True myths

Tomorrow (in case you forgot to organize a party) is the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, when King Henry V and his small band of proletarian archers defeated the aristocracy of France, and the media has not failed to remember it. Significantly it’s had its English pronunciation, with a sounded final “t”, restored after decades of hearing it said the French way. That’s relevant to my post, which is about providing a clearer understanding of the word “myth.”

agincourtFor Agincourt is undoubtedly a myth to the English people. As a historian pointed out on the BBC this morning, the event is regularly brought to mind at times of national crisis, and when it is, it is Shakespeare’s version of it, rather than that of the historian, that is heard. The most famous telling of Henry V, the film with Lawrence Olivier, was made in 1944 with a clear linkage to the war being fought at the time, ironically partly to liberate those damned French.

The message was that the courage of the British common man, albeit outnumbered and out-gunned, would prevail against the aggressor just as it had back in 1415. And for all we know, sufficient hearts might have been stirred by it to affect the outcome of the Second World War.

And it is in this sense that Agincourt is a myth, in the proper rather than the popular sense of the word: it is a story that provides a paradigm for the way the world is (in this case, the way Britons would like to be). Now, notice that such a definition is actually orthogonal to the question of historical truth.

In the case of Agincourt, the “historical accuracy” of the story is a nice point, and much argued. On the one hand, the events it describes undoubtedly happened, broadly as Shakespeare described. But all history is selective, even before it is stirringly fictionalised, and Henry V himself was a master self-publicist. Shakespeare’s play appears to treat Henry ambiguously, and the play has been produced as a paradigm of the heroic underdog (as in the 1944 film) or as a Machiavellian anti-war polemic (as in the more recent remake). Even serious historians disagree along the same lines: a trial of Henry V was actually held in America, and concluded by a narrow margin that Henry was in the right rather than a war-criminal.

But that all history is selective does not make it any the less truthful. That’s the case for “mythical history” too: as the stirring tale of British heroism it omits all the complicating factors, and in that way serves the “mythical purpose” of encouraging Brits to be those heroes in a way that emphasising the help of French disorganisation and helpful ground conditions does not.

prometheusIn many cases, historicity simply isn’t relevant to myth, which is where the idea that “myth” means “lies” comes from. I’ve argued before that the Prometheus myth of fire stolen from the gods, in antiquity just one minor tale about “the way the world is”, became at the Renaissance a foundation myth of the ideal of human autonomy that governed the Enlightenment and still has power today. The fact that its events are entirely fabulous doesn’t affect its power. It does not even matter that it isn’t regularly trotted out and taught to budding atheists and democrats (though it recurs in literature and academia enough to tell one its significance is known to thinkers). The fact is that when one reads it within the dominant paradigm of libertarian free will, it resonates with ones gut feelings: Prometheus is a good and wise guy, and unfairly punished for it, whereas Zeus is a mean old obscurantist. Stubborn pursuit of ones own truth truly is better than tradition and submission to authority. The scientist must stand alone for truth against religion, and so on.

At the other end of the scale, a myth can be incontrovertibly true. Two relatively recent events remembered from World War II closely reflect the Agincourt myth. One is the Great Escape, whose message of plucky escape from impossible situations serves modern sports fans very well as a mythic motif, as England is regularly facing impossible odds after fluffing the early stages of international sports competitions. Fans in stadia are always to be heard singing the theme from the film. This use is mythic, yet the event, and the moral attitudes it represents, are entirely true.

The second example is the Battle of Britain, which to people here in Britain is like Agincourt, only without the ambiguities. Its regular recollection annoys our European allies no end – especially the Germans, of course. Yet it is true, and was just as significant as it is remembered to be. I myself met pilots who took part in it and were surely true heroes, and my father, himself in the RAF as ground crew at the time, was no less in awe of the significance and valour of the events and the people involved.

Remarkably, the mythic status of the Battle of Britain was perceived by Churchill even as it began:

And he understood that myth’s human aspect well before it was won:

Naturally there are back-stories in the history that would detract from the mythic retelling: there were individual accounts of cowardice and strategic and tactical errors up the command chain, not to mention factors in Britain’s favour that weaken the main point of the story as myth (like that of fighting on island home ground in Churchill’s speech). Yet it is still within living memory, its essential facts are true, and its importance to the progress of world history hard to deny.

But I’ve been interested to see even in my own lifetime (I was born just 12 years after it happened) how the myth has been tidied up and reinforced. For example, the present generation assumes that the Supermarine Spitfire was the aircraft that won the battle, whereas in my youth the emphasis was as much on the Hawker Hurricane, of which there were, in fact, twice as many. But even back then, the role of other fighters like Blenheims and Beaufighters had faded from memory. Simplification, I suppose, especially by focusing on one beautiful aircraft, supports the mythic purpose even when it does injustice to those who fought and died in other types. Mythically speaking, though, it sharpens, rather than distorts, the truth.

Hurricanes

Hurricanes or Spitfires?

This brings me to the biblical stories that can legitimately be termed “myths”, in the strictly functional sense I’ve outlined. I’m not sure that the creation story of Genesis 1 is properly termed “myth” at all, for it’s only paradigmatic in the sense of describing the spiritual cosmography (the cosmic temple) which governs the Bible’s interpretation of what the universe “is” throughout. It’s actually a literal, if a literary, account of the creation – it’s just that its literal meaning is expressed in a functional, theological way rather than a modern materialist one. It’s true in the same sense now as it was to Moses, simply because God’s universe remains in existence, and it is still essential for our understanding of biblical events like the ascension or, very importantly, the nature of the new creation in, say, Revelation (because we will live there one day).

But the Eden story certainly is mythic, in that it accounts for the existence of evil in the world, and so are the Exodus, for it defines what it means to be Israelite, and the Passion of the Lord, because it defines the Kingdom of God. In all three of these cases, though, the issue of essential historicity is central (as in the significance of the Battle of Britain) rather than irrelevant (as in the Prometheus myth or the Battle of Agincourt).

If an act of disobedience to God did not bring sin and death into the human world, then the explanation for both is entirely different – something like evolution through a less-than-good creation set off by a Deistic God.  And the solution is not then a return to what God first intended, but an abandonment of creation and man’s rescue from it, perhaps by being freed from the “selfishness” of evolution, and given a new-fangled endowment of eternal life. In that case, the story of Adam and Eve, whether its genre were taken to be “historical” or “mythic”, would in any case be a flat lie.

Likewise, if God did not rescue Israel from Egypt, there is no historical saving act of God to ground the Covenant which is Israel’s reason for existing, the foundation of their witness, and their basis of hope (including the hope they had of a coming Messiah when they heard Jesus speak). And in just the same manner, if Jesus did not come in the flesh, and was not raised from the dead, the whole basis of Christian existence, ministry and hope is demolished, to be replaced (as by those like Bultmann in the last century and too many  now) with a gnostic, immaterial view of God, Christ, faith and hope.

In summary, all human beings need myths and invariably base their world views upon them. It’s amusing to work out the prevailing myths of our culture, or even in our sub-culture. Some myths are purely utilitarian, and in that case their historical basis doesn’t matter. However, whether they are true or false historically, they can still be lies in terms of myth, as I believe the Prometheus myth to be the devil’s lie.

Some myths, however, depend for their power on being grounded in the actual events they portray – they need to be true myths, in other words. We may recognise, in their literary form, “mythic elements” intended to clarify their message and aid their impact, but we cannot de-historicize them without losing their power to tell truth about the world.

I contend that the key stories of God’s true salvation history, such as the Fall, the Exodus and the crucifixion, resurrection and glorification of the Lord Jesus Christ, are examples of such “true myths.” We relativise them at our peril.

My father on the front line - RAF Melksham

My father on the front line – RAF Melksham c1941 (middle row, 2nd from right)

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Creation, Politics and sociology, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

49 Responses to True myths

  1. Cath Olic says:

    “I’m not sure that the creation story of Genesis 1 is properly termed “myth” at all, for it’s only paradigmatic in the sense of describing the spiritual cosmography (the cosmic temple) which governs the Bible’s interpretation of what the universe “is” throughout. It’s actually a literal, if a literary, account of the creation – it’s just that its literal meaning is expressed in a functional, theological way rather than a modern materialist one.”

    If man actually evolved from animals, then what is the functional, theological lesson from Genesis 2’s depiction of God forming Adam from the dust of the ground, and forming Eve from the rib of Adam, and not from another animal?

    “Some myths, however, depend for their power on being grounded in the actual events they portray – they need to be true myths, in other words… I contend that the key stories of God’s true salvation history, such as the Fall, the Exodus and the crucifixion, resurrection and glorification of the Lord Jesus Christ, are examples of such “true myths.” We relativise them at our peril.”

    What might be your favorite false myth from Scripture?

    P.S.
    I think I do agree with most of this piece, especially the last paragraph.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Cath Olic

      I applied the words “functional” and “theological” to the Genesis 1 creation account to describe its genre of non-mythical literalism, in contrast to the Eden account which functions (amongst other things) as a foundational myth in the sense described in the post. That said, the latter is primarily theological, and does have a focus that is more to do with function than scientific materialism.

      Adam needs to have existed for the story to mean anything, but the tale was more suitably told in poetic terms than in journalistic terms, perhaps because of its very importance – just as much later in the NT, apocalyptic shows the theological importance of mundane events like wars by “mythic” imagery.

      With that agenda, it does contain elements that look “mythological” in the genre sense of being in some way figurative. For example, notably the tree of life is used figuratively throughout the rest of Scripture up to the end of Revelation as a metaphor for eternal life, and more particularly eternal life through the covenant-presence of God, and more particularly still through communion with Christ – with even strong hints that the tree parallels the Cross. Thus even in Genesis we ought to understand it as a metaphor for life-giving fellowship with God, rather than as a magic fruit tree.

      Likewise, the talking snake would be surprising in a purely factual account, if only because Eve is not at all surprised to hear an animal giving advice in her garden – but also because though it is represented in the story just as “the most subtle of the beasts”, it is imbued with Satanic significance in the rest of the Bible – an interesting example of the myth being more mundane than the spiritual reality it represents.

      So, regarding Adam and Eve, the functional and theological significance allowing for a “literal” evolution would be:
      (a) for Adam’s formation from dust, that God brought him forth from, and made him part of, the material earth in the same way as the animals were brought forth from the earth (thus teaching man’s physical animality, contrasting with his spiritual nature through the inbreathing of God). That’s confirmed both by similar descriptions in other ANE human origins stories (man made from clay, or from blood), and by scattered reminders that man is “but dust” throughout the Bible.

      Thus theologically we are both of the earth and of heaven – functionally too, a part of the animal creation yet endowed with something of the divine and therefore suited to rule over it and mediate between the animal creation and God. Genesis 2 teaches, therefore, both a continuity and a discontinuity between man and the creatures. It certainly doesn’t teach evolution, though it is compatible with it, yet it denies that mankind can be accounted for as “just an animal”, which refutes most naturalistic approaches to the evolution of man.

      (b) The functional and theological truth taught in the formation of Eve from a rib (or, it seems, more probably from his entire “side” is the thought) is the complementarity of the sexes – the image of God (as in ch1) is not just in “men” but in the whole society of men and women. The foundation of society in marriage is, of course, strongly implied here as Jesus reminded his hearers, but there are lessons about sexual equality, and yet diverse gender roles, to be gained from it too.

      For interest, Walton points out how our modern instinctive understanding of 2.21, as God giving Adam a general anaesthetic for surgery, completely misreads the way the ancients would have taken it: deep sleep is usually an indicator of powerful visionary experience (see 15.12). He suggests that Adam may have been shown how he ought to see the role of his wife as a companion-helper, rather than the animals which could only be servants, and never helpers in the God-given task of mankind.

      What might be your favorite false myth from Scripture?

      I don’t think there are any, because Scriptural myth (ie paradigmatic story) is all to do with God’s covenantal saving acts and how we respond to them to particpate in his kingdom, rather than generalities like “Britons ought to be brave underdogs”, “freedom is the cardinal virtue” or whatever. And unless God’s saving acts happened, our responses are futile. “If Christ be not raised, you are still in your sins.” So Scripture is a book of truth from start to finish, even when its genre is not “journalistic history”.

      That’s not to say that Scripture can’t teach truth through “fiction”, apart from myth – for example, Job may or may not have been a renowned and actual example of godly suffering, but the book is constructed as a formal theological debate, and the “window into the heavenly council” beginning and the theophany at the end are wisdom teaching, not history: there would be no less inspired truth in it if none of it “actually” happened, any more than it’s helpful to enquire who the good Samaritan was “in real life”. But in such cases, we’re not dealing with “myths” at all.

      • Cath Olic says:

        “Genesis 2 teaches, therefore, both a continuity and a discontinuity between man and the creatures. It certainly doesn’t teach evolution, though it is compatible with it…”

        Can you imagine any ways the Genesis account might have been written that would NOT be compatible with evolution?

        For example, still keeping much of the original language:
        1) ‘And after God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night, He wove a beam from the greater light and formed man’ or
        2) ‘And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. However, God made one of the kinds form another kind, man. Thus, from the first kind God made another kind, and called the new kind “man”’ or
        3) ‘then the LORD God formed man by His breath, and man became a living being’.

        Actually, you can skip #2, as that would be even more compatible with evolution.
        But for #1 and #3, or something else your imagination might conjure, could you see a rendering of Genesis which would NOT be compatible with evolution?

        • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

          But for #1 and #3, or something else your imagination might conjure, could you see a rendering of Genesis which would NOT be compatible with evolution?

          I probably could, if I worked hard enough, but that would be to make the physical manner of God’s work (evolution did happen/evolution didn’t happen) predominate over the theological and functional meaning of a text that shows no intrinsic interest in such matters (any more than it foes into detail about animals reproducing sexually or asexually, laying eggs or not, etc). It’s all about reading a text for what it wants to say to us, rather than reading another agenda into it.

          As those nice people said in the RC catechism #109-110, of course.

          • Cath Olic says:

            Yes,
            CCC 109 In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.
            110 In order to discover the sacred authors’ intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. “For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression.

            It’s too bad the CCC doesn’t give some examples.
            For instance, where Genesis says
            “And God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years” and

            “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens”

            the CCC could say the sacred authors’ intention was for us to ignore the sacred authors’ explicit words on the timing of God’s creation.

            Likewise, the CCC could say the sacred authors’ intention in repeatedly noting creation “according to their own kinds” and “each according to its kind” was for us to realize that “kinds” of organisms are meaningless, or at least fluid, such that one kind of organism can actually become, eventually, a completely different kind.

            One might think some specific examples like the above might have been given, considering the extreme importance the CCC places on the creation account:

            287 THE TRUTH ABOUT CREATION IS SO IMPORTANT for all of human life that God in his tenderness wanted to reveal to his People everything that is salutary to know on the subject…

            288 Thus the REVELATION OF CREATION is inseparable from the revelation and forging of the covenant of the one God with his People. Creation is revealed as the first step towards this covenant, the first and universal witness to God’s all-powerful love. And so, the TRUTH OF CREATION is also EXPRESSED WITH GROWING VIGOR in the message of the prophets, the prayer of the psalms and the liturgy, and in the wisdom sayings of the Chosen People.

            289 Among all the Scriptural texts about creation, the FIRST THREE CHAPTERS of Genesis occupy a UNIQUE PLACE…The inspired authors have PLACED THEM AT THE BEGINNING of Scripture TO EXPRESS IN THEIR SOLEMN LANGUAGE THE TRUTHS OF CREATION – its origin and its end in God, its order and goodness, the vocation of man, and finally the drama of sin and the hope of salvation. Read in the light of Christ, within the unity of Sacred Scripture and in the living Tradition of the Church, THESE TEXTS REMAIN THE PRINCIPAL SOURCE FOR CATECHESIS ON THE MYSTERIES OF THE “BEGINNING”: creation, fall, and promise of salvation.

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Whoa Cath Olic!

    Last week you were telling us that the Catechism was the place to go to remove doubts about the interpretation of Scripture. Now you’re complaining that trumpet is not giving a clear call. Not only that, but having been vague on Genesis 1 it refers catechesis back to the Scripture itself, which is fine by me as a sola scriptura type.

    Several things in the Catechism lead me to suspect that they’re trying to steer between widely disparate Catholic views – for specific example, seeking to accommodate both Young Earth Creationists and Scientific Evolutionists. Cynically that might be seen as an attempt to persuade each “party” that the Church is really on their side. More charitably (and from where I’m standing) it is simply accepting the fact that in a worldwide body there will be great diversity, and that unity does not mean rigidity. Nowhere more so is that the case than Gen 1, and they’re in fact following their own policy of bowing to Patristic interpretation – Augustine said that there are many interpretations of this passage that are compatible with the rule of faith.

    If the catechism has a fault, it’s in covering up that diversity with the impression that the Church has a final interpretation that cannot err, when any reading of Catholic academic theology shows that it’s just as variable as Protestant and Secular scholarship. In fact, on evolution I’d say Rome is generally more “non-literal” than other traditionally-minded churches (eg Americal Southern Baptists), as the writings of more than one Pope attest.

    So the Catholic Catechism can’t be taken as the last word on interpretation (as you seem to agree), but I’ll try to be genuinely helpful in applying their “policy” (which I agree with) to the places you cite.

    the CCC could say the sacred authors’ intention was for us to ignore the sacred authors’ explicit words on the timing of God’s creation.

    No, they’re saying you need to regard the author’s intent rather than read mindlessly from a modern worldview . The very verse you mention proves the point, because it “explicitly” says the creation took one day, following a chapter in which it says it took seven. Detailed interpretation doesn’t belong here, but the point is not whether they’re “actual” days, but the way in which “actual” days are used in the account, and in the linguistic setting of the writer.

    If, for example, the stress is on God’s inauguration of a temple, echoing or prefiguring God’s pattern for the earthly Jerusalem temple, then 7 days is an appropriate time to prepare it for God. You should no more “ignore” it than you’d ignore, in later apocalyptic from Daniel to Revelation, the welter of significant, but entirely symbolic, periods of days. Treat them as crudely literal and you may as well be ignoring them, because you miss what they mean.

    The “lights in the heavens” are intended for “times and seasons” because the message is that they are for the benefit of mankind in his labours – not so that they’re in time to keep track of the timing of creation itself, which they aren’t, of course, having missed the first 3 days. And they are created so late because, haaving created various realms, God creates beings to inhabit them (the ancient idea thinking of heavenly bodies as creatures rather than “objects” – hence Paul’s discussion of their bodies in 1 Cor 13). The heavens are created for God’s glory, the most glorious bodies are created to inhabit them, and they are given functions in man’s service, including governing the seasons.

    “According to their kinds”: to treat “kinds” as the focus of the meaning in some kind of biological classification sense is simply to follow a very recent agenda of creation science (whhich didn’t exist when I first became a Christian). The focus, as I’ve said before, is on their multiplying to fill the earth “in all their vast array” as the NIV translates 2.1. The sense is “He created all these plants, fish, birds and animals and they were all blessed with fertility.

    If I say Einstein knew all kinds of things, and they were all productive, I’m not inviting you to define the boundaries of a “kind” of thought, still less to tell you that each of Einstein’s thoughts stayed the same or changed. But I’m not saying the word “kind” is meaningless.

  3. Cath Olic says:

    “Whoa Cath Olic! Last week you were telling us that the Catechism was the place to go to remove doubts about the interpretation of Scripture. Now you’re complaining that trumpet is not giving a clear call.”

    The Catechism IS one of the best places to go for correct interpretation of Scripture. What it says is true.
    However, the CCC does NOT speak on ALL matters that might be of interest to the faithful. The words “evolve” and “evolution” (in regards the biological) appear nowhere in the CCC. So yes, on the matter of evolution the CCC does NOT give a clear call. Maybe someday it will.

    I largely agree with your second paragraph speculating on WHY the CCC doesn’t make the clear call on evolution. I would add my speculation of the writers’ possible cowardice and lack of faith, and their trepidation of the prospect of another Galileo-like incident.

    “If the catechism has a fault, it’s in covering up that diversity with the impression that the Church has a final interpretation that cannot err, when any reading of Catholic academic theology shows that it’s just as variable as Protestant and Secular scholarship.”

    No. The Church’s final interpretation can NOT err, and it certainly is NOT variable as Protestant scholarship is.
    It should go without saying but I guess I’ll have to say it:
    Not everything that comes out of the mouths of Catholic academics and Catholic theologians is Catholic teaching. (Just take a look at some of the shameful antics at the just-completed Synod.)

    “So the Catholic Catechism can’t be taken as the last word on interpretation (as you seem to agree)…”

    No, I do not.

    “The very verse you mention proves the point, because it “explicitly” says the creation took one day, following a chapter in which it says it took seven.”

    I don’t think so. Genesis 1:1-5 says God created the heavens and the earth in one day; Genesis 2:4 likewise says God created the heavens and the earth in one day (“in the day”).

    “The “lights in the heavens” are intended for “times and seasons” because the message is that they are for the benefit of mankind in his labours – not so that they’re in time to keep track of the timing of creation itself…”

    Please remember: Let me know if you find an analysis which explains Genesis 1:14 vis-à-vis the other “day” verses in Gen 1. Something that gets to, for example, why the author didn’t write something like “and God created x over many years, one season” or even “over many years, one day”.

    “But I’m not saying the word “kind” is meaningless.”

    Then what are you saying?

    P.S.
    You didn’t answer my other question:
    Can you imagine any ways the Genesis account might have been written that would NOT be compatible with evolution?

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      PS first – I did answer: I said I probably could with effort, but that since it wasn’t written with material processes in mind, it would stick out as much as “1.32: By the way, God didn’t use evolution AT ALL.”

      You’re mistaken about 2.4, I’m afraid: any decent commentary will tell you that it’s the first toledot heading, introducing the next section, not summarising the last. So “this is the account” (lit “these are the generations”) refers to the whole Eden narrative up to the next heading, which if memory serves starts at 5.1.

      Your query about Gen 1.14 is actually answered, in brief, in my previous reply. It’s something like the reason Revelation 1 does not address “the seven churches in Asia, though I realise there are actually many more than that,” or why Daniel speaks of “time, times and half a time” rather than however long he literally means, and why Revelation takes that same figure to indicate the days between the resurrection and the second coming and restates it in years, days or months rather than “The year the Lord returns will be…”

      • Cath Olic says:

        “PS first – I did answer: I said I probably could with effort, but that since it wasn’t written with material processes in mind, it would stick out as much as “1.32: By the way, God didn’t use evolution AT ALL.”

        I’d say you responded, but you didn’t answer. If you would answer, I would appreciate the effort.

        “You’re mistaken about 2.4, I’m afraid: any decent commentary will tell you that it’s the first toledot heading, introducing the next section, not summarising the last.”

        But a day to the Lord is as a thousand years, or a week.
        Regardless, virtually anyone, including me, can detect a transition of narrative “mode” from Gen 2:3 to Gen 2:4. Genesis 2 is a retelling of the creation account from another perspective and/or with different emphases. (Some say Gen 1 and Gen 2 are in conflict, that they can’t BOTH be true. Some are wrong.)

        “Your query about Gen 1.14 is actually answered, in brief, in my previous reply.”

        Again, I’d say you RESPONDED but you didn’t answer.

        “It’s something like the reason Revelation 1 does not address “the seven churches in Asia, though I realise there are actually many more than that,””

        We both know “seven” is a special number in Scripture and CAN mean many/limitless. But we also know that John DOES address the seven churches BY NAME. The seven might have been like Asian archdioceses.

        P.S.
        Back to an analysis, if you find one, which explains Genesis 1:14 vis-à-vis the other “day” verses in Gen 1:
        In addition to addressing a) why the author didn’t write something like “and God created x over many years, one season” or even “over many years, one day”,
        it must also answer b) why the author defines what he means by day (e.g. “And there was evening and there was morning, one day”) and does so six times. I’d love to see such an analysis.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Cath Olic, you wrote:

      “Not everything that comes out of the mouths of Catholic academics and Catholic theologians is Catholic teaching.”

      I agree. Now tell me where one can find reliable Catholic teaching. You have already conceded that the CCC is incomplete on many issues — doesn’t discuss them — and you have suggested that it is not always as well-written or clear as it should be. So can you give me a list of authoritative sources where I can find uncorrupted and entirely correct Catholic teaching, written in a clear manner?

      For example, where can I find a clear Catholic teaching that evolution should not be believed by Catholics, because it is a teaching that is against the Catholic faith? Or that evolution may be accepted by Catholics, because it is not intrinsically opposed to Catholic faith?

      Where can I find a clear and authoritative Catholic teaching on whether the serpent, trees of knowledge, etc. must be understood as actual physical beings that existed in the past?

      (See also my other question here, regarding your personal position on the events described in Genesis 2-3.)

      • Cath Olic says:

        Edward,

        “You have already conceded that the CCC is incomplete on many issues — doesn’t discuss them — and you have suggested that it is not always as well-written or clear as it should be.”

        No, I did NOT say the “CCC is incomplete on many issues”.
        I said the CCC does NOT speak on ALL matters that might be of interest to the faithful, and gave the example of its silence on evolution.

        “So can you give me a list of authoritative sources where I can find uncorrupted and entirely correct Catholic teaching, written in a clear manner?”

        First and foremost, the Catechism. Then you could go into greater depths in the encyclicals.

        Edward, what would be one of your top issues on which you’d like to hear correct Catholic teaching? Maybe I can help.

        “Where can I find a clear and authoritative Catholic teaching on whether the serpent, trees of knowledge, etc. must be understood as actual physical beings that existed in the past?”

        I think I answered this earlier.

        • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

          Cath Olic:

          If the Catechism were changed tomorrow, and contained statements which you found to be not only theologically repugnant, but also in direct conflict with previous authoritative statements of Catholic doctrine, would you still maintain that the Catechism was a valid source for Catholic doctrine?

          Do you maintain that all of the encyclicals ever issued by the Roman Church are in complete harmony with each other?

          Are there, in your opinion, any sources of reliable Catholic doctrine other than the Catechism and the encyclicals?

          Finally, I don’t want your help to determine what is or is not Catholic doctrine. I’m trying only to determine the complete list of sources which *you* regard as reliable statements of Catholic doctrine. If I want to know what is or is not Catholic doctrine, I will consult people licensed by Rome as teachers — which, I believe, does not apply to you. Unless I am mistaken, your teaching authority within the Catholic Church is approximately that of Mel Gibson. But of course, I may have misinterpreted some of your autobiographical remarks.

  4. Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

    In answer to your P.S. above, the reason than Genesis does not use an expression such as “over many years, one season” is that the author was not the slightest bit interested in conveying chronological information about the process of creation. He did not care whether the creation of the whole world was instantaneous (e.g., Augustine), or was spread over six calendar days, or was spread over millions of years. He was trying to convey the structure and function of creation, not an ancient sequence of events.

    But I would like to return to a question from another column, since you seem to have ceased commenting in that place. For the sake of clarity, will you give exact and non-evasive answers to the following questions?

    Do you affirm, on the strength of the story in Genesis, that at one time in earth’s past, the first man was taken directly out of the earth, and had no biological ancestors? Do you affirm, on the strength of the same story, that the first woman was taken directly out of the side of man, and had no biological ancestors? Do you affirm, on the strength of the same story, that there existed, at the time of the first man and woman, a concrete, physical, no-nonsense tree (with bark, branches, etc.) which produced a concrete, physical fruit (with exactly the same degree of reality as the fruit I buy at the grocery store), a fruit which, if eaten, would allow a human being to live forever? And that there existed another tree in the same location which produced a fruit which, when eaten, gave the first man and the first woman “knowledge of good and evil”? And that they were egged on to eating the latter fruit by a talking reptile, which actually existed in physical space and time in the same sense that woolly mammoths and dinosaurs existed in space and time?

    Are these things that you believe about the past of this planet, and that you claim that Genesis insists upon?

    If I asked the same questions of Ken Ham, etc., I would get clear, non-evasive answers. Will you provide the same?

  5. Cath Olic says:

    Edward,

    “In answer to your P.S. above, the reason than Genesis does not use an expression such as “over many years, one season” is that the author was not the slightest bit interested in conveying chronological information about the process of creation. He did not care …”

    How do YOU know what the author was interested in?
    I don’t know what he was interested in.
    I just know what he wrote, and what most, I think, Jews and Christians over the last several thousand years have thought about what he wrote. I read what appears indeed to be chronological information, with the author defining “day” six times and his distinguishing between years, seasons and days.
    ……………
    “He was trying to convey the structure and function of creation, not an ancient sequence of events.”

    I think the people reading his words ALREADY knew the structure and function of creation before Genesis was written. I don’t understand how any reasonable person with some knowledge of ancient history would think they didn’t already know the structure and function of the universe.
    …………………
    “Do you affirm, on the strength of the story in Genesis, that at one time in earth’s past, the first man was taken directly out of the earth, and had no biological ancestors?”

    I will give a qualified “No”.
    I do NOT so affirm based SOLELY on the strength of Genesis.
    First, I believe Genesis, and the rest of Scripture, to be the word of God for one reason only: The Catholic Church said it is. Further, the Catholic Church says it’s OK to read Genesis the way I do. Also, for most of the last several thousand years, my way is the way virtually all in the Church read it.
    Lastly, I find evolution “science” to be unconvincing, to put it VERY mildly, and the consensus view of the age of the universe to be suspect, and certainly not infallible. And yes, I believe God can do some mind-blowing things – like making something out of nothing, or walking on water, or making a man from dirt.
    (So, I guess you could look at my above answer as a qualified “Yes”, as well.)

    …………..
    “Do you affirm, on the strength of the same story, that the first woman was taken directly out of the side of man, and had no biological ancestors?”

    See above.
    …………………
    “Do you affirm, on the strength of the same story, that there existed, at the time of the first man and woman, a concrete, physical, no-nonsense tree (with bark, branches, etc.) which produced a concrete, physical fruit (with exactly the same degree of reality as the fruit I buy at the grocery store), a fruit which, if eaten, would allow a human being to live forever? And that there existed another tree in the same location which ….”

    See above, but with one proviso. The Catechism says Genesis 3 (i.e. not Genesis 1 or 2) contains “figurative” language. So, perhaps a real tree and snake, or perhaps not. However, I DO know that God performs divine action through physical means (e.g. 2 Kings 5 1-14; the Catholic Church’s sacraments). Could a real tree be the conduit of corruption? Stranger things have happened. Just consider the Eucharist.

    “Are these things that you believe about the past of this planet, and that you claim that Genesis insists upon?”

    I wouldn’t say Genesis, or the Church, INSISTS my interpretation is valid. I WOULD say, however, that one would have to twist himself into hermeneutical knots to say my interpretation is NOT valid.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Cath Olic:

      I see that my new question crossed paths with your answer to my earlier question.

      As for your opening question, I don’t know, by direct inspection of the mind of the author, what he was interested in. I infer it, from the character of the text itself, which suggests to me a piece of writing not intended as “history” as we use the term. My inference could be wrong, but it’s based on years of training and years of study of Genesis in the original language, of the Bible generally, and of ancient religious and literary texts generally. So it’s no mere arbitrary guess on my part.

      As for the rest, let me take all you have said into account and reword my question. Let’s forget for the moment about what the Catholic church *permits* regarding the interpretation of Genesis 2-3. Let’s focus entirely on what you believe. Do you believe that there was in fact a tree of knowledge (an actual tree with actual fruit), a tree of life, and a conversation with a serpent? And if you do believe this, would you give me a rough date (give or take 1,000 years) *when* you think these things existed or happened?

      I know now that you will not claim that your views are official Catholic teaching, but at this point I’m only interested in knowing your views, not in assessing how they compare with official Catholic teaching.

      • Cath Olic says:

        Edward,

        “As for your opening question, I don’t know, by direct inspection of the mind of the author, what he was interested in. I infer it, from the … My inference could be wrong…”

        I agree. Your inference could be wrong.
        ………………….
        “Let’s forget for the moment about what the Catholic church *permits* regarding the interpretation of Genesis 2-3. Let’s focus entirely on what you believe.”

        First, that would be impossible, I think.
        My thinking and my beliefs are what lead me to the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church has in turn influenced my thinking and beliefs.

        Second, why did you omit Genesis 1?
        ………
        Regarding my belief in an actual tree of knowledge and when it existed, I’ll try to answer by addressing some views of mine about belief, about “knowing”, and about degrees of such.

        I have a high belief in that tree of knowledge and it existing about 6,000 years ago, but I have a LESS-high “knowing” that those things are in fact true. You might say I “infer” these things – based on my understanding of Scripture and its miracles, the teaching of the Church, and my jaundiced view of evolution “science”.

        On the other hand, I have a high belief that the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, AND I have a just-as-HIGH “knowing” that this is true.
        Regarding the Eucharist, these levels are about as high as with my believing in and knowing my own existence. Regarding the tree and the years, not as high.

        • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

          Cath Olic:

          Thank you for your answers. Distilling them down to the essence — which is all I was concerned with — you believe that the Garden story is essentially historical and that the first man and woman were created about 6,000 years ago. Fine. That’s clear.

          So you are one of those rare contemporary Catholics who holds conclusions about Genesis similar to those held by Protestant fundamentalists. That is of course your right. And of course the Roman Church has not *forbidden* such a reading of Genesis — even if virtually all of its intellectual leaders, including most of those officially appointed to the teaching magisterium, do not appear to hold such a reading of Genesis themselves. But in doing so, you go “against the flow” of the intellectual culture of your own church; in a Protestant fundamentalist church your reading of Genesis would not be “against the flow,” but would fit right in. Well, it’s your choice whom you associate with.

          • Cath Olic says:

            “… virtually all of [the Church’s] intellectual leaders, including most of those officially appointed to the teaching magisterium, do not appear to hold such a reading of Genesis themselves. But in doing so, you go “against the flow” of the intellectual culture of your own church…”

            Nothing necessarily wrong with going against the “intellectual culture” of the Church.
            For example, as I recall, the “intellectual culture” of the Church, including that of many theologians and bishops, was very much against Humanae Vitae in 1968. And many still are. Too bad for them. That encyclical’s upholding and explicating the teaching of the inherent evil of contraception is infallible Church doctrine.

            • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

              Cath Olic:

              You mean: it is infallible Church doctrine until some future Pope rules otherwise!

              There is of course nothing necessarily wrong with being in an intellectual minority. However, for such a position to be *principled* (and not just the position of someone who merely relishes the role of unpopular contrarian), the person holding it must show that he or she has made a *serious effort* to communicate with those who hold the opposite position. In your case, that would mean a serious effort of dialogue with Catholic bishops, theologians, professors, etc. who disagree with you. But so far I have not seen you engaging with *other Catholics* about what Catholicism teaches, but only with *non-Catholics*. Which Catholic bishops, theologians, professors, etc. have you written to in your protest that Catholic theology is going to the dogs? And how have they responded to your charges?

              It won’t do you (or Catholicism) a bit of good for you to engage with people like Jon and myself on what “true” Catholic teaching is, since it is the Catholic Church — not our churches — that you are trying to reform. Can you direct us to some Catholic websites where you comment on Catholic issues, and tell us your “handle” for those sites, so that we can see how you argue with your fellow Catholics, and how they respond?

              • Cath Olic says:

                Edward,

                “You mean: it is infallible Church doctrine until some future Pope rules otherwise!”

                Or until a circle is a square.
                ……………..
                “There is of course nothing necessarily wrong with being in an intellectual minority. However, for such a position to be *principled* (and not just the position of someone who merely relishes the role of unpopular contrarian), the person holding it must show that he or she has made a *serious effort* to communicate with those who hold the opposite position. In your case, that would mean a serious effort of dialogue with Catholic bishops, theologians, professors, etc. who disagree with you.”

                No, my positions are certainly *principled*, and they are acceptable in the Church. (And they even would have been in synch with most of the “intellectual culture” for the first 19 or so centuries of the Catholic Church.)
                I think instead of “principled” you might better have said something like “publicized” or “promulgated”. My positions have not been much “publicized” or “promulgated” to Catholic bishops, theologians, professors in these modern times. But my positions are principled.

                I have engaged with other Catholics on these matters and with at least two priests. And I encourage and financially support at least one Catholic organization, The Kolbe Center, which travels the world giving seminars and presentations to Catholic clergy and laity on the importance and historical truth of Genesis.
                …………..
                “It won’t do you (or Catholicism) a bit of good for you to engage with people like Jon and myself on what “true” Catholic teaching is, since it is the Catholic Church — not our churches — that you are trying to reform.”

                I think someone else has said, with much truth, that the Church is *always* in need of reform. (That applies especially, I think, to its members and to its manners and methods.)
                And the Church is certainly in favor of its members evangelizing non-Catholics. So here I am.

        • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

          Cath Olic:

          I omitted Genesis 1 because the literary character of Genesis 1 is quite different from that of Genesis 2-3, and so the interpretive discussion would have to proceed differently. But if you like, I can ask you a question about Genesis 1:

          Do you believe that the world was created over a period of six 24-hour days? And if so, given your belief (stated on this page) that the first man was created about 6,000 years ago, does it follow that you believe that the world is about 6,000 years old?

        • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

          Cath Olic:

          The phrase “a high belief” is one that I have not yet seen in the English language. Does it mean “a high degree of confidence” in the truth of the particular belief in question?

          Now, regarding the three things that lead you to infer a historical tree of knowledge, etc.:

          1. Your understanding of Scripture and its miracles;
          2. The teaching of the Roman Church;
          3. Your jaundiced view of evolutionary theory —

          let’s take them in reverse order.

          3. I don’t see defects in evolutionary theory bear one way or the other on how Genesis 2-3 is to be interpreted. Evolutionary theory could be utterly false, without necessitating a historical interpretation of Genesis 2-3.

          2. You’ve already conceded that the Roman Church has not issued any clear statement on the date of the creation of man or the historicity of the details (as opposed to the general purport) of the Garden story.

          1. So that leaves, as the basis of your inference, “my understanding of Scripture and its miracles.”

          In other words, your inference that the Garden, serpent, trees, etc. all existed as described in the story is your private interpretation of Scripture, not the teaching of the Roman Church. I would agree with that characterization of your position.

  6. Cath Olic says:

    To Edward’s 29/10/2015 at 08:42 am,

    “If the Catechism were changed tomorrow, and contained statements which you found to be not only theologically repugnant, but also in direct conflict with previous authoritative statements of Catholic doctrine, would you still maintain that the Catechism was a valid source for Catholic doctrine?”

    I would probably react the way I would if Jesus Christ returned and said murder, rape, thievery, idol worship, etc. were now OK. I would wrestle with God and lose. But I don’t foresee such a scenario, nor the one you pose.
    …………..
    “Do you maintain that all of the encyclicals ever issued by the Roman Church are in complete harmony with each other?”

    I haven’t read all the encyclicals but I would maintain that, in so far as doctrinal statements which must be accepted by the faithful, they are in harmony, or at least not in conflict. But not all of every encyclical is necessarily doctrinal statements (e.g. Laudato Si paragraph 55).
    ………………..
    “Are there, in your opinion, any sources of reliable Catholic doctrine other than the Catechism and the encyclicals?”

    I suppose final conciliar documents.
    ……………..
    “Finally, I don’t want your help to determine what is or is not Catholic doctrine. I’m trying only to determine the complete list of sources which *you* regard as reliable statements of Catholic doctrine.”

    I don’t have a comprehensive list, but I’ve already told you that it would include the Catechism, encyclicals, conciliar documents.
    ………………
    “If I want to know what is or is not Catholic doctrine, I will consult people licensed by Rome as teachers — which, I believe, does not apply to you.”

    Perhaps you would consult Krzystof Charamsa, who wiki says is “a Polish priest and theologian and was assistant secretary of the International Theological Commission of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”.
    I don’t think I would, though.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Cath Olic:

      Regarding your last paragraph, I have no idea why you are referring me to this particular person, out of all the thousands of licensed Catholic teachers, and then more or less telling me that this person is not worth consulting. Is there some little intra-Catholic joke, or intra-Catholic doctrinal battle, that I’m not familiar with?

      • Cath Olic says:

        It was *you* who said that if you wanted to know what is or is not Catholic doctrine, you would consult people licensed by Rome as teachers.
        Why would you object to consulting Krzystof Charamsa?
        He seems to fit your criteria of “people licensed by Rome as teachers.”
        In fact, he works or worked in the Vatican, as a theologian and assistant secretary of the International Theological Commission of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

        No, this is no little intra-Catholic joke, or intra-Catholic doctrinal battle. Maybe you just have insufficient criteria for deciding on valid sources of Catholic doctrine. Or maybe you just haven’t read the recent news stories I have.

        • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

          Cath Olic:

          Stop the gamesmanship, stop the verbal fencing, and just give me a straight answer. Why did you pick that specific individual?

          • Cath Olic says:

            Why won’t YOU give me a straight answer on “Rome-licensed” teacher Krzystof Charamsa?

            How about consulting Fr. Richard McBrien, the Crowley-O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame? He certainly should meet your criteria as well.

            • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

              You’re still playing games. Why did you pick that particular Polish individual — and then by implication undercut his authority? The natural way of taking your words is that you admitted that he was formally appointed as a teacher but that you thought he taught heretical doctrine and therefore should not be consulted. If that’s what you meant, *say it out loud*. And if that’s not what you meant, explain why you appeared to “recommend” him and then immediately appeared to warn me away from him. I’m tired of the nudges and winks. If you won’t be direct, let’s break off conversation.

              • Cath Olic says:

                “You’re still playing games. Why did you pick that particular Polish individual — and then by implication undercut his authority?”

                I don’t know what you’re talking about. I can assure you I have nothing against Polish people. One of our great popes, John Paul II, was Polish. In fact, he’s been canonized as saint.

                As to the rest of your post, you have it about right. But no need to “*say it out loud*”. You already admitted that your method for sourcing Catholic doctrine is to consult Rome-licensed teachers. My admitted method is to first consult the Catechism. Obviously, or at least theoretically, two different methods can produce two different results. And I think you would see that if you consulted, for example, “licensed teachers” Fr. Krzystof Charamsa or Fr. Richard McBrien.

  7. Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

    Cath Olic:

    “And the Church is certainly in favor of its members evangelizing non-Catholics. So here I am.”

    But your method of evangelizing, if that is what you are doing here, is (to me, anyway) so repugnant that it is more likely to turn people off of Catholicism than attract them. Indeed, I had *high* respect for the Roman Church before “meeting” you on the internet; since that meeting, I have been reminded of all the things I *don’t* like about Rome. Etienne Gilson, Christopher Dawson, Simone Weil and others had me with my bathing suit on, ready to dive into the Tiber, but now I am finding the air chilly and am putting my outer clothes back on.

    Indeed, your approach seems to combine the worst of both Protestant and Catholic religion. The Catholic religion has many true things in it, but has always had a tendency to ecclesiolatry, to idolization of the Pope, of Rome, and of the Church *qua* institution. The Protestant religion has many true things in it, but has always had a tendency to bibliolatry, to the idolization of the Bible *qua* book, to the desperate defense of naked words of the Bible understood mechanically. Your religion appears to combine the highest degrees of both bibliolatry and ecclesiolatry, and thus is bound to be repulsive to both traditional Catholics and traditional Protestants alike. Catholics will revolt against your Biblical fundamentalism, and Protestants against your slavish obsequiousness to “Mother Church.”

    In addition to the above problem, your writing shows the tendency to cavil, plus a tendency to answer sincerely-asked questions circuitously, ambiguously, or not at all. These habits do not engender either intellectual or personal trust in the people who read your words.

    For all of the above reasons, and more, I would suggest to you that missionary work is not your strong point. Neither is theology or Biblical studies, but missionary work is definitely the field for which you show the least aptitude.

    Finally, I note that you did not answer my request for a web site where we can see you in action against Catholics who hold views of Catholicism different from yours. Does this silence mean (a) that you never debate on web sites with Catholics who differ from you, or (b) that you do engage in such activity, but are unwilling to provide us with directions to the venues and to your posts in particular?

    • Cath Olic says:

      These figures who you say had you into your bathing suit, “ready to dive into the Tiber” (it’s usually “*crossing* the Tiber”) – Etienne Gilson, Christopher Dawson, Simone Weil – what was their position on certain Catholic morality basics like contraception, abortion, homosexual activity, divorce?

      • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

        I thought the “basics” of Catholic morality were the same as those of Christ: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.”

        The things you name just happen to be controversies of a few decades that they’ve had to address – like evolution, really.

        • Cath Olic says:

          “I thought the “basics” of Catholic morality were the same as those of Christ: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.”

          Yes, but the Bible is more than one verse, isn’t it?
          And so is His Church.
          You got to put flesh on them bones.

          The things I named are not recent controversies that the Church has had to address. They were settled long ago. What the Church has addressed, and has always addressed, is rebellion against such settled doctrine.

          But maybe Edward will respond, as well.

          • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

            Jon’s point is that “all the law and the prophets” are summarized in the terse statement of Jesus; *applications* follow from working out the general principle in specific cases. So in a sense, more than that one verse of the Bible is *not* needed — to establish the *heart* or *core* of Catholic morality. (Though of course many other Biblical verses can be found which support the statement of Jesus — there’s nothing wrong with repetition of a sound teaching.)

            Just as a point of fact, I would like to know the year in which the Catholic position on abortion was settled by authoritative decree. Not the earliest year in which some Catholics argued against abortion, but first year in which it became official teaching of the Church that abortion was wrong. It would help me to answer your earlier question.

            As for your “correction” about “crossing the Tiber”, can’t you rise above such dialogical habits? It is such combativeness as that which I had in mind when I protested against the defects of your approach to evangelism. Petty corrections won’t endear you to the people you are trying to win over. In any case, I’m perfectly aware of what the standard metaphor (crossing the Tiber) is, and I was *deliberately* (not in error) varying it, for a certain effect. But I guess, given your ultra-conservative position, you don’t like variations of any kind, but would prefer even popular expressions to remain eternally the same. Perhaps you would like the world to be returned to the days when the Emperor Henry was humiliated by the Pope at Canossa, and freeze history at that point forever? Were those “the good old days” in your mind?

            • Cath Olic says:

              “Just as a point of fact, I would like to know the year in which the Catholic position on abortion was settled by authoritative decree. Not the earliest year in which some Catholics argued against abortion, but first year in which it became official teaching of the Church that abortion was wrong. It would help me to answer your earlier question.”

              I don’t know, but as I said, it was “long ago.” I think a lot longer ago than, say, 1950, when the Church settled by authoritative decree the Assumption of Mary.

              “In any case, I’m perfectly aware of what the standard metaphor (crossing the Tiber) is, and I was *deliberately* (not in error) varying it, for a certain effect.”

              And I was perfectly aware, or at least pretty confident, that you were.
              The “certain effect” I got was that of a person diffidently dipping his toes testing the waters, as opposed to one confidently committed to crossing them.

              • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

                I said “ready to *dive into* the Tiber” — the very image of commitment, the very *opposite* of the hesitancy of the toe-dippers. I hope you are better at capturing the detail and nuance of the Bible and of Catholic texts than of *my* texts.

                I have no idea what your point was in naming a Polish guy I’ve never heard of. In any case, the issue is always “Who is qualified to judge what is true Catholic teaching?” On simple matters, there is no problem; any properly trained lay Catholic can learn the core affirmations. But on more complicated theological matters, the simple lay person is not equipped. Only trained people are so equipped.

                Presumably the Vatican, when it licenses people to teach, ensures beforehand that they know what they’re talking about. The question is how a lay person such as yourself is in a position to judge the correctness or incorrectness of a trained theologian *on complex theological matters*. Unless you have a license to teach yourself, you are not a peer of such people, and therefore, from a Catholic point of view, you are not qualified to adjudicate their teachings.

                So you are in a very odd position: you insist on the superiority of the Catholic to the Protestant way of doing things; yet when it comes to making theological judgments of a very difficult kind, you speak not like a Catholic but like a Protestant. You regard yourself as free to form you own interpretation of Church teaching and even to reject the interpretation of licensed teachers. You in such cases substitute *your* interpretation of “what the Church teaches” for a licensed teacher’s interpretation of “what the Church teaches.” Not exactly “priesthood of all believers,” perhaps, but certainly “theological authority of all believers.” That attitude is alien to Catholic tradition, but quite at home in many American sectarian settings. The irony!

              • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

                The reason I asked about the date of the teaching on abortion is that one of the people I mentioned died during WW II, and so might not have had a chance to comment on the ruling if it came down afterward. In any case, I don’t know what each of those people thought about every individual ethical issue; I would have to read every work they ever wrote that touched on religious questions, and I don’t have time to do that. What I meant was only that their writings make Catholicism in general seem like an attractive enough religious position, and there are other things which have attracted me as well. However, a Catholic fundamentalism which combines an extreme version of Papal authoritarianism with Biblical literalism of the American kind is very unappetizing. If all I had to go on, as a model of the Catholic position, was what you have presented, I would reject Catholicism with great firmness. Further, I can’t imagine why anyone would be attracted to such a religion. But to each his own.

  8. Cath Olic says:

    To Edward’s 30/10/2015 at 09:05 pm,

    “I said “ready to *dive into* the Tiber” — the very image of commitment, the very *opposite* of the hesitancy of the toe-dippers. I hope you are better at capturing the detail and nuance of the Bible and of Catholic texts than of *my* texts.”

    Please, let’s not cavil over degrees of non-commitment. Regardless of whether you dipped or dove, the point is you didn’t cross. The Tiber’s not the main issue; it’s what’s on the other side of it.
    ……………..
    “I have no idea what your point was in naming a Polish guy I’ve never heard of. In any case, the issue is always “Who is qualified to judge what is true Catholic teaching?” On simple matters, there is no problem; any properly trained lay Catholic can learn the core affirmations. But on more complicated theological matters, the simple lay person is not equipped. Only trained people are so equipped.”

    And to your question – “Who is qualified to judge what is true Catholic teaching?” – your answer was: “people licensed by Rome as teachers.” Well, the Polish guy you never heard of seems to fit your criteria very well. Don’t you see any possible problems with your criteria?
    …………..
    “The question is how a lay person such as yourself is in a position to judge the correctness or incorrectness of a trained theologian *on complex theological matters*. Unless you have a license to teach yourself, you are not a peer of such people, and therefore, from a Catholic point of view, you are not qualified to adjudicate their teachings.”

    Not true. For example, if one of these trained theologians were to teach that homosexual activity is NOT disordered and NOT sinful, I could correctly “adjudicate” his teaching is false. Because I can read a Catechism.
    But maybe the issue of homosexual activity is not a “complex theological matter” in your eyes, and so would be an inappropriate example. What might be a top complex theological matter for you in this context? Maybe I can help.
    ……….
    “So you are in a very odd position: you insist on the superiority of the Catholic to the Protestant way of doing things; yet when it comes to making theological judgments of a very difficult kind, you speak not like a Catholic but like a Protestant.”

    And you speak like one espousing the superiority of academics, elevating them to an unquestionable, ivory tower “high priesthood.”
    ……………
    “You in such cases substitute *your* interpretation of “what the Church teaches” for a licensed teacher’s interpretation of “what the Church teaches.”

    I abide by all Church teachings. None of my “interpretations” are in conflict with or forbidden by the Church.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      1. I see you aren’t going to admit that you were wrong to translate “dive into” as “dip one’s toe into”, so I will simply let that drop.

      2. On the more important topic, if what you are complaining about is Catholic teachers who teach liberal doctrines that are not in accord with Church teaching, I’m sympathetic with your position. It strikes me that plenty of American Catholic Bishops, for example, are more liberal than the Bishops in some other parts of the world. You won’t get any argument from me. But that is not what I’m driving at.

      You are constantly stressing that the Catholic Church is one run by authority, not one run by the private theological judgment of individuals, where everybody gets to be his own Pope. You are constantly praising the Catholic Church for having a strong central authority structure. Well, if there is such a strong authority structure, and *if* you are right that licensed Catholic teachers are teaching non-Catholic doctrine, why are their superiors not disciplining them? And if the superiors, too, are liberals, then why is the Pope not disciplining the whole lot of them? And if the Pope himself is a liberal, if the rot starts at the top, then what becomes of the great virtue you attribute to the Roman Church regarding central authority?

      There are Protestant fundamentalist Churches in the USA which teach views on abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, etc. very close to those of Rome, and who would *fire* their teachers for dissenting on those views. So is it possible that you are in the wrong Church — a Church which cannot or will not enforce its own moral theology — and that you would find a Church more amenable to your extreme moral conservatism within the Protestant fold?

      Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not trying to convert you to Protestant fundamentalism. I’m pointing out the difficult position your various claims put you in. You seem to be saying that the Roman Church’s salvation is its authority structure, which prevents it from falling into liberalism and anarchy like those Protestants; yet you seem also to be constantly complaining that the authority structure is not working. Yet as you can see, Protestants in the USA are constantly firing seminary professors and so on who teach liberal doctrines in conflict with the confessional standards of the seminary or college. They seem to do a better job of combating liberalism than the Roman authority structure does. What do you make of that?

      3. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that after a long intra-Catholic debate, the Catechism were changed on just *one* point of moral theology. Pick any point you like: abortion is sometimes permissible, euthanasia is sometimes permissible, same-sex relationships are no longer regarded as disordered — whatever you like. *If* that happened, would you then say (a) That the new Catechism contains a teaching which is not in accord with Catholic faith, and that you and other Catholics have the duty to reject that part of the Catechism; or (b) That the Catechism would not have been changed unless the Holy Spirit had moved the Church (including the Pope) to change it, and so, even though you personally are still revolted by the new entry in the catechism, you will submit to it without reservation?

      4. Finally, are you going to answer my previous question, or not? I mean the question: “Do you participate on specifically Catholic websites in which you engage Catholics of views opposed to yours in debate, and if so will you tell us where we can find those websites and your comments?” I don’t find this question unreasonable, but if you do not intend to answer it, then please say “I don’t intend to answer that question,” and I’ll stop asking it.

  9. Cath Olic says:

    To Edward’s 30/10/2015 at 10:16 pm,

    “What I meant was only that their writings make Catholicism in general seem like an attractive enough religious position, and there are other things which have attracted me as well. However…If all I had to go on, as a model of the Catholic position, was what you have presented, I would reject Catholicism with great firmness.”

    But certainly I couldn’t be the reason for your not coming into the Catholic Church. I’m literally only one person among a billion or so Catholics. And apparently, in your eyes, I’m also figuratively a *one-in-a-billion* (i.e. a repugnant, fundamentalist Protestant-like loose cannon “Catholic”.) As they say, just because there’s a bad apple in every bunch doesn’t mean you throw out the bunch.
    Certainly, you have other reasons besides me for staying outside.
    But to each his own.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Cath Olic, you have an amazing ability to divert discussions from their original context. The original context here was your claim that you were commenting extensively on websites where there were few or no Catholics for the purpose of evangelizing. My response was that your style of evangelizing is not conducive to winning many converts. And to be precise about what I said, it was: “*If all I had to go on*, as a model of the Catholic position, *was what you have presented*, I would reject Catholicism with great firmness.” But of course I have other things to go on, which is why I remain impressed by Catholicism *despite* your example. My point was not to justify myself for not converting to Catholicism, but to try to give you a picture of how you probably appear to most of the thoughtful non-Catholics of the world who are thinking about maybe becoming Catholics.

  10. Cath Olic says:

    To Edward’s 31/10/2015 at 07:28 am,

    “You are constantly stressing that the Catholic Church is one run by authority, not one run by the private theological judgment of individuals, where everybody gets to be his own Pope. You are constantly praising the Catholic Church for having a strong central authority structure.”

    Not really. There’s nothing at all special about being “run by authority” or having a “central authority structure.” Virtually every organization – from a nuclear family to a private corporation to a protestant church – has these things. Yes, I knowingly included protestant church. (If you think I’m wrong, just watch what happens when one or more of the congregants exercise their private theological judgment to the consternation of the pastor. Pretty quickly the central authority structure, in at least the form of that pastor, tells them to go elsewhere. Then you have two churches. And eventually you have today over 30,000 theologically differing denominations and independent congregations.

    No, the authority I’m constantly stressing is the *authority from Jesus Christ* – the authority He gave of and for teaching which divinely guarantees the truth of the teaching. This authority resides in the church He established. It was HIS idea and will. It can be seen throughout the New Testament. And it only makes sense.

    “Well, if there is such a strong authority structure, and *if* you are right that licensed Catholic teachers are teaching non-Catholic doctrine, why are their superiors not disciplining them? And if the superiors, too, are liberals, then why is the Pope not disciplining the whole lot of them?”

    Your questions relate to the more common aspect of authority which my first paragraph above addressed. I think the Church should exercise its disciplinary authority far more often and widely, including excommunication. The recent firing of Krzysztof Charamsa was a welcome but unfortunately rare exception to the lax status quo. This laxity is reflective of the fact that the Church does not guarantee impeccability, but rather infallibility.

    “And if the Pope himself is a liberal, if the rot starts at the top, then what becomes of the great virtue you attribute to the Roman Church regarding central authority?”

    The current Pope could end up in hell, for all I know. God only knows. Pope Francis asks us repeatedly to pray for him, and I do. I wouldn’t be surprised if many priests, bishops and cardinals don’t make it to heaven.

    “There are Protestant fundamentalist Churches in the USA which teach views on abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, etc. very close to those of Rome, and who would *fire* their teachers for dissenting on those views. So is it possible that you are in the wrong Church — a Church which cannot or will not enforce its own moral theology — and that you would find a Church more amenable to your extreme moral conservatism within the Protestant fold?”

    For any and all practical purposes, no, it is not possible.

    “You seem to be saying that the Roman Church’s salvation is its authority structure, which prevents it from falling into liberalism and anarchy like those Protestants; yet you seem also to be constantly complaining that the authority structure is not working.”

    Then I’m not being sufficiently clear in your eyes. The Roman Church’s “salvation” is NOT its authority structure, per se, but rather the divinely-authoritative truth of its teaching and sacraments. The fullness of this truth and these sacraments subsist only in the Catholic Church (cf. Lumen Gentium paragraph 8). (But as I’ve said before, that doesn’t mean all Catholics will go to heaven.)
    ……………………
    “Suppose, for the sake of argument, that after a long intra-Catholic debate, the Catechism were changed on just *one* point of moral theology. Pick any point you like: abortion is sometimes permissible, euthanasia is sometimes …”

    Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Jesus Christ did not found a church and give Peter the keys to the kingdom, and the Holy Spirit is a deceiver, and Paul likewise mislead us by saying the church is the pillar and protector of the truth…
    ……………….
    “Finally, are you going to answer my previous question, or not?”

    Not.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Cath Olic:

      You finally explain — even now only obliquely — why you brought up the particular Polish Catholic teacher that you did. I now gather that he was fired, presumably for un-Catholic teaching. You could have told me that at the very beginning, when you first mentioned him, instead of nudging and winking. You could have told me afterward, when I asked you why you mentioned him in particular. But you kept me on the string. You are not a good-faith conversation partner.

      This is a good time to cease this current conversation. Aside from the fact that it is going nowhere, tonight is the Eve of All Saints Day — and as a good Anglican, I of course celebrate it in the appropriate manner.

      • Cath Olic says:

        I spend about 400 words responding to about six different points of yours, and all you focus on is one 18-word sentence – a throw-away line really, unnecessary to the point of the paragraph. (I guess I was trying to help you out with Charamsa, as you apparently don’t know how to Google.)

        You might be right in saying this “is going nowhere.”

        Boo!

        • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

          Cath Olic:

          You weren’t trying to help me out with Charamsa at all. If you were trying to help me out you would have explained what he taught, and why you objected to it, when you first introduced his name. (And, for future reference, I have no intention of “Googling” in order to figure out what you are hinting at. I’m not your student, and I won’t be sent off with an internet homework assignment in order to figure out what your oblique comments mean.)

  11. Cath Olic says:

    To Edward’s 31/10/2015 at 06:43 am,

    “Cath Olic, you have an amazing ability to divert discussions from their original context. The original context here was your claim that you were commenting extensively on websites where there were few or no Catholics for the purpose of evangelizing.”

    I apologize if I claimed that. Where did I claim that?

  12. Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

    Above, you wrote:

    “And the Church is certainly in favor of its members evangelizing non-Catholics. So here I am.”

    “Here” is Hump of the Camel — a website where there are few or no Catholics. You have also commented at BioLogos — where few Catholics either write columns or comment.

  13. Timothy Hicks says:

    Cath Olic

    There’s nothing wrong or out of the ordinary in believing in a literal 6 day creation. It is not a core teaching, in the sense that Christianity rises or falls on the interpretation of this.

    However, I would like to offer some points here.

    What do you think the phrase “evening and morning” means? It appears on each of the six days of creation, yet the first three were without a sun or moon. In Genesis 1:14 it says, “Let them (the great lights) be for days and for years and for signs and seasons” — the problem though is that there were already three days prior to this … In what way were they being measured? The definition of a day is not 24 hours, but rather “It is the time it takes for the sun to go in a full circuit around the earth” … And the since the first three days did not have a sun or a moon, then they must be understood in a different way, because it goes against the actual definition of the word “day”. On the first “day” God said let there be light and there was light. Next he separated the light from the darkness. But on Day 4 God created the “great lights” TO separate the light from the darkness. What would be the purpose of God separating the light twice, especially since it was already separated before hand? This would imply that God made a mistake and had to correct himself. What was the earth doing for three days in space? Did the earth get jostled by the gravitational pull when the sun came along?

    Why does the seventh day included no “evening and morning”? If we are to understand these days in the scientific sense then we have to come to the uncomfortable conclusion that the phrase “evening and morning” adds no clarity of meaning to the text, because that would mean the first three instances figurative, the last three instances literal, and the seventh day a conundrum … Because it had a sun and moon at that point, but not evening and morning.

    -Tim

Leave a Reply