March 2009

A few weeks ago, my old college buddy and fellow sojourner Jacob said something that has had me thinking since then — his definition of sola scriptura is “the Church is fallible.”

That may not seem like something so startling to many people, but — even as someone who has a high, even elevated, appreciation of capital-T Tradition but seriously struggles with some Catholic presuppositions — it’s one that I appreciate.

Your typical Catholic (and Orthodox) apologist will reply that the only way we even know what the biblical canon is because the Church has historically defined it, making the contents of the biblical canon Tradition itself. Scripture is inspired even if the Church does not recognize it, but the only reason you know it is scripture is because the Church has called it such, they say.

And that’s a point I concede, at least to a point (or, better stated: I am not equipped to argue it). 

But here’s the problem with that argument: there are four [major] biblical canons — Slavonic, Greek, Roman Catholic and Protestant (I listed them in order from longest to shortest, including the appendices in the case of the Slavonic and Greek corpora — that is assuming that an Orthodox reader accepts the Council of Jerusalem as dogmatic, of course), and apologists on both sides of the fence can cite early historic examples of those in favor of either the Catholic and Protestant tables of contents.

That leaves us with a bit of a conundrum, which is exactly why the Roman Catholic dogmatized their canon at the Council of Trent and the Orthodox at least agreed (if not dogmatically) at the Council of Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Protestants have chosen to define their Old Testament canon along the lines of the Jewish Council of Jamnia rather than by the LXX. That council didn’t happen until after Christ but was the canon Jerome backed (until he later caved and added the deuterocanon into the Vulgate).

My point is that even the Tradition surrounding the canon wasn’t clearly defined until the 1600s (something some Catholics curiously think is a strong point for their case), and it wasn’t Luther who first disregarded some books, so there’s a real weakness in the argument that the Bible as Tradition is proof that all Tradition is equal to Scripture.

 (I know this is a drastically fast fly-over of history — for example, I know there were other Jewish canons, and I realize that there are several other canons used by sui juris churches in the east. Don’t beat me up.)

Then, of course, there’s always the fact that Catholics can’t give you a solid answer as to what composes the Magisterium, per se, and the Orthodox will begrudgingly admit that there can be a fine line between Holy Tradition and old papers written by holy men.

That’s kind of where I stand at the moment (in other words, a little confused). And that’s why I’ll have to address arguments about the nature of the church and apostolic succession in our next heartwarming episode of Tradition and Me.


First, an update:

As of Tuesday evening, still no sign that the baby really wants to make an appearance. I’m fairly sure the people I work with have a betting pool on when she’ll arrive  (or when I will crack) — that would explain the crestfallen faces when I answer “nope” to their morning inquiry: “No baby?”

Now, a few unrelated things that have caught my attention in the last week:

-Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me’s Peter Sagal has written an essay about technology and imagination that I enjoyed.

-Peter Leithart has a solid critique of iconoclasm that even traditional Protestants will have to — or at least, should — consider.

-Pennsylvania authorities have thrown an Amish man in jail because his outhouse didn’t come up to the local building codes. I’m not really sure how to respond to this, except to stare at the story and ask, “Are you kidding me?”

It’s officially six years since the war started in Iraq. To paraphrase Thomas Merton, we’re enjoying the benefits of the world we worked so hard to create.

I am tempted to begin this with “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…,” but I’ll resist that urge.

The projected due date for my daughter’s birth was last Friday. It came and went, and still no birth. The anticipation keeps building, but in the meantime we have largely continued to live our lives as normal.

There have been small changes. At work, instead of collecting all of the information I need and completing all of the tasks at the end of the day (which is normal procedure), I complete a task as soon as I have everything I need to do so in case I need to leave suddenly during the day. At home, we’ve rearranged some furniture to accommodate the baby we know is coming — we know she is coming soon, but we don’t know when. Otherwise, things march on, even as our hearts and minds are filled with more longing and eagerness every day.

Now, back to my opening — I had a little bit of an epiphany today: this is how we should feel about our Lord’s second coming. The days may seem to stretch longer and longer, and the anticipation only adds to this feeling, but he is coming again. We know he will come, and he promised it would be soon, so we wait eagerly. It may not be when we expect it, but it will happen.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

(And — on a different note — come, baby girl, come!)

The recent media furor over the lifting of the excommunication of “Bishop” Richard Williamson has left me wondering if the mainstream media loves to misrepresent all religion or if they just don’t know or care anything about Christianity in particular. (I say this as a de facto member of the mainstream liberal press conspiracy.)

From today’s news, for example, the release of a letter from Pope Benedict XVI detailing his perspective on the Williamson decision is not an apology for lifting the excommunication, no matter how gleefully the pundits call it one.

In fact, the entire Williamson debacle is an excellent example of taking a ribbon and running with on the part of the media. While Williamson is certainly guilty of trying to play down the Holocaust, that’s not an ecclesiastical crime, nor should it be. It was not why he was excommunicated, even though several reports I have read or heard have implied exactly that. If everyone who was intentionally misinformed or racist was booted from the Church, I daresay it would be significantly smaller.

Williamson was guilty of receiving an illegal — illegal per the Church, not the law — consecration, which automatically made him excommunicate. The fact that those associated with the Society of St. Pius X — ultra-Traditionalist warts and all — were received back into full communion with the church is a good thing. To paraphrase from the Pope’s letter: to allow them to drift further from the Church was not good for anyone.

It’s also important to note that the Vatican has ordered Williamson to apologize for his comments. Williamson’s initial response was lackluster, but the Holy See has told him to get his act together. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’m getting pretty darn tired of everyone who is trying to bang the old “the Catholic Church is still anti-Semitic” drum. That’s not what this was about. It was about — and I use the Pope’s word here — “mercy.”

Lately, I’ve been playing this little text-based game called Nation States. (I actually first discovered it back in college, but I let my game die out pretty quickly then.) There is no stated object of the game. You are the theoretical parliamentary leader/monarch/president/dictator/whatever of a nation state, and the legislative decisions you make directly affect your citizens.

It’s a slow game. You can only make two decisions a day, and you don’t see the effects of your decisions until the next day, which is why many of the nation states fizzle out pretty soon after someone starts them. It takes time to get there, but it’s kind of addictive.

The drawback the game has is that it takes your decisions to their logical extreme. For example, when I was given the decision of banning smoking in public in my country, Condamania, there were three options, 1), ban it except in private residences, 2), ban it completely or 3) do nothing. Libertarian that I am, I chose nothing — and now it says that my country allows 8-year-olds to smoke in public (and possibly nude). Likewise, my government is seen as “favoring Catholicism” because I chose the option of a conservative Catholic priest as a spiritual advisor over that of a pagan almagamationist or an atheist. I didn’t choose to ban imports of certain products from other countries, and so I was reclassified from “inoffensive centrist democracy” to “compulsory consumerist state.” At one point I was a “Father Knows Best State.”

Another thing I’ve noticed with the game is that most players eventually end up as  either a “Benevolent” or “Psychotic Dictatorship.” I think the power goes to their head. 

With Condamania, my decisions are being made like I would make them if I was an actual ruler. Interestingly, because the game takes all decisions to their logical extreme, Condamania isn’t really made in my image anymore. So today, I decided to start a second country, Condomentia, and I’m going to rule it like a neocon.

We’ll see where that goes.

I’d love it if my daughter has red hair, but — silly me — I’m leaving that up to God. However, it looks like I could have had a chance to ensure it after all.

I can’t even begin to describe how uneasy this makes me feel.

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