Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pelosi was right

REP. PELOSI: I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator--St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose. Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of when the child--first trimester, certain considerations; second trimester; not so third trimester. There's very clear distinctions. This isn't about abortion on demand, it's about a careful, careful consideration of all factors and--to--that a woman has to make with her doctor and her god. And so I don't think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins. As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this, and there are those who've decided...

The claim is being made repeatedly that Pelosi is incorrect in these statements. The reality is whatever one's current opinion may be her knowledge of history and doctrine is accurate. For example in Summa Theologica Aquinas unequivocally rejects the opinion that semen carries with it some supernatural force that causes ensoulment. Rather in his opinion ensoulment occurs almost 2 months after coitus / fertilization. He separates off the sensitive soul, that is the soul capable of responding to sense input from the intellectual soul, that is the soul capable of engaging in reason. So in his view sex produces a human like animal by itself but the creation of an actual human requires the work of God and has a non material component. He goes so far as to consider the current right to life position (that the intellectual soul is created by fertilization), traducianism, a heresy:
I answer that, It is impossible for an active power existing in matter to extend its action to the production of an immaterial effect. Now it is manifest that the intellectual principle in man transcends matter; for it has an operation in which the body takes no part whatever. It is therefore impossible for the seminal power to produce the intellectual principle.

Again, the seminal power acts by virtue of the soul of the begetter according as the soul of the begetter is the act of the body, making use of the body in its operation. Now the body has nothing whatever to do in the operation of the intellect. Therefore the power of the intellectual principle, as intellectual, cannot reach the semen. Hence the Philosopher says (De Gener. Animal. ii, 3): "It follows that the intellect alone comes from without."

Again, since the intellectual soul has an operation independent of the body, it is subsistent, as proved above (Question 75, Article 2): therefore to be and to be made are proper to it. Moreover, since it is an immaterial substance it cannot be caused through generation, but only through creation by God. Therefore to hold that the intellectual soul is caused by the begetter, is nothing else than to hold the soul to be non-subsistent and consequently to perish with the body. It is therefore heretical to say that the intellectual soul is transmitted with the semen
. (Summa I.118.2.0)
Doctor Hogan of International Catholic University translates into modern language:
The soul is the substantial form of the human being. A substantial form requires matter capable of receiving it. In the case of the human being this means that the human soul can exist only in a highly organized body. What is being presented here is a theory of serial ensoulment -- first a vegetative soul, then a sentient soul, and finally a rational soul. The animation of the new being is immediate at fertilization. But the soul that animates the body is commensurate with the kind of life lived by the body and the degree of organization of the body. So in the early stages the body of the human being is animated by a vegetative soul which organizes the operations of nutrition and growth -- vegetative activities. As the new being develops in complexity and activities, such as sensation a new soul, an animal soul, replaces the vegetative soul. As the development in complexity continues and as the development of sense organs and nervous system progresses, another threshold is crossed. When the material substratum is sufficiently disposed, the rational soul appears and the human being as human being is constituted. (Medical Ethics / Abortion)
The Catholic Encyclopedia gives a very good description of how diverse the opinions have been on Creationism (soul is created by God and exists apart from the body) vs. Traducianism (fertilization creates a soul).
So much for the philosphical or purely rational aspect of Creationism; as regards the theological, it should be noted that while none of the Fathers maintained Traducianism -- the parental generation of the soul -- as a certainty, some of them, notably St. Augustine, at the outbreak of Pelagianism, began to doubt the creation by god of the individual soul (there was never any doubt as to the created origin of the souls of Adam and Eve), and to incline to the opposite opinion, which seemed to facilitate the explanation of the transmission of original sin. Thus, writing to St. Jerome, St. Augustine says: "If that opinion of the creation of new souls is not opposed to this established article of faith [sc. original sin] let it be also mine; if it is, let it not be thine" (Ep. clxvi, n.25). Theodorus Abucara (Opusc. xxxv), Macarius (Hom. xxx), and St. Gregory of Nyssa (De Opif., Hom., c. xxix) favoured this view. Amongst the Scholastics there were no defenders of Traducianism. Hugh of St. Victor (De Sacr., VII, c. xii) and Alexander of Hales (Summa, I, Q. lx, mem. 2, a. 3) alone characterize Creationism as the more probable opinion; all the other Schoolmen hold it as certain and differ only in regard to the censure that should be attached to the opposite error. Thus Peter Lombard simply says: "The Catholic Church teaches that souls are created at their infusion into the body" (Sent. II, d. xviii); while St. Thomas is more emphatic: "It is heretical to say that the intellectual soul is transmitted by process of generation" (I, Q. cxviii, a. 2). For the rest, the following citation from the Angelic Doctor sums up the diverse opinions: "Regarding this question various opinions were expressed in antiquity. Some held that the soul of a child is produced by the soul of the parent just as the body is generated by the parent-body. Others maintained that all souls are created apart, moreover that they are united with their respective bodies, either by their own volition or by the command and action of God. Others again, declared that the soul in the moment of its creation is infused into the body. Though for a time these several views were upheld, and though it was doubtful which came nearest the truth (as appears from Augustine's commentary on Genesis 10, and from his books on the origin of the soul), the Church subsequently condemned the first two and approved the third" (De Potentiâ, Q. iii, a. 9). Others (e.g. Gregory of Valencia) speak of Generationism as "certainly erroneous", or (e.g. Estius) as maxime temerarius. It should, however, be noted that while there are no such explicit definitions authoritatively put forth by the Church as would warrant our calling the doctrine of Creationism de fide, nevertheless, as a recent eminent theologian observes, "there can be no doubt as to which view is favoured by ecclesiastical authority" (Pesch, Præl. Dogm., V, 3, p. 66). Leo IX (1050), in the symbol presented to the Bishop Peter for subscription, lays down: "I believe and profess that the soul is not a part of God, but is created out of nothing, and that, without baptism, it is in original sin" (Denzinger, Enchir., n. 296). That the soul sinned in its pre-existent state, and on that account was incarcerated in the body, is a fiction which has been repeatedly condemned by the Church. Divested of this fiction, the theory that the soul exists prior to its infusion into the organism, while not explicitly reprobated, is obviously opposed to the doctrine of the Church, according to which souls are multiplied correspondingly with the multiplication of human organisms (Conc. Lat. V, in Denzinger, op. cit., 621). But whether the rational soul is infused into the organism at conception, as the modern opinion holds, or some weeks subsequently, as the Scholastics suppose (St. Thomas, Q. i a. 2, ad 2), is an open question with theologians (Catholic Encyclopedia)
The fact of the matter is that Nancy Pelosi is absolutely 100% correct in her assessment of Catholic history. Quite simply to hold the currently fashionable position that ensoulment occurs at fertilization is to deny that identical twins have unique souls. A position that was until recently absolutely denied by the church.

The argument is (again quoting Hogan):
First because the soul is the substantial form of the body, the rational soul cannot be present until there is a body present that is significantly complex and organized to receive the soul. Second, a formal cause is present only in a finished product. An actual human soul cannot be united with a virtual human body. Third, there is no human body in the zygote. Fourth inasmuch as all the positive features of the human body derive from the soul, until the soul is present there is no human being.

See also:

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Early female leaders

One of the very first secular references to Christians and Christians practices at length is Pliney's letter 96 to Trajan (written between 111 and 113 CE). He is asking Trajan for instruction regarding religious persecution with regard to Christians. While he does not think highly of the religion one paragraph stands out quite strongly, where he describes how he interrogates the leaders of a small house church:
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Vincent of Lérins on the perspicuity of scripture

[4.] I have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity; and I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.
[5.] But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.

[65.] But the more secretly they conceal themselves under shelter of the Divine Law, so much the more are they to be feared and guarded against. For they know that the evil stench of their doctrine will hardly find acceptance with any one if it be exhaled pure and simple. They sprinkle it over, therefore, with the perfume of heavenly language, in order that one who would be ready to despise human error, may hesitate to condemn divine words. They do, in fact, what nurses do when they would prepare some bitter draught for children; they smear the edge of the cup all round with honey, that the unsuspecting child, having first tasted the sweet, may have no fear of the bitter. So too do these act, who disguise poisonous herbs and noxious juices under the names of medicines, so that no one almost, when he reads the label, suspects the poison. (Vincent of Lérins, The Commonitory)

Monday, August 11, 2008


Between the initial post and the discussion you get an interesting list of why people left the Christian faith (apostasy) and the sorts of accusations which were thrown at them that they found to be false. I've heard many of these for people who are leaving abusive denominations as well and so I thought these lists might be helpful:

Reasons Given:
  1. Non effectuality:
    • God never shows up. Not in visions, miracles, visitations, angelic appearances, or challenge matches (think of Elijah and the Baal priests) .
    • Prayers are NOT answered.
    • Having “Jesus in my heart” didn’t give me joy or peace
    • There is no proof of ANYTHING supernatural
  2. Morality:
    • Christians are NOT different from non-Christians.
    • Church disunity.
    • God is NOT loving, merciful, good, just, etc.
    • The idea that God would hurt someone to test their faith is completely disgusting
  3. Apologetic failures:
    • The Bible is contradictory with itself, reality, and morality.
    • Everyone makes up their faith and their ideas of God as they go along.
    • The Universe is capable of functioning without divine influence
    • Christians use dishonest tactics to support their belief (ie Ben Stein’s new movie Expelled, teaching that Darwin refuted evolution on his death bed, multiple Kent Hovind youtube videos which present bold-faced lies about carbon dating)
    • Pascal’s Wager is a horrific false dichotomy
    • I took a Systematic Theology class and discovered all my deepest questions were answered with, “It’s a mystery.”
    • Visited the Natural History Museum in NYC.
    • Analyzed my own religion in the same way I had others.
    • Realized Christianity’s stories are just as ridiculous and fantastical as every other religion’s.
Supposed reasons:
  1. Hedonism
    • You’re indulging your desire to live hedonistically.
    • You want instant gratification.
    • You are self-centered/serving yourself.
    • You never dealt with sin in your life. (i.e. You were a carnal Christian.)
    • You want to be your own god.
  2. False initial conversion
    • You never had a true personal relationship with Jesus.
    • You never experienced/received the Holy Spirit.
    • You were “religious” but not born again. (OR, in better church jargon) You had a “said faith, not a real faith.”
    • You weren’t following the real (or historical) Jesus.
    • You were never saved/Christian to start with. (Good ole Calvinism)
    • You’re harboring sin in your heart.
    • You’re too prideful/arrogant to humble yourself before the Lord.
    • You are shutting your eyes to the obvious truth of God.
    • You didn’t really understand the scriptures (Bible).
    • You love/serve science/job/hobbies more than God.
    • You looked to your own will/emotions instead of God’s will.
    • You didn’t “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
  3. Problems with church is bad
    • Your decision is based on other Christians’ behavior, not on Jesus’ teachings.
    • You were hurt by your pastor/other Christians.
    • You were in the “wrong” denomination or sect.
    • People disappointed you and so you “threw out the baby with the bathwater”.
    • Psychologically flawed
    • You’re looking for an excuse not to believe.
    • You’re being manipulated by Satan.
    • You’re not thinking about the future/afterlife.
    • You’re angry and resentful and taking it out on God.
    • You’re mad at God for some misfortune in your life.
    • You can’t accept authority.
    • You are having a mid-life, or some other life wide, crisis.
    • You’re, “going through a phase.”
    • You were unequally yoked (e.g. wife is Catholic, you were Protestant).
    • You’re mind was poisoned by man’s philosophy.
    • You became “wise in your own eyes.”
    • You have a rebellious spirit.
    • Poor personal practice:
    • You quit seeking, or stopped “growing in the faith”, or allowed your faith to become stagnant.
    • You were too legalistic.
    • You were trying too hard to see God, and your own efforts kept you from success. (OR, said a little differently) You never “let go and let God.” (OR, said a little differently) You depended too much on your own strength/intellect.
    • You didn’t pray/read the Bible enough.
    • You forsook assembling together.

See also:

  • A similar list for Mormons (link)  

Friday, August 8, 2008

1Tim 2:12 terrific discussion

I'd like to recommend to people interested in the issue of 1Tim 2:12 they head over to Theological discussion and read the excellent debate between Sandy Grant and Suzanne McCarthy regarding the use of the term "authority" in this verse. Its a fantastic discussion based on evidence on real evidence for both sides. Suzanne is defending the belief that "exercise authority" here means illegitimate authority and so a good translation would be something more like N.T Wright’s Translation of 1Ti 2:9-15

9 In the same way the women, too, should clothe themselves in an appropriate manner, modestly and sensibly. They should not go in for elaborate hair-styles, or gold, or pearls, or expensive clothes; 10 instead, as is appropriate for women who profess to be godly, they should adorn themselves with good works. 11 They must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God. 12 I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; they should be left undisturbed. 13 Adam was created first, you see, and then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, and fell into trespass. 15 She will, however, be kept safe through the process of childbirth, if she continues in faith, love and holiness with prudence. (Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Large tables in blogger

Anybody know of a good way to handle large tables in blogger? I'm getting ready to start my study bible spreadsheet and I'm trying to figure out if I should have the sheet link from a blogger post or be in one. I'd rather have it on blog but it seems that tables run off the edge and you don't get a scroll bar.

Any ideas out there?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

5 Questions about abortion

  1. In the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands women who have access to free abortions  in convenient state clinics have few abortions per million women than women in the USA, at a rate between one third and one quarter of the USA rate. This is due to excellent sex education and easily available birth control. That is if the USA were to make birth control easily accessible and free we could have a 70% decrease in abortion.  Yet the "pro life" movement has hindered birth control availability in the USA at every turn.  Why? 
  2. Should women who miscarry be charged with involuntary manslaughter?  What if they did something like trip because they weren't be careful, negligent homicide?  
  3. If life starts at fertilization then what should we do about all these couples carelessly having sex 9 or days after ovulation. According to NHS these are the implementation failure rates for the average women in days after ovulation:
    • 3% by day 9
    • 26% on day 10
    • 52% on day 11
    • 86% on day 12 or more
    Death rates this high certainly mean that late sex constitutes negligence in the extreme.
  4. Statistics show that things like good education, economic opportunity and higher wages for people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder reduce unplanned pregnancy and abortion.  Why the opposition to social programs from the pro-life movement, when these policies could save hundreds of thousands of lives per year?  
  5. Can we name one country that has banned abortion where the lives of women have improved within 20 years of the ban?  

Monday, August 4, 2008

NLT Study Bible Seminar + Giveaway

Over on the NLT blog they are having a bible giveaway contest You actually have a pretty good chance if you keep playing. And the seminar should be good. This bible has been reviewed all over the blogosphere:

David Ker
Rick Mansfeld
Better Bibles Blog: More NLT buzz
An old discussion on theologica
The original NLT vs. CEV cage match (part1, part2, part3)

I'l be including the NLTSB in my Study bible spreadsheet coming out around December. The more time I spend with the NLT/NLTSB the more I like it. I've moved my recommendation for first evangelical study bible from TNIVSB to NLTSB as I've spent more time with the translation and the notes (the notes are both more correct and more useful). The NLT as a translation offers many of the dynamic advantages of the REB while being almost as readable as a paraphrase, on par with the CEV. It has the same "more literal" translation notes as the HCSB, and thus offers most of the advantages of more formal translation. NLTSB offers a sort of NISB both more conservative and lite. It also trains people in how to use tools they may not be exposed to. Basically it does 85% of what the NISB, TNIVSB and Learning Bibles (see Dave's review) offer, making it a broader choice. Also the maps are striking clear, best I've seen in a study bible.

Most of my readership are evangelical protestant, so do yourself a favor follow the link and try and win yourself a copy.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Priscilla, A female leader

In the church of St John at Heidelberg we have the window pictured to the left of Aquila & Priscilla; note in the lower pane we can see Priscilla teaching.

There are several mentions of Priscilla in the New Testament. The first is in Acts 18 where she instructs Apollos:
Acts 18:1 After this Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. 18:2 There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to depart from Rome. Paul approached them 18:3 and because he worked at the same trade, he stayed with them and worked with them (for they were tentmakers by trade)...
18:19 When they reached Ephesus, Paul left Priscilla and Aquila behind there, but he himself went into the synagogue and addressed the Jews...
18:24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, arrived in Ephesus. He was an eloquent speaker, well-versed in the scriptures. 18:25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm he spoke and taught accurately the facts about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. 18:26 He began to speak out fearlessly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately.

The next is in Romans where Paul uses the term synergoi, colleague to refer to her:
16:3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my colleagues in Christ Jesus, 16:4 who risked their own necks for my life. Not only I, but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.
Co-worker which is how the word is often translated is too weak. This term can even be used as a euphemism for sex (though I'm not arguing or implying Paul means it that way), colleague, good friend perhaps. What the word is never used for is a subordinate, while the word in "co-worker" in English can imply a subordinate. That is Paul considers Priscilla an equal, he is addressing her as an equal. This means that at least in Paul's mind she is not beneath him either directly or diagonally. This rules out the usually counter claimto Priscilla being a leader, that Aquila was a peer and Prisca worked under Aquila, because then Priscilla would be a diagonal subordinate and the word choice would be inappropriate.

I'd point to 1Cor 3:9 shows again Paul stating that he and Apollos are working together, another use of synergoi, not that Apollos works for Paul. When one reads 1Cor 3 the whole point of the chapter is rejecting the sort of hierarchy which would put one or the other on top; Jesus is on top.

Then in first Corinthians he mentions how she runs a house church (this one in Emphasis):
1Cor 16:19 The churches in the province of Asia send greetings to you. Aquila and Prisca greet you warmly in the Lord, with the church that meets in their house.
Finally in 2Tim 4;19 he greets them again indicating they travel as well:
2Tim 4:19 Greetings to Prisca and Aquila and the family of Onesiphorus.
As can be seen above, Priscilla is mentioned before Aquila in (Acts 18:18,26, Rom 16:3, 2 Tim 4:19). The reason this is so key, is that normally the man would be named first or exclusively; meaning she is the better known and more prestigious of the two. And this is occurs in books addressed to various cities, so she is not just some well known/respected person locally rather she is well known and respected within the whole of the Christian community; and better known and more respected than Aquila.

Moreover there is strong evidence according to the experts that the shift in Acts 18:2 was a later change. Ben Witherington for example in he anti-feminist tendencies of the "Western" text in Acts (Journal of Biblical Literature 103 no 1 Mr 1984, p 82-84.) mentions the shift of Acts 18:2 and argues that Priscilla was consistently named first. Metzger in the textual commentary on the NT has this verse with Priscilla named first and gives the same reason. The Teachers' Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles By Francis Nathan Peloubet, is cited by both as for the importance of this shift (i.e. diminishing her role).

So in other words we have Prisca approximately equal to Paul in Paul's mind; and Priscilla generally regarded as well above Aquila by the broad Christian community. Those two facts together are strong evidence of the extent of her leadership. But there is even more evidence. In Acts 18:26 she is portrayed as teaching a theologian about theology. Again she is listed first, with regard to the act of teaching. And this is devastating to the argument that women should not teach because it means that she is well respected as a teacher / missionary not because of some secondary factor.

Karl Josef Rudolph Cornely in Commentarius in ep. ad Romanos" (Paris, 1896) collected the various ancient authorities on this subject and there seems to be agreement that Prisca is the more important of the pair since otherwise she would never be named first. Chrysostom held a similar opinion regarding her being named first indicated she was the teacher of Apollos.
This too is worthy of inquiry, why, as he addressed them, Paul has placed Priscilla before her husband. For he did not say, “Greet Aquila and Priscilla,” but “Priscilla and Aquila.” He does not do this without reason, but he seems to me to acknowledge a greater godliness for her than for her husband. What I said is not guess-work, because it is possible to learn this from the Book of Acts. [Priscilla] took Apollos, an eloquent man and powerful in the Scriptures, but knowing only the baptism of John; and she instructed him in the way of the Lord and made him a teacher brought to completion (Acts 18:24-25). (John Chrysostom, “First Homily on the Greeting to Priscilla and Aquila”)
In his commentary on 2Tim he says essentially the same thing. Incidentally in Homily 40 on Acts he indicates Paul left them in Ephesus specifically so they could teach. Again another direct reference to Priscilla being a teacher.

The current Pope commented on church tradition, "Later hagiographic tradition has given a very singular importance to Priscilla, even if the problem of identifying her with the martyr Priscilla remains."

A few more pieces of evidence are archeological. In Rome to this day there is still a street named after her (but not him) in the aventine Via de Santa Prisca. There is a large church built in her honor, that goes back to the 4th century and possibly earlier, which legend says was the location of her house. Incidentally under the church was a mithric temple, so it may have been that Prisca's "house church" was really quite nice, a converted temple, it also contains Christian catacombs from no later than the 2nd century. Her grave still has veneration.

So to summarize the bible teaches
  • Paul does not consider her an inferior.
  • That she outranked Aquila.
  • That she taught theology.
External sources teach
  • Church fathers agree she was a teacher.
  • As that the interpretation of her being named first indicating primacy was upheld in both the ancient and modern world.
  • Archeology indicates she was the more important of the pair.
Finally while highly speculative we have Adolf von Harnack's view that Priscilla wrote Hebrews (link to Ruth Hoppin summary). Luther suspected Apollos was the author. In either case we have the differences between the Pauline theology and the theology of Hebrews coming from Priscilla's school, and indicating the importance of her theological and philosophical teachings.