No News is New

A Catholic view on old heresies in the news

Month: December, 2013

The power of words, misused.

It is very common in the news to spin stories through the manipulation of language to sell papers.  The above story is a great example to look at that spin.  In the story a man and a woman had sex without being married.  As both were supposed to follow Catholic teaching to keep their jobs at a Catholic school, both were fired.

The story is written as a David verses Goliath story.  Evil Goliath Church arbitrarily enforcing their arbitrary morality on an innocent David couple, who simply love each other.  As it is written, “the firings ‘come off as incredibly hard and callous’ in juxtaposition with a couple in love”.

Looking past the formulaic writing, let’s look at what the Church teaches about love to see how this couple of haters shouldn’t be exposing school kids to their hate; and how they are not a couple which shows love to each other.

Love is so much more than “Baby Don’t Hurt Me.”

It is hateful to lie to someone, yet in having sex without marriage that is exactly what this couple was doing.  In their actions they were expressing, “I give myself wholly to you”, yet in their words they did not make this commitment by marriage, so either their mind or heart was holding something back.  This is not love, as love is a gift of self.  The fact this couple mistook this lieing for love shows how poorly they were living up to their contractual commitment to teach the faith to children.  If they were telling people they loved each other, but then lied to each other, then they are quite terrible roll models.

In our society love is becoming confused with what is meant to sustain it, like a plant being confused with the warm light meant to keep it alive.  Feelings and sexual gratification are meant to sustain the commitment and self-sacrifice that is love.  When we chase after the feelings and gratification we end up with neither, but when we seek out service of our spouse we receive those feelings to support that loving gift of self.  Call it the Benjamin Franklin effect in action — go Science!


When the couple in the story mistook sexual gratification for love, they became haters.  They selfishly went after the action that gave themselves pleasure without the commitment which that sexual pleasure is an expression of.  One might posit the cruelty they must have in exposing children to such selfish actions; if one thought they had any awareness that what they were doing was wrong.  In our world the word “love” is so misunderstood that one cannot help but feel pity instead of hostility.  Love reduced to a feeling is but an empty shell of it’s true power, and it is sad that this shrivelled and lonely “love” is all they are seeking.  To attain self-mastery through the self-sacrifice of service to another is so much more liberating than the crushing slavery that is the pursuit of pleasure.


This article is in part why the Pope recently spoke out so strongly against capitalism.  In it, the author states: “At fifteen or sixteen, you likely possess no valuable skills, no worthwhile experience, and limited social awareness. You are worth less than others. And so you should be paid less”(empasis in original).

There are many philosophies that value people at different rates.  Even in America, slaves were only 3/5th a person for quite some time.  The idea was that “[slaves were] worth less than others.  And so [slaves] should be paid less.”  This stands in direct contrast with Catholic social teaching on work.


To begin with, work exists for us, not us for work.  In laboring at work, we partake in the creative act of God.  He made the world, and we mould it to how we would like it.  Good work well done is therefore gratifying.  Most people can attest to this with their hobbies.

Now, not all work is worth doing.  We use pay to make this jobs worthwhile.  What then is a job that is worth someone’s life?  It is a job that provides for that life.  If one spends all day at a job, that job should provide sufficient pay for that days life in both survival and enjoyment.  As it is, minimum wage provides enough to sustain life, but not enough to thrive.  All people deserve the opportunity to thrive and enjoy life, and so pay should provide for a person and their “family on the material, social, cultural, and spiritual level” (CCC 2434).

As St. John Chrysostom said,

“Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life.  The goods we posses are not ours, but theirs”

and as St. Gregory the Great said,

“When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours.  More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.”

We can therefore see extreme wealth inequality as an injustice which should be righted by law.  Some might say the injustice isn’t that bad in America, so let’s look at it.

Change in income, the bottom 90% verses tiers in the top 10%

Change in income, the bottom 90% verses tiers in the top 10%

Almost all the gains from labor in America went to the top .01%.  The bottom 90% of workers lost 10% of their income.

But if videos are more your thing, look at this:

Clearly money is not well distributed in America.  This is not because the poor are “worth less”, they are people and all people are equally precious.  Capitalism fails to give value to people based upon who they are as children of God, and instead gives value to people based upon what they can do.

In this system, smarter people, prettier people, cleverer people, are all worth more than average people.  In this way, it is no less unjust than an aristocracy.  As a democracy, we should contact our legislators and petition them to enact more just laws regarding wealth.  Laws that fairly provide for the needs of those who work but are still excluded from society from poverty.  To allow the situation to remain as it is would be to allow the rich to continue to steal from the poor.

Something wicked this way comes.

I’ve been thinking for some time about how to tackle the above video.  It shows a case of violence done by some pro-choicers against some pro-lifer’s passively praying with arms linked to protect the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

From her Rhythm serries, where people were allowed to do whatever they wanted to her.

From Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm performance: people were allowed to do whatever they wanted to her well she remained stationary.

A part of me wanted to tie it into Marina Abramovic‘s performance art, and how much violence will be shown to those who are passive.  Part of me wanted to talk about how there were more martyrs for the faith in the 20th Century than in all the previous ones combined.  But then a most wonderful thing happened: someone read my post on Celibacy!  So readers, please go read his piece.

The connection between that piece and the above video is at first obscure.  However, at their core, both deal with emotion.  The excessively capitalized “Bollocks”, the refusal to accept the science that priests are less likely to offend, and so forth point to how heavily the head is influencing the heart.  It culminates in the unsubstantiated claim that if a strait man doesn’t have sex often enough, he’ll abuse a little boy (so married women, don’t go on vacation; or when you get back you’ll find your husband has turned into a pedophile!).  All these mesh seamlessly with the chanting and assaulting mob from the video.  Their hearts are on fire for a cause, and they will stop at neither decency or reasonability to reach their end.

An example of the crazy things people do to express their hearts.

An example of the crazy things people do to express their hearts.

I tend to write from the head, and this commenter on me wrote from the heart.  These two ways, head and heart, have been at war for a long time.  In doing research for my recent multi-part piece, I found that after the Scholastics came on the scene to dive to incredible intellectual depths, the first humanists became their counterpart and plumbed the heart.  The Franciscans appear to have played a large part in this, but other groups like the Beguines and Beghards also contributed to the movement.

At root, the idea of this early humanism is that you don’t win someone’s heart by engaging in logic with their head.  It’s why I blog to help myself understand issues and not to convert souls.  Conversion won’t happen from reading me, but from my shedding my life to help those in need; which is an appeal to someone’s heart rather than head.

Here is a great article from the superb blog You Are Not So Smart, which touches on why heads are so hard to change, and why logical arguments are so easy to dismiss.  Here is another.  I’ve even read that our brains literally shut blood flow to our reasoning center when we read something that doesn’t agree with our preconceived notions (sadly, I cannot find the source).

From all that, I think both the critique of my post as well as the video do an excellent job at rhetoric.  The rhetoric is so entrenched in the world that no one wants to be the gal to defend priests, no one wants to be the guy defending churchs.  The rhetoric makes us want to belong.  We don’t want “Bollocks” yelled at us, we don’t want people spraying us with chemicals.  No, we want to be loved and to belong.

The standing tension between head and heart will probably always exist, though some are more immune to one or the other.

We can't all be Dr. Brennan.

We can’t all be Dr. Brennan.

In the long term though, each person has both head and heart.  To understand theology and pass it along, we need good logic as well as good rhetoric.  A merging must occur between the scholastics and the humanists to more fully express the faith.  Maybe one day I can be part of that merging process.  Until then, enjoy the dichotomy between my posts and posts like my commenter made.

Aristotle -> Aquinas -> Atheism, Part 8

To wrap up some loose ends, the aformentioned proofs aren’t the end of proving the attributes of God.  The scholastics had many proofs and reasons for his various attributes.  Aquinas only touches on a few because at this particular point in his work he is trying to focus upon the causes outlined by Aristotle.  One would need to look at the total of the Summa Theologica for the total of his proofs for the various attributes of God.

It would be hard to understate the impact Aristotle had on Church thinking.  Taking just one theological point as an example: the causes of justification.  The council of Trent (1945-63) listed five causes of Justification.  The final cause, the efficient cause, the meritorious cause, the instrumental cause, and the formal cause.  Aristotle’s causes are all but the meritorious one.

On a side note of history, the sole formal cause of justification is grace.  One of the rallying points of the early Protestants was Sola Gratia (a.k.a., Grace Alone) which Trent affirmed in its’ statement on the formal cause of grace.

The 5 solas of the reformation.

The 5 solas of the reformation.

Aristotle -> Aquinas -> Atheism, Part 7

Proof Five: Final Cause

The final cause of Aristotle is to consider what is a things end, purpose, or use.  The last proof revolved around form, and this one revolves around function or “the end, that for the sake of which a thing is done”.

Aristotle found acting upon ends is not simply the domain of humans, but even of nature.

“If, then, a swallow makes its nest and a spider its web both naturally and for some end, and if plants grow leaves for the sake of the fruit, and send roots down rather than up for the sake of nourishment, it evidently follows that this sort of cause is among things that come to be and are by nature.” (Physics, Book 2, 199a)

Further, things without awareness act to attain ends, “We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result” (Aquinas).  More simply put, a rock always falling when dropped is attaining its’ best result, its’ natural end.

The best result for everything but your car!

The best result for everything but your car!

Taken in it’s broadest form, this cause of Aristotle might be understood as: matter expresses itself according to the laws of physics; with Aquinas adding: laws need to be created by intelligence, whom we name “God”.

Dawkins response that we have evolution, and in this he misses the grandeur Aristotle.  Evolution does nothing to explain the four fundamental forces in the universe; or even more broadly: why do things follow laws at all?  Physics is great at noticing the laws, but has yet to take even the most rudimentary guess as to why laws exist.  Aristotle shows that air does not rise because of luck (as he notes Empedocles believes in Physics, Book II, 196a), but rather that all of nature acts out of principles (the laws which physicists discover).  Aquinas echoes this when he writes, “it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do [natural bodies] achieve their end”.  The designs of nature are enforced in laws, like that of gravity or magnetism.  These laws must have a source, just as other causes needed a source, and Christians similarly call this source of law God.

Aristotle -> Aquinas -> Atheism, Part 6

Proof 4: Degree

The argument from degree relates to the formal cause of Aristotle. The formal cause is the cause from form (think Platonic form). When a seed in a pine cone grows, it transforms to become more and more like the form of a pine tree. A newly conceived baby is less like the form of an adult human than a newborn baby is. Plants and animals grow to approximate their adult form.

But humans also grow in another way, they grow in goodness. Anyone with a toddler can attest to the fact that children aren’t very good.

"But I don't wanna share!"

“But I don’t wanna share!”

As we develop, we grow to approximate this goodness. Some of us are worse than others, but no one refrains from making any mistakes.

If you think you are perfect, just ask a cat.

If you think you are perfect, just ask grumpy cat.

What is the perfection or good we try to approximate as we grow? What is the form of good we strive to achieve? As my grandma used to say:

Good, better, best,
never let it rest;
’till your good is better,
and your better best.

We strive towards some concept of “good”, and Aquinas states Christians name this good “God”.

The sum of Dawkins response is:

That’s an argument? You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God. Or substitute any dimension of comparison you like, and derive an equivalently fatuous conclusion.

In doing so, he misunderstands Aristotle and subsequently misunderstands Aquinas. Of course there is a platonic form of stinky. We use the word “Stinky” in a whole slew of situations because the word points to the form which the situation approximates. When you read the word “Tree”, a certain form of “tree”-ness pops into your head. For me, it looks something like this:

For me, this is a close approximation of the platonic form of "tree".

I think this is a close approximation of the platonic form of “tree”.

The argument Aquinas makes is that when I, as a Catholic, say “Good”, the form that pops into my head is God. That the form of God pops into my head shows the non-theistic philosophy of Aristotle doesn’t exclude God as some of the Muslim Philosophers thought. It is a proof God exists within the rational mind and within the framework of Aristotelian thought.

To digress upon the matter, it is clear that there is a good towards which people aim their lives.  Some have named that good “Family”, others “Comfort”, and still others label that good “Success”.  All these things are the abstract forms of what we actually accomplish in life.  The family is mutable: adoption, marriage, birth, and death all change the family while the form remains the same.  Comfort and success are similar.  I might have some comfort and success where I am at in life, but I might still strive for more or different comfort and success.  There is no limit or perfect expression of these goods on our earth.  No one argues these goods don’t exist, even if they are impossible to perfectly pin down or impossible to hold and see.  One man’s success might be becoming president, another’s might found in be being a house spouse.  One woman’s comfort might be found by having children, which might be the discomfort of another.  I cannot see externally the success or comfort that is being strived after.  The argument Aquinas makes is that a Catholic labels the good towards which we aim our life as “God”, rather than “Family” or “Money” or “Fame” or what have you.  That we have a unique label to describe a unique type of good we experience in our lives and that we strive after that good is proof that this good exists.  After all, how can we get closer to approximating something that doesn’t exist?  The degrees of goodness in our various lives therefore show we can approximate something, and that thing is what Catholics call God.

It is not a “fatuous conclusion” to draw because it is the reasoning power of Aristotle combined with the raw experience of life. A better way for Dawkins to disprove this proof would be to offer a better solution to the problem of universals than Plato and Aristotle had (i.e., find a way to to explain universals without recourse to platonic forms), or to expand upon Hitchens work to create a disconnect between God and good in my mind.  If it is shown that the good I am advancing towards has some characteristic incompatible with God, then it becomes easy to argue this proof is a failure.

Hopefully one might also see how this is a rather insufficient proof of God if one hasn’t already experienced God.  If the good I seek is “Money”, then I am not trying to get close to God but rather to cash.  This proof would then confirm wealth exists, rather than be proof that God exists.  That is hardly a winning argument if used to try to convert souls.

Clerical celibacy could end, but should it?

I was given the above article by a friend, and it is really quite good.  It is about the potential of Popes to end clerical celibacy.  At root this is an issue of discipline rather than dogma, so unlike issues like women priests or same sex marriage, this could actually happen.

There is, however, one misstep and one point of ignorance that I thought would be wise to clear up for readers of this blog.

This misstep is that clerical celibacy has anything to do with the horrific sexual abuse scandal.  The article states “Celibacy — by breeding a culture of sexual exceptionalism and denial — surely played some role in the church’s shameful record of pedophilia”.  While intellectually plausible it is a claim that is empirically deniable.  In fact, there is some evidence that if we wanted to reduce pedophilia, we should all be celibate, as priests abuse at a lower rate than the general population.

Moving on, the point of ignorance is about the spiritual impact of the practice of celibacy.  The article states: “John told me that if celibacy had been optional back in the ’60’s, ‘most of us would have remained in active ministry’ (although ‘most of us would also have gotten in hot water’ over other disagreements with Vatican policy).”  The subtle message this gives is that priestly celibacy is still a good idea.  If permitted sexual license, heretical priests would have stayed in the church.  This subtly suggests that by demanding celibacy, only those truly committed to the ideals of Catholic Christendom stay within the fold.


In part, this is the Benjamin Franklin effect.  By giving up sexual intercourse priests become more attached to the Church.  The more strict the demands are, the greater the attachment.  In demanding a lot from priests, the Church ends up with priests more committed to the goals of Christianity and more willing to self sacrifice to attain those goals.  These are good things, and the article seems to ignore the point that priestly celibacy has been good for the Church in this major way.

All together then, the article seems to ignore what science has to say about celibacy in favor of populist arguments.  Science says celibacy seems to reduce sexual abuse of minors and suggests that celibacy might increase devotion of priests to the the cause of our Faith — both good things.  The article, while correct that maybe it is time to end celibacy, sadly uses some arguments that contradict this research.

Pope says the same old thing, everybody freaks out.

The older I become, the more I realize when the pope says the same old news, everyone thinks it’s new.  This article is about the popes’ new encyclical, in which he criticises capitalism for ignoring the needs of people.  For quite obvious historical reasons, this issue is dear to the pope.  After all, he came from Argentina, which recently suffered a major economic depression after the liberalization of economic policies.  The Catholic understanding of Capitalism complements Pope Francis’ own experiences.  Our catechism (from the 1997 Latin revision) states, “A theory that makes profit the exclusive norm and ultimate end of economic activity is morally unacceptable.  The disordered desire for money cannot but produce perverse effects” (Paragraph 2424).  The pope is making a claim the Catholic Church has widely publicised for a long time — the free market doesn’t work to provide social justice.

How capitalism treats people.

How capitalism treats people.

Does the Pope then support wealth redistribution through communism?  Hardly.  Our catechism teaches “Regulating the economy soley by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice… Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended” (Paragraph 2425).  Within this context, the pope writes, “The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.”  The redistribution the pope argues for is one of just wages and opportunity, given by the rich to those who are less well off.  This could be by the wealthy influencing Congress to make just laws, or on a more personal path like Harris Rosen, and what he did at Tangelo Park.

Harris Rosen, best Millionare I know

Harris Rosen, best millionaire I know about.

The Limitations of Papal Infallibility

There is a pervasive misunderstanding about the dogma of papal infallibility, both by some Catholics and by some non-Catholics.  This article articulates that misunderstanding when it states: “By the way, when have you ever heard a prominent member of the Catholic Church actually try to diminish the power of their pontiff, who is supposed to be infallible in all things?”  Ironically, the author even linked to the wikipedia page on papal infallibility which, in its’ very first sentence, limits papal infallibility to matters of faith and morals.

Our last Pope, "infallibly" hanging out with his pet cat.

Our last Pope, “infallibly” hanging out with his pet cat.

It turns out, the extra ordinary use of papal infallibility is very limited.  Any extra ordinary use of papal infallibility must be an explicit use of infallibility, and it can only cover matters of faith or morals.  Infallibility has only been employed in this way twice.  Once to agree with the Orthodox that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven, and once to explicitly state Mary was conceived without sin (her immaculate conception, not to be confused with Jesus’ virgin birth).  Both of these confirmed already existing Catholic beliefs.

Now, the ordinary use of papal infallibility is when the pope is in agreement with a Church council.  His agreement with the council is a sign the council as a whole was correct in what they assented to or denied.  From these we get the full list of dogmas, all 252 of them (I encourage all to read the list of dogmas.  The vast majority are quite mundane, such as, “there is only one God”).  Beliefs outside of these have various degrees of theological certainty, and could be elevated or lowered in certainty as we further employ reason to understand in a deeper way our faith.  As Catholics, we are taught to take these other beliefs seriously, with an assent of faith to those who teach us, even though the beliefs might be lowered in certainty in the future.


The total of all this means that, from the article, Cardinal Dolan is correct that, “a pope by his nature can’t make doctrinal changes”.  What a pope does is clarify and confirm, not change.  A pope must do that within the confines of Sacred Tradition, that presence of the living Christ in our faith which remains constant across time (because Christ remains constant); and Sacred Scripture, which are the writings of the first Catholics guided by the Holy Spirit.