Wednesday, 27 February 2013

How much do you have to hate someone NOT to proselytize them?

Penn Jilette (from Penn and Teller fame), has a thought-provoking video on evangelism:



But is he a Christian? No! He's an atheist!

He sees that it makes sense for Christians to share their faith, because if you really believed that there was a hell and that people were going there, "how much would you have to hate someone not to tell them that?" This is refreshingly different from the all-too-common "just get away from me, leave me alone, don't annoy me with your religion stuff." Penn might still disagree with you, but he has the good sense to respect you and your integrity.

Let us pray that more people will come to this position! It is one step closer to being open to the possibility that the gospel might be true.

New book excitement! The Unintended Reformation

Just been informed that my order for The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society by Brad Gregory is waiting for me at Portico Books!!!! (My favourite bookstore ever!)

SO EXCITED!!! BEEN WAITING FOR THIS FOR SO LONG.

Ever since I read this awesome review by Archbishop Chaput.


Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Why Catholics "give things up" in Lent

I wrote something over at the Catholic Enquiry Centre blog. Go check it out! And like their Facebook page too while you're at it!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

And now for something completely different

Well, ok, it's not that different. Today I have a philosophy essay instead of theology! Woohoo! Comparing the political philosophies of Plato and Augustine, it was for the subject "Ancient Philosophy". Enjoy!

PS. This is actually my fastest ever essay. Usually they take me at least a week, this one was done in two days! Speed demon!


Plato
St Augustine







VS.







Discuss, compare and contrast the political philosophies of Plato and Augustine.

Plato and Augustine are two towering figures of Ancient Philosophy, connected in thought in that Plato greatly influenced Augustine, mostly through Neo-Platonism. In terms of political philosophy, Plato’s central concern is what a just society is, and how to bring one about, while Augustine is concerned with where individuals are ultimately destined, depending on what they choose to love, as this choice of love also affects the functioning of society on earth. Different though these foci are, they nevertheless are both centred on what best enables a human being to flourish, according to his nature, which yields some further similarities. Given that human nature is unchanging (cultural environments are what change over time), their insights still have relevance for the workings of contemporary society.
In the Republic, Plato proposes his blueprint of the ideal state. The state as an institution is essential because human beings need to work together to meet their material needs, but also, more fundamentally, because man is social by nature and can therefore only live an excellent life “in and through the political community.”[1] For Plato, the men suited to ruling are those who have true knowledge of the good, and hence, true wisdom, enabling them to be good.
The ideal state, or Kallipolis (‘Beautiful City’), as it is called,[2] operates on a three-class structure, consisting of the Guardians, Auxiliaries and Producers.[3] The Guardians are to be well-educated, for it is from them that the Philosopher-King is to come. They must learn to recognize the Forms, and thus be enlightened by Truth, and attain wisdom, because having come to know the good they become good. Plato had a rational concept of good, which rendered it inaccessible to the unintellectual, the uneducated, and hence, also the poor.[4] Each of the classes embodies a particular virtue, and for the Guardians it is prudence, or “application of the eternal universal truths to particular cases in the field especially of government and social life.”[5] As a consequence of his wisdom, the Philosopher-King ought to have a number of other characteristics which include- he ought not to desire to rule (so that the power hungry do not gain a position that they may abuse), yet he must also be willing to take on this burden for the greater good of society, as by virtue of his privileged knowledge, he has a duty to the community.[6] The Guardians must also live according to a certain prescribed lifestyle, grounded in a precautionary attitude against common pitfalls of human nature. For example, man’s love for personal property has the potential to break up the ideal state. However, not all men are capable of living in a completely detached manner. Thus, Plato imposed a rule on the elite Guardians that they were to possess nothing, even to the point of removing the idea of the family- men were made to hold their wives and children in common.
The Auxiliaries and the Producers are in many ways second class. The Auxiliaries function as the military class, and as such they ought to exemplify courage, or fortitude. The Producers’ role is to conform to the rule of the Guardians; hence, they must practice temperance. To keep this order, Plato holds it may be necessary for the Guardians to perpetuate a “noble lie”, namely that the Guardians, Auxiliaries and Producers have an inherent hierarchy between them due to the natures of their souls- they possess gold, silver and bronze souls respectively.[7] The expected result of maintaining this order is that justice will prevail. Every small detail of his political thought is concerned with contributing to furthering the actualisation of justice. For Plato, justice consists in each individual performing the role to which they are best suited, thereby ensuring the good of the whole community.[8]
There is an evident shift in focus in Plato’s Statesman and Laws from the ideal state outlined above. In the Statesman, Plato still regards the Philosopher-King as the ideal mode of ruling, but he recognizes that such a man is unlikely to ever be found, probably due to his failed attempt to prepare Diogenes for this task.[9] The second- best governmental structure is then a group of diligent rulers who act within a framework laid down by law.[10] These rulers do not have true knowledge, but true belief can be arrived at through wise laws, and this situation is preferable to arbitrary opinion.[11] What, exactly, these wise laws are, and from where they are to come, is left obscure. This mystery is unveiled in the Laws, which proposes many concrete laws. Essential to these propositions are the preambles to each law and punishment consequent to its being broken, which expound Plato’s reasoning behind them, with the intent to persuade the reader that these laws really are in the best interests of the common good.
Plato shows much concern about any potential change in the ideal state, once established. Many of his highly precise instructions are written with the objective of preventing change for as long as possible, because for Plato, all change is decay. Stability is crucial, and change is the antithesis of stability. This is connected with his notion of the unchanging, eternal, perfect Forms,[12] since he likely considers the ideal state, especially in the Republic, to be the Form of the state, which all earthly states participate in. To be as much like the Form of the state as possible, is to strive be the best a state can be, and thus change is not something to be tolerated.
Augustine adopts a minimalist position regarding the basic definition of a state. For him, the following two things are necessary: “there must be a group of human beings who are capable of making a free choice, and they must in fact be bound together by agreement about common goals.”[13] The criterion by which the goodness of a particular state is judged resides in what exactly its common goals are.[14] Unlike Cicero, Augustine does not include “perfect” justice in his definition, simply because, based on his understanding of what constitutes perfect justice, combined with the inevitable weakness of humanity, there never has been nor will there ever be a state in possession of perfect justice.[15]
For Augustine, the chief purpose of the state is to preserve “the well-ordered concord of civil obedience and rule,”[16] namely, peace. Only with the establishment of peace can the state then attend to the management of those material goods necessary to sustain life.[17] This peace, however, is not true peace, as it is temporary and precarious, and therefore of little value to Augustine.[18] True peace has its origin in the harmony of man with God.[19] Interestingly, Augustine seems to think that preserving this peace and order does not extend to providing for those who cannot provide for themselves, and that such provisions should be left to the Church and to individuals.[20]
Augustine is of the view that all men are members of one of two cities- the City of God, and the City of Man. The City of God is comprised of those chosen by God, as a free gift in His mercy, to receive His grace that enables them to truly love God before themselves. They are known as the Elect, and are characterized by love of God,[21] even to the point of contempt of self.[22] All men who are not of the predestined, in God’s justice, are members of the Earthly City, or the City of Man, and are characterized by love of self,[23] to the point of contempt of God.[24]
The City of God is not a physical or temporal society. On earth the two Cities co-exist, as each person is a member of one of the two Cities, and will remain so until the Final Judgment.[25] However, it is not known who precisely is a member of the City of God, rendering the two cities quite intermingled. Thus, although the City of God has often been identified with the Church on earth,[26] it in fact consists in the Church as it will be at the end of time, while the Church on earth contains members of both cities, just as all states do.[27]
These two Cities, while objective realities separate from individual states, also function as two ends of a spectrum measuring the degree of perfection for all possible states. While no society or state is entirely either the City of God or the City of Man, “all political societies can tend towards being a Babylon or a Jerusalem.”[28] The perfection of any society is determined by the appropriateness of what goods each of its members love. Thus, every state fails to live up to the ideal of perfect love of God and of neighbour. It does, however, provide hope, that through the interior transformations of individual members of a political society, that society may progress a little closer to the ideal.
An important question to consider is whether Augustine regards the state as a natural or an unnatural institution. It seems that he thinks that political authority exists only as a result of original sin. Prior to the Fall, humanity lived in harmony with God, that is, in true peace. This correct ordering of loves, with God first and self second, would of itself have maintained the social order. After the Fall, humanity forgot what it was like to possess true peace, and in a proposition very similar to Plato’s theory of anamnesis, individuals now have to go through a process of coming to know God again and rediscovering that peace. All too often, however, people are satisfied with merely seeking the earthly kind of peace, namely, lack of conflict, which original sin has left humanity with a tendency towards,[29] contrary to their original nature.[30] This conflict can only be kept in check though political rule, acting as a “corrective for human perversity.”[31] Thus, the state is “natural,” in the sense that it is universal, but not in man’s nature as God originally intended him to be.
A number of similarities in the political thought of Plato and Augustine have come to light in the above examination. These consist in the principles that underlie their more specific ideas as to how societies play out concretely. Both philosophers thought of true justice as being in the heavens, not to be found on earth- Plato in the form of justice present in the realm of forms, and Augustine s only being present in the heavenly City of God.[32] They both attribute earthly goods as being lures that corrupt- for Plato, it is wealth, which is why he is so intent on removing temptation from the ruling class. For Augustine, it is power.[33] Their understandings of what the purpose of the state is for are essentially identical, as Plato sees it as allowing material needs to be met as well as establishing an environment that encourages the flourishing of the social aspect of human beings. Augustine frames the latter in terms of peace, which allows for the former to take place.
Several interesting parallels exist between Kallipolis and the City of God. Firstly, regarding the Philosopher-King, the true King of the Heavenly City is God, who really is perfect in every way, and knows what is best for its members, as He is the Creator. He not only knows what Goodness, Truth and Beauty are, He is the fullness of each of them. The rules imposed by Plato of no personal property, no family, there will only be one religion,[34] will also exist in heaven, not as impositions but merely by virtue of what heaven is. The suggestions of censorship and a rigid educational curriculum are for the purpose of guiding people to the truth, and to know what is best for them. In the City of God, people will be one with Truth itself, having freely chosen to love and obey God, cooperating with His grace, and thus will be of one mind regarding truth. The significant difference, however, is that Plato suggests a number of methods of forcing these ideas to be adopted, while being in the City of God and having true love, knowledge and peace are freely chosen.
A significant difference between Plato and Augustine’s political thought lies in what they each consider to be underlying the structure of society that binds it together. For Plato, this bond is the virtue of justice, while for Augustine, it is love. These qualities are what order both society as a whole, and the individuals within it to their proper ends. Plato sees justice as existing when each individual is performing the function within society proper to him, contributing appropriately to the good of the whole. This contributes to his personal flourishing, as well as to that of the rest of the community, and thus is ordered towards the good. For Augustine, what a person loves will determine what he does, and so is prior to one’s contribution to society. Inward-focused love is ultimately self-destructive, while love of God first is what we were made to love, and thus are fulfilled if our loves are ordered correctly. These loves are the essential differentiating factor between the two Cities.
Both Plato and Augustine certainly have a strong conviction that what is good for man is objective, by virtue of the reality of what human nature is. This was what framed their thinking on the state and society. Different ideas about human nature will lead to different ideas about the purpose and functioning of states, and as such this principle has significance for contemporary society. Relativism is prevalent in today’s society, which is currently affecting how politics works, as well as leading to changes in social, moral, legal and cultural norms, which, more often than not, are detrimental to the common good. Society would therefore do well to return to a well-grounded understanding of the human person, rejecting the relativism that is similar to the Sophistry that Plato despised.
In conclusion, the political philosophies of both Plato and Augustine are grounded in their understandings of human nature as it is, and how it came to be that way. Plato sees humanity as needing to get back to the Forms, in terms of both knowledge and locale, and the state has an important part to play in that journey. Augustine sees humanity as needing to get back to God, recognising Him for who He is and responding appropriately, so as to spend eternity with Him. This response should be one of love of God rather than ourselves, and which one of the two that we love determines whether we are a member of the City of God or the City of Man. Furthermore, what society loves as a whole will determine whether the society is more like the Heavenly City or the Earthly City. There is thus some degree of similarity in their underlying concepts; however, their discussion of particular details differs, due to their experience of different political and social climates.




REFERENCE LIST:
Adams, Ian. & Dyson, R.W., Fifty Major Political Thinkers (London: Routledge, 2003)
Armstrong, A.H., An Introduction to Ancient Philosophy (London: Methuen & Co., 1957)
Burt, Donald., Friendship and Society- An Introduction to Augustine’s Practical Philosophy (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1999)
Morris, Christopher., Western Political Thought Volume 1 Plato to Augustine (New York: Basic Books, 1967)
Niebuhr, Reihold., Christian Realism and Political Problems (London: Faber and Faber, 1954)
Plato, ‘The Republic’, in The Republic of Plato, Francis MacDonald Cornford (Trans.) (London: Oxford University Press, 1941)
Salkever, Stephen. (Ed.), Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge, University Press, 2009)
Stump, Eleonore. & Kretzmann, Norman. (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)














BIBLIOGRAPHY:
Adams, Ian. & Dyson, R.W., Fifty Major Political Thinkers (London: Routledge, 2003)
Armstrong, A.H., An Introduction to Ancient Philosophy (London: Methuen & Co., 1957)
Borchert, Donald (Ed.)., Encyclopedia of Philosophy Volume 1 2nd Edition (New York: Thomson Gale, 2005)
Burt, Donald., Friendship and Society- An Introduction to Augustine’s Practical Philosophy (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1999)
Ferrari, G. R. F., City and Soul in Plato’s Republic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005)
Fitzgerald, Allan (Ed.)., Augustine through the Ages- An Encyclopedia (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2009)
Gill, Mary Louise.& Pellegrin, Pierra (Eds.), A Companion to Ancient Philosophy (Carlton, VIC: Blackwell Publishing, 2005)
Hollingworth, Miles., The Pilgrim City- St Augustine of Hippo and his Innovation in Political Thought (London: T&T Clark, 2010)
Morris, Christopher., Western Political Thought Volume 1 Plato to Augustine (New York: Basic Books, 1967)
Niebuhr, Reihold., Christian Realism and Political Problems (London: Faber and Faber, 1954)
Plato, ‘The Republic’, in The Republic of Plato, Francis MacDonald Cornford (Trans.) (London: Oxford University Press, 1941)
Salkever, Stephen. (Ed.), Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge, University Press, 2009)
Stump, Eleonore. & Kretzmann, Norman. (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)
White, Nicholas., A Companion to Plato’s Republic (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1979)




[1] A.H. Armstrong, An Introduction to Ancient Philosophy, p.57
[2] Ian Adams & R.W. Dyson, Fifty Major Political Thinkers, p.6
[3] Ian Adams & R.W. Dyson, Fifty Major Political Thinkers, p.6
[4] Christopher Morris, Western Political Thought Volume 1 Plato to Augustine, p.47
[5] A.H. Armstrong, An Introduction to Ancient Philosophy, p.56
[6] A.H. Armstrong, An Introduction to Ancient Philosophy, p.57
[7] Plato, The Republic, Book 3, 414–415c
[8] Ian Adams & R.W. Dyson, Fifty Major Political Thinkers, p.6
[9] Ian Adams & R.W. Dyson, Fifty Major Political Thinkers, p.10
[10] Ian Adams & R.W. Dyson, Fifty Major Political Thinkers, p.10
[11] Ian Adams & R.W. Dyson, Fifty Major Political Thinkers, p.10
[12] Christopher Morris, Western Political Thought Volume 1 Plato to Augustine, p.42
[13] Augustine, Sermon 103, 4; quoted by Donald Burt, Friendship and Society- An Introduction to Augustine’s Practical Philosophy, p.126
[14] Donald Burt, Friendship and Society- An Introduction to Augustine’s Practical Philosophy, p.126
[15] Donald Burt, Friendship and Society- An Introduction to Augustine’s Practical Philosophy, p.129; Ian Adams & R.W. Dyson, Fifty Major Political Thinkers, p.22
[16] Augustine, The City of God, 19.17; quoted by Donald Burt, Friendship and Society- An Introduction to Augustine’s Practical Philosophy, p.129
[17] Augustine, The City of God, 19.17; quoted by Donald Burt, Friendship and Society- An Introduction to Augustine’s Practical Philosophy, p.129
[18]Christopher Morris, Western Political Thought Volume 1 Plato to Augustine, p.226
[19] Christopher Morris, Western Political Thought Volume 1 Plato to Augustine, p.226
[20] Donald Burt, Friendship and Society- An Introduction to Augustine’s Practical Philosophy, p.129
[21] Ian Adams & R.W. Dyson, Fifty Major Political Thinkers, p.21
[22] Reihold Niebuhr, Christian Realism and Political Problems, p.119
[23] Augustine, The City of God, 14:28; quoted by Ian Adams & R.W. Dyson, Fifty Major Political Thinkers, p.21
[24] Reihold Niebuhr, Christian Realism and Political Problems, p.119
[25] Augustine, The City of God, 18:54; quoted by Ian Adams & R.W. Dyson, Fifty Major Political Thinkers, p.21
[26] Ian Adams & R.W. Dyson, Fifty Major Political Thinkers, p.21
[27] Augustine, The City of God, 18:49
[28] Donald Burt, Friendship and Society- An Introduction to Augustine’s Practical Philosophy, p.120; Babylon and Jerusalem are symbolic terms for the City of Man and the City of God respectively
[29] Eleonore Stump & Norman Kretzmann (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Augustine, p.239
[30] Donald Burt, Friendship and Society- An Introduction to Augustine’s Practical Philosophy, p.131
[31] Donald Burt, Friendship and Society- An Introduction to Augustine’s Practical Philosophy, p.132
[32] Christopher Morris, Western Political Thought Volume 1 Plato to Augustine, pp.230-231
[33] Christopher Morris, Western Political Thought Volume 1 Plato to Augustine, pp.228
[34] Stephen Salkever (Ed.), Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Political Thought, p.165

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Blog award already?!

My lovely friend Laura over at Catholic Cravings last year awarded me with the "Blog of the Year 2012" Award, before I even had a blog. (This must be some kind of record!)

Yeah, you read that right. She had such confidence in my blogging abilities! I hope I am not failing too abjectly.

But it seems I must not be, for she has stuck with that decision.

Apparently there are a bunch of rules surrounding these awards, but I confess I haven't quite gotten my head around them all. Plus, since it's no longer 2012, do they really apply? I know not.

Either way, I thank Laura for her lovely words, and welcome to anyone who made their way over here from her blog!!!


Meet Charlie!

Birds are the best animals.

How do I know this? I have one.

His name is Charlie, and he's a cockatiel, and pretty much is the cutest thing EVER.

For your viewing pleasure:




Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Praying the Rosary with Scripture

In a post a while back, I talked about ways Catholics can become more familiar with Sacred Scripture. One of the ones I mentioned was to pray the Rosary with Scripture, by using a relevant passage to help you reflect on the mystery at hand. I was asked about a source for Old and New Testament passages other than the obvious gospel ones, and, as I can't find one, I'm going to make one myself.

Epic Combo


I will keep coming back to this and updating as I think of more.

The Joyful Mysteries:

  1. The Annunciation:
  2. The Visitation:
  3. The Birth of Our Lord:
  4. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple:
    • Lk 2:21-40
    • Lev 12 for the details of purification of the mother, which Mary performed
    • Ex 13:2- all first-borns belong to the Lord
    • 1 Sam 1
    • Lk 1:67-75- the naming of John is followed by Zechariah's prophecy, as the prophecy of Simeon is followed by the presentation of Jesus in Lk 2:21-40
    • The full significance of this mystery is often not well understood, follow the link for a good explanation.
  5. The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple:
    • Lk 2:41-52
    • I can't think of other verses, but the significance of this mystery is also not always obvious. Read a good reflection here on the foreshadowing of the Passion in the Joyful Mysteries.
If you think of any more, or find this helpful, let me know!


The Luminous Mysteries:


  1. The Baptism of Our Lord in the Jordan:

  2. The Wedding at Cana:
  3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heave/ Sermon on the Mount:
  4. The Transfiguration of Our Lord:
  5. The Institution of the Blessed Eucharist:


The Sorrowful Mysteries:

  1. The Agony of Our Lord in the Garden:
  2. The Scourging of Our Lord at the Pillar:
  3. The Crowning of Thorns:
  4. The Carrying of the Cross:
  5. The Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord:


The Glorious Mysteries:

  1. The Resurrection of Our Lord:
  2. The Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven:
    • Psalm 68:18 - He will ascend into heaven - Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51; John 20:17; Acts 1:9
  3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles:
  4. The Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven:
  5. The Coronation of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven:





Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Is Scripture alone sufficient for understanding the person and nature of Jesus Christ?


Essay time! I think the answer to the question posed above is an emphatic, "no!" Scripture is certainly important, nay, essential, ("ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ"- Thank you, St Jerome!) but it is not the only thing that is essential. Read on to find out what the other thing is...



Why are dogmatic formulas as well as Scripture necessary for understanding the person and nature of Jesus Christ?

The mystery of the Incarnation is not readily grasped by the human intellect, and thus the person and nature of Christ have been frequently misunderstood through the history of Christianity. These misunderstandings take place as a result of the fallibility of human rationality, combined with the difficulties involved in understanding Sacred Scripture. This paper will attempt to show that not only are both dogmatic formulas and Scripture essential for understanding the truth regarding Jesus Christ, but that they complement and mutually nourish each other. First the importance of Scripture will be established, followed by an examination of the consequences of relying on Scripture alone. This will lead into an understanding of the necessity of the Magisterium of the Church, such that any dogmatic formulas it proclaims can be known to be true with certainty. Finally, an example of this process in practice from the early Church will be considered. Sacred Scripture will be taken to mean all the writings that the Catholic Church has discerned to be the inspired written Word of God, while dogmatic formulas will be considered to be statements of those truths that the Magisterium has declared to be divinely revealed.
Understanding the person and nature of Christ means to know Christ as He really was and to assent to the reality of the mystery of the Incarnation. This requires an encounter with Him through Sacred Scripture; “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”, said St Jerome.[1] This is possible since it is the written Word of God, which means that the Son, revelation itself, makes himself present to His Church through written words. This occurs most explicitly in the Gospels, which are the “principal source for the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our Saviour”.[2] The records contained in the New Testament, and the manner in which they fulfil the Old, reveal that Jesus was both truly a man, as he goes through the full range of human experiences; yet that also, His claims to divinity are substantial.
Essential and foundational as the Scriptures are, they are not enough by themselves. There are a number of practical barriers to reliable interpretation. At the root of most of them is human fallibility. The Bible is a collection of many types of writing, from many different contexts, and its meaning is not always plain. Lack of knowledge of context, original language, history and culture can easily lead to a person misconstruing the Word of God. Truths that the author intended to express through metaphorical language may be lost if the text is interpreted literally, while other times the author may have  intended his words to convey their plain meaning, yet the reader could interpret them metaphorically. This problem is compounded in that if one is reading a translation, one has to rely on the translator’s faithfulness to the original sense of the text, which is certainly not guaranteed to be free from error.[3] Even the relative explicitness of the New Testament with regard to Jesus is open to interpretation. Text that is read or heard is always done so through a person’s particular worldview lens, and the meaning of what they read or hear is shaped by that lens. Thus it is impossible to read Scripture without interpreting it, which means there are as many possible understandings of Jesus as there are readers of Scripture.[4] This is evidenced in the plethora of differing opinions about Christ, his being, his teachings, and his life existing in the world today.
Sacred Scripture itself testifies to its complexity. St Peter says “There are some things in them [Paul’s letters] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.”[5] St Paul attests to this also in Hebrews,[6] and St Luke in Acts.[7] The Word of God has many layers of meaning, in two categories- the literal and the spiritual senses,[8] due to its authorship being both divine and human. God being Scripture’s author means that the depths of the spiritual sense to be unearthed by limited human readers are immeasurable, and that new insights are always possible. It is likely that this contributes to the difficulties in understanding the Word of God. It is this “hard to understand” nature of Scripture, combined with a principle of private interpretation apart from the Church (a practice condemned by Peter[9]), that leads to misunderstandings or errors in theology, namely, heresies.[10]
Heresies are detrimental to the Church because they undermine the marks of the Church, which are that it is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. One aspect of both the unity and apostolicity is that the Church professes one faith received from the Apostles.[11] To have people within the Church disagreeing with what the Church has always believed since the Apostles, damages the unity of the Church. Augustine says that it also damages the faith itself.[12] This unity is meant to be one of the characteristics that makes the Church identifiable as the Church founded by Jesus, and He prays for its unity during His agony in the garden.[13] Paul exhorts the Ephesians to maintain unity of faith, so that they may not be led astray by novel doctrines.[14] Heresy, being a sin against faith,[15] weakens the holiness of a particular member of the Church and thus the Body of Christ as a whole.[16] The catholic mission to bring all nations to Christ is undermined in that if heresy in present in some areas of the world, the wrong Gospel may be preached, and thus it is not the fullness of Christ (who is truth itself) who is being taught in that region. As Tertullian expresses it, “they and we have not the same God, nor one- that is, the same- Christ”.[17]
In order to combat the “poison” of heresy when it “infects” the Church,[18] dogmatic formulations of what the Church believes (which is equivalent to what is really true), are essential. However, in order for these to have any weight, the Church itself must be an institution endowed with the authority of Christ to teach infallibly. This is just what the Catholic Church claims to be,[19] and such a claim is consistent with Sacred Scripture, and with reason. Christ gives the apostles the authority to bind and loose, with this binding and loosing that is to occur on earth to be mirrored in heaven.[20] This implies that what the Church teaches is to be preserved from error, as false or evil things cannot be bound or loosed in Heaven. Furthermore, Jesus is to send the Spirit of Truth to guide the Church into all truth.[21] In the Great Commission, Christ gives the Church its mission, to bring the Good News to all nations, and he charges the apostles and their successors with the task of teaching them to observe all that he commanded them.[22] Moreover, the Church is said to be the Body of Christ,[23] and to speak with the voice of Christ when she teaches.[24]
This Church defends the deposit of faith she has been charged with preserving against error when it arises, in the form of dogmatic formulations. These are discerned and distilled from surveying revelation through Scripture and Tradition as an organic unity, and reformulating the truths contained therein more clearly. They go on to become part of Tradition and provide unchanging boundaries outside of Scripture, such that interpretation of Scripture may be guided by them, and so be protected from falling into error, while also refuting false doctrines. Once certain truths are firmly established, this allows the Church to delve ever deeper into the mysteries of faith through exegesis of Scripture that is enlightened by these truths, building upon the foundations laid before. These formulations are not solemnly proclaimed as binding on all the faithful, until a particular belief of the Church is attacked in a serious way.[25] Then the bishops are forced to come together, and to examine the beliefs of the Church in the light of false doctrine, and to robustly proclaim its teachings with clarity.[26]
In the early Church, the person and nature of Christ were vigorously disputed. Various questions arose during the first centuries, such as whether Christ was God, whether he was human, how human or divine he was, and whether he was one or two persons. In order to answer these questions, theologians had to clarify what it meant to say that a being was a person, and whether that person was divine, or human (or angelic). Thus, the Church drew on the Greek philosophical tradition, employing the philosophical concepts of person and nature. These extra-biblical terms were essential for maintaining orthodox belief concerning the Incarnation of God the Son. This orthodox belief was summarised in the axioms of orthodoxy, namely, “only God can save”, and “all that is assumed is not saved”. This is a distillation of the three central Christological truths- Christ is fully divine; Christ is fully human; Christ is one Divine Person, God the Son.
Finally, let us consider an example of why dogmas are important, and how they come about. A particularly dangerous heresy emerged in the fourth century called Arianism. Arius denied both Christ’s complete divinity and his complete humanity, saying rather that he was created by the Father, yet with a dignity greater than that of normal human beings.[27] Hence he was not quite God, and not quite man. Arius supported his claims with scripture,[28] as St Vincent said that heretics do, in imitation of the devil, in order that they may deceive more easily.[29] To remove the disturbance in his empire that this was causing, Constantine called for the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. At this council, the assembled bishops, through the charism of infallibility granted to the Magisterium by the work of the Holy Spirit, declared with certainty that Arianism was a heresy, and that Jesus Christ is “the Son of God, born of the Father, the sole-begotten; that is to say, of the substance of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; born, not made, consubstantial with the Father”.[30] There was debate among the bishops regarding the inclusion of the word for consubstantial, homo-o├║sion. Some bishops were reluctant to use any terms not found in Scripture. However, the view that prevailed was that the Scriptures had not been written for refuting heretics with a philosophical approach, and that it was necessary to declare in some cases what Scripture meant.[31] This situation and succeeding events shows why dogmatic formulations by a living teaching authority are necessary, along with Scripture, since the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation can easily be misunderstood and such misunderstandings spread through the Church, leading the faithful astray.
In conclusion, attempting to interpret Scripture using only Scripture and relying on oneself as the ultimate arbiter of correct and incorrect interpretation, ultimately and inevitably leads to problems. This is true of all doctrine, and so includes those pertaining to the nature and person of Jesus Christ. Scripture is not perspicuous, and human beings are not infallible as individuals; such a gift is given specifically to the Church in her teaching office precisely in order to combat false interpretations with clarity and conviction. The Church carves out the guidelines within which authentic understanding of the truths conveyed by Scripture may take place, and condemns incorrect ideas when they arise. This is for the good of the Church and all her members, both in the present age and in the future, as part of her mission is to preserve the one faith deposited to her by the Apostles.




BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, No. 88, ML 37, 1140, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church VIII, 440, Phillip Schaff (trans.) (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904)

Catechism of the Catholic Church (Libreria Editrice Vaticana: Citta del Vaticano, 1993)
(Accessed 26 October 2012)

Bray, Gerald. (Ed.), Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament Vol XI James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2007)

Darlap, Adolf (Ed.), Sacramentum Mundi Book 2, (London: Burns & Oates, 1969)

Davis, Leo Donald, S.J. (Ed.), The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787): Their History and Theology (Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1987)

Haddad, Robert. (Ed.), Answering the Anti-Catholic Challenge (Ballan, Australia: Modotti Press, 2012)

Haddad, Robert., Defend the Faith! (Sydney: Lumen Verum Apologetics, 2003)

Hughes, Philip, The Church in Crisis- The Twenty Great Councils (London: Burns & Oates, 1961)

Kevane, Eugene., Creed and Catechetics- a Catechetical Commentary on the Creed of the People of God (Westminster, Maryland: Christian Classics, 1978)

Latourelle, Rene, S.J., Theology of Revelation (New York: Alba House, 1966)

McBrien, Richard. (Ed.), The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1995)

Moynahan, Brian., The Faith- A History of Christianity (London: Aurum Press, 2002)


New Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 7, 2nd Edition, Berard Marthaler (ed.) (Washington, D.C.: Thomson Gale, 2003)

Oakes, Edward, S.J. & Moss, David. (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs Von Balthasar (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Rose, Devin, If Protestantism is True- The Reformation Meets Rome, (USA: Unitatis Books, 2011)


Second Vatican Council. Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum (18 November 1965).
<www.vatican.va> (accessed 26 October 2012)

Sheehan, Archbishop Michael., Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine (London: Saint Austin Press, 2001)

Stevenson, J. (Ed.), Creeds, Councils and Controversies- Documents illustrating the history of the Church, AD 337-461 (London: SPCK, 1989)

Tertullian, On Baptism, Chap. 15, ML I, 1216, Ante-Nicene Fathers. Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A. D. 325 III, 676, Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson (Eds.), (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899)

The Catholic Bible Concordance Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition C.W. Lyons and Thomas Deliduka (compilers) (Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2009)

The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)

Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Translated by C.A. Heurtley. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 11. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.
< http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3506.htm > (Accessed 26 October 2012)

Willis, John., S.J. (Ed.), The Teachings of the Church Fathers (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1966)




REFERENCE LIST:

Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, No. 88, ML 37, 1140, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church VIII, 440, Phillip Schaff (trans.) (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904)

Catechism of the Catholic Church (Libreria Editrice Vaticana: Citta del Vaticano, 1993) < http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a7.htm>
(Accessed 26 October 2012)

Haddad, Robert., Defend the Faith! (Sydney: Lumen Verum Apologetics, 2003)

Hughes, Philip, The Church in Crisis- The Twenty Great Councils (London: Burns & Oates, 1961)

Kevane, Eugene., Creed and Catechetics- a Catechetical Commentary on the Creed of the People of God (Westminster, Maryland: Christian Classics, 1978)

Latourelle, Rene, S.J., Theology of Revelation (New York: Alba House, 1966)

McBrien, Richard. (Ed.), The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1995)

Moynahan, Brian., The Faith- A History of Christianity (London: Aurum Press, 2002)

New Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 7, 2nd Edition, Berard Marthaler (ed.) (Washington, D.C.: Thomson Gale, 2003)

Second Vatican Council. Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum (18 November 1965).
<www.vatican.va> (accessed 26 October 2012)

Sheehan, Archbishop Michael., Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine (London: Saint Austin Press, 2001)

Tertullian, On Baptism, Chap. 15, ML I, 1216, Ante-Nicene Fathers. Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A. D. 325 III, 676, Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson (Eds.), (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899)

The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)

Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Translated by C.A. Heurtley. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 11. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.
< http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3506.htm > (Accessed 26 October 2012)

Willis, John., S.J. (Ed.), The Teachings of the Church Fathers (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1966)



[1] CCC 133; DV 25
[2] CCC 125; DV 18
[3] Archbishop Michael Sheehan, Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, p.156
[4] Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, 2,5- “owing to the depth of Holy Scripture... it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters.”
[5] 2 Pet. 3:16
[6] Heb. 5:11-12
[7] Acts 8:30-31
[8] CCC 115
[9] 2 Pet. 1:20; Archbishop Michael Sheehan, Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, p.157
[10] Heresies may be about any matter of the faith, but in this paper we are considering only Christological heresies. All that is said here applies to both kinds.
[11] CCC 815, 857; Eph. 4:4-6
[12] The Teachings of the Church Fathers, p.58; St Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, No. 88, ML 37, 1140, NPNF VIII, 440
[13] Jn. 17:20-26
[14] Eph. 4:13-14
[15] CCC 2088-2089; one must be wilfully remaining in opposition to the Church for it to be a sin
[16] 1 Cor. 26-27; CCC 1469- “Sin damages or even breaks fraternal communion.”
[17] Tertullian, On Baptism, Chap. 15, ML I, 1216, ANF III, 676; The Teachings of the Church Fathers, p.57
[18] “Poison” and “infection” are words St Vincent of Lerins uses to describe heresy in his Commonitory, e.g. Chapter 7, paragraph 19; and 4, 10.
[19] CCC 888-892
[20] Mt. 16:19; 18:18
[21] Jn. 16:13
[22] Mt. 28:19-20; Robert Haddad, Defend the Faith! p.100
[23] 1 Cor. 12:27-28
[24] Lk. 10:16; CCC 87
[25] Eugene Kevane, Creed and Catechetics- a Catechetical Commentary on the Creed of the People of God,  p.217
[26] Brian Moynahan, The Faith- A History of Christianity, p. 111
[27] Richard McBrien (Ed.), The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, pp.92-93
[28] Prov. 8:22; Col. 1:15; Richard McBrien (Ed.), The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, pp.92-93
[29] St Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, 25, 64-67; 26, 68-69
[30] Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 54 Greek; Barry, Reading in Church History, p.85 Translation; Found in Philip Hughes, The Church in Crisis- The Twenty Great Councils, p.21
[31] Philip Hughes, The Church in Crisis- The Twenty Great Councils, p.21