation for changing.

            Catholics do talk about perfect and imperfect contrition. Perfect contrition is based on love of God and sorrow at having offended Him. Imperfect contrition is based on fear. Not the best motivator for change but better than nothing. God will accept it if that is all we can muster.

          • Y. A. Warren

            Roman Catholics have replaced the words of Jesus with their own means of controlling the realities of “communion” with the Body of Jesus. I assume the RC church has replaced Jesus with their organization as their “Christ”.

      • Christian H

        The difference in preferred language indicates a linguistic shift. Awe, at one point, implied fear, just as fear, at one point, implied awe. They’ve become divorced since that time, and so the connotations have shifted radically. Fear without awe is a really very different from fear with awe.
        This isn’t to deny theological or denominational differences, but I’d suggest that preference has at least as much to do with how much of the old connotations you attach to the words fear and awe.

  • Y. A. Warren

    It is no wonder that so few attended the “banquet”. I refuse to go to any banquet where I am denied the food. Nor will I attend any banquet that denies my friends and family a place at the table. The RC church is not in keeping with the commandments of Jesus to feed all who come to their door. I think the religion itself has become its “Christ.”

    • Randy Gritter

      The church does feed everyone with the word of God. The Eucharist is not appropriate food for everyone. We don’t feed steak to an infant. They might choke. Those who are not in sacramental union with the church can grow through the word and by God’s grace receive the body and blood on some future occasion.

      • guest

        To test that you’d need an actor playing a priest to recite the words over the wine and wafers. Then you’d need to randomly sort parishioners into two groups, one with the dummy priest and one with a real priest, and interview them as to how they felt about the host they had consumed. Or maybe the priest could say the prayer wrong somehow, and then see how his congregation felt about the wafers? Of course, you’d need a very naive congregation not to spot the error. Or you could have the priest pick out which wafer or cup or wine he had blessed, from two identical ones, and see if he was better at it than chance would suggest.

        • guest

          This was supposed to be in response to Brandon B upthread. Don’t know how it got down here…Jesus?

        • Randy Gritter

          The trouble is you have to figure out how to fool God. If God knows this is an experiment then he might behave differently.

      • avalpert

        You can starve quite easily on a ‘word of god’ diet but blood and flesh diet would make it much more difficult.

        If you are having problems with people chocking on your wafers maybe you need to be using smaller portions?

    • Anne Cregon Parks

      I can not receive communion in my sister in law’s Baptist Church because I am NOT in communion with their beliefs. Likewise she is not in communion with my Catholic beliefs. I believe that the Eucharist IS the body and blood of Jesus, she does not. She believes it is a symbol. I guess it is in her church because only by the power of the Holy Spirit can the priest change the wine into the Precious Blood and the bread into the Body through apostolic succession (it’s in the Bible). You are not denied the food, you are expected to be one in faith to be one in communion with the Church.

      • guest

        It’s not actually in the bible explicitly though, is it? Jesus gives his disciplines wine and bread and says ‘do this in remembrance of me’. That could just as easily mean ‘have a commemarative dinner in my honour’ as it could mean ‘do this magic ritual to make wine and bread into my actual flesh and blood’. And apostolic succession isn’t exactly biblical either.

        • Randy Gritter

          From John 6:48-58:

          I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

          The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever

        • Irenist

          FYI: That something “isn’t exactly biblical” is rarely a very effective apologetic against Catholics.

  • medhat

    Have very much enjoyed reading your blog. While a significant understatement (from my end) to say that you take a much more analytical approach to the faith than I typically do, but I suppose for all of us there are times (such as with the seemingly straightforward “job” of handling the eucharist) where there is an unusual and unexpected depth of “feeling” (Mystery, perhaps?) that’s pretty hard to rationalize, yet present nonetheless. But it’s certainly not “wrong”. I relate a similar recent non-religious episode that occurred recently. I am fortunate enough to have as friends a number of elite triathletes (I’m absolutely not included in that group!). They have all sorts of computers and devices that measure everything from heart rate to energy output, and use this information for charts, graphs, and predictions on how hard/fast they should be working. Yet this past weekend, arguably the most elite of this group (she won) made the casual comment after the race, “I mostly ride by feel”. I suppose faith is a little like that, and besides, it’s a big tent. Thanks!

  • guest

    Why’s it okay for you to hand out the wafers as a woman, but not to bless them? At what point is the penis necessary and in what capacity?

    • Martel

      I hope you realize that there are biological differences between men and women beyond the presence or absence of a penis, both physiological and genetic.
      To respond to the question of why the Catholic priesthood is restricted to men, the short answer is that Jesus Christ, in choosing his Apostles and in establishing the nature and mode of their succession, willed that it be so.

      • avalpert

        Yes, when he wasn’t with whores Jesus preferred the company of men

        • Randy Gritter

          He didn’t prefer the company of men. He actually talked with women more freely and more frequently than the culture of his day expected. Were they whores? In His day any woman who had sex outside of marriage even once was referred to as a prostitute. Jesus loved sinners. He liked to spend time with them. He liked to party with them. He didn’t care if society labeled them as prostitutes or tax collectors. This is good news because we are sinners too.

          • avalpert

            “This is good news because we are sinners too”

            No, its good new because I’m far more interested in a heaven filled with prostitutes than the prudes on this planet who keep insisting they know the true route to get there.

          • Randy Gritter

            Heaven is filled with prostitutes who have been transformed by the grace of God and are living out their true dignity as daughters of the Most High. This is not the Muslim idea that heaven is where you finally get to have cheap sex with beautiful women. It will be a community of love where abuse is not even possible.

          • avalpert

            Come on, while I think we can all agree that the idea of 72 virgins waiting for you is absurd – I mean, they will only be virgins for the first time anyway – but if you don’t think JC has a revolving door of kinky sluts rolling through his parties you just don’t know him at all.

          • stanz2reason

            I’m all for throwing the occassional haymaker, but you’re bordering on bad taste.

          • Neko


      • Neko

        Jesus expected God to intervene in his own generation to establish the Kingdom. As reported by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, his mission was directed toward the “lost sheep of Israel” (the “dogs,” not so much) in anticipation of the end of history. There was no incentive for Jesus to establish a succession.

        • Randy Gritter

          God did intervene is his generation to establish a Kingdom. It is called the church. Jesus’ personal mission was just to the Jews. The church was commissioned to evangelize the world until the close of the age (Mat 28:18-20).

          St Clement of Rome tells us the apostles did anticipate the need for a succession and put it in place. I doubt that happens if Jesus expected the Kingdom to arrive before the death of the last apostle.

          • Neko

            Interesting that in the Great Commission Jesus refers to the Trinity, a concept that did not develop until the 2nd century. Born and raised in the RCC, I’m (superficially) aware of its founding myths.

            If you mean the author of 1Clement, who nowhere in the letter identifies himself as Clement (the letter is sent from the “church of Rome”), he does argue that the apostles “knew” from Jesus that conflicts concerning “bishops” (!) would arise and therefore established what would eventually become known as apostolic succession.

            However, this administrative foresight does not square with the catastrophic end-times predicted by Jesus in Mark 13. “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place.” Needless to say, St. Paul also believed that the arrival of the Kingdom was imminent, when “we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

          • Irenist

            Neko, are you unaware of the amillennialist, partial preterist interpretations of the apocalyptic stuff in the N.T. that was a dominant current in the Patristic period and has been the mainstream of orthodox creedal Christian thought on these matters for centuries?

          • Neko

            I’m neither unaware nor conversant.

          • Irenist

            An admirably judicious answer, Neko.

            Well, it’s all what looks to a skeptic, I imagine, like ret-conning. Essentially, much of the “end of the age” stuff is taken to be prediction of the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the “Beast” of Revelation is Nero or one of the other persecuting emperors, etc. YMMV.

            As a Catholic, I of course think it’s the best interpretation of these verses, and I think you’ll find that among Catholics who know our own Church’s teachings pretty well (which is scandalously not that many of us), quoting the verses you’ve quoted won’t really ruffle any feathers, since we’re already comfortable with an interpretation that fits them into our beliefs. I.e., we’ve already got memetic antibodies to your argument.

          • Neko

            (Ha!) I am aware of that much. I was once long ago in a faraway land a Catholic, of the poorly catechized variety that the Catholic cognoscenti are always groaning about.

            But I take Paul and Mark’s Jesus at their word. They were apocalyptic Jews in a messianic age who believed that God would soon strike. I was just reading 1 Thessalonians, written about twenty years before the destruction of the Temple. Paul’s anticipation of the hour is palpable.

  • Clare Krishan

    would “precious” Body and “precious” Blood go someway to bridging the chasm – precisely because flesh incarnate took on such great dignity can we be expected to extend such high respect to human life wherever we encounter it (and experience such abject debasement when we realize we have failed to do so… yet even that act of realizing our frailty is gift, extended to lead us back to the source of all we call “precious”, no?) I was struck by a certain C+L priest’s reflection on structures of sin that actively obstruct charity from flowing freely between human persons (bookmarked during the battle to prevent the state ending Terri Schiavo’s life on a laptop that has since ‘died’ so sadly cannot retrieve to post here, sorry) IOW we owe others a sacred reverence that we cannot glibly absolve ourselves from simply because its inconvenient or uncomfortable. Considering our fallen human nature, an unattainable standard certainly thus no accident that the “Amazing Grace” hymn lyrics segue into “that saved a wretch like me” I know when I wake each day I try to make that my first thought – wow, Lord you gave me another day, another chance!

  • Sigroli

    Hate to be a nitpicker, but extraordinary ministers are to be used only in case of necessity, and using one when there are only four communicants is a liturgical abuse. That’s not my opinion; it’s a simple fact. I acknowledge that such abuses are common, but the priest should know better.

  • Randy Gritter

    He is explicit. You can always ask for something even more explicit. The speech is in the context of the passover. The passover becomes the Eucharist in the new covenant.

    Can eating be a metaphor for believe? In the first paragraph, yes it could. In the second paragraph the Jews make clear they are taking him literally so If it was a metaphor He would have made that clear. Instead Jesus’ language gets stronger and more graphic. So the metaphor theory breaks down. He even goes so far as to let some followers leave Him over this teaching.

  • Robin Lionheart

    Zac, have you never eaten corn?

  • DoctorDJ

    WAKE UP, LEAH! SNAP OUT OF IT! It’s all been a bad dream.

    You were distributing nothing but a stale cracker and some bad wine.
    Use your head.

  • Christian H

    I would be interested to see if you (Leah) would continue to feel nervous if you were to be an extraordinary minister more often. I help serve the Eucharist very often in my Anglican church (this is a regular function of congregants in the Anglican church; we’re called “chalice ministers,” and are supposed to be approved by the bishop first, but there’s no test or anything; also, in certain circumstances, chalice ministers are asked to offer bread/wafer as well as wine). By now I feel nervous only very rarely, though I did feel kind of nervous at first. (I probably wrote a post about that, way back when?) So I’m wondering how repetition would affect nervousness.

    But I’m also wondering whether belief about transubstatiation would affect nervousness: most Anglicans don’t believe in transubstatiation, but do believe in the sacramentality of the host and wine, so would Anglicans maybe have higher nervousness than a Baptist (say) but lower nervousness than a Catholic, on average, all else being equal? I’m sure you could do studies on this, and not the weird problematic metaphysical studies that people are talking about elsewhere in the comments but empirically and conceptually sound studies.

  • Neko

    May we stick to more neutral language in evaluating theses?

    No, we may not. Cease and desist your finger-wagging; I will write as I please. This is a blog, not a dissertation committee.

    Whether or not Pius IX could be frankly mean doesn’t bear in on whether or not the Pope can, in some circumstances, speak infallibly.

    This is irrelevant to what I said. Obviously I was referring to the underhanded politics involved in the adoption of the doctrine of papal infallibility, not whether Pius was “mean.” How cheap of you.

    In any event, I do perceive the clear work of the Holy Spirit through the office of the Bishop of Rome, whether or not the particular man in office is a jerk.

    Fine. I’m an atheist so do not recognize the intervention of a Holy Spirit in human affairs. However, my initial question was a fair one to pose to a Catholic believer.

    Unless a more satisfactory reason can be given which accounts for these factors, the statement should be accepted as historical.

    Your argument is to offer “evidence” without attribution to beg the question of whether Jesus founded the Catholic Church. The hubris. Again, perhaps you should venture off Google and wiki and consult some actual books by New Testament scholars.

    Just another reminder that I don’t spin my own theories about these texts, because I don’t have the expertise to do so. And unless you read Hebrew, koine Greek, German and French (at the least) and have spent years assimilating the relevant scholarship and poring over manuscripts and honing the best methodological practices, neither do you.

    As for “winning,” no need to be prim. We’re discussing matters about which there’s a great deal of uncertainty. Interesting that though you’re careful to use scare quotes you felt moved to protest.


    • Christian Stillings

      No, we may not. Cease and desist your finger-wagging; I will write as I please. This is a blog, not a dissertation committee.

      We may not? Why not? Does the instructor forbid the use of neutral language? There’s no reason that either of us may not use neutral language. I don’t think Leah would mind. I know I can’t oblige you to use neutral language, but I think it’d make for more constructive conversation. I can only beg your charity; if you’d rather use more charged language, so be it.

      This is irrelevant to what I said. Obviously I was referring to the underhanded politics involved in the adoption of the doctrine of papal infallibility, not whether Pius was “mean.” How cheap of you.

      To recap, here’s what you originally said:

      As a Catholic, do you perceive the guidance of the Holy Spirit expressed in the pope’s megalomania and repressive political tactics?

      I responded that I don’t see the Holy Spirit working through megalomania and meanness, which is what you seem to have alleged here. I didn’t find it obvious that you were referring to the definition of doctrine rather than meanness, so I clarified that I don’t see the Holy Spirit working through meanness but do see It working through the Papal office and through Church councils.

      If you think that the doctrine of Papal Infallibility is purely the result of “underhanded politics,” I understand why you don’t think that the Holy Spirit could’ve worked through that declaration of the First Vatican Council. How could a good God work through something which is nothing but an unscrupulous power-grab? I think, though, that it’s possible to believe that the Holy Spirit may work providentially through even actions which may be somewhat poorly-motivated, and I think it’s fair to understand the promulgation of Papal Infallibility in that way. Referring back to my earlier example, Vigilius co-conspired/co-murdered/co-coerced until he was elected to the Papal office, yet the Spirit used him to preserve the Church from Monophysitism. I’m sure God was displeased with how he forced himself into the office, but the Spirit worked through him nonetheless.

      Fine. I’m an atheist so do not recognize the intervention of a Holy Spirit in human affairs.

      Given your perspective, I wouldn’t expect you to. Pray tell, are you a naturalist?

      Your argument is to offer “evidence” without attribution to beg the question of whether Jesus founded the Catholic Church. The hubris. Again, perhaps you should venture off Google and wiki and consult some actual books by New Testament scholars.

      I presented several points which compositely support my thesis. If you think that any of the points is invalid, please tell me why. If you think that the points don’t logically support the conclusion, please tell me why. We’re not presently discussing the full thesis “Jesus founded the Catholic Church” but rather the thesis “Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16:18 is historically reliable.” I don’t need to consult broader scholarship to argue for the thesis which I’ve presented; if you think my argument is poor, please tell me why. If you’d like to cite some scholars’ arguments in order to demonstrate why you think my argument is poor, please be my guest.

      Remember, you said:

      Matthew 16:17-19 is disputed as an interpolation…

      By whom? Why should their opinion by counted credible? I shouldn’t have to dig for scholarship to support your assertion. I did you the favor of a Google search and found a set of poor arguments on RationalWiki. It’s your responsibility to support your assertion, and you haven’t. Saying “go read some actual scholarship” isn’t an adequate response. You should contest my argument, cite someone else who you think credibly contests my argument, or concede that my argument is good. Telling me to “good read some books” won’t do.

      Regarding your last bit: your writing struck me as confrontational, which is probably why I used the word “winning.” If I’ve misunderstood your intention, I apologize.

      • Neko

        I responded that I don’t see the Holy Spirit working through megalomania and meanness, which is what you seem to have alleged here.

        Fair enough.

        Pray tell, are you a naturalist?

        What do you mean?

        I presented several points which compositely support my thesis.

        I don’t think you appreciate what’s involved in trying to determine the authenticity of an ancient text; it’s a highly specialized process. For starters, do you read the NT in the original, and if so, which edition do you use?

        Your argument is a series of “trust me about this” assertions: Peter is a major figure in the NT and there’s a decent probability that Jesus gave Peter a nickname. Therefore we should all just accept Matthew 16:18 as historical. That’s not the way it works. To begin with, there’s not even agreement about whether Peter and Cephas are the same person.

        But anyway, from a layman’s view, and as I said before, it’s not at all clear why Jesus would found a “church” when, according to Mark, for example, he expected the Kingdom to be established on Earth in his own generation. Now before being accused of Biblical literalism, the issue isn’t how literally I read the gospel. It’s how literal Mark wanted the reader to think Jesus was about his prophecy.